Michael Schumacher is very motivated after the Malaysian Grand Prix. The race confirmed Ferrari’s supremacy over its rivals. Nevertheless, Jean Todt disguises himself as a fireman and pours water on the enthusiastic fire. According to the Ferrari Gestione Sportiva director, it is a necessary yet difficult operation:
"We cannot think that the championship is over. We need to continue working because the season is long. The winner will be the one who will develop the car better. These results are not the fruit of a dream but of the work of all these years. Actually, for us, this the first time, since I have been with Ferrari, that the season starts with our rivals having to catch up. However, it does not mean that we already won. The championship is long and remains open".
Todt does not trust McLaren:
"They now seem at a disadvantage but I am sure that they will still be the rivals to be reckoned with".
He then relaunches his favourite phrase:
"Hard work and commitment. This is always our path. We know that we have a good car at our disposal but we also know that, in order to win, we still need to improve it. All the other teams are also working towards this direction. Let’s say that, this year, our advantage is to have a good base to work on, perhaps the best that we ever had".
Meanwhile, the Barcelona circuit is hosting a collective testing session that starts on Tuesday 20th March 2001. Badoer sets the fastest time on the second day of testing. Todt continues to defend the team from the irregularity accusations:
"The car was weighed and examined, like the others, after the races. It was found to be regular. No more accusations, rumours and suspicions".
Schumacher takes charge of the third day of testing. The result does not change though. Ferrari is still on top of the timing sheets. The Ferrari driver tries to tone down the controversies, which started when he made the overtake on Barrichello at Sepang:
"Rubens is Brazilian and thus has, what I would call, a Southern temper: really fiery. However, if you talk to him about it, he will say different things to the ones said at the end of the Sepang race. I do not think that he is still mad at me for that overtake".
Barrichello still has some things to say. He does not criticize his teammate this time though. He instead finds fault with the organization of the imminent Brazilian Grand Prix. The third championship round is scheduled for Sunday 1st April 2001 at San Paolo:
"90% of the drivers come here only to drive. The image of this circuit is terrible: bad asphalt, failing billboards and now a company which stops the works one week before the race".
In an interview with the Brazilian daily newspaper O Globo, the Ferrari driver warns his teammate that he is not willing to be his sidekick anymore. His goal is to win the 2001 World Championship.
"I do not want to forever be the second driver. Every day I wake up thinking that I am a winner. Having a driver who is a three-time World Champion as a teammate is an enormous challenge. This is why I need to improve. Today, my biggest challenge is to beat Schumacher".
Barrichello has the opportunity to beat Schumacher at the next race in Brazil. The Brazilian realizes that every single Ferrari employee, who works at the Maranello factory, prioritizes Schumacher. He accepts this fact without any problem:
"This is something that I accept quite naturally: he did six years with Ferrari; I am only on my second year with the team. I'm like a kid who's gone to a new school, behaved well, knows his teammates by name, made friends with everyone, and so can get on even better in the second year".
He also outlines:
"There is always the possibility to become champion. If I do a good job, I could also win the title as well, even if I have someone like Schumacher in the team. In life, nothing is impossible. Though I have to say that the German is a champion. I always have something to learn from him".
The Brazilian media continues to ride the wave. During the Thursday press conference, Schumacher is immediately asked to talk about the alleged heated rival with Barrichello:
"When I arrived at Jordan and then at Benetton, I was the second driver at the beginning. Then I pushed like crazy to become the number one driver. At Benetton, I faced someone like Piquet as a teammate and managed to beat him. Barrichello needs to do the same thing: try to be faster than me. No more alibi: what would the point of giving Rubens a different car than mine? I won in Malaysia with the spare car. Ferrari does not build two equal cars but three".
The Brazilian press conference will be remembered for these words which are worth gold. Michael, would you let Rubens win here? pleads the Brazilian press. Schumacher responds:
"No, do not even think about it. We are all here to win and nothing more. It is too early, maybe towards the end of the season, I could let him win. In the meantime, he is got to beat me".
The Ferrari driver then states:
"I have nothing against him and I am sure that he does not hold a grudge at me. This case started from an emotional moment. Rubens is fiery, emotional, passionate. In Malaysia, had we spoke to each other about it for even for a minute, all of this would have never happened. From today, we will talk to each other and resolve everything".
Barrichello is hailed by everyone in his home country. However, he never achieved significant results in Interlagos. He only managed a 4th place finish at the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix, at the wheel of the Jordan car. Apart from this result, he only had retirements in his other seven participations. It seems like a true malediction. However, Rubens does not believe in witchcraft spells:
"In Formula 1, bad luck does not exist, the negative energies are just nonsense. If you work well and have a good car at your disposal, the results will arrive for sure".
He seems to have an irreparable conflict with the Brazilian press. It is the only newspaper that makes him lose his temper:
"Take a look at today’s newspapers. I said to everyone the same things. Some newspapers report the bad things while others only the good ones. This is not information; those are completely different versions. Then there is always polemics, venoms, gossip. This is Formula 1. It is about speed, overtaking, technique. The constant search for polemics is not a good publicity for our sport and keeps people away from racing".
It is now time for the two teammates to fight on track. In the meantime, there is no shortage of the usual Brazilian gems of the highly efficient São Paulo circuit. A few hours before the start of the week-end, the bulldozers are still working on the circuit. They are then forced to stop when it suddenly starts to rain. A violent storm causes the fall of a wall near the pitlane. It even rains inside the pitlane garages. The bulldozers start working again the following morning. In the meantime, in the Morumbi cemetery, no one is bringing flowers to Ayrton Senna’s grave anymore. There are only letters written by children, who have never met him but they love him as if he were a God. Meanwhile, the eve of the São Paulo weekend is agitated. Thieves take action on Thursday night, aiming to rob the Interlagos pits. Seven rims are missing from the Minardi garage. The Faenza team states that an official complaint will be presented to the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile for the lack of security of the Brazilian track. The thieves previously visited the Jaguar garage on Wednesday. The Brazilian weekend starts with the first free practice session on Friday 30th March 2001. Michael Schumacher tops the timing sheets in FP1. David Coulthard is the fastest driver at the end of the second free practice session. Jarno Trulli is 2nd, ahead of Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Mika Hakkinen. The other Ferrari driver is only 7th fastest, after suffering a spin at turn 1. During his 23rd lap, Barrichello loses control of the backend of his Ferrari and is forced to stop on the escape route. He therefore cannot continue working on the car set-up. The cause of the spin is an engine failure, which is caused by a loss of oil pressure. The technical regulations say that it is not possible to replace the car during the free practice session. Barrichello watches the rest of the session from the side-lines. He sits on a wall at the edge of the track before coming back to the pits. The Ferrari driver declares:
"I am waiting to see the telemetry data to understand what happened. However, there was a noticeable drop of the oil pressure. The engine froze and sent me into a spin. I was not able to keep the engine running and it did not start again".
Barrichello says that there is no point in worrying about the engine issue:
"I am convinced of being able to have a great result. I remain hopeful. I have never been in such great shape, thus is the most beautiful moment of my career. I have a great chance to win here and will do everything to make it happen".
Anyhow, there is something else that makes him restless: the Barrichello-mania. Fans are fawning over him. There are banners that are calling for him to be fast. He dreams of having a good home result since he was a child. There is an enormous pressure on his shoulders. He is afraid of postponing that suffocating embrace once again.
"I know the conditions of my country, what it means to be poor. I understand which kind of efforts the fans make in order to buy the tickets. On Sunday, 100.000 fans will be here. I need to win for them. In 1995, after Senna’s death, I used a helmet with the colours of the Brazilian flag here at Interlagos. I wanted to put it back now, as a tribute to my country. At the end of the race, I always give it to someone who works at the circuit. I will do it this year as well. But I would like to please everyone but I do not know if that will be enough. This helmet with these colours is a gift to all fans".
In the first two outings, the free-practice sessions were always a Ferrari monologue. This time though, the situation is completely different. Schumacher is over a second behind Coulthard in FP2. Barrichello is almost two seconds behind the McLaren driver. Looking closely at the leader board, one thing is immediately clear. Each team has a driver that is very fast and well ahead in the timing sheets, while the other is much slower and very far behind. The reason lies in the differentiated programs. Specifically, one is doing the race simulation program while the other is focused on quali work. Schumacher is not worried:
"We will still have a bit of an advantage but certainly the times have closed up quite a bit. I think the McLarens are getting closer, but it is difficult to judge by how much in terms of time, because they were probably running different fuel loads to us today. You are always going to be faster if you are running a lighter fuel load. Ten kilos are four tenths and this explains everything. Thus, I am not worried. My only problem is to understand the tyres well ahead of the race. This is something we do on Fridays without being too worried about the clock. The track is still too dirty and bumpy and this explains the many spins. Everything is fine. McLaren does not surprise me. I had already said that they would have made progress and I now believe that they will much closer in this race. I know McLaren are going to be our main rivals again".
Qualifying decides the grid for the race. The McLarens are not battling for the front row with the Ferraris. Williams-BMW surprisingly join the battle for pole position. Ralf Schumacher tries to take pole but has to surrender to his brother’s speed. Michael sets a 1'23"780 lap time and takes the third pole position of the season. The Ferrari drivers beats Ralf by three tenths. Hakkinen is 3rd, ahead of Montoya and Coulthard. Barrichello is only 6th fastest. The Williams driver slots in between the two main protagonists. More importantly, the younger Schumacher is hindering the McLarens. McLaren’s desire for revenge is yet again postponed, at least looking at qualifying. Schumacher is always ahead. The world championship laps quicker than everyone else and is practically never undermined by anyone. Another demonstration of the progress made by the Williams team is Montoya’s performance. 15 minutes into qualifying, the Colombian spins at the Mergulho corner. The single-seater was almost flipped as a result. However, he is able to stop it onto the escape route without any damage. Montoya has to reach the pits to use the spare car. He runs through meadows without finding a single marshal that might bring him back to the Williams garage with a motorized vehicle. The Colombian does a two-kilometres run to reach the garage in nine minutes, with the overalls and helmet. He then restarts his qualifying session with the spare car. Montoya then sets a time which is good enough for the second row of the grid. Michael Schumacher takes his 7th consecutive pole position and is one step away from equalling Senna’s record of eight. Meanwhile, Ralf fears that he might be disqualified from the session. The regularity of the Petrobas fuel, on board of the Williams car, is being questioned. The analysis of the sample taken during qualifying does not correspond with the ones presented on the eve of the weekend. After a consultation between the FIA technical delegate, the fuel analyst and Williams, the stewards decide to do a new test on another fuel sample. The result of the second analysis is satisfying. Ralf will retain his 2nd place on the grid. Barrichello is mentally confused by the controversy of the last two weeks and loses concentration. The dig of the Brazilian journalists is ruthless:
"When the team were two, he finished 4th. Now that they are fighting in three, Rubinho is 6th".
The Brazilians are merciless towards Barrichello. He is being shipwrecked in front of his home crowd:
"I am disappointed with the outcome of this qualifying session; it is my fault. In this morning’s free practice, I only ran with one set of tyres. It was a choice that did not work. In the afternoon, on new tyres, I was never able to find the ideal balance of the car, which was continually understeering problems. I am not at all happy, as I felt I could have got a much better result. Sixth place was certainly not what I was expecting here in front of my home crowd".
The previous fight of the Schumacher brothers was not encouraging. About ten years ago, their dad organized a karting race at Kerpen. Ralf and Michael started on the front row. Ralf started well and Michael followed him closely. The brothers collided at turn 1. Ralf is the one to talk about this memory:
"I was in front, the brake pedal of Michael’s kart inserted itself into the exhaust pipe. When I was able to get rid of it, I spun and went off track. In the end Michael won after the race though, he said sorry. He said that he did not do it on purpose and the brake pedal was too small".
Ralf Schumacher is smiling. He will start on the front row for the first time in his F1 career. It is a historic image for the Schumacher family. Michael is the one who feels the most this moment. He is emotional:
"It's a very emotional moment for me. It is something special to have your brother alongside you on the grid. A day that we will never forget. It is something to tell our grandchildren. Ralf and I ahead and the others behind. Now it is time to think about the race. However, when we will get old, who knows how many times we will talk about it".
Michael thinks about his parents: dad Rolf, who set up the brothers’ karts, and mom Elizabeth.
"I can imagine what they are feeling, they will be so happy. This joy will last until tomorrow, at the first corner. Then, I am convinced, fear will kick in. They will not cheer for anyone, they will only pray that all goes well, that nothing happens and that there will be no incidents".
The two brothers guarantee that they will not be conditioned by the family battle. Ralf admits:
"To be next to Michael or someone else, it makes no difference. I will do everything to start in front. If I realize that, in the first corner, I have not got any chance to overtake then I will not ruin everything and will lift up from the accelerator pedal. Of course, this is only to preserve my race and not to favour my brother".
The Ferrari driver adds:
"Blood is worth more than friendship. This is why I say that it is a special moment in my career, having experienced so many fantastic ones. During the races, you cannot have any qualms. I will have to keep Ralf at bay, as well as Hakkinen and all other rivals".
The history between them is full of close on-track fights. In 1997, at the Nürburgring, Ralf caused an incident at the start in which his brother was also involved. Back then, Michael was not understanding and gave a good lecture to his exuberant brother behind the motorhome’s closed door. Ralf matured as time went on. The 2000’s duels, at Silverstone, Barcelona and Zeltweg, caused sparks but no damage. The other side of the coin for Ferrari is represented by Barrichello’s disappointing qualifying result. Michael talks about it:
"I understand his discouragement to start 6th in his home race. He hoped for a better result, he will be angry at himself. I am sorry about it but Ralf is my brother. On a day like it, I cannot be sad".
Mika Hakkinen is not entirely satisfied. However, the Finnish driver sees the glass half full:
"The car has improved a lot. My season can now start".
Beating Schumacher is becoming even more difficult:
"Now there are even two of them. My sister Nina raced in karts in Finland. I will phone her; she must come and give me a hand".
Jarno Trulli manages to grab a remarkable 7th place after a positive Friday. The Italian will start ahead of his teammate Frentzen. It is a result that came despite various Honda engine issues. The engines, which were installed on both Jordans and BARs in the morning, are immediately dismounted after qualifying. Benetton has a disastrous qualifying. This circuit blatantly displays the shortcomings of the car. Fisichella is 18th while Button is 21st. The driver from Rome is able to retains his position. The young rookie Fernando Alonso would have probably been able to start ahead of Fisichella had he not encountered traffic on his last flying lap. On Sunday 1st April 2001, the weather forecast indicates high chances of rain halfway through the race. It is an eventuality which would be well received by Barrichello, who is hoping to turn his disastrous weekend around. Driving on a wet track surface could maybe put the Ferrari driver at ease. Rubens already has a heart-breaking moment during the installation lap. The Interlagos jinx continues. His Ferrari car has an issue. Barrichello is forced to park the car and sprint towards he the Ferrari garage. The mechanics quickly prepare the spare car under the watchful eye of Ross Braw. He is thus able to make the grid just in time. Hakkinen stalls on the starting grid due to a clutch failure. The Finn tests the reactions of the drivers behind him. Luckily, they are able to avoid the Finn. Michael Schumacher gets away well. Unlike his brother, Ralph makes a poor getaway and gets overtaken by Montoya and Coulthard. The race is immediately interrupted. In order to remove Hakkinen’s stricken McLaren, the Safety Car makes its third appearance in three races and freezes the point paying positions. At the end of the first lap, Michael Schumacher leads the race ahead of Montoya, Coulthard, Trulli, Ralf Schumacher and Frentzen. Barrichello is only 7th at the moment. A lap later, the safety car pulls into the pits. When the race restart, Montoya has no scruples and aggressively attacks Schumacher’s lead. Using the American experience of rolling start, the Colombian breaks deep and brushes the German aside and into the outside line. At this point, Schumacher has to lift off in order to not finish on the grass and has to yield the leadership to the Colombian rookie. Barrichello overtakes Frentzen. At the Descida do Lago corner, he tries to do the same on Ralf Schumacher. In the meantime, the Williams driver is looking for a way through Trulli. Rubens breaks in a somewhat careless manner.
The Brazilian hits the rear wing of the Williams car and destroys the front right-hand side of his Ferrari. Barrichello is stuck in the gravel trap. It is yet another retirement in front of his fans. In the meantime, Ralf Schumacher comes back to the pits in order to replace the broken rear wing. However, his race is compromised. The German comes back on track albeit three laps down on the leader. On the other side of the Williams garage, Montoya is able to soak up the pressure exerted by Schumacher after taking the lead of the race. The FW23 car, powered by a great BMW engine, is even able to create a comfortable gap to the F2001 at one point. Three key players, such as Hakkinen, Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher, are out of the race so far. Meanwhile, Olivier Panis is slicing through the midfield. He is up to 4th place after overtaking Frentzen and Trulli respectively. Schumacher makes his first of two scheduled stops on lap 25, which lasts 9.6 seconds. At this point of the race, Montoya tries to set fast times in order to avoid an undercut from the Ferrari driver. By doing so, he almost spins out but manages to keep the car under control with a lot of oversteer. There is no way out for him though on lap 39. Coming up to lap the back markers, in a similar dynamic to Barrichello and Ralf’s incident, he gets hit by Jos Verstappen from behind. It is a surreal incident, since the two were not even fighting against each other. Montoya is forced to retire. This is his third DNF in as many races. This plot twist changes the dynamics of the race. David Coulthard is now leading the Brazilian Grand Prix. McLaren springs into action since the new leader will soon need to make his scheduled pit stop. On lap 40, Coulthard is about to put his race into the hands of his pit crew. The Scot re-joins in the lead of the race and crucially ahead of Schumacher. The rain clouds did not affect the race up until this point. Soon afterwards, a heavy downpour hits the track and turns the race upside down. The drivers are scrambling to dive into the pits to fit the rain tyres. BAR and Jordan, with Villeneuve/Panis and Frentzen/Trulli, are double-stacking at the same time. Michael Schumacher pits for the intermediates. McLaren decide to instead leave Coulthard on track for one lap too many. In fact, the Scotsman hands the lead to the German after the pitstop. Both choose the inters and not the extreme wets. Regardless of the chosen compound, the Ferrari driver does not seem to have a strong race pace. His setup is not getting the best out of the intermediates and half spins at the exit of the Descida do Lago corner.
Coulthard rapidly closes the gap to the leader. The Scottish driver has a fighting chance to re-take the lead of the race. The duo is now almost together. At this point, Coulthard does not waste any time and lines up the Ferrari world champion. The Scots has the inside line going into turn 1. Between the two lies the Minardi of the disoriented Tarso Marques. Coulthard cleverly uses the Minardi to take the lead once again. Hakkinen’s overtaking manoeuvre against Schumacher in 2000 springs into mind. Ricardo Zonta was the lapped driver on that occasion, who was being overtaken on both sides of the track. Michael Schumacher is perhaps a little impatient, after being overtaken twice over the course of one hour. The Ferrari driver is not having an impeccable race pace and is also making some unusual driving mistakes. The world champion then makes an excursion onto the gravel. Fortunately for him, he is able to get out of it without silting up. His 2nd place is still secure. Meanwhile, a Jordan is slowing down on lap 63 out of 71. Frentzen is unfortunately forced to retire for electronic issues on his car. Nick Heidfield takes advantage of this situation to springboard the Sauber car into 3rd place, ahead of Panis. The latter, in the final stages, gets the better of Trulli for 4th. Jarno manages 5th place while Jean Alesi and Giancarlo Fisichella are battling for 6th. The Italian is able to beat the French veteran. The rain stops. The track is slowly starting to dry up but nothing else happens. David Coulthard can thus celebrate his first win of the season. This is also his tenth career victory in Formula 1. Michael Schumacher’s six consecutive victory streak is over. The world champion crosses the line in 2nd. Nick Heidfield is 3rd. The Sauber driver celebrates his first ever podium in F1. Giancarlo Fisichella collects his first points of the season after starting 18th. It is an amazing performance from the Italian, at the wheel of the modest Benetton car. On parc ferme, the first to congratulate an enthusiastic David Coulthard is teammate Mika. On the podium, Schumacher’s champagne finishes entirely on David’s suit. Before leaving the podium, the winner attempts a clumsy dance to the samba rhythm. He will maybe be nicknamed the rain master after this race. According to him, this success was due to the rightful choice of fitting the intermediates tyres and the modification of the car set-up. It was a technical choice that was helped by the fact that he prayed for rain:
"I was praying for the rain because we had made some changes to the car for the rain. The team kept saying on the radio 'It's coming, its coming'. Every lap I asked the pit wall: when does the rain downpour arrive? When it started to rain, I knew that I could have won. Then the rain increased but I did not want to come to the pits immediately because I knew that the pit lane was full. I boxed the next lap and my engineers changed the set-up and fitted the inters. When I exited the pits, Schumacher overtook me. With the wet set-up though, I was faster and overtook him. Michael must have lifted slightly in the left kink of the straight, so I was able to slipstream past him on the straight. It meant an awful lot for me to win this race".
The Scott admits:
"I am very satisfied to win this race but we were slightly fortunate because Montoya was so strong".
It was not just pure luck though. The overtake on Schumacher was spectacular. The Scotsman explains how he managed to do it:
"It was incredibly difficult conditions and in all that traffic you couldn't see anything of car in front. We had a lapped driver in front. At that point, I could do nothing but hope that Marques would behave well and give way to us. Then I made a lunge from the inside line. Michael was on the outside but I was able to finish the overtake".
The Ferrari driver has 26 points in the drivers’ standings. Coulthard is 2nd with 20. Someone is starting to think that Coulthard is the driver who could fight Schumacher’s dominance in the standings. The Scott could also be promoted to first driver:
"It was my sister's birthday and she asked me for a win for a present and I am delighted to be able to give it to her. I'll count my world championship position at the end of the season, not now".
What about Schumacher? Everyone thought that the rain master was him up until now. This time though, the German admits defeat:
"I am the responsible for the car set-up, I am the one to decide. I did not mind the rain. We opted for a two-stop strategy instead of one like Coulthard. We thought that by doing two pit-stops, we could have rebalanced the situation. Unfortunately, this time the car did not go as well in the wet as I would have liked. There was something off. I went off track two times. It is not like me to struggle in these conditions".
The Ferrari driver is nervous, since the journalists are asking him for an explanation for the Montoya overtake. The world champion angrily replies:
"There is nothing strange about it. Here at Interlagos, the straight is very long and the Williams has a great straight-line speed. The safety car took a long time to leave the track and return to the pits. I then had to wait before pushing at the restart. I braked too late and so did Montoya. Being much faster than me, he could keep me on the outside line. We even touched but there is no problem between us. It was a fair fight. My car did not have any damage from the collision. I then tried to fight back but did not have a real chance for a re-overtake. He did not make any mistakes and remained firmly on top".
The German admits for the first time that Montoya impressed him:
"Now Williams-BMW is also fighting for the World Championship. My brother and Montoya demonstrated it, respectively in quali and race. We cannot underestimate them. I've no complaints about the way Juan Pablo overtook me - it was hard but fair - the way racing should be. Coulthard today was quicker, it can happen".
It is strange that a driver like Schumacher was overtaken twice in one race:
"David was behind me, when we had to lap Marques. He was on the left, I lunged to the right. but the Minardi did the same thing as well. I had to brake a little. David went down the inside to immediately run away in the lead. To be honest I would still not have won without those spins. Even without them you could see that David was faster than me and I wasn't able to follow him".
To be short, it was a bad day in the office for the world champion. Schumacher tries to not dramatize the situation:
"It is clear that I am disappointed, I would have rather preferred to be on the top step of the podium. However, you cannot always win but sometimes you have to be content with a 2nd place. In the end, I suffered with oversteer. I am still on top of the championship. It is fine like this".
Coulthard can become Schumacher’ main rival for the current season. On the other hand, Mika Hakkinen finds himself with only point and two retirements to his credit. In Australia, he had a big impact towards the barriers. The latest DNF is in Brazil. He says:
"Those were hallucinating moments. I was scared. I was flailing, hoping that all drivers would see me. I stalled in the grid. If someone had collected me, it would have been dramatic".
The terror is over. The bitterness for not taking any point in Brazil still remains for Hakkinen...
"In a Grand Prix where I was convinced of winning. The car, in this weekend, improved so much. I had so much hope for a good result. I do not know what happened, whether it was my mistake or a technical inconvenience. The fact is that the engine died suddenly. It seems strange that it was me who made the mistake, given the practice starts that we made in the couple of months. The only certain thing is that I heard the clutch rip, a dry noise".
Williams leaves Brazil empty-handed and with much to complain about. Nonetheless, the team can also draw positives from the Brazilian Grand Prix. Ralf Schumacher and Montoya did not take any point through no fault of their own. They were blameless victims of identical incidents. The English team is back in the spotlight after three difficult years, thanks to the support of two motivated drivers, a powerful engine, spot-on aerodynamics and performing tyres. Michelin had partly hidden the real potential of Frank Williams’ team at the opening round in Australia. The French company returned to Formula 1 after a 17-year absence. The French tyres had paid a certain delay to Bridgestone in Melbourne. Although, the situation completely changed in the following race at Malaysia. Ralf Schumacher had in fact missed the historic feat of a front row start by a whisker. However, he managed to do so here at San Paolo. In practice, quali and race, the two Williams-BMW demonstrated that they have become the most dangerous rival for Ferrari. The English cars have perhaps a greater technical potential than the Maranello cars, looking at the fast Interlagos circuit. The only problem is that the two drivers seem to be magnets for incidents. Three spectacular dangerous collisions in three races: two for Ralf Schumacher, one for Montoya. Is it only a coincidence that Frank Williams’s white-blue cars are always involved in crashes? At first glance, it would seem so but there is no shortage of justifications. First of all, the eagerness with which Barrichello addressed the first three races and his involvement in lap 1 collisions (at Melbourne with Frentzen, at Sepang and Interlagos with Ralf Schumacher). Before the start of the season, the Ferrari driver declared multiple times that he is happy, that he wants to live day by day and that he was not going to tear his clothes off to stay ahead of Schumacher. However, he has behaved in a diametrically opposite way so far and demonstrated an excessive aggression. However, he is not the only one who made mistakes for which Williams paid for. At Melbourne, Villeneuve probably made a calculation error by exciting too late from the Williams’ slipstream. Verstappen’s fame is well known, so much so that the Dutchman is nicknamed Versbatten. However, the people who are running the Williams teams are also noticing this coincidence. During the after-race debrief, the bosses evaluate this argument:
"We probably have a magnet on our exhausts".
Ironically says Patrick Head, after discarding any technical hypothesis. Ralf Schumacher is also asked to talk about this argument during a meeting with the fans, which was organized by a sponsor:
"I braked at the same time as the lap before when I was hit by Barrichello. I can assure that the Michelin tyres or the engine have nothing to do with it. I am also inclined towards casualty".
Juan Pablo Montoya is still stuck at zero points after three races. In Colombia though, it is already Montoya-mania. The newspapers celebrate the overtake on Schumacher and how the 25-year-old led the race for 36 laps. The national newspapers emphasize the Williams’ driver feat in his third Formula 1 Grand Prix.
"The Montoya threat".
This is the Bogotà newspaper headline, near a photo of the overtake on the Ferrari driver. The title of the article from the sport newspaper Record is much more emphatic:
"Montoya shakes Formula 1".
The article adds that Juan Pablo Montoya is unequivocally the moral winner of the race, despite not finishing the race. The daily newspaper Il Tempo uses a photo of the duel with the Ferrari world champion and titles the F1 article in a sarcastic manner:
"Without your permission, Michael".
Juancho, as nicknamed in his hometown, is known for having an insufferable character:
"Only my father, to whom I owe everything since he put me on karts at the age of five, was able to dominate me. He knows me. When he yells, I remain silent. They say that I have the face of a tough guy. When I race, I am fair. It is just that if I have to overtake someone, I have no qualms about it. I attack them. If my rival does not get out of the way I will make my own way".
In Colombia, Montoya has been regarded as the new Senna for a couple of years now. His birth country loves him to death. It was also the case for Brazil with the legendary Ayrton. When he wins, his fans jubilantly fill the Bogotá streets with flour. They also parade in the city center. The traffic is paralyzed as a result.
"My country is wonderful but impossible to live: first the Colombian and then the tourists destroyed it in a shameful manner".
The people cry of joy when they see him. The children get emotional and do everything to have either a signed autograph, a cap or gloves. They want a piece of the Montoya who won in the United States and is now aiming to conquer Formula 1. In Brazil, 2.000 Colombian fans rejoiced when Montoya made the overtake on Schumacher. The dream of seeing a Colombian victory in Formula 1 is materializing. Only one Bogotà kid was able to drive in Formula 1 in the last 50 years. The last Colombian driver in Formula 1 was the anonymous Guerrero. He had 29 appearances and scored no points between 1981 and 1982. The no-points drought is now over. Juan Pablo, who is proud of being presumptuous, promises that it will be repeated again:
"I have a huge hunger for victories, a necessary condition to break through in F1. Around me, I see many satisfied, who race without any objectives. I do not think like that. I think no one is unbeatable, not even Schumacher. I tried to never forget about it. I have a great car, a great chassis and an exceptionally good BMW engine. I have everything to stay ahead of everyone and it will happen soon".
When he goes back to the garage after the forced retirement, he expresses his thoughts:
"I had the race in my hand and would have surely won. I was living one of the best moments of my career. All of a sudden it transformed into one of my worst ones. I am frustrated for the lost opportunity. On the other hand, I am also happy for the great performance of my car: fantastic, with an awesome engine, which will surely help me win lots of races. I am not angry with Verstappen. It was a racing incident, can happen. I was living a dream and will try to do it again on another track. I can also fight for the victory now. Everyone will have to deal with me from now on".
It is strange that Montoya fully absolves Verstappen, to the point of thinking that the collision was his fault as well. The Colombian responds:
"I braked in the same point. He braked much later and probably exaggerated".
Those are not poisonous phrases against the Dutch driver. Verstappen then says:
"They told me that Montoya was going very fast. I do not think that I am at fault. When I let him by, I wanted to use the slipstream. He braked very early and that was it. I could not avoid him anymore. I am sorry for ruining his race because I heard that he was leading the race".
Another young man in the limelight is Nick Heidfield. Unlike Montoya, the Sauber driver is reaping the first fruits of his hard work after a frustrating first season with Prost. He is delighted with his first career podium at the wheel of a surprising Sauber. The German previously scored a precious 4th place in Australia. The German wants to thank the team:
"I am happy for them. We worked together to achieve this podium. Obtaining this result is not easy. On Sunday, the car was not quick having a dry set-up and the wet tyres. First time on the podium? An incredible feeling, the fulfilment of a dream I almost did not dare to have".
There is a touching aspect related to this great performance. Nick dedicates his 3rd place to his uncle, who passed away a week before the race. Heidfield is now looking forward to the San Marino Grand Prix. Once he leaves Brazil, he will go to Magny-Cours track to test the Sauber car. The Ferrari-powered Sauber has had good results at Imola:
"Everyone's mind is already there. Part of the team is in France where there are some tests scheduled in view of the next grand prix. The performance of our car is already good. On Sunday, before the rain period, I was even surprised at how fast the car was in race conditions. I say this because, compared to other teams, we do not try many race simulations. However, despite the few tests, we had some new aerodynamic details, fresh out of the wind tunnel, which worked really well on our car. There is also another aspect that should not be overlooked. The Interlagos circuit is a completely different track than the previous two. This also contributed to Sauber’s strong form. This season truly promises to be fantastic. Being able to be in the points is exciting and helps me to give my best on track".
Team owner Peter Sauber celebrates this result with a sober dinner at the hotel and looks ahead:
"This result confirms the premises that our team had planned at the start of the season. We still have surprises in store, due to the fact that we can always count on the excellent performance of the Ferrari engine 049. In the Brazilian Grand Prix, the two drivers drove aggressively. Both Nick and Raikkonen remained on the points paying positions for the entirety of the race without granting anything to the rivals. Shame for that mistake which took Kimi out of the race".
Down at Ferrari, Schumacher had a less-than-stellar performance. In addition, Rubens Barrichello had a weekend to forget. Once again, he did not manage to give himself and the Brazilian fans a good result on home turf. The Interlagos jinx has not yet been beaten. The dream was interrupted on lap 3. Rubens collided with Ralf Schumacher and the fans despaired. Barrichello cried while slumped over the pit wall. He was distraught. No other words are needed. When he calms himself down, Barrichello starts his rant against Ralf Schumacher:
"It is all his fault. He moved to the left while trying to pass Trulli. As he was not able to overtake, he immediately swerved to the right again. He was going very fast when all of a sudden, he braked. Until he realises that there may be someone behind him, things like this will always happen. It already happened in Malaysia. Ralf had put Frentzen at risk there. He did the same even on Friday. I went to find in the Williams garage but I could not talk to him. He was already back on track. He destroyed my race; it is his fault. Hope he realizes how much disappointment he has caused me".
The Brazilian Grand Prix was a cursed race right from the start. During the formation lap, the engine on Barrichello’s car died due to a fuel pressure reset. Rubens parked the car in the grass and left it. He then had to sprint towards the Ferrari garage to take the spare car:
"I was thinking of a sign from God. The engine could have given way on the first racing lap and instead, it shut down before the race start. I was still in the race; I could have still won it. It was a stroke of luck".
Those were blatantly wrong predictions. In fact, the spare car was not prepared for him but for Schumacher. The pedals needed to be changed, since Barrichello breaks with the left foot. In addition, the Brazilian needs to have the accelerator there as well. He has a completely different driving style to his teammate. The race against the clock was frantic:
"The mechanics did a miracle, an amazing job. I have never seen a car revolutionised in such a short time. They did everything to allow me to participate in the race but then Ralf Schumacher screwed everything up".
Something did not work properly still:
"The clutch was slightly different. This is why I made such a bad start and dropped down to 7th. But nothing was lost at that point".
The true ending was when car pieces flew in the air. Barrichello has a pale face when remembering that moment:
"I wonder why something always happens to me: what have I done to deserve all this bad luck? When I raced to come back to the pits, I had hearts beats up to 200. But then, when I fitted into the spare car, I was again calm and relaxed. The heart beats dropped to 70, 80. I thought I had dodged a bullet, but everything happened to me".
Barrichello refuses to talk about tensions and is even able to crack a bad joke:
"In Brazil it will always be like this, the people are pushing for my victory. Since Senna left us, no other Brazilian had won at Interlagos. I need to live with this amount of pressure because it will never end. What can I do to stop this curse, why do I always have to be so unlucky? Why does everything always happen to me?"
Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet do not believe in bad luck. They criticize the Brazilian Ferrari driver:
"Barrichello made a mistake".
Sustains Fittipaldi. Piquet is more caustic:
"Rubens needs a psychiatrist: he is driving like a maniac. He now has to keep his held high and not give up".
Anyway, Jean Todt says that Ferrari will get over this disappointment. According to Ferrari general director, Schumacher’s podium in Brazil is precious. It is not about psychological tactics:
"The six points are still very important for both championships because we know how long and difficult the season will be".
These are golden points, considering that the fight at the top is not only between Ferrari and McLaren anymore. The rivals are now much more present and dangerous. First of all, the Williams team is once again competitive:
"We need to take into account that the fight at the top is not a two-horse fight anymore but is open to a third contender. Three different engines and two tyre manufactures are now in contention".
It is yet another reason why the team must not get distracted. It seems that the Australian and Malaysia races were only an illusion. The Ferrari team needs to work hard at Maranello, in order to arrive at Imola with the right credentials to play a protagonist role in the race. Todt anticipates that Ferrari will bring upgrades to the F2001, going into the European races:
"There will be no big changes, because the base of the car is good. There will be some fine-tuning upgrades in order to make the most of our chassis and engine. Then we will be fine.
These new upgrades will immediately be tested at Fiorano. The programme is intense. Luca Badoer will test for two days. Schumacher will then do a three-days test. The journalists are waiting confirmations on what went wrong at Interlagos for Ferrari and the F2001. The dry set-up gave a good result under the Malaysia thunderstorm, combined with the intermediates tyres. This time out, though, it put Schumacher in crisis. This is despite the fact that he is nicknamed the rain master. The German had to do miracles in order to keep the car on track. It was a surprise for everyone, including Todt:
"When the rain arrived, we thought the situation would be favourable to us. Instead Michael’s revealed to be difficult to drive".
Michael Schumacher leaves Brazil disappointed. However, he has an optimistic message for the following race:
"I will win again in Imola".