Two days after his first career victory in the rain at Hockenheim, Rubens Barrichello is still elated:
"I would have paid any amount for a first time like this. It’s an extraordinary victory, I’m still dreaming".
Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Brazilian performs a test session at the wheel of F1-2000, however, it is difficult to immediately leave behind his incredible triumph. The images that portray him crying with joy on the podium have been around the world, and have had a huge impact on the audience:
"Nothing built, it was I, who thought of all the sacrifices made by my family, my efforts, the affection of those who have always believed in me".
Meanwhile, its sponsors gloat: Nokia, its most profitable partner, plans a new advertising campaign based on the images of Sunday, because, as explained by the marketing director, Elisabeth Peart, Barrichello has the ideal profile for this role; Shell, which has been sponsoring Ferrari for five years, launches in Brazil a mega-campaign to distribute forty thousand T-shirts with the photo of Rubinho, and studies a specific sponsorship for the driver.
But Rubens is also hungry on television (Rede Globo, which has the exclusive Formula 1 in Brazil, on Sunday of the race in Germany has tripled the audience, reaching the figures of the times of Senna) and on the internet. His site, after Hockenheim, was flooded with visits (200,000) and messages (3,000); the large Brazilian portals offer disproportionate figures. And finally, Viviane Senna, Ayrton’s sister, thanks the Ferrarist through a fax for dedicating the victory to her brother:
"I was touched by your gesture at a time that should have been yours alone. You were barbaric - which in Paulista dialect means wonderful - both as a professional and as a human being".
In Fiorano, on August 2nd 2000 Barrichello runs from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, trying departures, aerodynamics and trim for Budapest, for a total of seventy-four laps and a best time in 1'01"682. On 3 August 2000 it’s Michael Schumacher’s turn to get on track. The leader of the World Championship was supposed to start his tests on August 4, but Ferrari prefers to anticipate by twenty-four hours to allow him to treat mainly set-ups and aerodynamics for Hungary.
Michael also engages in departures, which continue to be his Achilles heel. All while from Germany, the newspaper Bild strongly supports the case of the conspiracy against the driver of Ferrari, even going so far as to publish a ranking of the drivers who most hate Schumacher. On the podium of this particular ranking end Villeneuve, Coulthard and Irvine. However, Michael seems to have overcome the accident at the start of the German Grand Prix with Fisichella, with the intention of looking ahead and interrupting a worrying negative streak, just ten points in five races:
"Certainly Hockenheim is not a result that helps from a psychological point of view. It is still a difficult time. I thought that everything could end just last Sunday. I was convinced that I could win, but I’m still optimistic".
Schumacher completed eighty-six laps, the best of which in 1'01"308. The fight for the title has become enormously complicated, and from a comfortable gap that seemed manageable until the end, the German finds himself with only two lengths ahead of Hakkinen and Coulthard:
"Now it’s all more difficult. But it’s good to still be in front of everyone despite so many problems. I see it as positive. There is still a sufficient number of races to change the face of the championship in our favor".
A championship that has become balanced with four drivers in ten points:
"Yes, four drivers in struggle. What Ferrari has been missing for twenty years. It will be a great effort, thank God that the fourth driver is Rubens. Halfway through the race I decided to leave the track and then things changed and I stopped. I did well because I saw amazing things from Rubens".
Its crucial moment is still at the start:
"I have to make better departures, that’s why I’m working in Fiorano, is an obligation to answer. In Germany, I got off to a good start in front of Coulthard. Those who set off in an exemplary way were Hakkinen, who took the lead from the second row. That’s how we start. Eat 24 meters in a moment".
After the accusations, apologies. Schumacher apologizes to Fisichella for having blamed him for the Hockenheim accident:
"At a time like that it is normal to blame everyone who has hit you from behind, but after a self-critical and objective reflection I have to say that it was a racing accident that can always happen".
Then there’s Bild’s outburst about his opponents' attacks on his track behavior:
"I’m a tough driver, I’m not a Rambo. In the last few races I was simply thrown off track by others. However, I am convinced that we will win the world title".
On August 9, 2000 we return to Fiorano on an asphalt that touches the fifty degrees. Schumacher performed eight starting tests, as well as testing the fourth car leaving for Budapest. Ferrari, in fact, after the vicissitudes of qualifying at Hockenheim where Barrichello had found himself without a car for a good part of the session, because the two main F1-2000 cars were damaged and the forklift was used by Schumacher, decides to show up in Hungary with four cars. An exercise, that of departures, that for a circuit like Budapest where overcoming is practically impossible, could be very useful. At the end of the test, Schumacher stated:
"After the bad series of the last races in Budapest I hope to win again. Already in the past I received similar questions when pole-setters did not win the Grand Prix. I interrupted that stage. Now even this moment will end. F1-2000 has qualities that make it competitive on all tracks".
This while from the front of his enemies comes another hard attack. It is Jacques Villeneuve, one who never spares declarations of war, to carry it out, in an interview with the German magazine Auto, Motor und Sport:
"Schumacher does not tolerate criticism and takes no account of the opinions of others. He entrenched himself behind the hypothesis that we all would only hurt him, but aggression came into play only because he does not listen to us. Things come into one ear and out of the other. It’s not my style to criticize in vain. I don’t think Michael’s starts are very useful for our sport: aggression does not mean attacking the opponent, cutting him off, making him run the risk of an accident. He says that in this way he just tries to defend his position, that the regulations allow him, but it would be better if he reviewed his concepts a bit and started being a champion again. Coulthard in Germany obstructed him in revenge, but things have to change. I hope nothing happens in Hungary. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll try to stay away from my teammate Zonta".
Zonta who in Hockenheim threw him out, and which Jacques seems to no longer endure. An invective against Schumacher, that of the Canadian, rather violent and that goes hand in hand with that launched by Coulthard, another great enemy of the German and with him fighting for the world title, a few days before:
"Michael is never self-critical, always looking for a guilty party, and then he wants others to treat him with respect. I would do what I did in Germany, because I was inside the rules. The people behind it have to make do. Doesn’t Michael always support it?"
War without the exclusion of blows. With Villeneuve adding a touch of irony:
"Let it be clear that my grudge against Schumacher is not due to the accident of Jerez, in '97. For that episode I just have to thank him. With that maneuver he gave me the world title".
There’s also Eddie Irvine, another one who doesn’t hesitate to give him a shot, like his lack of inclination to improve departures:
"Of course it happens, because Michael feels too strong to try to learn".
In the group of enemies after Hockenheim someone would like to insert Fisichella, but the first to refute this theory is the Ferrari:
"Ours was a simple race accident, between me and Giancarlo there is nothing. As for the war of others, I do not care. In all fields there are jealousies and dislikes, with some colleagues you get along, with others not. There is nothing unusual. Or worrying".
Better to think of Budapest:
"Where I am very optimistic. Ferrari is working day and night to bring the title back to Maranello. The enterprise has not succeeded for twenty-one years. And you can imagine how many stimuli there are inside the team".
The sports management of the Maranello team had to face and solve enormous difficulties to bring four cars to Budapest, plus a fifth shell reserve because already the day of August, the Tuesday following the Hungarian Grand Prix, will begin tests at Mugello, but the effort had to be made. Of course, to the satisfaction of Barrichello, who interprets it as a sign of great confidence.
"Competition is good for work, it stimulates, it pushes you forward, if the partner is strong I must be stronger too".
Says Schumacher, not accustomed to such situations if not in some remnants of the previous season with Irvine, although in a particular situation. Rubens adds the following:
"Michael and I will win the title at Ferrari, fighting with two equal cars of McLaren-Mercedes will be a big advantage".
When Ferrari won the last Drivers' World Championship in 1979, it used just two champions such as Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve to bend the Williams of Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni. They finished first and second. Since then it has not happened many more times to see a couple of Ferrari players fighting for the title, This is also why Maranello’s environment is somewhat unaffected by the favourable situation created by Barrichello’s victory and Schumacher’s crisis of results. In Budapest the two Italians Fisichella and Trulli want to surprise too. Jarno has not yet digested the ten-second Stop&go inflicted for an overtaking, actually never happened, to Rubens Barrichello in Safety Car regime:
"I still think about it, the anger for a possible second place faded in this way was very great. But after what happened I feel even stronger than before psychologically".
Fisichella, back from the accident at the start with Schumacher, claims to be optimistic:
"It’s a track I really like and where our car should be fine. The tests carried out in Valencia have shown that we have improved, so we face the trip with positivity".
For Trulli, however, the unknown remains how the car will adapt to the circuit:
"Jordan never got too excited in Hungary in the past. But this year we did well both in Monte Carlo and in Zeltweg, which have similar characteristics. So I trust. I like the track very much, with difficult corners where it is important to find a good tuning. It is one of the few circuits where the pilot can make a difference".
The season was high and low for both. The most disappointed is definitely Jarno:
"I expected much more. And the team with me after last season. I only got to the bottom a few times, although when I did, I got points. This is partly a consolation, because it shows that when the car goes, I fight with the first".
More rosy the 2000 of Giancarlo:
"We have been through some difficult times, but we are fighting for third place in the constructors and I to finish fifth in the World Championship. We want to achieve both goals".
On the future, Trulli is sure to remain at Jordan, Benetton for its part is about to announce the renewal of Fisichella’s contract:
"Benetton’s option expires on August 15th, but at this point only the signature is missing so that I can stay the next season".
For the world war, both still see Schumacher favorite. Trulli:
"At this point everything is possible. We will see a hard fight and to the death. But for me Schumacher remains favorite. He has paid duty in the last races, can not continue to go wrong".
"We’ll have to wait until the last race to see who gets the chance. But Ferrari has made some progress lately, and Schumacher’s misfortune is bound to end. For me he will win".
On the eve of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Minardi formalized the end of the relationship with Cesare Fiorio. The new sports director will be Gabriele Tredozi. The team of Faenza announces the news with a press release of a few lines:
"Cesare Fiorio no longer serves as sports director, a post he held since January 1999, thus ending his collaboration with the team. This decision was reached by mutual agreement, as the strategic choices of the team were no longer shared".
Florio explains the reasons for this decision:
"When you work, you have to make choices, and ours were no longer reconcilable. Obviously not because of a single party, but reciprocally. I am then in Formula 1 for forty years. When you get older you obviously become more intransigent".
A divorce consummated without rancor:
"It is a decision taken in agreement with Gabriele Rumi, owner of the team".
Then he talks about his experience:
"I arrived in Faenza in '99. Since then the team has made great strides forward. We have a good structure, a team that works very well. We were always on the grid, we made supplies among the fastest. I mean, my satisfactions I had".
He does not deny that at the base of the end of the relationship there is the lack of sharing with Rumi of strategic choices, so he focuses on what is missing from the team to obtain more results:
"In Formula 1, the budget is crucial. Without it, a team cannot practice, work on development. Then a better engine and, from today, a Cesare Fiorio".
Once in Budapest, between heat and scorching asphalt, the atmosphere is warm. But President Montezemolo takes care of making the Hungarian Thursday afternoon glowing, and a statement about the hierarchies at Ferrari:
"As long as I’m there, in our stable there will never be war between the two drivers".
Ergo, precise hierarchies, with first and second guides. Nothing new for what is the recent past of Ferrari, but it is still a statement that even Mika Hakkinen struggles to understand:
"When a boss tells you that, he distracts you and takes away your motivation. Being second a priori, he creates problems in morale. How can you run, if you already know you can’t win? If McLaren told me something like that, I’d have a hard time getting in the car. I do not think that having a first and a second guide is ideal, it does not happen with us and beating the teammate is a huge stimulus".
Even Barrichello provides a different version of presidential thought:
"To me Montezemolo, when we met after Hockenheim, said different things, he wants Ferrari to win the World Championship at all costs, no matter with whom. Why would they bring a fourth car if I was just here to play Schumacher? I have won only one race in my life, I do not have the charisma of my three opponents, it would make no sense to stand here and flaunt goals. But my life has changed, now driving is more fun and I will do everything to stay in front".
The goal is yes to help Schumacher, but the hope of becoming a threat to the German is there. Schumacher keeps seeing enemies everywhere. The Ferrari driver has no problem talking openly about a real lobby against him:
"I know it exists, a group of riders has formed it but I am not afraid. I can not be nice to everyone. The latest accidents, however, have nothing to do with it, because Zonta and Fisichella are not part of my enemies. Nor does it make sense to talk about my crisis. I’m not out of shape, it’s not my fault I haven’t made it past the first corner in the last two races. To prove it I have only one way: to return to win. And I want to do it now. I know that in Austria they take bets on my departure: bet on me, this time I get to the bottom".
But Hakkinen also bets on himself:
"Here, winning last year, I came out of a nightmare after Zeltweg and Hockenheim. It’s my favorite circuit".
"Here you can not pass. You will see that shiver at the start...".
On Friday the 11th of August 2000 the Hungarian Grand Prix is immediately lit up during free practice, with a back and forth between Ferrari and McLaren. Ferrari get the first session thanks to the best time of Schumacher, the second round instead goes to the Frecce d'Argento, which place Coulthard and Hakkinen ahead of the pair of Maranello.
The Scottish set the best time in 1'18'792, beating his teammate by 151 thousandths (1'18"943). Schumacher, for his part, improved on the first hour (1'19"138 his best time) but remained at 346 thousandths from the record. Further away, in the fourth half, Barrichello: 1'19"896, or more than a second behind. Behind the McLaren-Ferrari quartet, the fastest is Trulli, fifth (1'20"104) ahead of Fisichella (1'20"304) and Ralf Schumacher (1'20"307).
In the afternoon, the sky clouded and the temperature dropped a lot, but in the first half hour Ferrari and McLaren duel to look for the best time in a practice session that apparently dedicated to the search for performance for Saturday qualifying. Coulthard, with his time, comes about half a second from the pole position achieved in 1999 by Hakkinen (1'18"156). At the end of Friday, Ferrari felt a slight concern. Schumacher explained the main problem:
"Our front tires wear faster than those of the McLaren".
And this cramped Maranello even more than the German detachments, three tenths abundantly from Coulthard, two from Hakkinen. Because the tires risk being the balance needle in the race, more than the aerodynamic load or cooling of the radiators. On the tires, Schumacher is behind and this does not leave the technicians quiet, even if Michael for now avoids to bandage his head:
"We have not yet found the right set up, we have to improve the car, but the gaps from the two McLaren are contained and for the race I remain optimistic. Of course, we knew which tires our opponents used...".
Here is one of the focal points of the challenge. Tyre warfare also means hiding your choices. Ferrari should have made Barrichello try the soft (not surprisingly seven tenths slower than his teammate) and the supersoft (better performance, but also more degradation) to Schumacher, while in McLaren the weight of the harder compound should be Hakkinen. But tyre warfare is also circumventing the regulation, with a gimmick (already tested when there was the introduction in '98 of grooved tires) that would cause drivers to consume the tires to the maximum on Friday, up to zero the four grooves and turn them into forbidden slicks, good for Sunday. Smooth rubber offers great performance, but it’s against the rules.
The FIA already knows that in 2001 it will intervene with surprise checks on the cars to check the tire wear, but for this season nothing is expected and on Friday the two McLaren drivers in their twenty laps use only one set of tires each. Hakkinen talks about having to save the sets of tires in view of the great heat, but for Schumacher it is also right to fuel the suspicion:
"The McLaren strangely always wait a long time before changing the tires. Is it possible that they never degrade?"
The certainty is that the challenge between the two teams has reached the levels of guard. And among the many battles there is that of nerves. The exchange of blows specifically concerns the two technical directors, the Ferrarist Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey. Precise accusations by Brawn:
"Everyone says that we prefer Schumacher, but even at McLaren there is a first and a second guide. In the last two races they brazenly favored Hakkinen, only they do not have the courage to admit it. While we, in our transparency, we guarantee that we will give the maximum contribution to Barrichello, if he was in the lead at the World Cup".
And Newey, annoyed:
"If Brawn thinks of Zeltweg and Hockenheim, he’s wrong. In Austria we had two cars in the head, it’s normal to freeze positions, you wanted to kick them out? And in Germany with the Safety Car Hakkinen entered the pits only because he was first at that time".
Poison in abundance. But Schumacher does not mind:
"It’s the taste of challenge. Winning with so much tension gives more satisfaction".
At McLaren, unlike the opponents, there is satisfaction after free practice. Hakkinen the outside most of all:
"This is a unique circuit, dirty and with many wedges: traction and balance are essential. Our engineers exceeded my expectations. The change of attitude in the second hour gave me a perfect car".
On Sunday, the Finn and Coulthard will be able to match the record of victories for McLaren drivers (twenty-five, record held by the historic couple Senna-Prost):
"It would be a great time, but I look forward to the end of the race to celebrate it with David. A nice couple Senna and Prost. Great example for me and David. And in the future we will do better, because we will continue to work together".
Smiles and congratulations also for Coulthard:
"Here I noticed a huge progress compared to last year. Already at the tests in Valencia I understood that we would be happy here. The car grows. And there was a great development, even engine".
Quota 25, Senna and Prost:
"Yes, I’d like to be at the weekend as the most successful couple with McLaren. But even more to be the World Champion at the end of the season. I have already lost points in Brazil and Canada. I’m not leaving any more on the street. My career is at stake. Here I must win, if I want to continue hoping to conquer the World".
However, Ferrari remains at the top of the standings:
"Yes, and we will have to do a lot. The Grand Prix presents a great possibility of errors, both on track and in stops. We are close as performance, the fight is restricted. We can not miss anything".
Together with Monaco, this is the most important circuit to start on pole:
"Starting in the front always offers some advantages, here even more. But pole is not enough: it also needs a good start. I had the best time in Hockenheim, but at the first corner I was preceded by Mika".
Schumacher insists that only Hakkinen is his opponent for the World Championship:
"Your business. I disagree".
Controversy continues over departures. Some say that the departure should have been repeated in Hockenheim:
"If the conditions had been met, it should have been decided then. Of course Michael would have liked very much to leave".
Others say that the Scotsman at the start was more focused on Schumacher than on Hakkinen:
"I tried to do the best I could in that situation. I always try to give my best in compliance with the rules".
Will the incident be discussed in the pilot’s meeting?
"It could be a topic of discussion between Fisichella, Schumacher and the others involved".
"That depends on the point of view. The only ones who know exactly what happened are the drivers involved".
When questioned about Schumacher’s statements and the existence of an alleged lobby against him, Jacques Villeneuve replied:
"I lobbyist? No, not at all. If he likes to think like that, that’s fine. I don’t care. But there is no lobby, we didn’t agree. I only said that he makes bad starts. And I said it also when, in Hockenheim, the bad start was made by Coulthard, who is my friend".
Jacques rejects the role of head of the anti-schumacher group. But in Ferrari Ross Brawn confirms that someone has made a question of how to start Schumacher, adding:
"I can understand that. But having said that, his departures were accepted by the FIA. So now I think the level of criticism has become so high for revenge. Those who criticize Michael do not do it to prevent him from continuing to make his departures, but for other hidden reasons. And I don’t like it at all. If they want they can discuss it freely and directly with him, not in public".
Then rule out Michael changing his attitude:
"I think a change of style would be a mistake".
But Villeneuve replied:
"You may think that there is a war going on against Schumacher, but that’s not true. It’s just that certain episodes happen to him often. It is difficult to find a solution. You should work on people, not on laws. And there are not many people who behave in a certain way".
On Saturday, the ongoing controversy did not disturb Schumacher, who gained the pole position with a time of 1'17"514, thanks to which he cut the rival Coulthard by three tenths, and four tenths the other McLaren of Hakkinen. Ralf Schumacher at the wheel of the Williams-BMW completes the second row, while Barrichello has to settle for the third row, having obtained the fifth time with an eight-tenths gap from his teammate’s pole.
The German with seems to have to struggle more than that for the pole, the 28th of his career (like Fangio): at the top of the ranking since the beginning of the session, his supremacy is never questioned. Coulthard and Hakkinen’s latest assaults don’t bother him: Michael doesn’t even need to force to improve his time on the last useful lap. In full harmony with F1-2000, comes a great performance before the eyes of ecstatic Montezemolo. The two McLaren drivers, however, argue with their cars, nervous and unstable.
A pole position that represents a solid basis to tie another historical number, in addition to the number of fast laps (forty-one, like Prost), or the forty-first victory, which would allow him to match Senna. The myths make room for him in the art gallery and Schumacher smiles happily. Because this pole position doesn’t give any world points yet, but in a circuit where overtaking is almost impossible, it can be a valid help to return to a success that he has been missing for almost two months. Luca di Montezemolo gives funny faces, smiles, interviews and warnings, without forgetting to celebrate the pole position of Schumacher:
"I’m happy, I hope that now Schumacher has more luck in the race, but we wait for Sunday".
The president alternates convivial moments with secluded meetings, with drivers and collaborators, until the final summit with Ecclestone. With one premise:
"I don’t want to argue, it takes serenity, correctness. And then I am old of Formula 1 and newspapers, and I know well that in August the inventors proliferate. And then I ask not to exaggerate. I assure you that fans and supporters are very baffled by certain interpretations".
Then he attacks:
"Schumacher never spoke of lobbying, a term used by journalists, there was never a controversy between Ross Brown and McLaren. Let’s be serious. We are experiencing the best season in the last twenty-one years, we have two drivers in the race for the world".
And on the situation inside the team, as far as hierarchies are concerned, he says:
"They invented Irvine myth, a mixture of Fangio, Senna and Nuvolari. Now it’s Barrichello’s turn. Irvine is a good guy, but he has never done a pole in his life. To win the World Championship you have to start in the lead and win the races. Eddie won, but we also stopped Salo a couple of times".
Barrichello like Irvine, then?
"Rubens won a very important race, he could also win in England, he made a pole and he is extraordinary, being in his first year in Ferrari. It is a confirmation of the quality of the cars, of the great work that the whole team does. I am very happy with Barrichello, we were all moved by selling him in tears after the victory at Hockenheim. But let’s not forget the extraordinary work done at the wall".
Are we likely to see Schumacher and Barrichello on the same level?
"The strongest will win. But, as I have already said, as long as I am here no Ferrari driver can ever create problems for the other. I want Ferrari to win. Drivers have to run first to win Ferrari. As Schumacher did in Malaysia. I don’t stop at words. The facts say that five of Ferrari’s six victories are by Schumacher, that he is the driver who has won the most races of all, that is ten points ahead".
With McLaren relations are certainly not serene:
"No controversy. It’s just time everyone talked about their business. I have the utmost respect for McLaren. Behind it, I’ve seen more serious zigzagging. For the departures it is perhaps right to establish new rules, that the drivers for a certain stretch maintain the trajectory. But if there are no rules who is in front can do one, two fakes, like Ronaldo. Today who is in front can do what he wants. I think it is extravagant that some, especially in Italy, see Schumacher’s faults. There were two episodes: in the first a pilot came to apologize, a unique case; in the second if Michael had done what last time did Coulthard opened the sky. The reality is that only those who understand little of Formula 1 can discuss Schumacher. But the important thing really is to stop the controversy and follow this world championship that is exciting and hard, as hard announces this race".
Although Montezemolo preaches calm and serenity, Coulthard does not get soft:
"At the first corner the door is open and I want to get into it".
Schumacher intends to exercise caution in a precise way:
"Run away. Flee with a rocket start, so as not to be rammed by anyone. Because the other remedy, starting last, security level would be bomb-proof. But then how do I win the race?"
Instead, here, Michael must absolutely triumph:
"And I have good opportunities, because we fixed the car, found the right set-up. In qualifying I was very fast, and I’m sure I can have the same speed in the race".
A state of mind opposed to that of Hakkinen, worried about the limits of despair, shaken by a car that just does not want to know to become stable:
"During the qualifying hour we made a lot of radical changes on the machine, but it didn’t help. I’m not satisfied, I haven’t been satisfied all weekend. We’ve never found the right balance, I’ve never been able to pull out all the speed we have. Schumacher did not make an exceptional time, we were the ones to lose. Every hop was a torment. And here, on this circuit, there are countless jumps".
A real cry of pain. Also due to those extra soft tires, which he hates:
"In Monte Carlo and Magny Cours I was also forced to use them, and qualifying was a disaster. Luckily there is still time for the race, we will have to start again. And we will. Because the current car is too difficult to drive".
Concept married by Coulthard:
"I did not expect to suffer a similar detachment from Schumacher. It’s all the fault of the set up, they are evidently ahead".
Music for the ears of Schumacher. Who instead sees everything downhill:
"I expected to be competitive, but I didn’t think so. The race is something else, but today’s result is a good basis. Being on pole helps a lot. Now let’s see how the two of McLaren behave at the start, while I trust my brother Ralf. In fact, it would be wonderful if you could fit behind me, keeping Hakkinen and Coulthard behind you".
A icing on the cake. How to turn the race into a triumphant march, although tires and heat do not leave peace. Of the heat, Schumacher is not afraid:
"At the most I will drink a little more during the race".
Different is the tire talk, real unknown. Not to mention the chimneys, which continue to stay in the corner:
"We’ve never used them before, is it good to do it tomorrow?"
Probably not. And so they will still remain in the pits, despite the predictions announce a hot Sunday. In seventh place, behind Frentzen’s Jordan, Giancarlo Fisichella has elements to recriminate. His anger is with Schumacher, guilty of having slowed him down:
"On my last lap Schumacher hindered me, I could have finished fourth, starting from the second row".
Conscious of his involuntary blockage, three hours after the end of qualifying Schumacher goes to apologize in the Benetton box:
"It was our mistake. I didn’t want to stop Giancarlo, I thought it was Wurz in his launch lap. Ross Brawn tried to warn me, but he hit the wrong button and instead of talking to me he warned Barrichello".
A thesis confirmed by the technical director of Ferrari. Fisichella takes note, but two weeks after the accident with the Ferrari driver in Hockenheim the bitterness remains.
Sunday morning the warm-up that precedes the race sees Coulthard at the top of the standings, with a time of 1'19"261. The Scotsman precedes Schumacher by a tenth, and Barrichello’s other Ferrari by seven. Only fifth Hakkinen, who continues to struggle to find the right set-up. In the early afternoon, a few minutes from the start, the mechanics of the Anglo-German team work particularly on the front of the single-seater, with the hope that these last modifications can give the turning point.
At the traffic lights, Coulthard is not the author of an excellent start, unlike Hakkinen who replicates the exceptional start made in Germany. The Finn takes advantage from the first meters of the Schumacher trail, so as to get paired at Ferrari in the first corner, where the German can nothing but to join the McLaren of the defending champion. Coulthard follows in third position, defending himself from the timid attacks of Ralf Schumacher, fourth. Barrichello and Frentzen maintained their respective positions, completing the points zone. During the first lap, Jacques Villeneuve lost the front wing during a battle in the middle of the group, and was forced to return to the pits to replace it.
The leading trio of Hakkinen, Schumacher and Coulthard run away, but the race leader constantly gains on his pursuers lap after lap, and the same happens for Schumacher against Coulthard. Close to the points area, Fisichella ended up spinning at the first corner following an excessively deep break that misleaded Jenson Button, who ended up slightly wide but at least managed to avoid contact with Benetton. All this takes advantage of Eddie Irvine, who passes both and brings his Jaguar in seventh place.
The race is very static: Hakkinen continues to push without ever lowering the pace, and doing so the gap on Schumacher increases vertiginously. After about twenty-five of the seventy-seven laps to go, the mechanics of Ferrari are preparing to welcome Schumacher to the pits. The first of his scheduled stops of the German lasts 7.3 seconds, and puts him back on track in fifth place, just behind Barrichello, who in the meantime has never managed to pose a threat to Ralf Schumacher.
With the latter going to the pits the next step, and Barrichello stepping aside, Michael does not waste time and is immediately on the track to be able to push to the maximum, more to be safe from attacks by Coulthard than to worry Hakkinen. Meanwhile, Ralf Schumacher’s belay is prolonged due to problems in fixing a tyre. The pit-stop of the young German lasts 10 seconds, that of Barrichello in the next lap just 6.7. A discrepancy that allows Barrichello to gain the fourth position. After Hakkinen and Coulthard also made the first stop, the six leading positions recorded no change from the first lap. Compared to the first stint, Schumacher struggles to acquire the right rhythm, so much so that Coulthard, five seconds away, approaches in a short time.
On lap 50, Schumacher and Coulthard have been travelling together for a while now, but the Scotsman is never able to bring an attack, on a tortuous circuit and with a few overtaking points. So we get to the second series of pit-stops: the first to return is Barrichello, then it’s up to Schumacher, who precedes the stop at Coulthard to secure himself from undercut. Michael’s belay lasts 7.7 seconds, while that of the McLaren driver, made the lap after, is only 6.6 seconds.
At the exit of the pit lane, McLaren and Ferrari are practically paired. Schumacher, however, manages to retain the second place for the broken cap. Coulthard tries to use the moment to bring more pressure on the German, who never lets himself be impressed and makes no mistake that can favor the opponent.
At McLaren they do not take well the conduct of Marc Gené, guilty of having slowed down Coulthard at the crucial moment of the fight with Schumacher, that is close to the second pit-stop. Ron Dennis openly criticizes Minardi’s post-race driver, assuring that without that complicated lapping, David would surely have taken second place. The same Scottish pilot will attack:
"Gene’s maneuver was decisive, because then overtaking Ferrari was impossible. I don’t understand why Gene let one machine through easily and not the other".
For his part, Giancarlo Minardi turns off the controversy remembering that his driver was penalized with a Stop&go for not respecting the blue flags, but not to the detriment of Coulthard, but of Irvine. For Minardi, Coulthard would lose just half a second to overtake Gené, just like Schumacher.
What McLaren must surely complain about is the lap in which they decide to recall Coulthard, because in the tank of the car there was enough fuel to allow the driver to make another six laps. Considering Schumacher’s rather slow race pace, some more laps with unloaded car would have guaranteed overtaking the German.
However, fifteen laps from the end, Hakkinen travels solo to success, while behind him Schumacher has to think only to limit the damage and defend himself from Coulthard. The championship leadership, however, slips away. The race does not offer any kind of emotion: only the engine problems of Button allow you to witness a couple of overtaking maneuvers by Trulli and Irvine at the expense of the Williams driver.
The Hungarian Grand Prix ended after an hour and forty-five minutes of total domination by Mika Hakkinen, who won for the third time in the championship and won the championship for the first time in the season. Schumacher and Coulthard complete the podium, Rubens Barrichello is fourth ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
Michael Schumacher gained points after three consecutive retirements and climbed to 62 points, but Hakkinen, thanks to the victory, can boast 64. In addition, even in the constructors, Ferrari is overtaken by McLaren, which completes the comeback on the Maranello team: 112 points to 111.
Motivations, those that no longer had to have the twice-reigning World Champion, next dad, resigned to defeat, seated, overconfident. From ten races (out of twelve disputed) he goes to points and counts three wins, five second places; after the third race he had twenty-four points ahead of Schumacher, after Budapest he is two lengths ahead. The previous year, winning in Budapest, he emerged from a deep crisis:
"Now this success could give me the decisive impetus. Stimuli I have many. Then tell me what they want. I just think about collecting as many points as possible".
At a press conference, about his exceptional departure, Mika said:
"In Germany I said that only once a year you can leave so well. Well, I have to correct and say that you can do it twice in a year. I had an excellent sprint, which allowed me to overtake Michael and David already at the first corner. The fight with Michael was tough, but that’s how racing is. Above all, it is important to know how to be aggressive but at the same time to leave the fight intact, and that’s what we did today".
Then he is asked how he managed to gain so much in terms of speed between the warm-up and the race. Schumacher comes in jokingly, saying:
"Do you really expect an answer?"
Hakkinen smiles, then comments:
"This is the great work of my team, which made some changes that we thought were the right ones to improve the situation. The machine was a whole other thing. Obviously I can’t talk about the changes specifically, but I can assure you it was very fast".
Michael Schumacher cannot say the same, but he does not complain about anything:
"The tires were fine, even the set up was discreet".
Attacking Hakkinen, however, was never a possibility:
"When the phase is critical, talking is silver and silence is gold. You just have to think about driving. Working and looking ahead".
Some critical voices of the paddock do not miss an opportunity to remember the difficulties in departure of the German. Some shrewd spirit joked that Schumacher would not leave well even for the holidays, but President Montezemolo says that Ferrari still can not give its drivers a good starting system like that of McLaren. It had been supposed for a long time, but to the fury of hearing the technicians of Maranello talking about great works on the clutch, it was thought that there had been progress; instead, the deficit persists.
Apart from the departures, we must above all ask ourselves where the Ferrari ended at the beginning of the season, because the mid-season one is struggling and does not seem to be able to keep up with the Anglo-German rivals. Montezemolo does not hide the disappointment from the start, where he understood that winning would be an undertaking. In front of the wall monitors, even Jean Todt and Ross Brawn had understood that the race was marked, as well as faded is the idea of being stronger and that only circumstances, accidents and war between the drivers had blocked the Ferrari and Schumacher. The president tries to draw a positive balance, rejecting the idea of surrender, trying to send positive messages, but also putting the finger in the wound, where Ferrari has remained behind. But the bitterness is so great:
"Congratulations to them, a beautiful race, a deserved victory. We knew that the start was fundamental here, and McLaren with Hakkinen did better. Really a start to fulmicotone, perfect. They obviously have a better starting system than ours. Congratulations. We will have to work hard, but we are always competitive, the team proved to be competitive. Certainly today we could have done better, but even worse. Let’s not forget that without having practically run two races, Schumacher is second to two points. And that we collected much more than last season. Now it’s a race between us and McLaren, the difference with other teams is crazy. Every point we lose goes to them, and vice versa. It will be a very hard fight. Just win a race and it all starts again. From now on it is important that Barrichello is in front of one McLaren and Schumacher in front of the other. Here those who passed in front would have won. Hakkinen did it. If Schumacher had left in front we would have won".
A certainty that the German pilot himself disassembles:
"We’re back, I tried to be attacked for five laps. Useless. Had I started in the lead Hakkinen would have passed me".
Michael has the sadness in his heart and a great concern in his words:
"Perhaps it is too early to say that there has been a breakthrough. But we are behind. And if we continue like this, we have no chance, that is clear. But the way the race is going, I can declare myself satisfied. I bring home six precious points, having kept Coulthard behind. Hakkinen was impregnable, he pulled something exceptional out of his car, there was no story".
Now the Ferrari must not doze off:
"The championship is not closed, the hunt continues. We have a small gap that by the next race we will definitely try to fill. Being behind by two points doesn’t mean anything. The fight is tight, but if we succeed in winning the title, the pleasure will be even more intense".
Jean Todt, as usual, defends his troops, including pilots, from every attack. Then, with the coldness of the strategist, he analyzes the facts and thinks and draws his future and the team of Maranello:
"No, we can’t talk about a bad blow: we have two cars on arrival, one in second and the other in fourth position. At the Hungaroring we put in the game nine important points. I consider a bad blow only when you abandon on the first lap. But it is true that, for the first time of the season, we are no longer in the lead of the two championships: for one point in the constructors' championship and for two in the drivers' championship".
Todt is disappointed, of course, for the missed victory of Schumacher after the splendid pole on Saturday, but he sticks who would like to incriminate the start of his top driver:
"Michael’s start was not a prudent one, but a cautious one. We realized that the first corner was important and we are happy to have passed it. But it’s true we didn’t expect such an aggressive Hakkinen. For three or four laps Schumacher managed to follow him, then defended his position ahead of Coulthard and Barrichello the one ahead of Ralf. There are five races left at the end of the championship and we said it on the eve of the Hungaroring that the World Cup would be played starting from Spa. The real problem is that Schumacher did not have a perfect set-up and that Barrichello started from fifth place".
Todt admits that McLaren-Mercedes has taken a big step forward since the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. But that doesn’t mean he wants to gloss over the delicate terrain of McLaren’s departure management systems:
"There is a gap between us and them. Difference that is not immense, but we will have to close it as soon as possible. We will work to do better at the start, to progress quickly both at engine and aerodynamic level".
Then the Frenchman tries to stop those who would like to turn Hungarian Sunday into another Waterloo. For Todt is not the case to announce that the title expected twenty-one years and that until a few Sundays ago some had already started sewing on the suit of Schumacher, is now lost for the third time in a row with the same opponent:
"We were ahead in the two standings and now we are behind them, we were ahead in qualifying on Saturday and we stayed behind them in the race, we have to understand why and reduce the small, but very important gap that separates us from our opponents".
And to those who would like to draw hasty conclusions from the great overtaking suffered at the Hungaroring says:
"The same people who would now like to embroider, with great anticipation, a new title on Hakkinen’s suit, were the same people who just said that the Finn was to retire".
After the success in Germany and the tears of joy for the first victory in Formula 1, in Hungary Rubens Barrichello is driven back into a world that perhaps hoped to have abandoned: relegated back, with the only overtaking that counts in his race made by mechanics, during the pit stops. At the end of the race, drained by the Hungarian heat, Rubens declares:
"After forty laps I had already drunk all the water, almost two liters. I don’t know how many kilos I lost. Hot, thirsty. For me everything had become difficult after Saturday. Bad in qualifying, necessarily bad in the race. I had to change my strategy; the car wasn’t doing very well. In the end, something must have broken and I had to slow down again. For what we have seen here we just have to say that they are stronger. They start well, but there is no difference. I, when I started shooting like Schumacher and Coulthard, was already 20 seconds behind. It’s a good thing the guys at the pits did a good job and I overtook Ralf Schumacher. I really don’t like this track, it’s narrow, full of curves and you can’t overtake it".
Track decidedly different from Budapest that will host at the end of August the thirteenth round of the World Championship. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, where Michael Schumacher made his Formula 1 debut and where he won four times during his career. A statistic that smiles at him, since Hakkinen, among the Ardennes, counts zero successes, while he boasts one Coulthard, obtained in 1999. The World Cup 2000 thus enters its final phase.
Davide Scotto di Vetta