Schuey guns for eighth tittle

Seven-time champion plans to race on in face of retirement rumours

Michael Schumacher has dismissed speculation that he will retire after clinching his seventh Formula One world championship — and even continues to leave the door open to racing beyond 2006, which is when his contract with Ferrari runs out.

The 35-year-old made sure of the 2004 crown at the Belgian Grand Prix in August by finishing second to McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen at Spa-Francorchamps. Schumacher has won 12 of the 14 grands prix run this year and wrapped up the title with four rounds still to go.

Three days after the race, a press conference with the champion was scheduled for Monza, sparking rumours that he'd make public a decision to quit the sport. Instead, Schumacher said: "Apparently I'm supposed to announce my retirement here, but that is not the case.

"I love the sport, it's in my blood to compete and fight, to try to beat my opponents and win. That's just what I'm living for, in away. As long as I'm competitive and able to fight with the young boys, I'm happy."

Immediately after the Belgian GP, Schumacher admitted that a new contract with Ferrari beyond 2006 is a possibility. "Right now, I could well see myself continuing beyond that," he said. "I feel perfectly fine."

If Schumacher wins the next two titles and chooses to go for a 10th in 2007, he will be 38 years old — still younger than a number of his predecessors: Nigel Mansell was 39 when he claimed his title in 1992; Jack Brabham was 40 when he won his third championship in '66; and Juan Fangio was 46 when he secured his fifth F1 crown in '57.

Schumacher has broken a string of drivers' records, but has always made it clear that statistics do not interest him while he is still racing. Nevertheless, with 82 GP wins the magic mark of 100 is in his reach.

Ferrari's sporting director Jean Todt said: "In a way it might seem extraordinary, but he's still young, he's very motivated, he's very fit and he feels good. He's in an environment which brings him serenity and the feelings he enjoys, so there's no reason for him to finish."

The key to Schumacher's future could lie with the other individuals who comprise Ferrari's F1 'Dream Team'. The contracts of Todt, tech director Ross Brawn, chief designer Rory Byrne and engine boss Paolo Martinelli also run out around the end of 2006. At least one of them, Byrne, is expected to quit. Will that create a natural conclusion to an era of dominance?