Schumacher scores, but championship remains wide open

The way Michael Schumacher held off Juan Pablo Montoya to win the Italian Grand Prix is only a sign of things to come as the closest race in years for the Formula One championship heads to the finish line.

The way Michael Schumacher held off Juan Pablo Montoya to win the Italian Grand Prix is only a sign of things to come as the closest race in years for the Formula One championship heads to the finish line.

Michael Schumacher is jubilant, after winning the Italian Grand Prix at the Monza race track. — Pic. REUTERS-

Schumacher leads the drivers' standings by three points over Montoya and seven from Kimi Raikkonen heading to the United States GP and season-ending Japanese GP.

Montoya believes the advantage has turned to the pursuers.

"We were expecting Ferrari to be strong here, so to only lose two points to Michael and be only three points behind with two races to go is OK,'' Montoya said. "Ferrari had a good top speed compared to us at this low downforce circuit, quite unlike the next two tracks, where I think we will figure strongly.''

Schumacher won his 50th race for Ferrari from the pole, and is relishing the tough drive to a record sixth world championship.

He won for the first time since the Canadian GP in June, after starting on the pole for the first time since May. In the previous race three weeks ago in Budapest, he suffered the indignity of being lapped by race-winner Fernando Alonso.

"I think this is the greatest day in my career,'' Schumacher said. "It's a long time since I won. We made a big push over the summer break with everyone in the team giving more than a hundred percent.

"We knew we could come back, but it's one thing to know it and another to do it.''

Schumacher completed 53 laps over the 5.793-kilometer (3.6-mile) Monza circuit in 1 hour, 14 minutes, 19.838 seconds. Montoya in a Williams-BMW was just 5.294 seconds behind.

Schumacher's Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello was third 11.835 seconds behind and McLaren-Mercedes' Raikkonen was fourth at 12.8 seconds.

Schumacher nearly lost his lead on the race's first turn, when Montoya challenged him on the inside. The Colombian was unable to get in front, however, and never got so close again.

"I took the first opportunity I saw to try to pass,'' Montoya said. "We came out pretty even, but he had better acceleration than me and he kept the lead.''

Montoya inched to within 0.9 seconds of Schumacher in the middle stage of the race, between the two pitstops for each driver, but lost ground behind traffic in the final stages.

He managed a podium finish for the eighth straight race. Schumacher had gone three straight GPs without finishing among the top three, causing his championship lead to dwindle to just one point in front of Montoya entering Sunday's race.

After Schumacher won, the red-clad Ferrari tifosi (fans) among the 65,000 lining the circuit swarmed the track in celebration of another victory for the Italian team, its 165th overall.

It was the fourth time Schumacher won at Monza, a record. Nelson Piquet also won the Italian GP four times, although his first victory was at Imola.

Montoya's teammate Marc Gene of Spain came fifth, 27.891 seconds back. No other driver completed all 53 laps.

Gene was racing in place of Schumacher's younger brother Ralf Schumacher, who pulled out of the race on Saturday because he needed more time to recuperate from a crash in testing.

Ferrari narrowed its deficit to leader BMW-Williams to four points in the constructors' standings.

The next F-1 race is the United States GP in Indianapolis on September 28. The season ends with the Japanese GP on October 12.

The results (Italian Grand Prix at the 5.793-kilometre, 3.6-mile, Monza circuit): 1. Michael Schumacher, Germany, Ferrari, 53 laps, 1 hour, 14 minutes, 19.838 seconds; 2. Juan Pablo Montoya, Colombia, BMW-Williams, 53, 1:14:25.132; 3. Rubens Barrichello, Brazil, Ferrari, 53, 1:14:31.673; 4. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, McLaren-Mercedes, 53, 1:14:32.672; 5. Marc Gene, Spain, BMW-Williams, 53, 1:14:47.729; 6. Jacques Villeneuve, Canada, BAR Honda, 52, 1:14:30.106; 7. Mark Webber, Australia, Jaguar, 52, 1:14:46.662; 8. Fernando Alonso, Spain, Renault, 52, 1:14:49.287; 9. Nick Heidfeld, Germany, Sauber, 52, 1:14:51.298; 10. GianCarlo Fisichella, Italy, Jordan-Ford, 52, 1:15:38.010; 11. Zsolt Baumgartner, Hungary, Jordan-Ford, 51, 1:14:55.873; 12. Nicholas Kiesa, Denmark, Minardi Cosworth, 51, 1:15:25.577; 13. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Germany, Sauber, 50, 1:11:51.173.

Drivers' standings (after 14 of 16 races): 1. Michael Schumacher, 82; 2. Juan Pablo Montoya, 79; 3. Kimi Raikkonen, 75; 4. Ralf Schumacher, 58; 5. Rubens Barrichello, 55; 6. Fernando Alonso, 55; 7. David Coulthard, 45; 8. Jarno Trulli, 24; 9. Mark Webber, 17; 10. Jenson Button, 12; 11. Giancarlo Fisichella, 10; 12. Cristiano Da Matta, 8; 13. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, 7; 14. Olivier Panis, 6; 15. Jacques Villeneuve, 6; 16. Marc Gene, 4; 17. Nick Heidfeld, 2; 18. Ralph Firman, 1.

Constructors' standings: 1. Williams-BMW, 141; 2. Ferrari, 137; 3. McLaren Mercedes, 120; 4. Renault, 79; 5. BAR Honda, 18; 6. Jaguar, 17; 7. Toyota, 14; 8. Jordan Ford, 11; 9. Sauber Petronas, 9; 10. Minardi, 0.