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U.S. Grand Prix sets unique standard for Formula 1 and Indy

INDIANAPOLIS -- All the intricacies that make Formula 1 and racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway independently unique were drawn together in perfect harmony, when Michael Schumacher drove to victory in Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix.

INDIANAPOLIS -- All the intricacies that make Formula 1 and racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway independently unique were drawn together in perfect harmony, when Michael Schumacher drove to victory in Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix.
Schumacher's Ferrari had come into the 15th of 17 Formula 1 races trailing Mika Hakkinen's McLaren 82-80 in season points, but after leading teammate Rubens Barrichello to a 1-2 Ferrari finish on a day when Hakkinen went out with a blown engine on the 26th of 73 laps, Schumacher vaulted into an 88-80 lead with only the Oct. 8 race in Japan and the Oct. 22 finale in Malaysia remaining.
The return of Formula 1 to the United States drew a crowd of over 200,000, the largest to ever watch Formula 1, which currently visits 15 countries, with two each in Germany and Italy. The last time F1 ran in the United States was 1991 in Phoenix, when the late Ayrton Senna won his fifth U.S. Grand Prix in six years. Schumacher's seventh victory this season was the 42nd of his career, one more than the late Senna and second only to Alain Prost's record 51.
The fans, an interesting blend of Formula 1 sophisticates and Indianapolis oval devotees, watched the world's most exotic race cars christen the new 2.606-mile road course that traces the two south-end turns of the 91-year-old Indy oval, moving clockwise up the main straightaway before swinging off to follow 11 more turns carved out of the infield. All but two of the other Formula 1 circuits are longer than the Indy layout, but the banked turns and long straightaway make Indy unique.
"Looking at the reaction of the spectators, it was magnificent up on the podium, where you see people just everywhere out in front of you," said Schumacher. "And they seemed to be pretty satisfied."
Schumacher won by surviving a wild start when McLaren driver David Coulthard jumped ahead of him; a wheel-banging pass of Coulthard; the speed of the onrushing Hakkinen; and ultimately his own spinout with five laps remaining, which cut his 30-second lead over Barrichello's matching red Ferrari in half. He took the checkered flag 12.1 seconds ahead.
Formula 1 awards points on a 10-6-4-3-2-1 basis, and Schumacher, a German, and his Brazilian teammate Barrichello, were followed by Germany's Heinz-Harald Frentzen in a Jordan, Canada's Jacques Villeneuve in a BAR/Honda, Scotland's Coulthard fifth in a West McLaren/Mercedes, and Brazil's Ricardo Zonta sixth in the second BAR/Honda.
"I've never seen, from inside the car, so many people around a track," said Frentzen, who had spirited duels with Barrichello and Villeneuve before bringing his Jordan home third. "It is quite an incredible view when you're going onto the bank here and see all the people. And not only on the left hand side, but the right hand side."
The race belonged to Schumacher, but the start was wrenched away by Coulthard. In road-racing, the fastest line through Turn 1 is best approached from the outside, so the fastest qualifier starts outside in Formula 1, a car-length ahead of the second car on the staggered grid. The standing start is initiated when a row of red lights blinks off.
Schumacher inched ahead too soon but then stopped, legally, just prior to the starting signal. Coulthard moved ahead similarly, and kept going, jumping the start and flying past Schumacher to take the lead as the cars roared up the straightaway, their exotic V10 engines emitting a shrill harmony of screams as they revved up to 18,000 RPMs -- almost twice as high as the rev-limited Indy Racing League V8s at the 500.
Coulthard led through the first six laps, but lost it to Schumacher before being summoned for a 10-second, stop-and-go penalty for his over-anxious start. "I knew I jumped the start," said Coulthard. "It's unfortunate. I planned to get the better start and be leading out of the first corner, but not with a jump-start. I moved, then tried to stop, but then the lights changed so I went."
Schumacher took the lead away on the outside at the end of the straightaway, starting Lap 7, circling around Coulthard going through Turn 1. Coulthard's left front tire struck Schumacher's right rear as the two hurtled toward the sharp left Turn 2. Schumacher's red Ferrari was in front to stay, but he admonished Coulthard afterward.
"David did hold me up in the infield, to let Mika catch up," said Schumacher. "Obviously, the two are teammates, and that's perfectly legal. On the overtaking side, I think he really tried a little bit too much. Slowing down, fine; driving into someone, I don't think that should be the case. I passed him on the outside of Turn 1, and I went really, really wide to make sure he could not touch me at all, and I would say he didn't take the tightest line to avoid any touching. I just want to make sure we don't see teammates helping drivers fighting for the championship in a way which is not appropriate."
The rain that persisted all Sunday morning stopped before race time but prompted all but one team to start on rain tires, with Jaguar splitting Eddie Irvine on rain tires and Johnny Herbert on dry tires. As the circuit dried, Hakkinen pitted on Lap 7 to change to dry tires, then started turning laps almost two seconds faster than Schumacher's best. Schumacher was about the last to change, on the 16th lap, taking on dry tires and a full fuel load in 7 seconds flat. His lead over Hakkinen was reduced from 43.5 seconds to 16.3 by the stop, and Hakkinen cut the deficit to 10 seconds, then 9, then 7, and finally down to 4.1 seconds as the two-time defending series champion from Finland ran a sizzling 1:15.773 lap on his 25th tour of the circuit, fastest to that point.
Indy's layout allowed F1 cars to run flat out for over 20 seconds, longer than on any other F1 circuit, which also meant more strain than usual, and one lap after his fastest lap, Hakkinen's Mercedes engine blew, and he coasted to the pit entrance in a stream of fire. "What caused the failure, I do not know," said Hakkinen, who had finished every race since failing to finish the first two of the season. "I think I could have won it. I was gaining on every segment of the course. We have two races to go now. It's very, very difficult indeed and getting tougher."
Schumacher started pulling away to a commanding lead with a best lap of 1:15.042, and after the second round of pit stops, Coulthard was the only one who could run at Schumacher's pace. Coulthard, in fact, lowered the race's quickest lap to 1:14.711 on the 40th lap, but he was not in contention, merely making his way into the points from 15th after his early penalty stop.
The only remaining drama was up to Schumacher, on the 69th of the 73 laps, when he cut an infield corner too casually, hooked his front tire over the edge of the asphalt, and caught the still-wet grass. He spun around 1 1/2 times, but never lost his composure, straightening out with a burst of acceleration to resume his pace to the finish.
"The team mentioned that I should keep my concentration, and I said, 'Don't worry, I'm awake now,'" Schumacher said. "Honestly, I wasn't concentrating. I was enjoying the race, just cruising, hoping nothing goes wrong, and you lose a bit of concentration. I was too far inside, and I touched the grass. Some people asked me to make a bit of a show this weekend. I hope that was good enough."

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