Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher reigned supreme in the changing weather conditions of the US Grand Prix on Sunday and virtually sealed his sixth world championship title with a win at Indianapolis.

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher reigned supreme in the changing weather conditions of the US Grand Prix on Sunday and virtually sealed his sixth world championship title with a win at Indianapolis.


At the flag, McLaren-Mercedes driver Kimi Raikkonen trailed the German by 18,2 seconds after 73 laps of drama and tension and his second-place finish kept the championship race alive until October 12’s Japanese Grand Prix - but only just.


"This is a great and important win," Schumacher, who qualified a lowly seventh on Saturday, said. "It is such an emotional day and this is so fantastic after not a good qualifying performance. To win this one, in the crucial stage of the championship meant a lot, and I'm just so thankful to the guys at Ferrari." Schumacher needs only to gain one point on Raikkonen at Suzuka in two weeks' time to secure his sixth title.


Eleven cars finished the race, which was run as rain fell on the area intermittently from the start of the race and the wind gusted over the center of Indiana. Sauber-Petronas driver and veteran Heinz-Harald Frentzen took the final podium slot by capitalizing on a two-stop pit strategy and a lengthy second stint, unlike the two drivers in front of him. It was his second time on the podium at the Speedway, he also took third in the 2000 inaugural race.


Juan-Pablo Montoya's dream of a 2003 title went away on the third lap when he had contact with Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello and the Williams-BMW ace was penalised by the race stewards with a drive-through penalty for the infraction. He would finish sixth, a lap down after making four pit stops (including the drive-through).


"A very disappointing race, basically decided by the penalty I was given for the accident with Rubens and the moment I had to pay it," said Montoya, who had to delay his change to wet tires by a lap with the penalty. "It is sad to lose my drivers' championship chances this way, especially knowing that I just needed to finish fifth today to keep my hopes open."


Pole-sitter Raikkonen made an excellent start when the lights went green to lead the field into Turn One, while third-starter Olivier Panis passed Rubens Barrichello at the start for second. Schumacher had progressed to fourth by the back straightaway while Montoya fell to seventh.


Light rain began to fall by lap two as Raikkonen pulled away from Panis and Ralf Schumacher, who had moved up from fifth on the grid, holding a 2,7-second advantage after just three laps. As rain intensified, it became more difficult for Raikkonen to hold his lead as the Michelin tires just didn't have the grip he needed to stay in front. Ralf Schumacher began to close the gap, from a high of 3,6 seconds to just under two seconds by the 12th lap.


Montoya began to close in on David Coulthard, taking third place on the 15th tour and set off in pursuit of Raikkonen. Panis, as expected had begun the race on low fuel and was in the pits on lap six. Raikkonen made his first stop on lap 19, handing the lead to Schumacher for a single lap.


Montoya served his penalty after running second and returned to the battle in 11th place yet would pit again on lap 22 for wet-weather Michelins.


By lap 20, the rain had intensified and the pace slowed measurably and, while Schumacher pitted on lap 20, the Ferrari emerged with dry-spec Bridgestones. It was a delicate decision and one the team would regret, even as they returned to the pits just one lap later for intermediate tyres.


The stops shuffled BAR Honda’s Jenson Button in the lead and put Frentzen second. The German had called for wet tyres on the 20th lap and wouldn't pit again until lap 49! Raikkonen and Schumacher rejoined in third and fourth, respectively, while Montoya slowly worked his way up the field.


The rain lessened just a few laps after most of the cars had stopped, but not before the pace and weather had taken out Ralf, who spun backwards into the outside tire barrier at Turn 8. Mark Webber's Jaguar joined him at the same spot on the same, 21st lap. Ralf admitted he made "the wrong decision to stay out longer, because the rain was so heavy. It's very difficult conditions for all of us out there."


Webber agreed: "It was a difficult race with a lot of patchy rain. I was driving my own race and trying to do our best at that particular stage. We were coming in on that lap anyway, but I lost the car at Turn 6 and couldn't stop on the back straight because there was so much water there in the groove."


The rain was gone by the 26th lap, but four laps later Olivier Panis slid into the tire barrier at Turn Seven to end his weekend when he "spun when another storm hit." Two tours later, Coulthard fell out of contention for points when he went off the circuit at the now infamous Turn 8 and rejoined.


He called on the pits but was penalised for speeding in the pitlane. Coulthard later retired with gearbox problems on his McLaren-Mercedes.


With the sun coming out after 40 laps, the complexion of the race changed. Button's BAR experienced hydraulic pressure loss on lap 41 and he parked it at pit exit. "I came around the last corner and the engine started to die. There was a lot of smoke and that was it," he explained. At that time Raikkonen pitted for dry tires, making his final stop and rejoining in fourth behind M. Schumacher, Frentzen and Nick Heidfeld.


Fernando Alonso's star-crossed weekend ended on lap 44 when he pulled off track in a trail of smoke, only the fourth retirement in 15 races for the Mild Seven Renault driver. "It is particularly frustrating because, with Ralf and Rubens both going out, I could have taken fourth in the championship."


Schumacher made his third and final stop on lap 48 and gave the point to Frentzen, who relinquished it a lap later when he made his last call for fuel and tires. Ralph Firman's return in the Jordan Ford ended on the same lap when he spun out of the race.


At that time Heidfeld occupied second place but, with his own stop on lap 51, found himself in fourth. He eventually finished fifth, giving the Sauber Petronas team two cars in the top five. "I think it was a good race. We had one stop more than which was a bit of a problem. I think it was a great result for the team."


Light rain resumed on the 51st lap but ended just four tours later, as Raikkonen settled into a 20-second lag of Schumacher. Jarno Trulli passed Heidfeld for fourth on lap 62, showing the promise he had on Friday when he led the practice and pre-qualifying. "I am pleased because we worked hard for a difficult race with the track conditions and came away with a fourth position. It was a bit of a gamble choosing the strategy."


The gap between Schumacher and Raikkonen would go as high as 23,4 seconds (lap 66) as traffic came into play and settled at the end just under 13 seconds.


"For sure we lost the race because we got very unlucky with the weather today, but what can you do? Michael is always making life more difficult. The good news is that we still have a chance in Japan, but it's more difficult now," the Finn said.


Behind Montoya in sixth, Giancarlo Fisichella took an unexpected seventh place in the Jordan Ford, while the final point went to an elated Justin Wilson in the second Jaguar. Cristiano da Matta finished ninth after incurring for speeding in the pits, Jos Verstappen took 10th and Nicolas Kiesa was the final classified driver in 11th.


And so, in two weeks time the F1 tour has its finale at the Suzuka circuit. While Schumacher needs to score only one point to win the championship – even if Raikkonen wins in Japan, there are still other positions up for grabs. Michael Schumacher has 92 points, Kimi Raikkonen 83 and Juan Pablo Montoya holds 82 points. Ralf Schumacher stands fourth with 58, while there's a tie for fifth between Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso (55).


On the Constructors' side, Ferrari moved back into first place with 147, while BMW Williams holds 144 second-place points and McLaren Mercedes stands third with 128. Mild Seven Renault has a firm hold on fourth place with 84 but the battle for fifth place is tight between Sauber Petronas (19), Lucky Strike BAR Honda and Jaguar Racing, both with 18 points. Panasonic Toyota has 14 points and Jordan Ford holds 13 points.


For Michael Schumacher and Scuderia Ferrari, the victory in the United States Grand Prix was, in the German's words, "Just so beautiful. I think it was a great event here. If you look at the atmosphere, I think it was outstanding, was probably one of the best ones we had this year. The "tifosi" of fans for our three groups, the ones for Ferrari, for Williams and McLaren surprised me with their passion. I am so happy to deliver something back."

Original article from Car