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Barrichello on a roll

SUZUKA (JAPAN), OCT. 7. There's a Ferrari driver with two straight victories heading into the Japanese Grand Prix, and it's not Michael Schumacher.

Rubens Barrichello won the Italian and Chinese Grand Prix, taking advantage of some unusual mistakes by his teammate and seven-time World Formula One driving champion.

``It's been a coincidence that Michael has been struggling,'' Barrichello said.

Schumacher has spun in the last two races, and had another spinout in qualifying at the new Shanghai circuit that put him at the back of the pack.

``It was just one of those races you have every so often and everything seems to happen in one weekend,'' Schumacher said of the China GP.

Barrichello, meanwhile, has steadfastly finished first in each race to give Ferrari a total of 14 victories in 16 races so far this season.

And it doesn't look like Ferrari's dominance is about to end.

``At this stage it's important that a Ferrari wins, whether it's Rubens or whether it's me,'' Schumacher said. ``Of course, I would like to be the one.''

Barrichello knows that past performances count for little ahead of the Japan race. ``For me it doesn't change the fact I won the last two races,'' he said ``It's nice to have the wins, but everyone starts from zero.''

Vital factors

For Barrichello there are three factors vital to winning Sunday. ``Hard work, trying to set up the car right and keep cool,'' he said.

Barrichello won last year's Japan race and Schumacher, after setting a record in recent testing, is eager to return to the winning form that propelled him to 12 wins in the first 13 races.

``There is no question about it, and the fact that not everything went smoothly at Shanghai does not come into it,'' Schumacher said of his desire to win at Japan.

However he was quick to note that he had the fastest lap of the race in China. ``In terms of speed, I was there,'' Schumacher said. ``The race never gave me the possibility to show it.''

Schumacher also had a puncture at Shanghai, and after starting from the pit lane because of an engine change, he ended up in 12th place, the worst finish without points since 1999.

Schumacher, anxious to get back up to speed, did some testing at Jerez, Spain, over the last two weeks and set a track record.

``This is the great thing about Ferrari. Even if the championships have been won, we are still hungry,'' he said. ``Everyone is always motivated, we all have the same ideas and there is no standing still.''

And if he falters there is always Barrichello to come through. ``The last couple of races have been just phenomenal,'' Barrichello said. ``And we'll just keep on doing things the way we've done.'' His victory at Japan last year helped Schumacher secure his sixth title in the final race of the season.

Schumacher was battling McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen for top spot in the Drivers' standings. And after a shower in qualifying messed up the German's plans, he went on to eighth place in the race. But Barrichello took the checkered flag to deny Raikkonen the points he needed and allowed Schumacher to take the title by two points.

This season Raikkonen had his problems at the start of the season, failing to finish five of the first seven races.

However he became one of the two non-Ferrari winners this season when he won the Belgian Grand Prix in August. There Schumacher secured the season title with a second place in that race. The other non-Ferrari winner, Jarno Trulli, makes a return after missing the last race. He was dropped by Renault after poor recent showings after winning the Monaco Grand Prix in May. Trulli subsequently signed with Toyota for 2005, allowing him to compete for his new team in the final two races. — AP

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