Ferrari can clinch the manufacturers’ championship at the German Grand Prix on Sunday, but Michael Schumacher’s below average winning record at his home circuit could hand McLaren star Kimi Raikkonen the best chance of victory the Finn’s had this year.

Ferrari can clinch the manufacturer’s championship at the German Grand Prix on Sunday, but Michael Schumacher’s below average winning record at his home circuit could hand McLaren star Kimi Raikkonen the best chance of victory the Finn’s had this year.


The six-time world champion’s personal goal will be to equal his record for most victories in a season (11) this weekend. But Schumacher has only twice here in 11 starts, his worst record at any track. reports that the last time he had to drop out of any race because of a mechanical failure - not a crash like in Monaco this year - was at the German Grand Prix in 2001.


Schumacher finished seventh at Hockenheim last year, one of the rare times he failed to make the podium over the past five years. "Hockenheim has always been one of the most important rounds of the season, even though it hasn't been the scene of my best moments in the past,” the German said.


"A grand prix like the one at Hockenheim is always something special. Yes, it is one of many races but it is also a little different. It is my home race and I am in the happy position to say that I feel like that about other places," he added.


Ferrari can wrap up the manufacturers’ championship with a little help from others this weekend. The Scuderia is currently 95 points ahead of second-place Renault and if the Italian team leads by 108 points after Hockenheim it will gain its sixth consecutive team title and 14th overall.


But McLaren, powered by Mercedes from nearby Stuttgart, have been making leaps forward with their new model that was introduced at the French Grand Prix. They are coming off two successful races highlighted by Kimi Raikkonen's second place in the British GP and a number of top times in practices.


McLaren-Mercedes has not been as close to victory in 2004 as it will be at the Hockenheim, the Woking-based team’s boss Ron Dennis said this week. The Briton also confirmed that even more upgrades have been carried out on the new MP4-19B.


"Put it this way," Dennis told the , "the car will definitely be faster at Hockenheim that at Silverstone. Based on our experience Grand Prix racing, there will have to be something in the pipeline coming from BAR or Renault or Ferrari. I think we'll take a step forward that won't be matched."


Raikkonen added: "The result at Silverstone and the pace of the MP4-19B during the weekend was very positive for the whole team. I felt competitive all weekend and am looking forward to taking this form to Germany and the Mercedes-Benz home support.


“We are bringing some additional aerodynamic modifications to the 19B on line at the race, which we tested after the British Grand Prix and the results of which were encouraging and have shown that there is more to come from the car," he added.


Nevertheless, Schumacher is still virtually assured of his seventh world F1 title. He has 100 points with only team-mate Rubens Barrichello at 74 within shouting distance.


Jenson Button of BAR-Honda is the best of the rest at 53 but his chances to overtake Schumacher could evaporate over the next two races. A victory is worth 10 points and there are only seven races left in the season.


Button’s team-mate, test driver Anthony Davidson, set the pace from Schumacher and Raikkonen in the first of Friday’s two practice session at Hockenheim. The English test driver – who has been linked to both Sauber and Williams-BMW for 2005 – lapped the 4,574-km circuit in 1:15,756s - a tenth of a second faster than Schumacher.


BAR team boss David Richards would have been buoyed by Honda’s announcement that it supply engines to the Brackley-based team until at least the end of the 2007 season.


Honda joined up with BAR in 2000 and the current contract was due to end this year, but they will continue to supply engines and work on chassis development, giving the team long-term stability.