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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
A very strange weekend
 A minute's silience in respect to the US terrorist attack victims was held  before the start at Monza
Drivers observe a minute's silence before the start at Monza
BBC motor racing correspondent Jonathan Legard reviews an eerie Italian GP where world champion Michael Schumacher was clearly distracted by the horrors in America.

In the words of Michael Schumacher: "I'm glad this weekend is over."

Few in the pit lane at Monza would disagree. The 2001 Italian Grand Prix was a strange, eerie mix of pent up emotion, grim-faced determination and repressed celebration.

The horrific injuries suffered by a former F1 favourite, Alex Zanardi, in Germany only compounded the sense of unease and discomfort.


For various reasons, his heart wasn't in it at this track
Ferrari 's Jean Todt on Michael Schumacher

Remarkably for a man whose reputation has been built on ice cool detachment bordering on arrogance, Michael Schumacher was the walking embodiment of the worldwide anguish triggered by the destruction in America.

As the team's sporting director, Jean Todt, put it, "For various reasons, his heart wasn't in it at this track."

Just 15 minutes before the race, the champion was still striding about the grid, talking to fellow drivers about the need for care and consideration through the first two bottleneck chicanes.

Michael Schumacher talks to  Pedro de La Rosa before the start
Schumacher tried to urge caution

On any other race day, he would have been utterly absorbed in his personal bubble of concentration.

But this weekend was different. Very different.

He seemed to take it upon himself to be his colleagues' moral guardian, as if suddenly aware of his own mortality: championship, children, wealth and fulfilment but for how much longer in such a crazy world?

Mindful of the death of a marshal at Monza last year, he'd spent the drivers parade urging them not to overtake off the startline to avoid a repeat statistic at such a safety conscious time.

But he was defied by Jacques Villeneuve and then overruled by Bernie Ecclestone who heard him out in a meeting at the Ferrari motorhome before ordering business as usual.

The champion's run to fourth place happened almost unnoticed as his heir apparent, Juan Pablo Montoya claimed what promises to be the first of a long running series of Grand Prix victories.

Unnecessary risk

Schumacher clearly had very little appetite for racing at Monza. And if he had his way, he would lose the US Grand Prix from the schedule in the current circumstances.

He has described the prospect of driving at Indianapolis in two weeks as "an unnecessary risk".

But while he and his brother Ralf who looked equally out of sorts in Italy, wish for a cancellation, the decision makers in Formula One look to have no such plans.

The postponement of the Ryder Cup will cut no ice with their belief that F1's world championship has a wider global significance than golf's two continent contest.

Grand Prix officials will see motorsport in America restarting this week as part of the drive to restore normality.

And they have been further encouraged by assurances from the organisers at Indianapolis that the event will definitely go ahead.

FIA sources have already dismissed cosmetic gestures such as a symbolic withdrawal in sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks.

US military action would, however, force a radical rethink because of the heightened tensions and hugely increased security. As it is, though, Formula One teams have admitted they could be defeated by the sheer logistics of travelling to America at such an uncertain time.

They have to return from Monza, repack and be ready to fly west on Friday from either Amsterdam or Luxemburg - the only two airports in Europe capable of x-raying F1's oversize freight.

Fans and drivers alike were thinking about the attacks in America rather than the racing
A Ferrari fan reads about the terror in America

Under normal conditions, the UK based teams would have an extra day and be able to leave from Heathrow or Stansted.

But new stringent security regulations have made that impossible, as well as adding many more miles to the journey.

Getting there is only part of the problem. Getting back could also be major headache in the event of a US retaliatory strike.

F1 officials are concerned that teams and their equipment would be stranded in a country at war, which would then force the cancellation of the final race of the season in Japan on October 14th.

There had been speculation that the Jerez circuit in Spain was being lined up as an alternative venue to Indianapolis for the end of October but that possibility has been denied.

High level discussions are planned for the next few days but unless the position shifts dramatically, the world's oldest working race track will play host again to Formula One on September 30th.

Links to more Formula One stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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