David Coulthard won the Brazilian Grand Prix on Saturday, April 3, 2001. Luca Badoer inaugurates the recently modified Fiorano track two days later. The test driver is at the wheel of the F1-2000 car, which has been modified at the rear. This spec-car features the well-known chimneys above the sidepods. The Treviso driver tests the electronics. He sets 81 laps, 18 of which are done on the short layout. It is worth mentioning that he does 11 practice starts as well. Further up north, McLaren, Jordan and BAR start a test session at Silverstone in a winter climate with rigid temperatures and intermittent rain. Wurz tests the electronics of the hybrid MP4/15. He then makes his debut with the 2001 car. Zonta has an engine failure while Lemarie prepares the cars for Trulli and Villeneuve. BAR has a fourth chassis. Williams, Sauber and Prost, instead, test at Magny-Cours. In the days leading up to the San Marino Grand Prix, the European constructors are threatening to abandon Formula 1. They do not accept Bernie Ecclestone’s sale of the society, which manages the F1 championship, to television tycoon Leo Kirch. This could lead to the foundation of an alternative society by the manufacturers, which could organise another World Championship. The protest arose a week prior. Em. Tv, Thomas Haffa’ society, which was burdened with a debt of a billion of euros, had in fact given up 25% of Slec to the Kirch al group for approximately 1.3 billion of Deutsche Marks. Slec is the company that holds the Formula 1 television rights. This operation ensures that the German company Kirch-em. Tv gets to control 75% of the society by the end of March, after a funding guarantee by the German boss. He then exercises the buying option for another 25% of the Formula 1 holding. The other 25% is owned by Bernie Ecclestone, for which the FIA has recently renewed the rights. The car manufacturers do not agree with it. As announced a month ago, they are preparing a counter-move. They argue that they would not accept that the Formula 1 organisation and promotion could be directly or indirectly controlled/exploited by a single television society. According to them, the fundamental principle of the world free-to-air transmission of the races would be breached. The threat is thus given substance:
"As a result of recent developments, and in the best interests of motorsport, it has been unanimously agreed to set up a joint company, the purpose of which will be to establish, as soon as possible, a new open-wheels single-seat racing car series".
States Acea’s president Paolo Cantarella. Acea is the association of the European car constructors. It is no small threat considering that there is the elite of the constructors’ world championship among the European ones, starting from Ferrari. In addition, there is also Daimler Chrysler. McLaren, BMW, Renault and Ford have an engine partnership with Mercedes-Benz. The German group is openly talking to the constructors about it. However, they do not seem to be intimidated by Acea’s threat. In fact, the group's spokesman recalls the obligations of the cars’ manufacturers:
"The contracts of the cars’ manufacturers, for their participation, run until 2007".
As published by Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Kirch group subsequently says that they are willing to sell 25% of the cars’ manufacturers. Dieter Hahn makes the offer with a letter addressed to Cantarella. The German president offers to the constructors a 1/3 of the property as well as a sort of veto right on decisions concerning the free-to-air transmission of the races. The big constructors that are engaged in the racing world are in fact scared that Kirch could sell the television rights exclusively to pay-tvs in the future. The same spokesman denies the rumours of this project:
"There is no plan to transfer the races to pay-per-view televisions".
Bernie Ecclestone comments the entire story like this:
"The constructors are worried about what will happen to Formula 1 when I will no longer be here and have decided to consider a way to manage the championship on their own".
He then adds:
"I have ensured that my worldwide coverage policy, from live transmissions and over the air on televisions, will remain the same, as well as that of running races in the countries of the involved constructors, teams and sponsors. From my point of view, this is the precondition to manage Formula 1 for the next five years".
Bernie attacks the teams during an interview with Financial Times:
"It took me 30 years to build Formula 1 as it is today. Six months might be enough to destroy it. The bottom line is that the manufacturers had the opportunity to come in, through Em. Tv, long before Kirch came on the scene. It was a good proposal that they did not take up".
The English manager is convinced that a rival championship could be negative for everyone:
"Formula 1 is a very stable, sound business with huge television and press coverage".
This is the reason why the sponsors and TV broadcasters will lose interest if the sport is split. The FIA president Max Mosley also hopes that an agreement will be found in the end:
"Let’s hope that we can arrive at a compromise and not at a fragmentation of Formula 1. In the end we must note that the constructors are united and own teams and drivers. Therefore, they have more cards to play than Kirch".
In the meantime, Ferrari is starting a testing session at Fiorano from Wednesday, April 4, 2001. Michael Schumacher will drive alongside Badoer on Thursday 5. The German driver is in search of redemption after the difficult race at São Paulo. He and Ferrari aim to regain the lost competitiveness. This was the main talking point of the Ferrari summit meeting that was held immediately after the Brazilian Grand Prix, where it was emphasised that Michael had the wrong car set-up. Wednesday is an intense testing session for Badoer. The test driver continues the set-up work and the development of the electronic equipment. The electronics will come into effect at the Spanish Grand Prix, which is scheduled on Sunday, April 29, 2001. Badoer’s best time is a 1'00"259 at the end of a 69 lap-stint that includes 19 start simulations. The other teams are also following their work programs between Silverstone, Magny-Cours and Jerez. During a break, Jos Verstappen apologises to Juan Pablo Montoya for the Brazilian collision:
"The incident was involuntary and this is demonstrated by the fact that I let the Williams by to lap me".
Ralf Schumacher retains that the FIA should punish drivers that cause racing incidents with a four-race ban, referring to Rubens Barrichello:
"A fine doesn't matter. $15,000 doesn't matter in Barrichello's case. You can't just give a penalty because Ferrari will pay it without worrying. In our business the team doesn't care. A race ban is quite a hard thing, because a mistake can happen to all of us. But a suspended race ban for four races or something, I think that would be a good idea".
Michael Schumacher’s tests does not exactly start as hoped. At 6:00 p.m., the F2001 bangs violently against the protection barriers at the entrance of the bridge, which could be defined as the high section of the track.
The car loses the right rear wheel and the suspension on impact. The driver is fortunately unscathed. The possible causes of the incident include a gust of wind which may have hit the rear of the Ferrari. Schumacher talked about Formula 1, Ferrari, Brazil and Imola the morning before the incident. The Ferrari driver started the interview by talking about the widespread unease among the constructors:
"I did not elaborate on the topic of Cantarella’s statements. The double Formula 1 championships seem far away from me. When would it start, in six years’ time? I don't think I'll be on the circuit by then. I'm convinced that Formula 1 should be a patrimony for everyone and that everyone should be able to see it. It should be free-to-air".
Next topic: what happened in Brazil?
"We have not found exactly what went wrong. The problem is that we cannot simulate the conditions in Brazil at Fiorano. The circumstances were rather extreme. It was obvious there was something wrong. We were nowhere in conditions in which we usually shine - rain. We went into the race with a full dry set-up, as we did in Malaysia. But we were far from being as competitive as in Sepang, so it must be something track-specific. I presume we will be more competitive at Imola. It is all part of racing to not win every race - it's impossible. In the first two races, the others had not achieved their maximum and they did in Brazil. Today, the Williams team is a third reality. It will be positive if they can take points away from McLaren. On the other hand, they can take points away from us. Therefore, we need to keep our heads down and never give up".
Where does the danger come from now: Coulthard or Montoya?
"We know Coulthard, we are used to his performances but the danger is Hakkinen. Montoya is a young rookie who will be able to make a name for himself. It seems premature to talk about him as a new champion. After one overtaking manoeuvre, you are not automatically the champion. You need more. Don't misunderstand me, he did a fantastic race, but sometimes the media makes too much out of things. If you look at the pure lap times you see my brother was eight-tenths faster than Montoya, so the real winner should have been my brother. There were other overtakes that made people cry out for a miracle: Fisichella, Trulli, Button. None of them has become world champion".
On Friday, April 6, 2001, Schumacher completes 104 laps and 3 start simulations. The current world champion focuses on tyres and aerodynamics. Badoer then goes on track with the F1-2000, to continue the development programme of the new electronic solutions. The German sets a 59"071 lap time. At the end of the day, Badoer sets a 1'00"203 at the end of a 15-lap stint with Schumacher’s car. The Ferrari test driver makes 10 start simulations as well. The test finishes on Saturday, April 7, 2001. Schumacher ends it by completing a 27-lap stint. The current world champion assures that Ferrari will be more competitive at Imola. Schumacher mentions that McLaren and Williams-BMW have to be defeated.
The Grove-based team only managed to put together two points in the first three races of the season, despite impressing the paddock for the qualifying and race performance. Ralf Schumacher’s 5th place finish in Malaysia is the best result so far. In the previous two rounds, the two FW23 cars did not see the chequered flag. In Australia, the German was involved in the dramatic incident with Villeneuve while Juan Pablo Montoya retired for an engine failure. At Sepang, the Colombian driver was betrayed by the slippery asphalt. At Interlagos, the two Williams drivers were respectively hit by Rubens Barrichello and Jos Verstappen. The BMW director and former Formula 1 driver, Gerhard Berger, continues to say that Williams-BMW will only win in 2002. What can Schumacher and Montoya do at Imola?
"There are two ways to win: thanks to our performance or because the others retire. In the second scenario, we can win especially if something happens to the Ferraris or the McLarens. However, I have to emphasise that in order to be a true force in F1, we need to wait until the 2002 season. Imola? We want to be close again to Ferrari and McLaren: then we will see".
What is missing at the moment?
"The leap of a team occurs when each individual employee is convinced that he or she has joined a winning team. Then an unstoppable synergy is created in order to generate extra performance. Williams is coming back and it shows but so do we".
Berger goes into details:
"The engine is there, we have similar performances to that of Ferrari, which is the best. The car is mechanically fine, in terms of gearbox and suspensions. In terms of aerodynamics, Ferrari is still at the top because it creates more downforce. With the new regulations, you use maximum downforce on 70% percent of the circuits. The more you have, the more advantage you get".
Ferrari has in fact amazed everyone with the grip shown in the wet at Malaysia. The Maranello mechanics are evidently very good in creating a traction control system which is within the regulations:
"It is a pity for Formula 1 and Ferrari that the electronic regulations change after just four races. It does not make any sense that the FIA accepts the liberalisation of the traction control. In any case, they should have liberalised the regulations from the start, not during the season. Ferrari did a great job during the winter. Though in the end, there are so many grey and shaded areas about the fact that everyone says that traction control cannot be ascertained. It seems like Ferrari’s performances are a result of the traction control rather than of the car itself".
Let’s talk about Ralf Schumacher:
"Ralf is an extremely good driver. He showed this year in the first few races that he's an outstanding driver, and he's very close to the performance of Michael. I honestly think if you give him top material, he's able to win a lot of races like Michael. Ralf has what it takes to be as fast as Michael".
Are the two brothers so different from each other?
"Michael is very concentrated on the family and the races. Ralf enjoys life’s pleasures more and addresses them with happiness. He has other interests other than Formula 1".
What about Montoya, the moral winner of the Brazilian Grand Prix?
"He has an amazing car control. An exceptional talent but needs to understand that everything cannot be done with talent only. He needs to use an analytic method to develop the car from Friday to Sunday and, at the same time, to put his qualities into use at the right moment. Today, beyond the extraordinary performance in Brazil, he is still fighting in the midfield. However, he is only on his fourth race in Formula 1. If he is focused on the job ahead, he will become one of the best".
Who is the best driver at the moment?
"Michael Schumacher at the moment".
What about Hakkinen?
"Very fast, a fantastic driver who is at Schumacher’s level on his best moments of grace but is less consistent. Michael is always there: in the dry, in the wet, even when the car is not at its best".
What do you think about the controversy started by Barrichello after Malaysia, when Schumacher overtook him in a difficult situation?
"Rubens has not yet understood that it is Michael who tells him what to do, not vice versa. Still, I like Barrichello. It would be better if he did not hit Ralf at Interlagos but he is a very fast driver".
There is a big rivalry between BMW and Mercedes in Germany:
"There are substantial differences. BMW chose to make the engine in Germany with their engineers, with the support of the mechanics who work in the production series. There is synergy for a lot of things, starting from the research centre, electronics, etc. Mercedes instead creates the engine in England, relying on experts such as Mario Illien, who has a society. It is a different approach".
It is now time for Imola. What is your best memory?
"Being alive after the scary incident in 1989. My Ferrari slid outside the Tamburello and caught fire. I remember everything. When I was 20 cm from the impact I said: well, it is over, goodbye to everyone and thank you. Then I found myself alive. it was a miracle made by the marshals and the fire department guys".
How did the scare affect you?
"I do not take risks with the same ease as before. Since that moment I have always gambled drive. An overtake with the tyres in the grass? I did it at Hockenheim, it worked and I tried again. Every time I dared more. Then, at Imola, I became aware that I could have also died and I do not push my luck that much anymore".
What is your best race at Imola?
"The 1990 one, won by Patrese. I was leading until just before the end of the race with McLaren. I broke a valve, goodbye success but I raced very well. I stepped many times on the podium. The track was beautiful as well as the Imola girls".
Imola is dedicated to Enzo and Dino Ferrari:
"I know. In fact, in my first years at Ferrari there were two races that were worth an entire championship for those who worked at Maranello: Imola and Monza, even if our car was not competitive. When we arrived on one of those tracks, the engine transformed itself and was faster. I still do not know how to explain it".
Michael Schumacher already won three times at Imola, once for Benetton and twice with Ferrari. On Sunday, May 1, 1994, the day Ayrton Senna passed away, he won the race for Benetton. The German then won in 1999/2000 as a Ferrari driver. A third consecutive victory would put him in 1st place in the standings for most wins in Formula 1. At the moment, he shares 1st place with Senna and Prost. At Imola, 200,000 spectators will suffer for Ferrari. The Maranello team cannot pretend that it is just another race. Michael also knows this. In fact, his main priority is to win the race without any trouble:
"It is easy to get used to winning. Now I hope to take my third consecutive win at Imola and to gain precious points for the standings".
Michael is also thinking about his rivals:
"Coulthard stood three times out of three on the podium. The six-point advantage over him is not much, given that there are 14 races left. Then I will also need to get used to often fighting with my little brother Ralf, who seems to be quite competitive. The Williams-BMW chassis-engine-tyre package is valid. I think that we are going to see very interesting races in this season".
Furthermore, the Schumacher-targeted fuel will go on sale in a few days’ time. It seems that there are already a number of bookings at the Shell petrol stations. A Formula 1 fuel will go on sale for the first time ever. In previous years, especially during the turbo engine period, the Formula 1 fuel was literally flying off the shelves. At the end of each grand prix, the teams left the leftover fuel since it could no longer be transported. Thus, there was an assault on the kegs during the evening. The fans were sucking fuel through a tube and were able to fill up tanks of fuel for the production cars. It was also a period where the fuel could guarantee an increase in horsepower. In the new millennium, the race fuels are basically comparable to the commercial ones. However, the Shell fuel has many additives that the normal commercial fuels do not have. It has an octane rating of 99, as opposed to 95 for the fuels that are normally on the market. A Ferrari technician explains:
"We did lengthy tests on the production series cars at Fiorano. We found that this fuel is also good for normal engines, in the sense that it contributes to avoid and eliminate incrustations. Thus, Shell has decided to put it on the market".
Schumacher and Coulthard meet in the Imola paddock before the start of the FIA press conference. Some German newspapers published Coulthard’s statements in which he defined Schumacher as an unfair driver who drives by his own rules. During the press conference, Schumacher clarifies:
"David and I cleared the air after what had appeared in the German newspapers in recent days. He apologised for speaking to the press first rather than to me directly. Everyone has the right to have their own opinions. He is free to criticise the FIA if necessary. I think his complaints to me were in relation to the FIA’s judgement on the occasion of our previous fights, as it happened last year at Magny-Cours. I can say that the past will not influence in any way our relationship. There is no big friendship between us, but there is no hatred either. I have the same relationship with him as I have with other Formula 1 drivers".
Michael denies that there were internal conflicts after the Brazilian Grand Prix:
"The car is certainly not very competitive, but it does not mean that there was a quarrel between the team. I was responsible for the set-up choice and that is it. Not everyone has to say what I must or must not do in order to develop the car. My engineers and I worked tirelessly throughout the entire week-end but it was not enough to win in Brazil. We simply got the set-up wrong".
On Friday April 13, 2001, the two Ferrari drivers dominate the two free practice sessions. In FP1, the fastest man is Barrichello. The Brazilian wants to redeem himself and make up for the Interlagos mistake. In FP2, Schumacher sets the fastest time. Barrichello is 2nd, ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Hakkinen. The Williams and McLaren drivers are respectively 0.7 and 1.2 seconds behind the two Ferraris. Coulthard is only 11th fastest. The second Silver Arrow is two seconds behind the pacesetter. The Scot driver is also held back by an engine shut-off at the exit of Acque Minerali. Juan Pablo Montoya does not run in FP2, since the mechanics are fixing a reliability issue with the Bmw engine. In FP1, the Colombian sets a time which was good enough for 17th place. Jarno Trulli is 9th fastest, with a gap of 1.827 seconds. Giancarlo Fisichella’s Benetton is only 15th fastest, 3.226 seconds behind the scarlet Ferrari. The two Ferraris are running very fast in front of an enthusiastic crowd. However, there is margin for improvement, given Schumacher and Barrichello’ lap times (1'25"096 - 1'25"372). In fact, these times are nowhere near Hakkinen’s 2000 pole time of 1'24"714 and Jacques Villeneuve’s 1997 record of 1'23"303. The F2001 looks super-fast while the McLaren car is far too slow. Hakkinen and Coulthard seem to have some issues, yet nobody within the Woking team is accepting the crisis term. Coulthard talks about the disappointing free practice sessions:
"Here, especially in the corner, you need to have a good feeling with the car and I do not have it at all. In fact, I went off track two times. We are behind Ferrari at this stage and if at Imola you start 4th or 5th, the race is already over. You cannot overtake. If you are in the lead, then you will most likely run away with it".
Hakkinen is also downbeat:
"I need a good result. In order to believe in it, you need to be one with the car and I do not have that feeling. We have not lost yet, but we need to start winning. It will be very difficult to take the pole here".
Ralf Schumacher is aiming for pole position and, who knows, maybe the win as well:
"It is thanks to the Bmw engine. Nobody expected it to be this powerful after just one year. It usually takes between 4 or 5 practice seasons but we immediately nailed it. I can snatch the pole from Michael".
He also asks the Williams team to be cautious. Three racing collisions are too much. Hence, the Williams rear wings have been adorned with a playful inscription: Keep your distance. The slogan also covers the English trucks. The idea came from a mechanic and it was immediately sponsored by the drivers and technicians. Ralf is thinking big:
"At the start of the season, we had a dream: to be in the fight with Ferrari and McLaren. One aim was already achieved: to be faster than the McLarens. If luck can assist us, we will be able to beat them in the race. Ferrari however is still ahead, but not by much. Do not be fooled by the lead of tenths of a second that Michael has today over me. At Imola, the Italian Tifosi are euphorically pushing Ferrari for the win. My brother has maybe helped this enthusiasm".
Ralf is learning his brother’s art in underhanded jibes. The Williams driver says that Ferrari will have less fuel at the start of the race. If that is the case, he is ready to attack Michael at the start of the race:
"I want to win. In order to achieve this goal, I need to overtake my brother. True, it was easy to arrive in Formula 1 with this surname, but I cannot show my gratitude to him on track. In Brazil, I was 10 km/h faster than him, unfortunately Barrichello took me out of the race. Here it will be difficult but we can still give Ferrari a fight. As long as it does not rain".
There are also other improvements that needs to be made:
"Improve the set-up and the aerodynamics of the car. The car is too nervous and too difficult to drive. Unfortunately, we cannot increase the load at the rear, since we are already at the maximum".
On Saturday, April 14, 2001, Coulthard claims pole position ahead of his teammate Hakkinen. McLaren monopolises the front row. The Scott sets the fastest lap time in 1'23"054. The McLaren driver is two tenths faster than Hakkinen. Ralf Schumacher will line up 3rd on the grid. The Williams driver is three tenths slower than the pole sitter. Schumacher is 4th fastest albeit over half a second slower than Coulthard. Barrichello will start behind an excellent Jarno Trulli in 6th position. It seems like Ferrari is dominating the qualifying session in the dry and in the wet. The situation completely changes with 12 minutes to go. The Ferrari team mistakenly decides to go for the hard tyres. During his last flying lap, Schumacher makes a decisive mistake at Tamburello. The first 15 minutes of qualifying are about pre-tactics. The chronometer is not registering any interesting lap times so far. Frentzen, Hakkinen, Barrichello and Coulthard go out on track and are taking turns to lead the timing sheets. Schumacher is in the garage and looking at the sky. It is cold. It has been a long time since the Imola fans have worn jackets and heavy shoes. The temperature varies between 10 °C and 11 °C, which is almost a record. The clouds are getting bigger and much darker but it is not yet raining. Hakkinen sets a 1'24"222 in his first flying lap. It is faster than Schumacher’s free-practice time. The Finn is the fastest driver out of the ones who went early on track. Down at McLaren, everyone is smiling. However, this joy only lasts for a moment. Schumacher transforms their smiles into sighs. Michael first laps in 1'23''749 and then in 1'23''674. This latest time is three tenths slower than Villeneuve’s record. It is a clear and strong message to his rivals and almost a knockout blow. The other drivers will try to improve Michael’s lap time during the second half of the qualifying session.
The first one to deserve a round of applause is Montoya. The Colombian wants to retake the Brazilian spotlight after a disappointing day and a half. He sets a mistake-free lap which is good enough for 3rd. This is only a short-lived joy for him. He would finish the session in 7th position. Barrichello is able to forget the Interlagos heartbreak. He is behind the top 6 after the first attempt. The Brazilian then sets a last-gasp lap time to go 3rd fastest. With 15 minutes to go, Schumacher is 0.381 faster than Coulthard. His brother Ralf, Hakkinen, Montoya and Trulli are behind the Scott. It seems like a banal and jolt-free ending. The session turns on its head at the 12-minute mark. Mika Hakkinen sets the fastest first, second and third sector to take the provisional pole position in 1'23''381. The McLaren guys are once again smiling while the Ferrari mechanics are pulling faces. It is a rare sight. This is an important weekend for Ferrari, yet it is only the start of many things to come. In the last few minutes, the track is ramping up. Trulli takes 3rd spot for the time being. Schumacher is now excluded from the top 3. The German does not give up and puts himself ahead of Trulli’s Jordan. As the time ticks down, there is yet another surprise. Ralf sets the 3rd fastest time and pushes his big brother out of the top 3. Michael tries to improve his time but locks the front tyres at Tamburello. His last flying lap is thus ruined. Whilst this is going on, Coulthard strikes the winning blow and takes pole positions. The Ferrari fans are crying while others are enjoying the unforeseen events. Ferrari’s qualifying is compromised by the mistake at Tamburello and the choice of the Bridgestone hard tyres. Easter Eve has become one of Maranello’s saddest moments in recent times. It is the first time since Belgium 2000 that the two scarlet cars are not able to start from the front row. It is a depressive moment for the chilly fans who are folding Ferrari’s red flags.
"The flags will be waived tomorrow".
Promises Schumacher, who does not want to give up just yet. Michael is certain that the hard tyres are the right choice:
"It is better to start on the second row with the right tyres, rather than being on pole with the wrong ones".
Press officer Claudio Berro and Jean Todt add to it:
"We adopted a conservative strategy, let’s hope that it will be the right one tomorrow".
His smile disguises the bitterness. However, it is clear that there is a failure spectrum inside the Ferrari garage. The journalists ask Schumacher about the hard tyres. The German driver answers this question by saying:
"I am convinced that the hard tyres will give us an edge tomorrow. We exited the pits early in order to not be surprised by the rain. The situation then got worse. The reason for us not being fastest is mainly my own fault. I was two-tenths of a second slower in the last sector and the lap before that I overbraked, which caused lots of vibrations. The others improved whilst I made a mistake in the decisive moment. We had a different tyre choice from McLaren and the tyres McLaren selected were very good for qualifying. Ours did not perform so well. I am surprised to see David Coulthard on pole especially with such a big gap over me and Mika. I wasn't expecting that at all but we are still the ones to beat".
Ferrari’s chances for a win are helped by the fact that Schumacher is more determined than ever:
"My brother Ralf and I are the favourites for the race win".
McLaren suddenly came back to fight for pole here at Imola:
"It's a surprise but I am delighted to get pole. I'm putting it down to the glasses because I saw Mika wearing his blue ones and I thought I'd go for orange today! However, one thing is to be fast over one lap. The other is to be fast in the race".
This gives him yet another confidence boost. Michael Schumacher is asked to talk about the qualifying session. He admits:
"I am disappointed, but I can't help that because this is Imola. I am not angry and really it is not such a bad thing. It is not the first time that it has happened. I am sorry for our fans, but we promise that we will fight back".
Barrichello attributes his less-than-brilliant performance to the traffic. Frentzen and Marques were exchanging gestures during the out-lap. The Brazilian Ferrari driver found himself in the middle of this 250 km/h fight:
"They were discussing in the middle of the track, not caring who was behind. In that case, I was the one behind Frentzen and Marques. I am not too angry about the fact that they ruined an important lap for me, but of the danger that I was in".
The Brazilian was 11th with 6 minutes to go. He managed to improve to 3rd. The Ferrari driver then had to abort the next 2 attempts. In the end, the Ferrari driver has to settle for 6th place:
"I found too much traffic. The car is good and the situation is much different than in Brazil. We, myself especially, were unlucky. I am sorry to the fans who were hoping for a Ferrari front-row lockout but they know that it is a wide-open race. The tyre factor will make this race unpredictable. I hope our choice is the right one. The start is crucial because it is difficult to overtake. What is the tactic? Go fast and not crash".
The two Schumacher brothers found themselves on the same starting row once again. Unlike Interlagos, though, the duo must be content with the second row of the grid. It is a close fight that is starting to get dangerous, especially considering the exuberant and more swaggering Ralf. Rumours of a heated squabble between him and Michael start to spread inside the paddock in the morning. The reason behind it was Ralf’s statements to the media on Friday, regarding raised suspicions over Ferrari's low fuel load in free practice. Michael was not having it. In fact, the Ferrari driver rebuked his brother on Thursday. There was a family discussion which ended later in the morning. It emphasises how the rivalry between the two has reached its peak. Michael though does not do anything to soothe it:
"Ralf is the most dangerous rival for the race win, not McLaren. He can also do a one pit-stop strategy and this pisses me off".
These are observations which are also confirmed by Ralf Schumacher:
"We can only pray that it does not rain. We had been having lots of problems in the rain. It would have helped us more if it had been dry because Michelin are known to be good in hot, dry conditions, but we still seemed to get it right. If it stays like this, we can win. The dream is to beat the McLarens. If only I could overtake my brother as well…It is a shame it didn't work out for him, but I am sure he will do well on Sunday. So far, I have been good in qualifying but things have always happened in races. Hopefully that won't be the case for tomorrow".
Ralf will start ahead of his big brother tomorrow. This is the third time that he manages to do so in his career. Ralf promised a battle and will try to keep his word:
"I thought that I was on pole. Instead, the two McLarens ruined everything. Still, it is better to be 3rd rather than 2nd. I start on the clean side of the track. With the inside line going into turn 1, I might surprise everyone, who knows. Also, Barrichello is behind and will not cause me any problems. This is good news".
Poleman Coulthard is on a roll. This is his first pole position since Hockenheim 2000, back in July. David is both happy and surprised:
"I ruined Ferrari’s party. I am sorry for the Italian fans but I would like to do it in the race as well. McLaren winning in Ferrari’s territory, what a nice snub. On Friday we were in crisis with an unbalanced car and also damaged the chassis by going onto the grass. The guys worked very hard; they were up until four this morning to build another car. I did not think that I would be the fastest in quali. It is a miracle".
It is a really surprising renaissance. There were funeral vibes inside the McLaren garage on Friday. Coulthard and Hakkinen were demoralised and resigned by Ferrari’s overwhelming power, thinking that they could have no chance of coming back into the championship frame. It was the same story on Saturday morning. The Scotsman admits:
"I did not like the way the car handled; I could not keep it on the road. It was unstable and difficult to drive, a disaster".
The McLaren team locked out the front row. It was a dominant performance that was not seen for a long time, specifically since the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, July 16, 2000. It raises McLaren’s hopes for the two world championships. McLaren does not change its philosophy. Coulthard is only six points behind Schumacher. Hakkinen is further down in the championship, with only one point. Any team would not have doubts on who to favour. Ron Dennis does not think the same though:
"We never make any choice at the beginning of the season. The important aspect is to win the race and not which of the two drivers wins it. Our hierarchies are very clear. In every Grand Prix, our n.1 driver is the one who leads or is ahead going into turn 1. Without any team orders".
Let’s see who is ahead at the first corner, hoping that the Schumacher brothers do not get in the way. Coulthard never had any illusions of preferential treatment:
"I started the season better but I always thought that Mika would react. And here he is, ready to fight. There's a long way in this race to go, you know qualifying is only one part of it. Especially if you see the results I have had this year from bad qualifying positions. I just need to make a good start, hope we have a reliable start, and do the best we can".
Hakkinen seems to be revitalised. His wife Erja is in the McLaren garage this weekend:
"She brings me luck. It may be a coincidence but, all of a sudden, we come back to be as fast as last year. Compared to Melbourne, our performances increased by 25%. This front row is a masterpiece. It is not luck, it is the result of the great work done by the team, which knew how to completely change the car. It was not a bluff. I was really worried on Friday, not now. I am now very optimistic. This is a track where you cannot overtake. If we start ahead, the two Ferraris will not catch us".
It seems strange but Mika never won in Italy. This is his 18th attempt to win either the San Marino or the Italian Grand Prix:
"I do not want to live it like an obsession but achieving success here will be decisive. It could be the start of my season and my chase to Schumacher. I always said that nothing was lost, that the world championship is still long and that there was time to catch up. I already have a 25-point gap over Michael. If I do not start to close the gap, then it will be really difficult to catch up".
However, there is one discriminating factor that involves the tyres. McLaren chose the softs while Ferrari went for the hard tyres instead. The McLaren drivers might need to do a two-stop race whilst Schumacher only a one-stop. It is a question mark that does not bother the two McLaren drivers. Coulthard is in fact very explicit about this:
"I prefer to start in front. The strategies are often decisive but when you are in the lead, you think better".
At the 1998 Imola Grand Prix, the Scotsman stepped on the top step of the podium after taking pole position and the win:
"I do not think it was an accident. Here at Imola, pole equals half of the battle. I hope history repeats itself".
The revelation of the day is Jarno Trulli. The Italian interpreted the intense qualifying session with patience and willpower:
"I waited until I caught a glimpse of a chance for the fastest lap. At the start, I was struggling a bit but the track situation was also not the best for me. Then I knew that it was time to push and managed to take 3rd place. It was an exciting end and not just for me. The car was competitive both in the dry and in the wet. The most difficult part was to manage the tyres but I did it. I did a lap of mine and was exceptional. I risked a lot but it was the only possible choice. The team and I got it right. I gave everything that I could. The car and I pushed 100%. Maybe I should congratulate myself. Even the strategy was good: I waited until the end of quali to do my lap. Now I would just have to keep my place on the grid. The pit stops will be fundamental because it is difficult to overtake here. I am surprised that Ferrari was so far behind. I'd rather start with the soft tyres on the front row rather than with the hards from the second one. Montoya? You journalists are quick to create a phenomenon… In Brazil, he did very good things and should have won. However, today I was the fastest out of the two: it can happen...".
Giancarlo Fisichella is depressed after finishing the qualifying session in 19th place:
"It was bad, really bad. We are not in the conditions to be competitive. The car generates little power and we cannot work the tyres, we have very low grip".
At Interlagos, you managed to finish in 6th position after starting 18th on the grid:
"Yes, but it is difficult, we cannot make miracles all the time. We can hope for a good result tomorrow if there are bad weather conditions".
Benetton will leave Formula 1 at the end of the year. The handover to Renault is very painful at this stage. The team is in fact testing the engine, which is projected towards the future and not the present:
"The mechanics more or less warned us that we would have had some problems but not like this. It will be like this for a few more races at least. It is not an easy situation. Frankly, I am disheartened”.
On Sunday, April 15, 2001, the sun is shining at Imola. The stands are packed. The fans are ready to support Ferrari, Schumacher and Barrichello, who are called to fight against McLaren and Williams. At lights out, Coulthard bogs down at the start. Ralf Schumacher instead has the momentum and the best line to take the lead within a couple of metres. Hakkinen has also a sluggish getaway and is overtaken by the Williams driver and by Trulli’s Jordan. Can Ralf stay ahead and give Williams their first win in 4 years? Rubens Barrichello also had a shocking start. By the end of the first lap, he drops to 8th. The order is: Ralf Schumacher, followed by Coulthard, Trulli, Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher and Montoya. The race leader has an extraordinary race pace and Coulthard does not have any answer to it. It does not take long to realise that Michael Schumacher is having a bad day in the office. A home victory seems impossible. By the end of the third lap, the Ferrari driver goes off track at the exit of Variante Bassa due to a gear shifting glitch. Montoya, Panis and Barrichello take advantage of it to relegate Michael to 8th position. The first retirement of the race is Fernando Alonso. During the 5th lap, he loses control of his Minardi and crashes against the barriers. A lap later, Jos Verstappen is forced to retire for an exhaust issue. While this is going on, Michael Schumacher overtakes Panis for 7th at Rivazza and catches up to the back of his teammate for 6th. In the meantime, Ralf Schumacher is continuing to push on the accelerator and is setting the timing sheets alight with a series of blistering 1’26 laps. On lap 17, it is Kimi Raikkonen’s turn to retire after hitting the wall due to a mechanical failure.
Jenson Button, at the tail-end of the field, is the first driver to make a stop after 19 laps. The topping up fuel procedure has not been fully completed and the British driver is forced to stop on the next lap. Trulli is running in 3rd. He is truly in the hunt for some championship points. The Italian then makes his first pit stop of the day. It is an afternoon to forget for Michael. Halfway through lap 23, the world champion is driving slowly on track. Something is going on with the Ferrari car, although there is no need for detailed discussions. The world champion is presumed to have a left front tyre puncture and has to slowly finish the lap. He then reaches the pitlane to make an unscheduled 13-second stop. His race is truly compromised. Any hope of getting some points has gone down the sink. During the course of the 24th lap, Michael unsurprisingly brings the car to the garage. He is out of the race. Ross Brawn is the one to ask him to stop for security reasons. The rim, which is connected to the brakes, is damaged. The car is not 100% safe and reliable anymore. It is too risky to continue. This is the first retirement of the year for the current World Champion. On lap 27, Ralf Schumacher sets a 1'25"524 lap time. It is a new track record. On lap 28, Mazzacane retires with engine issues. Back to the front, Montoya is up to 4th place. Halfway through the race, the Colombian is into the pits for a pit-stop. It lasts 9.5 seconds. It is then Coulthard’s turn to do a first pit-stop, which lasts 8.6 seconds.
The Scotsman is able to retain 2nd position after exiting the pit lane, thanks to the large margin that he previously had over his rivals. Behind the McLaren, Montoya is hassling Trulli. Tamburello is not in a place to overtake but the Colombian muscles his way through Trulli with a great pass for 6th. The pit-stop phase continues. Leader Ralf Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen pit next from 1st and 4th position respectively. The Williams and McLaren pit-stops are nice and clean. Ralf hangs on to the lead whilst Hakkinen is fighting Trulli and Barrichello for 3rd. In the meantime, Mazzacane and Villeneuve’s races are over due to engine related failures. The Canadian is still stuck at zero points after four races and has to postpone the chance to score his first points of the season. Barrichello decides to delay his only pitstop by three laps. It is a choice that pays off on lap 36. The only Ferrari left in this race is ahead of Hakkinen in 3rd. The track action has died down at this stage, apart from Irvine’s and Fisichella’s retirements. Ralf Schumacher and Coulthard are divided by 10 seconds. It seems improbable that the McLaren driver could challenge the leader. The second round of pit stops does not bring any major changes, apart from Juan Pablo Montoya. On lap 47, he is the witness of a disastrous pit stop. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong: from brakes overheating, when refuelling due to a problematic nozzle, to the engine shutting down. Trulli takes advantage of it to gain 5th place. On lap 48, Montoya tours into the Williams garage to retire. The FW23 has a fatal clutch problem. Marques is the latest driver to retire on lap 52, due to an engine failure. Ralf is going to make his parents happy.
He crosses the line to win the San Marino Grand Prix after a dominant performance. The younger Schumacher can now celebrate his first career victory at 25 years old, allowing William to come back on top. This success had been missing since the distant 1997 Luxembourg Grand Prix. Jacques Villeneuve won that race for Williams. This is also the first victory for Michelin after 17 years, as well as Bmw. The last win for the German manufacturer dates back to 1986 with Gerhard Berger, in Mexico. Coulthard and Barrichello complete the podium, followed by Hakkinen, Frentzen and Trulli. At parc fermé, Michael Schumacher is the first one to congratulate Ralf for the victory. Michael and Coulthard are now level on points at 26. Rubens Barrichello is 3rd with 14 points. Following the win, the Williams driver rises to 4th place in the driver’s championship with 12 points. Rubens’ podium is the saving grace for Ferrari, who limits the damage in the constructors’ championship. The Maranello team is still leading with 40 points. McLaren is 2nd with 30. A shy Ralf is hiding his emotions. He is struggling to release his joy and observes the others celebrating him, jumping on him and congratulating him. The Williams driver seems to think that they are crazy. After all, he only won one race. At the same time, though, he believes that it is the first of many. Ralf is soaked in champagne. He then sails off to Austria via plane with his girlfriend Cora. The mechanics carry him by weight to a disco in Anif, a small country near Salzburg. It is time to party. Michael is not there. Niki Lauda will sub him. Ralf says something like...what have I done? His happiness is summoned in short sentences:
"What did Michael say to me at the end of the race? About time. Frank Williams and Patrick Head’s compliments? They are used to win; the congratulations were not wasted".
Barrichello whispered something to Ralf on the podium. It was curious. What did he tell you?
"It was nice. He said: do you see that, when I hit you, you woke up? And then Coulthard: so many pats on the back, it seemed like the winner was him instead. A fair rival, he demonstrated it at the start by leaving me room and allowing me to pass".
Ralf is impermeable, even regarding his future objectives:
"I've waited for this moment for five years, always working hard. We are not thinking about fighting for the title? Let us first think about winning some races and to improve the aerodynamics of the car. We still have a major shortcoming with the tyres: we are competitive in the wet because we never run in those conditions".
There is still some room left for emotions:
"I have to say one thing: I did not win; I dominated the race from start to finish and that makes me feel a bit big. Who knows how my parents will react to it: it is not just Michael anymore".
Listening to what people say in the paddock, credit has to be given to Michelin. Ferrari chose the hardest compound out of the two Bridgestone tyres. It was a strange choice. The Maranello team walks away from Imola with a 3rd place finish and a DNF. McLaren instead chose the softest Bridgestone tyre. The result is that Coulthard and Hakkinen finished 2nd and 4th respectively. On the other hand, the Williams and Michelin duo won the San Marino race. There is something new and strange about this victory. Michelin’s return in Formula 1 ensures that the competition between different tyre suppliers is back. Beforehand, there was no competition. Competition is always good. In fact, Michelin invented something new. The compound, the structure and tyre carcass are different to Bridgestone. If Ralf Schumacher had a puncture, like it was the case with Michael, he would have come back to the pits with a completely deflated tyre. On the other hand, though, the French tyres allowed the Williams car to be quick. The French supplier needs to be given some credit for the victory. It would certainly be unfair to take away the spotlight from Ralf Schumacher, who enters among the greats of this season. It is no coincidence that Schumacher was forced to wave the white flag. Ralf beats the two McLaren drivers for the top step of the podium. The Woking team’ managers and drivers compliment Ralf and BMW. Haug declares:
"I truly give my congratulations to them. Williams and Michelin together are demonstrated to have the best package. The BMW rivalry will be good for German motor racing. They do not believe to be in contention for the title? I do not think so. You always say that when you start being competitive. You start to not show your cards and ambitions as much as possible. However, this race, and I say this without any controversy, has proved wrong those who, after Malaysia, predicted a Ferrari monologue. It will be a very tight 3-way fight for the title. We took six important points with Coulthard, who is now on top of the championship lead together with Michael. We also demonstrated to be more robust than last year, given that David stepped on the podium in all of the races".
A 2nd place does not satisfy the Anglo-German giant, since the two Silver Arrows monopolised the front row in qualifying. Coulthard admits:
"I moved a little before the start, so I had to check myself a little. Unfortunately, the tyres skid too much at the start which allowed Ralf to pass. I thought I was going to be swamped then, but Mika must have been slow away, so I wasn't. He may have had a problem too". (McLaren modified the clutch function after the issue that Mika encountered in Brazil).
David never had an answer to Ralf’s race pace:
"From how fast he was going, I thought he was making four-five pitstops. I was interested to know how quick he'd be in the race itself. I then found out, after 20 laps, that he wanted to make a one stop. I was hoping I would be faster."
What were the causes for McLaren’s lack of pace in the race? According to Coulthard, there were two reasons behind this performance:
"It was a quiet race in comparison to some I've had, but it was also the most difficult to get a balance on the tyres throughout. I had an inadequate car balance. We were not able to find the right compromise to exploit the tyres at their best".
Everyone is now saying that Bridgestone, at least in the dry, is now inferior to Michelin. Coulthard previously talked about his difficulties in the race. Hakkinen explains that he also had a front wing imbalance after the collision with Trulli:
"The situation in the championship is similar to the one I had a year ago, which makes me a little more optimistic".
What about Ron Dennis? The fact that he was beaten by his friend Williams does not placate the bitterness:
"You see, I am a bad loser and I am not ashamed to admit it. To get them from Frank does not change things much".
Michael Schumacher is still leading the drivers’ championship, although level-on-points with Coulthard. The world champion does not hide his joy for his brother’ success while talking about his race:
"I am very happy for him. Other times, I had come close to achieving the feat, now it was big. We are the first brothers to win together in Formula 1 and we achieve this result: mom and dad would be proud of us".
Someone points out that he should be unhappy about Ferrari’s result. He retorts:
"I already won many races; you cannot always finish in 1st place. This time it was Ralf’s turn to win and I am happy for him. The season is still very long and very much open".
Michael talks like an older brother. Nevertheless, he does not forget that Ralf is also his rival:
"When the debrief ended and I exited our motorhome, I said to others in the team that now our problem will be my brother".
Schumacher does not want to show his disappointment. He thus makes a joke that not everyone laughs at. The Ferrari driver knows that the road for the championship has become even more complicated. Furthermore, Williams’ competitiveness could play a decisive role in Ferrari’s future headaches.
"I should congratulate our rivals. BMW made incredible progress and now they are in the championship fight. Our car is still very competitive. The issue is that the others have recovered much quicker than expected".
Michael congratulates Ralf and the Williams team. He closes the post-race interview by self-criticising his disastrous race:
"First of all, the choice of the hard compound tyres. Let's get this straight: we all agreed with the choice but we thought that it could have gone better. It did not work in quali but it is my fault. I would have started higher without that mistake. Starting behind was our second issue. Look at Barrichello: he finished the race in 3rd when he started behind me so that means that that choice was not so bad. Nothing went quite right in my race. I started terribly, then the gearbox had a glitch issue and finally, I had the right front tyre drop. By analysing the tyre, we saw that it was not punctured. We lost tyre pressure due to the rim. Stopping to change tyres was useless. The rim was compromised which affected the brakes. It was too dangerous to continue like that. I consulted with Ross Brown on the radio and he told me: let’s retire, otherwise you would take too many risks".
He also talks about the one-stop strategy that was planned at the start:
"We had an elastic strategy. We could do one thing or the other according to the evolution of the race. The temperature should have been less warm than it was. In short, a lot of things, everything went wrong".
Jean Todt is feeling an alarmistic atmosphere inside the team. Therefore, he gets straight to the point:
"Two weeks ago, you said that we were running away with the championship and now you say that we are in crisis. Come on, do not exaggerate. We were not running away with it back then, like it was unfortunately demonstrated. We are not in a crisis now and we hope to demonstrate it".
Todt, Ross Brawn and the mechanics know that something is not working like it should, even if the car should not have dominated the championship easily. According to the French manager, this is the reason why the debriefing at Maranello was very serious:
"We need to fully analyse why Schumacher’s car did not work well. It would be a mistake to consider it as a single episode linked to Imola and the encountered events. There must be something that did not work properly. At the moment, we do not know what could be the issue and what is behind it. We are absolutely not happy with Schumacher's car behaviour in the last two races. We should verify and thoroughly analyse all the parameters to find the solution. It is impossible to say it now: we will only know it in the next few days".
Jean Todt and Ross Brawn are on the same page:
"It is essential to study all the data collected during the weekend to find the truth. In which areas? We do not know, we have to find it in order to improve the car ahead of the next races. Michael’s car did not have a perfect behaviour; also, Barrichello’s one was not running fast despite finishing a brilliant race on the podium. I took the decision to stop Schumacher. At the moment, we thought about a simple puncture but then saw that the problem was even more serious since it affected the braking system as well. I communicated to him via radio to stop and retire".
Jean Todt can only agree that the hard tyre did not bring the expected results:
"They offered us various options in race strategies but we could not implement them. Still, the tyre choice was made together, as always, with the driver. Without doubt, Imola gave us a bitter taste. We should have fought for the victory and instead, we practically did not even run for it".
Ferrari can find consolation with Barrichello’s podium at least:
"Rubens hit a brilliant 3rd place and we still are in the lead of both championships. At this point, it is clear that it will be a fight between three teams and two tyre suppliers. Williams-BMW was going fast from the first race. Without doubt, Michelin did a great job with them. I am also convinced that Bridgestone will continue to work well as well. We also have a contract until the end of the year".
Claudio Berro, Maranello’s press officer, confirms that Schumacher’s tyre issue was due to the wear and tear of the suspension, which damaged the rim and provoked the loss of air pressure:
"It is fundamental for us to discover the causes of Michael’s retirement. We will analyse the issues in the next few days. The rim broke after impacting the suspension but we immediately thought about changing the tyres, thinking of a simple puncture. Then, when Schumacher exited the pits, we realised that there was another anomaly and thus called him to the garage to retire the car. It was too dangerous to continue in those conditions; the car did not guarantee the right reliability".
Berro tries to balance the general bitterness when asked about the atmosphere inside the garage:
"Barrichello’s 3rd place is satisfying for the constructors’ championship; Michael’s retirement is penalising for the drivers’ one".
Ferrari had a disappointing Imola weekend. The Maranello squad will now concentrate on the Fiorano and Mugello tests before the Spanish Grand Prix. The goal is to understand what went wrong at Imola and to test the electronic upgrades which will be introduced in Catalunya.