OCTOBER 16, 1995

Champion in all but name

THIS weekend in Japan Michael Schumacher should become the 1995 Formula 1 World Champion. The Benetton-Renault driver goes to the Pacific Grand Prix with a 27-point advantage in the series over rival Damon Hill.

At the moment, Hill's Williams-Renault FW17B seems to be the dominant machine in Grand Prix racing; but in order to win the title Hill has to win all three of the remaining races - with Schumacher failing to finish better than fifth on one occasion. If Hill does not win at Aida it doesn't actually matter if Schumacher finishes or not. In other words, it is in Schumacher's interest that Hill does not finish. Given the recent behavior between the two drivers another incident should not be excluded as a possibility.

Having said that, if Hill wins the race Schumacher can still win the title if he finishes fourth or better, because the three points he would gain would give him a total of 85 points. Hill's score would rise to 65, with a maximum of 20 points available. If the two are tied on points, Schumacher wins the title because he already has more wins than Hill can hope to gain by the end of the season.

The only way this mathematical logic can be overturned is if Schumacher does something silly and the FIA decides to dock him points. This may sound unlikely, but in F1 anything is possible.

If Schumacher does win the World Title, he will become only the sixth man in the history of the sport to win back-to-back World Championships, following in the illustrious footsteps of Alberto Ascari, Juan-Manuel Fangio, Jack Brabham, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

He will also become the youngest ever double World Formula 1 Champion, the 26-year-old German beating EmersonÊFittipaldi (who was 27 in 1974), Niki Lauda (28 in 1977) and Jim Clark (29 in 1965). Ayrton Senna, incidentally, was 30 when he won his second title in 1990.

With the title effectively over, however, much of the interest in Japan will be on the battle behind Schumacher. If Hill fails to collect some good results in the final three races it is quite possible that David Coulthard, Johnny Herbert or Gerhard Berger could overtake him for second place in the World Championship. The trio are separated by just three points and all are within 15 points of Hill.

In the Constructors' Championship Benetton has a 20-point lead over Williams, with a maximum of 16 points available in each of the remaining three races. Ferrari is a solid third, but the battle for fourth place will be interesting with McLaren, Jordan, Sauber and Ligier all separated by just five points.