On the weekend of the 2002 United States Grand Prix, I was only seven years old. It was the same weekend that I had my appendectomy. I had the operation on Saturday morning and spent the next two days in the hospital, traumatized by the IV needle stuck in my left arm and the fact that I had just been professionally sliced open and had an organ, albeit useless, pulled out from my insides. Looking back, I’m quite amazed that I only spent two full days confined in hospital because I felt like I was there forever. After the longest 48 hours of my life, I was discharged on Monday morning.
When I got home, I still moved very gingerly but I thought that at least I wasn’t in the hospital anymore. And at least I can finally eat again after being disallowed to ingest any food by mouth for two days.
That evening, my dad and I caught a rerun of the F1 US Grand Prix on television. What better way to instantly lift my spirits back up! I sat back and tried my best not to get too excited over the start of the race lest I over-exert myself and my nightmare scenario of re-opening my surgical cut came true. Thankfully, I controlled myself and it was highly likely the first time I’ve ever watched an F1 race without jumping up and down in excitement.
The race featured a dominating Ferrari performance, typical during the early 2000s. Michael Schumacher led the way, followed closely by Rubens Barrichello. No wonder I didn’t get too excited because this was the kind of race that I was so used to seeing!
And then came the ending. Schumacher and Barrichello were pretty much cruising through the final few bends. Suddenly, Michael slowed down, allowed his teammate to get alongside him to finish the race side-by-side. On the official results, Rubens finished 0.011 seconds ahead of Michael to claim the win. The result had little effect on the championship, as Michael had already become champion at that point.
Two Ferraris taking the checkered flag line astern sure made for an awesome image. Earlier that season in the Austrian Grand Prix, Rubens was set to take the win but slowed down after the final corner, yielding the victory to Michael in a very controversial finish. In the Italian Grand Prix, the Scuderia’s home race, the two Ferraris finished together in formation but Rubens had a clear advantage of about a car’s length. In Indianapolis, they attempted it again and I never imagined that it would be so shockingly close at the line. I never imagined that Michael would slow down a bit too much and I thought that maybe Rubens would keep back a little more.
I was familiar that these finishes more often happened in American oval racing, so it was really special to see it happen in F1, despite the circumstances being that it was induced artificially. It was a moment that really popped out when I saw it for the first time and still pops out every now and then when I’d randomly recall F1 memories from my childhood as a dedicated fan of the sport.
Ultimately, this moment had a tiny bit of artistic purpose which was nonetheless fulfilled. It created a stunning image of two scarlet Ferraris crossing the finish line together. It created an eye-popping moment for the sport that would be remembered for years to come as one of the absolute closest finishes in F1 history. And personally, it created a colorful memory that made me immediately put behind the miserable time I spent as a patient in the bleak, austere environment of a hospital.