On August 29, 2000, 3.000 spectators paid at Monza, on the occasion of the first day of testing ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, to be held on September 10. The enthusiasms seem a bit cooled due to the not so brilliant moment of the Maranello team, back from the difficult Belgian trip where Mika Hakkinen won a great thanks to an overtaking, already entered in history, at the expense of Michael Schumacher. The most difficult moment is the German, without victories from five races.
In Lombardy, on the first day it is Luca Badoer to board the F1-2000: the test driver of Ferrari runs ninety-four laps, limiting himself to work on the adjustments to know the behavior of the car - free of chimneys and equipped with a small rear wing - with different aerodynamic loads. The only drawback in which the Trevisan stumbles is a spin with exit in the escape route to the second of Lesmo: an outlay caused by a train of rear tires defective, which is worn abnormally.
More intense chills for Jos Verstappen, protagonist of a frightening spin caused by a mechanical failure: his Arrows grazes the wall of the pits at over 300 km/h on the straight of the pits, and then immediately catch fire. Luckily the Dutch driver gets out unharmed. But the news of the day is the breakdown of the Mercedes engine of the Mclaren of David Coulthard. The Scotsman takes it with philosophy: he raises his arms and then goes away greeting the fans present. Coulthard however had time to complete a few laps and get an idea of the circuit, and did not like the changes made by the organizers. David defines the first renewed variant:
"A curve that you wouldn’t expect to find in a track where the races are done. At the Grand Prix there will be many drivers who will go straight".
Opinion also shared by Giancarlo Fisichella and Heinz Harald Frentzen; Badoer instead, says he prefers the previous lay-out, but then adds:
"We pass better, there is more room for overtaking, and in all circuits there is almost always a demanding curve after the start. And those who are good pass".
Rubens Barrichello is also among those who did not like the news, indeed he does not like all these bottlenecks:
"Sorry when the slopes are changed, more and more the curves are slow and boring. Just remember how things are in Budapest".
The track manager, Giorgio Beghella Bartoli, replied in the following terms:
"We still had to change the curve as it was because it was no longer adequate, and I think the drivers still have to get used to it".
On the second day of testing fans can warm up for the arrival of Michael Schumacher, who anticipates by twenty-four hours his arrival in Monza to better prepare for a crucial Grand Prix. The leader of the World Championship, Hakkinen, prefers to take another day, leaving the task to test driver Panis.
After the fright of Verstappen, August 30, 2000 is the turn of Giancarlo Fisichella, who for the second time in a few days remains at the mercy of his Benetton crazy at a high speed. At Spa, the car soared in the straight during the warm-up before the race; at Monza, when it was just a short time to noon, near Ascari, the brakes stopped working regularly, and Benetton crashed against the guard-rail and tyre barriers. Few witnesses, in addition to the track, remained with bated breath when they watch the driver pouring on the grass and there remain motionless, after leaving alone from what remains of the car stripped from the chilling impact. Fortunately, as in Spa, when Fisichella returned to the pits covered with bruises but healthy and safe ready to start again, even in Monza the Roman does not remedy any serious injury. Fear, however, remains:
"I admit that I am a bit shaken. These are moments that remain in the head. Now I go home. Staying does not serve".
His face, still an hour after the accident, reveals a great tension, and perhaps some unpleasant image still imprinted in the mind:
"I arrived at the Ascari variant at 337 km/h and at a hundred and ten meters I crushed the brake, but the pedal went down empty. There is no time to think about anything in those moments, I managed to give a steering shot and turn the car. Then I waited for the shot. But I don’t remember anything about what happened. It went well because I beat first with the back, then with a side. Now they’re gonna check out what happened to the car, see what happened to the brakes. I really hope that the bad luck is over and I am confident for the Grand Prix: the only way to forget is to reguidare immediately".
Braking and braking that still raise the resistance limits of the materials are not a problem for Ferrari and McLaren, but for many others it is not so. As Fisichella returns home, the cars run around the track without a break. Good Ferrari in pure speed, Schumacher gets to exceed 347 km/h, Barrichello 345 km/h, but the two McLaren set the best times. At the circuit also arrives by helicopter lawyer Agnelli, with the intention of bringing comfort and instil confidence in the team:
"I am here to see how things are going, to meet the two men. It is always in difficult times that you have to be close to them".
For Ferrari they are delicate hours, after the overtaking in the standings of Budapest has also arrived at the track at Spa, a stylettata to many certainties, transforming the Monza Grand Prix in a test without appeal. Agnelli spoke at length with Schumacher on the wall, while on the track the cars of his rivals, in a day conditioned by the rain, were running in clouds of water. The two think long of the deadly overtaking of Hakkinen, mimicking that lightning and fulminating maneuver with their hands. And if the Germans begin to doubt Schumacher’s superiority, the lawyer has no doubt:
"It is in difficult times that men are measured, and we men have them. Hakkinen at Spa drove well, I always liked him as a driver, but now I like him much less as an opponent. There is no doubt that he and Schumacher are the best ever".
Hope to win the world championship?
"Hakkinen sixty, Schumacher forty".
But if it goes wrong again, what’s to be done?
"We will keep the same men and the same team. Never thought to change the drivers, who form the best possible pair. Being among the first two in the world is already very difficult. Being the first ones very difficult".
Does Ferrari still have the strongest car?
"Drivers should be asked. I think McLaren is stronger at the moment but the game is not over yet".
More or less what Schumacher himself reminds everyone:
"My conviction is very high. I think we are still able to overturn positions. Here we are working well, we will do it for two more days. I don’t think Monza will be decisive. Until the math says so I will not consider this race over. This track is similar to Hockenheim, and we were very fast there. If things had gone normally we would certainly have done well".
On August 31, 2000, on the occasion of the birthday of Luca di Montezemolo, the president, before leaving Monza lets understand in no uncertain terms that as a birthday gift would like nothing more than that World title that escapes now for more than two decades, and that at the end of the Canadian Grand Prix won by Schumacher it seemed to become almost a formality, before mistakes, bad luck and other people’s skill made it much more complicated. Montezemolo reiterates what the lawyer Agnelli has already said, that the battle is not yet lost, and that we must believe it to the end:
"From the comments I read in the newspapers after the Sunday race at Spa, I thought we had arrived thirtieth. Gentlemen, calm, calm. At Spa we experienced a race as protagonists, up to three laps from the end we were in charge of the race and the World Championship, we also made some nice overtakings. Barrichello himself during the race caught a significant time, turning at some point faster than Hakkinen".
From this, the President deduces, to give Schumacher and Ferrari for passed off would be incorrect:
"Of course I still believe in the World Cup. My goal now is to put all the men of the Sports Management in the best conditions to work with serenity. I found a very focused team and for my part I asked everyone for the maximum commitment. I also thank the Attorney for coming here alone, in a completely informal manner. With his gesture he showed how much passion he has and how much our shareholders have towards the team. I share his suffering for Ferrari. I too suffer a lot. In addition, he is right when he says that Hakkinen has a sixty percent chance of making it this year, but in my heart I hope that Schumacher is right when he claims to have ninety".
Seriously, Ferrari’s number one guy shares the Lawyer’s basic argument that even coming in second would still be an honorable loss:
"Undoubtedly being first or second in the Formula 1 World Championship is always very difficult and we must not forget that in the last two years we have hit the world record of the history of Ferrara. Of course we are left with the bitterness of what happened in Austria and Germany at the start: it is as if, compared to our opponents, we had played two races less. Not to mention that at Zeltweg Barrichello he found himself with an unbalanced car from the off-track and then Schumacher... The numbers clearly say so. He arrives first or second or not at all. However, there are still four races that we hope will be raced in the spirit of the regulation".
The first appointment of this final sprint then runs at home, in front of their fans; Montezemolo does not hesitate to define the very important appointment.
"We hope to be able to work well in these trials. This is a great opportunity for us. Besides, I’m tied to this track by really good memories. Here I lived the best day of my professional career when, as sports director, in September 1975 I won the World Championship with Niki Lauda. Two years ago, however, Schumacher and Irvine gave us a wonderful double".
The work that the President hopes will be done is largely disturbed by the rain. Almost half of the third day of testing runs away with the cars parked at the pits, drivers and technicians engaged in arguing with each other, and fans patiently waiting for a clearing up. Prayers left unheard of. In front of everyone is Jacques Villeneuve, ahead of Coulthard and Frentzen, took to the track with the normal engine, after that the evolution tried in the previous days had broken in a few laps and had been shipped overnight to Japan. Ahead of Ferrari, also Hakkinen and the other BAR of Zonta, with Schumacher author of the sixth time and Barrichello immediately behind him. At least according to what Schumacher says, Ferrari continues to sin in terms of peak speed:
"We’re not fast enough, and we’re trying to grow in this area. The machine at speed level has a margin of development that we could not fully exploit".
The new front wings are tested with satisfactory results; different speech for the new engine, which did not impress the German driver, who, taking advantage of the bad weather in the afternoon, calls his personal hairdresser to get retouched the hair. To be noted on the stands a couple of banners critical of Schumacher: one invites Ferrari to kick out the German, the other warns him not to stay in Ferrari just to sell the hats. Mclaren does not complete the work programme. Hakkinen, who leaves the circuit as soon as the first drops of water fall, lets slip one joke:
"I’m not satisfied, we had so much to try, the rain forced us to leave things in half".
No fourth day of tests for BAR and Minardi, with Mazzacane author of a ruinous exit immediately after the variant Ascari. The Argentine touched the inner curb, lost control of the front end, and left the track after a spin, damaging the left side of the car. Then he’s arguing with the circuit managers:
"At that point the escape route is not enough and with that exit we threw away precious work".
On the other hand, Villeneuve is on fire:
"The car immediately proved to be good both in the dry and in the wet, and even if we made the time with new tires we are already put better than on other tracks. That’s why I’m convinced that by continuing to work like this, we can be with Ferrari and Mclaren. We have to work on speed and aerodynamics, but I’m not crazy to say we can get into the top five".
Jacques then also focuses on the new variant, promoting it across the board:
"It’s better for both safety and driving. Now it will be possible to make a round the same as the other, before much depended on how you faced the curbs".
After the criticism of Frentzen, which provided for a dozen cars go straight to the first variant and suggested to start even with the Safety Car, on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix, the teammate, as well as home driver, Jarno Trulli, returns to the topic announcing that during the meeting between drivers on Friday will ask to advance the starting line-up:
"That way we’ll get to the first corner a little slower and it’s the only chance to get through that corner unscathed. But can you imagine 22 freaks coming up there and climbing at first?"
Among those who like the new solution there is also Michael Schumacher, who was the most illustrious victim of the recent barrels of the current season:
"I think it’s worse in Monte-Carlo. Even in Spa, for example, the first corner after the start is very slow. And anyway, my idea is that at each departure there is potentially the danger of an accident, beyond the characteristics of the track. Just someone makes a mistake and the bang is done".
But beyond the discussion of what is to be done in the delicate start-up phase, the first variant will not be a headache for the technicians. Trulli explains that:
"The modifications to the track did not substantially change the settings to the single-seaters. You always travel exhaust even if there are those who prefer a higher aerodynamic incidence of the ailerons than before. But it’s about tastes, personal finesse".
Nothing new even from a mechanical point of view, even if the suspensions shaking have fallen compared to the past, while the gear ratios have changed:
"We need a first one that is not too short to be able to face the initial chicane".
The only difference from the test carried out by Alesi in the previous weeks, is that there will be no rain asphalt at the first variant. This is for two reasons: maintenance techniques, in the case of oil or fuel splashes that smear the coat, have not yet been developed: then, in order not to cause any abnormal consumption of wet tyres in that stretch in case of rain.
On September 5, 2000, in Fiorano Ferrari works at full speed to complete the single-seaters that Luca Badoer then subjected to the test ritual that precedes a race weekend. At Monza, Ferrari will give Schumacher the car with the body number 205, while Barrichello will go 202. The two forklifts will be the number 198 and 204.
The Maranello team approaches the fourteenth round of the 2000 World Championship with many similarities with 1998, when the situation in the standings before the race at Monza was very similar; moreover, it had come back from a frustrating race in Belgium, where the famous accident between Coulthard and Schumacher took place under the flood in the Ardennes.
On the eve of the Italian Grand Prix, finally, the McLaren presents itself as the absolute favourite on this occasion, thanks to the characteristics of the circuit that exalted the qualities of the silver arrows. That weekend of '98, however, he definitely moved away from the predictions: Schumacher scored the pole and on Sunday won the Grand Prix, leaving the rival to the title almost a minute (Hakkinen closed fourth to 55"6 with problems to the car) and thus grabbing him at the top of the ranking (80 to 80) when at the end of the World Championship there were only two tests.
Ferrari fans hope that the script is almost identical, possibly with a completely different end of the season than in '98. Michael himself hopes for a prompt response to what happened in Hungary and Belgium, with statements of optimism:
"I would like to give the fans, who make this Grand Prix something special, a result just like that of two years ago".
The assumptions are all there:
"Yes, I am very confident in this regard. The characteristics of the Monzese track are quite similar to those of Hockenheim where we were competitive. There I had hit the first row and Rubens, although starting from the rear, was the author of a nice comeback that then allowed him to win. The tests last week went well, making me even more optimistic because, despite the bad weather that slowed us a bit, I had the feeling of driving a car in place. My Ferrari was fast, even the times were satisfactory and we did not encounter big problems, except that engine that I switched off more as a precaution than for anything else. I mean, there’s no reason not to be happy. I am well aware that we have come from a delicate moment and that is why I am calling for even more support for our fans. Now it’s a matter of fingers crossed for this race and for those that remain from here to the end of the season: we are still fighting for the title and we do not give up".
Before going to Monza, Schumacher gave himself a surprise stop (because Ferrari had categorically denied that this could happen) on the Fiorano circuit, where the German performs numerous starting tests and runs the last kilometers to finalize the development of the F1-2000: height from the ground, suspension kinematics, adjustments of the onboard electronics. On the Thursday before free practice, Jean Todt was rather angry about the criticism that fell on Ferrari after the last failures that caused Schumacher to lose the leadership of the world championship:
"What if I lose this world championship too? Nothing. For seven years I have been in the dock, the Ferrari for longer: we are used to being in the crosshairs. What should I do? Shoot me? Forget all those who do nothing but criticize. I will continue to do my job, like everyone else, with one goal: to improve even further. We still have chances, we will defend them with our teeth as we have done since the beginning of the championship and as we have done since 1997, when Ferrari has returned to be the protagonist of the world championship. It’s a duel of two, we and Mclaren, and will win only one, but rest assured that we will do everything to be the winners".
After that scorching overtaking of Hakkinen on Schumacher in Belgium, it is hard to hope:
"On television that overtaking seemed much more than it actually was. Very good driver, for charity; excellent car, of course, but I would say that there was no superiority as clear as it seemed on television. That’s why we know we can still win the world title".
What is missing?
"Nothing, the most important thing is to make the most of what we have. Unfortunately, in the last races we have not always succeeded but we have a good package, it’s just a matter of exploiting it well".
What didn’t work in the last race in Belgium?
"We had the potential to make a front row on the starting grid. We did not do it for a matter of yellow flags that slowed us down. We then paid for this in the race. But the most important thing is that we didn’t have the right set-up for the kind of race we had. I explain: we were convinced that the track would be wet for a greater number of laps and so we started with a lot of aerodynamic load. The asphalt instead dried up early and we found ourselves with a set-up that did not benefit us. Hakkinen had done the opposite: he had started with a small wing, a risky choice at the beginning, but paying later. Without taking anything away from Hakkinen, I will say one thing: the driver behind always has a better vision, more global and can move better in an overtaking action".
But the Ferrari seems a bit in crisis:
"Absolutely not. That choice of trim was not the result of crisis or incapacity. It was a risky choice and that was it. As was Hakkinen’s. Do you realize that two more laps in the wet would have been enough to win us big? But no one is able to say and know when it will rain, how much it will rain and how long it will take for the track to dry".
And on the upcoming Grand Prix in front of the Italian fans:
"We tried it on the circuit that it’s not the same as before. It seems to me that with the changes made now, it is easier to overtake, which is what everyone wants, I think. We did well and I know that we can win on the condition of being able to make the most of what we have. Then, every race has its own history".
And that dangerous chicane after the start?
"It’s true, there is and will force the drivers to make violent braking to get into a narrow passage. But it’s not news, it’s things we’ve seen lately and Schumacher got involved. We have already given, let’s hope that this time does not happen again certain things".
In the free practice on Friday, September 8, 2000, Barrichello and Schumacher surprise everyone by scoring the first and second time respectively in the total count of the times: 1'25"057 for the Brazilian, 1'25"117 for the German. McLaren: Hakkinen, who did not turn in the first session, gets only the fourth time away by five tenths, Coulthard the fifth to over seven tenths. Jarno Trulli does better than them with his Jordan, third at 333 thousandths from Barrichello.
The tests are characterized by an error by Coulthard (which damages his Mclaren) and by Mazzacane at the second of Lesmo, by an exit of Wurz, by some cuts of the First Variant by Verstappen, Zonta and Irvine, as well as by Schumacher himself. Overall, the Ferraris appear superior to the opponents. By deciphering, however, the performance of McLaren, which may have been hidden.
"We still have a long way to go before we find the ideal car. But don’t get your hopes up: last year here on Friday was disastrous and I went wrong even on Saturday morning. So we decided to change everything. And two hours later, with one of the best laps of my life, I took pole position".
He is not afraid, Mika Hakkinen. Neither of the times of Ferrari nor of the cheering against the tide of Italians that already in the free practice fills the circuit:
"I am a cool and quiet guy, I feel immune, people will not be able to influence me".
How is it that being behind does not affect him:
"These tests could have gone better, but I’m not worried because I know I have something special in store for qualifying. A novelty that will make us improve".
Of course, the secret weapon is not revealed. He enters the great array of McLaren mysteries, such as the failure that prevents the Finn from turning in the first hour, or the cause of the exit of Coulthard at the beginning of the second session. Hakkinen seems sincere when he talks about gearbox inconvenience, but soon after comes the official version of the team:
"The clutch was slipping and we wanted to fix it, so Mika stayed in the pits. Coulthard broke the left rear suspension".
On the first variant, although during the meeting between drivers he was among those who contested it, the question of journalists responds with indifference, unlike Coulthard, who seems seriously concerned:
"The chicane is even narrower than last year, the risk of accident at the start has grown. More than the first row it is important to pass unharmed from the first variant".
The atmosphere in Ferrari is full of positivity after a promising Friday; Schumacher confirms that the team has finally figured out how to run the car on this circuit, thanks to the tests of the previous week. Saturday 9 September 2000 it would be fair to expect a close confrontation between Ferrari and McLaren, and instead during qualifying the duel takes place all at the home of the Prancing Horse, with Schumacher who finally has the better of Barrichello and conquers the pole position. An exciting duel in which the McLaren can not fit. The Silver Arrows have to be satisfied with Hakkinen’s third place at about three tenths from Schumacher, and Coulthard’s fifth, beaten by a surprising Villeneuve.
The Ferraris, therefore, confirm all the excellent impressions of free practice, and we can see it from the first lap of practice, when Schumacher immediately placed a time (1'24"888) that gave him the virtual pole. The attempts of Coulthard and Hakkinen, who are unable to overthrow the German pilot, are useless. What succeeded, instead, in Barrichello, which after a few minutes turns under the minute and twenty-four seconds. But Michael is not satisfied with the second place and, after a break in the pits, he returns to the track to regain the pole: goal achieved with a very fast lap in which he subtracts the first position to his teammate for only twenty-seven thousandths. In addition to Villeneuve’s great performance, Trulli’s sixth time and Fisichella’s eighth. A first row all Ferrari was missing from the 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix. Happy for the second place Barrichello says confident:
"Finally, we’ll talk about me and Michael on equal terms. After my last lap I raised my hand to say goodbye to the fans: they have been in the sun for three days and surely they have suffered. Well, I hope that my own will increase, because I have the impression that they are almost all for Schumacher. As for the race, I might even go to the top of the first lap because I usually start better than Michael".
Rubens then surrenders himself to memories and hopes:
"I had three dreams: going to Ferrari and I realized it; winning at Monza and I hope to succeed this time; winning in Brazil and I hope to do it next year. This is a good day for me, also because just a year ago I switched to Ferrari. I paid for my inexperience but now I feel calm and strong, I feel no pressure and I can give it my best".
In McLaren we wonder what happened to the secret weapon so praised by Hakkinen, if it ever existed. Ron Dennis blames the delay of his drivers for the many problems of Friday:
"Unfortunately those three tenths that separate us from Ferrari were accumulated yesterday, when we were blocked by mechanical failures. Our drivers gave their best, but they did not have the cars perfectly regulated, we missed the time to do it".
A statement that disassembles a kind of case, arose for a sibillina response of Coulthard to those who had asked him if he was surprised to find two Ferraris in the front row:
"But we are in Monza. And all those involved in Formula 1 can not be surprised if they are ahead here".
A veiled accusation of unclean games around the Ferrari? Nobody at McLaren denies or confirms, until the number one intervenes in person. Hakkinen, however, remains serene, although even in qualifying there were problems on his car:
"In the last two attempts I felt a decline in power that at least took away a little 'tranquility and concentration".
Actually, as Dennis later explains, the trouble involved a fuel pump sensor that only manifested itself in the launch lap. So, he had no influence on Mika’s performance.
"I am certainly not in a dream situation: I gave my best, I have nothing to reproach myself but we could not make perfect our car. Anyway, there’s no need to worry: I’m leading the championship and the race is long and difficult. There is not only the first curve to pass unscathed, but also a whole series of sudden braking that during the race can change the balance of the car. And then all the pressure will be on Schumacher, because he has to recover points in the standings and because he runs in front of the fans of Ferrari who expect great things from him".
McLaren, then, in race conditions gave Mika comforting feedback:
"With so much fuel on board, in the last races she has always behaved well and here the wear of the tires has never represented, neither these days, nor during the tests, any problem for us".
More complicated the situation of Coulthard, who is behind even Villeneuve:
"It will be hard at the start to disentangle there in the middle: the only luck I have is that I will start on the left side of the track, the cleaner one. Jacques a surprise? Not so much, because the Honda engine is very powerful and even in the tests last week the BAR had gone rather well. Unfortunately, my McLaren in these tests was not well regulated, we did not have enough maximum speed".
At his sixth pole of the season, Michael Schumacher struggles to contain his joy, perhaps even for having denied all the criticism rained on him following the Belgian Grand Prix. After qualifying, Michael climbed on the wall of the pit and frowned in greeting the crowd of Monza, all Ferrari, who rewarded him with a long applause. Ferrari seems to have risen:
"It’s not a miracle, it’s just the car’s fine. We managed immediately, from Friday morning, to find the right set-up and now we exploit all the potential that we have and that actually we had before".
Even Barrichello this time went very well, only twenty-seven thousandths late:
"I am very happy for him, because he has had so much bad luck in recent months and now he can reap the fruits of the work he has done. And I’m also happy to have him behind me with such a competitive car. Strategically it is a big advantage to start in two from the head of the grid. Alone I could have had problems, so instead we can protect each other and achieve a better strategy for the whole race".
How was it possible to achieve such remarkable improvements?
"Nothing special. Many think that we have a monstrous engine, a new chassis or who knows what. No, it’s not: it’s just that we managed to put together a lot of pieces, all of them, and make them work properly. Pieces we already had, but once for a reason once for another something always went wrong".
Attention, however, to the first variant immediately after the start:
"That variant is there but not just for me, for everyone. I hope that all the drivers at the start behave well, because it is not true that you can make an overtaking only in that corner and that is therefore where you have to dare. No, it’s not. There are other points to overtake, so I say, it would be crazy to make some big mess right there, after the start. That curve is like the first in Monte Carlo: just be careful. If something happens it is because someone wants to overdo it".
Friday and Saturday many drivers were forced to jump that corner: what would happen if they did it in the race?
"I see things in a simple way: if a driver gets an advantage from that jump it is right that he is punished, but often jumping that curve involves more losses than gains, so I think it will not be difficult for the race commissioners to understand how things are going".
Strong of the fourth position, Jacques Villeneuve aims to be the outsider of Sunday:
"If I go to Villeneuve, it’s a mess for everyone. Because braking at the first corner is delicate, difficult. And I would very much like to leave those problems to others. Schumacher gave me less than half a second, Hakkinen just over two tenths. Minimum detachments, that means we did a great job. But the thing that surprises me the most is that I beat Coulthard, I didn’t expect, also because in the morning the car was not working. This is a very complex circuit, if you miss the Ascari or the two new chicanes then do not recover anymore. It is a track for real drivers. I’ll make an attack run. I want to annoy, leave my mark. At the first corner you have to enter among the first, if you find yourself in the funnel is a disaster. Keep an eye on me, I will amuse you".
On the morning of Sunday, September 10, 2000, Ricardo Zonta is surprisingly the fastest in the warm-up, ahead of Hakkinen and Schumacher. Times as always end for themselves, because the stables are not looking for the best time, but the last finishes to find the best set-up for the race. At 2:00 p.m., departure time, the sun shines on Monza, and the stands are full of red: we start.
From the front row Michael Schumacher has a good shot, while Barrichello remains almost still and is pulled by both Mclaren. At the fateful first chicane there is a contact between the two Sauber and Eddie Irvine, who does not come out unscathed and must park the Jaguar in the escape route.
The many fears regarding the first chicane at the start vanish, as there was no serious accident apart from the aforementioned contact, but not even the time to breathe the sigh of relief that at the entrance of the Variant of the Waalweg chaos breaks out. While Barrichello and Trulli are fighting for the fourth position and paired at the entrance of the chicane, behind them Frentzen misses the braking point and ends up hitting the team mate and the Brazilian at a very high speed. The three cars end up in the gravel, also involving the McLaren of Coulthard. Debris and tires fly everywhere, but it’s not over, because just behind the Arrows of De La Rosa he touches with the BAR of Zonta, he takes off by rolling several times and also hitting the Jaguar of Herbert, until he finishes his mad race in the gravel, alongside the Ferrari of Barrichello.
A frightening crowd, causing the immediate entry of the Safety Car. There are six withdrawals: the two Jordans of Trulli and Frentzen, Barrichello, Herbert, De La Rosa and Coulthard. The Scotsman can say goodbye to his iridate hopes, but there is no doubt that after an accident like this the only thought of him and everyone is that no one was injured. At least among the pilots.
While on track there is still the Safety Car, in fact, at the entrance of the Variante della Roggia there is a lot of activity: initially it is believed that the Medical Car came to rescue Pedro De La Rosa, But then you realize that the rescue is for a commissioner who was injured by tires and flying debris. At some point, the ambulance arrives on the spot. When, at the end of the eleventh lap, the race resumes, nothing is yet known about the fate of the poor security officer.
With the Safety Car leaving the scene, Schumacher has to manage a complicated restart, having to deal with a long straight and especially with a Hakkinen determined to try to overtake. In third place, followed by an excellent Jacques Villeneuve, then Ralf Schumacher, Fisichella and Button. Just the British is taken by surprise by the sudden braking of Michael Schumacher when he starts again: Jenson is forced to turn on the grass and against the barriers to avoid hitting Fisichella in front of him, and then risk triggering another carambola. Contact with the barriers, however, forces him to park his damaged Williams at the Parabolica, delivering the silk position to Alex Wurz.
The race resumed rather quietly, because in the high ranking areas the positions remain frozen. Then, however, Ricardo Zonta and Jos Verstappen, who in a few laps manage to gain positions on positions thanks to two cars decidedly performing on the long Monzese straights, and in the case of Zonta, a light tank due to a two-stop strategy.
Unfortunately, at the fourteenth lap, the race of Jacques Villeneuve ends, who, given the premises, already enjoyed the first podium with the BAR. A gearbox problem pushed him out of the race, giving Ralf Schumacher the third step of the podium, at least for the moment.
In fact, shortly after, both Verstappen and Zonta arrived, who rose respectively in third and fourth positions. Ralf Schumacher and Fisichella close the points. At the head of the race Hakkinen is never able to approach the lap times of Schumacher, who constantly gains on the rival and seems to be able to travel undisturbed to success, except complications.
Verstappen and Zonta travel in pairs, with the Brazilian driver who at a certain point tries an overtaking maneuver at the first corner; the BAR ends slightly long, Verstappen tries to cross, and the first impression is that he succeeds. But on the way to the Curva Grande, Zonta gets the upper hand, and conquers the third position.
While Michael Schumacher pushed the accelerator by lowering the fast lap limit several times, with the lead over Hakkinen rising to five seconds, during the twenty-fourth lap Zonta made the pit stop. The Brazilian is back on track momentarily outside the points area, but on lap 30, when it’s Verstappen’s turn to make his pit-stop (the first and only, unlike Zonta who will have to stop again), the only BAR left on track is in sixth position, right in front of the Arrows of the Dutchman.
Zonta’s second pit-stop takes place on lap 35, when Schumacher and Hakkinen have not yet entered the first positions even once. Michael, however, after a few laps in which he rifiatato, resumes to score fast laps, a sign that the pit-stop is approaching. In fact, it is the fortieth of the fifty-three laps planned in which the Ferrari box recalls the German, who leaves the leadership of the race to Hakkinen.
Mika delayed his stop by four laps compared to Schumacher, perhaps to try a Spa-style maneuver, or overcut with which to reduce the gap by a few seconds. This time, however, the Ferrari is far too superior to think of any type of attack. When on lap 45 the picture is complete and there are no other stops ahead, Schumacher manages the first position in front of Hakkinen with confidence; third is Ralf Schumacher, then Verstappen in fourth position, Wurz in fifth and Zonta in sixth.
Giancarlo Fisichella is missing, who was comfortably in the points area until the moment of his pit-stop: with changed tires and gasoline, the Italian Benetton simply does not start again, or at least manages to do so only after a very long minute has passed that completely compromises the race; Giancarlo returns to the track penultimate and dubbed, only in front of Prost di Alesi.
Nothing else happens, so, at the end of the fifty-third lap, the red tide of Ferrari fans can begin the celebrations for the success of Michael Schumacher, who returns to victory after a long wait, and above all reaches the share of forty-one career victories, like Ayrton Senna. Hakkinen limits damage with second place and six points, which allow him to retain the lead in the World Drivers' Championship at +2 on Schumacher. Second consecutive podium for Ralf Schumacher (third in season), and first points in the championship for Alex Wurz. Zonta, however, looking for a seat for the 2001 season, returns to points thanks to the sixth position, the same one he had obtained in the opening race in Australia. The Brazilian does it starting from the seventeenth position.
Michael Schumacher seems crazy once he gets off the car in the closed park: he kisses the camera, bursts of joy from all sides, on the podium he enjoys the unique atmosphere of Monza, all for him, which brought Ferrari on the highest step. Shivering scenes, while the same ones who acclaim him sing the anthem of Mameli. Then champagne in rivers, Michael jumping, screaming, hugging, laughing. All this until the official press conference. The question seems innocent: with forty-one victories you reached Senna, how do you feel?
An earthquake of emotions, obviously, because Schumacher after a moment of hesitation bursts into a loud, irrepressible cry. Maybe it is the name Senna, maybe it is the incredible tension accumulated. The fact is that the German has a real emotional crisis. Head bent over the coffee table, Michael just can’t speak. Hakkinen must intervene to ask the journalist to start from him. Schumacher cries, then, a quarter of an hour later, to the German journalists, he will finally be able to explain the reason for so much emotion:
"Just look at the audience, all their reactions. Our recent history, the last races, which for us were very difficult. Twice I was kicked out at the start, twice I came second when I thought I’d win. They all gave us up for dead. I took a huge stone from my heart. And right here, in Monza, in a Grand Prix that for me has a great meaning".
So, Senna had nothing to do with it?
"Let’s say there were so many emotions in one fell swoop. I’m not one who loves statistics, who stops to look at them. But if there is one that counts, it is the one related to victories. It is an important record, among the beautiful things of today, let’s put it in second place. But at the first there is a success that allows me to return to fight for the world title. That now we want to win. We owe it to this extraordinary audience".
The crowd of fans in summers really impressed him:
"I remembered the triumph of '98 as a unique, fantastic thing. Well, today they seemed even more. I feel very close to these fans. And they love me more and more. I want to thank them for the great warmth. I hope I gave the fans a beautiful gift, I hope they can enjoy it for a long time".
Is such a clear victory also a revenge to the many criticisms of recent times?
"It gives great satisfaction. But I have to admit that even among us, within the team, we criticized each other, because there was the feeling of not having taken the maximum out of the car. We were not convinced of ourselves, this victory gives us enthusiasm. Also because it was never in question, I was in front of the end. In the last few laps I slowed down, because I didn’t want to take the slightest risk. Success could only escape me because of my mistake, the car was perfect".
Now the disadvantage points from Hakkinen are only two, while Coulthard is cut off:
"I always knew that the fight was between us. It’s a great duel, three races from the end we are practically equal. It will be a very close battle, with two drivers on the same level and two very competitive cars. I hope to have a big help from Barrichello, if he keeps driving like this, he can do it. Too bad that today he was involved in that accident, had a good position on the starting grid, maybe he could escape the double".
About the accident, Michael says,
"I didn’t see anything, I can’t judge. Everyone said that the first corner was dangerous and instead it was the Roggia that caused the crash".
Rather, he wants to apologize to Button and Villeneuve (who accuse him) for his behaviour behind the Safety car during the restart:
"I wanted to try the brakes, so I would accelerate and then I would crash. The moment I did it for the last time, the Safety car is gone. A mistake of mine, I’m sorry someone has suffered".
Once again the Monza track does not lead well to Mika Hakkinen, because on this track he never managed to impose himself. But he does not believe in spells, explaining that it is only a coincidence. At the end of the race, however, is dismayed:
"Today the Ferrari was faster. Not by much, but enough to dominate. It was impossible to take it. In the final, after the pit stop, we changed something and I became faster, but it was too late. I also lost a couple of seconds to dub the two Minardi, but it is useless to look for excuses. Today there was no story, in the last laps I approached Schumacher only because he did not push to the maximum. He slowed down, managed the advantage".
The impression is that his hopes vanished at the start. He aimed, the Finn, to overtake both Ferrari fans:
"But Schumacher chose the right line and there was nothing to do. I didn’t have the balance I wanted on the car, it was hard to drive, something was wrong. One is never happy for a second place, but at least I collected six points and I passed unharmed from that big accident at the start. They are still ahead in the standings, even if two points are few with three races still to be played. In practice, Schumacher and I start from scratch. It’s gonna be an exciting ending".
A head-to-head race that begins with Indianapolis, an unprecedented race:
"It will be a bet for everyone, a complicated race. We will have to find the right set up. Japan and Malaysia leave me quieter, there we know to be very fast".
A duel that for Hakkinen will end only at the last race. And that no longer includes Coulthard. On the other side of the Ferrari box there is a Rubens Barrichello just furious, who does not want to hear any hypothesis of justification for Heinz-Harald Frentzen, guilty of having hit him, ousting him from the Monza Grand Prix. Starting in the front row, he had lost some position:
"I was behind Jarno, and I moved left to make the overtaking. I felt a huge bang from behind. It was Frentzen who lost his head and hit me".
He does not want to listen to other interpretations. He is sure that he has no responsibility in the accident:
"Frentzen has completely lost his mind. He was behind me and hit me. This happened. There is no other interpretation".
When they tell him that Frentzen claims he has no faults and justifies himself by claiming to have been rear-ended, he gets even angrier:
"I have doubts that he was hit. I felt the bang behind very strong, he arrived much faster".
There are also those who put forward the hypothesis that the carambola may have been triggered by a failure of the brakes to the Jordan of the German, but Rubens replied angrily:
"Frentzen had broken his head, not his brakes. If he had broken his brakes, he would have done a lot more damage. Frentzen was out of his mind, he had the pressure, he wanted to overtake, but there was no room at that point".
Barrichello had been the protagonist of an excellent weekend: best time in free practice on Friday and second in qualifying on Saturday. His first Monza Grand Prix as a Ferrari driver, in front of the public that adores and supports him, went up in smoke before the first lap was finished. But to make Rubens Barrichello sad that, in the race, seems to be decidedly unlucky, there is another reason. In the frightening accident at the Roggia Variant, no pilot suffered aches, but unfortunately Paolo Gislimberti, a young firefighter, is hit by a flying tire and some debris. Rubens comments sorry:
"I’m really very sad about what happened to that boy. I’m also sad because maybe someone will now say that we pilots are crazy, crazy because we do those dangerous speeds that can make disastrous accidents happen".
Paolo was one of the many experienced firemen (and volunteers) of a company that has been doing this service for years in Monza as in Imola where his men, with promptness and audacity, were the first, to give just one example, to save Gerhard Berger years before from the flames of his Ferrari. At 33, with his red jumpsuit as a volunteer firefighter, helmet on his head, fire extinguisher in his hand, with his infinite passion, the experience accumulated in over ten years of civilian service, the love of racing, the pride of being on a mission to make them less dangerous, the experience of a professional and seventy thousand lire of reimbursement expenses insured.
It was 2:00 p.m. by a handful of seconds, and Paolo Gislimberti was already lying on the grass behind the metal barrier that had not protected him. A couple of comrades, the commissioners posted there like him, quickly realized that the tragedy had been consummated. The cameras that from the helicopter searched between that cemetery of debris, gutted and overturned cars, showed almost by accident the agitated agitation of a group of people between guard-rail and grass, and someone who tried a cardiac massage. For Paolo, married for two years with Elena Campestrini, pregnant five months, the hopes of salvation were in fact minimal, the crazy wheel had hit him between face and chest, a devastating trauma. His life, perhaps, had already died on that lawn.
Before being able to take him to the medical center of the circuit, just next to the pits, we had to wait for the arrival of a second ambulance. The first one left with De La Rosa. Gislimberti arrived at the infirmary in desperate conditions, even if those who prevented approaching, vigilantes and various employees, minimized. Further away another firefighter, upset, confessed his despair to a photographer:
"It’s all over, it’s all over".
Inside and around the infirmary the tension was great. Someone waving before asked for a helicopter, but then they stopped everything. At 2:45 p.m., sirens explained, an ambulance departed. A few minutes later, Paolo entered the hospital’s CPR department, where a third desperate attempt was made to restart his heart. At 3:15 p.m., the hospital in Monza announced the disappearance of the serious injuries suffered. Head and thoracic trauma. The news spread as the race was ending. Meanwhile, in the hospital emergency room, other attendants on the track revealed how great was the fear and fear of accidents before this race:
"It was an announced tragedy, we expected trouble. There was too little space".
Fears and fears unheard of? Fisichella at the end of the race reveals:
"We warned that there was a danger to the commissioners, they were too exposed".
This too will have to be dealt with by the magistrate in charge of the investigation, which immediately starts. Salvatore Bellomo, the deputy prosecutor of Monza, does not waste time and a few hours after the tragedy is already at the circuit to question three drivers, Frentzen, Trulli and Barrichello, those most involved in the accident and still present at the circuit. The magistrate also listens to an eyewitness (a colleague of the Cea who was near Gislimberti), and all the people of the Cea who were stationed within three hundred meters, as well as the commissioners who were stationed on that point of the track.
In addition, Bellomo acquires the report drawn up by the race commissioners after the deposition of Barrichello, Trulli and Frentzen, and places five cars under seizure: the Ferrari of the Brazilian, the McLaren of Coulthard, the two Jordan and the Arrows of De la Rosa. The cars in the night remain at the circuit. The magistrate leaves the circuit shortly after 20:00. Then, Beghella Bartoli, head of the track, makes a comment on the sad day:
"The criminal investigation is ongoing, and I can’t get into that. From a sporting point of view, I can say that the Commissioners described it, after their investigation, as a normal race accident, even if with tragic consequences. I would like to point out that as organizers we did everything to save the boy. It is not true, as one Commissioner pointed out, that if we had intervened differently, man could have been saved. It is not true that we did not use the helicopter because there was the race in progress. If it could have meant salvation, it would have taken five. The problem is that the ambulance could provide continuous assistance and, with the roads clear, was the fastest way to reach the hospital in Monza. The helicopter would have taken an extra five minutes and did not give the same guarantees as therapy. It must be considered that from the moment of the accident, the boy was put in resuscitation with all possible techniques. Forty yards from where the tragedy occurred was a car with two resuscitators. To make it sooner they even arrived on foot. In addition they had the help of Watkins, the doctor who is on the Safety car. One could not intervene otherwise. Last thing: it is not true that the boy was not in his place. He was there, ready, with the extinguishers".
Which doesn’t match Coulthard’s version:
"I saw him very well, that policeman: he was on this side of the safety barriers, as too often happens on this track, and only on this one. Anyway, with everything that happened, the race had to be suspended".
Even in Ferrari, of course, the songs, the choirs, the hugs and the champagne for the victory last little: as soon as the news of the tragedy is communicated, the satisfaction for such an important success by Schumacher gives way to great sadness. But you cannot forget reality, as Jean Todt says:
"If we think of the World Cup, it is an important day and an important undertaking, useful to relieve the pressure that was growing on the team. We are back competitive and now we will try to continue on this path".
Then Todt immediately changes the subject and mentions the tragedy that devastated the Italian Grand Prix:
"I’m very sorry for what happened to the fire service attendant on the route. Without these people, motorsport could not exist: I dedicate this victory to them".
Then go back to analyze the race:
"I’m also sorry for what happened in Barrichello, which was hit. Once again we lost a car on the first lap. Michael made a great race and his performance was really perfect, as well as that of the team and the car".
The numbers are also encouraging: this is the sixth success for Schumacher during the season, the seventh for the team. This has not happened since 1953:
"Now we have only two points of gap in the drivers' championship and four among the constructors: a really good recovery. It was important to win here, in front of our fans, despite the pressure of recent weeks, and for this I am really happy. We have seen the true value of this team. The entry of the Safety-car? It has not changed our racing strategies. However, I would suggest that, in the event that this car remains on the track for more than three laps, the race is suspended, repeating the start. It is paradoxical, then, that the left occurred not at the first chicane, but at the second curve".
Luca Baldisserri, Schumacher’s track engineer, from Bologna, thirty-seven years old, shows a restrained joy, faithful to his character:
"It went well in the middle, because, apart from the retirement of Barrichello, we had Schumacher who worked very well, managing to make a difference. For us it is an important success, even if Hakkinen went well. Of course, if in the next three Grands Prix we are able to do the same, for Ferrari it will really be an important result".
A special day also for Paolo Martinelli, head of Ferrari engines, climbed for the first time on the podium at the time of the award ceremony:
"It’s up to Todt to make these decisions, and a certain man told me: go you. A nice satisfaction, a victory for the whole team. Luckily, Michael was never a problem. Even in the final phase of the race we limited ourselves to managing the advantage accumulated in previous laps, without taking excessive risks".
The future? Brighter, even if he doesn’t say it:
"We have grown a lot, now in the next tests we will work to do even better both in qualifying and in the race. We want to develop the data we have on Indianapolis to leave an important signal this season. In this regard, we are working to use the qualifying engine in the race".
Immediately after being heard by the magistrate who conducts the investigation into the disappearance of the security officer, Heinz-Harald Frentzen goes to his home, in Monte-Carlo. After a meeting with his managers, in the presence of the same owner of his team, Eddie Jordan, Frentzen spreads a statement not very different, in tones and content, from those equally short released immediately after the race at Monza:
"Although I still don’t know what really happened, it is certain that this Sunday of race in Monza is one of the worst moments of my career. Before the second chicane I tried to overcome Rubens Barrichello, who had braked surprisingly early. I could not avoid Rubens, and as a result this massive clash occurred. In fact, it was a typical race accident, of those that are always repeated especially in the first laps, and that in the tough duels happen easily. After the race I had to learn that in this accident a track security officer had died. This tragic news reminds us that we are all protagonists in a dangerous sport. My thoughts now go to the family of this security officer, but also to all the other employees who with their commitment without savings make our sport possible. Today is really a sad day".
From the German entourage it also transpires that the pilot was very disappointed by the harsh statements made against him by Barrichello. Some people close to him say:
"Frentzen has admitted to having hit him, but he does not feel at least the only one guilty for the accident and does not agree to be considered a dangerous pilot, who does not know how to drive".
It is confirmed, for other, that the Jordan of Frentzen was programmed, as for gasoline in tanks, for two stops and not for one: so the car was much lighter than the other single-seaters, and also for this reason would have arrived faster to the second chicane. A friend of the pilot reveals:
"Inside his motorhome, after learning of the disappearance of that poor Italian boy, Heinz-Harald burst into a heartbreaking cry".
But Formula 1, as already done in the past for similar tragedies, must go on, so in Maranello we immediately begin to work to prepare the United States Grand Prix, which will run on the track of Indianapolis on September 24, 2000. No one knows the new circuit, and the only data available is theoretical. To verify the simulations on a real track, drivers will have to undergo a real tour de force.
Schumacher and Badoer will be engaged alternately in Fiorano and Mugello for the week following the Italian Grand Prix. Only possible concession, the funeral of Paolo Gislimberti. Ferrari decides to keep quiet about the accident: everything the Scuderia does for the family of the deceased remains in a strictly private form. We know, at least, of the conversation between President Montezemolo and Bernie Ecclestone, during which the president of Ferrari asks that the whole world of Formula 1 pay tribute to Gislimberti.
Davide Scotto di Vetta