Michael Schumacher returns to his “living room” this weekend on the brink of joining a highly-exclusive club.
The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, that has already been the scene of a number of notable achievements for the seven-times champion, will be the 300th race Schumacher has entered.
Former Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello, with 326 races to his name, is the only other driver to have hit the triple century of grands prix.
If, as expected, Mercedes hand Schumacher an additional one-year deal for 2013, there is every chance he will add another record to his already impressive cv.
This weekend’s race represents a rare highlight of another difficult campaign with Mercedes for Schumacher, as despite showing improved speed, the car’s unreliability has undermined his results.
Regardless, the 43-year-old said: “Spa is like my living room. For me, it’s clearly the number one race track in the world. It’s uncanny how I always seem to have special moments there – my debut, my first win, a world championship victory and many great races.
“The fact I will also take part in my 300th grands prix at Spa was somehow almost inevitable and we will have to celebrate it in the right way. I’m proud to be just the second driver in the history of the sport to reach this milestone, and there’s no question we are looking to have a particularly nice weekend.
“We delivered a good performance in Spa last year, so I’ll be doing everything possible to drive a strong race again.”
Last year, on another milestone when Schumacher celebrated the 20th anniversary of his F1 debut, the German finished fifth after starting from last on the grid.
An accident – caused by a faulty right-rear wheel attachment – just 90 seconds into qualifying pitched Schumacher into a wall, severely compromising a race in which he still produced a fine drive.
Ahead of Schumacher’s latest landmark, team principal Ross Brawn said: “For the second year in succession, Spa will be a special occasion for Michael and the team as we follow his 20th anniversary last year by celebrating his 300th grands prix this time around.
“It is a fantastic achievement which has so far only been matched by one other driver, and we look forward to celebrating with him, and hopefully a strong weekend.”
Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen is determined to chalk up a nap hand of wins this weekend at a track he rates as “the greatest racing circuit in the world”.
Four times Raikkonen has stood on the top step of the podium to celebrate a Belgian Grand Prix victory at Spa-Francorchamps, the scene of his last triumph three years ago.
Two of those years were spent pursuing his rallying dream, but on his return to Formula One this season he has yet to taste victory with Lotus. The 32-year-old Finn has come close on three occasions, finishing second in Bahrain, Valencia, and most recently Hungary prior to a five-week summer break in between races ahead of the resumption in Belgium from tomorrow.
Around the Hungaroring, Raikkonen hounded McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton to the chequered flag but was unable to find a way past, having to settle for second best again.
Raikkonen readily concedes to “disappointment we haven’t quite made that final step”, which is why Spa would represent the ideal place to break his winless duck this year.
“Usually I’ve achieved good results at the Belgian Grand Prix, but what’s happened before doesn’t help me right now. Saying that, it doesn’t do any harm either,” said Raikkonen.
“Obviously it would be great to win at Spa for a fifth time. For me there have only been good memories from Spa and it’s great to go racing there.
“For me it is the greatest racing circuit in the world. It is my favourite place. I’ve liked it since my first ever visit there in 2000 with Formula Renault.”
Raikkonen is fully aware one of the reasons behind his failure to win this year has been his form in qualifying, with his highest grid slot fourth on two occasions, most recently at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
As one of five drivers going for the title, but trailing Fernando Alonso by 48 points, it is an area he knows he has to improve to achieve that elusive win and if he is to remain a realistic contender for the F1 crown.
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