The champion's homecoming

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER has returned to his home in Switzerland after ending his record-breaking championship year with victory at Suzuka in the Japanese Grand Prix - his ninth of the year.

Schumacher will have a few days to gather himself up and relax before returning to Italy for the official championship celebrations with the Ferrari team, its fans and owners of Ferrari cars at Monza this weekend and then faces a two month break until the New Year due to the winter testing ban.

"Obviously, it's marvelous to finish the season exactly the way I wanted, by winning on my own terms which means we can go into the winter break in a positive frame of mind," said Schumacher.

"In some ways I am happy the season is over, even if it was without a doubt, the best of my career. But a season like this one is pretty tiring."

Despite the wearying effort of racing to nine victories, twelve podium finishes, a record points haul for one season and the all-time career wins and career points record in the 17-race 2001 championship, the coming weeks aren't all to be spent at home with his family.

On October 28 Michael returns to his home town of Kerpen, Germany to attend the last round of the karting world championship and is understood to be preparing to go racing again.

"For me the fun of it is still important," Schumacher said of his karting exploits. "That is why all the time I go back to where I started. I still do it because it makes me genuinely happy.

With the 2002 challenger already in an advanced state of development at Maranello Schumacher will then be able to relax. Intensive testing towards the end of this season saw the revolutionary new gearbox and other new systems thoroughly bedded in as well as new Bridgestone tire compounds, and in Japan Schumacher competed in a near-2002 specification chassis, all of which has given him cause to feel confident going in to the new season.

Doubtless he will continue to have many PR events scheduled for Fiat group and the Ferrari team sponsors - although the millions of dollars that his career generates per month may help ease the inconvenience somewhat.

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