Cheers and jeers mark Ferrari's year
Ferrari can look back on a Formula One year of unprecedented success and congratulate themselves on another job well done. Mission accomplished, records broken...
But less fervent fans might suggest that the world champions consider preserving a brake pedal from one of their cars as a symbol of the season.
Formula One may be all about speed and acceleration -- when not fixated with sex and money -- but the abiding images from a championship short on drama and suspense came after the Ferrari drivers hit the brakes.
Forget for a moment Michael Schumacher's record-breaking achievements, the Italian team's world domination and an unprecedented deluge of wins, one-two finishes and statistical firsts.
Forget also the red sea of Ferrari fans invading the track at Monza to acclaim their heroes and the army of firecracker-throwing Germans at Hockenheim greeting Schumacher's presence with a roar of noise.
From the flying start in Australia, to anger in Austria and indignation in Indianapolis, the major talking points came after Schumacher and team mate Rubens Barrichello slowed down.
From the very first seconds of the season, Barrichello's foot was under scrutiny as he braked into the first corner in Melbourne from pole position.
In a sequence destined to be replayed over and over as a highlight from a time that still promised thrills and spills, Ralf Schumacher's Williams ploughed into the back of the Ferrari.
The German took off spectacularly, flying over the Brazilian and into the gravel trap.
Michael Schumacher won after the re-start, followed home by Ralf's team mate Juan Pablo Montoya in an extraordinary race that saw half the grid crash out.
Ecstatic Australian Mark Webber seized two points on his debut for Minardi before his home crowd while Toyota also cracked open the champagne with a debut point.
Melbourne seemed to set the tone for a thrilling battle ahead with the prospect of a mouth-watering scrap between Ferrari and Williams.
Within a matter of weeks it became apparent that while the signs were there, they had been misread.
Schumacher's win set him off on a trail stretching to a record-equalling fifth championship and beyond the previous milestone he had shared with Briton Nigel Mansell of nine victories in a single season.
Ferrari, enjoying a year of unrivalled technical brilliance, were in a class of their own and took the constructors' title for the fourth year in a row.
The Williams trajectory followed Ralf's airborne example -- soaring to a one-two success in the next race in Malaysia before being brought back to earth and fizzling out in ultimate disappointment as overall runners-up.
There were skirmishes in Malaysia and Brazil between Schumacher and Montoya but the game was up by the time the championship returned to the sport's European heartland.
For any Williams and McLaren fans wondering where it all went wrong, as well as Ferrari supporters unsure of the turning point, the answer is Brazil.
Ferrari shipped just one example of their new car, previously delayed due to concerns about its reliability, to Sao Paulo for Schumacher to use and the German saw off Montoya's early challenge to win with ease.
A one-two finish followed for Ferrari in their home San Marino Grand Prix and Schumacher won again in Spain to take his tally to 44 points from a possible 50.
Then followed Austria and the brakes came on again.
Barrichello had dominated practice, secured pole and led all the way until told to slow at the finish -- sporting director Jean Todt was seen slipping technical director Ross Brawn a piece of paper at the key moment -- and let Schumacher win.
The result was uproar, compounded by confusion on the podium when Barrichello took the trophy, and boos and whistles that echoed around the world.
Formula One's ruling body, the International Automobile Federation (FIA), was spurred into action and fined Ferrari and the drivers one million dollars for the podium debacle.
The outcry helped to increase the viewing figures for the following Monaco Grand Prix, a race which also ensured McLaren did not end the season empty-handed with victory going to David Coulthard.
Bumper stickers declaring "I don't brake for Schumacher" appeared on some of the other teams' vehicles while one German fan was seen in a "Scuderia Mafia" T-shirt.
The "team orders" did not go away but Ferrari promised not to repeat such a blatant move and technical director Ross Brawn provided a piece of pure theatre when the camera zeroed in on him calmly munching a banana as Barrichello led Schumacher to the finish at the Nuerburgring in June.
There was no more monkey business, but outside of Italy and Germany, the armchair spectator was getting restless, fiddling with the remote control as Ferrari's domination grew and boredom began to set in.
From Monaco onwards there was no respite, Ferrari clocking up nine wins in a row as other teams struggled even to keep on the road.
Minardi were revived with a cash injection but Arrows fell by the wayside, absent from the last five races of the season as the television cameras relayed the sight of shuttered garages and motionless cars.
By the time of the penultimate U.S. Grand Prix, conversation had turned to ways of spicing up the show and slowing down Ferrari.
Schumacher led from the start before braking at the finish in what he suggested afterwards was an attempt to engineer a photo-finish with Barrichello.
It proved more banana skin than brilliance, with Schumacher slowing too much and Barrichello crossing the line 0.011 of a second ahead of him.
The Ferrari, easily the fastest car on the grid, had once again fuelled a furore by applying the brakes.
By Alan Baldwin