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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 August, 2004, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Michael Schumacher
In a league of his own

Born: 3/1/69
Nationality: German
First GP: Belgium 1991
Wins: 83
Titles: 7
Previous teams: Jordan, Benetton
2004 position: 1st
Michael Schumacher has clinched an unprecedented seventh drivers' title and yet he is in danger of becoming a victim of his own success.

Such a landmark would have been thought impossible only a few years ago, and yet it is likely to cause barely a ripple in the wider sporting world.

His domination in recent years - and particularly in 2004 - has often made Formula One dull and predictable.

But that should not detract from the magnitude of Schumacher's achievement.

Seven world titles, 83 Grand Prix wins, 13 wins in a season and counting; these are records that will probably never be matched - and he shows no signs of easing his stranglehold on his sport.

The 35-year-old's tally of world championships is two more than any other driver in history, and three more than his closest modern rival, Alain Prost.

And his ever-rising number of Grand Prix wins is already equal to the combined totals of Prost and Nigel Mansell, who are second and fourth in the all-time list.

With achievements such as these, it is perhaps better to celebrate Schumacher's peerless abilities rather than denigrate him for making F1 monotonous.

The current Arsenal team are in danger of reducing the English Premiership to a one-horse race, and they are rightly lauded for the majesty and beauty of their football

Michael Schumacher at the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix
Schumacher and Ferrari continue to set standards beyond their rivals
Schumacher's genius may give itself up less easily to the untutored eye, but his handling of an F1 car is no less graceful than the most balletic Thierry Henry goal.

His seventh title will probably go down as his least remarkable, coming as it has in a year in which Ferrari's domination has surpassed even that of 2002.

As such, this title has been too easy for Schumacher.

There has rarely been any opposition, and Ferrari have had so much in hand that even when other teams and drivers have been respectably close, Schumacher has even then rarely needed to extend himself.

This is partially why Schumacher may never be recognised as the greatest Grand Prix driver of all time, even though he is without doubt one of them.

Not only are there others who have at least as strong a claim on that title, but too often in his career the standard of opposition Schumacher has faced has not matched that in other eras.

The lack of a real challenge in 2004 has also meant that the less savoury aspects of Schumacher's career - like his often scandalously dangerous driving when racing with a direct rival - have been hidden this year.

But while this title may have been won in a comfort zone, driving a Grand Prix car flat out tests a man to his limits and beyond - as Schumacher's rivals demonstrate all-too often.

And winning at the highest level is much harder than Schumacher's recent career at Ferrari has made it appear - the team's struggles before the German won his first title for them in 2000 are witness to that.

Michael Schumacher and Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn
Schumacher's drive to win is matched by the team he has gathered around him
Ferrari have raised the level required to succeed in F1, just as rivals McLaren and Williams did before them, allowing Schumacher to cruise to this championship on the back of a superior car.

But Ferrari would not have risen to this level of performance had they not been inculcated with Schumacher's incredible work ethic, ruthless determination and almost robotic perfection.

Not satisfied with simply being the fastest and most talented driver in the world, he also works hardest.

He expects his colleagues to do the same, and has gathered around him at Ferrari a group of immensely capable people who think the same way.

He has created an environment that is totally focused on him and which allows him to perform at his absolute best at all times, knowing that the team will match him every step of the way.

Like all true greats, Schumacher consistently produces the goods even when the odds are seemingly stacked irreversibly against him.

That this has rarely been the case in 2004 does not make his achievement any less impressive.

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