Ferrari passion is so moving


Twenty-one years of fervent Italian prayer, obsession and pain were rewarded yesterday as Michael Schumacher claimed Ferrari's first Formula One drivers' championship since South Africa's Jody Scheckter brought the prize back to Maranello in 1979.

Schumacher, taking his eighth victory of the year in the season's penultimate race at Suzuka, put himself mathematically beyond Mika Hakkinen ahead of the final Malaysian Grand Prix in two weeks time.

After thumping the steering wheel repeatedly in a mixture of disbelief and joy, Schumacher was drowned in the embrace of sporting director Jean Todt and the screams of a Ferrari team that had sweated through 53 rain-spattered laps.

"It's difficult to find proper words for the feeling this gives me," Schumacher said afterwards. "There was such an outbreak of emotion when I crossed the line."

Facing into the knowledge that the championship win was a possibility, Schumacher had appeared more and more nervous as the weekend progressed.

And as he attempted to get away from the lights in yesterday's start, that nervousness seemed to have given way to full-blown jitters as smoke bloomed from his spinning tyres and Hakkinen blasted away into the lead.

But in the tiniest increments, the ball slowly rolled back into Schumacher's court. First, spots of rain began to fall across the track, slowing Hakkinen.

Then Hakkinen began to steam into traffic, the back-markers impeding him. And, finally, the second stop. Hakkinen pitted on lap 38 emerging only to learn Schumacher had stayed out.

He pitted two laps later and, as Hakkinen grappled with more back-markers, Schumacher got out a whopping four seconds ahead of the Finn.

The rest was academic and only complicated by the rain. The wait for Ferrari and Schumacher was over.

The expectation was enormous when the German signed for the Italian marque on August 16th, 1995. Five long years of fruitless struggle later, Schumacher has finally delivered on the promises he had made.