Schumi ready to fight till last breath

After an eighth place finish in the Hungarian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher immediately looked ahead to the final three races, but so did his rivals.

"It's much harder now, but far from over. After all I am still in the lead," Schumacher said after finishing a disappointing eighth and being lapped by winner Fernando Alonso — the youngest winner in Formula One history.

Schumacher allowed his rivals — Williams driver Juan Pablo Montoya and McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, who came second and third — to further close the gap in the championship.

The five-time F-1 world champion's losing streak continued in Budapest. He has not won a Grand Prix since the Canadian GP in June, where he took over first place from Raikkonen.

The slow spiral downward for the Ferrari star left him with 72 points in the championship, ahead of Montoya with 71 points and Raikkonen with 70.

Schumacher was even lucky to score that single point as he was hit by a petrol consumption miscalculation.

"Two corners before the second pitstop I could feel the tank had run dry. I first feared I would not make it to the pits at all," Schumacher said.

"These calculations are very complicated and if you go to the limits, then such things can happen. But if you don't risk anything, you will never win something," he added.

The last time he had such a dry streak was in 2000 when he dropped out of three consecutive races — two in the opening lap due to crashes — and came in second. Still he went on to win the title, the first for Ferrari since 1979, winning the Japanese Grand Prix and ousting rival Mika Hakkinen.

Winning is still on the mind of the 33-year-old, who is aiming for a record sixth driver's title.

"I had a bad day today, but that was only one race. There are three more to go and we need to make the best out of them, then we will win," Schumacher said.

"After all those years, you should know I am ready to fight for the title until my last breath."

But his rivals are well prepared to further retaliate.

"Usually you have to win races to become champion, but after the seventh spot in qualifying, second was the best possible result," second-placed Raikkonen said.

The Finn is hopeful to "make my dream come true and win the title," as McLaren will get some new parts for their car.

"We are still using our old car and desperately need some new stuff for the final races. If we get them, I am confident I can win," he added.

Williams driver Montoya is convinced "we will be level with Ferrari in Monza and beat them in Indy. Although Suzuka should be a close race, things might already be decided by then."

Only race winner Fernando Alonso, the first Spaniard to ever win a Grand Prix, is not worried about the season final.

"We are not fighting for the championship this year, so we can try out some things. Maybe Suzuka will offer us another chance to win, who knows."

There are three races to go until the end of the 2003 season — the Italian Grand Prix in Monza on September 14, the United States Grand Prix in Indianapolis two weeks later and the season finale in Suzuka, Japan, on October 12.