OCTOBER 8, 2000

Schumacher never stopped believing in title chance

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER said he had never stopped believing that he could end Ferrari's world drivers' championship drought and expressed his relief at lifting his third title with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Schumacher, world champion in 1994 and 1995 with Benetton, ended Ferrari's 21-year wait for a drivers' crown - South African Jody Scheckter was the team's last champion, in 1979 - as he raced to victory at Suzuka.

Afterwards the German said he had never doubted his chances of outgunning rival Mika Hakkinen, of McLaren, throughout a topsy-turvy race.

"There was such an outbreak of emotion when I crossed the line," Schumacher said. "I had finally done it. It was simply outstanding to win and it has made the ups and downs of the season even better.

"This is the culmination of five years work and it feels great and very emotional. It is not comparable to my other titles - the conditions and the circumstances are so different.

"I never contemplated that this was not going to happen again. You somehow get more upset when it doesn't happen but finally doing it is great. Imagine what is going on in Italy now. This is the best moment of my motor racing career."

Schumacher said that his race had been won in the second round of pit-stops when he stayed out longer than Hakkinen but revealed that he had to take a cautious approach after taking the lead because of the wet conditions.

"As we saw Mika go in for his second stop, we knew we had a couple of laps and realized they were crucial," he said. "I had traffic in front of me and then a Benetton spun in front of me, which didn't help.

"When I came out, Ross Brawn kept me updated because I couldn't see Mika. It was an amazing moment to come out in front of him but the rain didn't help me. It was far from ideal conditions because I had too much to lose."