Ferrari F399, bad luck interrupts Schumacher's pursuit of the world championship

2021-03-09 23:00

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Ferrari F399, bad luck interrupts Schumacher's pursuit of the world championship

Williams and McLaren are among the most successful teams in Formula One history by far. The showcase of these two stables has been enriched thanks to


Williams and McLaren are among the most successful teams in Formula One history by far. The showcase of these two stables has been enriched thanks to the many successes obtained between the 80s and the 90s, often characterized by a passing of the baton: when the domination of the Wantage team came to an end, that of Woking took the chair, and vice versa.


The final years of the second millennium are characterized by the exploits of Benetton, in 1994 and 1995, interrupted by the overbearing return of Williams, winner in 1996 and 1997.


In the meantime, Ferrari managed to put aside the dark years linked to the first half of the 90s, marked by the lack of competitiveness of Ferrari, starting a new cycle, destined to write history a few years later.


But you know, before reaching heaven you have to go to hell, and that of Ferrari was certainly a real nightmare, especially after the episodes of Jerez 1997 and Spa 1998, which contributed considerably to rain controversy and heavy criticism of Michael Schumacher.


The return to the top inevitably entailed a great deal of pressure on the factory, called to break a fast that has now lasted since 1983, and to do so the team led by Jean Todt must overtake Mika Hakkinen's McLaren, thus placing their trust in the 1999 season and on the new single-seater: the F399.


Search for reliability and consistency


The Ferrari F399, designed by Rory Byrne, starts with the premise of not radically changing the previous year's project. Every single component of the new car is revised and modified, but the basic concept is not to revolutionize the philosophy of the F300, which has proven to be up to the competition, thus opting for an evolutionary path.


And since the presentation it is clear that between the 1998 and the 1999 car there are no macroscopic differences; at Maranello they do not feel inferior to McLaren's project, the Mp4-14, and the hope is to find greater consistency in the overall performance during the season.


The novelty linked to tires


The switch to Bridgestone tires by the Maranello team requires a different distribution of weights, thus favoring a better exploitation of the Japanese tires, which must, among other things, adapt to the new imposition of the FIA, which provides for a fourth groove on the front tires.


Precisely for these reasons, the F399 has a position of the machine body slightly set back with respect to the two wheel axles, exploiting a ballast of over 50 kg in the front, with which it is possible to seek a better balance.


The aerodynamic research is very accurate, very peculiar for the considerable tapering of the base of the engine airbox, ensuring a cleaner passage of air flows towards the rear wing.


Aerodynamics under the leadership of Tombazis


Very high muzzle and arrow front wing, these are the elements that distinguish the new Ferrari. Under the guidance of Nicholas Tombazis, Ferrari introduces different configurations of the front wing at every race, or almost, setting the stage for the development of increasingly complex and articulated side walls; in addition, the F399 can count on a rear extractor capable of providing a very high level of downforce, reaching levels never matched by any other team in 1999.


Curious was the post-race episode of the Malaysian Grand Prix, raced on the new Sepang circuit, characterized by the initial disqualification of both Ferraris due to the new three-dimensional bulkhead which does not fall within the measurements imposed by the FIA.


In the end, the red double obtained in Kuala Lumpur will be validated thanks to the excellent work of Jean Todt's technicians and lawyers, who will highlight a Federation measurement error on the bulkheads.


One of the few flaws highlighted by the F399 is the aerodynamic lock which is created in front of the rear wheels, in the area where the body tightens with the typical shape of a Coca-Cola bottle. To solve the problem, a series of fins were adopted which were subsequently integrated with the air intakes for dissipating the heat of the radiators.


News related to the engine


During the season, Ferrari will constantly improve the cooling according to the different engine evolutions presented during 1999, on which the French Gilles Simon worked, author of a lower center of gravity thanks to a new distribution scheme determined by a narrowing of the area. of the heads of unit 048/C. With the final version, the F399 can count on over 800 horsepower at 17.700 rpm, impressive numbers for this era.


The half empty glass


The Ferrari F399, although similar and close to the F300, presents a series of important innovations overall, certainly not as flashy as one might imagine, but every single detail has been filed down to make an important contribution to the single-seater of Schumacher and Irvine.


Fast and considerably more reliable, the F399 seems to have all the credentials to precede the great successes that will come from 2000 onwards, and certainly Jean Todt's team can aspire to the big shot in both championships.


In Australia, the opening race of the championship, Eddie Irvine surprisingly wins, while Schumacher remains late at the start. And after a second place obtained in Brazil, in Imola the German driver wins and leaps to the top of the championship, followed by his teammate, who is still at 12 points. It is even better in Monte Carlo as Schumacher and Irvine finish first and second, strengthening Ferrari's position in the constructors' standings.


After a somewhat shady Spanish Grand Prix, Schumacher is called upon to redeem himself in Montréal, Canada. However, during the twenty-ninth lap, the German misses the entry in the last corner, and retires after having crashed the car against the protective wall.


In the meantime, Hakkinen scores two victories, and takes the lead in the championship. In France, qualifying rewarded Schumacher, to the detriment of the Finnish driver, who came second at the finish line, while the Ferrari driver had to settle for fifth place.


The championship takes a decisive turn starting with the British Grand Prix, raced at the Silverstone circuit. Shortly after the start, the German driver is the protagonist with a violent accident, hitting the barriers of the Stowe corner due to a problem with the braking system of his Ferrari.


Fortunately, the German is not in danger of life, but reports a fracture to the tibia and fibula of the right leg. The injury will cost him dearly, because he will be forced to miss six Grands Prix, definitively giving up his dreams.


From this moment, Ferrari replaced Michael Schumacher with Finnish driver Mika Salo, and stopped developing the F399, devoting himself to the design of the car that would race in 2000. But despite this, Irvine wins in Austria and later in Germany, after the teammate gives him the first place, thus taking him to the top of the drivers' standings, with 52 points against Hakkinen's 44.


However, the decision to stop the F399 wind tunnel developments will not give Irvine and Salo the chance to give further prestige to the good project, therefore a third place in Hungary, a fourth in Belgium, and a sixth place in Italy will follow.


At the end of the summer season, Hakkinen and Irvine are level on points. At the Nurburgring the Irishman would have an excellent opportunity to overtake the McLaren driver in the standings, however during the Grand Prix he was late and finished seventh, after refuelling and changing tires, the right rear tire was not immediately replaced.


Despite being two points behind, Irvine flies to Malaysia with the knowledge that he can win, also thanks to the return to the track of Michael Schumacher, who in the meantime has recovered from his injury. The one-two at Sepang will become iconic, with Schumacher giving up the first position to Irvine, who, thanks also to this success, will present himself at the final Grand Prix, in Japan, as the leader of the World Championship, with a 4-point advantage over the Finnish driver of the McLaren.


With the favor of the forecasts, the Ferrari driver seems to have the potential to prevail over Hakkinen, but for the Irishman the situation worsened after Saturday's qualifying, which ended with an accident and fifth place on the starting grid.


Irvine, however, can rely on Schumacher's pole, who can keep Hakkinen behind, thus favoring his teammate, who can easily recover in the race and reach the podium without particular difficulties, thus conquering the world crown.


But at the start, the McLaren driver, who started from the front row together with Schumacher, has an excellent starting point and takes the lead, leading it in first position up to the checkered flag.


Irvine comes back, but does not go beyond third place. The 1999 season certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth, because with Schumacher the outcome of the Drivers' Championship could have changed.


However, the F399 brought the Constructors title back to Maranello, thus breaking a fast that lasted from 1983. But at the end of the championship, Ferrari will have the great regret of not being able to snatch the Drivers' title from the reigning champion Mika Hakkinen, facilitated in part from Schumacher's terrible accident during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.


Simone Pietro Zazza

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