'The season is going to be a long one'

Winning races and championships isn't very easy. Michael Schumacher just makes it look that way.

Schumacher, seeking his record sixth Formula One title, won for the fourth time this season and passed Kimi Raikkonen for the lead in the driver standings by winning the Canadian Grand Prix.

"This was a tough and tricky race, so the outcome is good,'' Schumacher said. "And it's always important to go into the lead and try to get as many points as you can.

"The season is going to be a long one and we knew that from the beginning and we've sort of had confirmation by now that it will be a tough fight to the end.''

It's been tough on Schumacher all season because of rules changes the FIA made in an attempt to even out competition a year after Schumacher and teammate Rubens Barrichello teamed to win 15 of 17 races in a Ferrari domination.

The Ferrari's struggled at the start of the season and the 23-year-old Raikkonen took over the lead in the driver standings and brought a four-point advantage over Schumacher into the race.

But Schumacher has been steadily chipping away, even though the gap has clearly been closed by the competition — proven that Sunday when the top four finished nose to tail, only 4.3 seconds apart — a rarity in F-1.

"That's the ideal result, obviously,'' Schumacher said. "The nature of sport is that it is unpredictable and that is what we have seen in all the years of many, many sports and that is the way with Formula One.''

Schumacher, who has now won six times on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, started third but took over the lead after his first pit stop. He and brother Ralf Schumacher had been running 1-2 when Ralf ducked off the track for service on the 20th lap.

Michael pitted on the next lap, then raced his Ferrari off the service road to get back on the race track an instant before Ralf came by.

He took over the lead when Fernando Alonso had to make his stop, and because passing is so difficult on the 4.36-kilometre (2.709-mile), 15-turn track, no one ever challenged him the rest of the way.

Ralf Schumacher, who started from the pole, finished second for Williams-BMW. It was a reverse finishing order from 2001 when Ralf won and Michael finished second.

"It's obviously disappointing,'' Ralf said. "But in 2001 I won it like this, now it is his turn.''

Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher's teammate at Williams, was third but irritated because he lost a chance to challenge for his second consecutive victory when he spun on the second lap.

"I was too close to Ralf when I braked and I just braked too late and I spun. It was my fault completely,'' Montoya said. "It is a shame that we had the potential to win the race and I threw it away.''

The entire complexion of the race was changed by Montoya's spin of his car in Turn 15. That allowed Michael Schumacher to move into second — splitting up the Williams teammates after they started in first and second — and rapidly close the gap on his younger brother.

"Without that spin, I don't think Michael would have gotten by Juan,'' Williams technical director Patrick Head said. "And it would have been a tussle between Ralf and Juan at the end.''

Instead it was Michael Schumacher on top of the podium again for the second consecutive year and back in control of the driver standings after eight of 16 races.

Schumacher has won three straight championships and had taken the points lead very early in each of those seasons. Now he has it, with a three-point advantage over Raikkonen.

Raikkonen, though, did little to help himself. He wrecked his McLaren Mercedes on Saturday's qualifying lap and had to start last on the grid.

His team elected to start the race on pit road, where he was able to take four new tyres and refuel the car as soon as the race began. Because he had a full tank of fuel, he was able to gain positions when other cars had to duck off for their pit stops.

He had moved all the way up to fifth but his day was ruined when his tire lost its tread and split off the car on the 33rd lap. He recovered, slightly, to finish sixth and earn just three points. "Today's result is not a disaster at all and the gap to Michael is only three points with plenty more races to go,'' Raikkonen said.

As usual, it was a horrible race for hometown hero Jacque Villeneuve, who failed to finish on the track named after his late father for the fifth consecutive year. He apparently had a problem with the brakes on his BAR-Honda and retired after 15 laps.