#652 2000 European Grand Prix

2021-04-21 01:00

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#2000, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Monica Bessi, Davide Scotto di Vetta,

#652 2000 European Grand Prix

In preparation for the European Grand Prix of 21 May 2000, Ferrari performs four days of testing in Fiorano with Luca Badoer and Rubens Barrichello, l


In preparation for the European Grand Prix on May 21, 2000, Ferrari performs four days of testing in Fiorano with Luca Badoer and Rubens Barrichello, leaving behind the disappointing Catalan trip where McLaren has triumphed thanks to the victory of Mika Hakkinen ahead of David Coulthard, with Michael Schumacher only fifth after a crooked day to say the least, between pit-stop errors and a tyre pressure problem. At the same time, the other teams (with the exception of Prost who prefers to go to the Magny-Cours circuit, and Arrows and Minardi) meet in the south of Spain, at the Jerez circuit. During the first two days, on May 9 and 10, Badoer tests the F1-2000 with the 201 chassis. On the second day, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., he completes one hundred and twenty-seven laps, as well as about twenty refuelling simulations, necessary after the problematic stops of a few days before in Montmelò. Meanwhile, the driver market is agitated, since even in Spain the possible agreement between Jacques Villeneuve and McLaren, which would be in the home stretch, is being repaired, followed by the obvious denials of the interested parties. Coulthard could be his substitute in BAR, or possibly fall within the interests of Benetton branded Renault. But the latter is working in the field of young people: we know of the contact with Pizzonia, but it seems to have ended in nothing, because the interest would have moved on to another young guy, an Italian: Giorgio Pantano, from Padua, nineteen years old, who after a brilliant past in karting successfully competes in the German Formula 3. Pantano could try Benetton much sooner than everyone thinks, while the idea of removing the car from Wurz before the end of the world championship, and therefore the exhaustion of its contract, is waning. In Jerez McLaren takes advantage of the simultaneous presence on the Andalusian track of Mika Hakkinen and Olivier Panis, doubling its work program. The reigning World Champion of course immediately begins to work ahead of the European Grand Prix, scheduled on the Nürburgring circuit, and picks in the early stages of the opening day of the tests a performance not far from the unofficial record set by his teammate at the debut of the MP4/15, last February. 


On the first day the French tester is forced to stop three times along the track due to problems of electronic nature; on the second day he has to test a first prototype of those tyres every time so dear to the president of the FIA, Max Mosley: these are grooved tyres that can be used both with dry asphalt and in case of rain. And the rain disturbs the session when a real storm is unleashed on the circuit shortly after the midday break, leaving the asphalt wet until the end. The bad weather penalises Ricardo Zonta, who has to stop the simulation of the Grand Prix with chassis number 7. The test driver of the team, Patrick Lemarie, has to wait for the late afternoon to test the track in a short run, just to prepare the car for the third day of testing. And so does Jenson Button with his Williams-BMW. An abrupt stop for Luciano Burti, who breaks the engine of his Jaguar, while Jarno Trulli is finally satisfied, who in a day without mechanical troubles can work profitably on the balancing of the car in view of the European Grand Prix. Finally, while Pedro Diniz tests at Jerez, test driver Enrique Bernoldi tests some new aerodynamics on the Sauber, facing the straight of the Bouchs military base, near Lucerne. Given the absence of David Coulthard from the tests on the Andalusian circuit, the McLaren Scotsman can thus physically recover from the ailments accused following the terrible plane crash of the previous week, from which he suffered the fracture of three ribs. A week later, arrived in Germany, the two Schumacher brothers are the most anticipated drivers, both for what is for them a Grand Prix at home, and for the misunderstandings that there were in Barcelona after a close duel which young Ralf did not enjoy. On the Nurburgring circuit, Michael boasts a victory at Benetton’s time, while Ralf has a victorious track record in his Formula 3000 period. But it is perhaps Ferrari that is waiting with greater anxiety for the Grand Prix, so as to find out if the F1-2000 has kept that slight margin of performance on the McLaren, which appeared evident in the first three races - especially with regard to reliability - but it seemed thin in the next two races, during which Woking’s stable reacted with two wins. And in particular, Ferrari must demonstrate that it has overcome the shock of the mess of the pits in Barcelona, which cost a fracture to the leg of the chief mechanic Nigel Stepney. 


To replace the latter, there is Pietro Timpini, name little known even to Michael Schumacher, who during the interviews on Thursday, when he listens to the question of Italian journalists at the Ferrari motorhome about who he was, responds surprised:


"Timpini who?"


The same reply was even given by the Head of Press Office, Claudio Berro, to demonstrate a certain reluctance to speak about the person in question and to return to the events of Barcelona, especially so as not to put too much pressure on the man who will be responsible for the delicate task of replacing Stepney during the pit-stops, at the gas nozzle. Nigel Stepney has to stay in Maranello, and as much as you want to minimise it, his absence is not a detail, since races are played more and more on pit-stops. But Schumacher comments confidently:


"I’m sure there will be no problems. We did a lot of tests that gave excellent results. In Barcelona we made a mistake because the pallet was raised too quickly. But everyone can make mistakes. We are men. The mechanic [Francesco Uguzzoni, ndr] came to apologise a thousand times, but in the past, I have also happened to have made a mistake. And I apologised to the team".


Ferrari has not won at Nurburgring for fifteen years (the last with Alboreto, in 1985). In 1999, also in the field of pit-stops, there was the resounding error of the mechanics, who during the pit-stop of Irvine lost sight of a tyre to be mounted on the car of the Northern Irish, leaving the driver stationary for several seconds with only three wheels. The importance of pit-stops, in fact, is always greater, as Schumacher himself admits:


"It’s true, now in Formula 1 the aerodynamics are so good, the engines are so competitive that in the end there are only pit-stops. Without those there would be almost no possibility of overtaking".


It is in the light of this fact that the seemingly anonymous name of Pietro Timpini, on the other hand, comes to play its beautiful importance on German soil. But the German driver minimises:


"I am confident for the race. We worked a lot and this year the car is better than in the past. It is improved by Grand Prix in Grand Prix. At the Nurburgring it will prove better than in Barcelona".


Timpini, big, tall, blond and robust, just says:


"We hope to do well. I trained, I’m very calm and I hope to be so even in those difficult moments".


What is the role of the gas station for a guy like Timpini, who usually works as a tyre manufacturer?


"I have to stick that pipe in the hole, that’s all".


It seems easy. The tube that Peter loads on his shoulders will weigh about forty kilos when it is full. And so far, little bad, Peter is robust. To help him behind the shoulders is Oreste, one of the truckers of Ferrari, which holds the other part of the tube, which has a diameter of thirteen centimetres. They must move together, with the same pace, the same rhythm, the same precision. 


A different movement is enough and everything risks to go wrong. Timpini explains that:


"The problem is that the moment you get to the car you can’t see anything, because the tube that hangs from your chest hides everything, so you have to go to the nose, with precision and firmness. It takes very strong nerves, if you tremble it is over. Let’s hope to do well".


Next to Pietro and Oreste, there is Andrea Vaccari to complete the trio of gas stations, that is the one who replaced Stepney in Barcelona after the injury. Andrea is the real gas chief, he knows all about the fuels and those complicated machines with which it is placed in the cars. The weight is heavy especially for Timpini, a guy from Brescia who has been living with his girlfriend in Serramazzoni near Maranello for six months. Claudio Berro points out that the latter generally:


"Washes the rims with the special machine that we installed in the factory. Then, of each rim Peter notes the conditions and mileage. Then he mounts the tyres, takes care of the tyrewarmers, to keep them all in order, to manage new tyres, run-in, worn. I mean, he’s in charge of the tyres".


On Friday, May 19, 2000, the cars take to the track for the first two free practice sessions on the Nurburgring circuit. Michael Schumacher gets the best time in the morning, but in the afternoon, he has to leave the place at the top of the ranking to Jenson Button, who together with Alex Wurz (second) makes a fast lap at the end with a lighter car, running in 1'19"808. The young Briton is the only one to fall below the pole position of last season’s Frentzen (1'19"910). In the first taste of the European Grand Prix, Ferrari does not seem to shine particularly: Schumacher is only fifth in the afternoon session, seven tenths from Button, while Barrichello, from fifth scale even in fourteenth position, a second away. The second positive session, however, for McLaren: Hakkinen is third, followed by Coulthard. Moments of fear for an exit of the track by Giancarlo Fisichella, who after a spin ends in a depression, and his Benetton leans on the side against the protections. Fortunately, for the Italian driver there are no physical consequences. When he is told that Button and Wurz run low on fuel, Schumacher laughs:


"Ah, well, that’s good to know. 10 kilos of fuel means three-tenths of a second, and I had a lot more on board than they did. Benetton seems to have improved, they are a bit closer to us, and the Williams-BMW cars, we know it, are already fast enough; if they put new tyres and little fuel then the times come out. We’ll see if they’re good in the next few days. As for McLaren, nothing unusual; they are always there but the Ferraris are there too, just as fast to fight for pole with us, as always".


The German is mainly concerned with completing a simulation of the race lasting thirty-five laps, but always with an eye to the sky, because the probability of rain for the race on Sunday is very high. Strangely, despite his well-known skills under the water, Schumacher would prefer a dry race:


"Running in the wet is more dangerous, but if it rains I would not back down. The problem is another: what I don’t like is the variability of conditions. I mean, dry parts, then it rains, then it comes back dry, and maybe there’s wet patches. Well, that’s dangerous. If it always rains I’m not afraid”.


While Michael follows the thread of his technical reasoning, the people of Ferrari work at an exhausting pace. The new team of refuelling personnel makes the exams in public for wide stretches of the Friday: sixteen real pit-stops, of which fourteen completed excellently, and others two a little less. 


Jean Todt fears that there is too much talking about these guys and the commitment to which they are called after the disasters in Barcelona:


"But we will try to be close to everyone. After all, we are accustomed to tension".


To support home drivers, specifically Michael Schumacher, a turnout of about 150,000 fans is expected on Sunday. To give further enthusiasm is the fact that Schumacher has not run for a long time on a home track as a world leader:


"I haven’t felt this particular atmosphere yet, but between Saturday and Sunday I will definitely hear it. I want to give satisfaction to all these people, I want to give joy to all the Ferrari fans in general, those near and those far".


The pole seems to have become a kind of black beast in general. From ten races those who conquer it cannot then win the race. Schumacher points out that for example in Malaysia he, after Saturday, would have arrived first even on Sunday if the team game had not required to help Eddie Irvine, but this is now water under the bridge. And on the alleged pole scarab, Jean Todt adds:


"No driver pays attention, I think even this time everyone will do everything possible to conquer it and if it will be one of ours to emerge, I will be happy. Even Schumacher or Barrichello, I’m sure of it. There will always be a close battle for the first row, and Ferraris should be the protagonists".


The manager of the Sports Management of Maranello then explains that:


"It was not the case to risk immediately in race the engine so far used only in qualifying, better to be cautious and trust more on reliability than on a few more horsepower. There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the team’s work in the pits after what happened in Barcelona, but it did not surprise me, unfortunately it is so; our duty is to go ahead without taking into account anything so as not to create excessive pressure. We all have to take responsibility, we try to be very careful and also be close to the boy called to replace Stepney. And we hope that there will not be other situations to manage suddenly and urgently".


Barrichello is a bit behind, also, at a certain point from the rear of the car some smoke began to come out, but apparently, it was simply a vent of the water cooling circuit. Rubens comments on the following:


"It doesn’t count much to be back on a Friday. And then, basically they’re five-tenths from Hakkinen and three-tenths from Coulthard. The front ones are occasional. On this track, the use of new tyres has a huge impact on performance. There was a lot of wind and cold but I am satisfied with the car’s set-up, even if it still has a lot of understeer. I’m quiet about qualifying, the fight will start in the morning; without pressure on, it can also happen that you get to pole. We’ll be the usual four up ahead, and I might as well come out there, why not?"


Throughout the day, a lot of work on the Brazilian Ferrari is done on suspensions, especially on the rear ones. As for the aerodynamic configuration of the single-seaters, the choice falls on a very loaded set-up with the use of the multi-profile wing usually used on the Monte Carlo track. It is not yet known whether Ferrari will use the current engine from qualifying in the race. Everything will depend on the starting grid position. If Schumacher was forced to chase, the new engine with fifteen extra horsepower could be useful. Claudio Berro adds:


"But in the race you also need an engine that consumes little".


The free practice gives a small but nice satisfaction to Minardi, who can admire Marc Gené in eleventh position, after being long even ninth. The Spaniard, sixth in 1999 on this track, says:


"I am very happy with the performance of my car. I like to drive on this circuit, and the latest modifications have undoubtedly led to an overall improvement in aerodynamic load. For qualifying my goal remains always the seventh row and who knows if this time I will not succeed".


Jarno Trulli obviously hopes for something more:


"My goal is always to get into the top six in qualifying, considering that Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes are from another planet and that the Williams-BMW proves to be stronger and stronger. In these Friday tests I was long in the top four, for a few minutes even second behind Michael Schumacher, but basically the seventh place satisfies me considering that the results were somewhat distorted by Button and Wurz who in the final have fitted new tyres".


The official Saturday tests at the Nurburgring circuit confirm the great balance between Ferrari and McLaren this season. David Coulthard snatches pole from Michael Schumacher, second, with Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello composing the second row. A session compressed in just over thirty minutes, those preceding the flood that crashed on the circuit. At the start, in fact, they all look to the sky, the sun disappears and the dark clouds that cover the horizon are more than just a threat. The first to go out is Barrichello, who runs on good rhythms without pushing. The Brazilian wants to hear the car and does not make a real quick lap. Ralf Schumacher gives the first jolt of the day, finding a short-lived virtual pole, since after him it is Hakkinen’s turn: the reigning World Champion pushes on the accelerator and finds the best time with a disarming ease. His teammate does even better, but the real duel is with the Ferrari, the one with Schumacher, as soon as he gets on the track. The German keeps up expectations and snatches the pole to the Silver Arrows with a lap to the limit of perfection. Barrichello also celebrates with him, who brings the other Ferrari, for a moment, in the front row. It is a challenge on the edge of the hundredth, which confirms how close in performance the single-seaters of the two teams are. Nothing to upset the result, just take off the foot an inch later. That is what Coulthard does on his way back to the track, with a tailor-made performance to get the pole: 1'17"529, a tenth better than the time scored by Schumacher, which takes a hard hit to digest, especially because soon after it starts to rain, and the plans of those who chase are complicated and not little. The plans change, and the teams call their drivers to the pits: you have to go back and look at the sky to understand how to move in these last stages of the tests. In fact, there is little to do, and one of the few who ventures on the wet track, Jean Alesi, at the first demanding corner spins. Schumacher, however, is not the type to give up, and two minutes from the end he goes on track to try to recover the first place in the starting grid. But it is a vain attempt, as he realises when he ends slightly beyond the limits of the track. He has to settle for second place. David Coulthard is back in pole position after a long wait, as he missed a start from the pole at the 1998 Canadian Grand Prix. The Scotsman comments on his ninth career pole:


"It’s a good time, but I could also improve. I pushed a lot and no one managed to pass me in front. The race? I’m obviously confident".


Especially for the start, where the McLaren can show off a very good starting mechanism. And the pain in the three ribs cracked in the tragic accident in France? The only drawback is that David had to do some kind of abstinence:


"I haven’t had sex since the accident".


Beaten by his teammate and rival, Mika Hakkinen is far from satisfied with the outcome of qualifying. So the Finn, at the end of the session, takes it up with the setup of the car and also claims that he could not improve even with all the time available:


"The rain helped me, preventing someone else from overtaking me. Yes, because without that shower I could have even lost the third position. But I have one reason for consolation: I start from a position more favourable than that of Schumacher because on the left side the track is cleaner. And then, after the departure of Barcelona, I’ve learnt how to behave".


In addition to not having a good set-up, the number one McLaren also claims some problems with the brakes, so much so that while the rain is raging on the track, at the McLaren box they drain the oil pipes:


"Of course I’m dissatisfied with the third half, but above all I’m dissatisfied with not having found the best set-up. We have made a lot of progress, but never reach the optimal set-up. There is still something we have not understood. We’re going to have to study the data carefully and find the points where I can go faster. Only if we understand why the other car is faster can I hope to win the race".


Norbert Haug is happy, commenting:


"Coulthard’s lap was great, but even Mika has a good chance of winning".


Ron Dennis, for his part, points out:


"The extraordinary efficiency shown by the team in varying track conditions. With the track always dry we would not have had opponents. All in all, we are reasonably satisfied".


The head of the team categorically denies Hakkinen’s retirement at the end of the season, ascertaining that Hakkinen will drive for McLaren again in 2001. But is he gonna do it with Coulthard?


"If I had to decide today, I’d say yes right away. David is constantly growing, we have the best pair of drivers, they work very well together, but it is not yet the time to address the subject, other options may be offered. But I see no reason to change".


Young Nick Heidfeld will not take part in the race: after qualifying, the technical delegate of the FIA discovers that his Prost weighs 598 kilos against the 600 required by the regulations. And as a result, the commissioners, applying Article number 82 of the sports regulations, exclude the German from his home Grand Prix. Alain Prost, resigned, comments:


"It was our stupid mistake, and there’s nothing we can do about it. So we won’t appeal. But we have to make sure this never happens again".


Heidfeld, who had qualified thirteenth, is obviously disappointed:


"I’m sorry to be so excluded from my home Grand Prix. The team apologised. An appeal? There are no holds".


Jenson Button does not repeat the excellent performance of free practice on Friday, but he must be satisfied with the eleventh place on the grid, one second and three tenths from the poleman, behind also his teammate, Ralf Schumacher, who qualified fifth and four tenths faster. For him, however, a small satisfaction: being in the small group of five drivers to have improved their time. BMW Motorsport Director Gerhard Berger says:


"We do not forget the excellent first position on Friday. Unfortunately, in the morning free practice Jenson spun a tail damaging the right side of the car, and could not take part in the second part of the session".


The same Button says that he is sorry for the performance:


"On the other hand, I have never been able to do a single clean lap, without traffic: it is impossible to do better. But it is also the fault of the morning accident. I didn’t have a good car for the fast lap. This Grand Prix will not be just any race: it is my race since I left the karts to run with single-seaters".


Frank Williams sympathetically analyses Jenson’s performance:


"The times are very similar, close together in the central part of the line-up. Button managed only in his last lap to make the leap forward, but it was a progress of only three tenths that earned him only one position".


On Saturday, at the Nurburgring there is also Niki Lauda, who before going to visit Bernie Ecclestone and have lunch together, provides his views on Formula 1 and the Ferrari-McLaren duel:


"It’s a nice championship, absolutely open because the two cars are now equal in everything, as seen in these qualifying. The two teams, on the other hand, have completely different philosophies about the strategic choices to make in order to win the title. Ferrari relies on only one driver, obviously Schumacher, sacrificing Barrichello, McLaren instead leaves equal possibilities for Hakkinen and Coulthard, a risky policy because the two inevitably end up taking away points. It was the same when I ran with them. You saw what happened last year: Mika won the championship at the last race. Maranello is right to bet on Michael: in qualifying he is faster than Rubens, so there is no discussion. When you are half a second behind your teammate, what can you say? Nothing".


The former Austrian driver goes on to explain his support for the Italian team’s policy:


"Ferrari wants to win the title before the end of the season and, by focusing on one driver, it is easier to reach the goal. And I support this strategy. Attention: with this I do not say that the choices of Dennis are wrong, but different".


Another topic of some interest for Niki is the next wedding of his friend, the president of Ferrari, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo:


"A good choice. I’m told that his new girlfriend is young and pretty. Bravo. It is right to marry quickly: before it was ten years with a woman without ever deciding to take the big step. The thing then will only do good to Luca".


On Sunday, May 21, 2000, the Ferrari-McLaren head-to-head is also confirmed in the warm-up. Schumacher and Hakkinen are by far the fastest of the short morning session before the race: the German scores the best time in 1'20"251, Mika is just nine thousandths behind him. Third position, but six-tenths of a distance, for Heinz-Harald Frentzen, fourth Barrichello, while Coulthard is only sixth, more than a second behind Schumacher. There is, however, a curious incident for the Benetton of Giancarlo Fisichella, whose rear left wheel is unhooked and begins to roll along the track, creating some problems for the drivers who arrive. Then a commissioner thinks to enter the track quickly and remove the tyre from the centre of the track. At 2:00 p.m., the scheduled time for the start of the European Grand Prix, grey clouds loom over the circuit, and the probability of rain is so high as to suggest a race almost certainly conditioned by wet track. Mika Hakkinen is the author of a lightning bolt that captures unprepared both Coulthard and Schumacher, easily overtaken. At the first corner the Finn is in the lead of the race, ahead of the Ferrari driver and the other McLaren driver, which makes the pole position vanquished twenty-four hours earlier. Barrichello remains in fourth position, while behind him the cars of Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella touch, with the Jordan driver who is forced to retire. At the end of the first lap, Jacques Villeneuve, ninth, and Ralf Schumacher close the points zone. Michael Schumacher immediately begins to exert incessant pressure on Hakkinen, demonstrating that he can be much faster than the driver of McLaren, with Coulthard following the duel detached by a couple of seconds, but not undermined, at least for now, by Barrichello. Meanwhile, the race of the other Frentzen’s Jordan also ends, due to a problem with the Mugen-Honda engine. After a handful of laps, a light rain begins to fall on the circuit. Ralf Schumacher makes a mistake and loses two positions to Fisichella and De La Rosa, finding himself eighth. The Benetton driver immediately clings to the exhaust of Jacques Villeneuve, and on the ninth lap, taking advantage of a bad exit of the Canadian at the Veedol Chicane, manages to gain fifth place. De La Rosa also tries to take advantage of it, but the BAR driver resists. The rain gradually intensifies, to the point that the commissioners begin to wave the yellow and red flag that indicate slippery track conditions. This misleads Coulthard, who is wrong and finds Barrichello in his slipstream. 


At the same time, at the Veedol Chicane, Schumacher closes the gap, overtaking Hakkinen and grabbing the lead of the race. A lap later, at the first corner, Barrichello overtakes Coulthard: the McLaren does not seem at all comfortable on a slippery track. The same goes for the Arrows, with Jos Verstappen going off-track and De La Rosa struggling to defend himself from the attacks of Eddie Irvine. While Marc Gené is also the author of an off-track that causes the front wing to break, Michael Schumacher scores lap times which are three seconds faster than those of Hakkinen. The first to return to the pits to mount wet tyres is Johnny Herbert, winner of the 1999 edition. Having been overtaken by Schumacher, Hakkinen sees the shape of Barrichello’s Ferrari increasingly cumbersome in his mirrors, while in the group behind he forms an exciting tussle valid for the sixth place between Villeneuve, De La Rosa, Irvine and Ralf Schumacher. Other drivers stop to bet on wet tyres, including Coulthard, but not Schumacher, which for the moment remains on the track and is still the fastest. His brother Ralf also gets excited, and in just over a lap overtakes the three drivers that preceded him, thus re-entering the points zone. On lap 15, Michael Schumacher stops at the pits, imitated by Hakkinen, whose pit-stop is prolonged for several seconds due to the complicated fixing of the right rear tyre. The Ferrari driver returns to the track just ahead of Coulthard, who benefits from the slightly anticipated stop gaining the position on Hakkinen. Both the Ferrari driver and the Scottish driver are caught up in the traffic of those who have not yet stopped to mount wet tyres: Schumacher defends himself well against Coulthard, and then he manages to climb over Jenson Button and gain a couple of seconds before the McLaren driver gets rid of the young Williams driver. On the next lap, Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher also stop, which are in turn damaged by the delayed stop. When the situation has stabilised and everyone is on wet tyres, Michael Schumacher leads the race recording times two seconds per lap faster than Coulthard, second but in sharp difficulty, and reached in a short time by Hakkinen, third. Fourth position for De La Rosa’s Arrows, ahead of Fisichella and Irvine. Barrichello is only eighth, behind also Jos Verstappen.


On lap 20, Giancarlo Fisichella attempts an overtaking manoeuvre at the Dunlop corner against De La Rosa, who rejects the attack coming out of the corner, but has to surrender at the entrance to the Shell curve. Barrichello also tries to climb the slope, fighting for the seventh place with a tough Verstappen, who gives up the position only after a good battle that ends at the exit of the Veedol Chicane. In the leading positions, Hakkinen hooks up with Coulthard. Overtaking does not represent any problem, probably thanks to a team order, being the Finn much faster than his teammate. Mika is second, but Schumacher is 12 seconds away. The Ferrari driver calmly manages the leadership, except for a little thrill that runs on his back when for a fraction of a second he loses control of the Ferrari at the entrance of the Veedol Chicane. The rain rages on the track, and does not seem to decrease. Meanwhile, Barrichello also overtakes Irvine and De La Rosa; the Brazilian climbs fifth, and puts Giancarlo Fisichella in the crosshairs. In the thirtieth of the sixty-seven laps scheduled, in a tussle for the seventh position, Eddie Irvine and Jos Verstappen meet at the first corner: the Northern Irish is spinning and Ralf Schumacher, spectator in the front row of the duel, to avoid hitting the Jaguar is glimpsed but fails to avoid contact between the cars, which specifically involves the two rear wings irretrievably damaged. Ralf gets bogged down in the gravel, Irvine may not notice the damage, so he starts again, but on the next lap he loses control of the car and ends his run in the sand like the unfortunate Ralf. On the same lap, in turn 10, Verstappen loses control of the Arrows, bumps into the barriers and destroys the front of the car. It is a retirement for him too, but luckily the car is removed quickly and the entrance of the Safety Car is prevented. After a very short phase of study, at the usual break of the Veedol Chicane, Barrichello passes Fisichella without too much difficulty, thus climbing to fourth place. On the next lap, the Brazilian goes to the pits for a short stop of 7.0 seconds, too short to ensure he gets to the finish line without another one. At Ferrari, they try something different to put him back in the fight with McLaren. Another lap passes and this time it is up to the race leader, Schumacher, to make the second pit-stop. The German stop lasts 11.8 seconds and so, unless unforeseen events, there will be no other stops. 


The Ferrari driver returns to the track eighteen seconds behind Hakkinen, which has yet to stop, but begins to run on very fast times in order to threaten the first position of Schumacher with an overcut. A difficult task, as Mika needs a total of about thirty-five seconds of margin to keep his opponent behind. A mission that seemed already complicated, becomes impossible with lapping that slows down the path of Hakkinen who, nine laps later than the stop of Schumacher, returns to the pits. The Ferrari driver returns in the lead while Coulthard, never able to do the same lap times of the other McLaren, continues his anonymous race. After the break the Scotsman is fifth, behind Barrichello and De La Rosa. For Rubens there is the regret of an incorrect strategy, because if he had loaded enough fuel during his pit-stop, so as to continue up to the chequered flag, and considered the race pace of Coulthard, he could probably get on the podium. And instead, after the third pit-stop he gave up the third place to Coulthard, settling for the fourth place ahead of Fisichella and De La Rosa, who also returns shortly before for refuelling. The emblematic image of a disappointing day for Barrichello is the lapping suffered by the driver with whom he had assured to fight at the beginning of the season, Michael Schumacher. Rubens tries to shake himself by narrowing the gap between him and Coulthard, but he never poses a threat to the McLaren driver. In the final, three drivers seeking confirmation for the 2001 season, Button, Herbert and Wurz, battle for seventh place. The Benetton driver is looking for a glimmer on the Jaguar at the last corner, but ends up hitting the British with him. A gross error of the Austrian, causing the retirement of both. It is no better for Button than a few corners later retires due to electrical problems on his Williams. Michael Schumacher, meanwhile, also laps David Coulthard, and doing so only Hakkinen remains at full speed. Michael crosses the line as an undisputed winner, taking the fourth victory of the season, ahead of the McLaren of Hakkinen and Coulthard, who after the 1-2 caught in Britain and Spain, must surrender again to the power of the Ferrari driver. Barrichello fourth, Fisichella fifth and an excellent De La Rosa sixth (first point in the championship won by Arrows), complete the points area.


On the podium, with four wins and 46 points in the standings, 18 more than Hakkinen, Schumacher leaps with joy on the highest step; Mika, on the contrary, is dark in the face. Later, in front of the journalists' microphones, a Michael more outgoing than usual declares:


"It’s one of the best days of my life, the Ferrari is an exceptional car and the team was amazing. I hope that after all the water that our fans have taken, this success has warmed their hearts".


Schumacher is happy, and to the umpteenth question about the meaning of his victory, in front of an English television he pulls out a hair brush. Rose. Small. Then he says:


"Do you see it? It’s from my daughter Gina Maria. She gave it to my wife, Corinna, a week ago, with this prayer: give it to Dad, because I know it will bring him luck. I’ve been carrying this hair brush around with me all week".


The first victory at the Nurburgring, in front of his fans, with trophy received from the hands of the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder:


"He told me that it was the first time he got on a Formula 1 podium here. I was pleased to have been the one to receive him".


As for the race and his amazing driving in the rain, Schumacher admits that:


"It was difficult, but also fun. I would say we chose the best strategy. After all, we knew the rain would come, but we didn’t know when. But what matters is that the car has proven to be strong both in the wet and in the dry. Now we are the ones to be chased".


A situation that gives hope for the Monaco Grand Prix, the seventh race of the World Championship:


"On that circuit I always drove well, I hope to repeat myself".


After all, 18 points of advantage allow to manage the championship with more optimism:


"It’s true, I dreamed of arriving in Munich in this situation. Now I can say that for us the situation is excellent".


Schumacher compliments Hakkinen, but does not spare him a polemical joke:


"Mika’s start was perfect, he was good. But he chose a manoeuvre that he might have avoided. And he knows it. We also touched. Luckily the cars did not suffer damage. The most difficult part of the race? The end. I did 30 laps on the same tyre compound, and sometimes the car ran away. To the point that we also considered a third pit stop, even though we knew it would be a risk. But then we saw that Hakkinen had also quit, and so we managed the gap. I realised that I would win when there were two laps left".


If after the races of Silverstone and Barcelona some certainties had passed away, with the return to victory and the gap in the standings expanded both in the drivers' standings and in the constructors’, Ferrari can approach the Monaco Grand Prix with some optimism, aware that they have all the right elements to put into practice a serious attempt to go away, but surely, they will meet the opposition of McLaren-Mercedes.


©​ 2023 Osservatore Sportivo


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