Michael Schumacher, holder of more than 80
grand prix victories, has often been accused of faking excitement on the
podium. How on earth, cynics wonder, can a man so
accustomed to hearing Deutschland Uber
Alles
as he fizzes champagne all over grown men feel the same joy as he did
as a fresh-faced 23-year-old all those years ago?

But, victory after victory, the trademark
Schumacher-leap is as high today as it was in 1992, when his defeated rivals
were F1 kings Ayrton Senna or Alain Prost.

For Schumacher, however, Silverstone ’06
was different. No, the German didn’t win, but he had audaciously out-manoeuvred
Kimi Raikkonen through an inspired race strategy to take second place, and he
almost always reserves a bit of bubble to make attendance on the podium seem
like more than de rigeur.

On the way to the Silverstone gantry,
though, not only did his face look like thunder, but he angrily snapped at a
British cameraman who was tracking the racer’s ascent on the stairway to
top-three heaven. Apologetically, a press lady for Ferrari ushered the
cameraman through, as if to rub away some of the sting of the PR gaffe.

But Schumacher, of course, was in the
painful process of accepting that yet another defeat to Renault’s Fernando
Alonso – a third on the trot, no less – meant yet another whack at the nail of
his world title coffin. It would be an eighth title, remember, that many
analysts believe would open the door for this 37-year-old German to retire on top.
But with Schumacher’s Silverstone now lost, Spain’s
baby-faced Alonso can simply finish second for the rest of 2006 and still wear
the crown.

On Monday morning, Italy’s
zealous sporting tabloids were conceding defeat on behalf of a man who, now a
distant five years ago, delivered the first world championship in two decades
for the famous Prancing Horse.

“He doesn’t want to give up,” La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper
acknowledged, “but it is obvious that Schumacher is helpless against Alonso. In
the fight against a young sportsman like Alonso, the German is having trouble
keeping up.”

Peter Fray

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