by Amit Goyal

It was the last F1 race in Suzuka for some time to come. It was definitely the last race of Schumacher here. And everyone was out to see the Red Emperor score a big victory.

It was a race he was supposed to win with ease. And, till the 36th lap today, nothing happened to the contrary. Schumacher qualified second on the grid, just behind teammate Massa and 3 places ahead of fifth placed Alonso. He passed Massa on the third lap and after that remained comfortably at the top of the group.

Alonso, however, drove with a lot of passion and quickly overtook Jenson Button and Ralf Schumacher to come up to the third place and drove like there was no tomorrow. At no point of time did he let the two Ferraris out of his sight. He overtook Massa after the first round of pit stops and drove great laps in and out of the pits to exit just ahead of Massa. The difference in their stops being a mere 0.3 seconds.

Michael was the last of the top 3 to pit and that erased all doubts of a lightly fueled Ferrari for qualifying and the rumors about the tyres not being suited well enough for the circuit. He drove in his usual calm and composed manner, and looked all set to win. Disaster struck, however, on the second Degner Curve on the 37th lap and fumes came out of the red machine. The circuit looked on in stunned disbelief as the Ferrari of Schumacher retired for the first time since Spain 2005 without a crash. Schumacher, however, got out his car calmly, waved at the crowds and shook hands with all he passed, to show that he was the true Champion.

Alonso then drove a very calm race to take his Renault home, for a first victory since June. Massa came in second and Fisichella third. Button and Raikkonen completed the top 5.

Only a miracle can now see Schumacher win the championship. What is needed is a victory in Sao Paulo and Alonso finishing out of points. Will that happen? Well, with the fortunes changing as it has this season, I would definitely not bet against it but I agree that it is only a slim chance.

On another note, I have always been a critic of Alonso, not because of his driving skills, but because he does not have enough grace. That came to light again last week when a frustrated Alonso blamed his own crew and mate Fisichella of letting him down in the last race at Shanghai and even said that there were people in the Renault pits that did not want him to win. I hope Alonso has watched how Schumacher behaved after his blown engine in this race and has picked up a tip or two.

“The drivers’ championship is over because I don’t want to go to Brazil hoping someone else retires – Michael Schumacher

Michael’s Magic at Monza

September 11, 2006

by Amit Goyal

The F1 race at Monza today was of special interest today for more reasons that one. It is Ferrari’s home turf. Amid speculations that Schumacher would announce his retirement here, it was also of further interest because Schumacher had qualified much ahead of Alonso, with Massa in between the both, and Raikkonen at the pole it would be interesting to see how much of the 12 point lead would Schumacher be able to slice off. The stands were filled with the tifosi and you could sense that they were anticipating a fairy tale run for Ferrari here. Guess what? Today was their lucky day.

The race started with a surprise that Alonso would be staring from the 10th position on the grid instead of 5th, a penalty of 5 positions for obstructing Massa’s qualifying session. Naturally, Renault team boss Flavio Briatore was very pretty pissed at this and felt that the race had been fixed and that the FIA wants Michael to win. Now, while I agree that F1 Marshall’s may not be very fair, I don’t remember Mr. Briatore making any such statement when Michael was penalised for a similar offense at Monte Carlo. That proves just one thing to me, that the Renault team is a bunch of sore losers. Alonso has received a lot of flak for not being sporting enough. I hope that he can improve his performance on this front, for humility is the hallmark of a true champion.

Anyways, the race began with Raikkonen (possibly the next Ferrari driver) holding off Schumacher till the first round of pit stops, after which Schumacher returned to head the pack. Everything was smooth after this except a minor blip during the 33rd lap in which Michael made an unusual error, braking too late at the first turn, and almost banged into Scott Speed. After that Schumacher shifted into the glide mode in which he just paces himself to the chequered flag without pushing the car too much. I have always believed tha the greatest strengths of Schumacher are not brilliant overtaking maneuvers but driving a very precisely planned race, those drives in and out of the pits, and those fast laps when needed.

The real twist in the entire story came in the 43rd lap when Alonso (now up to 3rd position) retired from the race with a blown engine. This was probably a mixed event for Ferrari as this would mean no points for Alonso and with Schumacher now heading towards a clear and comfortable victory it meant that the championship was wide open. However, Massa, blinded from the smoke emanating from Alonso’s Renault drove on to the dirt and damaged his right front tyre and had to stop to get it changed and joined the race in 9th position out of points.

In the end Schumacher won quite comfortably followed by Raikkonen and Robert Kubica (it was only his third race). The face of Jean Todt when Schumacher crossed the chequered flag (the 90th of his illustrious career) confirmed the fact that Schumacher would indeed announce his retirement. It was time for official announcement of the news that had been anticipated through out the week now. During the post race conference a visibly emotional Schumacher announced that the next three races would be the last of his career and thanked his family, his team and his fans for their support.

While Schumacher may not get the title of the greatest ever (that being reserved for the late Senna) he surely has been the most prolific. He probably has every possible F1 record to his name. From the most podiums to the most poles. From the most titles to the most victories at a single venue. He has been there and done that. The sport will be that much less exciting without him. But these words can, for the moment, be saved for 3 more races.

The F1 championship is now poised for a lip smacking last three races as Ferrari leads the constructors championship by 2 points and Schumacher trails the title also by 2. Will Schumacher be able to mark the end of his career with another title? Will Ferrai win the constructors title? Well, I do not want to hazard a guess. So fasten your seat belts and gear up for some action.

PS: Did you know that the Lancias, Ferraris and Maseratis of the 1950s also sported a V8 engine?

PS: Amit is now the part of Desicritics.org and the post is also posted here.