Saturday, September 25, 2004

Italian GP Comments

I'm, like, way late in getting this up. I'll be lucky if I remember anything of the race now. But, here goes...


This had to be the most exciting race of the season. Rubens Barrichello had the poll in, what for him, is almost like a home race. While Rubens is Brazilian his parents are from Italy and he is extremely popular in that country. More so than his teammate, Michael Schumacher, who qualified 3rd. And this being Ferrari home track the race had a very electric feel to it.

It also had a very wet feel. For hours before the race there were torrential rains. The practice and qualifying were held in bright, warm, sunny weather. This put a lot of pressure on the teams; How much should they rig the cars for wet weather? Should they stick with the dry weather setup and hope the rain stops before the race? As it was Rubens went with a slightly wet setup and on the intermediate tires while most other drivers, including Michael, went with the dry setup.

At the start of the race the rain had ceased but there were still some wet spots on the track. Rubens shot out to a 15s lead in the first five laps but the track was drying out much to fast and within another 5 laps he was passed by Fernando Alonso in the Renault. Alonso had another one of the trademark Renault starts and bounded from 4th to 2nd at the start. But there was a lot of action on the first turn that would prove to be very crucial to the race.

On turn one there was a real spin fest as many drivers slid off the course on the wet tack. Olivier Panis was the big loser as he ended up crashing his Toyota into the back of Antonio Pizzonia's Williams-BMW, taking him out of the race. Pizzonia was able to stay in and finish the race in 7th. Another significant outcome of this melee had Michael spin his Ferrari of onto the grass. He was able to rejoin the race with little or no damage but way back in 15th place.

The next retirement was Kimi Räikkönen who blew the engine in his McLaren-Mercedes on lap 13. By this point Rubens had already pitted early to get new, dry tires and rejoined the race mid field. It looked like Ferrari was going to have their worst race on their home track. But there was still a lot of racing left.

One truly spectacular happening came on lap 29 when Gianmaria Bruni pitted his Minardi-Cosworth. Just as the crew were taking the fuel hose off the car some fuel splashed out, hit the rear exhaust and the whole car was encompassed in a huge fireball. It was only the very quick reactions from the pit crew and the crews next to them that got the fire out nearly right away. No one was hurt from the fire but that took the Italian out of the race.

By midpoint in the race Jenson Button was running his BAR-Honda in 1st and looking like he was on for his first win. Fernando Alonso and Juan Pablo Montoya were eating into his lead, though. It looked like anyone's race. But this is Monza. There's no way you could keep the red cars out.

While all of the above was going on Michael was tearing out fast lap after fast lap and, when the first three pitted in laps 33 and 34, he found himself leading the race. An earlier 6.3s pit by Rubens brought him out in second and now all was right with the universe. Ferrari was 1-2 in the Italian Grand Prix! This lasted only a few laps when Michael came in for his second pit. This left Rubens with a 12s lead. He then proceeded to take a book from the Michael Schumacher racing manual and ripped out fast lap over and over again. He had to because his early pit to change tires had left him just a hair low on fuel. He'd have to make a third stop. But the Ferrari team has had experience changing the pit schedule mid-race before. Rubens came in for a "splash 'n' dash" with 11 laps to go and, due to his Schumacher-esque racing was able to keep first. Alonzo, who was running second spun out and landed in the gravel trap just one lap before which now had Ferrari 1-2 with Rubens and Michael running 10s ahead of third place.

And that's how it ended. There might have been a chance for Michael to push Rubens but there was no reason. With the drivers title clinched he let his teammate get his first win of the season and thus further cement his position of second in the drivers standings. Only Jenson has a mathematical chance to catch him. He'd have to win the last three races and hope that Rubens doesn't pick up more than 3 points in those same races. As Rubens in the only driver to finish every race this season and has scored points in all but one that's a very unlikely situation.

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