Emotional Schumacher Salutes Ferrari Faithful

A triumphant Michael Schumacher thanked everyone from Ferrari bosses down to the Maranello cleaning lady on Sunday as Italy hailed a hero returning to the peak of his powers.

Emotional Schumacher Salutes Ferrari Faithful

A triumphant Michael Schumacher thanked everyone from Ferrari bosses down to the Maranello cleaning lady on Sunday as Italy hailed a hero returning to the peak of his powers.

"I think this is one of the greatest days in my career," said Schumacher, his dreams of a record sixth title intact.

The three doom-laden weeks since his Hungarian Grand Prix humiliation were replaced by a roar of relief at his pole-to-flag win at Monza.

The Italian Grand Prix victory stretched Schumacher's lead over Williams' Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya to three points with two races remaining. Schumacher had not won since Canada in June, five races previously, nor led a race for 327 laps. In Hungary he finished eighth, lapped by Renault's Fernando Alonso.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had warned that situation must never be allowed to happen again and Sunday's win broke the tense atmosphere at Monza like the electric storm that lit up the skies on the eve of the race.

"The tension we felt was as strong as our will to win," declared team boss Jean Todt. "It was almost as if the team were trying to win for the first time ever. It was an indescribable feeling standing on top of the pit wall stand during the prize-giving, with all the fans shaking me by the hand."

Rampant Stallion

It was Ferrari's 15th Italian Grand Prix win, and their second in a row, and Schumacher's 50th for the team that he joined in 1996 when the famous black stallion was far from rampant on the track.

"I'm so thankful to everybody in the team because those guys have done a tremendous job, everybody from the test team, every engineer in the factory down to the lady who is doing the cleaning," said Schumacher. "Everybody is just so fantastic, I'm so in love with all those guys."

Schumacher and Montoya went wheel to wheel on the first lap, screaming through the first sequence of corners side by side before the German pulled clear. "I had a lock up into the first corner and almost didn't make the chicane," he said.

"Juan came on the outside and we had a nice fight through those two corners, very hard but fair and I think that's what people love to see. In the end I was able to win that fight and run up a lead which was vital to win the race."

Last year, with Schumacher and Ferrari dominant, Brazilian Rubens Barrichello had led the German across the line in formation. With Barrichello third, they were able to spray the champagne together again on Sunday for the first time since Austria in May.

"I had the experience last year, not as first place driver but second and the emotions out there...it's just beautiful," said Schumacher. "First of all we won such an important race with all that has happened before and then you have all the emotions in front of you like that. It's just extraordinary.

"We believed in ourselves all the way through. We knew that difficult times had happened, but we knew that we could fight our way back."

The last word fell to technical director Ross Brawn: "What a day. After the pain comes the pleasure."

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