Thursday, April 27, 2006

Imola Formula 1 Race Worth Watching

Living racing legend Michael Schumacher got to show why he is so great, Sunday. At the San Marino Grand Prix, in Imola, Italy, “Schumie” started at the pole and held off strong contender Fernando Alonso for 62 laps.
It almost sounds boring, having one car lead the entire race around a track many drivers consider boring. The road course style Gran Prix circuit at Imola is made up mostly of right-hand turns and chicaines, and the drivers complain that they can’t get up to the speeds they like. As if going through chicanes at 180 mph would be boring.
It certainly wasn’t boring to watch, though. The Formula One machines are very beautiful, high-tech, and very fast cars, the engines running at 18 thousand rpm. It is probably the most dangerous form of auto racing in the world--even the slightest contact between the light-weight vehicles can throw a car flying out of control for a very long distance. Such is what happened on the very first lap, when Christian Albers’ car was bumped from behind by another car and made several terrifying flips and rolls through the gravel trap. Thank God, Albers walked away from the wreck physically unharmed, but very angry and resentful of Ide (pronounced “ee-day”), the driver who had hit him.
The mastery of these drivers has to be seen to be appreciated, but, considering what they drive and the conditions under which they drive, mastery is the correct description. At age 24, Fernando Alonso is the reigning champion of Formula One, and showed that he deserved it by winning races during a season in which tire changes were not allowed. The teams had to run on the same tires they qualified and practiced on for the entire race, unless a tire was punctured or damaged beyond reasonable use. The handling characteristics of the cars would fall off drastically toward the end of the race. Last year, at Imola, he artfully dodged and blocked the acknowledged master, Michael Schumacher, to take a hard-earned win.
This year, with tire changes now allowed, the situation was reversed. Schumacher, who had mostly been in a slump through last year’s season, took the lead from the pole, and the way he drove was nothing less than awesome. His handling of his Ferrari was flawless, through the chicaines and the hard right turns. Always threatening, and always looking for a move around the leader, the equally masterful Alonso followed closely.
It is really something that has to be seen, and if you missed the race on CBS last Sunday, it will be replayed next Sunday on Speed, at 1:00pm ET.

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