After the thrilling French Grand Prix, won by David Coulthard in front of Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari and McLaren meet again on July 4, 2000 at the Mugello circuit, for a test session that in a somewhat unusual way sees the two teams fighting for the title run simultaneously on the Tuscan circuit. This was made possible by the request made by McLaren to Ferrari, through which he rented the track for four days, judging Mugello a perfect circuit to prepare for the Austrian Grand Prix, to be held in Zeltweg. In the late evening of July 3 arrive the first trucks of the Woking stable, thanks to a special permit that allowed the team to move from France despite the blockage of traffic for heavy vehicles. On the first day of testing for Ferrari, Luca Badoer took to the track, covering seventy-six laps stopping the stopwatch on 1'26"680. McLaren works with Olivier Panis, who completes seventy-four laps, the fastest in 1'27"370. The French has words to the honey for the track:
"I already knew him for testing it with Prost, but doing it with a competitive car like McLaren is something else entirely. The more laps and more desire you have to continue, and I really don’t understand why you don’t think about racing a Grand Prix on this track".
On the second day of practice, Panis made another seventy-nine laps, the best in 1'25"966. That’s 81 Badoer’s, slower than a second. The big ones absent for the moment are Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard, who, however, take to the track during the third and fourth day of testing, while Hakkinen and Barrichello enjoy a holiday.
The middle finger raised during the French Grand Prix by Coulthard to the address of the German already belongs to memories. At least formally, the two no longer seem to have grudges: before and during the trials they meet and greet from a distance, with a simple wave of the hand. The test day starts around 8:30 am. Schumacher doesn’t start in the best possible way, as he heads around the Casanova bend, and then stops on the Savelli gravel. Ferrari technicians insist a lot on loads and tires, at the same time McLaren prefers to simulate many departures, and pays much attention to the aerodynamics of the cars. During a break, Coulthard, at his first experience at Mugello, does not dwell on the tensions of the race at Magny-Cours, but rather prefers to spend a few words on the track:
"It is a very nice track, especially well equipped and is inserted in a fantastic region. Technically it is a mix, because there are curves very similar to those of many circuits where the world championships are held. A very interesting test session that demonstrated once again the great adaptability to all the tracks of our machines".
The circuit is strictly armored, although there are attempts of invasion by the public quite numerous, however promptly shadowed by security. On the last day of testing, a couple of radio-controlled models roam the paddock led by caterers at McLaren pits. Two reproductions in perfect scale of cars of Formula 1, that the staff of the Anglo-German house makes run on the asphalt trying to kill the boredom that in the moments of pause grips everyone. The last to leave the track is Michael Schumacher, who makes one hundred and sixteen laps, for a total of 608 kilometers; his best time is 1'25"499.
For the Ferrarist there are no discounts on work, despite having to take the helicopter that will take him to the wedding of Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. Until the appointed time, Michael is on track working on tires, aerodynamics and engine. When a laundry attendant brings him to the boxes the shirt pressed and packed, ready to wear, the German smiles, sure to have solved the problems of Magny-Cours, especially with regard to reliability:
"We got to try some solutions, and the fact of having the McLaren next to us for the first time on this circuit I think it was useful for both of us. After all, Mugello is very well suited for its characteristics to prepare the next race of Zeltweg".
On Coulthard’s middle finger in France, he says:
"If he had seen the footage, David probably wouldn’t have made that gesture. The fact that we did not meet here is normal; everyone does their job".
Then it’s time to leave work for a moment. The wedding of Luca Coredero of Montezemolo and Ludovica Andreoni are super armored, with witnesses of great name as the lawyer Agnelli. The church is that of San Bartolomeo in Pianoro, on the hills of Bologna. The guests are in all a hundred, among them, is Agnelli’s most special gift, delivered two days before the wedding in the villa: a silver grey Ferrari 360 Modena, personally commissioned by the Lawyer to Pininfarina, a unique model. Directly from Mugello comes from Schumacher, who apparently made as a wedding gift a live concert by Carlos Santana. The musical entertainment, after the buffet dinner, is actually entrusted to another good friend of Montezemolo: Lucio Dalla. For the president, scheduled a trip to Africa, then back to work.
Work that already awaits Schumacher the next day, when the Ferrari driver moves to Fiorano to continue the tests. But the agenda of the German is those dense, so much so that on the evening of Saturday, July 8 participates in a charity game at the Stadio Flaminio, between the national Formula 1 Drivers and Germany World Champion in 1990. Together with him, among the pilots Trulli, Patrese and Wurz. Faced with three thousand spectators, many of them with Prancing Horse flags, Schumacher appeared in great shape scoring two goals, in what turned out to be a heavy defeat of 8-4.
Schumacher absolutely needs to show himself in shape even in what he does best, that is to drive the fastest cars in the world. On the eve of the Austrian Grand Prix, the tenth round of the World Championship scheduled for July 16, 2000, Ferrari has to fend off McLaren's attempts to recover, which after the difficulties at the start of the season proved to be fast, but above all reliable. But Schumacher is confident:
"Twelve points in the standings are not too much for me, and fortunately the mechanics have spotted the trouble that made me stop at Magny-Cours. But I think the newspapers don’t care...".
A bronze connecting rod bearing produced by the American Glyco-Vanderwell who gave in. This is the reason for his retirement in France, costing him the podium. In addition to working on reliability, there are many novelties at the pits of Ferrari, the most striking at the wall: Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and other technicians will have, starting from the Austrian Grand Prix, twenty-six monitors to control the behavior of F1-2000. A concentrate of electronics made by Ciceri Racing Pessano.
Unlike previous monitors, the new ones are connected to both television and telemetry. Only flaw: the lack of space to rest anything else. A novelty born from the desire to minimize errors, as claimed by Jean Todt. The second novelty is parked in Michael Schumacher’s playpen. This is the 204 frame, the last one built, for the first time without reducing the weight of carbon fiber. The third is represented by the engine electronics, to have a more gradual delivery of power and, again, a few more laps for qualifying. Nothing to do, however, to counter the rarefaction of air caused by the altitude of the Austrian circuit, where the power drops by eight percent, between sixty and sixty-five horses for Ferrari. But the power loss is identical for all engines, so everything is ready for the challenge with the McLaren.
"We have to eliminate all the small errors. Today I see a slight advantage of McLaren, he already had it at the beginning of the season but did not take advantage of it. Now he’s showing it because Ferrari didn’t get the most out of the material. The result never depends only on the driver, but on the work of the whole team".
Schumacher explains by staying on the same line as Jean Todt, while Rubens Barrichello is as happy as those who return from the holidays:
"I spent them in Brazil, in Campo do Jordao, at 1700 meters. There go many football teams for oxygenation. And when I went back to training in Sao Paulo, I felt great. I kept off the phone, but I regularly called my technicians to update me on the work in the tests: it was as if I had been on track too".
At the moment, Schumacher’s number one opponent is Coulthard:
"David reduced his weaknesses, before he was fast but did not do results. Hakkinen? I don’t know why but lately he can’t express himself at his best".
But the Ferrari driver looks further ahead than the seasonal goal, and speaking of his future prolongs his career:
"I would like to run until I am forty, unless a young man arrives much faster than me, without me being able to understand the reason. Besides, even when I stop, I’ll keep working for Ferrari".
On Friday the 14th of July 2000, the Austrian Grand Prix begins with the two free practice sessions, during which McLaren immediately shows its muscles, unlike a Ferrari appeared in difficulty. There is David Coulthard at the top of the time scale at the end of the day, with a time of 1'12"464. The bad day for Cavallino can be summed up in fourth place of Schumacher and in seventh place of Barrichello, the latter, in first position in the morning session before giving way to rivals in the afternoon. The Austrian circuit is still difficult for F1-2000, so much so that Schumacher has to struggle to keep behind the BAR-Honda of Ricardo Zonta, but at the same time he can not do anything against the exploit of Mika Salo and his Sauber, third behind the two Silver Arrows.
Hakkinen is second to two tenths from Coulthard, but he has the fact that he could not turn in the first hour of free practice and a good part of the second, due to a gas pressure problem. On the other side of the box, the Scotsman is frightened by his persistence in recording fast laps one after the other. A race step that earned him the first place and increased his ambitions to overtake Schumacher in the championship, maybe starting to shave points in Austria, his hundredth Formula 1 Grand Prix. Schumacher, For his part, he wants to undermine the negative tradition that has never seen him win in Austria, but admits that the track does not excite him. Rather, it has to deal with a competition that, from race to race, is getting stronger and stronger.
The last one to bring Ferrari to victory in Austria was Eddie Irvine, in the 1999 season. The Northern Irish, with that success, ran in all respects as a substitute for the injured Schumacher in the fight at the World Cup. In 2000, as a Jaguar driver, Eddie’s situation was quite different. If the poor results collected up to this point of the season were not enough, at the end of Friday free practice, the vice-champion of the world is forced to leave Austria due to excruciating pains in the abdominals. In London, the doctors at the hospital where he is being hospitalized state that there is no need to worry about the condition of the pilot. However, at Zeltweg, Irvine was replaced by Luciano Burti in free practice on Saturday morning.
A weekend heralded already difficult from the free practice, becomes even more difficult for Michael Schumacher during the briefing between drivers, when David Coulthard, also supported by other drivers, lashes against the German driver and his driving style, specifically its departures within the limits of the regulation. Schumacher doesn’t have time to sit down and Coulthard shoots him in the face:
"Drive like John Rambo, even when you leave, and risk your life".
A minute passes and here comes the second lunge. This time by the mouth of Jacques Villeneuve:
"Schumacher runs without a brain on a planet of his own: he is disloyal and will never change".
Disloyalty, little intelligence: Schumacher begins to lose patience. But it is not over yet. It’s up to Eddie Irvine, who would later leave Austria:
"We can’t tolerate everything Michael does".
All against Schumacher, less Frentzen defending him. In short, an excessive ordeal, so much so that, in the face of the upheaval of the drivers, it is up to the FIA commissioner, Charlie Whiting, to return good humor to Schumacher:
"There was no violation of the regulations by the Ferrari driver".
Schumacher revived and, comforted by the absolution of the FIA, dry reply:
"Those who want to be in front must use all the means at their disposal: those who say that I play with the lives of others say nonsense. I had wonderful duels with Hakkinen and no one ever complained. Coulthard reminds me of Damon Hill, who was never comfortable with anything".
Saturday, July 15, 2000 the qualifying session on the A1 Ring seems a replication of the one seen in the previous two seasons: McLaren in the front row with Mika Hakkinen ahead of David Coulthard; Ferrari hard to chase the two Silver Arrows. And yet, it is not 1998 or 1999, but 2000, a season started under the rule of Schumacher (only fourth), but in Austria is never able to worry the two McLaren. As evidence of Schumacher’s difficulties, the fact that even Barrichello manages to do better than him, placing third. The Brazilian made a great lap, slower by four tenths of a second than Hakkinen’s, but barely a tenth of a tenth of Coulthard’s time.
In the third row, the surprises of the day: Jarno Trulli and Ricardo Zonta, who for the second time in the season beats his teammate Jacques Villeneuve, who immediately placed behind, in seventh place. Wiliams, on the other hand, is absolutely disappointed: Jenson Button and Ralf Schumacher qualify in eighteenth and nineteenth position, only ahead of Burti’s Minardi and Jaguar. The nightmare is over.
Hakkinen repeats it several times. Again Saturday’s lord, again master of qualifying, back on pole after more than three months. Imola, the last time. It was April 9, 2000, a very distant date for those who are used to always leave in front and on the speed has built two world titles. Remote enough to psychologically destroy, to lead to a nervous breakdown:
"I was wondering: what is wrong with me? What is happening to me? Because Coulthard beats me, he who on Saturday always ended up behind me? I asked myself questions and I couldn’t give myself any answers. Mind-boggling. Traumatic".
Mika explains that up to Magny-Cours he had to endure the criticism of those who considered him finished, no more malice, no more motivation, no more desire to win. Then comes Zeltweg, which could be the turning point. Mika returns to destroy the opponents, four tenths to Coulthard and Barrichello, six to Schumacher. The Finnish now attacks:
"Everyone knows they made a mistake. Because now it’s me again, the real one. And when I’m 100%, no one can go faster than me".
Also because his machine is back to being quick and perfect. A metamorphosis that joins that of his physical. He needed holidays, the stressed Hakkinen:
"The continuous tests, the promotional rounds had squeezed me. I had to pull the plug, lock myself in my house in Monte Carlo, swim, play golf. I was so tired that I didn’t even think of a trip. The idea of starting a car engine gave me the shivers. Rest has done me good, because now I feel strong, reborn, in great shape".
A new Hakkinen. In the head and body. But there is not only that:
"My McLaren has also changed, the engineers have adapted it to me again. This is the car I want. Mine is a particular style of driving, very abrupt. I step on the accelerator and I admit I was in trouble after the FIA decided to limit the electronics. I tried to change the way I drive, but it’s a risk. You can be faster, I was slower. So, after the last Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, I told my technicians: why don’t we try to change the car and adapt it to my characteristics again? I was right and this is the result. I came back very fast and the balance of the car is fantastic. You can’t understand how I feel after I find pole position. It turns me on to break the fast, but above all to have solved all my problems, to have given an answer to the many question points of the last months, boring races in which I did not even make a mistake and I ended up behind, because the car did not work. Now I can attack again to the maximum, and I will, because this is one of my last opportunities, given the distance I have from Schumacher".
Speed is back. And so is the warrior spirit. That ability to react, when you have the knife pointed at your throat. Erja also admits it, his wife, the woman who will change his life, since it is now official the expectation of a child:
"Mika needs the pressure, the rifle behind his back. That’s the only way he can make the most, so far there was not enough".
The anxiety came, because the crisis was making the title slip away, and Hakkinen is ready to respond. Even Coulthard can not feel comfortable. In the previous edition of the Grand Prix, at the second corner there were sparks between the two (with the Scotsman who went to ram Hakkinen) and laughter from the rivals. However, Mika is not afraid that this will happen again, a security confirmed by Coulthard himself:
"A collision between teammates is a unique thing. If anything we will have to be careful about the departure of Schumacher, given how he behaves. And this time I do not want to be fooled".
The Ferraris are struggling in the second row, and with many questions to ask, above all, the performance of Schumacher, who qualified behind Barrichello. From the Ferrari box they hurry to say that the German never liked the circuit, because it does not fit his driving style. This is demonstrated by some runway exits and a spin of the Ferrari driver. Attempts to remedy these difficulties were many, but Schumacher never managed to find the right balance of his F1-2000. Michael is also stubborn in some experiments, changing several times type of tires and aileron, up to be confused in a great chaos of data. Barrichello, however, remains constant since Friday, immediately finding the right balance on the car. Balance not usable for Schumacher, since he has a style of driving too different from his teammate. Despite the difficulties, Schumacher’s optimism remains:
"Starting from pole is not always an advantage, and this will be a tough race where many things can happen".
In the morning warm-up on Sunday, July 16, 2000, in the Ferrari box filters a ray of optimism given by Barrichello. The Brazilian is the fastest of all and gives his team a minimum of confidence for the race. Encouraging but not enough signs to seriously think of threatening the overwhelming power of McLaren revealed throughout the weekend, also because meanwhile the difficulties of Schumacher continue. The two Silver Arrows are in second and third position (with Hakkinen the victim of a harmless spin). Schumacher, fifth behind the surprise Jos Verstappen, takes it with philosophy:
"This is certainly not a favorable circuit for me, but we will give our best to try to recover. It will be important to start well and then we will see what happens. In France we were in front of us and won the McLaren, maybe here it happens the opposite".
At 14:00, the race begins. Luciano Burti, who due to a last minute problem on his Jaguar, is forced to start from the pit lane. When the traffic lights went off, the two McLaren cars had a great sprint, and at the first corner Hakkinen closed without too many problems on Coulthard. The Ferraris, on the other hand, start slowly, being immediately chased by Trulli and Zonta. We get to the first corner, Barrichello does not sink the gap to not enter the fight with Schumacher, who is next to him, and settle for the fourth place behind his foreman. Otherwise, Trulli and Zonta delay braking too much at the first corner: the Jordan driver ends, without excessive violence, in the rear of the Ferrari driven by Barrichello, which consequently ends up wide on the gravel. The BAR Brazilian, on the other hand, hits in full the other Ferrari of Schumacher, which is spinning. Trulli can’t avoid it, and there’s frontal impact.
In the middle of the group, the contact between Fisichella and Diniz irreparably damages the Benetton of the Roman driver, who remains stuck in the traffic jam created by Ferrari affected by Schumacher. Ralf Schumacher has the same fate: he has to reverse to unlock and resume the race, which in the meantime was immediately neutralized with the entry of the Safety Car. Michael Schumacher tries the desperate maneuver to move his car with the damaged front at the center of the track, in the hope of causing a red flag and then be able to take part in the race with the forklift. The commissioners, however, efficiently removed the cars of the Ferrari driver, Trulli and Fisichella, all three retired.
The Roman is infuriated by the accident caused by Diniz, as he states in no uncertain terms once back in the pits:
"He’s a fool, where did he want to go at 300 km/h? I could get really hurt".
Even Michael Schumacher has a few words:
"I’m sorry for the team, it’s all because of Zonta who came too fast, and inexperienced did not know how to calculate the braking and ran over me. But Zonta did everything unintentionally. Now I just hope to make up soon, in Hockenheim".
At the end of the first lap, in the Safety Car regime, the race sees the two McLaren in the lead, incredibly followed by Salo, De La Rosa, Verstappen and Johnny Herbert, the one who has earned the most from this chaotic start, having started sixteenth. The next lap, Verstappen has to replace the damaged front wing, which is why Jenson Button, who also started from eighteenth place, climbs sixth place. Rubens Barrichello is only seventh, with the bottom of his damaged Ferrari. The Brazilian immediately makes room between drivers much slower than him: Button is overcome with ease, and shortly after it’s up to Johnny Herbert.
Without the Ferraris to undermine them, the two Silver Arrows run away undisturbed and although there is still a whole race to be disputed, it seems that nothing can prevent the solo ride of Hakkinen and Coulthard, who in the first phase of the race travel in pairs, divided by a second. The fourth retirement of the day is Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who after passing Button and taking seventh place must deal with the umpteenth mechanical problem of the season: the rear of Jordan starts to lose oil, which ends up on the rear wheels and cause the spin at the penultimate curve of the German driver, which ends his run in the gravel.
Behind the two McLaren, Pedro De La Rosa, who overtook Mika Salo taking third, and given the anomalous situation that sees Schumacher out of the games and Barrichello with the damaged car, at Arrows seriously think about the podium. Salo, on the other hand, must beware of Barrichello, who takes the fourth place of the Finn at the Remus corner. If Salo can not do anything, Johnny Herbert keeps without too much pathos the sixth place on Button and even Marc Gené on Minardi. The most heated tussle is in the center of the group, involving Alex Wurz and Jean Alesi: the French driver of Prost, after several attempts, manages to get the better of the only Benetton remaining in the race. With the car not at its best, Barrichello is not able to reduce the gap of six seconds that divides it from the Arrows of De La Rosa, which, for its part, keeps itself on an excellent race pace.
On the seventeenth lap the direction of the race sends one Stop&go to Zonta and Diniz, protagonists in negative chaos at the first corner. Little changes for the two drivers, who after the disastrous start had already slipped in the rear. Meanwhile, Hakkinen decides it’s time to get away from any possible attack by Coulthard, especially during the pit-stops, so he begins to constantly gain on the Scottish until he has fifteen seconds of lead on lap 30.
It’s the thirty-third lap when the Arrows' dreams of glory go out: due to trouble at the gearbox, De La Rosa slowly returns inside the box, thus decreeing the eighth retirement in ten races. This greatly facilitates the task of Barrichello, who rises to third place, but is too far from the McLaren to hope to do better. Hakkinen enjoys solitary leadership in the middle of the doubles, Coulthard follows him at a distance. At the end of the thirty-seventh lap Hakkinen makes his stop, imitated four laps later by Coulthard, too far to think of an overcut. For the Scotsman it is the umpteenth second place at the Austrian Grand Prix, after those obtained in the three previous editions.
When thirty laps are missing at the end of an already well-channeled race, Alain Prost must, unfortunately for him, witness the accident between his two drivers at the first corner. A tragic situation within the French team, if you think that already in Magny-Cours Heidfeld and Alesi had already reached contact. In that case, it was an error of assessment in braking of the young German, this time Alesi tries to get into the first corner, but Heidfeld closes the door, as if he did not expect the maneuver, in fact a bit 'garibaldina, the team-mate. The two cars end up in the gravel, retired.
With less than twenty laps to go, all drivers made at least one stop. The top positions are covered by Hakkinen, Coulthard, Barrichello, Villeneuve, Button and Salo. The Canadian World Champion 1997 was fifteenth at the end of the first lap, but thanks to an excellent race pace and a first stint stretched as much as possible, he gained numerous positions until he found himself in the points area. Salo, fourth after De La Rosa’s retirement, has a problematic pit-stop that favors Villeneuve and Button.
The Finn did not lose heart and joined the Williams of the British along with Herbert, who also decided to earn the first point of the season. In addition, Button runs with the damaged front wing after a gravel hike at the last corner. At the box Williams prepare with a new wing, but Jenson continues to try to keep the fifth place. Unintentional architect of the accident at the start, Ricardo Zonta retired on the fifty-eighth lap due to problems with the Honda engine. The icing on the cake in a day to forget for the Brazilian arrives when the crane that had to remove the car, hits him on the head while he was resetting the steering wheel. Before leaving, Zonta gives a nice middle finger to the crane driver.
The race offers no other interesting ideas, Button keeps the fifth position on Salo, Villeneuve conquers a high great fourth place, Barrichello limits damage to Ferrari as at Magny-Cours and is third, but above all, Mika Hakkinen returns to victory after two and a half months of abstinence (the last victory in Barcelona, May 7). He does so in front of Coulthard, who though defeated by his teammate, smiles because he gains another six points in the standings over Michael Schumacher. The German remains at 56, Coulthard rises to 50, Hakkinen to 48. In constructors, McLaren bypasses Ferrari to 98 points, six more than Ferrari.
The overtaking, however, as well as the success of Hakkinen, remains pending when the race commissioners confiscate the electronic control unit of the Finnish Mp4/15, having found a tampered seal. The confiscation takes place three hours after the end of the race, however, since it is not possible to check the software in Austria for irregularities, the judges take everything to London, where the necessary examinations will take place before taking a decision. Sanctions could range from the heavy fine to the disqualification of the pilot. A cold shower that ignites some hope at Ferrari, but does not disturb the atmosphere at McLaren. The stable does not comment, but defines itself absolutely quiet, without fear of having flooded the boxes with champagne unnecessarily. Nor does the unbridled Hakkinen lose his smile, euphoric for success, unstoppable in his joy, to the point of launching precise threats to Schumacher:
"The World Cup is back to me. It’s back in my hands again. I know, Michael’s still in the lead, he’s got an eight-point lead, but this win can be a game-changer. Now it is he who does not finish the races, to be in crisis. On the psychological level it is definitely worse. While I have definitely solved my problems and my car has returned a missile. I am not surprised by the ease with which I won. I have recovered my speed. And I will not lose it again".
A horny Hakkinen, again confident, to the point of feeling master despite the ranking for now continues to wrong him. He overtook, celebrating in the best way his loyalty record: one hundred and eight races with McLaren, one more than Alain Prost, the longest-running driver in the history of the English team. A magnificent Sunday, so much so that Mika struggles to hold back the euphoria:
"It’s dangerous to let go, but this is too important a success. A pilot should always have his feet on the ground, his head cold, but after everything that happened to me this season, I can’t control myself. Here in Zeltweg, my season has finally begun. I know I have a big car and I know I’m the fastest driver in the league, but your superiority is of no use unless you figure it out. Look at Schumacher, here he got it wrong and he’s been trudging all weekend, just like I had in the last two races. The set up is essential, the technicians have now understood what I want, they gave me back my car, the one that fits my driving style. My goal is to tie Schumacher before the last two races. Then everything will be decided. And I have already shown to bear the pressure well. Better than anyone".
To celebrate, we return on holiday, maybe to propose that rest that before Austria did so well:
"But don’t say it was that my secret. The real help was the changed machine. Small modifications. They may seem insignificant. They were decisive".
And it certainly doesn’t refer to the electronic switchboard, which ended up under investigation in the evening. Also because it guarantees that in Hockenheim the power will be the same:
"If Schumacher wants to do me a favor again...".
A favor that would also be appreciated to Coulthard, in Austria walking in his hundredth Grand Prix, for those that he defines six comfortable points. A Scotsman who approaches and on Schumacher does not contain:
"I don’t know what happened at the first corner, but surely Michael is to be condemned".
To show that peace between the two is ever further away. Four doubles in the last seven races and a very high level of reliability, as demonstrated by the fact that both cars reach the finish line from eight Grand Prix. McLaren has been chasing for a long time, after the catastrophes of Australia and Brazil it has lived terrible days, but now they enjoy the fruits of the comeback, with Hakkinen and Coulthard that without race orders they divide the victories, while Maranello twists in a crisis of results. The best symbol of this metamorphosis is Norbert Haug, of whom it was rumoured a dismissal in the darkest moment (with Niki Lauda ready to take over), but who never stopped believing, even when threatening Ferrari could seem like a sterile and desperate act of self-defense:
"Hakkinen’s performance in Austria was excellent, but I’m not surprised since our car has become a Swiss watch for some time. For years we had to fight with reliability, but now it has become our strength. And this, combined with the power of the engine and the competitiveness of the machine, constitutes a deadly cocktail".
The rest then think the two drivers, never been so fit as at this time. Coulthard is in the best year of his career. In other times, in Austria he would have done the devil of four to join his teammate, but this season he became calculating and content himself with a second place that brings him closer to the head of the championship. He is more lucid, he keeps away from the headers, and even his now unstoppable rivalry with the Ferrari driver opens important gaps only in the after race, never on track. A maturation that had made him the main enemy, until the true Hakkinen appeared, uncontainable on Saturday and perfect on Sunday. For the Scotsman, it’s like starting from scratch:
"It’s almost as if from Germany we were at the first race of the year. Everything went well and these points were won with ease. Hakkinen was very motivated and not easy to catch. After all, at first I knew I had a lot more fuel than he did, so it was normal that his car was faster. In the end, I could attack him, but I thought of the most important goal, that of the World Championship. And I settled for the second place. But I’m in good shape, from Brazil I always got to the bottom. The chase is over, Ferrari had an advantage thanks to our problems".
At the end of the qualifying, Coulthard had a prophetic momentum, when he warned Barrichello:
"If you are going to give the starting position to Schumacher be careful. Things may not go exactly as you would like".
In the days before the Austrian Grand Prix, nothing else was mentioned but departures. And, between prophecies, premonitions and veiled threats, it seemed that the whole race counted only those frantic seconds that pass from the traffic light to the first, insidious, curve. Reality, however, has overcome the most mischievous fantasies. The two McLaren drivers of that disastrous shot will remember only a few fleeting images framed in the rearview mirrors: the smoke, the gravel, the flags, the cars on the track meant that the race was at their disposal. For Ferraris, however, the disaster was consumed. A disaster was also consumed for Prost, with the accident between teammates in the middle of the race. Concerning this, Alesi and Villeneuve reject the young Nick Heidfeld. The former Ferrarist thunders:
"Nick knew I was faster than him, and I can’t figure out how he couldn’t see me or if he did it because he didn’t step aside. I already have two children and I don’t feel like taking care of a third".
The German justified himself by claiming that he had not seen his rival, but these justifications did not convince even Jacques Villeneuve, who attacks Heidfeld for the maneuvers of the latter when fighting in the rear:
"Nick went back to driving like he used to in the F.3000, that is, throwing anyone in the grass. I think such behavior, when fighting for the fourteenth position, is not acceptable".
What does Prost think?
"Alesi should not have been so aggressive with his partner, because he would have had to stop shortly after".
All while for the next Grand Prix it seems that the divorce between the stable of the Professor and the Peugeot will be formalized; it was the same Alain to make him suppose when Saturday night had said:
"There will be an announcement in Hockenheim".
Two days after the race in Austria, Prost, along with Ferrari and Minardi, goes to Mugello for a series of tests; Arrows prefers to go to Vairano (Pavia), while the other teams, McLaren in the lead, find themselves at Silverstone. The Frecce d'argento, with Panis and Coulthard, are the protagonists of the first day of testing. The French test driver scores the fastest time, while Coulthard, in the morning, remains stationary on the track due to electrical problems. A bit of fear for Luciano Burti, who left the track in the afternoon at the Stowe corner. The Brazilian loses control of the car at the moment of braking, going into a spin, crashing violently against the tires and damaging the left side of the car. Pilot unharmed, but car out of commission. With regard to the seal of discord over the Hakkinen car control unit, Jo Bauer, technical delegate of the FIA, explains:
"In my long career, something like this has never happened to me. Then it’s up to the sports commissioners".
No official reply from the team, but Mercedes sources say there is no irregularity. No need to worry. A spokesman for the team said:
"The information has already been downloaded from the computers and it has been confirmed that the access codes were not found altered".
A fact, the latter, which prompted the same exponent of McLaren to be optimistic about the outcome of the event:
"We trust that the matter will be resolved quickly and that Hakkinen’s victory will be confirmed".
In fact, a breach has already been established, and therefore the stable will receive a punishment for sure. Also because the seals of the control units cannot be blown away by a gust of wind: it is a particular adhesive paper with the FIA mark and a number that corresponds to the control unit, in turn covered with an adhesive tape. The stables have twenty-five seals available for each race weekend: they are used to ensure the inviolability of the control units mounted on Formula 1. To remove them you need a special tool. It will be the German Hermann Tomczyk, the Austrian Walter Jobst and the Irish Brian Brophy to decide what type of action to take against the Anglo-German team, probably after having listened to a representative (Chief Executive Officer Martin Withmarsh, who intervened in Ferrari’s appeal in the Sepang case in 1999). Norbert Haug states with confidence:
"We have no fear: the FIA can safely examine the software of the Hakkinen machine control unit, then it will be clear that everything is in accordance with the regulations. We must first determine who is responsible for keeping the seals but I am convinced that no one has carried out manipulations".
The Federation, however, took time to postpone the decision on the punishment to be inflicted on McLaren in the weekend following the Austrian Grand Prix. The reasons that lead to the lengthening of the times are various: in primis, it is necessary to consider the delicacy of the verifications that the technical group of the FIA specialized in electronics finds itself to carry out, using also external consultants. The analysis work in progress does not have a fixed location, but uses several laboratories in England.
In addition, the technicians also carry out a visit to the headquarters of McLaren-Mercedes in Woking, in addition to visiting the Tag electronic system, the company of the McLaren Group that provides the programs and builds the management units not only to the team of the same name but also to others, like the Jordan. The specialists in charge of the control do not discard any hypothesis, from the possible accidental detachment of the adhesive seal, to the interventions that the opening of even a single unit of edge can render possible.
In particular, the reading of access codes - which are secret and owned by the FIA - to be able to then modify the programs without being found alterations to the subsequent verifications. McLaren and Mercedes, on the matter maintain a precise line, that of the accidental release of the adhesive caused by vibrations. Waiting for the FIA verdict, we talk again about the incident at the start of Zeltweg. Through a fax, Ricardo Zonta apologizes to Michael Schumacher. The Brazilian writes:
"I’m sorry for what happened, but it wasn’t my intention to get involved in the accident, much less you running for a title. Even I in the past, although at less important levels, I was in contention for a championship and I understand the potential consequences of what happened. It was an unfortunate episode, I’m sorry, see you in Hockenheim".
Words Michael Schumacher says he appreciated. The German, among other things, cancels the holiday week scheduled after the Austrian race to go to Fiorano, starting from 19 July 2000, where he performs numerous tests and seventy-eight laps. But Ferrari, as mentioned, is also active at Mugello, where there is Rubens Barrichello, appeared on laps after the podium in comeback in Austria:
"After the race, talking to Brawn we quantified the loss of aerodynamic load for that particular broken around fifteen percent, but the technicians then found that the percentage was much higher: in Formula 1 it is already difficult to overcome and in those conditions it was practically impossible. So I argue that without the accident at the start we could have done another race. Only in France the McLaren was stronger, in Austria no".
Waiting for the test, the Ferrari starts again from the troubles happened to Magny-Cours. What had turned the initial ride of the redheads into an ordeal? Tires that had degraded excessively. Well, Rubens' first job is to check with temperatures higher than those of Zeltweg the consistency of the tires. So, in front of the left rear wheel is mounted an infrared reader that serves to keep under constant control the temperature; at the same time, under the muzzle there is an identical instrument to measure the height from the ground, necessary to optimise the Auditt’s settings. In addition, to make the test even more extreme, at a certain point the air vents in the back are widened to convey more hot air on the tires. Rubens, author of an excursion on the grass that damages the bottom, also tries numerous aerodynamic novelties. At the end of the day, the Ferrari driver spent a few words on the case of the McLaren control unit:
"It’s right to clarify what happened, but I don’t want to think about the advantages of a disqualification of Hakkinen. It’s not nice and in the end you can be disappointed".
As the tests continue, the FIA says that the decision on Hakkinen will be announced on Tuesday, July 25, 2000, and therefore, a further delay is made official. The Federation’s specialists, coordinated by Jo Bauer, inform the Geneva office of the International Federation that they are not yet able to declare their investigation completed, as it seemed possible to do. The investigation, obviously, every day that passes announces longer because more complex than expected. This prolongation multiplies uncertainty about the outcome of the matter.
On July 25, 2000, the Federation put an end to the case: fine of 50,000 dollars and deduction of the points won in Austria with the victory of Hakkinen, in the constructors' standings, for McLaren. The success of the Finn, therefore, is homologated, so the defending champion retains his ten points and remains third in the overall classification, less than eight from Michael Schumacher. The ten points taken from McLaren are not attributed to anyone, and Ferrari returns to lead the world championship with 92 points against 88 of rivals.
The Anglo-German company is recognized as the only one responsible for the lack of the seal on the control unit. The judges speak of exceptional circumstances that cause only the builder, and not the pilot, to be punished. The judges found the good faith of McLaren, who did not take advantage of the lack of the seal to change the electronics secretly and draw some advantages in the race; is also confirmed the responsibility of the team regarding the seal: according to the regulations a team is always responsible for the full technical compliance of the car with the rules of the regulations.
The control unit was without a seal and the fault of this must be attributed to McLaren, which had to better supervise and report to the FIA the possible lack of one of the seals. This did not happen, as it was Jo Bauer who noticed immediately after the conclusion of the Austrian Grand Prix that the winner’s car lacked a seal on one of the electronic control units. The three judges had no choice but to apply this rule (Article 8.2.7 of the Technical Regulation and Article 7 of the Sporting Regulation) and to impose a punishment on the team as responsible for everything that happened. McLaren, after the ruling, acknowledges that:
"The sentence is very harsh, but fair, it would have been really embarrassing if the pilot had been punished too".
Ron Dennis announces that he accepts the verdict, and that he does not wish to make any appeals. Ferrari, for its part, is limited to a laconic comment in which it takes note of the decision of the judges, without entering into the merits. Sunday, July 30, 2000 is scheduled the German Grand Prix at the Hockenheim circuit, the fastest of the whole championship. Maranello’s cars are already in Germany with new aerodynamic devices and new engine developments, which should give more speed to Schumacher and Barrichello to counter the McLaren in a delicate moment of the championship.
Davide Scotto di Vetta