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SEPTEMBER 29, 2003

The World Championship permutations

Michael Schumacher's remarkable victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway means that Juan Pablo Montoya is no longer able to win the World Championship. Although the Colombian is only 10 points behind Schumacher he cannot win the title because even if he takes victory in Japan and Schumacher fails to score the two men would only be equal on points and Schumacher would win the title because he will have scored six wins to Montoya's three.

Raikkonen, however, can still win the title. If Kimi wins in Japan he would have 93 points, one more than Schumacher. If Michael finishes eighth and takes one point he would win the title because he would have six wins to Raikkonen's two. So the only real hope for McLaren is that Schumacher retires and Kimi wins. Michael may have an accident (as happened in Brazil this year) but Ferrari's preparation is such that Schumacher has not had a mechanical failure since Hockenheim 2001. A run of 37 races without a breakdown is quite extraordinary in the history of the sport and cannot continue for ever.

Schumacher will want to win the World Championship in style and so it is probably more likely that the interest in Japan will centre on the battle for second between Raikkonen and Montoya, and the fight for fourth place between Ralf Schumacher (58 points), Rubens Barrichello (33 points) and Fernando Alonso (55 points).

The fight for the Constructors' World Championship is likely to be very close and the focus for both Ferrari and Williams. The two are separated by just three points (147 plays 144) and in the last three Grands Prix Ferrari has picked up 27 points and Williams 26. McLaren is out of the picture even if it scores a 1-2 but could act as a spoiler in the title race as it has picked up 25 points in the last three races.

There is also going to be huge interest in the fight for the honour of being "the best of the rest". The big four teams (Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and, to a much lesser extent, Renault) are all clear of the fight for fifth which features five teams covered by just five points. Sauber's performance at Indianapolis has vaulted the Swiss team from ninth to fifth but it is still only one point ahead of BAR-Honda and Jaguar which are equal on 18 points apiece. Toyota has 14 points and Jordan 13 and with millions and millions of dollars in prize money at stake it is likely that the fight will be frantic, particularly as Toyota and BAR-Honda will be in front of their home crowds.