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For once, Schumacher out-matched

4/25/2004

IMOLA, Italy -- Don't quit your day job.

That's the message some of Formula One's top drivers got rammed home to
them during a charity soccer game on the Wednesday prior to the San Marino
Grand Prix. F1 drivers are good all-around athletes, but when they go up
against the pros from a select sport, they are quickly put in their place.

F1 drivers Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Jarno Trulli, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, joined by several other celebrities including riders from the motorcycle racing world, played against the Brazilian team
that won the World Cup in 1994.

Schumacher is a pretty good soccer player and occasionally plays with a
minor league team in Switzerland. Had he not been a F1 driver, he says, he
would have wanted to play soccer. The other F1 drivers in the charity game
also play soccer on a regular basis.

The game, in Forli, Italy, was held in honor of Ayrton Senna, who lost his
life at this race 10 years ago, and to raise money for the money for the
Ayrton Senna Foundation charity.

It was Senna who raised the whole physical fitness level of F1 drivers to a
new level.

"He pioneered the approach of physical conditioning of drivers," said Ron
Dennis who was Senna's team boss at McLaren for six years. "He realized
that if he put himself in the absolute maximum level of physical fitness
that it would influence positively his driving. He set new standards in
conditioning himself to race. That was just part of his obsession of being
the best."

Schumacher elevated the fitness bar to a yet higher level, and that's been
matched or perhaps even increased by Mark Webber.

Virtually all F1 drivers are superb athletes. But when the F1 drivers went
up against real professionals from the soccer world the drivers found
themselves hopelessly outclassed even though the soccer players were 10
years older (and some have retired) than they were when they won the world
championship in 1994.

Senna's sister Viviane, who runs the Ayrton Senna Foundation, got the game
going by kicking in the first ball. By the end of the first half, the
Brazilian pro side had a 5-1 lead over the F1 driver side.

Schumacher quickly realized that the top players on his side had to take up
defensive positions rather than play offense.

"We had a sort of positioning for our players," Schumacher said, "and after
two minutes I saw the game and I said to all the good players like Fernando
(Alonso) and some others 'you have to come to the back, you can't be the
attackers'. There was no game in the front for us in the beginning; we
only had to defend against these professional people. But it was fun and
it was particular fun in the second-half when we changed the players."

After the second half, with the two sides now intermingled, the score ended
up being 5-5.

Massa said that the deft movements of the pro players were a joy to watch.

"In the first half of the match I think it was better just to stop and
watch the Brazilian guys playing, because it was amazing, they are really
good and they were just joking with us," he said. "It was unbelievable to
see how they play. And some of them don't play any more, but they are
still very fit and very strong."

After playing, Trulli agreed to stick to his day job of driving a F1 car.

"It was a bit embarrassing at one stage," he said of the way the F1 drivers
were outplayed. "The only thing I understood is the way everyone has got
his own job and everyone specializes in his own job. I think I'm fit, and
I'm an athlete. I can drive a car at 360 kilometers per hour (220 mph)
with no problem, but they can play with the ball; they can do things that I
will never be able to do.

"I can train every day," Trulli said, "but I can never achieve what they
are able to achieve because they have talent. We have got a different
talent and as Felipe says, it was amazing at one stage to stop, stand and
watch them playing."

Trulli is indeed fit. The weekend before the San Marino Grand Prix he ran
in a half marathon in Florence, and he followed that up with 90 minutes of
soccer just a few days later.

"It was great for me because it was a way to relax, a way to get away from
Formula One, to get away from people and be one of the many and not be a
star as you are here always," he said of the half marathon. "I like
running, and personally I achieved an extremely good result because my aim
was to run the half marathon in under one hour and 40 minutes by the end of
the season, and at my second attempt I went for one hour a and 35 minutes.
Now I have to fix a new target of under one hour 30 minutes."

Trulli didn't do a lot of extra training for the half marathon, but it was
one of those days when body and mind clicked.

"It was probably one of those days when you can do anything with your body
and just go for it," Trulli said. "I felt so happy. I was motivated to do
it, despite the fact that the weather was bad, it was raining, so it was
harder."

Trulli and the F1 drivers did a lot of running in the soccer game as the
pro players toyed with them with adroit footwork and ball control.

"They didn't run much, but we did, a lot!" Trulli said. "They were just
passing to each other, and we were just following the ball. It was
impossible to catch them. I think they are able to hide the ball from you,
and if they want, you will never touch it."

In Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix, Schumacher showed his true talents as he
swept to his fourth victory of the season. Alonso finished fourth, while
Trulli took fifth place and Barrichello sixth. Massa ended up 10th.

None of them plan a career in soccer soon.

"When I was young, a child, I was sometimes thinking I could maybe be a
football player," Massa said. "And now I have the answer. It is really
impossible. To watch them (the Brazilian pros) play ... it's really
impossible to be a football player. It's better to drive a car and
concentrate on Formula One, because it's nice to play and have fun, but
after we saw how they played -- it's impossible."

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.