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Eye Of Le Tiger
July 09, 2004
Forget what you heard. Let's get real. Fernando Alonso won the French Grand Prix. That's right, you heard me. The precocious, insanely talented young Spaniard blazed through qualifying, drove out of his skin to hold on to his pole position and stretch out a few seconds as the race began, and his strategy, like his impressive drive of the afternoon, was flawless. Absolutely.
Renault had a dream race at their home Grand Prix, and Jarno held on consistently to ensure the celebrations would be good and long. Flavio Briatore can start shopping for a younger [pre-teen now, Flav?] Victoria's Secret model than Naomi, his earnings are up, and his dashing boys can do no wrong. That's right, Fernando Alonso and Renault just won the French Grand Prix. That is what really happened.
Formula One has left reality far behind a long long time ago. Under any circumstances, it was impossible for Alonso to lose Magny-Cours. His car was flying, the Michelins were quicker off the tracks, and the fuel loads and pitstops were impeccable. He drove with unerring constancy, kept the lap times up. He kept his head awesomely cool, and drove without mistake or incident throughout the afternoon. This was a victorious drive, worthy of any World champion at his peak. Nothing could beat Fernando Alonso this Sunday. Nothing at all.
It's just that a certain man has taken it unto his tremendously able hands to do just that: The Impossible. Michael Schumacher, it cannot be argued, produces miracles - full-blooded crimson spectacles of incredible prestidigitation - at will. He smiled from the top step of the podium yet again, with the customary wink comfortably in place, and this was a man enjoying himself thoroughly. Shrugging off the plaudits as the incredulous journalists jostled for query-room, he smirked: "No risk, no fun." That statement sums a lot up for the Ferrari driver, who is now basking in the thrill of the greatest competition he has ever had to face: Himself.
Contrary to popular belief, he has faced a few competitors in his time. Senna, Hill, Villeneuve, Irvine, Hakkinen, Montoya, Raikonnen, Alonso. He beat them all. Hard, hammering defeat into their skulls with monotonous consistency. A couple took the upper hand, but then were beaten, and bowed out after the ignominy of repeated defeat dulled the luster of their momentary crowns. Now, Michael competes with himself: which is to say that he pushes himself harder than ever to race better than ever. His benchmark is his glorious past, and the resultant bar is so high that the great Fangio himself would think twice before attempting it, and possibly even retreat to a nice plate of cannelloni.
Michael innovates. In a race, knowing that second place is definitely his for the taking, he pulls no punches. There is nothing to lose, nothing to prove to anyone but himself. So the plunge is taken. Our jaws hit the floor as the four-stop strategy became apparent, and, as he kept the lap-times inch-perfect and flat-out for seventy laps, we marveled. Non-Ferrari fans shook their heads and willed it untrue, but it was a masterclass in supremacy. The black and white chessboard called Strategy will struggle to remember finer executors than the terrific troika of Brawn, Todt and Schumacher.
There are people, I am sure, who found the French Grand Prix boring. I feel sorry for these folk, and earnestly suggest they switch [recently-developed, obviously] allegiance to less-cerebral sports such as one of the brutishly vulgar American racing leagues. Formula One, the pinnacle of motorsport, has always been about battles inside the brains - a plethora of brilliant thinkers are to be credited for each race win, and it is to see the machinations of these superlative thinkers that we live, and should be thankful. The greatest drivers of their eras have not necessarily been the fastest, but the ones most precise, the ones able to outthink. Which is why Prost always had the indubitable edge in his legendary rivalry with the Brazilian.
Did you really think driving a Formula One car - that beautiful, stunning creation of breathtaking aerodynamic beauty and immense technical genius - was all about shoving a heavy foot hard onto a pedal? Tsk.
The French race was special for another reason: only two cars did not finish the race, and this is a testimony toward modern-day reliability. There is a uproarious debate raging across engine manufacturers and the FIA's head honchos regarding reduction of speeds in Formula One, and this is a sign that the cars might be able to actually absorb all that power and run fine, especially on a circuit like Magny Cours, which is notorious for eating into those pesky brakes. Suddenly, we're all flashback'ing to 1961, and envisioning a race where every car finishes. Before we get too carried away, though, it does have to be remembered that just a couple of weekends ago, all but eight cars did not finish, and these so-called `reliable' races are the exception. Still, refreshing.
Rubens Barrichello giving us a last corner lunge on Jarno Trulli which was worthy of a Spielberg epic. Ultimate lap, wheel-to-wheel. Spellbinding stuff from a racer who has really come into his own.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who, compared to Michael's seventy perfect laps, had barely two. Plus, he spun in embarrassing fashion, and his overtaking prowess [he actually managed to make up a position and scavenge a point] was anything but impressive. Takuma Sato, this is the man you need to watch while you overtake, and make sure your career doesn't turn emulate his. And yet, the Colombian fumes. This, in a race where he has a chance to make up some points because his regular running-mate is out of commission, and he can work on eradicating the memory of his successive disqualifications. Pitiful. Predictable. Pathetic.
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