Fifteen minutes before the start of the U.S. Grand Prix at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon, Michael
Schumacher cruised through Gasoline Alley on his motor scooter.
Schumacher, on his way to his pit stall, whizzed past a group of
German fans screaming for their hero's autograph. He weaved
around several wide-eyed race officials, nearly flattening one.
He then blew by a flock of photographers, all calling out for him
to smile. Schumacher, the five-time world driving champion, just
looked straight ahead. He was in a hurry.
Turns out Schumacher was just warming up. After starting Sunday's
race in seventh position, he quickly worked his Ferrari through
the field, passing one car after another on the rain-slickened
2.605-mile road course, and took the lead for good on Lap 38. He
then held off Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren Mercedes to win his second
U.S. Grand Prix. It was the 70th victory of Schumacher's career.
More significant, with the win Schumacher, 34, virtually sewed up
his fourth-straight F/1 title. With a nine-point lead over
Raikkonen, the only way Schumacher can fail to capture a
record-setting sixth championship is if Raikkonen finishes first
in the final race of the season, in Suzuka, Japan, on Oct. 12 and
Schumacher finishes eighth or worse--a scenario that even a
dejected Raikkonen on Sunday acknowledged as remote.
"We just need one point basically [in Suzuka]," said Schumacher
after the race. "We will be very optimistic."
He has every reason to be, even though he's looked shockingly
vulnerable over the past few months. Earlier this season, for
instance, Schumacher went five races without taking the checkered
flag, his longest drought in four years, and was even lapped on
two occasions. Schumacher's winless streak opened the door for
rising stars such as Raikkonen, of Finland, and Juan Pablo
Montoya of Colombia to make a charge at the title, and it kept
the points race tight all season, a rarity in F/1 in recent
years. Sunday's race, for example, marked the first time since
the Grand Prix came to Indy in 2000 that the championship was
still up in the air this late in the year.
"This has been the most exciting Formula One season that I can
ever remember," says F/1 legend Jackie Stewart. "It adds to the
excitement that young guys like Montoya [who is 28] and Raikkonen
 are doing well. Michael is an old shoe. He's been there,
done that. Now it's someone else's turn."
Not yet, Sir Jackie, but for the first time this century,
Schumacher, even in the glow of imminent victory, suddenly
appears mortal--and maybe even beatable next year.