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Formula One returns in Grand fashion

Winner Michael Schumacher and one of the sport's biggest U.S. proponents celebrate.

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 25, 2000


INDIANAPOLIS -- Amid the madness unfolding around him, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George stood statuesque.

His arms were crossed, and he displayed a wry grin.

Nine years after Formula One left the United States, the man partly responsible for bringing it back breathed in satisfaction and the scent of spilled champagne Sunday.

Standing above George was Formula One's top driver, Michael Schumacher, celebrating his victory in the U.S. Grand Prix.

All around were ecstatic fans, part of an estimated 225,000 who made it the best-attended Formula One event ever, waving Ferrari flags and blowing air horns.

"I hope this puts to rest any concern about whether it would be viable to do this or not," George said. "This is a very special day in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway."

Schumacher perhaps will remember the day as a turning point in his season.

Trailing by two points in the standings with three races remaining, the two-time world champion took over the series points lead from Mika Hakkinen with his second straight win.

It moved Schumacher out of a tie with the late Ayrton Senna for second on Formula One's all-time wins list. The 31-year-old German has won 42 times in his 10-year career.

"Being the first Formula One driver to win the first race in the States in 10 years, it means quite a lot to me," said Schumacher, who started first. "I was going around the last couple of laps and thinking about that."

Rubens Barrichello, Schumacher's teammate at Ferrari, finished 12 seconds behind in second place, followed by Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

"I think this grand prix was really well done," Barrichello said. "I think the track is tremendous."

Though he led all but six laps, Schumacher wasn't perfect.

He lost his lead on the first lap and spun out five laps from the finish.

Still, his Ferrari was the dominant car during the 73-lap affair on the newly-constructed 2.606-mile course that utilizes part of the track's oval and infield.

Schumacher led by as many as 40 seconds and as little as four seconds.

Hakkinen and his McLaren teammate, David Coulthard, posed the most serious threat. Both dropped out of contention early.

Coulthard, who qualified second behind Schumacher, made a mistake on the first lap.

Because Formula One races feature little passing and begin from a standing start when five red lights illuminate and turn green, anticipation is vital.

Coulthard jumped the start.

While he passed Schumacher easily for the lead, Coulthard later was assessed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty and never fully recovered.

As low as 15th after being penalized, Coulthard finished fifth.

"I made a mistake and had to pay the penalty," Coulthard said. "I'm disappointed in myself.

"You have to take risks, you have to anticipate, and I just overdid it," he said. "I moved, then tried to stop, but then the lights changed so I went."

When Formula One officials made the ruling, Schumacher had regained the lead, which he never lost again.

On Lap 7, he outbraked Coulthard going into the first turn and wasn't pleased that Coulthard drove him so hard.

"Although he is not really in the championship, he tried a little bit too much in my view," Schumacher said of the pass. "He just pushed me wide and touched me."

Schumacher's other challenge was from Hakkinen, who came from 16.3 seconds back on Lap 15 to 4.1 seconds in 10 laps only to have his engine catch fire exiting the final turn.

Hakkinen rolled to a stop near the entrance to pit road, and emergency crews extinguished the fire. He finished 19th.

"I think I could have won it," Hakkinen said. "I was gaining on him every segment. I was really good."

After Hakkinen dropped out, it simply was a matter of Schumacher bringing his car home in one piece.

He began driving more conservatively, and his lead was so great at times he even started talking to his car.

"You talk in a way it understands that you're going to finish the race," Schumacher said.

Five laps from the finish, however, Schumacher clipped a corner in Turn 9 and spun out. With a 20-second lead over Barrichello, it wasn't a problem.

"You lose a bit of concentration," Schumacher said. "You just drive around like you do with a road car. I wasn't prepared to catch it, and it went. Of course, we were a little bit concerned."

He went beat Barrichello by 12 seconds, pleasing a pro-Ferarri crowd.

As Schumacher, Barrichello and Harald-Frentzen drove to the winner's podium off pit road, the Ferrarri crowd roared in approval and proudly unfurled red flags.

Schumacher threw his arms into the air, climbed atop the nose of his car and got a hug and a thumbs-up from Barrichello. HeSchumacher later gave his wife, Corinna, a kiss and sprayed champagne on the second- and third-place finishers.

Meanwhile, fans broke through Gate 7 at the speedway and sprinted toward the celebration, where some Ferrari fans knelt down and kissed the bricks near the finish line.

"It's something really, really nice," Schumacher said. "I guess we really never expected to have such a great welcome from the American fans."

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