Tired of Schumacher's repeated attacks, Antonio Corsi, CEO of Goodyear Italy, responds to the German's accusations, guilty of pointing to the American manufacturer as the main cause of the performance deficit that Ferrari pays to McLaren:
"Relations with Ferrari are good, from president Montezemolo to Irvine, these are people with whom you can reason. Schumacher is different: he is considered a kind of demigod, and it is difficult to manage such a character. Perhaps we've been too protective of him, and also of chairman Montezemolo. Our chairman, Sam Gibara, phoned him and said: That's enough. The president understood, Schumacher did not".
In its last year in Formula 1, Goodyear is working hard to provide tyres that can match those of Bridgestone, which made a considerable leap in quality between the 1997 and 1998 seasons. So far, however, the results have not been satisfactory. Engaged in a test session at Monza, Schumacher responded to Corsi's declarations as follows:
"I don't know that person, so I wouldn't know how to answer. In any case, ask McLaren if they want to try our tyres".
The diatribe, however, does not subside, so Antonio Corsi reiterates:
"It's true that at the beginning of the season we were a bit behind Bridgestone, but now the gap has been closed, and Schumacher should stop spitting in the plate where he eats. We reject his accusations that we are 70% responsible for this year's results. It's not fair, we don't accept to pass as the only scapegoat".
However, Goodyear disassociates itself from the CEO's statements. After a telephone call from Sam Gibara, president of the Akron (Ohio) giant, to Luca di Montezemolo, this statement was sent to Italy from the USA:
"'Eighteen years of long and positive relations in Formula One can in no way be diminished by the unfortunate statements made to the press in Italy. We continue to wait and respect the evaluations we receive from the team and the drivers, Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine, on the performance of our tyres and we continue to develop new and more competitive ones".
In the meantime, a new front wing and new Goodyear tyres are being tested on the F300 at the Lombardy circuit, but they will not be put through their paces due to the rain that has been falling on the track for two days out of three. They will still be used next race weekend in Montreal, with all the uncertainties of the case, because Goodyear and Ferrari are in a hurry to catch up with their rivals. There is also the McLaren at Monza, to test a new engine, for the moment only experimental, but it breaks down immediately; in any case, Coulthard and Hakkinen record, as usual, the fastest times.
In early June, Formula 1 arrives in Canada for the seventh round of the 1998 World Championship. First of all, Michael Schumacher apologises to Pedro Diniz, who because of a crazy and useless manoeuvre of the German, who was lapped, at the last lap of the Monaco Grand Prix almost risked losing a precious sixth place. Water under the bridge by now, and it must be especially so for Schumacher, who in the meantime quarrelled with the tyre manufacturer for his team, went against a good part of the Italian and international press, and accused a considerable distance from the leader in the world ranking, Mika Hakkinen, who in all this seemed unapproachable.
In order to distract the bad thoughts, the German driver, on the eve of the Canadian Grand Prix, decides to dedicate himself to a horseback ride, in the woods, together with Corinna. The Montréal track should also be a turning point for Williams, until now the protagonist of an anonymous season. The reigning World Champion, Jacques Villeneuve, is hoping that his revolutionary FW20, which will later become FW20B, will enable him to get back into the fight for victory. The home driver was quite optimistic in the press conference, aiming high ahead of Sunday:
"The car has improved, and the tyres should be more competitive. So I'm aiming for the podium, even higher".
I wonder if he thought about these words when on Friday afternoon, at the end of the second free practice session, the Canadian champion had to go down to sixteenth position to find his name. A false result - Jacques ran very little in both free practice sessions, with his troubles starting as early as the morning with a broken engine - but a discouraging one nonetheless. The newly married Mika Hakkinen is firmly in the lead, despite the Bridgestone tyres struggling to work at their best, due to the low temperatures. Schumacher is second, not far behind, followed by Alesi, Coulthard, Fisichella, Frentzen and Irvine. At the end of the tests, Ferrari's top driver was optimistic, but calm:
"Let's take it easy before talking about miracles, certainly this remarkable improvement is largely due to the tyres, but let's wait for qualifying. In Friday practice you never know how much petrol each of us has, while on Saturday we are all on an equal footing. So we'll wait before we get excited. But I remain optimistic, I feel that the car is going well, it is very driveable and this is important. I have to win here, I have to score a lot of points, pole position would be a nice satisfaction, but it wouldn't do any good. The important thing is to see that we are competitive, that the distances are getting shorter. Tomorrow we'll do better. The bulk of the improvement comes from the tyres, there are also some aerodynamic and mechanical improvements, but nothing special".
Considering these statements, it can be said that Schumacher is not surprised to see, on Saturday 6 June 1998, once again both McLarens manage to monopolise the front row, the only difference being that David Coulthard manages to take his third pole position of the season. A surge of pride, which for only 67 thousandths allows him to get the better of Hakkinen. Michael Schumacher was third, two tenths from pole, while behind him there was Fisichella, rejuvenated by the unforgettable podium in Monaco. Jordan surprisingly came back, thanks to a stroke of Ralf Schumacher's kidneys he got the fifth place, ahead of Villeneuve, the home idol, who had to put aside his ambitions of success, given the second and three tenths' gap from Coulthard. Jacques, for the moment, has to be content with beating his teammate Frentzen, seventh ahead of Irvine, to complete a very hot fourth row.
"I have to do everything I can to get a score that will allow me to stay in contention for the championship. The tyres are good, maybe they can keep up with the pace of the McLarens. But we will have to get everything right: start, strategy, stops, and set-up. If everything goes in the right way, in theory, the possibility of winning like in Argentina doesn't seem so bad".
Says Michael Schumacher, at the end of practice. Unlike his last outings, the Ferrari driver feels he has a chance to challenge the McLarens, but as he himself points out, to beat them he will need a perfect day, in every respect. First of all the strategy, which considering the starting position, must necessarily differ from the one decided in the McLaren house, which although it has chosen for the first time in the season to use soft Bridgestones and not hard ones, will remain faithful to the strategy with a single stop.
Jean Todt and Ross Brawn, therefore, see the possibility of repeating the same explosive start to the race as in Buenos Aires, where Schumacher got rid of first Hakkinen and then Coulthard, to take the lead in the race that he would go on to win. It is therefore more than likely that Schumacher will start low on fuel to attack, and then make two stops. A risky strategy, but also the only way to keep his championship hopes alive. Irvine, on the other hand, did a useful job as a test driver, lapping much more than his teammate and above all expressing positive and encouraging conclusions from the new Goodyear tyres:
"I didn't dedicate much time to the chronometer, but to measure the tyres. I've been running for a long time with the same set of tyres, to better evaluate their durability on this asphalt and in these weather conditions, and now I can say that we don't have any more durability problems, and we can go on without problems with the new soft tyres; which is already a remarkable achievement that makes me optimistic".
On Sunday June 7, 1998, the sky was entirely covered by grey clouds, which did not however promise rain, according to the weather forecast. Just before the grid is cleared of anyone other than the drivers, Jacques Villeneuve, already inside his Williams, allows himself a chat and a photo with Sylvester Stallone, who has recently become a constant presence at Grands Prix, since he is busy making a film on motorsport in which he plays the main protagonist.
Then Jacques bids him farewell and lowers the visor of his helmet: the sixty-nine laps of his home Grand Prix are about to begin, on the circuit named after his father Gilles. Schumacher had promised battle, and at the turning off of the lights he sprints as fast as a hare and overtakes Hakkinen, taking second place. He clumsily made his brother Ralf switch off his engine, which was left stranded and created a bit of chaos, which turned into a total shambles at the first braking. Alex Wurz is overtaken by Alesi, and the Benetton becomes a splintered car, which crashes twice, dragging the Sauber driver himself, Jarno Trulli and Johnny Herbert with it. The race direction immediately stops the race.
Wurz has to hurry to his pit to get on board the forklift to take part in the second start. The same goes for Trulli and Alesi, while Herbert comes back walking with his unfailing smile on his face, since there is only one spare car in Sauber, which on this occasion is Alesi's. Then, however, the Sauber of the British driver was quickly driven back to the pits, and as it hadn't suffered any considerable damage, after the necessary repairs Herbert could put his helmet back on and get into the car again, even if he had to start from the pit-lane.
The aborted start smacks of mockery for Schumacher, who had managed to overtake Hakkinen and now sees this effort thwarted, while it is a godsend for his brother Ralf, who has a second chance to exploit his promising fifth place on the grid. The young Jordan driver, however, will manage to do even worse than he did at the first start. After a not-so-long wait, the race is on. At the second start, Michael Schumacher got off to a bad start and was overtaken by Fisichella.
Chaos reigned at this restart as well, with various twists and turns, most notably Mika Hakkinen's sudden slowdown after not even ten metres. The Mp4/13 of the world leader suddenly crashed and was quickly overtaken by all the drivers. In the middle of the first chicane, Ralf Schumacher spins out, creating another traffic jam in the middle of the pack, with many drivers paying the price. Alesi and Trulli, already involved in the first carom, end up at the side of the track with the Italian's Prost stuck on the rear of Alesi's Sauber. Irvine finds himself with a punctured rear left tyre, he has to do a whole lap on three wheels before arriving at the pits and changing tyres.
Toranosuke Takagi also retires with transmission problems, Ralf Schumacher, who has to blame a gearbox failure for his exit at the first corner, and above all Mika Hakkinen. The Finn was also immediately ousted by a gearbox problem, which became apparent just a few seconds into the race. For him it is the second retirement of the season, both caused by gearbox malfunction.
Before the entry of the Safety-Car was announced, necessary to facilitate the removal of the crashed cars of Trulli and Alesi, Schumacher attacked and overtook Giancarlo Fisichella with a great manoeuvre on the outside of the hairpin. He overtakes with disarming ease, demonstrating that the F300 is much more fuel-efficient than the Benetton. Back in the pits again, but this time not to get on the forklift, Alesi is furious:
"There are people who want to solve a race in thirty metres. Making a good start doesn't mean flying over the others".
The Frenchman blurts out, while Jarno Trulli excuses himself for the two crashes he was involved in:
"Two accidents, also quite bad, and I still don't know what happened. On both occasions they pushed me out and I couldn't do anything to defend myself".
After two chaotic starts and several retirements, Coulthard was in the lead, followed by Schumacher, then Fisichella, Villeneuve, Frentzen and Rubens Barrichello in the top six. Once the crashed cars had been removed, on lap six they could start what was clearly going to be an eventful race to say the least. Starting thirteenth and now sixth, Barrichello also allowed himself the luxury of overtaking first Frentzen and then Villeneuve, thanks to an exceptionally efficient Ford engine on the long straight before the last bend. Later on, the Brazilian tried to pass Fisichella, but made a heavy braking block at the hairpin, finishing long and losing several positions, to the point of finding himself out of the points zone.
In the meantime, Coulthard and Schumacher managed to outdistance Fisichella by ten seconds in a few laps. The duel seemed on the verge of flaring up, but on lap 16 the Safety-Car came on again. The reason? Sods of grass were scattered around the track. It was Pedro Diniz who brought them to us after going off the track and, while restarting, uprooted these clods of grass from the ground, which were then stuck in the bottom of the Arrows before falling back onto the track. Three laps are needed to clear the track, after which the race can resume.
Coulthard and Schumacher stretched out once again over the rest of the pack: their superiority was such that, after just one lap, Fisichella was already five seconds down. Then, the umpteenth twist: during the nineteenth lap, David Coulthard suddenly lost speed. The Scotsman returned to the pits but went straight into the garage to make his retirement official. With both Silver Arrows out of the game, it was now a golden opportunity for Schumacher to reopen the World Championship. There wasn't time to process Coulthard's retirement properly when the camera framed first Mika Salo on the wall, and then Johnny Herbert stopped, sideways, at the hairpin. For them, too, the race ends here, while the Safety-Car enters the track again, for the third time.
We are on lap 20 and Ferrari takes the opportunity to call Schumacher back to the pits to make the first of the two scheduled stops. While he was coming out of the pit-lane, on the straight Frentzen arrived: the two drivers were side by side, Schumacher widened his trajectory as if his compatriot was not present, the cars touched and the Williams ended up outside, on the gravel, unable to restart. An incident that infuriates Frank Williams, who immediately complains to the race stewards, asking for a penalty for Schumacher. Patrick Head, on the other hand, confronted Jean Todt head-on, pointing his index finger at the French manager's chest with threatening eyes:
"I'll have you thrown out of this race and the world championship standings, so you'll end it".
The commissioners examine the request, meanwhile Fisichella has taken the lead of the race, followed by Villeneuve and then Schumacher, the only one of the three to have stopped. After three laps the Safety-Car leaves the scene. Villeneuve immediately tried to overtake Fisichella at the first bend; Jacques made an impossible braking on the outside, sent the home fans into raptures for just a second, but then he inevitably ended up long.
When he had not yet reached the normal race speed, behind him came the Minardi of a distracted Esteban Tuero, who hit the Williams in full and destroyed the rear wing, which flew off. A disaster for Villeneuve, who sadly returns to the pits convinced that his race is over. The team, however, asks him to wait inside the cockpit. The mechanics want to rearrange the rear axle and mount a new rear wing; the operation will take a few minutes, that in a Formula One race are an enormity, however the road that the race has taken suggests many retirements, therefore, even if with six laps delay, Villeneuve returns to the track with feeble hopes to gain points.
With the Williams driver leaving the scene, Schumacher moved up to second position, with Damon Hill in third. The 1996 world champion is still out of points, as are the other three drivers who complete the points zone: Jan Magnussen in the Stewart, Oliver Panis in the Prost, and Shinji Nakano in the Minardi. Behind them, however, loomed menacingly the silhouettes of Alex Wurz and Irvine, who got rid of the Japanese driver to begin with.
Schumacher was only seven tenths behind Fisichella when, on lap 33, the race stewards announced their decision regarding the incident between Schumacher and Frentzen, judging the German driver guilty and punishing him with a ten second Stop&Go. A penalty that complicated the driver's pursuit of success, and at the same time brought Fisichella closer to his first career victory. Having served his penalty, Schumacher returned to the track third, behind Hill. The British driver was quickly caught up, but to overtake him Michael had to take some risks. On the Casino Straight, near the braking of the last bend, Hill began to zigzag dangerously. Schumacher changed trajectory twice before throwing himself inside and overtaking the Jordan, not without finishing slightly long. Hill tries to answer immediately at the first bend, without success.
Getting rid of Hill, Schumacher starts his pursuit of Fisichella, twenty seconds distant, and for now still without pit-stops after forty laps. Olivier Panis's race also ends, who spins out at turn 8 and runs into the sand. A pity for the French driver, close to bringing the first points to the Prost squad. At least, differently from the previous season when a frightening accident on the Canadian track forced him to several months of stop due to the fracture of both legs, this time the Frenchman can walk out of the car.
The same fate befell Damon Hill, who, due to a malfunctioning engine sensor, also left Canada with zero points in the standings, just when he was potentially on the podium. In the meantime Schumacher pushes on and gains an average of two seconds per lap on Fisichella, who on lap 44, with the gap between the two drivers down to ten seconds, stops at the pits. Schumacher took the lead again, he had to stop again, but he could exploit his exceptional race pace to build up a sufficient gap over the Italian driver, who in the meantime had a full tank of fuel and was consequently slower, so as to retain the lead.
With an aggressive, but impeccable drive, the German's F300 drops below the 1'20 wall and takes two and a half seconds off the Benetton. When it came time to stop, the gap was sixteen seconds, exactly the amount needed to get back in front. With a perfect stop of 7.2 seconds, at the exit of the pit lane Schumacher found himself ahead of Fisichella by a matter of tenths. Schumacher had done it, he was leading the race and this time no one could take it away from him, because Fisichella couldn't even think of matching his rival's race pace.
After Rubens Barrichello's stop, back in the race in fifth position, the third step of the podium became a matter between Irvine and Wurz, with the Northern Irishman winning thanks to the same strategy adopted by Ferrari with Schumacher in the duel with Fisichella. After the second pit-stop, thanks to a gap of seventeen seconds on Wurz, Eddie kept the third position, he who had started the race with a puncture and consequent restart from the last position behind the Safety-Car. It was an outstanding performance, mixed with good fortune due to the many retirements, also for the Ferrari number two.
For the first time the race was at a standstill, which lasted until the end, with only Nakano trying to move the situation by undermining the sixth position of Jan Magnussen. On the 69th and last lap, Michael Schumacher crossed the line and could celebrate the 29th victory of his career, the tenth with Ferrari, the second in a row in Canada. Giancarlo Fisichella is again second after Monaco, a sign that the Italian's talent has returned to shine; Irvine, third, completes a practically perfect day for Ferrari.
Wurz was fourth, and the two Stewarts of Barrichello and Magnussen closed the points zone, to the delight of Sir. Jackie Stewart. Thanks to the second victory in the championship, Schumacher overtakes Coulthard in the standings and rises to thirty-four points, less than twelve from Hakkinen, stopped at forty-six. The fourteen points conquered allow Ferrari to drastically reduce the gap from McLaren, even if the twenty-three points less are still a lot. It is for this reason that in the press conference, Schumacher does not want to hear about the season starting from scratch:
"Our rivals are still well ahead, and with a considerable advantage. But this result relaunches us on all levels, including that of the car's competitiveness. We had studied a risky strategy, that of two pit stops, but I was clearly faster than everyone. This allowed me to fight with all my might. It was an extraordinarily intense race and I have to thank the team because they were perfect. We almost had our fill of points, while McLaren remained at zero. This is great for the championship. I think I had a good race, Ferrari did a fantastic job. Now we will try some other new things, first at Silverstone and then at Magny Cours. We have three weeks to go to the French Grand Prix even more competitive. McLaren is still a strong favourite, but we are closer. And morale will help us".
Regarding the incident with Frentzen that cost him a penalty, the German is self-absolving, but still offers his apologies:
"I have to be honest: I didn't see him at all. I was coming out diagonally from the pit lane, he was coming up behind me, but the shape of his car didn't match my mirrors and so I knocked him out. I'm really sorry about that, after all I went up to him and apologised with my arms outstretched, because I was also speechless. After a crazy race like this one we had today, I'm a survivor. This is a very dangerous track, we've known this for years, because it's always the same, and so it's a continuation of accidents, but we drivers will have to intervene, this way you can't go on. It's a meaningless race, full of interruptions that make you lose your concentration, and all it takes is one small mistake, an inattention, to cause other accidents".
Schumacher then showed that he did not like Damon Hill's defensive manoeuvre:
"I think it's better not to say what I thought at that moment, but Damon's manoeuvre was really dangerous. You know, if someone wants to kill you they can do it in various ways. In that situation we are on a straight at full speed, at about 330 km/h, and to change your line three times is incorrect, but above all it's dangerous. You can do it once and only once, and that's what we usually do, but you can't do it three times. We almost touched, I was really angry at the time, and I honestly wonder how it is possible that I wasn't penalised for a manoeuvre like that. I know I cut the chicane, but I almost hit him and I almost lost control of the car. Luckily I managed to get through the chicane unscathed. It's unacceptable for a driver with so much experience to behave like that, I certainly don't accept it, so I'll have a chat with Hill when I get the chance".
Giancarlo Fisichella, on his second consecutive podium, is over the moon:
"It's hard to believe, two second places in two races. I can only thank Benetton, and above all my mechanics. It was a very strange race, chaotic I would say, with interruptions and the Safety-Car coming in, going out and then coming back in again. The car was very heavy at the start, so it was difficult to control, especially in the first fifteen laps I struggled because of the understeer. I also had a problem with third gear right from the start and, lap after lap, it got worse. Luckily this was not fatal. At the umpteenth restart I made a mistake at the last corner, and Villeneuve tried to overtake me, but he braked too late and ended up long. As for the fight with Schumacher, at one point my engineer told me to push on because Michael was making his stop, and when I saw him coming out of the pitlane ahead of me there was little I could do to fight, because I was struggling to keep my car under control".
Having found himself last after a puncture at the start, the podium was probably among Eddie Irvine's last thoughts. The many retirements, twelve in all, certainly made it easier for him, as he himself admits:
"I was lucky at the start because I was there in the area during the first incident, but I wasn't hit by anyone; I was also in the middle during the second incident, and this time someone touched my rear tyre causing the puncture. I got back to last, but luckily the Safety-Car brought the group back together. It was unbelievable how in the first part of the race, I was behind the Minardis but I couldn't overtake them, it was shocking. Lap after lap I was trying but nothing. I had said on the eve of the race that this weekend would be crucial for us, and the fact that Michael was close to the McLarens in all sessions is quite indicative. Also, the problems they had today show that if they are put under pressure they make mistakes. We have to continue like this. I was definitely helped by the retirements. But I think I deserved this podium, for the strength with which I fought until the end".
Although evidently satisfied for the double podium, at the same time as the McLaren defeat, as usual Jean Todt looks ahead, already focusing on the next tests:
"For us it is important to always be realistic, when things are going well and when they are going badly. The team is the same one that lost in Monte Carlo, and that has established itself in Canada. We know that McLaren remains strong, and we don't hide that from ourselves. Compared to the day before, there are only two differences: Schumacher is now second in the standings, twelve points behind Hakkinen. And we are more serene. This will help us a lot, just like Goodyear has helped us, and we thank them for their commitment and for what they will give us. But beware: we are not yet at McLaren's level. This week we will be on track at Silverstone, with Irvine first, and then Schumacher. Next week we will be at Magny Cours with two cars and both drivers. We have an intense work programme. We are at the seventh race, there are still nine to go. We have seen that things can change quickly. We must favour stability and continuity. It's clear that on a technical level we have to focus on higher performance on the straights, as fast circuits will soon be here. We will work on all the mechanics, including the suspension and shock absorbers. We must leave no stone unturned. As far as the famous long wheelbase is concerned, we are not convinced that it only brings advantages. It allows better weight distribution, but it also makes the chassis less rigid. We will have to evaluate the disadvantages as well".
And on the engine, Todt points out:
"We have been criticised for our V10 being a little heavier than the Mercedes, but we did it this way because we can run higher, have more power and work with higher temperatures. It's a choice that has paid off so far. We had studied a strategy of two pit stops because by making just one we would have accepted at the start to fight for third place, instead we wanted to win. We are very happy, we witnessed an incredible race that I will never forget".
Regarding the possibility of developing a long-wheelbase car, Jean Todt admits:
"We are studying it but I am not at all sure we will do it. The advantages are there, weights are better distributed and above all moved further forward. But what about the disadvantages? What if the car becomes less rigid, for example? We'd better do the calculations properly. It seems to me that except for McLaren, no one has achieved better results with the long-wheelbase than we have with the short wheelbase. We'll see. The difficult thing comes later, with the fast circuits, because we still have to improve our aerodynamic efficiency. In the straights we are still less fast than the McLarens, that's where we have to work. If we can do this, there could be some surprises in the big races in the summer and then, yes, the world championship will open up again. There are a lot of races to go and then let's also say another truth: we are not the only ones with problems. This time we had exceptional tyres, which can still be improved for the next races, and this is comforting, it pushes me to look with optimism to the immediate future. However, it is too early to talk about a reopened world championship. The McLarens are still the strongest cars, we have come very close and this allows us to attack and put them in difficulty".
Regarding the incident between Schumacher and Frentzen, the French manager admits:
"He didn't see it. What do we want to do? Shoot him? First they punished him, then they rejected the complaint, he lost not only the ten seconds of the penalty but also all the other seconds it takes to get in and out of the pits. He paid and won anyway".
Todt concludes with a joke about Frank Williams and his complaint about Schumacher's manoeuvre on Frentzen:
"Williams is very nice: when we lose, he always comes to congratulate us; when we win, he shows up with the paperwork".
McLaren, which came out of the Canadian trip with broken bones, can still console itself with the leadership in both classifications. Ron Dennis also claims that without the reliability problems, the race would have been different, and his two drivers would still have taken first and second place.
"We had made great efforts to start ahead of everyone, but instead we were stopped by two problems that you can't predict. Mika couldn't get into second gear and David's throttle stuck. Anyway, we go into the next Grand Prix still leading the two world rankings by a wide margin".
It's hard to say, it's useless even to wonder, because in this sport the reliability of the cars is an integral, if not crucial, part of the competition. Hakkinen invited the team to make the maximum effort to recover the lost points already from the next race, Coulthard confessed that beating Schumacher would have been very difficult. The President of Ferrari, Luca di Montezemolo, enjoys Schumacher's return to the highest level after the disappointing race in Monaco. He too, like his driver, did not like the behaviour of Hill and Williams, who, not content, after the penalty imposed in the race, demanded further measures for the German driver:
"I won't tell you what I said and thought at that moment. I didn't like Hill's unsportsmanlike attitude or that of Williams, who, by complaining against Schumacher, showed that they didn't know how to lose. I don't think there was any need for a further complaint after the penalty imposed during the race. I prefer to talk about the extraordinary race of our driver. He drove in a formidable way. But I am also happy for our car: Schumacher scrambled it during the race and it held up very well, showing excellent reliability, something we are proud of. And then the Goodyears were the step forward we expected. Yes, we can say it was a good Grand Prix for us, with Irvine again on the podium: he brought us four important points, he does what we ask of him. We are happy with him".
The controversy between Schumacher and Williams, however, did not subside, on the contrary, it was fuelled by the English team during the tests at Silverstone in the following days. Through the Sunday Telegraph, it was Jacques Villeneuve who attacked the Ferrari driver, declaring:
"His manoeuvres are questionable to say the least. I ask myself: what planet does he think he lives on? The only answer I can give is that he lives on planet Michael. He thinks he is alone on the track. In Monte Carlo he collided with Diniz, despite being three laps behind, and in Montreal he aggravated his position. In practice he overtook me, passing inside the yellow line where all the mechanics were working. The reason? I have no idea. Then, during the race, leaving the pits he was about to knock Frentzen out, then he cut straight through a chicane and almost knocked Hill out too. It's a shame that a driver of his talent commits such stupidities".
Frentzen, Schumacher's latest 'victim', also makes accusations against his compatriot:
"I don't want to say that he did it on purpose, not that, what is certain is that he made a big mistake. Don't tell me you didn't see me. That may be true, but there's another problem: he shouldn't have been there. In the meeting with all the drivers before the race, they said to be careful coming out of the pits. It's like travelling on a road and wanting to overtake on a bump: if you can't see who's coming the other way, there's no reason to risk a head-on collision".
To explain his thesis that Ferrari's drivers are being looked after by the FIA, Frentzen recalls some recent cases:
"Fisichella and Irvine ended up in the sand in Barcelona, and Giancarlo was punished with a $7,500 fine. OK. Eddie throws me out at Monte Carlo, and he's not even summoned by the stewards. The fact is ignored. And Irvine has at least six or seven accidents on his conscience by now. And the punishments, instead, are given for small things, for example if you exceed the speed in the pit lane by one kilometre per hour".
But Heinz doesn't stop there, adding:
"It's funny that he (Schumacher) never sees who is following him in accidents. But I know Michael better than anyone else. That's what he always does, so there's no point in arguing. I didn't believe a word he told me after the accident. When I broke up with Corinna, he came to tell me I should get back together with her. Instead, he was already her new boyfriend. How can I believe him? Besides, this is not a new incident: he has done things like this before".
Also joining the chorus of the offensive against Michael is David Coulthard, who says:
"What happened between Schumacher and Frentzen is not my problem, but it is from Argentina that I am calling on the Federation to intervene. The judges have to assess the dangers. If they had intervened immediately...".
The first to defend Schumacher to the hilt is team-mate Irvine:
"Believe me, there are no angels in Formula One. Frentzen probably doesn't remember throwing me on the grass at the start. Certainly, Michael made a mistake, but Heinz-Harald had been the protagonist of a similar manoeuvre with me in Japan last year: so Michael had to see him and he couldn't see me? Not to mention Hill: what Damon did with Schumacher was ten times more dangerous than what happened between Michael and Frentzen. I remember once, in a Formula Ford race in which I was also involved, a guy killed himself because of a manoeuvre like that. If the guy in front of you starts zigzagging, and you take him in, you fly away, you're screwed".
After that, it was the turn of the person concerned to respond to the attacks of his colleagues:
"I've already apologised, and if he doesn't accept it, there's nothing I can do about it. The matter is closed for me. But I don't want to be seen as a dangerous driver. I didn't damage him on purpose, I didn't see him. Then everyone can say or write what they want, the important thing is that he won in Canada".
Chapter closed, at least for now. Now, three weeks, with a couple of test sessions in between, to cool down and come back to Magny Cours, in France, for the eighth round of a World Championship that, at last, has in Ferrari and Schumacher a worthy adversary of the McLaren, and of Mika Hakkinen.
Davide Scotto di Vetta