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Accusations, insults fly as showdown looms

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Sep 14 (Reuters) The accusations and insults are flying, a sure sign that Formula One's title battle is reaching boiling point.

Renault's world champion Fernando Alonso accuses his Ferrari title rival Michael Schumacher of being the most unsporting driver in the history of the sport, as well as the most successful.

Schumacher's manager Willi Weber says the Spaniard's behaviour is ''pitiful'' and his comments ''totally below the belt''.

Renault team boss Flavio Briatore tells reporters that Schumacher lacks star appeal, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo says Briatore talks too much.

Like boxers growling and grimacing at a weigh-in, the posturing is all part of the build-up to the big fight.

Yet there is also genuine bad blood building up between the title contenders.

Alonso is just two points ahead of Schumacher, the seven times champion who is three races away from retirement. Ferrari are three clear of champions Renault in the constructors' standings.

Nothing will be decided at the next race in China but everything will be at stake in Japan and the Oct 22 season-ender in Brazil.

Meanwhile, there is controversy and suspicion.

TYRE SUSPICIONS Renault were aggrieved that their performance-enhancing 'mass damper' system was outlawed in July after being used for more than half the season and questioned the timing of the ban and who triggered it.

In the four races since then, Alonso has taken just 12 points to Schumacher's 27.

They were outraged, along with many others, that Alonso was penalised for allegedly impeding Ferrari's Felipe Massa in qualifying at Monza -- the 25-year-old demoted from fifth to 10th on the starting grid.

Alonso's penalty seemed unfair -- former champion Niki Lauda said it was the craziest decision he had seen in all his years in the sport -- and while Briatore later declared complete faith in the governing body and the race stewards, it was only after he faced possible disrepute charges.

''This is a world championship which has already been decided at the table,'' he had said.

''They have decided to give the world championship to Schumacher and that is what will be.'' MORE REUTERS AY KN1439

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