Help Michael? And why on earth? It is with this sentence that Ralf Schumacher hastens to block any hypothesis of possible family agreements in the bud in the next three decisive Grands Prix, from which the Formula 1 world champion will have to leave for the 1997 season.
Only a point divides the Ferrari driver from Villeneuve, and Ralf drives a competitive car very aggressively. So, in pure theory, it could be of valid support to his brother, but the youngest of the Schumacher firmly rejects this possibility:
"He races for Ferrari and I for my team: brotherly love on the track does not exist. Michael has already been world champion twice without my help, what could prevent him from being one for the third time? title this season, he will do it in 1998".
It seems absurd that the younger of the two brothers will become so important for the assignment of the championship, without his knowledge, also thanks to the increased competitiveness of Jordan, unlike Ferrari which has not managed to evolve its car in recent weeks as he hoped. On September 23, 1997, a technical briefing was held in Maranello, with frame builders and engineers, to find answers to the poor competitiveness of the F310B in qualifying and in the race. As already mentioned, there is only one point to divide the two drivers at the top of the championship with three races to go.
Michael Schumacher has already found himself in a situation similar to this in 1994, when his first world title was played against Damon Hill at the wheel of Benetton. Then, following the success in Hungary, the German stood out in front of everyone in the general classification with 31 points ahead of the British; then came the maxi disqualification of three races, all won by Hill, who managed to reopen an issue that seemed closed by now, taking one to minus one.
In view of the Luxembourg Grand Prix, to be held on the Nurburgring circuit in Germany, where Schumacher will celebrate his 100 Grand Prix in Formula 1, the current world leader is relaxing in Switzerland at his home, closed in 1200 square meters of the villa and in the silent park that surrounds it and surrounded by quiet. But Schumacher is not only tired, he also has a slight ailment to be disposed of in the days that separate him from the race weekend:
"A terrible cold, I came to Austria, I also had a bit of fever. These are seasonal things, it doesn't just happen to me. Luckily I recover quickly because until yesterday I was really in bad shape, thank goodness there is is a week before going back to the track".
Speaking of his personal 100th Grand Prix, Michael admits he's not sure about the exact number of starts:
"I'm not so sure, someone says 98 or 99, it depends. If I remember correctly, I didn't play one or two, I think I retired earlier, but I was on the grid, I don't know, it may even be a hundred".
And of the first remember:
"In reality, I remember the start of that first Formula 1 race. Well, it was actually a start and that's it because I retired immediately after".
While among the three most beautiful of these first hundred, Schumacher chooses:
"Belgium '92, Belgium '95 and Nurburgring '95".
Michael arrives at the Nurburgring on 25 September 1997 with his helicopter, after having been on an official visit to Luxembourg:
"A dutiful visit, a heartfelt tribute from me. It is the first grand prix organized by this country which is nearby and is the heart of Europe. I went this morning, landing with the helicopter in the park and I was received by the Burgomaster and a minister. Then the Ferrari club of Luxembourg organized a parade in the old streets with 40 vintage cars. I walked on the 166 that made the Mille Miglia in 1948. There were so many enthusiastic people, one thing that was not I was expecting it and that cheered me up after the last two races didn't go very well".
Then, we return to talking about the championship:
"Maybe Williams has grown, we have not grown. There have been ups and downs. At the beginning of the championship we were doing well and we scored more points than we expected. In the summer, at Magny Cours and Silverstone, we were unbeatable, then in Reduction in Monza and Zeltweg. In Monza we were not very fast in practice and not very fast in the race. In Austria, on the other hand, in the race we were very competitive while in qualifying we had a setback. Who knows, if I had had that extra glass of petrol maybe I would not have started ninth and I would not have finished sixth".
Of course that overtaking with the yellow flags was fatal, but Michael replies:
"I am not an amateur, at least I hope that the others do not consider me as such. If I made that overtaking it is because I did not see them, the flags. I should have seen them, but I have not seen them. Nothing to complain about. But we are studying a system. thanks to which the drivers will receive a signal on the dashboard when the flags are displayed. This will avoid mistakes and will be safer on the track".
In '94 the world title on Hill was won by one point, but Schumacher thinks that these are different situations:
"Then I won the last race by one point, now there are three missing. I hope it goes better this time. I will give it my all. This race will be important but not decisive. I think it will all end in the end, in Jerez. I know the circuit well. of the Nurburgring, I did well last year too and this should facilitate the work. Of course, however, that having my audience here means a very different position, and this means that you can give something more and maybe it will be something important for the result".
On the opposite front, mindful of how it then ended in the '94 season between Schumacher and Hill (with the controversial accident in the last race in Australia which led to the retirement of both and therefore to the conquest of the title for Schumacher, accused, however, of having deliberately closed the door in Hill's face), Frank Williams states with a hint of sarcasm:
"I'll tell my drivers to have their suspension strengthened".
After that, the founder of the homonymous team grants a small comparison between the two contenders for the world crown:
"Our cars are fast and Villeneuve is very similar to Schumacher. When it comes to being decisive, he doesn't hold back".
At Nurburgring, it is warmer than one would normally expect at the end of September, a factor that is welcomed at Williams, as Jacques Villeneuve says the FW19 suffers from low temperatures. Meanwhile, the Canadian deserted the press conference on Thursday, arriving in the paddock only late in the afternoon, since, according to some rumors, he would have stayed until the last moment in Silverstone to practice with the starts, his Achilles heel during this season. Considering the minimum gap that separates him from his opponent, Jacques declares that he can change his approach to racing:
"He is one point ahead but now he is suffering. It is enough to see that terrible mistake he made in Austria to understand that he no longer holds the enormous pressure. We have the best car, the best team and two good drivers, the world cannot escape us".
On Friday September 26, Montezemolo arrives in Germany to support his team, and tells journalists:
"I think I have a long experience in Formula One. I arrived at Ferrari in 1974 and in the penultimate race our Regazzoni was level on points with Fittipaldi. And then in the last race Fittipaldi became world champion by just three points. But we made up for it. the following year with the first title of Niki Lauda. So I don't give up even between the cannon shots. We have a great driver, a great team and a car that is certainly not the best, but we will fight to the end, until the last lap. In Austria we lost a great opportunity. things that can happen".
Speaking of his Ferrari's ambitions, the President underlines:
" We started this year with other ambitions, with other programs, with other objectives. We achieved them and when we saw, along the way, that we could also win the world title, we changed our ambitions, objectives and programs. And we want to win it, we will fight until the end, we will do our best. But nothing is lost. We had not won the World Cup before Austria and we are not losing it now, here, where among other things we are always in the lead. In any case we can and must register with satisfaction that Ferrari is back at the top. I have been thinking about the world title for three years, that is, since we began to reorganize the whole team. Lately we have seen that it was possible even if it did not meet our expectations. We are all aware of the difficulties but we are also aware that we have the potential. to succeed. What a pity to have lost in Austria, but these are things that are part of the racing world. Unfortunately we lacked Irvine's points but I am confident that in these last few races Eddie will go back to being what he was in the first part of this season when he gave us a hand".
The Ferrari president also participates in the cutting of the cake to celebrate Schumacher's hundred races; short ceremony during which a small curtain opens between the Ferrari driver and the Formula 1 patron Bernie Ecclestone.
Schumacher jokingly threatens Ecclestone with a knife, as Ecclestone grabs him by the throat, before it all ends with slices of chocolate cake smashed in his face.
For the Luxembourg Grand Prix the paddock embraces Olivier Panis, who after a forced stop that forced him to miss seven races following the bad accident in Canada, can finally return to driving his Prost.
So Jarno Trulli leaves the scene at least for this season, despite the incessant pressure of Alain Prost made at Honda to allow him to continue racing in place of Shinji Nakano; the Japanese opposed this request, which is why Jarno will have to wait until the following season to return to racing. The Italian driver, however, shows up at the Nurburgring circuit with the suit in the bag:
"They called me and told me that with great pleasure they will welcome me in their garage but there is no space in the car. In short, both Alain Prost and Cesare Fiorio were very affectionate but they didn't promise me anything. I'm not at all sorry or disheartened, because I knew from day one that such an event would arise, that Panis would take his place again and I certainly don't want to take it away from him. But I think I did a good job on that team. At the beginning of my experience, that is at the French Grand Prix, we had a lot of problems with the car and we worked a lot to solve them and I think I also gave a certain contribution to the technicians. blamed it on me, they too knew that some problems had to be solved. Budapest was supposed to be our first big chance, that's where we thought we'd reap the first fruits of this work and instead things didn't go well. Spa and Monza were the worst circuits for us and we didn't expect great things. Austria with a new and little known track but which on paper looked a bit like Hungary's and suited us. And so we finally started to go really well thanks also to Bridgestone who had carefully studied things and had brought tires that went very well".
As in the qualifying held in Austria, the pole position becomes a personal matter between Hakkinen and Villeneuve but this time the Finn wins, who had already demonstrated his speed on Friday, scoring the best time in free practice, and who in this circumstance stops the time trial in 1'16"602, setting the new circuit record and conquering his first career pole by beating the Canadian driver by just 89 thousandths.
McLaren is in its eightieth pole position, but it is still a result of a certain depth, considering that the Woking team had not imposed itself in qualifying since 1993, thanks to Ayrton Senna.
Villeneuve misses the appointment with the ninth pole of the season, but he can be satisfied with his performance above all because Schumacher is behind him, in fifth position, with Frentzen and Fisichella in the middle occupying the second row:
"The victory does not count here, but finishing in front of Schumacher - says the Canadian driver -, I cannot take risks, mine will be a reasoned attack. It would be stupid to finish out, just because I am looking for success at all costs. If I find myself in front of it. to the German, I have to reach the finish line and collect heavy points. This Grand Prix and even more so at Suzuka, are two decisive races; I want to close the score".
And speaking of qualifying, Jacques declares:
"Even if it's all my fault, Hakkinen is just 89 thousandths ahead of me, and I lost at least two tenths in my fastest lap, making a mistake in a corner and taking a chicane badly. McLaren started to go very fast. ? I'm happy. If they take stitches away from me, it doesn't bother me, because they also take them away from Schumacher".
And in conclusion, Jacques lets himself go to a criticism of the track layout, pointing out several dangerous aspects:
"This circuit has a dangerous chicane, which does not offer any reference points for braking. There is no room to brake, ending up on the grass is very easy. And risky, because if you go outside, then with the tires you get inside the track. This is why the asphalt is so dirty. Every corner hides a pitfall, I preferred Zeltweg, it must have been boring, but there were fewer dangers. Here, on the other hand, if there is a battle, anything can happen in that chicane. you are alone, you look at the grass and you adjust. But in a group it is like being in the dark, you will see how many cars will go straight or on the curb".
Schumacher, who does not sleep with his wife for fear of being infected with the flu, improves on the two previous qualifications, which attested him in ninth position:
"I am half happy. Starting from the third row is not exciting, I hoped to do better. Luckily we are always better in the race than in practice but it will be tough also because Villeneuve is in front. Of course, if Frentzen were not between me and Villeneuve I would be more quiet. In any case I will fight and I will play it to the end even if the weapons I have are what they are".
While Villeneuve and the Williams team can smile, Schumacher and the Ferrari team cannot say they are satisfied. Just as in Zeltweg, even at the Nurburgring during the qualifying session, the German driver is forced to stop out of gas after the last lap, a sign that even a fuel volts, is rationed to save weight and try to create an advantage, while Irvine is even fourteenth and too slow to be able to make a real contribution to the team. Despite this, Montezemolo tries to keep morale high, however admitting that:
"Unfortunately, since the beginning of the year, we haven't had great moments in qualifying. We are there in the third row, but we can fight. For now Villeneuve is in front, we will do the race on him, we will see after the race. It is wonderful to see that we have two Williams in front of us, I have always said that ours is not the best car and then this time Villeneuve and Frentzen it seems clear to me that they will play a team game. we will lose this world championship we will sell our skin dearly".
Sixty-seven laps for a total of 305 kilometers. A track, that of the Nurburgring, where overcoming has become rather complicated with modern cars, therefore, as usual in certain circumstances, the start and strategies acquire a greater specific weight. In this case, the departure provides heavier answers from a global perspective than could have been imagined.
When the traffic lights go out, Hakkinen starts well and does not have to worry about Villeneuve who continues to have a bad relationship with the departures, allowing himself to be pulled off by a raptor Coulthard; at the same time, Michael Schumacher also slips the rear tires and is forced to surrender the position to his brother. At the first corner, everything happens.
Villeneuve and Frentzen go wheel to wheel, the contact is heavy and will cause some problems for the German; Ralf Schumacher tries to close the door in the face of Fisichella who is inside, but he does it as if the Roman was not even there. The two Jordans inevitably collide, and also involve the unfortunate Michael Schumacher, who has the sole fault of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, despite trying to avoid his brother's car by widening the trajectory.
Schumacher goes straight with a Benetton and after a short hike on the gravel he returns to the center of the group. For the two Jordans, on the other hand, the race is over.
Schumacher seems to be able to continue, despite being in tenth position, but then at the Veedol-Schikane curve he loses control of his car. There is something wrong. The Ferrari driver understands this and immediately returns to the pits, where the mechanics note the damage to the suspension, which translated means forced retirement for the leader of the championship standings, the third of the season after those in Argentina and Great Britain.
Ironically, to cause the retirement that could decide the championship is his brother Ralf, the one who, according to Villeneuve, would have helped Michael with serious possibilities to do so also in the present races.
In the following moments, Eddie Jordan is joined by journalists to comment on the disaster, heavy for his team, fighting in the constructors' championship with McLaren, but even more so for Ferrari. Dynamics that the team manager labels as a race accident, trying as much as possible to exonerate the young Ralf:
"Giancarlo had a bad start, already during the reconnaissance lap he told us that he felt something strange in the clutch. This coincided with an excellent shot by Ralf, and unfortunately there was not enough room for everyone at the first corner. It is not the first time that our two drivers have collided, it had already happened in Argentina. We will certainly have to discuss it".
But Ralf knows in his heart that he has made it big, and as soon as he returns to the pit lane he goes to the Ferrari garage to apologize to his brother.
"Unfortunately there was no room for three cars at that point. The collision was inevitable. I saw my brother's car rise and crash into me. I started driving again but after two corners I realized I had some problems".
Michael Schumacher declares, while in the pits, after the accident, Willy Weber, manager of the German Ferrari driver, goes to meet Ralf, covering his face and saying:
"What have you done?"
Shortly thereafter, reporters ask Weber if Ralf realized the damage done to his brother:
"I don't think he realized it".
Michael now has no choice but to support the two McLarens, so that they take away as many points as possible from Villeneuve. In the meantime, in fact, at the head of the race Hakkinen and Coulthard set the pace, in front of the Canadian, Barrichello, Alesi and Magnussen. Exceptional shot for the Stewarts, which started respectively from ninth and eleventh position. After the illusory performance in Austria, Jackie Stewart returns to hope for points finishes.
The Mercedes-powered MP4/12s fly and compete with each other to the sound of fast laps, offering no chance for Villeneuve to fight back. With such a scenario, Jacques would earn four points, climbing to the top of the standings at +3 over Schumacher. A hypothesis that, considering the circumstances, Michael could also be fine. However, the race is still long.
After the contact at the start with his teammate, Frentzen inadvertently shut down the car, managing to pick up speed when he was already in the middle of the group. The German is twelfth, and a full comeback race awaits him, inaugurated with the overtaking on the return Olivier Panis.
The German driver, however, is blocked by a group of drivers led by Jan Magnussen, who must beware of a Damon Hill determined to enter the points. Meanwhile, the only Ferrari left on the track is aimlessly sailing in thirteenth position, with little chance of returning to the points.
On the twenty-first lap, Alesi, unable to get rid of Barrichello, is called back to the pits for the first of his two scheduled stops, while Frentzen in the meantime also bypasses Diniz's Arrows, and also thanks to the game of the stops in progress, climbs back to eighth position.
A lap later, Irvine parks his car in a safe area and abandons a race that still saw him far from important positions. A brave James Allenn approaches Jean Todt to ask the cause of the retirement.
The French team manager is laconic: the Irishman was forced to stop due to engine failure. After not even thirty laps, the first three are now racing on their own; Barrichello, in fourth position, pays a thirty-four second gap from Hakkinen.
On lap 28, after still recording the fastest lap of the race, Hakkinen returns to the pits for his first stop, imitated on the same lap by Villeneuve: 6.9 seconds is the duration of the Finn's pit stop, two faster in comparison to that carried out by the Williams mechanics. At this point, however, the doubt rages in the pits: is McLaren on one or two stops?
Both drivers re-enter the track avoiding having to queue at Barrichello, an eventuality that could have benefited Coulthard, who decided to lengthen his first stint, while Frentzen also returns to the pits shortly after, anticipating the stop compared to Magnussen and Hill who are right in front of him, hopes to be able to gain other positions.
The doubt about how many stops McLaren has decided to make is dissolved on lap 31. Coulthard stops, his stop lasts just 4.9 seconds, too short to take on the fuel necessary to get to the end. The Scotsman returns second, between Hakkinen and Villeneuve, re-establishing the positions before the pit stops.
A Spielberg, Barrichello e Magnussen optarono per due soste, una decisione che di fatto non pagò; adesso le due Stewart, così come Damon Hill che è molto vicino a Magnussen fin dal primo giro, sono su una strategia ad un’unica sosta, speranzosi che stavolta abbiano fatto la scelta giusta. Dei tre piloti sopracitati, il campione in carica è il primo a fermarsi.
Al momento di lasciare la piazzola dei box però, Hill fa maldestramente spegnere il motore; i meccanici provvedono a riaccendere la Arrows, ma i secondi persi sono tanti, e la gara di Hill, rientrato in pista da doppiato, è del tutto compromessa.
Probabilmente la scelta fatta in casa Stewart sul piano strategico avrebbe potuto portare i frutti sperati, se non fosse che i soliti guasti che caratterizzano le vetture bianche di Sir. Jackie non lascino tregua neanche qui al Nurburgring.
Una volta effettuata la sosta, Magnussen non riacquista mai velocità e viene sorpassato in uscita dalla pit-lane da Pedro Diniz, per poi fermarsi lungo la pista a causa di un problema al semiasse.
Barrichello a sua volta, secondo alcune voci che filtrano dal box Stewart, è rallentato da un problema idraulico, che almeno per ora non lo costringono a fermarsi.
Al quarantaduesimo dei sessantasette previsti, Hakkinen è saldamente in testa con tredici secondi su Coulthard, il quale ne gestisce sei su Villeneuve.
Le McLaren volano e i miglioramenti fatti dall’inizio della stagione sono macroscopici, da additare senza dubbio al genio di Adrian Newey, che non ha resistito e si è ispirato anche soluzioni già testate ed introdotte con la Williams nel recente passato per migliorare le prestazioni della Mp4/12; un esempio è il nuovo alettone anteriore delle frecce d’argento.
Hakkinen è imprendibile, nulla può impedirgli di festeggiare a dovere il suo compleanno vincendo la sua prima gara in carriera dopo aver ottenuto la prima pole il giorno prima. Ma alla quarantaduesima tornata, c’è un motore Mercedes che esplode.
Questa volta non è quello di Mika, bensì quello di Coulthard, che ferma la sua vettura all’inizio del rettilineo principale. Villeneuve è secondo, il che significa cinque punti di vantaggio nel campionato:
Sussurra Michael mentre sta guardando la gara dal suo motorhome. Passa un solo giro, dopodiché la telecamera che dalla prima curva inquadra l’intero rettilineo, mostra le due McLaren ferme a bordo pista, a distanza di qualche centinaio di metri l’una dall’altra, con il motore fumante.
At Spielberg, Barrichello and Magnussen opted for two stops, a decision that in fact did not pay off; now the two Stewarts, as well as Damon Hill who is very close to Magnussen from the first lap, are on a one stop strategy, hoping that this time they have made the right choice. Of the three drivers mentioned above, the reigning champion is the first to stop.
Upon leaving the pit area, however, Hill clumsily turned off the engine; the mechanics re-ignite the Arrows, but the seconds lost are many, and Hill's race, back on track as a lapped, is completely compromised.
Probably the choice made in the Stewart house on a strategic level could have brought the hoped-for results, were it not for the usual failures that characterize Sir's white cars. Jackie won't let up here at the Nurburgring either.
Once the stop is made, Magnussen never regains speed and is overtaken at the exit of the pit lane by Pedro Diniz, only to stop along the track due to a problem with the drive shaft.
Barrichello in turn, according to some rumors filtering from the Stewart garage, is slowed down by a hydraulic problem, which at least for now does not force him to stop.
At forty-second of the expected sixty-seven, Hakkinen is firmly in the lead with thirteen seconds over Coulthard, who manages six over Villeneuve.
The McLarens fly and the improvements made since the beginning of the season are macroscopic, undoubtedly to be pointed out to the genius of Adrian Newey, who could not resist and was also inspired by solutions already tested and introduced with Williams in the recent past to improve the performance of the Mp4 / 12; an example is the new front wing of the silver arrows.
Hakkinen is impregnable, nothing can stop him from celebrating his birthday properly by winning his first career race after getting his first pole the day before. But on the forty-second lap, there is a Mercedes engine exploding.
This time it's not Mika's, but Coulthard's, who stops his car at the start of the main straight. Villeneuve is second, which means a five-point lead in the championship:
Michael whispers as he watches the race from his motorhome. Only one lap passes, after which the camera, which from the first corner frames the entire straight, shows the two McLarens stopped on the track, at a distance of a few hundred meters from each other, with the steaming engine. Schumacher covers his face with his hands, saying:
"No, not this one".
A retreat that makes poor Hakkinen despair for the umpteenth time, whose first victory is increasingly a taboo difficult to dispel. But the one who despairs, perhaps even more than the Finn, is Michael Schumacher.
Yes, because with this sensational double retirement, Villeneuve suddenly finds himself in the lead of the race and with ten points more in the standings that have an unspeakable importance for the World Championship.
Just to do en-plein, Villeneuve's first pursuer, but who in any case could not have worried him, namely Rubens Barrichello, abandoned the race due to the aforementioned hydraulic problems.
Villeneuve makes his second stop in complete tranquility, from the height of the abysmal advantage he has over the second, Jean Alesi, who is closely followed by Frentzen, whose excellent comeback was however facilitated by the withdrawals and by Hill's error.
Fourth is Gerhard Berger, while Pedro Diniz and Panis follow in a fight with each other to compete for fifth place. Behind them patiently awaits Johnny Herbert, ready to take advantage of the first opportunity to jump the two opponents.
But unfortunately for him and for the spectators, absolutely nothing happens in the last fifteen laps. Jacques Villeneuve calmly and cautiously managed the lead over Alesi and won the race, projecting himself into the lead of the World Championship with two races to go, nine points ahead of the unlucky Michael Schumacher. Now, the favorite for the World Championship is to all intents and purposes the Williams driver.
The Frentzen podium allows the English team to earn fourteen points, reaching a total of 112 in the Constructors' classification. Ferrari, stopped at 86, needs a miracle to rectify the situation. There is no mention of a miracle with regard to Schumacher and the Drivers' World Championship, but it is undoubtedly a titanic undertaking that the German will have to face.
While at Ferrari the climate is mortified, smiles are pouring into smaller teams like Arrows and Prost: Diniz wins his first points in the championship, Olivier Panis reminds everyone of his value by scoring points in his first race after the long injury. At the press conference, Villeneuve begins by commenting on the contact between him and Frentzen:
"After the first corner I was a bit worried because Heinz and I touched, wheel to wheel in the first corner. I thought I had repaired some important damage, but luckily the car was in place and it was fast".
Then, speaking of the race and the accident involving Schumacher, the Canadian driver admits that:
"I saw the accident on the big screen, while I was driving, a very good thing. They had communicated the news to me from the pits, so, when I passed in front of the display, I didn't want to miss the show. I don't know if it's Ralf the culprit of the accident. At the first braking there were many nearby cars, in those situations you don't help anyone, you have to do your race. Maybe someone was going too fast and not by chance touched the others. I do my own way, I don't try controversy and I expect you to leave me alone. I was third, already happy like this, I could be satisfied. I immediately gave up chasing McLarens, I thought it was useless to risk, also because today they seemed unbeatable. They were faster than me despite their tanks were more loaded with petrol. broken the engines we could not have beaten them in any way. Then they broke".
Jacques, however, does not speak of luck, but of his and the team's ability to subvert the forces on the field:
"Here I was certainly not unlucky, but the wheel over the course of the season, between me and Schumacher, turned in equal parts. Do we want to remember the rain in Monte Carlo or in Belgium? Rather, I am pleased to have given him the coup de grace at home. He ran away in Canada, he overtook me in the standings, I took him back in Germany. And I already want to close the account at Suzuka. I love the Suzuka circuit, I think we will be competitive because it fits very well with our car. All that matters now is to gain another point over Michael, as I have more wins than him and ten points would be enough to keep me in front. We need to qualify better and stay ahead of him in the race".
Frentzen also focuses on the first phase of the race, made complicated by the contact with Villeneuve:
"Yes, Jacques and I touched, and at that juncture I lost my grip on the steering wheel and with my hand I inadvertently pressed the lever that switches off the engine. When I picked up the situation I was already in the back, fourteenth or fifteenth. At that moment it was hard to overtake the riders in front of me, but gradually I managed to climb the rankings. Strategy was fundamental in the battle with Gerhard, as we decided to return a few laps later than him, and without this change of strategy I would not have been able to take his position. I am happy for Renault, which today can boast four cars powered by its engines in the first four positions. I would say that it is a nice way to leave the circus, considering that next year will not there will be".
Thanks to Alesi's podium, Benetton greets Flavio Briatore with a good result, in his last race as team manager before giving way to David Richards:
"The sprint was not great, but there was a bit of chaos in front of me that allowed me to gain several positions. After the second stop I saw on the pit-board exposed by the team that I was in second position, and I had a hard time believing it because before stopping for the second stop I was eighth".
Admits Jean Alesi, who then concludes:
"Considering where I started from and the fact that overtaking here is very difficult, it was impossible for me to think about reaching the podium. I want to thank the team for giving me a car that is fast and reliable enough to finish this race".
On the other hand, the disappointment at Ferrari is enormous, whose dream of returning to winning the World Championship becomes more and more utopian. Despite the logical disappointment, Schumacher clears his brother Ralf, the one who caused the carom at the start:
"I can't blame Ralf, these are things that happen in racing. Of course it's a shame, it's even more bitter that it happened with him. I didn't have a good start, the tires skated too much, but I immediately recovered. and I was regaining the starting position. At that moment, at the first corner, Ralf came on me and hit my right tire. There were three of us where only two cars pass: that's the cause of everything. I went back to the track and I immediately felt that the car had problems. I hoped it was just the dirty tires, maybe a puncture. But when I stopped in the pits I saw the suspension folded. Nothing could be done. Now the world championship is compromised, it's difficult. straighten such a situation. However, there are two more races left and I don't give up early: I'll go to Suzuka and Jerez with the right spirit and the desire to fight until the end".
Ferrari team principal Jean Todt echoes the German's words:
"We felt a great disappointment, we could not have had a worse result. On the other hand, accidents like the one that knocked Michael out can happen, they are part of the racing world even if they are unpredictable and unmanageable. can do anything. Villeneuve is in the lead of nine points, a few races ago was Schumacher leading with ten points. the situation can always change, there are still twenty points at stake for the world and therefore the math still has not defeated us. After what happened here and the week before in Austria is useless to make predictions, anything can always happen, whether we go to the top of the world championship again or we lose it. We continue to work as we have always done, we are already thinking about the next race, we are committed to the maximum and we will not declare ourselves defeated until the numbers determine it".
Going back to talking about the incident that involved the two Jordans at the start, Giancarlo Fisichella does not send them to tell his teammate:
"I found myself in front of him and I couldn't do anything. If I had braked the accident would have been much more serious".
On the other hand, Ralf Schumacher does not take the blame, and rejects the accusations:
"I'm really very sorry about all this, but I don't feel guilty. I made a great start, then I braked to avoid Frentzen and Fisichella; on my left I saw Michael, there was no space and unfortunately I hit his car. It happens in racing. Now don't prosecute me".
However, Niki Lauda is not of the same idea, who as always goes straight to the point and declares:
"Ralf was a foolish fool, if he had something in his brain he would have lifted his foot from the accelerator, instead of throwing his brother out and making him lose the title. Fisichella, on the other hand, is not to blame".
Perhaps disappointed that his presence did not bring luck to fellow countryman Schumacher, Helmut Kohl, the first German chancellor to attend a Formula 1 Grand Prix, urges the Ferrari team to take courage despite Jacques Villeneuve already claiming victory.
Before the start, Kohl had visited the Ferrari pits, chatting with Schumacher and wishing him good luck which turned out to be not very favorable. Then, at the end of the race, he urges the men of Ferrari to keep their heads up and not give up. And leaving by helicopter he promises:
"I'll be back next year".
But doing too many processes or ruminating on what has already happened is of little use. Ferrari must recover and leave behind a negative trend that has been going on since the Monza Grand Prix. But not only.
On September 29th 1997 a long summit was held in Maranello to analyze the issue of the McLaren electronic accelerator which is considered a violation of the technical rules of Formula 1, even if it was authorized by the International Federation. The technicians point out that a fundamental rule introduced in 1995 forbade any external help to the pilot and that it also included all electronic aids and automations.
The accelerator itself is not illegal because it is always operated by the driver, but if the software that manages it allowed to obtain other results, such as better traction when starting and cornering, then it would constitute an external help to the driver. A very sophisticated system of this kind had been used a few years earlier in another team but by the same technicians who now work for McLaren.
However, Ferrari does not intend to submit any official complaint. However, it is probable that the FIA will carry out a check on its own initiative as is done (in Monza, the electronic control units of Williams and Benetton) at every Grand Prix. On the same day, Jean Todt returns to talk about the Grand Prix raced at the Nurburgring, and the poor performance of Ferrari, stating that:
"It is not Ferrari that has braked, but the others have accelerated. Here there are people who work day and night, we give most of our lives to Ferrari, to do what, to brake it? Let's look at things with serenity and reasoning. We have done a huge job this year to improve and in fact we have managed to improve. Maybe Williams did a little more than us, but looking at the mid-season results you can see that we were doing well. Maybe they did almost always better in practice, but in the race we defended ourselves well. Then, at a certain moment, other cars started flying. Not Williams, but for example McLaren, which is an excellent team, with very good people, they suddenly started flying. I, for heaven's sake, I'm not saying that they cheat, Sunday maybe someone misunderstood my words. I'm just saying that they legitimately use an electronic device on the accelerator that allows the car not to skate at the time of departure. And this, according to the regulations, is an external help to the pilot which is expressly forbidden".
It was precisely the skidding of the wheels that put Schumacher in difficulty at the time of the start, thus forcing him to the point of the collision with his brother, while the McLarens instead had a great shot:
"Yes, but I repeat, it is not McLaren that cheats, it is the FIA that has endorsed this solution that allows, I am sure, things prohibited by the regulations. We were also studying such a thing but we stopped because it did not seem to be regular".
Then, speaking of the championship that will end between two race weekends, the Ferrari team principal admits:
"It's true, I don't believe in miracles, nobody believes in them but I don't give up on that. We are condemned not to give up, out of respect for all of us and for those who follow us with so much passion. Our car is what it is, everything what could have been done has been done, the performances are what we know: we go badly in practice but we go well in the race. The problem is all there. Of course if we had managed to start Schumacher further ahead, he would not have found himself in between those two. Starting behind the second row involves enormous risks, not only for us but for everyone. The problem is that today, with the current regulations, there are no more overtaking so what should a rider do who starts behind and knows that he will stay where he is for three hundred kilometers? Should he try to gain some positions at the time of the start, or hope in the pit stops. And everyone tries to do it and they do it. Yesterday the accident was Schumacher's but in all the Grand Prix it is like that and accidents at the first corner have already happened. I hope these things don't always happen to us, I hope it rains in Japan because that would give us one more chance. We have to win, it's difficult but not impossible. Do you remember the year of the world championship between Prost and Senna? win the race and Senna retire. And that is exactly what happened, which is not a miracle but a reality of racing. Do you remember Prost jumping for joy? He didn't believe it either. That's why I'm not giving up even if the disappointment is huge. In the last three races we have only scored two points, we have lost twenty points over Villeneuve, even 34 in the constructors' championship. Of course there is something to be strongly disappointed about. miracles but I don't even believe in the magic wand. If I had it we would have already won everything. But we can still play it. It's very difficult but possible. I just hope it will happen one of those normal days when our car is really good".
Meanwhile, the departing collision between the Schumacher brothers places itself at the center of television programs and journalistic interventions. Ralf Schumacher rebels against the wave of accusations that hit him in all the newspapers, even the German ones. And through an interview with the German newspaper Bild, he replies by saying:
"I don't brake for my brother and I didn't even apologize to him because there was no reason. Should I have brake just because I'm Michael's brother? Not even by dream. I'm no different from all the other riders, I race for myself same and for my team and this I did on Sunday right from the start. I had a great start while Michael and Fisichella didn't start well and for this reason alone I was able to overtake Michael so easily. However, there was no reconciliation with Michael for the simple reason that we never quarreled because of this episode. He understood the reasons for what happened and he is not angry with me, why should he be? I understand that he is very bitter but Michael is exceptional, the best of all, he does not give up and I am sure he will be able to win his third world title".
Michael's words echo him:
"The accident was not his fault but chance and Ralf wouldn't be a good professional if he didn't try to give his all every time. As for me, I don't want to bandage my head ahead of time, I still have some hope of winning the World championship. Before Sunday I had fifty percent of the odds, now only thirty percent, but many things can change in the last two races".
From September 30, 1997 the team of the horse continued testing at Mugello with Irvine, only to then move to Fiorano, where Eddie left his place on Thursday and Friday at Schumacher, before the departure of the cars scheduled for Friday evening for Japan. Routine tests because there are no technical innovations in sight. Montezemolo's message must instill hope in the whole environment, because in Formula 1, history teaches, everything is possible:
"We do not give up, we will try to the end, even if this black series is cruel".
Davide Scotto di Vetta