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  Monday, 22 July, 2002, 02:56 GMT 03:56 UK
Schumacher emulates Fangio

It was inevitable but no less impressive for that.

After 44 years of solo glory, Juan Manuel Fangio now has company on his Formula One pedestal.


His critics will always question Scumacher's claim to be the greatest, except in the art of controversy

But given Schumacher's phenomenal strike rate and Ferrari's golden touch, even such a giant of the past may be left trailing with five world crowns.

Schumacher is collecting records like schoolboys collect stamps.

Almost seven years to the day that the great Argentine died at home in Buenos Aires, Michael Schumacher has completed the quickest championship in grand prix history.

Another landmark will fall if he wins two of the remaining six races before the finale in Japan in October to beat his and Nigel Mansell's record of nine wins in a season.

And after a French GP that never was for his Ferrari team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, who failed to start, Schumacher has completed a record run of 16 races in the points.

With a team that had not won a championship for a generation before his arrival in 1994, the German has inspired a hat-trick and the promise of yet more riches before his contract expires in two years.

Manuel Fangio (top) and Michael Schumacher
Schumacher and Fangio won in markedly different eras

Why not six, why not seven titles while the competitive urges burns so brightly?

Fangio was 46 when he called time on Formula One. But after 12 years in the hot seat, Schumacher - F1's youngest champion first time round - probably feels another 13 is pushing it.

Without doubt he is the most successful driver. Most wins, most fastest laps - the list grows longer by the day.

But his critics will always question his claim to be the greatest, except in the art of controversy.

The 1994 shunt with Damon Hill in Adelaide and the 1997 collision with Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez are just two indelible stains that Fangio, in a wholly more dangerous but less pressured era, would never have incurred.

The sporting code in the 1950s was far removed from the cut throat business that passes as Formula One in the 21st century.

A gentlemen's club compared to the trading floor in the Stock Exchange.

Team orders had none of the underhand, anti competitive feel of the modern era, epitomised by Ferrari's performance at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix.


You must always strive to be the best - but you must never believe you really are
Manuel Fangio

It was accepted practice that the team leader could commandeer his team-mate's car if his own broke down.

In Fangio's heyday in the early years of the championship, survival was as notable as performance.

The cars were rear-engined beasts that handled like tanks. The races lasted for hours.

Drivers wore polo shirts not flame-proof overalls. Seatbelts only got in the way and safety was merely a word in the dictionary.

Fangio's record of 24 wins and 28 poles from 51 races reads like the work of a genius.

Ditto Schumacher - 61 wins, 46 poles from 173 races but his achievements all came in space age machinery.

But unlike Schumacher, Fangio made no bones about securing the best car.

Michael Schumacher
Schumacher dismissed comparisons with Fangio

Fangio even switched teams from Maserati to Mercedes midway through his 1954 championship year.

Schumacher, by contrast, overcame Williams' superiority with Benetton then sought out the challenge of making Ferrari great.

Now, in the best car, he is enjoying the kind of dominance Fangio almost took for granted.

But although these five-times champions are separated by almost half a century, their approach to racing is strikingly similar.

Both could charge when the order came. Both could mix it if the need arose.

And while modesty has never been Schumacher's strong suit over much of his career, his refusal in his finest hour to allow himself to be compared with Fangio echoed the words of the great man himself.

"You must always strive to be the best," Fangio once said. "But you must never believe you really are."

For talent, performance, courage, survival and luck, both are in a class of their own.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Jonathan Legard
"Schumacher is the most successful driver"
In-depth guide to the 2002 Formula One season

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Reaction and analysis

F1 2002
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