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#669 2001 Austrian Grand Prix

2021-04-08 01:00

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#2001,

#669 2001 Austrian Grand Prix

Dopo tre podi e due ritiri nelle prime cinque gare della stagione, senza alcun successo all’attivo, Rubens Barrichello continua a ripetere con assolut

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With three podiums and two retirements in the first five rounds of the season, without winning a single race so far, Rubens Barrichello continues to repeat that he will stay at Ferrari for a very long time. Those are certainties which are suddenly in the balance: his contract runs until the end of the year. Ferrari has until August to exert the option of renewing the Brazilian. At this point of the season, the team has still not decided what to do.

 

Someone interprets this silence as Ferrari’s will to change Barrichello. According to someone, he has let down the team during the start of the season and that Ferrari is looking for someone to replace him. 21-year old Kimi is among the favourites to take Barrichello’s place, who has only done five Formula 1 races but has already scored a point at his debut in Australia. An impressive, young and aggressive yet measured rookie. He has this philosophy of life - taking is not bad but doing it without reflecting is - which is already by the team. Even Todt is impressed with Raikkonen. He is gloating but, in the meantime, is in the side-lines waiting for his chance to come.

 

His goals, for the moment, are others. He had already achieved one: obtaining the timed super licence. The FIA gave him four races to pass this test. After the first race in Australia, they decided that he had proven himself worthy of the super license and there was no need to insist. He had one championship point and the educational inspectors decide to close down this matter. Raikkonen wants to round up his salary and to gain other points in the championships. Those are goals that march together. In his contract with Sauber, there is a specific clause which provides an increase of his salary depending on how many points he is able to take.

 

Ferrari, given that Barrichello’s destiny could be already written, have other drivers in mind.  Heidfield is one of them (valued by Schumacher, who also likes Raikkonen as well). The second is Button who, according to the English tabloids, has a maxi-offer by Ferrari to become their driver: a 72-billion of lire for three year. However, there is one detail that should not be overlooked. Button (who will be with Benetton for two years) is under Williams’ contract until the end of 2004. Frank Williams’ response, when asked about this, is peremptory:

 

"We do not want to let him go".

 

Asked about this topic, Jean Todt wants to shut down these rumors. He tells, to the Brazilian newspapers, that Ferrari is fully satisfied with Barrichello’s performance and that he will have a renewal contract. Meanwhile in the first days of May, it is time for some private tests. At Valencia, Hakkinen and Coulthard are doing some tests with McLaren. The Scotsman takes advantage of this test by explaining what happened at Barcelona. A couple of days prior, he stalled in the grid before the formation lap:

 

"When I lined up on the grid, I activated the launch control procedure but then there was a glitch in the wheel system, which reacted as if I was still in the garage. It switched off the engine".

 

Instead at Fiorano, Barrichello sets excellent lap times. While at Silverstone, Raikkonen ends his testing session by having a high-speed crash against the wall: the driver has no damage whilst the sidepods of the car are completely smashed. There is some news regarding the disappointing Jaguar but it is not about the ongoing testing. The British team, still stuck at zero points in the constructors’ championship, terminates the contract with test driver Tomas Scheckter, who is the son of 1979 Ferrari world champion Jody. This was announced by the team itself. He was previously given a sentence for soliciting a prostitute, on the 25 April 2001, by the Northampton court. It was, also the perfect excuse for firing the South-African driver. In reality, it seems that the team was simply unsatisfied by his performances.

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The Formula 1 circus is approaching Zeltweg, located in Austria for the sixth round of the World Championship. On the 9th May 2001, Luca Badoer is back on the Fiorano track for one last test with the F2001. This additional test, which cannot go over the 50 km/h limit according to the FIA rules, is the argument for lots of speculations. The Treviso driver is working on fine-tuning the electronic devices to optimize the fuel consumption, the management of the tires and the braking system. He is also testing a new front wing, which should give more grip on corner entry, new deflectors and a different software, finalized for improving the starts.

 

Furthermore, between embarrassing silences and half-words, the news of the 050 engine, with increased rotation speed, is being surfaced. This is to contrast Mercedes and BMW’s offensives. On the subject of tires, however, it cannot be ruled out that the area, which affected the team’s pitstops, could be artificially wetted by the mechanics. Ferrari technicians do not rule out that the issue that had Schumacher in Spain, the spinning of the wheel on the rim, may have been caused by a sort of glue effect between the rubbed laid down by Michael’s breaking and the new compounds. The water should avoid this phenomenon. Thanks to the use of traction control and the speed limiter, there should not be any danger of sliding.

 

With regard to traction control, there is one particular team who, for example, suffered from its lack of it in the last race in Spain. This team is Williams-BMW. Apart from Juan Pablo Montoya’s fortunate 2nd place, the team did not have this system due to some delays on its realization. In the Valencia tests, done a couple of days after the Spanish race, Williams are also equipped with the traction electronic control. The result is that Ralf Schumacher, at the end of four testing days, is the fastest driver. Juan Pablo Montoya is 3rd fastest.

 

There is also another novelty, which is more politically important, on the white-blue single-seaters: a different diffuser profile, which is perfectly interpreting the FIA technical regulations. This is because the car, which was run until today, had another type of profile. The Federation initially approved it. Then - following Ralf Schumacher’s victory at Imola - it was banned, citing the usual interpretative reasons. This the oldest vice of the FIA, also used to create suspects and generate discredit to the unfortunate technical director on duty. In this case, on one hand, the Federation did not want to admit that the system used by Williams was irregular. On the other hand, they asked the team to change the incriminated diffusor. This is the statement taken from one of the most important members of the FIA:

 

"If Williams did a mistake, it was done in full honesty".

 

How did things go then? Gerhard Berger, BMW responsible, explain this:

 

"There were some grey areas within the rules. Williams, before the start of the season, asked clarifications to the Federation, and then worked accordingly. However, after the win in Imola, at Ferrari’s urging, the FIA clarified the rule regarding it, which forced us to change the diffuser. But let us clarify one thing. Williams has always been legal and considered to be so by the scrutineers. There was never a protest on it, neither did the Federation discuss this eventuality".

 

Anyways during the Valencia test, the very fast Williams had the new diffusers which will, of course, be used at Zeltweg. The cars will be equipped with the new traction control system, in a track which should privilege the BMW engine power. Among the curiosities regarding Williams, there are not only new technical innovations that are being talked about. Ralf Schumacher’s mood is one example after seeing publications of private pictures with his girlfriend Cora in Great Britain and on the German newspaper Bild. If you expected to find an infuriated driver in front of you, you need to reconsider:

 

"My intention was to buy the negatives, but we did not agree on the price and thus had to let it go. I saw the photos and they were not vulgar at all".

 

In reality, the German driver agreed with this photographer for a prize of 50.000 German Marks. However, when it came time to put it all down on paper in front of their lawyers, the photographer’s lawyer asked for a price which Ralf considered to be too exaggerated. This matter came down to nothing. In view of the Austrian Grand Prix, Ralf sees this race with quite some pessimism:

 

"In Valencia, which has an asphalt similar to the Austria one, we unfortunately had some issues with the tires. We are not as bad as we were in Barcelona, but not as good as it was in Imola. Traction control? Montoya and I will use in free-practice and in qualifying. Then we will see".

 

The Germans then shuts down the rumours, by emphasizing that he has a contract with Williams until the end of the 2002 season and that he intends to respect it:

 

"In the last couple of months, I received some offers".

 

The 2nd place in Spain gassed Juan Pablo Montoya:

 

"It was comforting to be able to finally finish my first race and to be on the podium. Now it can only get better. If anything, I have to try to do better in qualifying than Barcelona (where he stated 11th). Looking back at the previous race, my balance is positive. I retired in Malaysia due to my mistake. For the rest, mechanical failures or incidents stopped me from getting good result. We did numerous good tests at Valencia and we focused primarily on the electronics. I am hopeful for a good result here".

 

The spotlight, destined for this Austrian Grand Prix, is mainly on the two top teams. Ferrari leads both the driver’s and the constructors’ championships. McLaren, during the Circuit of Catalogna race, was back in full force to be quite the unlucky protagonist. Michael Schumacher, revived by the feedbacks at the Fiorano circuit, calmly says:

 

"I do not expect many problems at Zeltweg. I like this track because it gives the landscape that I prefer: nature and mountains".

 

Mika Hakkinen is still a threat for the win:

 

"He won two times in Austria in the last three years. Our Valencia tests tell us that we will be competitive together with McLaren".

 
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Friday 11th May 2001. In free-practice, McLaren seems to be quite competitive at the Zeltweg circuit. David Coulthard is fastest of all, followed Hakkinen. Rubens Barrichello is behind the Silver Arrows. Schumacher is only 5th fastest, even behind his brother Ralf. The Austrian week-end does not get off to a great start for Schumacher. In free-practice, he goes onto the grass and twice off-track. The mechanics of the Maranello team need to still find the right set-up, to tackle a fast and spectacular circuit which is also favourable for overtaking but also difficult to interpret. The two Ferraris have a good straight-line speed and have a great performance in sector 1. However, both cars are really suffering with the tires in the slow sections of the circuit and losing a lot of time there. Ferrari is in good company when it comes to problems. Jarno Trulli, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jos Verstappen, Enrique Bernoldi, Olivier Panis, as well as Coulthard, went off track at least once. The margins for improvement are massive.

 

The two Ferrari drivers try, for a long time, the two tire compounds at their disposal. According to Schumacher, it is the right choice given that the team has now clear ideas on how to approach both quali and the race. Barrichello echoes his teammate’s words. In reality, there is little to choose. The teams which use the Bridgestone tyres (Ferrari included) know that the better choice seems to effectively be the softest compound. Unfortunately, there are serious difficulties at Benetton: Fisichella and Button, in fact, are at the rear of the two free practice session. However, Flavio Briatore is not at all surprised:

 

"We knew that we would be doing badly for at least half of the races. We have no engine and aerodynamics; the drivers are a bit depressed".

 

Let’s look at McLaren. Coulthard has 28 points whilst Hakkinen stuck at 4 in the standings. It seems like there are all the conditions to let the Woking team focus on the Scottish driver for the championship fight, after being the second driver for the last three seasons. David is proudly hopeful:

 

"I firmly believe in it. The last races have demonstrated that Ferrari is by no means unbeatable".

 

David is the only driver so far to have scored points in the five races of the 2001 season. He is determined to continue this trend. He has already demonstrated that by taking the fastest lap in each of the two free practice sessions. In the last phases of FP2, he does a last-ditch effort to overtake Hakkinen by just 27 thousandths.

 

Ferrari and Williams are not too far behind. A situation of great equilibrium is emerging, in which McLaren seems to be slightly ahead in the race preparation. The last side note is that Minardi’s technical director, Gustav Brunner, left the Italian team a week before the race. The technician is hired by Toyota to be the new technical director of the team, which debut is expected for the following season. Looking at other teams, Honda will give Jordan and BAR a new version of their engine, which will be only used in the race by Panis.

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In Friday's free practice sessions, the usual radio communications between the McLaren technicians and Hakkinen are sometimes interrupted, in a rather curious and funny way, by the frequent sneezing of the ex-world champion. Mark Arnall, the Finnish’s trainer, tries everything to cure this sneezing, from traditional medicine, homeopathic and beverages. The flu gives Hakkinen no respite. A bit before 4:00 p.m., the Hakkinen couple is taking refuge in a hotel. Sickness did not influence Mika’s performance:

 

"I feel quite sluggish but the two sessions went quite well. I think that we could really have a good result here".

 

He is not annoyed by the flu. He is however bothered by a story, which happened in the previous days. In the last number of the weekly newspaper Autosport, a Keke Rosberg quote was published, which urged his client to take this unfortunate season philosophically:

 

"He can enjoy the season and get as many wins as he can. It can happen to have a difficult year. He can just get on with it, drive as fast as he can and take it from weekend to weekend. All this championship talk can pass him by, no?"

 

It seems like an innocent quote. However, translated in many other languages, it seems like it is invitation to give up. At this point, Hakkinen is a bit angry and prefers to clarify the quote by sending, at the same time, a message to the rivals:

 

"Keke only said to enjoy this season since I am not under pressure like the previous years, when I was either the championship leader or in the top positions. That is all. I still think that I still have good chances to be back in the fight and I continue to believe in it".

 

This is also supported by Norbert Haug, who is the responsible of Mercedes motorsport activity:

 

"We have seen several things in Formula 1. At the beginning of the season, everyone said that Ferrari is quicker than everyone else, but that has turned around. People then said Michelin will not perform, but they won a race. Remember last year, Michael had won three races when Mika had only scored two points, so let Mika win three times soon and Michael not score a lot of points and he will be there. In theory, Mika can win 120 points. It is not likely that he will win all the races, but it is not impossible. It is not the end of the world and Mika will certainly try and turn it around. He is fully motivated."

 

Haug, after confirming that the clutch pedal was modified in order to avoid another complicated start like the one in Spain, want to ends the allegations made in the bickering between Coulthard and Dennis at Barcelona:

 

"He just spoke his mind. They shook hands and sorted it out there and then. We have our full confidence in both our drivers".

 

Sunday 12th May 2001. In spite of the excellent performance from the two McLaren during the two free-practice sessions, Michael Schumacher takes pole position once again. The quali session starts with a strong wind lashing the circuit. With a mild temperature, the spectators are able to enjoy a mix of sun and racing car on track. The first drivers to exit the pits are Bernoldi, Burti, Button and Villeneuve. Soon after, Montoya establishes a new speed records and puts himself provisionally on pole position. Then, Trulli takes the first-and second-best sector times. Then it is Michael Schumacher’s turn.

 

The German does not do the ritual three laps - out-lap, fast one and in-lap - but instead makes four. He does the pole position lap on its third lap, with used front tires and new rear tires. The time is below one minute and ten. Pole position is, at the moment, his (1'09"562). Behind him are Montoya and Ralf Schumacher. Rubens Barrichello is 4th, after making a mistake on the last corner during his fast lap. An excellent Jarno Trulli is 5th for Jordan and Heidfield, for Sauber, is 6th. Surprisingly, the Mclarens are behind: Coulthard is at the moment 7th, ahead of his teammate Hakkinen.

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Five minutes until the end of qualifying. Schumacher, with the Ferrari #1, goes back on track with a brand-new set of tires and experiences a last thrill. Verstappen spins and the German, to avoid him, goes off track and into the gravel. He is able to continue but does not improve his best time. The fourth row, obtained by Coulthard and Hakkinen, is the McLaren’s worst qualifying session since the 1997 French Grand Prix. At the time, the duo started in 9th and 10th respectively. Their lack of competitiveness in qualifying suggested that they have opted for the hard tires; however, it is improbable.

 

"It is a big disaster".

 

Says a disappointed Hakkinen.

 

"It is so strange to see them so far behind. It was surprising. You can see that even the McLarens can make mistakes on the set-up. This time we did the right set-up, compared to Imola. I am happy. I am always ahead, while Williams and McLaren alternate positions and steal points from each other. It is much easier to find the right balance with this Ferrari. Every track is different, you are always on the limit and it is easy to do a mistake. There are bound to be overtaking opportunities, for those who are behind".

 

Admits Schumacher. The McLaren team does not want to reveal anything about the engine issue which Hakkinen encountered during the last lap:

 

"I do not know, maybe it was an old engine. Still, I would not have improved much. We need to understand the reasons behind it as to why we could not adapt the car to the track and the wind. The gap was so big but anything can happen in the race".

 

Coulthard explains:

 

"We chose the wrong car set-up. What we have to do is sit down and sort out what went wrong. We suffered from understeer during free-practice and had too much oversteer in quali. In the time that we had, we were not able to sort the problem out. In every race, you need to understand the car and if not, it is impossible to catch up. We have got to work as a team to sort this one out for the race.

If we can come out of the race with a point or at least a couple, then that is probably the best we can hope for".

 

During the press conference, the two Schumacher brothers are talking and joking with each other. When they do some jokes, they look at Juan Pablo Montoya who never laughs and is looking straight ahead. Michael is not so fond of the young and bold Colombian, especially after the hard-overtaking maneuver in Brazil in which everyone shouted at the new wonder. In the post-race press conference, Michael said:

 

"One overtake is not enough to make a champion".

 

During the press conference, the current world championship reiterates:

 

"In Brazil I was sleeping. Montoya cannot always hope that I will sleep".

 

Meanwhile, the 25-year old Williams driver will start on the front row alongside the world champion in a circuit where, driving the F3000, he won in 1997 and finished 2nd in 1998. Schumacher, instead, never won here. For the latter, the real threat is not Montoya:

 

"I mostly fear my brother. Ralf is Williams’ first driver and is always the fastest in the race".

 

Montoya reiterates in another interview:

 

“Did he say that? Of course, he is his brother and it is seen that and you can see that he wants to keep Ralf up. There is no first driver at Williams. I am happy because, for a second time on a row, I will start ahead of a Ferrari and Ralf. I do not care why Michael does not like me but I do not care at all- I think of doing my thing. If he does not like me, then whatever. I have a couple of friends here, Barrichello and Villeneuve".

 

He then continues the interview by saying:

 

"Senna was a God, Schumacher is a very good driver only. Nobody is unbeatable and neither does he. I tend to not forget it. I will try to immediately be ahead of him. I am not afraid of starting side-by-side with him".

 

In Sunday’s warm-up session, the two McLaren recover from the difficult qualifying session and are the fastest cars on track. They finish ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Jordan and the two Ferraris. Hakkinen laps in 1'11"647, a tenth quicker than both Coulthard and Frentzen. Michael Schumacher, after the installation lap with the race car, is then forced to use the spare one. It shuts down at the exit of the pits. He then runs back to the pits to use the official F2001 and, once again, changes to the spare. With that, he makes a starting test. During the warm-up, many drivers are having troubles on keeping the cars on track- Frentzen goes onto the grass, whilst others do several spins. Jacques Villeneuve, instead, breaks the Honda engine on his BAR.

 

A couple of hours later, at exactly 2 p.m., it is time for the Austrian Grand Prix to get underway. Michael Schumacher is called to defend pole position against the two fierce Williams-BMW. At light outs, the two cars from Grove team have a lighting start. This surprises the Ferrari driver, who is now relegated to 3rd. Montoya leads ahead of the two Schumacher brothers, going into turn 1. Coulthard and Barrichello are, in the meantime, battling for 4th. At the Remus curve, Barrichello is able to win the early fight again the McLaren. Meanwhile some cars stall and fail to get off the line, causing chaos behind. Both Jordan’s, Heidfeld’s Sauber but, more importantly, Hakkinen’s McLaren are stationary on the grid. Frentzen has a gearbox failure. The others have problems with their launch control systems.

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By the end of the first lap, Mika is still stationary on the start/finish straight and the marshals cannot clear his McLaren out of the way. The race direction brings out the Safety Car to allow the marshals to bring Hakkinen into the pits. As the safety car tours around the track for one more lap, let’s look at the standing: it is a 1-2 for Williams, followed by the two Ferraris, David Coulthard, Irvine and Verstappen. Trulli is able to get going whilst it is touch and go for Heidfield. Both are able to take part by starting on the pit-lane. Nothing to do for Frentzen and he is out of the race. As the safety car is coming into the pits, it is time to get back up to speed. It could take little for the race to change. With the help of his engineers, Hakkinen is able to start the race, albeit a lap down.

 

On lap 4, Hakkinen tours into the McLaren garage to retire. This is his fourth retirement out of 6 rounds. He still has four points to his credit. The hopes of fighting for the title are completely gone down the drain. The race goes on. So far, Jos Verstappen in the Arrows is doing a great race. With a lighter fuel load, he firstly manages to overtake Irvine and Coulthard to climb up to 5th. Later on, he chases Barrichello for 4th at the start of lap 6. A couple of laps later, Irvine is defending 9th place against Villeneuve. The latter, in trying to overtake the Jaguar driver, makes a trip across the grass and spins at turn 1.

 

On lap 10, Ralf Schumacher is struggling massively with the brakes and goes off track at the Schlossgold corner. This allows his brother Michael to take 2nd place. As the Ferrari driver is able to chase Montoya, Ralph is not able to continue as the brake issue continues to worsen. He is thus forced to retire. Kimi Raikkonen is now in a point-scoring position. On lap 14, Trulli has a not-so insignificant complication. The Italian left the pit-lane under the red light. Inevitably, the black flag is being waved after a couple of laps. This means that he has promptly being disqualified.

 

As Michelin feared, Montoya’s worn tires are starting to experience a massive drop in performance. He is slowing down and a group of cars forming behind the race leader. Schumacher is much faster and is hassling the race leader. He unsuccessfully tries to overtake the Williams at every turn. On lap 16, Michael tries the outside line going into the Remus corner, with a late-breaking manoeuvre, to pass Montoya. The latter does not allow it and further lengthens his braking points. He overexaggerates, loses control of his car for a fraction of a second by going off track and bringing Schumacher with him. Whilst this is going on, Schumacher wants to try a switchback but, in order to avoid contact with his rival, has to straighten out the steering wheel and goes off track as well.

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The German’s excursion is unavoidable. At least, he partly avoids the gravel trap unlike Montoya. At this point, Michael drops to 6th, ahead of Montoya. Barrichello takes the lead ahead of Verstappen, Coulthard, Raikkonen and Panis. The Brazilian is pushing hard to win his second race in F1. Despite being in 2nd, the Dutchman needs to pit early due to his two-stop strategy. The Arrows team is hoping, with this strategy, to score their first points of the season. To make a comeback drive is not easy. Schumacher, from 6th, does not give up. By lap 24, he starts to fight back. He overtakes Oliver Panis for a provisionary 4th place at the Gösser corner, given that Verstappen has pitted on the same lap. On lap 31, it is Kimi Raikkonen’s turn to pit. Before doing so, the Finn was lined up by Michael and overtaken, at the same corner where the world champion had the better of Panis. The world championship appears to have no damage, from the come-together with Montoya, and is quickly gaining on Coulthard for 2nd.

 

In the meantime, Juan Pablo Montoya, despite the trip in the gravel, has moved up to 5th by overtaking Panis at the start of lap 37. Four laps later, the Colombian has the same fate as his teammate. His race comes to a disappointing end thanks to a hydraulic system failure. He is out of the race. A heavy yet unexpected double zero for Williams given that, in the first stage of the race, the team had an incredible 1-2 with their two drivers. Lap 46. Schumacher makes his only pit stop. The next lap, Barrichello does the same and drops to 2nd, handing the lead to Coulthard. The McLaren started the race with a heavy fuel load, aiming to stretch his first stint. With this in mind, he does some very quick laps to overcut the Ferrari driver. This attempt is successful thanks to an efficient McLaren pit crew. With an 8-second pit stop, David comes back on track ahead of the Brazilian, who had to deal with traffic.  

 

Starting 7th, the Scotsman is effectively the new race leader, with a few seconds’ lead over the Ferrari duo. Kimi Raikkonen is 4th, despite a problematic 18-second pit stop due to a problem with the fixing of the left rear tire. Closing the point-paying position are Panis and Verstappen. The race seems to be over. The race continues in a static manner, with no sign of a battle. The gap between 1st and 3rd is 3 seconds. The only doubt is the finish order of the two Ferrari drivers. The Ferrari pit wall will ask Barrichello to step aside to favor Michael Schumacher, since his direct championship rivals is about to win. With three laps to go, Jean Todt orders on the radio:

 

"Rubens, let Michael pass for the championship".

 

The doubt is only dispelled at the finish line. Whilst David Coulthard is enjoying his second win of the season and his 11th career win, Rubens Barrichello blatantly lifts his foot off the accelerator a few meters until the chequered flag. This allows his teammate to finish the race in 2nd place.

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Rubens, thus, is 3rd. With a 40-second gap, Raikkonen crosses the line to finish 4th. He is the absolute revelation of the year, having finished two races in the points. Kimi’s final result is being questioned by BAR’s appeal. According to this, Kimi lapped Luciano Burti under yellows flags (the appeal will not be upheld). Olivier Panis is 5th and last of the non-lapped drivers and scores, for the second and last time, points. Verstappen finished 6th, awarded by the two-stops strategy. This result enables the Arrows teams to score their first points.

 

On Parc Ferme, Barrichello is angry. Jean Todt talks to him. Rubens reacts only with an imperceptible nod before walking away, in order to go to an undertone podium. There is a nervous atmosphere down at Ferrari. At the same time, a sad atmosphere engulfs the McLaren team. This is due for the tragic passing of Paul Morgan, a team member and partner of Mario Illien in Illmor. It is the society which builds the Mercedes engines. David also avoids the classic champagne spraying. Unsurprisingly, at the post-race press conference, his first words are dedicated to Paul Morgan:

 

"We lost a very important member of the team".

 

Then, when asked about the very long first stint, he responds:

 

"I tried to stay out on track as long as possible due to having a bad start in 7th".

 

A win which enables Coulthard to climb up to 38 points in the championship. The Scots is now only four points behind Schumacher and is now the first driver at McLaren, after yet another retirement for Hakkinen. What Norbert Haug hoped for this, on the eve of the race, to happen. Montoya, at the sharp end of the field, could have caused problems for Ferrari. It was exactly how it happened and Coulthard took advantage of it:

 

"We had a very good race strategy. From where I was on the grid, having qualified in 7th, it was important to start with a heavy fuel load and give myself options, depending on how the race went. The goal was to save fuel after the first couple of laps. The Safety car, in the first few laps, helped us with that and I was able to stay out of on track, with the first set of tires, as long as possible, before the pit stop. Last night I dreamt a chaotic start at the start to immediately take the lead. This was not the case however the two Williams were able to keep behind the Ferraris. When Barrichello pitted, I remained on track and pushed quite a lot to gain an advantage. Barrichello tried to pressurize me in the end but despite that, I knew that the victory was in my grasp".

 

Hakkinen, on the other hand, has to say goodbye to the world championship. When this is pointed out to him, as soon as he came out of the pits, the Finnish driver makes a frustration gesture, turned his back and left. A couple of hours later, having got over his anger, he corrects himself and admits: 

 

"I am not going to start giving up anything yet or giving anyway anything yet. It clear that I am extremely discomforted. I do not know how to handle it. It is what is it, my manager Rosberg is right. I have to take it one day at a time, race by race. I thought that I had made a mistake on the start procedure. Then we investigated and it turned out that my procedure was right. There is something in the programme that we need to investigate".

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After Coulthard, Schumacher tells us how the race went from his point of view, starting from the start:

 

"We had some kind of problem. Certainly, the car did not start in the way it was supposed to start and basically had to do a manual start afterwards. I guess that someone else will get surprised by it".

 

There was the moment with Montoya that took you both out of the circuit.

 

"I was a little bit upset. No way was he going to make that corner. All he wanted to do was to take me with him out of the circuit. I did not know what he wanted to do. He was lost and I had to go onto the grass, I could not turn in and I nearly hit him. It was not ideal but that is the way it had gone. Be sure that I will be having a word with him. I lost a lot of positions and had to work my way through traffic but I knew that, sooner or later, I would have passed the cars which had the Michelin tires yet it was not easy to overtake the guys on the Bridgestone".

 

The reaction of the Williams rookie, to Schumacher’s harsh words, is careless: first he widens his olive-black eyes, then he hunches his shoulders, puffs and runs the back of his hand under his chin. Then, he talks:

 

"If he wants to talk, I am here. I defended as best as I could but we both went wide. It was a racing incident. I am racing to win and not to let people bu. It is not a case of him saying “I am Michael, let me by”. this is the attitude with which he races. Why does he make such a big deal?"

 

Gerhard Berger believes that it was Schumacher’s move that had any sense, because he should have tried the overtake on the inside and not on the outside. The Ferrari driver responds:

 

"I did not want to overtake Montoya on the outside. I was trying to force him to take a much tighter line into the corner to then pass him. He tried to avoid that and I had to follow him onto the grass".

 

Everyone instead sustains that, maybe, with a little bit of patience, he should have avoided that gamble and to postpone the overtake:

 

"I only tried to put him under pressure and wanted to do it as soon as possible. Coulthard was pushing me from behind. In this sport, the opportunities must be exploited and you cannot wait for them to come".

 

Rubens Barrichello, on his part, suffocates any polemics regarding the team asking him to give up second place in favour of Schumacher:

 

"The team asked me to do that. I lost the race because David went longer on the first stint and left his pitstop until much later I lost the race and could do anything about it. That is why I am unhappy".

 

The Brazilian did not appreciate this at all. He waited for the last few meters of track to pull over and let Michael take 2nd on the line. His kind and obedient gesture was blatant and would cause controversy. Several times from the pits they had ordered the Brazilian to give up 2nd place to Schumacher. Rubens continued to push on the accelerator to even register his fastest laps of the race at that point. Barrichello would not hear it, or, in other word, he wanted the world to know that his teammate was not faster than him and that overtake was an obligation. Even more: it was an obnoxious tax to pay. This move was not liked one bit by McLaren. Adrian Newey affirms:

 

"What Ferrari did is against the ethics of the sport".

 

Ron Dennis bluntly declares:

 

"We do not do such things".

 

Jo Ramirez thinks the same:

 

"It was wrong, with so much time left until end, to let Barrichello e Schumacher fight one against the other".

 

This is the point. The working relationship between the two Ferrari drivers was already strained by the Malaysia episode. After a chaotic double-stack in the pits under the flood, Schumacher came back on track and forced an overtake on his teammate. The latter then openly and ferociously criticized the world championship. Ferrari painstakingly put an end to the controversy. The truce, between the two, was short-lived. Even if Rubens, mindful of Montezemolo’s wrath on that occasion, now uses less noisy tones, cannot hide the frustration and bitterness:

 

"I cannot answer that, it is something that it is very much inside the team. I put myself in a situation in Malesia and unfortunately, I cannot open my heart right now. I still have to go down and talk to the team to clarify things. I did it for the team. The order, to let Michael by, was given many times. I am not happy about this situation and I am sorry for not winning the race. It was one of those days where I knew that the victory was possible. I did not get it in the end. I was running with my heart and soul. When I did the pit-stop, Coulthard made four very fast laps and he won there".

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Schumacher thanks him. He then essentially invites Barrichello to get over it:

 

"The team told me that if I had gone faster, they would have asked Rubens to let me pass. Indeed, I went much faster. Rubens did an amazing race but his problem is that he was not fast enough to win. I did not ask him to let me pass. Let’s look at the standings. He was very generous. Someone else, in his place, would not have done the same. Someone will say that we did not do the right things while other will instead claim it was a reasonable choice. This is the Ferrari philosophy. I do not know whether it was the right one or not but it is what it is. I behaved in the same with Irvine, when he was the one who was fighting for the championship".

 

For his part, Jean Todt defends himself:

 

"Each team has its own way of handling things. The ethics? Everyone has its own idea. For Ferrari, it was important to give Schumacher two more points. We will see in the future who was right. We left Barrichello in front as long as he was fighting for the win. We simply told him what needed to be done and he did it. It is never easy to give a team order to a driver but I never doubted that he would execute it: he is a professional. He doesn't come out minimized because he did a great race and we do not feel in debt with him: he has a great Ferrari underneath him to drive".

 

The Austrian Grand Prix saw the continuation of the show of the beautiful electronic systems that should have revolutionized the world of Formula 1. Four cars either stalled on the grid or started later, with a risk of big incidents. Paradoxically, it was precisely in order to avoid incidents of this kind that launch control became legal. In theory, everyone should start together and with the same momentum in order to avoid dangerous differences between the cars. Instead, Jarno Trulli stopped on the grid and he is now angry with the Jaguar team:

 

"I told the team: I want to start with the manual system. They told me this: do not worry about, be calm. Calmer than this…I did not even move. I lost points thanks to them".

 

You can understand the wrath of a driver, who expected a lot from this race after doing well in the free-practice and quali session. Jean Todt, who saw his drivers start on slow motions, explains:

 

"The problem was that the software reacted differently than what we expected. At first glance, it seems, since the tire grip on the asphalt was very strong, the electronic programme did not interpret well the data and thus reacted sluggishly".

 

It seems like Schumacher expected to have a bad start:

 

"The launch control systems are still very new. we need to understand what happened to then improve upon it. We have seen it with David in Barcelona, this time it happened to me. Hakkinen, as well, did not even start. It means that things are not easy for them as well".

 

Niki Lauda is not at all surprised:

 

"The whole thing is stupid. You cannot pretend to let the drivers start as if they were robots".

 

At Maranello, the Monday after the race, Luca di Montezemolo has the usual schedule: he did the regular briefing with the technicians and then lunch with Jean Todt. In the afternoon, he did   meetings and phone calls, on his office, to praise Schumacher and Todt, reject McLaren’s accusations della and call Barrichello to order, who is still close to renew the contract:

 

"I am at all satisfied with the race, which I followed on television with trepidation because the fastest car on track was the Ferrari, but given the way things had turned out, it could have also gone worse. However, we had a problem at the start and then there was the Schumacher overtake on Montoya which compromised the chances for our driver to win. We were doing the race in the lead but has technical issues in the laps before the stop. Tire degradations and other things are issues that will be discussed together with the technicians".

 

Montezemolo absolves Schumacher who, with more patience, could perhaps have avoided that excursion on the gravel with Montoya:

 

"With hindsight you can say lots of thing. Had he not tried the overtake, you would have talked of a timid Schumacher, someone would have surely said that Schumacher is not him anymore and so on. The reality is that, behind Michael, there was a group of cars who were pushing him from behind and there was no another solution".

 
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The president then talks about the topic of the day: the team order, to let Michael by for 2nd place. Barrichello did not like that at all and McLaren defined it as unfair and against sporting ethics:

 

"I do not judge other teams’ decisions I would like nobody to come and watch in my garden. Forget it: I am old, very old of Formula 1. I saw many things from 1973 onwards. In every sport, there is a thing called the team game. In cycling, a sport which I am very passionate of, there are very similar episodes, like this one. If Barrichello had won, we would have been very happy: it would have taken points out of McLaren and nobody would have asked to pull over and nobody would have said anything. It does not matter for him whether is a 2nd or a 3rd place".

 

Something might have changed for Barrichello. Judging from the reluctance to pull over despite the pressuring requests via radio and the reaction after the race ending, when he abruptly dodged Todt before expressing his disappointing in the press. Montezemolo concludes by saying:

 

"I would like to remind everyone that the last four championships went down the wire in the last races, on the edge of points and cents. Irvine lost it by one point. It should be clear to everyone that Ferrari’s interest comes first and foremost. Nothing changes in our relationship with Barrichello. I hope that the night brings him advice. If Rubens is disappointed for not winning the race, despite doing really well, we are as much as he is. If he is disappointed of having played the team game then, as we say in Rome, he will need to get angry and then to calm himself down".

 

Beyond the reference to the discipline, the Zeltweg episode could be worth a renewal for Barrichello, which seemed to be under discussion until Saturday. Todt’s words are eloquent:

 

"Tell me a better second driver than Barrichello. There is no one like him in my opinion and even if there are, all Formula 1 drivers are now under contract".

 

At this point Barrichello’ obedience, despite the Raikkonen rumors, should be awarded with the contract renewal (the option needs to be exercised by Agosto 2001), unless the Brazilian wants to go somewhere else. As Lauda says, who goes to Ferrari with Schumacher knows what awaits him. However, returning to Austria, Paul Morgan, co-founder and owner of Ilmor Engineering, passed away following a bad landing with the vintage airplane Sea Fury, not far away from home. This will have a chain effect on the future of Ilmor Engineering.

 

Davide Scotto di Vetta

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