Alesi plays safe for Indianapolis 200

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The Independent Online

Ultimately it matters not whether the American government and the FIA are doing it for different motives, the message is the same: the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis is on, come what may. And Michael Schumacher will be there, having recovered from the jitters that led to such extraordinary scenes just prior to the start of the Italian race at Monza last Sunday, and saw him drive the most lacklustre race of his career.

On Ferrari's home ground at Monza the German did not want to race, and unsuccessfully attempted to coerce his fellow drivers into a "no-overtaking" rule in the first and second chicanes during the first lap.

"I haven't seen anything quite like that since Adelaide in 1989," television commentator Martin Brundle said, referring to Schumacher's extraordinary attempt. Both he and his brother Ralf got into bother with F1 powerbrokers Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley about the ethics of racing in America. Ecclestone made thinly veiled references to the destiny of the championship crown and Mosley fell back on his favourite threat, that Schumacher could be guilty of bringing the sport into disrepute if he tried to persuade others to miss the race.

The horrible accident to Alex Zanardi in the Cart race at Lausitzring last Saturday undoubtedly played a major part in unsettling the champion further, but not enough to prevent Schumacher overtaking his brother between the two very fast Lesmo corners on the first lap, with two wheels on the grass.

Johnny Herbert, who was Schumacher's team-mate at Benetton in 1995, was not impressed. "Michael is a play-actor," he said trenchantly.

Ferrari, who told Schumacher he had to compete at Monza, said they would use stand-in Luca Badoer if Schumacher wanted to skip Indianapolis. But Schumacher is adamant that he will race, even though the rules permit a team one driver-switch during the season. "At the moment, I haven't the slightest thought of not driving in the USA and Japan," he said.

Jean Alesi, who was recently on the receiving end of criticism from the Benetton chief, Flavio Briatore, who forced his drivers, Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisi-chella, to race on the first lap at Monza and said he would be glad to see Alesi leave the sport, faces his 200th GP at Indianapolis. "The last 12 years have gone so quickly but I feel an incredible sense of achievement to have made it to my 200th," the Frenchman said. "There are so many things that have happened that make it impossible to sum up my memories in just a few words. I think about how many times I have lined up on the grid, how many people I have met and the amazing times I have experienced, but mostly I am so thankful that I have remained safe during my career."

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George has promised heightened security measures for a race expected to attract 200,000 spectators. "Public safety is our first priority, and I am grateful to the law enforcement and emergency response community for their co-operation in reviewing and strengthening the plans," he said.

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