To prepare themselves in the best possible way for the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo, one of the most eagerly awaited weekends of the entire season, the Formula 1 teams meet from Wednesday, May 13th, 1998 at Magny Cours, in France, for one of the numerous test sessions to be carried out during the year. McLaren takes the stage also in these three days of work, while the other teams do their best to try to put an end as soon as possible to the dictatorship established by the Woking team at the beginning of this championship. Above all Ferrari, which among the many innovations brings to the track a new on-board computer, which should provide advantages in the use of the engine. At Maranello they work non-stop, and after leaving France, the tests continue on the Fiorano track, on friday, May 15th, 1998.
Michael Schumacher stays with his team from 9am to 9pm to fine-tune suspensions, mappings, tyres and anything else that can be used to get closer to the McLaren. Also in Ferrari's company is Minardi, with young Esteban Tuero. The presence of the head of Bridgestone, Hiroide Hamashita, who was there to support the team from Faenza, led many insiders to assume that Ferrari had secretly tested the competitors' tyres. That's why Chairman Montezemolo responded in jest:
"Yes, it's true, we fitted Goodyear tyres on the right and Bridgestone tyres on the left".
At the end of the tests on the Magny Cours circuit, Schumacher summed up the situation for Ferrari, declaring:
"I am reasonably satisfied with the work done so far. Last year at Magny Cours we were taking two seconds a lap and in Monaco I won. Now, after the Fiorano tests, we are closer. Our opponent has changed, then it was Williams today it is McLaren. Not everything we have experienced in these days will be on track next Sunday, the complete technical package will be seen later, between the Grand Prix of Canada and France".
Monte-Carlo brings back good memories in Schumacher's mind, given that in the previous season, thanks to a stratospheric performance in the Monegasque rain, he won a race that officially began his head-to-head with Jacques Villeneuve, who, after that race, which culminated in a retirement, understood that he would have to play for that World Championship until the end. Perhaps it is because that race is still a vivid memory in his mind, both for Schumacher's victory and especially for Rubens Barrichello's podium, which allowed him to celebrate his first podium as team manager, that Jackie Stewart, who has just arrived in the Principality, points to the German as the number one favourite to win this year's Grand Prix:
"I'm Scottish and I never bet, but if I had to put my money on it I would obviously put it on Michael. He's the best and the most intelligent. And here, to win, you need a lot of brains. But of course there's also McLaren".
The big question mark on the eve of every Grand Prix this season continues to be the confrontation between Bridgestone and Goodyear. The Japanese company has so far annihilated its rivals, who have only won one race thanks to Schumacher in Argentina, where the new type of front tyre had everyone thinking that the gap had finally closed. This was not the case, as the Bridgestone-tyred teams resumed and increased their competitiveness, especially in the last Grand Prix held in Spain.
For the Monegasque weekend, the Americans are aiming at a new type of rear tyre, revised both in structure and compound, which they hope will provide greater traction coming out of corners, and a consistent aid in braking. Schumacher, the only one likely to put a spoke in Hakkinen's wheel, is hoping for this. The German driver, who has just arrived in the paddock, allows himself to be seen by journalists, and first of all he answers those who ask him if this can be defined as a key race:
"Maybe the term is exaggerated, it's too early to talk like that, even if I realise that it would be very important for the classification not to lose contact with the first ones, otherwise the continuation of the season would become tremendously difficult. One thing is certain: compared to Imola and Barcelona, here we will be very close to the McLarens, and to be a couple of tenths of a second behind them would make the situation very interesting. I've been starting on the front row for five consecutive years, I need to do it again, that's my goal. We tested a lot, a lot of tyres and various other little things. We will have new rear tyres, which obviously perform better, but we need a whole package of solutions that will work on all circuits, otherwise there goes the title fight".
After the race at the Montmeló circuit, Schumacher had stated that in his view the gap to McLaren was 70% due to the poor performance of the Goodyear tyres in direct comparison with the Bridgestone tyres. On those words, the German states:
"When things don't go well, everyone asks me the reasons, and I simply quantified our problems, maybe they didn't like my calculations. I'm not saying they're the only ones to blame, we're certainly guilty too, but that's the way it is, we have to work together to get out of it. The German driver also has to comment on two topics that he would perhaps have preferred not to touch on, as can be seen from his piqued responses".
Firstly, the suspicions were raised by an English magazine, which published a photo of the Ferrari at Acque Minerali on the Imola circuit, where the rear disc is seen glowing, unlike the other three, which are normal. This could mean the use of a braking control system similar to McLaren's third pedal, which has been deemed irregular by the FIA. This reason has led the Anglo-German team to ask the Federation for clarification:
"I've heard about these inferences, I've seen the photo and it's of such bad quality that you can't see it well. The FIA should ask Ferrari if we have something irregular. There is a commissioner stationed in front of our pit, we are always heavily controlled, and I am happy about that because then no one can think that there is anything irregular. I think the FIA has already spoken, they clarified everything after Brazil".
Secondly, the growing rumours that he's away from Ferrari, perhaps heading for McLaren-Mercedes, especially if the World Championship doesn't come:
"No, absolutely not".
Schumacher replied, without going into more detail than necessary. Hakkinen and Coulthard, unlike the German driver, do not boast prestigious results on the winding Monegasque circuit: the Finn has never arrived at the finishing line, while Coulthard finished second in the daring 1996 edition when Olivier Panis won in the modest Ligier. Nevertheless, the world championship leader is not worried:
"I am calm and confident. All sorts of things have happened to me here, statistically I should have a quiet race".
In the meantime, news arrived on the engine front, specifically the Mecachrome, used in this season by Williams and Benetton. Well, from the 1999 season it will be Flavio Briatore, former team manager of the team of Treviso, who will be in charge of the distribution of the engines. The most important detail, however, is that Briatore will take Renault's place, and therefore, albeit unofficially, will return to Formula One after just one year's absence. As usual, in Monte Carlo the drivers get on track for the first two free practice sessions already on Thursday. Looking at the count of the times, it is immediately clear that it was a particular day, and where the only certainty remains Mika Hakkinen.
The championship leader is first, but behind him is a surprise Giancarlo Fisichella. The Roman driver, at his ease at the wheel of a Benetton equipped with a new rear suspension, for a handful of seconds even tasted the first place in the classification, before Hakkinen immediately put things back in place, running at 1'21"937. Even the imperturbable Finn was played by the pitfalls of the city circuit, and immediately after setting the best time he ended up in a spin, without however hitting the barriers. Michael Schumacher hit the barriers, and after 35 minutes of practice he crashed the front left of his Ferrari against the guard-rail coming out of the Casino. A heavy impact that damages the car considerably. Schumacher apologised, saying that he was human and that mistakes happen to everyone. On the positive side, the F300 was behaving very well up to that point, momentarily leading the session.
"I can fight for pole, I feel I can do it".
Admits Schumacher, confident ahead of Saturday's qualifying.
"We ran in race trim, with petrol on board and hard tyres. We always do that, because the first thing to rely on is performance and race set-up. Once we've got those in place, then we concentrate on preparing for qualifying".
At the end of the day Schumacher is fifth, one second and seven tenths behind Hakkinen, who exonerated his rival from his mistake, as he himself was not exempt:
"I don't know what happened to Michael, I didn't care what he was doing because I was focused on how to improve my single-seater. But I noticed too that some corners can trick you and if you take them too fast you don't really know how you can get out of them. It happened to me too, around half an hour into practice; I just grazed the guardrail and came back into the pits. Apparently nothing happened, but the car wasn't going as well as before. And at the end I went straight into Sainte Dévote. It's a good feeling to be up front again. Especially here, where I play at home. This, to be honest, is a very difficult track, where you never feel confident in the car. But as a first day, it's not bad. Moreover, this best time has a psychological value because, in addition to making me happy, it gives more confidence to the team for qualifying. Pole will be contested by the usual group of drivers who are used to fighting for the top spots: myself, Schumacher, Coulthard and maybe Fisichella".
David Coulthard, on the other hand, had a few problems, eight tenths down on his team-mate and increasingly at risk of becoming the team's number two. In his quest for the limit, the Scotsman ended up going too far three times at Sainte Dévote. Regarding these inaccuracies he states:
"Brake problems? No, I simply braked too late. It's normal when you're testing the car with different levels of fuel and you're working on getting the best balance. I was struggling with terrible understeer, but I'm sure I'll have a better car on Saturday. I'm a candidate for pole and victory".
What a frustrating day for the reigning World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, who keeps on fighting with his FW20, and Riccardo Rosset. Ninth in the classification, the driver with the platinum blond hair, to which he has added some new blue tips here and there, as he declared just for fun, is also slowed down by an accident with the Tyrrell driver, who race after race is showing he does not have the talent to run in this category. At the exit of the variant of the Piscine, the two collided, with the responsibility to be attributed above all to the Brazilian, at least according to Villeneuve's point of view, who, as always, didn't mince his words:
"It is not the first time that Rosset creates trouble for me. At Imola, after the first refuelling, I almost had to leave the track to avoid him; also other colleagues had problems. This is yet another demonstration that he drives with his eyes closed".
Rosset, for his part, blames the Canadian:
"Jacques is entirely to blame: even in the past, those who tried to overtake there caused accidents. There's no space, and I didn't see him move to the inside, because that's a very fast sequence of corners. I don't understand why he would attempt such a manoeuvre when time is running out. I think a world champion has to use his head".
Some chaos during the practice day was also caused by the flags, specifically the red one. After twenty minutes of practice, in fact, they are waved for no reason by the commissioners, with even the speaker misled after seeing on the TVs the communication indicating the temporary stop of the session. It was all the fault of a steward who had inadvertently leaned on the stop button in the race direction. The red flag would have come in handy after Jarno Trulli's accident at Tabaccaio, but instead there was no red flag at all.
Friday 22 May is a day of rest, waiting to return to the track on Saturday, for the remaining free practice and especially qualifying.
It is however an important day for the teams, who meet with the FIA and Ecclestone to sign the renewal of the Pact of Concord. All except Ferrari, as Montezemolo arrives late, and Sauber, for now dissident. An important agreement, which provides for the division of revenue between the teams, sponsorship of Grand Prix, TV rights and more, with special recognition for the historic teams, such as Ferrari.
Among the new features is the fact that the prizes will be linked to the constructors' standings, and therefore the money will be divided between the teams according to the position they occupied in the standings in the previous season, with no allowance envisaged for the team placed eleventh and last. Ferrari's team principal, Jean Todt, also took advantage of his free time to give an interview in which the French manager vented his frustration by touching on various themes, starting with the lack of competitiveness of McLaren:
"I'm not a magician and I don't work miracles. When I arrived, Ferrari was fighting for the tenth or fifteenth place, taking three seconds off the pace and often not getting to the finish line. Now, when we come second, it's a disaster, because the press portrays it as a disaster, and I understand a bit why: Ferrari is an Italian asset, it's in the hearts of Italians who would like to see it always win. The truth is, however, that we are protagonists: last year we lost the world championship with 20 laps to go, while today we are the only ones competing with McLaren".
And still remaining on the journalistic theme, the French manager declares:
"Is it difficult to live and work at Ferrari? Honestly, yes, because the pressure of the media is sometimes unnerving. And then the chatter, the rumours, the gossip, such as my alleged desire to build the crankshafts in France, because the factory would be mine. When I arrived at Ferrari, I didn't think I would have to put up with that. Have I filled Ferrari with foreigners? Maybe it's not nice, but for now it's useful. However, I know very well that Ferrari is Italy and Italy would not be the same without Ferrari, but every time I find an Italian I take him or her, I don't discard him or her".
Talking about investments, Todt admits that Ferrari does not have the biggest budget ever:
"Money alone doesn't do everything, but men alone don't do everything either. We have a limited budget, it's true, but we do a lot. No other Formula 1 team has ever had the strength and courage to do everything themselves, even the engines. Having said that, there is no doubt that our rivals have much bigger budgets".
Finally, the discussion turns to the technical profile:
"Is McLaren underweight? Actually it is lighter, but not underweight, because then it uses ballast, which is very useful. It's an advantage. Their engine is also lighter, but ours is heavier because we preferred to make an engine that could run harder and withstand higher temperatures, and that means more weight. It was a precise choice, but like all choices it's a compromise and it doesn't have to be wrong. We didn't choose Bridgestone tyres either, because Ferrari has a habit of respecting the contracts they've signed. And who knows, maybe Bridgestone couldn't have given them to us even if they wanted to. McLaren might also have wanted priority or exclusivity or something. There's nothing wrong with that, I would have done that too".
On Saturday it was back to the track, and Hakkinen showed that the day of rest had certainly not distracted him from his objective: to conquer Monte Carlo as well. In qualifying, the Finn is the only one to go under the wall of 1'20: 1'19"798. A lap that was simply unreachable for his rivals, including Coulthard. The Scottish driver stopped just three tenths down, helpless in the face of his teammate's superiority, despite his best efforts.
Fisichella gave way to the McLarens after being the quickest in the morning, but he could still celebrate a remarkable third position, obtained by beating Michael Schumacher, fourth and running into another complicated day. In fact, the Ferrari driver was forced to take part in qualifying with a mule, as his F300 suffered transmission problems in the morning. Given the premises, fourth place, with a few thousandths of a second ahead of Frentzen, is all in all a good result.
"I went to the limit of my possibilities, I did a lap one second faster than Irvine. Maybe I could have gained another tenth, but not too much more. You could see with the naked eye that our cars lacked traction coming out of the corners, compared to the Bridgestones".
Schumacher took another swipe at his team's tyre supplier and then turned his attention to his expectations for the race:
"I would be happy to be on the podium: first or third would not change the situation, from the next race we should find a better competitiveness".
Wurz, sixth, completed the third row, while Irvine was seventh, who also crashed into the wall like his team leader two days before: the Northern Irishman crashed at Rascasse and destroyed his single-seater.
Mika Salo was surprising, eighth at the wheel of the Arrows. A nightmarish qualifying for Villeneuve, only thirteenth at two seconds and six from the pole. For Jacques it is the worst qualifying in his career. The comparison with Frentzen, fifth, is pitiless, even if we have to point out that the German driver, together with the two Sauber driven by Alesi and Herbert, is the only one to use a soft tyre compound, while the rest of the grid opts for hard tyres. Once again over the limit of 107% Rosset, who has already been excluded from the race in Barcelona. In the second row, just behind the McLarens and ahead of Schumacher, a fierce Giancarlo Fisichella seems more than motivated to leave behind a troubled start of the season. The Roman was beaming after qualifying:
"I am happy, I did well in free practice and I wanted to repeat that in qualifying. For a quarter of an hour I had the best time, I was on pole, they had to come out of the pits four times to beat me. I have a lot of confidence. The car is behaving much better, the new suspension tested last week in Jerez has brought more stability; there have also been some winning changes upfront. I knew that the McLarens would be very fast here too. I had noticed it in free practice, when, with new tyres, they got fantastic intermediate times and then didn't finish the lap, stopped accelerating, so as not to reveal their cards. I dreamed of squeezing in between them, and I almost did. Schumacher said he only feared the McLarens because Benetton was not a podium contender. You can see he felt too confident and didn't notice me. Now he has to overtake me and it won't be easy. I know he's very fast, but he doesn't scare me. It's impossible to overtake on this circuit. As you start, you arrive. If I come out third from the first corner, nobody will take away the podium, which is my goal. Winning would be fantastic, trying is normal, but I don't want to set myself impossible dreams. This year I've done a lot of stupid things, even too many, and I need to be able to finish a race, get to the end, collect points. I'm not the kind of guy to be satisfied, but you can't always try to overdo it. This circuit excites me, here, in 1994, I won my first international Formula 3 race, repeating that result would be the most exciting thing in my career. You can fight, but it is right to be realistic. In my last attempt Villeneuve disturbed me; he didn't do it on purpose. I slowed down, but I would never have overtaken Hakkinen, at most Coulthard".
Finally, jokingly, Giancarlo is asked if it is true that David Richards, the Benetton team principal, has offered to pay the Spanish fine in exchange for a podium at Monte Carlo:
"In the meantime he has advanced the thirteen million. It should have been me, but he paid it. What bothers me is the principle: paying knowing that I'm not guilty. I didn't like that story, and it would take a podium to forget it".
The two previous editions, as already mentioned, were characterised by rain, which completely upset the values on the field and gave the fans two races that were, to say the least, crazy. This year, on May 24th 1998, the race will be completely dry. At 2:00 pm the lights went out and the Monaco Grand Prix began. In the first few laps the drivers remained rather cautious to avoid collisions, so the starting positions were almost the same at the end of the first lap, except for Wurz who managed to pass Frentzen and Esteban Tuero who retired after crashing at the entrance to the Casino.
The car is immediately removed by the marshals, therefore the entry of the Safety-Car is avoided. While Hakkinen starts to run away as expected, Schumacher is very close to Fisichella's car, proving to be clearly faster than the Benetton. Schumacher threatened on a couple of occasions at Mirabeau and Rascasse, but this was more of an attempt to trick the young Fisichella into making a mistake, but he resisted, never making the slightest mistake. Irvine also sounded the charge, at the moment in seventh position and determined to enter the points zone against Frentzen, who was so slow that he was even favouring the approach of Mika Salo with Arrows. On the tenth lap the Northern Irishman threw himself into the hairpin, but in doing so he violently hit the car of the innocent Frentzen, who ended up against the barriers and had to retire. Frentzen's acid comments as soon as he re-enters the pit lane:
"There was nothing I could do, Eddie tried there even though he knew the accident was inevitable. Obviously he was happy with that".
In the meantime, Hakkinen and Coulthard give life to a battle based on timed times, as lap after lap they lower the limit, recording the fastest lap taking it off each other. The gap continually fluctuates between two and three seconds, until lap 17, when Coulthard's hopes of getting closer to his teammate go up in smoke along with his Mercedes engine, which gives up without giving any warning when coming out of the tunnel. A retirement that, as well as ousting him from the race, also represents a major blow to his championship hopes.
Hakkinen is now driving without anyone to put pressure on him, as Fisichella and Schumacher, who are still driving in tandem but with the German having eased his pressure slightly, are more than fifteen seconds behind. With the retirements of Frentzen and Coulthard, in this moment the points zone was occupied by Hakkinen, Fisichella, Schumacher, Wurz, Irvine and Mika Salo. It was the Finn who surprised everyone in 1997, scoring points with the modest Tyrrell, having completed the race without even making a single stop. Also this year, even though there are no particular conditions to favour the outsiders, he is making the Arrows' fortune.
On lap 29, Schumacher tried to take advantage of the great traffic in which he and Fisichella found themselves caught, and made his stop: the 7.4 seconds' duration let us understand that Schumacher was on a two-stop strategy, but the Ferrari went back to the track in fourth position, behind the other Benetton driven by Wurz. At the Benetton pit wall they react immediately and decide to call Fisichella back for an early pit-stop, which however does not change the team's plans, who want to keep the Roman driver on a one-stop strategy.
Fisichella was lagging behind Schumacher, but his race was being helped by his teammate Wurz, who was slowing down the German driver at the very moment when he should be pushing as hard as he could to close the gap on the Roman. On lap 36, Hakkinen calmly made his pit stop, while two laps later, Schumacher took advantage of a small group of lapped drivers, made up of Trulli, Herbert and Diniz, to surprise Wurz. At Mirabeau corner, Diniz closes the door to Wurz, not allowing himself to be lapped: the Austrian is slowed down, and when the Loews corner is reached, Schumacher doesn't think twice and goes alongside him.
The two cars touched, they were wheel to wheel; Wurz held his ground without being intimidated and seemed almost to have kept his position, but at Portier Schumacher crossed his trajectories and overtook him, with a last, crucial contact between the two. Just a few corners and something on the F300 brakes.
Schumacher immediately returns to the pits, where the mechanics note damage to a left rear suspension arm. The driver gets out of the cockpit but is immediately stopped by Ross Brawn, who tells him to get back in, as the damage can be repaired in a short time.
Several minutes pass during which Schumacher waits, with a petrified look, for the mechanics to repair the damage; once the work is completed, the two-times world champion returns to the track three laps behind Hakkinen.
A perfect situation for the Finn, launched towards the fourth victory of the season, while the two direct pursuers in the drivers' classification are out of the points. The fight with Schumacher did not seem to cause any damage to Wurz's Benetton, which, however, just after making its stop, crashed into the guardrail coming out of the tunnel, and then bounced off the tyre guards at the Nouvelle Chicane.
"I don't know what happened, but I was really scared. I was making a right turn, something didn't work in the car, maybe the suspension. I didn't understand anything anymore. It was a strange sensation, I touched the guardrail, I bumped several times, I felt like I had fallen into a washing machine. I was aware of the danger, so much so that I thought about Alesi's Sauber, which was behind me. I said: Now it's going to come at me and destroy me. Like that time in Germany, in Formula 3, when the body and the engine flew into the crowd, a guardrail blew up and nearly decapitated me. My accidents are always frightening, luckily everything ends well".
The unfortunate Austrian driver said after the serious accident. The umpteenth exit from the top of the standings again upset the points zone: Hakkinen and Fisichella remain firmly in first and second position, Irvine is third, Jean Alesi is fourth, Salo fifth and Jacques Villeneuve sixth.
The Canadian driver is not noticed for overtaking manoeuvres or anything similar, but he drives with solidity and takes advantage of the others' mistakes to enter the points zone, even if at the end of the qualifying he had expressed the only wish to end this weekend as soon as possible to be able to think about his home Grand Prix, to be disputed with new parts on his Williams. After more than fifty laps, Jacques is the only one who has not stopped. He did so on the fifty-fifth lap, managing to maintain the sixth position.
Perhaps mistakenly relaxing from his large lead over Irvine, Fisichella made a mistake as the race drew to a close when he hit the guardrail at Rascasse and spun. Luckily for him Irvine was a long way off, so the Roman driver had plenty of time to get back on track and restart the race, without feeling any damage to his suspension. In the last laps nothing seemed to be able to change the points zone yet, but eight laps from the end white smoke began to come out intermittently from the rear of Alesi's Sauber. The French driver raised his lap times, he had no one to worry him closely, and he could try to manage the car up to the finishing line, but unfortunately for him, at the 72nd of the 78th laps foreseen, he was forced to abandon the race because of a gearbox problem.
Alesi parks the car at the Pools, in a rather dangerous position, climbs over the barriers and kneels down in despair, with the visor raised that allows to see his eyes full of disappointment. Alesi's discouragement contrasts strongly with the joy of Arrows, which thanks to this retirement can boast two cars in the points zone. In addition to Mika Salo, fourth, now also Pedro Diniz manages to reach the points zone, gaining the sixth position.
It was a day to remember for the British team, almost ruined by Michael Schumacher's madness. No one knows why, but on the last lap, as a lapped car, he tried to overtake Diniz on the Nouvelle Chicane with a manoeuvre that was risky to say the least. Schumacher, second to last and lapped, as soon as he realised he didn't have the margin to overtake, spun around and slammed his nose into the barriers, grazing Diniz's rear end. An unnecessary risk, undoubtedly due to the frustration of a race that promised much more.
Mika Hakkinen crosses the finishing line for the seventy-eighth time and wins the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, ahead of Fisichella, Irvine, Salo, Villeneuve and Diniz. During the lap of honour, the Finn entertains the fans in the stands for a while, skidding here and there with his McLaren Mercedes; then, arrived on the finishing line, as soon as he gets off the car, he celebrates with a transport that usually doesn't suit him. During the lap of honour, the Finn entertains the fans in the stands for a while, skidding here and there with his McLaren Mercedes; then, arrived on the finishing line, as soon as he gets off the car, he celebrates with a transport that usually doesn't suit him. And during the podium party, he pours champagne over Ron Dennis and Norbert Haug; then, before going back for the usual photos, he indulges in a passionate kiss with his fiancée Erja.
His joy is also perceivable in the press conference:
"This weekend has been incredible, more or less similar to the one I had in Spain. I have to say that I didn't feel as fast as I was in Barcelona, but Monte Carlo is a different circuit where a lot of things happen, and you always have to be on your toes, especially when you get stuck in traffic. As a result, you don't need to be constantly running very fast times. I didn't realise how important this race was for me until the chequered flag, and maybe I'll need a few more days to get it right. Winning here has always been a dream for everyone, and I'm now among the drivers who have achieved it, and as I said I still find it hard to believe. I could never have done it alone, there are a lot of people around, starting with the team who made this victory possible today. After Coulthard retired I was worried about my car, especially as I was in the lead. In those moments you start to worry, even if actually everything is going great: you start to think about the tyres, the engine, everything. You start thinking about the tyres, the engine, everything. Hopefully everything will work out until the end".
A relatively quiet race for him, although the thrill of hitting the barriers also touched him:
"I had a difficult moment, right after the first pit stop. At Rascasse I touched the guardrail with a wheel, and I was terribly afraid of having compromised everything: I drove for a couple of laps carefully, trying to catch the slightest sign of danger".
Finally the unfailing appreciation to his team:
"I want to thank the team and the guys who have worked since early morning to give us a reliable car. None of this would have been possible without them".
Giancarlo Fisichella is also over the moon, finally getting an important result in what has been a disappointing season for him so far:
"It's a fantastic result for me, the goal was to get the podium. Third place would have been good, but to be second is even better, almost hard to believe. I love this track, I won here in Formula 3 and now I'm on the podium in Formula 1. For a moment I even hoped for victory, when the gap had narrowed to just eight seconds, but today Hakkinen was really uncatchable, I couldn't do more. The McLarens seem unbeatable, I think the World Championship is already over. They can only lose it if they miss a lot of Grands Prix. I am very happy".
If Hakkinen only grazed the barriers, at Rascasse Fisichella had a really bad time:
"I was shaking, I said to myself: everything is going to hell here, as usual. You're ahead of Schumacher for so many laps, you take three tenths off him at every lap, the car becomes more driveable and then, because of a stupid mistake, you hit a barrier, you spin and goodbye dreams. Luckily the engine stayed running, only my heart died. The car didn't suffer any damage, it reacted well, for a couple of laps I pushed it and I saw that everything responded perfectly. I also have to thank the team, who helped me from the pits. I was a bit shaken up, they told me: don't worry, you only lost ten seconds, you still have a thirty second lead over Irvine. And so now I can tell the most exciting result of my career, second, on the most difficult circuit in the world. We in this period are not very strong with the engine, but this circuit does not reward too much power. In any case, I had to work hard when lapping. The others never make it easy, even if they are two laps behind".
And on the initial battle with Schumacher:
"At the beginning my Benetton was heavy, I had to defend myself with my teeth. Then the situation improved, and in acceleration I could take about ten meters of advantage that put me out of reach of the Ferrari. I chose hard tyres, which was the right solution. It was a result that was needed for morale, even though I haven't collected much so far, I have always been confident about my chances. I have shown that I have not lost my temper, that I am able to work well and also have fun in this difficult and exciting job".
With his third podium in four races, Eddie Irvine is certainly showing that he has improved in terms of solidity:
"The start was hard, I found myself behind Frentzen who had soft tyres and I really wanted to overtake him. We touched at Loews but I managed to keep going. I was worried about damaging the car because the contact was so heavy, but after running through the next few curves without any problems, I calmed down. After that I had quite a lonely race, coming in late to make a stop because I started with a lot of fuel in the tank. It's nice to be on the podium but I'm not completely satisfied with the overall performance. At Magny Cours I tried a new type of tyre brought by Goodyear, hopefully it will take us a step forward in Canada. If their situation doesn't improve we can forget about the title. If, on the other hand, what we tried at Magny Cours gives us the effects we hope for, we'll keep a fighting chance".
His team-mate had a bad day, which was further exacerbated by some post-race statements that were not appreciated by the press, which, a bit like what happened after Jerez '97, returned to lash out at the driver from Kerpen.
"At Maranello you have to build stronger parts, the blow with Wurz was not strong and I don't understand why the part broke. Normally I would have been able to continue without problems and stay second: instead the arm resisted for a few metres and then it broke. I was going two seconds faster than Wurz and I couldn't keep up with him, I had to get past him. At Benetton they had only planned one pit stop, the two of us, so I couldn't wait for Wurz to stop because then it would have been my turn and it would have been difficult to get back in front of him. I had to pass him and get a head start, but at Monte Carlo there are few places to overtake: when he gave me an opening I slipped in but I couldn't get past him, I just put my wheels a little ahead of his car. There were a lot of other cars in those corners and I had to hurry, so in the second corner I got in again and we touched each other. It was a light and trivial thing, like many other things that happen in a race. Instead, the convergence tie rod broke. So what was Irvine supposed to have broken when he hit Frentzen much harder? When I restarted I was three laps behind. I said to myself: what can I do? Nothing, I said to myself, all I can do is hope for a downpour of rain, failures of everyone in front of me, in short, a miracle. It didn't rain, however, and the other cars were all reliable, so no one made a miracle. The collision with Diniz at the end was inevitable. I thought he was going to leave me in the lane, but after the braking he took the normal line. He was way ahead of me in the standings and as soon as I had the chance I tried to split. Instead I had to brake hard and I spun and hit the wall. The situation is simple and clear: if we don't improve immediately and a lot, we can forget about the world title. I still have one hope, and that is that the promising new tyres Irvine tested last week in France are true, that they are a reality and that they allow us to take a big step forward. But if that doesn't happen, goodbye championship".
The criticism directed at Maranello is not welcome, nor is the German's difficulty in admitting his mistakes. And here, just as in Jerez a few months earlier, Schumacher was accused by Italian newspapers of not knowing how to handle the pressure, of making mistakes at crucial moments, of bearing the weight of that red suit too much, and of wanting to move elsewhere, perhaps to McLaren through the intermediary of Mercedes. Once again, all the magic performed on the track by the German driver ends up for a few days in the dustbin. One of the few who defend Schumacher's words and actions is obviously the Ferrari team principal, Jean Todt:
"Michael could gain a lot on Wurz on every lap, there was no reason to stay behind him. Overtaking is difficult at Monte Carlo. Schumacher's job is also to do everything possible, even if there are risks. The atmosphere and trust between drivers, technicians and mechanics at Ferrari are excellent, and you appreciate this particularly on days like the one we have just been through. Our commitment has not been reduced. We have a very good car and we want to win, even if we have difficulties with the tyres, which are not at the level of the competition. This has been a disadvantage since the start of the season, but we are confident because Goodyear is pushing hard to give us a better product from the Canadian Grand Prix. If there is no tangible progress in Montreal, however, the situation will be very worrying. We need to reduce the gap to the McLarens, which is actually less noticeable in the race than in qualifying: here we were running just three tenths of Coulthard's best time. I don't know if they save money in the race, managing the advantage they gain in the early laps, but we need to get closer. Twenty-two points in six races gives us pause for thought, but there are still ten races left in the season. We will fight until the end. We are determined to at least win races. Regarding Schumacher's future, I don't like to answer rumours. Michael has a contract with Ferrari which expires at the end of 1999 and we are already talking about a possible renewal beyond that date. I think I have a better knowledge of the situation than those who pretend to talk about it".
Todt's words are clear. The Canadian Grand Prix already represents a decisive stage of the season: Hakkinen has forty-six points, Coulthard and Schumacher are respectively twenty-nine and twenty-four. We go to Montreal with a question to answer: is it possible to stop Mika Hakkinen?
Davide Scotto of Vetta