Season begins, ends with Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher poses with a child in his Ferrari car during an appearance at the Showa Shell headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. -- Pic. CLIVE MASON/GETTY IMAGES-

Michael Schumacher was the first driver on the track for prequalifying at the Australian Grand Prix in March.

Michael Schumacher was the first driver on the track for prequalifying at the Australian Grand Prix in March.

When the season came to a close he was first again — winning a record sixth Formula One championship with an uncharacteristic finish of eighth in the Japanese Grand Prix.

"It is very strange for me because most of my championships have been won with a victory," Schumacher said. "Here I am today winning the championship in eighth position. It is with mixed emotion, though."

It was that way for him most of the season. In between there were highs and lows ranging from mourning when he and his brother Ralf lost their mother hours before the Italian Grand Prix to jubilation and relief when he and the team clinched titles on the final day of the season.

There was early concern when he trailed Kimi Raikkonen after three races.

"I was thinking we still have everything open to fight for the championship," Schumacher said. "I didn't write off the championship at that stage." Indeed, he won four of the next five races.

But frustration set in when he failed to win any of the next five — that slump included the Hungarian Grand Prix, when he was lapped by 22-year-old Fernando Alonso. Schumacher's two closest pursuers — Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya — were within two points of him entering the last three races of the season.

Some wondered if Schumacher was still at the top of his game.

"How many people wrote things about us?" he asked.

Then Schumacher won the next two races to virtually clinch the title before coming to Japan. A single point would ensure it and that is what he got. Schumacher won his fourth straight drivers' title for Ferrari. Between 1979 and 1999 they had none.

Last year when Schumacher and Ferrari dominated — clinching both titles by July — the sport was losing its spectacle and spectators.

In an effort to slow Ferrari's dominance and boost slumping TV ratings, the sport's governing body, FIA, introduced a host of rule changes this season. Among them were one-car-at-a-time qualifying sessions over two days and other regulations governing fuel, car setup and points distribution based on race finishes.

It helped keep things close. There were eight different winners in the 16 races.