Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fate & fortune collide at Suzuka

You couldn't have scripted the race at Suzuka on Sunday. An incredibly thrilling and unbelievable Japanese Grand Prix. I didn't bother watching the qualifying on Saturday and ended up just checking the results that night, realising that to my horror and consternation neither Fernando nor Fisico had fared particularly brilliantly and were posed fifth and sixth on the grid for Sunday's race, despite Fisi's great practice times on the Friday.
The weather proved fair on race day and Alonso got off to a reasonable start claiming a place from Trulli while Fisi soon after shifted up to start gaining some ground on the leaders. It was clear that Schumacher was on top form and the skills that have made him world champion several times over were displayed as he managed the car with a ferocity of knowing that this race, despite there being still Interlagos in two weeks, would be the one to determine the Driver Championship. After his first pit stop Alonso came out in front of Ferrari's Felipe Massa and then as Ralf Schumacher stops to refuel, slid in neatly to second place. At this stage Schumacher (older) was a good 28 seconds in front of Alonso. After he pits however, the gap closed to around 6 seconds and it looked to be all about Fernando simply piling on the pressure and just inching closer and closer to the German. Both Michelins and Bridgestones were faring well, no major discrepancies between the two and to be honest the opposing cars seemed matched in performance and ability. The Renault garage must have been positively full of anxious mechanics biting their fingernails and tugging at their collars knowing that the make or break aspect of the race was totally out of their hands as Alonso and Fisi fought to keep Renault in with a chance of winning the CC.
Fisi was running a super race, concentrated and determined and as with Fernando, intent on getting up there on the podium and closing the points gap. And then Fortune decide to open herself up and pour down on Renault and Fernando for in lap 38 Michael Schumacher had engine trouble, the first time for a Ferrari since 2000, and he retired from the race. Michael Schumacher was out of the race. It was an unexpected twist of fate that had Alonso punching his fist as he glided past the smoking Ferrari at 120 mph, moving into pole position and knowing that the victory was his. His seventh win of the season and so long as he wins in Brazil and unless tragedy befalls him in the final race of the season, (and honestly the way the last few races have gone who the hell knows what will happen?) he can be confident of a second year of knowing he is the absolute best Formula 1 racing driver in the world. No small achievement for a guy of 25 years old.
Massa managed to maintain a steady second which gave Ferrari some valuable points but no doubt his second place was bittersweet in the light of Michael's tragedy. Certainly his downcast expression did nothing to hide his disappointment at Ferrari's mischance.
Fisi drove home third much to my great delight. Although as we later learned in the press room during the post-race interviews, his mental race had been through the gauntlet as he struggled to come to terms with the loss of his best friend who had died of a heart attack on the Thursday prior to the GP. I always felt Fisi's driving ambition needs a mental push and while tragedy is certainly not the fuel for the fire one wants, he ran a tremendous race, strategically sound and showing that he totally can control the car to bring out its best performance as well as his own effectiveness as a top driver. Providing he beats Massa in a couple of weeks I think he can finish an impressive third in the Driver's Championship. I'm looking forward to how his driving and race results improves next year when he takes over the number 1 slot at Renault. Nothing like a little ego boost to feed the ability and desire to win.
So once again, we'll be going into the final race in Brazil with a who knows expectation. Except that one thing we do know is that the finale of the 2006 season is going to be suberb.
And maybe Fortune will shine down on Renault just one more time.

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