Life had once been defined by linears and absolutes. Now, the only straight lines Sacha experienced were on the straightaways, and the only absolutes involved winning or losing.
Sacha had always been different, unique. She had been a tomboy, but there was more to it than that. She had loved cars from a young age, the faster the car, the better. And having been raised to believe that a girl could do anything a boy could do, she never once doubted her dream of becoming a professional driver. As a teenager, she had prided herself on her skill and, when she became the first woman to enter Formula 3000, she knew it was due to her fearlessness and her speed.
Driving is a tough business for a woman. Only one or two have made it into the sport, and even then, their careers have been fleeting, their success tinged with a hint of the sexual, and, with one exception, they have not reached the level of Formula 1.
When Sacha was hired as the number two driver for the Hungarian Czintos Formula 1 team, she appreciated the significance of this achievement but she was not the least surprised: she had been working toward this goal since she first sat behind the wheel of her father’s car.
The same could not be said for her teammate, Odi, the Czintos number one driver. There is always tough competition between drivers, even within the same team. But Odi hadn’t been exactly sure how to approach his new female teammate. Until she started out-pacing him, race after race. At that point, he had started treating her like he would any other second who was beating him. And that suited Sacha just fine.
Sacha forcibly pulled her attention back to the road in front of her.
“Stop thinking philosophy,” she mumbled to herself. She must have spoken aloud and the team manager’s deep, Italian voice crackled to life in her headset, asking her to repeat herself.
“Nothing,” she replied through gritted teeth, struggling to pick up speed as she accelerated out of the apex.
She could see a streak of red approaching from behind in her side mirror.
She breathed deeply, inhaling the thick, acrid smell of fuel, dust and hot rubber. She focused on the throaty roar of the engine, allowing it to pull her in, to reconnect her with the car. She was the car’s mind; there would be plenty of time to consider her life and career after the race.
Though, if things went according to plan, she would be busy drinking in her victory after the race, not philosophizing.
She accelerated, decelerated, then manoeuvred the car a hair to the right, forcing the red blur that had been approaching up the inside to linger behind her as she wound around the corner of Sainte Devote.
Coming out onto the straightaway again she shifted gears and put her foot down. The sleek, marmalade-orange car responded immediately, shooting forward, pulling away from the irritating red of the lingering, hungry Ferrari.
To the spectators, she was a streak of improbably vibrant orange against the distant aquamarine sea, a vibrant sun rising over the Mediterranean, a blur of colour across the opulent, pale buildings of Monaco.
As the end of the straightaway approached, she slowed into the turns of Massenet, Casino and Mirabeau. Within seconds, the sea was on her left and she was disappearing into the tunnel, the engine echoing off the walls all around her.
But now the roar didn’t even distract her. She had the finish line in her sights.
The Monaco track was famously tight, full of turns, and the most difficult for passing. A Czintos wasn’t expected to win, not at the hands of Odi, and definitely not at the hands of “La Madame,” as she was called.
The chatter on her headset had informed her earlier that Odi had retired with engine failure. Since then, Sacha had managed to coax her sleek machine up through the line, and, at the last pit stop, past even the Ferrari.
She checked her mirrors; no red. Something must have happened to it. It was never far behind and always managed to pass her.
But the road behind her was clear. And so was the road ahead. She was seconds away from victory, seconds away from being the first woman to win an F1 race.
It would be a photo finish: a spark of vibrant orange setting the distant, brilliant blue on fire.
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