Schumacher needs challenge to his supremacy

Another race, another victory and it looks almost certain another title for Michael Schumacher.

Another race, another victory and it looks almost certain another title for Michael Schumacher.

On the 10th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death, the currently unbeatable Schumacher spelt out in the most graphic terms imaginable just how much the great Brazilian is missed.

As Formula One contemplates a likely fifth consecutive world championship for Schumacher, fans can only hark back to what might have been had a flying piece of suspension not taken the life of the greatest driver of his generation 10 years ago at Imola.

The battle was just hotting up between old master Senna, then 34, and young pretender Schumacher.

It was far from friendly, certainly intense and likely to be explosive.

As it was Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen all took titles but never succeeded in posing a lasting threat to Schumacher’s relentless quest for glory.

This season might just be the start of a new challenge to Schumacher’s iron grip on the world title.

Jenson Button has emerged as Formula One’s star in the making with three consecutive podium finishes and a pole position to boot at Imola.

Schumacher is already older than Senna was when he died and the German is long overdue a sustained challenge for the title of best in the world.

At the start of the season things looked rosy with Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya expected to battle for the right to be Schumacher’s immediate successors, and the likes of Button, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber shaping up as champions of the future.

The woes currently befalling McLaren have largely written off Raikkonen’s challenge while Montoya seems more interested in kamikaze overtaking moves than a considered attack on Schumacher.

With Alonso’s Renault looking far from a title challenger and Webber’s Jaguar undermining his undoubted abilities, there remains only one man at present who can point to this season and claim to be a realistic successor.

It is unfair to expect Button to end Schumacher’s reign this season and even a genuine sustained challenge in 2005 would be a massive step forward for a man and team without a grand prix win at present.

But the signs are there that Button could one day inherit Schumacher’s crown, with the German maestro surely destined to retire sooner rather than later.

Fans can only hope Schumacher stays around long enough to spark up the kind of fireworks which were so cruelly denied the world when Senna died before really clashing with the pretender to his thrown.

A genuine title scrap has been absent from Formula One since Schumacher’s days of establishing himself as the world’s number one.

Max Mosley, president of motorsport’s world governing body the FIA, can plot as many technical changes as his spare time allows but the one single factor which would inspire casual television viewers to switch on would be a real, no-holds-barred title fight.

Formula One’s golden eras have been marked by tooth-and-nail battles between great drivers – Senna v Alain Prost, Stirling Moss v Juan Manuel Fangio and Emerson Fittipaldi v Jackie Stewart.

Those eras laid the foundations for Formula One to become the multi-billion-pound behemoth we see in the 21st century. Another golden age, perhaps Schumacher v Button, would prevent the sport stagnating.

Perhaps some solace can be gained for motorsport fans in the upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours.

An Audi victory is almost certain with four of the all-conquering R8s on show in France, but which one?

Around 25,000 people turned up just for testing last weekend – 10 times that number will make the pilgrimage in June to watch for 24 hours at the same time many Formula One fans will struggle to survive 24 minutes of the Canadian Grand Prix on that same weekend.

That’s the kind of thing that happens when a series has a smattering of unpredictability. Perhaps Formula One should take note.

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