And Michael Schumacher’s last for Ferrari before going to?â?ó?óÔÇÜ?¼?é?ª normal life.
All three will be ultra-motivated, wired to the eyeballs, wanting to go out on a high. But no-one more than Schumacher, who is bringing a career of unprecedented success to a close.
He knows that one last blast to the front – and a big pinch of that trademark Schumacher luck – could yet make him the 2006 champion.
Once again, Fernando Alonso is the odds-on favourite. Last year he led by 25 points with 30 available going into the last round, and six points for his third place were enough to make him champion.
This year even less would do – a single point for eighth would suffice. And even if he finishes lower than that he will still be champion if Schumacher fails to win.
The drivers’ championship battle is fairly straightforward to grasp – but the constructor’s championship is more complicated. Renault need at least ten points – (a win or a third and a fifth) – to guarantee the title.
Kimi Raikkonen is the dark horse at Interlagos. He and McLaren haven’t had a win all year, and he surely will be fired up to reward the team that gave him his first ever win in his final race for them.
But no-one knows exactly where his loyalty lie so late in the year. Would he gift a win to Ferrari to please his new paymasters, making Schumacher champion at the expense of Raikkonen’s 2005 nemesis Alonso? Far stranger things have happened.
McLaren have chosen to spare themselves the distraction of giving Lewis Hamilton an early introduction to F1 racing in place of Pedro de la Rosa. It’s hard to say what they would have had to lose by doing so (certainly not third in the constructors’ championship), and it suggests that they are seriously considering keep de la Rosa on for next year.
Rubens Barrichello will once again feel the mixed blessing that is being a Brazilian racing at home but, just like compatriot Felipe Massa, will probably be overshadowed by his team mate anyway.
McLaren and Honda may be guaranteed third and fourth but BMW and Toyota are fighting hard over fifth in the constructors’ championship. BMW are in their first full season as a manufacturer and Toyota are desperate to salvage some pride having slipped from fourth in 2005.
It may seem like small bier compared to the drivers’ title but this battle is being fought with similar ferocity. BMW hold a slender one point advantage going into the last race.
Both Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld were given orders during the course of the last race to yield to their faster team mates – and fascinatingly, neither did, which suggests that both are more preoccupied with their standing relative to their team mates than the constructors’ championship.
Michael Schumacher is not the only driver facing the prospect of his final race. It seems there are only three slots left on the 2007 grid. Pedro de la Rosa, Tiago Monteiro and Sakon Yamamoto could be left standing when the music stops, and Robert Doornbos will return to a testing role in 2007.
At the centre of this all will be one man, one of the greatest and most controversial of them all, making his final start. Do you really think he will let his championship hopes gone down quietly to Alonso’s irresistible momentum?
Or well he go out in a blaze of belligerence, fight with all the speed, tactics and cunning he has accumulated in sixteen years of F1 racing, and somehow steal the championship from Alonso when everything looks desperate and everyone has written him off?
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