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Formula One Fans

Formula One Fans

I won't go into the details of the race since I'm not a sportswriter and it took me a while to pry my eyes back open. But when the dust finally settled from the starting rush, the two Ferraris were pulling easily ahead. On the first lap, Ralf Schumacher, Michael's brother, ran into David Coulthard, and the two BMW Saubers ran into each other. Raikkonen, who started in pole position just ahead of Schumacher and Massa's red Ferraris, had to drop back because MacLaren had accidentally put too little gas in his tank, forcing an extra pit stop. We saw him blaze down the pit lane three times, and when his crew struggled a few extra moments with a wingnut, the Ferrari team politely looked away. Defending world champion and 2006 leader Fernando Alonso limped along on his blistered Michelins as the Ferraris continued to sweep around the circuit, leaving behind 67 laps of scorched earth.

If the race looked easy, it was thanks to perfect engineering, planning, and execution. I never saw any outward signal, but somehow the crew knew when to get up in a body and take their places in the pit. One of the Ferraris would come screeching to a halt, there would be a wild frenzy of activity for some six or seven seconds, and then everyone would be back in their chairs again, some even catnapping between stops. The car merely seemed to vanish into another clap of thunder-tires changed, tank filled. In slow motion, the frenzy would look like grease monkey ballet. This has to be the best mechanic shop on earth, the absolute last word in the technology of speed. It's also the cleanest-I sat on a tool chest and came away after two hours with not a smudge on my white slacks. I only wish I could bring my car here for service.

The pit crew's battle-hardened composure exploded when Schumacher crossed the finish line first, followed by his teammate Massa and then by Raikkonen, Jenson Button, and Alonso. We found ourselves swept up in a tidal wave of red-shirted euphoria as the crew rushed for the podium to be showered with champagne. The crowd nearly crushed me against the rail as Schumacher climbed out of his triumphal car only a few feet away. Grown men, including the giant Gino and our friend Ralf, were jumping up and down and climbing the walls like children. Clearly, the fact that Schumi had won so many victories didn't make his 89th any less special. July 30, 2006 would go down as a perfect day at the races for Ferrari and Germany's favorite son.