ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 15 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   For the Record

  by Richard Barnes & Marcel Schot

Since time immemorial, Mankind has been drawn by the mystique of our own acclaimed heroes, legendary figures whose achievements transcend the frailties and failings of mortal Man, and launch him into the realm of the Gods. One such figure was Bobby Jones, a tempestuous club-throwing oddity in an era of gentlemen golfers, tweed jackets, plus-fours and cane-shafted clubs. If Jones' precocious behaviour was outrageous, his golfing talent was even more so. In 1930, at the ripe old age of 28, Jones achieved what one writer dubbed 'the Impregnable Quadrilateral', winning all four Major golf tournaments in the same year. With no golfing mountains left to conquer, Jones became disillusioned with competitive golf, and retired a few months later.

Over the following decades, many of the game's greatest talents would strive to emulate Jones' feat. All of them, from Hogan to Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Sarazen, Watson and Ballesteros, would fail. It seemed that golfing's 'Grand Slam' was indeed 'Impregnable'. Until Sunday afternoon. When Tiger Woods' winning putt dropped at the 2001 Masters Championship, he made the golfing equivalent of Neil Armstrong's 'one small step for a man'. Although Woods had not achieved the true 'Grand Slam' (winning all four Majors in one calendar year), he had nevertheless become the first golfer since Jones to hold all four titles simultaneously. From being simply the best player in the world, he became an instant legend. Those who witnessed Jones' dominance back in 1930 knew they were a part of something special, history in the making. Sunday's gallery at Augusta National instinctively felt the same thing.

Professional sport is filled with such feats. West Indian cricketer Gary Sobers' six sixes off one over, Bob Beamon's prodigious 29ft 2 1/2in long-jump leap at the 1968 Olympics, Willie Renshaw's career total of seven Wimbledon championships, or Ayrton Senna's 65 pole positions - all have attained not only new benchmarks, but the mystique of superhuman achievement.

Occasionally, a new young pretender to the throne will step forward, equalling or beating a classic long-standing record, and taking their place in the realm of legends. And all too often, the moment proves too much. After Monza 2000, Michael Schumacher dissolved in tears at finally equalling the legendary Senna's mark of 41 Grand Prix wins. Tiger Woods' historic victory in the Masters on Sunday was greeted by general disbelief, not least from the 25-year-old himself. "It's four in a row. Some of the golfing Gods are looking down on me," he said.

Woods had achieved his own 'Impregnable Quadrilateral' at Augusta National - the course designed by the great Bobby Jones himself.

No record or benchmark can last forever. Yet there are a select few sporting performances which, over time, assume the aura of invincibility and challenge our assumptions about natural human failings. In motor racing, the classic example is the record of Alberto Ascari. During the 1952 and 1953 seasons, Ascari won seven consecutive Grands Prix on the calendar, skipped the Indianapolis 500 and then resumed his 1953 season with further victories at the Dutch and Belgian Grands Prix before his remarkable streak was broken with a fourth-place finish in France. Ascari had won seven consecutive calendar GP, and nine consecutive GP in which he'd competed. Almost half-a-century later, nobody had come close to matching Ascari's dominance. Until Ferrari and Michael Schumacher put together a dazzling streak of six straight victories, stretching from Monza 2000 to Malaysia 2001.

Starting from a comfortable pole-position at Interlagos, Schumacher was the hottest bookmakers' favourite in years. The historical significance of the race notwithstanding, the overwhelming opinion was that only mechanical failure could prevent the reigning World Drivers Champion from equalling Ascari's benchmark of seven consecutive calendar GP wins. Schumacher himself had consistently downplayed his chances, claiming that the streak must surely come to an end sooner if not later. The German's words would prove prophetic. After an underwhelming race, he trailed McLaren's David Coulthard home in second place, breaking his own winning streak. Even amidst all the other drama of the Brazilian race, Schumacher's failure was the key event and talking-point. It may well be another fifty years before the next pretender, flushed with the prospect of rewriting history, steps up to challenge the Ascari legend.

Ascari 9-Win Streak: How it Happened

Belgian GP 1952

At Spa, Ascari started his string of successive victories with a superb performance. The Italian at the start shortly dropped behind Jean Behra, but regained the lead after a lap. After that, the only time when any driver saw Ascari was when he lapped them. At the end of the race, Ascari's lead was nearly two minutes over his teammate Farina and four and a half minutes over number three Roberto Manzon.

French GP 1952

Here Alberto Ascari is being congratulated with his second successive win, at the French Grand Prix in Rouen. Just like at Spa, Ferrari had dominated the field and Ascari had dominated among the Ferrari drivers.

British GP 1952

Ascari all alone on Silverstone. The Italian's domination was by now taken for granted. Even his own teammates weren't able to stay close as Ascari once again led from start to finish, ending the race a little over a lap ahead of number two Piero Taruffi.

German GP 1952

In Germany Ferrari completed another 1-2 finish. Already in qualifying the huge differences became apparent, as Ascari took pole in 10:04, 52 seconds faster than the first non-Ferrari. Here seen in the early stages of the race, with Giuseppe Farina still closely behind, Ascari did what was slowly becoming the norm; he took pole, led from start to finish and won by quite a big margin.

Dutch GP 1952

Unique moment at the Dutch Grand Prix. The rest of the field actually has visual contact with Ascari. This can of course be nothing other than the start, since Ascari and teammates quickly move away and were as usual never seen again. For the fourth race in a row, Alberto Ascari led from start to finish.

Italian GP 1952

On Ferrari home soil, Ascari's dominance was broken for the first time. The Italian's teammate Jose Froilan Gonzalez directly took the lead, while Ascari and Villoresi battled for second. Both drivers behind Gonzalez exchanged positions numerous times. Just before halfway, the tide turned. Gonzalez' refueling stop took much longer than planned and Ascari and Villoresi were now leading. Slowly Ascari regained his dominance and when the race finished he had once again a huge lead, this time of just over a minute.

Argentine GP 1953

The next season started with a similar image as the previous season. Ascari dominated from start to finish. In practice only Juan Manuel Fangio was able to keep the pace with the Ferraris, but in the race it was still Ferrari, Ferrari, Ferrari. Fangio ran in second until he retired, but after that the Maranello team, headed by Ascari, dominated to a large extend.

Dutch GP 1953

Alberto Ascari here prepares for his eight consecutive win. In the 1953 Dutch Grand Prix it was the usual recipe. Ascari scored pole and led from start to finish. Fangio again was relatively close in qualifying, but in the race the Argentinian didn't yet have the strength to beat Ascari.

Belgian GP 1953

Ascari in his final win of the series. At Spa the Italian took his ninth consecutive win, but the signs were already there to show his series couldn't last much longer. Fangio had taken pole, while after the start Ascari had to let Gonzalez and Fangio ahead. Within a few laps of the race Ascari's luck turned as both Gonzalez and Fangio retired and Ascari was handed the lead and the win, since the rest of the field was a long way behind.

Richard Barnes & Marcel Schot© 1995-2005 Kaizar.Com, Inc.
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