Alexa

Alonso, Schumacher down to the wire ahead of Japan GP

Alonso, Schumacher down to the wire ahead of Japan GP

The 2006 Formula One title could be decided this weekend as reigning world champion Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher enter Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix tied atop the driver's standings.
Trailing by 25 points seven races ago, Schumacher's win at Shanghai put him even with Alonso on 116 points.
If Schumacher, who will retire after this season, finishes first in Japan, and Alonso drops out or finishes scoreless, the German will gain his eighth world title in the next-to-last race of the season and his career.
Schumacher's latest victory was the 91st of his storied career and his fifth of the last seven races, outpacing Alonso's start to the season when the Spaniard captured six of the first nine.
The last time Alonso won was in June at the Canadian GP.
Schumacher has been in a tight race before and knows what to expect at Suzuka.
"I have been in these situations for many, many years and I know pretty much how to handle it," Schumacher said Thursday. "I have experience in it for 16 years and let's hope it works out."
The seven-time world champion has won here twice before _ in 2000 when he took his first Ferrari title and 2003, both times beating McLaren's Mika Hakkinen.
Alonso is not discouraged by the loss of his championship lead.
"We will try to improve and to win every race," he said. "Sometimes we can and sometimes not. (In China) we had a great opportunity, and we lost at the end with weather conditions that were not favorable for us."
The Renault driver had trouble with the wrong choice of tires on a drying track at Shanghai.
"I didn't win the race because my pace wasn't fast enough for 10 laps," Alonso said.
As if he needed ominous signs, it was raining Thursday when he came to the 5.8-kilometer (3.6-mile) Suzuka circuit.
"Suzuka is one of the more technical circuits, very difficult, and hopefully we will have a good race," Alonso said.
Schumacher also feels good on the circuit.
"I come here with a lot of motivation and a lot of good feeling because we believe this track is probably better for us than China," he said.
Alonso finished third here last year and Schumacher fifth. In 2004, Schumacher won the race, and his last driver's title for Ferrari.
In all Schumacher has won in Suzuka six times dating back to 1995.
Sunday's race will be the last race here for a while, with the Japanese GP shifting to the Fuji circuit about 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of Tokyo from next year.
Renault is a point ahead of Ferrari in the team race with a 179-178 lead, which is leading to discord among the team.
Alonso, who leaves for rival team McLaren from next season, said Thursday he sometimes feels "a little bit alone" on the Renault team.
"I had two difficult moments this year. One at Indianapolis I was not competitive and one in China for 10 laps I was completely off the pace," he said. "These two moments, in my opinion, in the team play, maybe I should have had more help."
But he still maintains Renault is doing a good job.
"I think there are doing the maximum they can and have given me a fantastic car in winning last year's championship and fighting this year. Thanks to them we are equal in the drivers championship and ahead in the constructors," Alonso said.
"But, for sure in some occasions in a different view and in a different approach, I felt a little bit alone," the Spaniard said. "Sometimes, if you are fighting so close for the championship, the frustration is bigger."
Alonso will need the full support of his team this weekend if he is to remain in championship contention. If he fails to finish at Japan, and Schumacher wins Sunday, the German will take an unassailable 10-point lead into the final race. The best Alonso could achieve would be a tie on points if he won in Brazil and Schumacher went scoreless.
If the final standings end in a tie, the winner is the driver with the most victories _ and Schumacher leads by seven to Alonso's six for now. If they were tied on wins, it would go to whoever has the most second-place finishes, which Alonso leads six to four.
There is practice Friday and Saturday morning with the qualifying on Saturday ahead of Sunday's 53-laps race.
The season ends in Brazil on Oct. 22.