Need for speed takes drivers to extremes

MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, Italy (Reuters) - Racing drivers and motorbike riders will do anything to satisfy their craving for speed.

Former Formula One driver Michael Schumacher of Germany sits in a Ferrari F1 car during a training session at the Jerez racetrack in southern Spain December 6, 2007. REUTERS/Anton Meres

Seven-times Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher quit at the end of 2006 but his love for the sport meant he came out of retirement to test for Ferrari late last year.

Current Ferrari driver Felipe Massa has been fulfilling his urge to go fast since the age of eight when he began karting in his native Brazil. Ducati’s MotoGP titleholder Casey Stoner started his career on dirt tracks as a child.

Last week, respective world champions Ferrari and Ducati jointly held a winter team-building event in northern Italy where the drivers and riders indulged their need for speed in whatever way possible.

They skied and snowboarded down steep slopes before rounding off the week-long party by racing Fiat 500 cars on an outdoor ice rink.

Schumacher, who won 91 grands prix and is the most successful F1 driver ever, has not lost his competitive edge and made sure he won the giant slalom ski contest between the racers.

When asked if he had missed a gate on the way down, the 39-year-old German was quick to crush any suggestion that he was not a worthy winner.

“You don’t think I have the capability?” he quipped.


Schumacher’s love for speed even led him to test Ducati’s MotoGP bike last year and he is tempted to try again.

“I will continue to enjoy the bike, yes. Whether I do another test with Ducati I don’t know,” he told reporters.

Massa triumphed in the car race on ice after Schumacher’s vehicle developed problems.

The race, held on the ice rink in the centre of this Dolomite ski resort, was full of skids and minor crashes with bumpers falling off as racers deliberately knocked into each other like dodgems.

Some of the ski tourists watching the race were surprised that Formula One drivers and MotoGP riders were allowed to fool around on such a slippery surface.

At many soccer clubs, players are banned from skiing, never mind racing cars on ice. Teams fear they might break limbs and miss large chunks of the season while worries about insurance also preoccupy the minds of the moneymen.

With just two months before the season-opening F1 grand prix in Melbourne on March 16 and the first MotoGP race in Qatar on March 9, the racers were certainly taking a risk.

However, Stoner said professional sportspeople had to lead as normal a life as possible.

“You can’t sit there and have no fun. You’ve got to get out there and do sport and not surround yourself just with motorcycling,” the Australian told Reuters.


Stoner’s new team mate at Ducati, Italian Marco Melandri, echoed his sentiments and said the skiing was not very risky.

“We have a good teacher with us so we go very carefully. It is very safe as there are not so many people around us,” he told Reuters. “Everything can be dangerous.”

The speeds reached in the car race were limited given that the vehicles were small hatchbacks. However, the race did help the drivers to prepare for the new season because it was held in the evening under floodlights.

Qatar in March will be the first MotoGP event held at night and the Singapore grand prix in September will be Formula One’s first attempt at an evening race.

“Seriously, I don’t think it is going to be any different to the daytime. They are going to put up enough lights so you don’t know if it is day or night time. For me it is going to be exciting,” F1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen told reporters.

The Finn tested Ferrari’s new 2008 car last week before heading to the ski resort. Cars will not have traction control this season because of new rules and more crashes are expected, especially in wet conditions.

Raikkonen is untroubled though, and having raced on ice at Madonna di Campiglio, he is ready for a more slippery season.

“The sport is dangerous anyway. It doesn’t matter if you have traction control or not,” said the driver already nicknamed the ‘Iceman’.

“If you think it is too dangerous you probably shouldn’t be in the sport.”

Editing by Clare Fallon