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  Sunday, 21 July, 2002, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Schumacher among the legends
Michael Schumacher on the podium after winning the French Grand Prix
Schumacher celebrates title number five

Somehow it is fitting that the day on which Michael Schumacher matched Formula One's ultimate record was marred by controversy.

The German's entire career has been played out against arguments of one kind or another - and that in some ways has detracted from his achievements.

There was his first world title in 1994, when his Benetton team were found to have illegal driver-aid systems in their computer software, but escaped punishment.

Then there was 1997, the first of three years of heartache with Ferrari, when he tried to drive Jacques Villeneuve off the track at the final race of the year.

  Michael Schumacher
Grands Prix: 173
Wins: 61
Poles: 46
Championships: Five - 1994, '95, 2000, '01, '02

Schumacher went to Ferrari to carve an indelible place in history as the man responsible for ending a two-decade title drought.

It worked - but he will also forever be remembered for his aggressive driving tactics and the repeated controversy over the team's behaviour, both politically and technically.

The day Schumacher won his fifth title was no different.

McLaren claimed the German had overtaken their driver Kimi Raikkonen illegally to win the race that ensured Schumacher won the title earlier than any man in history.

But it would be wrong to let all this sour Schumacher's achievements.

Controversial he may be, but Schumacher is unquestionably the greatest driver of his era - and one of the best of all time.

Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello
Schumacher has become synonymous with Ferrari

Schumacher constantly claims that statistics will only interest him when he is sitting in his armchair with his grandchildren around him.

Yet for a man who apparently has no interest in numbers, it seems a remarkable coincidence that his name is at the top of nearly all of F1's historical lists.

Already the man with most Grand Prix victories under his belt, the German has with victory in France become only the second man in history to win five world championships.

On top of that, Schumacher has now won the title faster than any man in history - beating by one Nigel Mansell's 1992 record of clinching it with five races to go.

Having now won eight of this year's 11 races, Schumacher will also surely break his own record for the number of victories in a year - nine, a mark he shares with Mansell.

Even Ayrton Senna's mark of 65 career pole positions - until recently thought totally unassailable - is under threat.

Will Schumacher leave any records unbroken
Schumacher has won 61 Grands Prix so far in a remarkable career

Who can say how many of those records will be left intact when Schumacher finally calls it a day - perhaps in 2004, when his Ferrari contract ends, perhaps later?

If anything, the ease of Schumacher's title win this year has caused people to forget the magnitude of his achievement.

As with Tiger Woods in golf and Lance Armstrong in cycling, when one man is clearly so much better than anyone else, it is tempting for those watching to think it is boring.

But it is better, surely, to admire the sort of talent that comes along once in a generation - as well as the will and desire that makes these men keep going when they have nothing left to prove.

For Schumacher, like other sporting greats, it is the relentless pursuit of personal perfection that drives him on to ever more impressive deeds.

He has achieved the rare feat of bringing together all the strengths required to make a person great at their chosen sport, while eliminating nearly all flaws.

Michael Schumacher in the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix
Schumacher won his first two titles with Benetton

Not for nothing does Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn describe him as "the ultimate Formula One driver".

In many ways, it is the lack of weaknesses that makes Schumacher so great.

He is not only the fastest man in the world - excelling on all circuits, at all times and in all conditions - he also makes fewer mistakes than most.

Motor racing aficionados will argue for a very long time about whether the greatest driver of all time is Schumacher, Senna or Fangio - or even Alain Prost, Jimmy Clark, Stirling Moss or Tazio Nuvolari.

There are cases to be made for all of them. But in the end, it does not really matter.

Schumacher is right up there, and he should be admired for that.

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Jonathan Legard
"Schumacher is the most successful driver"
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