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#622 1998 French Grand Prix

2021-04-19 01:00

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#1998,

#622 1998 French Grand Prix

The first of the two test sessions, waiting for the eighth round of the 1998 World Championship, takes place at Silverstone, in a hot climate due to the tension

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The first of the two test sessions, waiting for the eighth round of the 1998 World Championship, takes place at Silverstone, in a hot climate due to the tension created between the drivers after the Canadian Grand Prix, characterised by the controversial incident between Schumacher and Frentzen, and Damon Hill's borderline defence in trying to resist the attacks of the Ferrari driver, who starts the tests with a few hiccups: on June 10, 1998, the German driver, back from his success in Montreal, is the protagonist of a spin during the afternoon. His F300 ends up in the gravel, but the car is cleaned up in the pits without any damage.

 

The Stop&Go imposed on Schumacher for the contact with Frentzen did not satisfy the competition, who attacked him heavily in the days that followed. Not even the rain, which raged on the English circuit for two of the three test days, helped to put out a fire that seemed untameable.

 

During the last day, while everyone was in the pits unable to drive, journalists had the opportunity to ask some drivers for their opinion on the ongoing fight for the World Championship, which now saw the McLarens of Hakkinen and Coulthard pitted against the Ferrari of Schumacher. Can the red car be a serious contender for the title after its success in Montreal? Jacques Villeneuve, not without forgetting to refer to the controversies of recent days, told the German newspaper Bild:

 

"The games are wide open, and Ferrari seems to me to be very strong: if its drivers continue to throw off their opponents. Michael Schumacher has made his own laws. I don't know what planet this man lives on, probably planet Michael. He thinks he's untouchable, but the question is how to put an end to that".

 

He then adds:

 

"Anyway, in Montreal, if Coulthard had stayed in the race, Schumacher would hardly have won".

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Coulthard himself declares:

 

"I think it's likely that the championship will be between me, Mika and Michael. Schumacher almost always scores points, the Ferrari is very strong, and when the temperature is low, its tyres perhaps perform better than our Bridgestones: that's why I'm optimistic for Magny Cours. It will be hot there. It's true that they did well in previous tests, but that's also due to the characteristics of the track: our strong point is aerodynamic efficiency, and the French track doesn't require much of that. Ferrari will be further away on other tracks like this one, Hockenheim, Zeltweg and Monza, where we will hold a good advantage".

 

Sauber driver Johnny Herbert thinks otherwise:

 

"Ferrari doesn't have a winning package yet, but if the Goodyears continue to improve, who knows. The next two Grands Prix will be decisive: if Schumacher manages to win at Magny Cours and Silverstone, then the world championship will open up again. I am also convinced that Michael was lucky in Canada, and this aspect could help him".

 

On the same wavelength as Prost driver Olivier Panis:

 

"The McLaren is performing better at the moment, and apart from the problems we had in Montréal, it seems to me to be quite reliable".

 

And Jarno Trulli:

 

"It's difficult for Ferrari to win the World Championship, even if on Sunday, in Canada, the championship seemed to be reopened. The F300 is very reliable and almost always scores points, but you have to admit that the McLaren is better at the moment, maybe also thanks to the Bridgestones. In my opinion, then, McLaren is still keeping a margin, they could go faster but they're not doing it to avoid taking risks, and I wouldn't want them to have done just that in Canada. Bridgestone brought harder tyres than Goodyear, who preferred to take a few risks, pushing Mika and David to pull harder".

 

What does the direct pursuer, Michael Schumacher, think about it?

 

"Canada may have been an exception, or it has really photographed a new situation. But we will only be able to say this at Magny Cours, after the tests or on the Grand Prix weekend. Coulthard is also right to say that the Bridgestones are better in the heat, or at least that's how it has been so far. But will it still be? Anyway, it's clear that with twelve points from Hakkinen I look forward to the rest of the championship with optimism".

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On 16 June 1998, we move to the Magny Cours circuit to start the second test session, decidedly more important and indicative, as it precedes the race weekend on the same track. The work in Ferrari's house proceeded smoothly, with various tests of the set-up and of the new tyres produced by Goodyear, then during the afternoon of the first test day, a damage of the rim caused the tyre on Schumacher's car to sag, while a race simulation was in progress. Finished in the gravel, the German also ended the session prematurely.

 

On June 18, 1998, at the Adelaide bend, the hairpin at the end of the long straight, according to a witness, Frentzen lost control of the Williams, crashing violently off the track during the afternoon session, at the same point where Schumacher's Ferrari had crashed at full speed in the morning.  In the impact, Frentzen violently hit his head and lost consciousness, despite the fact that all protection systems were not damaged. Rescued almost immediately, the German was transported to the hospital in Nevers, where the doctors kept him in the hospital for tests throughout the afternoon. The Williams driver left the hospital in the evening after doctors diagnosed a concussion. The fastest of the three days of testing is David Coulthard, ahead of Ralf Schumacher, Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher, who confesses:

 

"We have almost reduced the gap to McLaren to zero, but before talking I would like to wait for the next two races, to say exactly where we are. We have a lot of new things that give me hope: tyres, half a rebuilt chassis, wings, suspension, engine. Irvine tried all these things, but I'm optimistic because during last week's testing we didn't have these new things and yet we did very well. As for the French Grand Prix on Sunday, I hope it will be warm, because paradoxically our tyres do better in high temperatures".

 

During these three days of work, the Ferrari team manager, Jean Todt, talked about how the coming month is a decisive one for the World Championship, and in view of the French Grand Prix to be held on 28 June, he did not get too excited:

 

"I am cautious and superstitious. I don't like predictions, but this is a Ferrari that can win. The car is good, the tyres are good, the tests have given excellent results. We're trying, everything is going well and I hope that's enough to get a great final result. McLaren-Mercedes remains dangerous. The car has a very good chassis, good aerodynamics, good tyres, it's light. We still lack a bit of engine driveability, beyond the excellent reliability and performance levels of our ten-cylinder car".

 

And when asked about the controversial but at the same time decisive Michael Schumacher, Todt declares:

 

"There are two Schumachers. One who is very strong and does normal things, and the other who, if he's punctured or stimulated, does extraordinary things, as we saw in Montreal after the ten-second penalty. It's hard to assess his margin over the others, I can't say. But in certain conditions it's not insignificant. Two years ago Hill was our bogeyman, last year Villeneuve, now Hakkinen. This means that with exceptional cars it is possible to do great things. Without them, no one can create miracles, not even Schumacher, even though he has something extra in him".

 

Todt explains, referring to the Finnish driver, current leader of the world championship. His second driver, Eddie Irvine, in his third year at Ferrari, is still without victories, but has never lost the trust of his team principal:

 

"The only race Eddie could have won was the 1997 Japanese Grand Prix, but he sacrificed himself for Schumacher. He likes this year's car, I hope he can win it. But if Schumacher is behind him, he'll have to let him pass. Our card for the world championship is Michael".

 

Then, on the possible renewal of his contract, the French manager admits:

 

"If Eddie will be confirmed? We haven't talked about it yet, we'll deal with it in the coming weeks".

 

Finally, Todt's opinion on the attacks received by Schumacher in recent times is unfailing, and whether, above all, it is becoming uncomfortable for Ferrari to have to continually intervene to defend its driver. Ferrari's sporting director replies, stating:

 

"Not at all, I defend him because I believe what he tells me. He made a mistake at Jerez and he even admitted it afterwards. Unfortunately his mistake cost him and us a world title. But not in Montreal, he wasn't at fault. He hadn't seen Frentzen. Schumacher is undoubtedly an aggressive guy, with a great desire to win, it cannot be denied. But everyone is like that: even Prost and Senna, in the same team, competed for success without too many compliments".

 

Staying on the subject, Todt is also keen to deny the accusations made by some teams, who believe that the FIA has a special eye on the Maranello team:

 

"It's not true that the Federation gives gifts to Ferrari. Just think of how many times they checked our car this year or the aerodynamic stanchions that were banned as soon as we used them, spending money on development. The idea of federal favouritism for Ferrari is a psychosis of the others".

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On Thursday 25 June 1998, it was back to Burgundy, on the Magny Cours circuit. There was no lack of novelties on the starting grid, since, despite his sixth place in Canada, Jan Magnussen was also fired by Stewart, who hired Jos Verstappen in his place, up to that moment the third driver of Benetton. For Jos the Boss - as he was nicknamed in the paddock - there was another chance to prove his worth in his fifth season in Formula 1. In the meantime the new team that took over Tyrrell, bought by Craig Pollock, Jacques Villeneuve's manager, and British American Tobacco, took shape.

 

The new team was called BAR, acronym of British American Racing, and after an agreement reached in the last few days with Flavio Briatore, it was powered by Renault engines, even if under the name of Mecachrome (that in 1999 became Supertec). On the eve of the first two free practice sessions, Michael Schumacher gives an interview to Martin Brundle on behalf of ITV Sport, the TV station for which the former British driver works, who gets straight to the point and asks Schumacher why he has been so often at the centre of controversial episodes in recent years. Michael replies:

 

"If I have been involved in controversial incidents in recent years it is only because I am fighting for the top positions. If things like that had happened while I was at the back of the field, nobody would have cared".

 

Afterwards Brundle defends Damon Hill, asserting that according to him the Jordan driver did not exaggerate in the change of trajectory while he was defending himself. But Schumacher has a ready answer:

 

"I don't like the fact that it was Damon who did it, because he is an experienced driver. If he had been a young rookie just coming from Formula 3, with no experience, such behaviour would even have been normal, justifiable. But Damon is not a rookie, and he knew that he would have to stop soon and that he was much slower than me. It's true, you always have to fight to defend your position, but I'm sure the other drivers would also agree with my point of view".

 

A few hours before the interview, Jacques Villeneuve said that he couldn't sleep at night if he did the things he does. When this is pointed out to Schumacher, the Ferrari driver first sketches a smile, then says:

 

"It's not even worth answering. He now uses every opportunity he has to criticise me, sometimes without being involved and at the same time carrying out very similar manoeuvres, such as in Japan last year, when he almost knocked me off the track at the start. You also have to look at the global image, now they want to make me look like the bad guy. The truth is that racing is tough, competitive, and I'm not here to be a presence. I reiterate that I did not cause the accident with Heinz-Harald on purpose; I made a manoeuvre which we can discuss whether it was right or not. I did a manoeuvre that is open to debate as to whether it was right or not. Also, there was no blue flag commissioner to indicate to me that someone was coming".

 

The German driver concludes firmly:

 

"I have no intention of changing my driving style, there is no reason for me to do so".

 

The next day it was time for the two Friday free practice sessions. Mika Hakkinen set the fastest time, but behind him was a surprise Eddie Irvine, just 82 thousandths away and only overtaken by the Finn in the final minutes. The two Mp4/13s were struggling a bit, as both Hakkinen and Coulthard spun a couple of times, not to mention numerous lock-ups under braking. However, Irvine does not trust the McLarens, whose margins for improvement remain to be discovered:

 

"The most amazing thing is that the car we tried today wasn't going as well as the one I tested with last week: if we can just find a good set-up, we can do some fantastic things here in France. I tried the new tyres here a month ago, then they changed and the latest version has arrived now. They are magnificent, they have already given good results and more will come. They run very well even in high temperatures, which wasn't the case before, and that's one of the steps forward we've made. Basically, we were far away from the McLarens, now we are very close and we are able to attack them, put them in difficulty and in fact you can see that sometimes they take the blow. They don't have it as easy as they did in Australia. The new wing affects Ferrari's improvement, but it's not just that. There are other aerodynamic improvements, the whole back of the car has been redone, the suspension, in short a series of seemingly small things that, when put together, give results: the car goes better, you drive it better, it sets better times".

 

When asked about the possibility of his team-mate winning the championship, Eddie is candid:

 

"If I had to bet money, I'd put it on him more than on Hakkinen. Because Michael is Michael, Ferrari is making great progress and we're proving it. What gap does Schumacher have in the championship? Twelve, fourteen points? I can't remember exactly, but it doesn't seem like an unbridgeable gap. They are taking the blow, they are struggling, they are on the limit. Then, you always have to be careful in these things. For example: how do I know if McLaren still has something up the sleeve that will make it fly a kilometre ahead of us tomorrow? It can always happen, but if I have to judge from today then I can see that they have struggled to go zero point eight seconds faster than me. A month ago we were a long way from that".

 

Schumacher remains in the shadows for the moment, with a fifth time due to the fact that the driver from Kerpen concentrated on testing the numerous aerodynamic innovations, especially in the morning, and then driving with the standard car, but with the new front wing, during the afternoon, as also admitted by Eddie Irvine:

 

"To get that good time I fitted new tyres. Schumacher, on the other hand, went on with the same ones. And then Michael had other things to think about, including the new tyres we brought here. He wanted to try them all and then take them apart and try the car in its old configuration: in short, he did some comparative tests that will be very useful".

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What can be seen from the time classification is a slight decrease of the Bridgestone-tyred teams, or if we want, a clear improvement of the Goodyear-tyred ones: a trend that is confirmed the following day, in the qualifying session. The pole position, on Saturday 28th June 1998, is a matter between Hakkinen and Schumacher. The two drivers snatched the provisional pole position from each other on a couple of occasions, then, seven minutes before the end of the session, Hakkinen sealed his first position by setting a time of 1'14"929, two tenths lower than the time recorded by Schumacher, who had to be content with the second position and postpone the appointment with the first seasonal pole. A placement that, however, bodes well for Ferrari; Schumacher, in fact, at the end of Friday's practice, had said that if in qualifying the gap between him and the McLarens had been about two tenths, then the chances of victory in Sunday's race would have been high. After qualifying, Michael reiterated the point:

 

"I don't really remember now, but I haven't been in such good condition for a long time. I actually feel like I can take on the challenge with confidence. We've made a lot of progress: remember the gap in Australia? Everyone was disappointed. Well, me too. Now things have changed a lot and for the better: we're there, with them, we really have a chance of beating them. Yes, I know, they say they still have a lot of things to improve on but I honestly don't think they will make such progress that they will pull away from us again. It's us, looking at things properly, who have done an outstanding job. The car has improved aerodynamically in so many parts, almost everywhere, even if not everyone realises it from watching television. The tyres are extraordinary. This is the first time that our new tyres will be able to go even better than theirs in a race. In any case, with such small gaps, everything will come down to strategy, tyre performance and, why not, the weather".

 

A prediction that poleman Hakkinen does not agree with, saying:

 

"Ferrari favourite? Meanwhile I'm ahead on the grid. The fact that I got pole position here after a really hard battle with Schumacher makes me think that McLaren is more alive than ever and ready to repel the attack. Worried? No, on the contrary, I'm confident. These days I've only thought about my car, not Ferrari. And I know that we're okay and we can fight to win".

 

Third and four tenths away from Hakkinen, David Coulthard had problems at the entrance of the slow bends, but at least he managed to keep behind the other Ferrari driven by Irvine, for less than two tenths. Jacques Villeneuve is fifth, not too far away, but in spite of the many innovations on his Williams, it is clear that on Sunday the fight for the victory will be exclusively between McLaren and Ferrari. A confrontation that, on a track where overtaking is very difficult, will be based fundamentally on the right strategy. To start with, Ferrari opts for hard Goodyears, while McLaren opts for soft Bridgestones.

 

Goodyear's progress is now evident: in the first ten positions there are six cars supplied by the American company. The Bridgestone tyres, besides McLarens, are the two Benettons, that however qualify only in ninth and tenth position, with Fisichella ahead of Wurz. Further proof was the rebirth of Jordan Mugen-Honda, that managed to place Ralf Schumacher and Hill in the sixth and seventh position. Jos Verstappen also made a positive impression, who on his return qualified fifteenth, just behind his teammate Barrichello, but above all better than Jan Magnussen had ever done in the seven previous races. In the meantime, at the behest of Jean Todt, the Ferrari mechanics were forbidden to watch the World Cup football match between Italy and Norway on television, although they made themselves available to extend their work into the night if necessary. But Todt is adamant:

 

"And if something goes wrong on Sunday, what do I do? Say we saw the game?"

 

At Minardi, however, work is simply organised in two shifts, so that everyone, including the mechanics, can watch the game. During the morning warm-up, Coulthard is the fastest ahead of Hakkinen and Schumacher. The Ferrari is there, by now it is no longer news, but in comparison with the Mercedes engine it is certainly lacking in top speed, so that overtaking the cars of the Woking team on the track is utopia, except on one occasion: the start. When the lights went out Hakkinen was impeccable, so Schumacher, Coulthard and Irvine had only to queue up. But after just two corners, the marshals at the side of the track waved red flags: race interrupted.

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Jos Verstappen was stuck on the grid because of a gearbox problem that prevented him from shifting into first gear. The rules state that if a car is stuck on its pit lane, the race must be stopped immediately, and so the drivers complete their lap and rejoin the grid as if nothing had happened. The false start, in any case, shortens the race by one lap, so from the planned seventy-two laps, the race is now seventy-one. The second sprint is not so happy for Hakkinen: this time the Finnish driver is overtaken both by Schumacher and Irvine, while Coulthard is blocked at the first bend by his teammate and almost risks to be overtaken also by Villeneuve. A dream start for Schumacher and Irvine, exactly what they hoped for at Ferrari.

 

At the end of the first lap, the number one of the Prancing Horse team was leading the race, with Eddie Irvine behind him and the two McLarens in third and fourth position. In the first part of the race, the Northern Irish driver had to defend himself from the pressure of Hakkinen and Coulthard, faster than him but with no possibility of overtaking; this favoured Schumacher's escape, who gained on average one second per lap on his pursuers. Behind, instead, Jacques Villeneuve, fifth, is chased by the Jordan of Ralf Schumacher and Hill. After eighteen laps the first stops arrive for the drivers who will stop three times, and among these there are no McLarens and Ferraris, who bet on a two-stop strategy. Jordan's hopes of scoring points vanished around lap 20: Damon Hill was overtaken by Alesi and Wurz; from the pits they told him that his Jordan had a problem with the accelerator. The Briton makes a pit-stop and tries to continue.

 

Then Ralf Schumacher comes into the pits with a damaged front left suspension arm. The mechanics work hard to repair it, but the stop is very long and the young German driver's race is in fact compromised. During this interminable stop, Hill returned to the pits and parked directly in the garage: his race was over and the disaster for Jordan was over. After the first phase of stalemate, the race turned on all of a sudden, even if the international direction was able to miss the two most important events: Hakkinen tried to overtake Irvine at the last bend; the overtaking not only failed, but the McLaren turned on itself and found itself with the nose towards the opposite direction.

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Villeneuve is far away, so the Finnish driver only has to give up his position to Coulthard, starting fourth, after which he stops for his first stop. Two laps later, stuck in the middle of a bunch of lapped cars, Irvine is caught by Coulthard, who takes second place. This led the Ferrari pit wall to react immediately, recalling Schumacher to the pits on lap 23. Coulthard also returned on the same lap, whose 17.1 second stop - due to a problem with the fuel filler, which the mechanics were unable to insert to top up the fuel - allowed Irvine, once he had made his pit stop, to regain second place.

 

Coulthard's pit-stop troubles also allowed Hakkinen to overtake the Scotsman, so that the positions returned to the same as in the first part of the race, only that now the trio in a tussle for the podium was well spread out. In this second stint the two McLarens seemed almost flooded, to the point that Irvine managed to gain on the Finnish driver. The race proceeded in a rather linear way: the only fight on the track was between Wurz and Alesi for the sixth place, the last useful to gain points.

 

On lap 42 Irvine stops for the second and last time, followed by Schumacher on the next passage. Schumacher kept his leadership, while Irvine was fourth, with Hakkinen and Coulthard who only now began to lower their times, to try an overcut with which to take the position away from Irvine.

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In spite of fourteen laps all on very fast times, and an advantage of twenty seconds on Irvine, after the pit-stop Hakkinen goes back on track behind the Northern Irish driver. When it's time for Coulthard to stop, the same problem of the first stop occurs again: the nozzle doesn't fit, the petrol can't be filled, and after several attempts and precious seconds lost, the mechanic, more frustrated than ever, signals for Coulthard to restart, even though he hasn't been refuelled. The stop lasts 36.9 seconds: Coulthard is fifth, but has to stop again in the hope of not running out of fuel.

 

On the next lap, the nozzle continues to give problems, the stop lasts 14.6 seconds, the refuelling takes place, but the gasoline introduced is not enough. On the return to the track, the Scottish driver finds himself seventh, outside the points zone, then he passes Alesi and climbs to sixth position. Coulthard is furious and unleashes his anger by setting a fast lap of 1'17"523. It doesn't take long for Wurz to be caught up too, and the overtaking move for fifth is easily accomplished.

 

In the meantime, Hakkinen got closer to Irvine, and at every bend he showed himself in the Ferrari driver's mirrors, specifically at the hairpin bend and at the last bend, where the Finn had also tried before, but with poor results. On one occasion, the World Championship leader tried on the outside at Adelaide, but Irvine resolutely resisted. The petrol on board of the other McLaren, as already anticipated, was not enough, therefore Coulthard had to make the umpteenth pit-stop, relegating to eighth position. For the Scotsman there's nothing left but to start pushing again like a madman to collect at least one point.

 

His mission was made easier when Frentzen, seventh, retired because of a suspension damage: Jean Alesi, his last obstacle to gain points, was reached and overtaken on the last lap. The sixth place, however, is certainly not a consolation for Coulthard, who hoped to take home a fundamental success for his rainbow hopes. The winner was Michael Schumacher who, after 71 laps run in total solitude, won the French Grand Prix for the fourth time in his career, while Eddie Irvine resisted Hakkinen to the end, who drifted out of the last bend in the attempt to get the better of him in the sprint finish, but he had to be content with the third final place.

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Ferrari scored a double win: this hadn't happened since 1990, in the Spanish Grand Prix, when Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell drove for the Prancing Horse. Behind Hakkinen, Jacques Villeneuve finished the race in fourth position, ahead of Alex Wurz and the unfortunate David Coulthard. Thanks to the third win of the season, Schumacher reached 44 points, only six points behind Hakkinen, while the McLaren box debacle relegated Coulthard to twenty points from his teammate, now more worried about not losing the third place in the standings, because Irvine, at the fifth podium in eight races, was only five points away.

 

With thirty points gained in two races, against the four gained by McLaren, Ferrari also reopens the fight in the Constructors' Championship. With 69 points, the Maranello team now has a gap of just eleven points to McLaren. The Magny Cours Grand Prix proved to be a crucial junction for the continuation of this season, as Schumacher explained in the press conference:

 

"It was not a walk in the park, it was a very hard race, tight until the last laps. Just look at the lap times. I made a great start, that's true, and it gave me the chance to stay in the lead, but then I immediately started pulling like crazy. I didn't have a choice, I had to build up a big lead to be comfortable at the first refuelling. You never know, if you enter the pits with little margin you risk being overtaken when you are stationary. Today was an important race for us. We did everything right. Right now I can't remember how long it's been since Ferrari celebrated a one-two, but the important thing is that we did it now. The work we have done over the last few months has been very intense, and it has brought the desired results. I have to congratulate Goodyear as well, the tyres we tested last week and used today performed very well. The first start went well for Hakkinen, the second for me. But it could have been the other way around, and then Hakkinen would have taken the lead, maybe I would never have overtaken him because on this circuit it's almost impossible and we wouldn't be having all these parties today. You never know what the start is going to be like, it has often gone wrong for me. I don't know why we've had two starts, I can't judge, a driver stands on the line and just thinks about getting going and not looking at what's going on around him. Eddie did a wonderful race, he managed to keep Hakkinen behind him until the end and that meant a smoother finish for me and more points. He did great, thank you, Eddie. The aerodynamic changes proved to be positive. The front wing, coupled with the new rear chute, made the car more stable and efficient. But if I had to rank them, I'd say the biggest progress came from the tyres. However, we have to keep working on all fronts. Our biggest problem is still our top speed, which is lower than many cars. As far as the classifications are concerned, we've come a lot closer, and on a technical level I think we're pretty much on an equal footing now. It's a really good battle, I like it. Talking about the evolution of the championship, the Ferrari driver admits: "Talking about the future, it becomes a bit difficult. Statistically, it's almost impossible that we can continue to win like this. So we have to be very careful. We have to keep an eye on our great reliability, but we have to keep improving our whole package, engine, chassis, aerodynamics, tyres, and I think we will succeed. But McLaren will also do something, they can't stand still. Balancing everything, I think though that we will always stay very close to them, maybe once in front, once behind, but we will always be there, and that means uncertainty, fight until the end of the championship. At this point, we can play well".

 

In conclusion, Schumacher returns to the events of the previous weeks, in particular to the accidents in which he was negatively involved:

 

"I'm not perfect and I may have made mistakes, but I don't do these things on purpose. Let's say I'm not an angel, I don't help anyone, I don't step aside. I resist, I attack, I try to put opponents in trouble, I try to push them to make mistakes and in fact they often make mistakes. These are tricks that are part of every driver's life in every kind of race. But I don't throw anyone out to get them off my back. Then again, I may have made a few mistakes and I think I paid for them".

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Once again as a squire of excellence, Irvine enjoys the second place and the compliments of his team leader, especially after the Ferrari driver confesses the difficulties he found in resisting the McLarens' attacks:

 

"Hakkinen put me under pressure from the first to the last metre. I tried to make him make a mistake and I even succeeded when he spun. He was always there prodding me. I was also scared when they told me there was oil on the track (because of Tagaki's retirement, ed), and I got right on top of it. But it worked out well for me. I'm happy for Michael and for me. I had already placed second once with Ferrari, last year. It's the first time we've done a one-two, though, and I'd love to repeat that result. What cheers me up most is the fact that our cars are performing more and more consistently".

 

Dark in the face, Mika Hakkinen began with some complaints about the decision to make a second start:

 

"I didn't really understand the story of the second start, there was no danger on the track, as for example had happened in Montréal. In any case, we have to accept the situation that has arisen. Unfortunately, I got off to a bad start in the second race. Then I did everything I could to recover, but this is a circuit where you risk too much. Being behind Irvine was almost a nightmare. At a certain point I decided to collect the maximum number of points that were realistically within my reach".

 

The leadership in the championship is starting to creak, but the Finnish driver preaches calmness:

 

"We don't have to worry too much, the team will carry on working as they always have. It would be stupid to get too excited, at Silverstone we can take back what we lost today. The important thing is to stay focused, we are still the strongest, of that I am sure".

 

Finally, the team principal of Ferrari, Jean Todt, commenting on the race and the progress of the championship, said:

 

"You already thought we were doomed, didn't you? But here we are. But now let's not have any illusions. Two races like these don't always happen, and repeating them won't be easy. Of course we are all working for the next races, which are difficult and important: Silverstone, Austria and Germany. We still have to improve the aerodynamics, especially for Germany. Then we'll see, but it won't be an easy championship. The important thing is to realise that we have overcome the bad times and that we are capable of doing so: this is the difference between a team and a great team".

 

Asked about what's next and the possibility of seeing a long-wheelbase Ferrari, the French manager puts the brakes on enthusiasm:

 

"For goodness sake, let's take it easy. Everyone says that's McLaren's advantage, but we've made up for it without the long wheelbase. But we said: let's study it, let's try it, then we'll see. Anyway, the long-wheelbase could be useful for next year. But let's wait, I don't want it to be just a fashion, like those blessed candelabras".

 

In the previous days, on several occasions Eddie Irvine had insisted that if put under pressure, McLaren would make more than a few mistakes. The double zero due to technical problems in Montreal, then the wrong start for both drivers, Hakkinen's spin and Coulthard's petrol filling station troubles in Magny Cours, are facts that for the moment give the Northern Irish driver reason. The British Grand Prix, in front of its own fans, will be the first occasion for the Woking team to disprove Irvine's theory, but above all to put a brake on Michael Schumacher's comeback, who just like Hakkinen until a month before, now seems unstoppable.

 

Davide Scotto di Vetta

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