Sunday, May 7

The 'Formula One' Promise

Michael Schumacher dominated Formula One after he and his Technical Director Ross Brawn joined Ferrari after a successful run with Benetton-Renault, winning two Drivers and Constructors Championships. Their dominance went an unprecedented five straight years (2000-2004) winning an average of 8 out of 17 races per year, setting and breaking records in podium finishes, pole wins and overall F1 wins, breaking that of legendary Brazilian F1 driver Arten Sena. Because the Schumacher-Brawn duo was so good, and because of the Championship points system (unlike in Basketball, where you play a series of elimination games to decide a Champion) in many cases they would clinch the Championship 3/4 of the way through the season. Most notably the 2004 Season when Schumacher won 11 out of the first 12 races, finishing a ridiculous 15 out 18 races in the podium... podium means top 3 (having clinched the Championship and leading in the Italian GP, his then teammate Rubens Barichello having only won 1 race in the season to Michaels 12 out of 16 races so far, appealed to his charitable sensibilities let-off the gas allowing Rubens to pass him just a few hundred feet shy of the checkered flag practically handing Ruben his 2nd win of the Season... awww) . To put it into perspective, the 2003 NASCAR Champ Matt Kenseth, won only 1 out of 34 races, he won the series by efficiently, well, finishing races, mostly in the top 10.

During this incredible championship stint, although i'm a fan of not only Michael Schumacher but Ferrari altogether, the races predictability made the sport very boring to watch. It was either a Ferrari or the other Ferrari in the field or a Mclaren Mercedes with two-time F1 Champ Mika Hakkinen behind the wheel that won the races. Mika Hakkinen perhaps the only F1 driver bold enough to pass Michael, who had an uncanny ability to keep a lead, for a lead until former rookie of the year and CART champ Juan Pablo Montoya, who interestingly enough succeeded Mika in Mclaren. To further explain this Schumacher mystique, in Motorsports even the most novice of fans know a great car is incumbent in winning races and championships, Michael didn't always have the best car, when he had the best car he was downright perfect, and when he didn't have the best car he was still able to win races. To expound even more on my Schumi reverence, in the F1 2003 Season, Ferrari had a 50 horsepower deficit to Williams BMW piloted then by Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael's brother Raplh. Even with the big horsepower disparity Michael won 6 out of 17 races. Michael won, with the help of the reliable F2003-GA, by sheer talent and talent alone. The Brazilian Rubens Barichello, Michaels teammate who has the same Technical Director and engineers at his disposal could only amass 1 win, the Japanese GP, but thats after Michael clinched the Championship in the penultimate race in the US GP.

As exciting as the 2005 season had turned out to be, the rule changes were maniacal. Rules such as 'race engines mandated to last at least 2 race weekends' and the befuddling '1 tire for the duration of the race'. Anyhow the rules have been revamped in 2006 to a more constructor-friendly structure. As a result there are 3 different winners so far in 5 races this season. The excitement level remains non-strident thus far because of the scarcity of passing in the corners, but the resurgence of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen lurking a few points behind the leaders makes for a promising Formula one season, even if the passing is all done in the pits (Michael won the pole in the Bahrain GP only to be passed by Alonso from the pits on his way for the win. Not to be outdone, Michael returned the favor by passing Alonso from the pits after he won the pole in Nurburgring for Michaels 2nd win of the season... good stuff eh?)

With 86 wins, 65 poles and 7, count them Seven Driver Championships thus far in his brilliant incomparable career, Michael undoubtedly will become the greatest Formula one driver when he is finished. But as great a driver Michael Schumacher is, my favorite performance of his is not one of his 65 pole positions or 86 wins but a race in which he didn't finish... The 1998 formula one season saw Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen duking it out until the last race of the Season in Suzuka, Japan. Formula One season finales are usually just a formality making it really unimpressive, but, this year, this GP, the Championship was still up for grabs. Leading in the points and poised to win his first F1 Championship was the Fin Mika Hakkinen for Mclaren Mercedes, hot on his heels was the menacing Michael Schumacher driving for Ferrari which has not won an F1 Championship in two decades (they hired Michael from Benetton after winning 2 championships). Mika had to finish the race in a position ahead of the red Ferrari to capture the Championship while only a first place finish crowns Michael the Champ. How's that for dramatics?

The excitement and anticipation was palpable. Ferrari, being the most recognizable sports car and an F1 pioneer, they have the largest fan-base of all F1 teams in the world. When Michael Schumacher won the pole 7-10ths of a second ahead of Mika Hakkinen to start the race, the Japanese crowd was pandemic (Michael was 2 seconds ahead of his teammate Eddie Irvine in an identical car... that's fucking talent. Eddie was 3rd in the Championship points race). Michael was in a great position to put Ferrari back into the Championship plateau and his 3rd driver championship. A restart was needed due to a technical problem intesifying the anxiousness of the Ferrari fans. But in a twist of fate Michael stalled his Ferrari on the warm-up lap before the restart, and per FIA rules a stalled car had to restart at the back of the field (20 cars back). Suffice it to say, this was a devastating blow to Ferrari's chances of prominence... But Michael drove a stoic race, passing 8 cars in one lap. I was glued in my couch and my eyes riveted to the television. Michael was putting on a remarkable show, his race pace blistering and unmatched, and by three quarters of the way to race finish, Michael found himself incredibly in 3rd place. But due to race track debris from a crash, Michael punctured a tire destroying the car's suspension ending his day and the hopes of a Ferrari Championship and dismayed millions of fans in the process. But such the inequities of Formula One racing, i will never know if Michael would have caught Mika, and if he did, would he have been able to pass him? I believe he would have. I remember putting my head down feeling sorry for Michael but admiring him not for his heroics but his fortitude and talent.

Michael might as well have won the 1999 Season if he hadn't broken his foot in a high-speed crash at the British Grand Prix in Silverstone forcing him to miss 7 races (only finishing 32 points outside of the Championship). His then teammate Eddie Irvine, whom Michael out-qualifies a full 2 seconds faster with regularity, finished a scant 2 points away from repeat Champ Mika Hakkinen.


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