In occasione di una rassegna storica organizzata dall’Alfa Romeo e dai vertici della Fiat alla Royal Dublin Society, il 29 Marzo 2000 Michael Schumacher sbarca in Irlanda per prendere parte all’esposizione delle auto del Biscione. Schumacher si concede ai media con insolito entusiasmo, posando al voltante dell’Alfa che Fangio portò al trionfo iridato nel 1951. Quando gli si chiede di paragonare Barrichello ad Irvine, Michael ha parole cordiali per l'ex compagno:
"Assolutamente impossibile fare paragoni tra i due. Eddie è un tipo del tutto speciale, e devo dire che mi sono divertito parecchio con lui alla Ferrari. Anche in privato abbiamo festeggiato diverse occasioni insieme. Attriti? In alcune circostanze avrebbe potuto comportarsi meglio, ma resta un soggetto unico. È stato sfortunato, agli inizi, con una Ferrari che nel primo anno non aveva nemmeno il muletto per lui. Ma ha saputo imporsi. Poi è uno che pensa con la sua testa, ha avuto parecchie buone idee, che sono risultate utili al team. Barrichello è più tranquillo, mi assomiglia, anche lui come me è tutto corse e famiglia. E ha la sua macchina per le prove, può permettersi di essere più rilassato dell'Irvine degli inizi".
Due vittorie nelle prime due gare, ma sempre terzo al via, dietro le McLaren. Schumacher sottolinea che:
"Non è un problema che mi preoccupa; in gara la Ferrari ha i mezzi per battere la McLaren. Naturalmente avremo bisogno di fare i tempi in tracciati come Monte Carlo, ma la Ferrari è partita col piede giusto. Date le sue grandi capacità di sviluppo, il resto della stagione potrebbe essere ancora più vantaggioso, ma restiamo con i piedi per terra. Poi in Australia e in Brasile avrei fatto senz'altro meglio in prova, ma in entrambi i casi è intervenuta la bandiera rossa".
Michael poi rivolge un appello alla FIA per la sicurezza:
"Se due macchine si toccano, decollano facilmente per il contatto degli pneumatici. Un pericolo che si potrebbe evitare con poco, ma la FIA non si muove. Prima o poi una macchina volerà tra la folla: posso accettare il rischio per i piloti, non per gli spettatori".
E sul futuro ha le idee chiare:
"Potrei correre oltre i quarant'anni, come Mansell, ma il mio fisico mi dirà quando smettere. Non farò come Prost, non mi vedrete in Formula 1 dopo il ritiro. E non correrò mai nelle gare USA, molto più pericolose dei Gran Premi".
On the occasion of a historical review organized by Alfa Romeo and Fiat leaders at the Royal Dublin Society, on 29 March 2000 Michael Schumacher arrives in Ireland to take part in the exhibition of the cars of the Biscione. Schumacher indulged the media with unusual enthusiasm, posing at the turn of the Alfa that Fangio led to the victory in 1951. When asked to compare Barrichello to Irvine, Michael has kind words for his former teammate:
"Absolutely impossible to compare the two. Eddie is a very special guy, and I have to say I had a lot of fun with him at the Ferrari. Even in private we celebrated several occasions together. Frictions? In some circumstances he could have behaved better, but he remains a unique person. He was unlucky, in the beginning, with a Ferrari that in the first year did not even have the forklift for him. But he was able to impose himself. He is a clever man, he’s had a lot of good ideas, which turned out to be helpful to the team. Barrichello is quieter, he looks like me, he is all racing and family too. And he’s got his own practice car, so he can afford to be more relaxed than Irvine at first".
Two wins during the two races, but always third on the grid, behind the Mclaren. Schumacher wants to say that:
"It’s not a problem that worries me; in the race Ferrari has the pace to beat Mclaren. Of course, we will need to do the times on tracks like Monte Carlo, but Ferrari got off to a good start. Given its great development capabilities, the rest of the season could be even more advantageous, but we remain grounded. Then in Australia and Brazil I would have done better in practice, but in both cases the red flag intervened".
Michael then appealed to the FIA for security:
"If two cars touch each other, they take off easily by tyre contact. A danger that could be avoided with little, but the FIA does not move. Sooner or later a car will fly in the crowd: I can accept the risk for the drivers, not for the spectators".
And on the future, he has clear ideas:
"I could run past 40, like Mansell, but my body will tell me when to stop. I will not be like Prost, you will not see me in Formula 1 after retirement. And I will never run in USA races, much more dangerous than the Grand Prix".
Meanwhile, in Fiorano, on March 30, 2000 the rain stopped the last day of testing that Luca Badoer leads to the wheel of the old F399. Already after lunch the team leaves the track at home, while the asphalt dries after Badoer has crossed only twenty-five rounds, the best of which in 1'07"755. The test of 1998 and 1999 cars from Treviso was then transferred to F1-2000, which in the following days will have at the wheel its own Schumacher, back from Ireland.
On the first day of testing, held on March 31, 2000, Schumacher spent twelve hours on the track with F1-2000 to prepare for the third round of the World Championship scheduled at Imola, for the San Marino Grand Prix, the first European stage on the calendar. The two-time World Champion works on trim and aerodynamics, completing ninety-two laps, while Badoer, still driving the F399, turns fifty-one. Schumacher shows once again that he is in a good mood, and it could not be otherwise after the two victories in Australia and Brazil, arrived in conjunction with the two retirements of the bitter rival Mika Hakkinen. Michael, one week from the appointment in Romagna, invites everyone to calm down, arguing that the world championship is far from over, even with a possible third victory in a row at Imola. The same concept also expressed by Jean Todt:
"Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s say that Imola is beautiful because there we meet all our fans and also because it is close to home, you can get there in a moment; this time, however, I will have to do it from Paris where tomorrow I am engaged in a meeting of the FIA. But Sunday night I’ll be home soon like all the boys".
Prudence aside, Ferrari presents itself at Imola as no one could ever imagine and dream:
"All right, but we have just completed 11.7% of the overall road; and we have done it very well because things went well for us, and less well for our direct rivals who remain very strong".
With regard to the action dismissed by the FIA Court of Appeal on the disqualification of Coulthard in Brazil, Todt states:
"Wearing the Ferrari jacket, I would never allow myself to make comments on other people’s affairs, and I would like others to do the same for us, which does not always happen".
According to the characteristics of the track in what conditions is the Ferrari?
"We have a machine that has been born well, it is a matter of solving gradually those problems that we have known and to proceed in the development, in order to complete during the season quality jumps much more consistent and important than the past. This is our goal and so we must continue to focus on the work that there is and there will be to do, without deluding ourselves of the small advantage that could dissolve into two races, as in two races has been earned".
Schumacher says that finally this year he has a Ferrari able to do well on every type of circuit, but on this topic Todt corrects his driver:
"That’s been the case for a while, it’s a long time ago when we said this track is good for us or not good for us. Michael means that we have reached a very good general level, in which he is right but it must not be enough. Meanwhile for Imola we prepared everything with great care, without any particular extreme news, but many small things that should bring improvements a bit in every area of the machine".
Could it also be time to start in the front row or even on pole?
"Both in Australia and in Brazil we went very close, only occasional circumstances denied us the first row. In Imola the battle will be hard but it is not given for sure that the others are still at the front; indeed, I think no, I think at least a car in the front row we will put it, even if I still do not know which side of the grid".
Beyond the successes, what impressed Todt the most was:
"The environment of the team, from the truly exceptional form of Schumacher and the professionalism of Barrichello. Despite the deep disappointment of the retreat in front of his people, he stayed with us until late at night to celebrate Michael’s victory. I am sure that Imola will welcome Rubinho with the affection and enthusiasm she deserves".
A few days later, on April 2, 2000, Michael Schumacher returns to talk about the incident that occurred at Silverstone last season, through a long interview granted to Welt am Sonntag, the Springer group’s Sunday quality newspaper:
"At a certain moment, at Silverstone, while I was stuck in my Ferrari, I felt my heart beating more and more slowly, as if it were close to stopping. Everything around me was just silence, I thought it was over, then suddenly I opened my eyes and I felt again the regular beats, always stronger. I was back to life. I immediately thought I was one step away from death. The feeling was reinforced by what I felt immediately after the impact. I felt conscious and awake at every moment, I was perfectly aware of what had happened. I tried to leave the car alone, but I couldn’t. Clearly, something was wrong with my leg. The doctor arrived, I immediately told him to calm my wife and to explain to the people of the Ferrari team that there were problems with the rear brakes".
"Then suddenly silence fell on me. All of a sudden, I remained silent, and when my heart began to march again, I opened my eyes, I felt again to the world. And I immediately thought, so that’s how it happens, when people feel they’re going to the afterlife and then back to the world of the living. Today, in retrospect, I know for sure that in reality my heart did not stop, but with precision I am not able to say what happened to me. After the accident I changed, in the mentality. I’m not fussier as before, I feel freer in the head".
On April 5, 2000, before going to Imola, Badoer tested the three cars with which Ferrari will face the San Marino Grand Prix. The cars in question are the bodies number 198, 199 and 200. Nothing to do for the 201, the body damaged during the qualifying of Brazil by Michael Schumacher.
Meanwhile, on the eve of the weekend in Romagna, the FIA meets in Geneva for a first draft of the calendar for the 2001 season. And, surprisingly, the Grand Prix of the Republic of San Marino does not figure among the scheduled races, as well as many other European trips that aims to replace with Grand Prix in other continents. All this stems from a conflict of interests between the European Union and the International Federation, which continues in its strategy of pressure against Brussels. The aim is to have a free hand on a number of key issues for the management of Formula 1: from television rights to tobacco sponsorship, which today escape European standards.
So, to press the commissioner Mario Monti, the FIA now threatens to take away from Europe most of the Grand Prix, considering the European Union only one country (a bit like the United States), which can therefore host a limited number of tests. Returning to purely sporting issues, the third round of the World Championship is a real crossroads for Mika Hakkinen, still at zero points due to the lack of reliability of his Mclaren-Mercedes, who set him up both in Melbourne and Interlagos. Curiously, at a dinner in Jerez, the night before the MP4/15 was presented, Hakkinen, with a smile on his face, had continued the speech interrupted months before:
"Yes, I think this is it: the new Mclaren is stronger than the one I had before. Thousands of miles have been travelled without serious inconvenience. I trust".
Never forecast will prove more wrong. The Mclaren is just as fragile as last season, if not more, at the same time the Ferrari is reliable and also incredibly fast. As if that were not enough, to the already critical situation was added the disqualification inflicted on Coulthard in Brazil for an irregularity to the front wing. The watchword for Woking’s stable is to put this disastrous start behind us, and try to put an immediate stop to Schumacher’s flight. Coulthard, however, is hard to forget the disqualification of Interlagos:
"The car was regular. The judges did not agree. We respect the decision, but it is an injustice".
Once in Imola, logically it is not even the best mood of Hakkinen, who meticulously avoids the media, issuing a few brief statements only to his countrymen. A brief rash that says it all:
"Twenty points of detachment from Schumacher are a serious problem. I can’t find the right words to say how serious it is. I knew this would be a very difficult season. I have no more pressure on me than last year, the road is still long, but that there are difficulties now is indisputable. I try to give my best, but without reliability the races are not won".
With this ranking, is even more expected an invasion of the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari from the Tifosi. Tickets are sold out in a short time, and according to the organizers, the attendance record that has stood since 1983 may falter: 187,000 payers throughout the weekend. Schumacher, already winner in the 1999 season after a close duel with Coulthard, continues on the false line of the previous days, inviting everyone to be cautious:
"Scoring 20 points in two races is a great thing. But I want to ask everyone to stay calm, the championship has just begun, and it would be wrong to believe that we have already won it. The season is still long, too long to live already of annuity".
The German is quiet, relaxed but does not want to delude his fans:
"I didn’t expect McLaren to have these difficulties. Especially in São Paulo we won because we were strong, because we showed that we could overcome them in the race, which has not happened for a long time. It is another confirmation of how good our car is, even if we must expect a reaction of our opponents".
To parry the blow of the predictable recovery of Hakkinen, already has in mind the strategy:
"The first pole position of the year I want to do at Imola, it is possible and I will give my best to achieve this goal. At the moment I don’t see any specific obstacle that could stop us".
His desire is not just a statistical question, it is almost a necessity:
"On this track there are not many opportunities to overcome, and getting the best time in qualifying would simplify everything. Although, it is equally true, that in Melbourne and Interlagos we have shown that we can win from behind".
Tris, after Australia and Brazil, are you within reach?
"I would say yes, we have seventy out of a hundred chances of making it. It would be very nice because Ferrari fans deserve it. Until last year, on the eve of Imola we were always a bit 'breathless. This year is the first time that we arrive here well prepared, with a car that goes very well, that does not need news, but only adjustments and adaptations to the circuit. I won last year, even more so I should win now. That’s why I’m optimistic. But I have no illusions".
How important is to win in Imola?
"Of course, it’s always important to win. But we have such an advantage of points that I might not even win, in the sense that we only need a little to keep a good margin. I mean, I don’t have to run to win, to score, I don’t have that kind of pressure, and they do. And this is an advantage for me also because we also had some problems of reliability and therefore being able to compete with a relative tranquillity is a good thing. Our opponents, on the other hand, must do everything to win, they suffer a not irrelevant pressure".
Nine months after the accident, Michael returned to play football in a charity game in which Giancarlo Fisichella also participated:
"Ferrari had not denied me this before, nor will it do it now. I mean it was, and it is, my problem. I didn’t feel it before and I didn’t play. Now I felt physically okay, ready to play, and I played a game. I made a lot of mistakes, the one who was very good is Fisichella".
Just the Benetton driver shows up at Imola after a great podium in Brazil that allowed him to climb to second place in the overall standings, at eight points. Looking at the ranking, as Fisichella himself admits, makes a very good effect:
"Especially since I’ve been through two difficult seasons. The championship started well and the future can only be better now that we have passed into the hands of Renault, and that at the helm there is Briatore. Flavio’s grooming in São Paulo was fruitful, because it reinvigorated the stimuli of a team that however was willing to do well this year".
In Imola, the Roman driver will be able to enjoy the cheer of his fan club and, above all, the latest news tested the week before in Britain, at Silverstone:
"Before leaving for Faenza I met my cousins Luigi and Luca who take care of the fans' club in Rome. The first will arrive tomorrow at the Santerno, but everyone will be there on Saturday and Sunday. As for the new solutions we refined the friction that gave us some headaches at the start, it is not yet 100 percent but it is already better than before. The wings are instead for conditions of great aerodynamic load: we will use them only in case of rain".
According to the forecast, not even a drop of water will fall on the weekend, but Fisichella is also fine with this:
"Despite the dry weather I have the right to start in the first six, and still chase the podium. Of course, if it rained, I would be very happy since I won here with water in Formula 3, I made my debut in Formula 1 on the wet, and last year I risked to win at the Nürburgring".
Between Fisichella and the road to the second podium in a row Jarno Trulli could break, thus giving rise to an exciting Italian derby. The two have known each other for fifteen years, and have an extremely correct relationship. For his part, the driver of Jordan shows no envy towards the compatriot that precedes him in the standings:
"Giancarlo had a really good start but I too can finally look with optimism at the Imola Grand Prix, and if there are no obstacles along the way I could conquer my first podium of the year".
The Abruzzese hopes that the fifth place at Interlagos, which became a fourth place after the game with the disqualification of Coulthard, constitutes a breakthrough in a season that had started on the wrong foot:
"Yes, my first opponent so far has been bad luck, although in the official tests of Brazil I made a mistake that then conditioned me in the race. Now the car seems reliable and, apart from some surprise insertions, we are always the third force of the championship. In the next races I will have an evolution engine that I tested at Silverstone, although little because the track was wet".
That the walls of Santerno are painted red, is not something that disturbs excessively Trulli:
"I know that Ferrari always attracts all the attention, especially at a time like this, but Giancarlo and I will have our fair share of fans, and then when you are in the car you think only of yourself".
So, to make everyone really happy, Trulli wouldn’t mind getting on the podium together with Schumacher and Barrichello:
"This would be an Italian party".
Imola will be the last race with the enlarged electronics. The FIA, in fact, had already decided before the Brazilian Grand Prix to impose precise limits, admitting that it could not control the situation with its inspectors. The restrictions were initially to be imposed at Imola, but then everything was postponed to the fourth race to be held at Silverstone, where only one sensor will be allowed to calculate engine revolutions, will be allowed a single mapping - excluding certain parameters - For Grand Prix, no automatic carburetion changes will be allowed during the race and devices that automatically adjust the speed of the machines in the pit lane will no longer be allowed.
According to some technicians, everything will become more expensive and will require more energy to circumvent the constraints imposed, having to study alternative solutions. The ultimate goal, as stated by FIA President Max Mosley, is to eliminate the possibility that the teams use traction control.
The president of the International Federation reveals that in the previous winter the commissioners, after having downloaded the data from the machines, realized that there was a hidden program. No condemnation was made for the simple fact that it was not certain that this was an irregularity. From here, however, the decision to cut the many branches of electronic management as the speed limiter in the pit lane.
The stables turn their nose: eliminating the control would trigger penalties in the race and fines in practice. And removing certain sensors on the engine would prevent an imminent failure from being known in time. Ron Dennis, agreeing on more accurate controls, however, argues that Mosley’s words would be given a broad interpretation, and that it will also remain a control system.
On Friday, April 7, 2000, the first two free practice sessions will be on track, and Ferrari immediately makes things clear. In the morning the best time is by Michael Schumacher, in the afternoon it is Rubens Barrichello who precedes David Coulthard, second in both sessions. For Mclaren the difficulty is in finding the right set-up, while Schumacher has a curious quarrel with Jacques Villeneuve: the Canadian breaks the Honda engine of his BAR but does not notice that he is spilling oil on the track. Schumacher joined him and, with eloquent gestures and unfriendly, apostrophe making him sign to stop. Later, Villeneuve replied:
"I stopped when I realized I was losing oil. Schumacher became angry as if the track was his garden. Sometimes he disconnects his brain".
On Saturday, after two complicated sessions, Mika Hakkinen takes over the chair. The two-time World Champion scored the best performance during the third free practice session; then, in qualifying, he began an exciting duel on the edge of the hundredth with Michael Schumacher. The Finn takes the lead in the ranking already with his first attempt, after which Coulthard temporarily kicks him, while Frentzen and Ralf Schumacher are also seen in the first positions, But he has to finish the session early for problems with the BMW engine of his Williams. In the final stage, Schumacher recorded the fastest lap, beating Hakkinen by twenty-five thousandths, who, on his last attempt, mocked his rival by recording the time of 1'27"714, just ninety-one thousandths better than the Ferrari driver. For Mika this is the third pole of the season on three qualifying races, the number twenty-four of his career, one more than Schumacher, who, beaten once again on the dry lap, takes it out on himself:
"I made a mistake at the Rivazza corner, otherwise I would have beaten Hakkinen by about four tenths".
A figure perhaps a little too optimistic, anyway, Michael can be satisfied with being able to leave for the first time this season from the first row. Third time for Coulthard, three tenths away from his teammate, ahead of Rubens Barrichello, in turn half a second away. For the Brazilian continues the difficulties in finding a right set up of his F1-2000. Despite the failure of the BMW engine, Ralf Schumacher won an excellent fifth place, thanks to a better time for a handful of thousandths compared to that of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, sixth, to complete the third row.
Pedro Diniz’s tenth time was excellent with the re-entering Sauber, absent in the race at Interlagos due to the abnormal yields of the rear wings. A wrong choice of tires, however, relegates Fisichella to the nineteenth place; behind him only the two Minardi of Gené and Mazzacane, and the Prost of Nick Heidfeld.
On Sunday, April 9, at the end of the warm-up Hakkinen is at the top of the time standings, ahead of Coulthard and Michael Schumacher, two tenths away from the Frecce d'Argento. The Finn is the only one to have chosen to compete in qualifying and race with soft tires, while his teammate and the two Ferraris opt for the medium compound.
Returning to the pits after the morning warm-up, Schumacher inadvertently hit Massimo Trebi, a Ferrari mechanic involved in lifting. The mechanic falls and gets a little hurt on one hand. The accident ended with an apology from the German, a long hug and reassurances from the mechanic who was more concerned not to upset the delicate balance of the champion than of his hand. A few dozen minutes from the start of the race, the climate is what one expects, with the hopes of Mclaren to finish, finally, on the scoreboard of the drivers' world championship.
"I know I have to win something in this race, I want to win or at least get some points".
Hakkinen is happy to be first at the starting blocks but knows that the race will still be tough. The Finn is on pole, followed by Schumacher. His Ferrari rival comes from two consecutive victories and is ahead of him in the drivers' standings by over twenty points.
At 2:00 pm the race begins. In the reconnaissance lap Nick Heidfeld finds problems on his Prost, failing to leave, so it becomes necessary to bring him back to the pits, from where his race will begin. At the start Hakkinen is safe from any attacks with an excellent start, unlike Schumacher who must worry immediately d Coulthard, to the point that the Ferrari steer immediately on his left to close the trajectory to the Scottish, who has to lift his foot to avoid contact and loses position to Rubens Barrichello. Ralf Schumacher, who, in order to avoid accidents, puts two wheels on the grass and loses several positions, does not benefit. Jacques Villeneuve is a great sprint, starting from ninth position and recovering the fifth place at the end of the first lap, while Mika Hakkinen leads the race ahead of Schumacher, Barrichello, Coulthard, the BAR Canadian, Trulli and Frentzen.
Schumacher remains close to the Hakkinen tread, while Barrichello is visibly slower than his teammate and slows down Coulthard, which however is not favoured by a track on which overtaking is not at all easy. After only three laps the duo Hakkinen Schumacher has already seven seconds ahead of the Brazilian Ferrari.
In the rear, Gastòn Mazzacane turns to the chicane Villeneuve; initially it seems that his race is over but the Argentine, albeit with difficulty, manages to restart. Heinz-Harald Frentzen must instead retire, who returns to the pits painfully due to a gear failure. For the German of Jordan are two retirements in three races, both caused by the poor reliability of the car.
On the fifth lap, Marc Gené made the same mistake as his teammate Mazzacane at Villeneuve and, at the same time, Jenson Button also ended up in the gravel, stopped by a problem with the BMW engine. For both of us, the race is over. If ahead Schumacher puts pressure on Hakkinen establishing several times the fastest lap, a dozen seconds away, Barrichello suffers the incessant pressure of Coulthard behind him. As the laps pass, Mika responds to the opponent by lowering the lap time twice in a row, breaking the number three Ferrari by almost three seconds.
Far from the fight for the podium, Jacques Villeneuve and Jarno Trulli engage in a good battle for the fifth position. The Abruzzese driver shows up at the first corner, but Villeneuve covers the inside without being intimidated. The tussle favours the reunion of Eddie Irvine who, however, later loses several seconds, as well as a couple of positions for a temporary failure on his Jaguar, which however does not force him to retire.
When the first set of pit-stops approaches Hakkinen has a gap of four seconds on Schumacher, while the pair formed by Barrichello and Coulthard is half a minute away. The first to stop among the leading drivers is Trulli, on the twenty-third lap, followed by the next step by Coulthard, who tries an undercut to get rid of Barrichello. The start of the terrible season continues for Prost: in addition to a car that is anything but competitive, it adds to this the fragility of the components, in particular the Peugeot engine, which between the twenty-second and twenty-fifth lap forces to retire first Heidfeld and then Alesi.
One of the high voltage moments of the race is the pit-stop at the same time of Hakkinen and Schumacher, on the twenty-seventh lap: the mechanics of Mclaren complete the operation of changing tires and refuelling in 7.6 seconds, in Ferrari take 9.9 seconds. A discrepancy of two seconds due to the greater amount of fuel loaded on the car of Schumacher, which aims to lengthen the second stint to try an overcut on Hakkinen.
One lap later it’s up to Barrichello to make the first of the two pit-stops scheduled. The lap times of Coulthard after the break were not excellent, so the former Stewart driver kept the third position once he left the pit lane. After thirty laps, everything in the points area remains unchanged except for the sixth place, now in the hands of Ralf Schumacher, while Jarno Trulli pays the pit-stop early losing the position also to Mika Salo’s advantage, seventh.
Divided by four seconds, Hakkinen and Schumacher juggle not without some problem between the laps, but the situation does not suffer shock until after the forty-second lap, a momentary problem with the Mercedes engine slows down the Finn for a matter of seconds. Then, for the great relief of the driver, the car resumed its gait, Hakkinen kept the head of the race, but Schumacher was again on his heels.
On lap 45 Hakkinen stops for the second stop, lasting 8.3 seconds. Schumacher goes to the first position, and is called to run qualifying laps if he wants to keep it. At the same time, Ferrari mechanics welcomed Barrichello for another pit-stop, at the same time as McLaren’s opponents, who in turn recalled Coulthard. This time the mechanics of the Woking team are perfect, and allow the Scottish to get rid of the Ferrari driver, who with a rather slow race pace, especially if compared to that of Schumacher, has actually compromised his chances to fight for the victory. To prove this is the fact that Coulthard easily gains many seconds. It ended badly the weekend of the Williams-BMW that, after the retirement of Jenson Button at the beginning of the race, must also record the exit of Ralf Schumacher, due to a problem with the pressure of petrol.
The highlight of the Imola Grand Prix takes place on lap forty-nine: Michael Schumacher enters the pits for the second stop. The Ferrari driver turned on good times, the break lasts just 6.2 seconds, two less than that of Hakkinen. The combination of these two factors allows the Ferrari driver to return to the track in first position, with a four-second advantage over an incredulous Hakkinen: a reversal of the situation that excites the thousands of Ferrari fans present on the stands.
Hakkinen tries to react, lowers his lap times, reduces the gap to two seconds, but does not go further. Both he and Schumacher prove to have an exceptional race pace, but too similar to allow the Finn to launch an attack. The difference compared to his teammate is such that, a few laps from the end, Rubens Barrichello is seventy seconds from the Schumacher tread. A driving lesson to establish the hierarchies within the stable of Maranello.
In the final stages of the race Mika Salo chases Jacques Villeneuve for the fifth position, while Jarno Trulli has to retire due to a gear failure, confirming the serious reliability problems on the new Jordan. During the last lap Hakkinen is one second and eight tenths away from Schumacher. Mika pushes to the last meter, but that’s not enough: Michael Schumacher won the San Marino Grand Prix, making his first three races of the season.
The Mclaren Finn is second, and conquers the first six points of the season; in third position comes fifty seconds behind David Coulthard. To complete the points, zone a disappointing Barrichello, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Salo, 12th party and author of an excellent comeback. A good revenge for the Sauber driver, disqualified in Australia, where he was deprived of a sixth place, and unable to run in Brazil. This time, no one can take this point from him with merit.
At the press conference, the World Cup leader, with a full score, does not hide his joy for what can be called the most difficult victory of the three won.
"Which is the most beautiful? This, for two reasons. The first is that winning at Imola is always a different thing. Here is our audience, our people who on Saturday were a bit disappointed when they saw that I had not done pole position and expected from me a victory. They all deserved it. The second reason is that this time I won a race with Mclaren on track, from the first to the last lap. And it was a very hard fight, we did sixty-two laps to the rhythm of qualifying, it’s a truer victory. It’s all really beautiful. It is a great satisfaction to win back at Imola, playing a football match before this Grand Prix brought me well this time, I felt it. This was a real race with the Mclaren, sixty-two laps all pulled to the max; we and they are at the same level, but in the end the best team won".
Best team that also seems to have the best car:
"So far it would seem so since we have won three races out of three, but let’s wait a while to say it. Undoubtedly the most reliable car, and that this year is also particularly fast. Today it was great to drive it".
Michael also reveals a backstory of his radio interviews with Ross Brawn:
"He gave me continuous instructions, and we exchanged ideas and suggestions not to end up on how to behave also in terms of strategies. During those four laps that were decisive results, he kept yelling at me: from the push, come on push even more, you have to go to the maximum, come on. And I would say that I was already going as far as I could go, just as far as it was possible. I had a lot of fun with these conversations. Then came the masterpiece of the team in the pit stop, and when I came out again in front of Mika my heart burst with joy, I began to think that we could do it. It was a continuous duel with Hakkinen, anything could really happen until the end. In Australia, on the other hand, on the 20th lap, Barrichello and I were already alone, and in Brazil some problems made me feel anxious until the last lap, because Coulthard was always back there. Even at Interlagos we had been good in the strategies, the choice of the two stops allowed me to pass Hakkinen soon, being lighter. However, the victories are all beautiful, even if this gave me a particular satisfaction because obtained on the two Mclaren on track. In this situation you should not give up even for a second; certainly, the final goal is the title, but you know that in Formula 1 in a short time can change many things. The two Mclaren at the finish line are already a warning. The championship is long, you have to keep working and think only about the race that will come. We have just finished one and already we are preparing the next, always to improve because the others are doing the same thing, in Formula 1 the evolution is continuous".
Schumacher remembers the 43rd lap, when there was a misunderstanding with Diniz:
"Pedro was nice, he wanted to lead the way, but he did it at the wrong time. I skidded and said: please go, go, go, please don’t let me brake too much. I managed to avoid the accident. I knew that Mika had problems and I approached him. Luckily I had accumulated enough advantage to overcome it anyway".
Rory Byrne got on the podium, why?
"I have to thank him; he works like a fool. He has a great merit for the victory. It is right that the team chose him to represent her on the podium".
With twenty-four points ahead of Hakkinen, could Schumacher also make some quieter races from now on?
"Not so much. The championship is long and this is not the time to pull the oars in the boat and take it easy. I have to continue to attack with a faster and faster car. Then, later, we will see. But it’s not as easy as it looks looking at the scores. Our opponents will not make things easier for us and so we have to work, improve, attack and win again".
Three Grands Prix, three wins: and all three times Corinna, Mrs. Schumacher, was present. What do you think of a superstitious like Michael?
"Yeah, it’s true and it’s beautiful, but I don’t know if we can continue like this. The thing is, I like it if my wife comes with me, and she does, but we have kids, and they’re the most important thing. In fact, at the next race, in England, Corinna will not come. We hope well".
To eliminate the possibility of improper use of certain electronic management systems, the FIA has decided to remove from Silverstone the speed limiter in the pit lane. On the question, the Ferrari driver is sceptical:
"You should understand how things are; checking in the lane-box will be more difficult because before you could keep down the pedal so much thought the limiter to make you stay between 60 and 80 km/ h. Now we must always regulate ourselves and, in fact, it will not be easy. I am not very satisfied, but I believe that they had to do so because someone might have used certain things incorrectly, although I hope I am mistaken in saying so. I do not know exactly the reason for the change but, I repeat, especially on certain circuits it will not be easy to regulate. For example, in Brazil you get to 280 km/h and you have to switch in a moment to 80 km/h; with the limiter everything happens easily, but so I do not know. The difficulty is not so much in slowing down, we can also go to 20 km/ h, but then we are no longer drivers but taxi drivers. Well, we’ll see; it means that from Thursday at Silverstone I will have to train in this".
Assailed by cameras and microphone, President Montezemolo smilingly translates all his euphoria for the triumph of Imola in three languages: English, Italian and French.
"It was a beautiful and very difficult race; we did sixty laps with qualifying times. The team was just perfect: I have been saying for a long time that I am proud of this team, and today the facts have proved me right".
The victory at Imola is the second consecutive on this circuit:
"It is something that fills me with joy. I may be old but I get moved when I see all these people and hear the hymn of Mameli. Especially if I think back to where we were a few years ago. I want to thank all these fans because they were here also in '91 and '92 and '93. They waited for us and it is also thanks to their support that we were able to build a team equal to the strongest teams, and the big companies behind them. For 20 years we were not at this level".
The second pit-stop was crucial:
"We were perfect at the pits in strategy and timing. Michael drove fantastic from the first to the last lap, it should be said. The car was perfect for reliability and performance".
Mclaren this time came to the end and on the podium:
"Someone wanted to see us face to face with them for an entire Grand Prix, and now he will be happy. That’s why I toasted even to those who want us badly. Ours was a clear, clear and unequivocal victory. We were superior but we also saw how strong they are. Hakkinen has driven very well. We have acquired the awareness of our means but also the one that we will have to push hard to the end. It will be a very hard-fought world, so let’s keep our feet on the ground".
Montezemolo spends two words also on the complicated weekend of Barrichello:
"Rubens was making a perfect race, and only for a thousandth of a second in the pits passed him in front of Coulthard. I met him; I saw the sores on his legs because of the belts. I’m sorry for him, but his three points are still very important for the constructors' championship, to which you know how much I care. We are the only ones in Formula 1 who do not buy teams or who not only make engines, but we do everything".
The Brazilian, in fact, admits to being disappointed for his performance:
"With this Ferrari my grandmother also comes fourth. Fourth place can be good for me with Stewart, not with Ferrari".
At the end of the race, he has his right leg sore, and shows it also in Montezemolo:
"It’s the seatbelts, they gave me problems from the start. They crushed my body, forced me into an unnatural position, all unbalanced. I’m physically destroyed. It’s frustrating to get so far away from the first, a minute and a half from Schumacher. We ran two different races, he and I, and it’s strange, because we had the same tires. I wonder if the same can be said for the car".
Here his certainties of having an equal status with the German begin to falter:
"I’m disappointed, mine was a black weekend. In qualifying, to tear the fourth place, I had to perform a miracle, with a round of death. But you can do a couple rounds of death, not 62".
As in Melbourne and Brazil won the Ferrari, but this time it’s hard to attend the party:
"I’m happy for Schumacher and the team, but with me things need to get better. I could have been third, not unlucky at the pit stop. Coulthard risked everything, he was in the front. I started from the pits before him. But he had a couple of meters advantage, and I could not go on him. There I played the podium. I’m going to keep pushing. I’m going to attack, because my time has to come. To be the best in the world, I have to beat number one, Schumacher. I want to try. And they have to let me. Is it possible that with the same car Michael will give me half a second to the lap? There’s something wrong: it’s either in my Ferrari, or it’s in my head".
Despite the first points in the standings, Mika Hakkinen has more reasons to be disappointed than anything else. The third pole in a row has not been used: as in the first two occasions, Schumacher has gained more points (now the gap between the two is 24 points) and the misfortune continues to target him:
"There are always problems. Of course, I’m happy to have finally finished a race this season and to have conquered the first points, but the situation does not change much: there are always some failures on my way. At the High Variant, I took under my Mclaren a piece of metal that broke the front of the step, making it virtually unmanageable, especially the car could not be balanced when braking. Then, before my second stop, suddenly, in the middle of the straight, the engine shut down. My heart went down my throat. I thought, damn it, it’s over. I put it in neutral, I went into a corner and suddenly everything started working again. I lost at least four seconds, guaranteed. Also, because it took me at least two laps before recovering from the fright and find the right rhythm. I was stunned. I no longer thought about speed, but how to regain concentration".
A trouble that, although not yet identified, the engine manager Mario Illien imputes to a sudden reset, power-on, computers on board:
"Human error is excluded, Hakkinen has nothing to do with it. We cannot understand why the engine has shut down. it seemed as if the electronics were re-synchronizing, like when you reset a computer".
Hakkinen goes on to say:
"That trouble made me lose three or four seconds and probably the race too".
Mika also encountered some traffic problems in the decisive moments of the Grand Prix:
"To tell the truth, it didn’t bother me too much, but there were some setbacks, there were very correct drivers, others not. Even the flags were not waved in time. But I say it without controversy, it has nothing to do with the fact that we are in Italy, the truth is that this is a difficult track where you have to stay very focused and the flags are often seen late. Then they’re 20 years old and now they’re discoloured, so they look like something else. But it is useless to complain about these things, after what happened to my engine, I consider myself lucky to have been able to finish".
A positive aspect that Hakkinen lists along with three others:
"The car was fast, easy to drive and the team worked perfectly in pit stops".
Factor, the latter, which allowed Coulthard to snatch the third place in Barrichello. The Scottish retraces his race:
"At the start I had to brake immediately to avoid getting on Michael, and at that point there was no way to be able to overcome Rubens. I made it to the second refuelling, but I have to admit that I was quite worried because at the first stop I had a small problem with the first one that did not enter. In the other instead everything worked perfectly".
A double podium that allows you to look forward with optimism at Mclaren, despite the large deficit both in drivers and manufacturers. The fourth round of the World Championship is at Silverstone, the home track of the British team, the ideal scenario to counter a hitherto unbeatable Ferrari.
Davide Scotto di Vetta