The Hockenheim Grand Prix was supposed to be the turning point for Ferrari, with the introduction of the F300 with a long wheelbase; an innovation that should have led to the definitive overtaking of McLaren-Mercedes in terms of competitiveness, but instead it turned into a long agony, ending with Michael Schumacher fifth and Eddie Irvine eighth, even out of the points, both outclassed even by Williams and Jordan, while Mika Hakkinen went on to win in peace, escorted by David Coulthard. On 3 August 1998, Jean Todt dined with President Montezemolo, Ross Brown, Martinelli and others to clarify and take stock of the situation:
"We made mistakes and we paid for them. On Saturday morning Schumacher went off the track, which was his mistake, and we stood still instead of working to prepare well for qualifying. Our mistakes? Here's one: we weren't able to work properly with the dampers all day and we paid for it with that lack of grip that haunted us later in practice and in the race. The aerodynamics of this car is less efficient than the McLaren, but not wrong. If it was wrong could it have won four races? The wind tunnel indeed takes time to get it right, but there's the other tunnel. And then: Jordan doesn't have a wind tunnel but it was fine. The situation has been difficult since the beginning of the year. Let's do the maths. We and McLaren have taken 210 points, everyone else 66. That already says a lot. Of those 210 points McLaren took 55%, we took 45%. They had the best car, the best tyres from the start and yet we are there, we are close. Why should it all be over?"
The Maranello team's technical director, Ross Brawn, agrees that the German trip should be shelved as soon as possible:
"Right from the first day, the German weekend was an uphill struggle and we were unable to make any more progress. Michael's problems on Saturday morning further complicated our plans. And facing a Grand Prix in these conditions is always very difficult".
The long-wheelbase car may be considered a miscalculation, but Brawn doesn't think so:
"It's easy to say that now. We knew that its use would have created a few more difficulties, given that it is a quite different car. Unfortunately, we had more problems than expected, but I remain one hundred percent convinced that we had to do this experiment. At Monza, the introduction of the long-wheelbase seemed to have brought us some improvement, but in Hockenheim the kerbs are used a lot more and this makes it more complicated to find the best balance for the car. Unfortunately, however, we indeed have some difficulty on fast tracks and so I predict that the Italian Grand Prix will also be difficult".
However, Ferrari is already at Fiorano preparing for the limelight during the next Grand Prix, to be held on the winding Budapest circuit in Hungary:
"We will be testing aerodynamic innovations for high load circuits, which we have developed based on our experience at Monte Carlo. And of course we will also work on the set-up. Last year we had problems with the tyres, but undoubtedly things should be better. Bridgestone will definitely bring good tyres, but I think we will be on a par with McLaren at least on this front".
On the morning of August 4, work was dedicated to studying new set-ups to overcome the aerodynamic shortcomings found in Germany. Then, in the afternoon, once the optimum balance for the track has been found, the study of the tyres begins. The F300 is still showing some oversteer, even ending up spinning a couple of times. Another problem is the locking of the front brakes. On the sides of the single-seater, openings appear to allow hot air to flow outwards more quickly, without allowing it to pass through the entire inside of the side pods to the rear near the engine.
The next day, at 8:00 a.m. Irvine fired up the engine again and made the first lap to check the work done that night: replacing an engine that had already covered something like five hundred kilometres. A few minutes later, six tanker trucks unload 60,000 litres of water onto the 2956 metres of track, to create the ideal conditions: a wet track to allow the Ferrari and Goodyear technicians to test the sixteen sets of rain tyres that have been brought in for this job. At each stop, every six to ten laps, the track is wetted again to maintain the level of humidity needed for testing. The work on the F300 also involves aerodynamic and suspension adjustments. Even before lunch, Irvine completes 101 laps. Then, with this wet weather work done, the focus shifts to other dry weather options. Eighteen laps are covered and new aerodynamic solutions appear for the rear wing. Then it's Schumacher's turn to spend a whole day on the track. Starting at 7 am on 6 August, the German is already at the Fiorano circuit testing the F300, with which he completes a total of 168 laps. Says Schumacher at the end of practice:
"I really hope things go much better in Budapest than in Germany. It was a useful test, also for the tyres. A gigantic effort that only Ferrari can make. We had a tight schedule, we couldn't leave out any points from the programme. It was a great experience, new, different from normal and exceptional. This is Ferrari. It had never happened to me before. But there were problems to be solved with the specific wet programme and that's why it was necessary to start early, when the sun doesn't heat up the asphalt too much. I'm reasonably satisfied, I'd say we have good tyres, but we're not here to set records. I simulated a Grand Prix and everything went well. We'll have to see how much of the work done on this track we can use on the Budapest track. I'd like to drive a car that reacts better when there are jumps on the asphalt. That's where we have the most problems, with the suspension, and we need to take a big step forward. The F-300 needs to be softer in absorbing certain elevation changes. I am reasonably convinced that we have made progress".
While Ferrari was busy in Modena for six consecutive days of testing, McLaren was in Jerez in the company of Williams and Jordan, where Hakkinen and Coulthard were also testing new wider front tyres made by Bridgestone (282 millimetres, 18 more than the previous ones) especially for the Hungarian track. On Thursday 13 August 1998, at the microphones of the journalists, the leader of the world championship dispenses compliments for the Japanese company:
"From Bridgestone we have a new help. Here they are debuting front tyres with a wider tread, and the handling will improve. The choice of the debut here could not have been more appropriate: on a track where the agility of the car counts, it can be the decisive progress to win the Grand Prix. It is also an advantage in terms of the world championship since I will have these tyres at my disposal until the end of the season. It's a great tyre, but the advantages it offers depend on the different circuits. From the simulations here it should be fine. But I prefer to wait for free practice, and especially qualifying, to find out how it performs".
Hakkinen says that the tests in sultry Jerez bore the hoped-for fruit, but the new Mercedes engine will not make its debut in Hungary but on a track where straight-line speed is more important, namely Spa-Francorchamps. Then the Finn goes on to argue with a hint of irony:
"Although I have read otherwise, the only similarity between Jerez and the Hungaroring is the high temperature these days. The same is certainly the high aerodynamic load required by the two circuits, but they have a different track and this asphalt is very bumpy. But testing in Jerez was good training in the heat".
Hakkinen finally says he wants to approach this race weekend in a rather relaxed way, unlike what could happen to Ferrari:
"I have a good lead in the standings, I don't feel the world championship in my pocket yet, I know I will have to fight to win it. But I also know that being sixteen lengths ahead of your opponent is better than chasing sixteen lengths behind. For now I'm thinking about this Grand Prix, and I'm confident of victory. The team is very motivated, everyone is working so hard to make the car even faster".
Michael Schumacher therefore presents himself in Budapest still in the role of pursuer, with the gap to his adversary growing again after the races in Austria and Germany, both won by Hakkinen. In the meantime, the German driver renewed for another five years the contract that binds him to his long-time manager Willy Weber, who has been at his side for ten years now. Hopes of narrowing the gap in the overall standings are based above all on the fact that the Hockenheim disaster is unlikely to be repeated, and indeed, considering the characteristics of the Hungaroring, the F300 will in all likelihood be back on an equal footing with the McLaren.
As long as there is life there is hope is Michael's mantra. With five races and 50 points still to be awarded, he can't just raise the white flag. He has won the last two qualifying races on this track, but in both cases victory did not come the next day. Above all, in 1997, it was the abrasiveness of the track that sent the German's tyres into a crisis. After a strenuous resistance in the early stages of the race he had to give way to the surprising Damon Hill, who was one step away from making the Arrows successful, before a technical problem, three laps from the end, relegated him to second place in favour of Jacques Villeneuve.
Just the two last World Champions could be the loose cannons in this edition of the Hungarian Grand Prix: respectively third and fourth in Germany, Villeneuve and Hill benefited from the evident progress of Williams and Jordan, and if the steps forward should be confirmed, then the fight for the podium could have more contenders. Villeneuve also made his mark in 1996 as well as '97. Benetton also wants to be there, recently rather distant from the zones of high classification, a state of form that goes in contrast with the excellent performances of the first part of the season. The Italo-British team relies on the new Bridgestone tyres, but also on a long-wheelbase version of the B198.
In the meantime, on the eve of the race weekend, Mannesmann Mobilfunk, Michael Schumacher's official sponsor, carries out a survey among the German population on a sample of 1,500 people. The question asked was: Do you think Schumacher could be the 1998 World Champion? The result is that only 30% still believe that the Ferrari driver can snatch the title from Mika Hakkinen, while 70% already see the success in the hands of the Finn. Mannesmann's is not the first initiative concerning Schumacher, as in the previous weeks the German mobile phone giant had already auctioned off a tin of his F300's exhaust fumes, with the proceeds going to charity. The result of the poll doesn't affect him in the slightest, and he merely comments that it doesn't take much to change people's minds:
"I respect everyone's ideas, but it's not like that. In four of the last five circuits we are competitive, we only fear Monza, which will not be as tragic as Hockenheim. And then you can quickly change people's opinion, just by winning a race".
Despite the polls and two races below expectations, Schumacher appeared at the press conference smiling and relaxed, inclined to discuss various topics, above all, the tenth anniversary of Enzo Ferrari's death, which he said:
"It doesn't have to be a particular motivation for the race; we must always be motivated to give our best for those who work for Ferrari today, and also for what Enzo Ferrari did in his life. We have to make sure that he is happy with what we are doing. This isn't the last resort, because even if I lose, the arithmetic won't condemn me yet and I only give up when it's all over. But this is the right circuit to recover. If I lose points here, the chase becomes almost impossible. Here you have to take pole because only by starting in front you can win. In Germany it was frustrating to drive a car that wasn't on the road, one of the toughest races of my career".
Afterwards, Schumacher talks about how he put the disappointing race at Hockenheim behind him:
"I dove into the work to prepare as best I could for this weekend. We all know that I have to make up ground and to do so this is the right circuit. If I like it? Well, I like or dislike a track depending on what the car is capable of doing. If the car gives me enough to win, I win, and here the car should be fine".
With five races left, only Monza resembles the German track more than any other, where according to the Ferrarista the F300 should pay the price against the McLaren, but not as sharply as it did two weeks earlier in Germany. Furthermore, looking at the classification he declares:
"Useless to make calculations, I know that we need as many points as possible. It's not even the case of relying too much on Mika's mistakes, at this point we have to rely mainly on our own strengths. And we're working a lot on tyres, aerodynamics and the engine, just to try to get everything we have out. For example, we haven't abandoned the project for the long-wheelbase car, and we'll try it again next week".
Lastly, in response to Ron Dennis' insinuations, which point to irregularities in Ferrari's use of electronics to aid driving, Schumacher says:
"Dennis is right, it is very difficult to control electronics. So let's liberalise everything, at least no one will be able to doubt it anymore. Hakkinen has an aid in the starts, this year he hasn't made a mistake, last season almost all of them, but I don't protest, because I think it's legal. They accuse us of having traction control. In Austria I went to Dennis to ask him to make a complaint, why did he back down?"
Rain characterised the first free practice session on Friday 14 August 1998, but in the afternoon the sun came out and the drivers were able to carry out their respective work programmes on a dry track. The time classification respects the predictions: Coulthard and Hakkinen set the pace with half a second's lead over Schumacher, third; Jacques Villeneuve is fourth, between the two Ferraris, showing once again the rediscovered alchemy with his Williams. Despite the first provisional time, David Coulthard complains of some oversteer, which he hopes to eliminate before qualifying:
"I won't help Hakkinen, because McLaren's objective is to finish the World Championship with its drivers in the top two places; and I need a win to bring Schumacher closer in the standings. I think that pole position can be mine and I believe that these times are reliable because on Friday we and Ferrari set the day in the same way. In short, we remain superior. And for Hakkinen even a second place can be enough to get closer to the title".
Hakkinen, on the other hand, praises the work done, having tried and enjoyed various set-ups on his McLaren:
"The car is perfect. I have wonderful sensations for the race".
Schumacher, on his part, invites everyone not to be fooled by the half a second gap, as it is necessary to consider the tyres used and the opponents' petrol load. Despite the F300 appearing rather unstable, for the Kerpen native the only certainty remains to have to push hard:
"Compared to Germany we are much better, the gap to McLaren is not big, less than half a second, it can still be reduced. Of course, if it were to rain, I would be more optimistic; when we started, the track was very wet and our times unbeatable, but it is useless to invoke miracles since the forecasts do not give us hope. But we can also compete in the dry. In the meantime we are back to being the best with Goodyear tyres, we lapped faster than Williams, and this is already a good result".
His team-mate, Eddie Irvine, on the other hand, is lapidary, declaring:
"The asphalt here is very uneven and as soon as you hit a dip, the car loses balance, slides off both front and rear and becomes unrideable. It's worrying because it jumps around so much that I can't see where I'm going, I lose sight of the track. It happens especially at the exit of the second corner, on a downhill stretch. There's another corner straight away and I can't see it. That's why I touched the kerb a couple of times, I was going the wrong way, I didn't have control of the car anymore".
Even Ross Brawn, while trying to play it down, admits:
"Maybe Irvine exaggerates, but certainly the car is not as competitive as I would like. Even here, as in Hockenheim, it is a bit difficult to drive, in a couple of corners we are in trouble. The difference is that compared to Germany, in Budapest you need a lot of downforce and this should allow us to mitigate the problem".
The only occasion in which a McLaren did not take pole position this season was in Austria, where it was Giancarlo Fisichella who got the best time by exploiting the progressive improvement on the wet track. On strictly dry asphalt, it has been impossible for anyone to challenge the Woking team's monopoly so far. On the hot and dusty Budapest of August 1998, the poleman in Austria crashed into a wall during the first phase of the qualifying session, as he was approaching the last corner. Luckily for him, Fisichella managed to restart and bring the damaged Benetton into the pits.
Schumacher's stroke of the wrist in the middle of the session that allowed the Ferrari driver to take provisional pole position was greeted with a roar from the fans of the Red car, but a few moments later Coulthard arrived on the finishing line and immediately ousted him. In the end it was the many Finnish fans who rejoiced at the event, as Hakkinen obtained the eighth pole of the season with a time of 1'16"973, a tenth and a half faster than his teammate. In the last minutes Schumacher tries everything, but he goes beyond the limit and in the last sector he goes to the block, finishing long. Michael is third, at four tenths from the poleman.
Damon Hill completes the second row, who has an enviable score of two wins and three second places on this track; the former Williams driver has a special feeling with the Hungarian track, and his best qualifying of the season is further proof of it. Making the most of the soft Goodyears, the Briton was a candidate for a place on the podium. Eddie Irvine was fifth, ahead of the Williams of Villeneuve and Frentzen, and the Benettons of Fisichella and Wurz.
On a circuit where overtaking can be impossible, as usual choosing the best strategy for both tyres and fuel can be crucial. McLaren goes against the trend compared to the other races, during which it had almost always opted for hard tyres; this time Hakkinen and Coulthard will race with the softer compound, potentially on two stops, unlike Schumacher, who with the harder Goodyear could risk even one stop in the seventy-seven laps planned. Or maybe do something completely different and unexpected, because when Jean Todt and Ross Brawn are at the pit wall, you can expect anything. And the Budapest race will be an example of this.
The start of the twelfth round of the World Championship was exactly what the McLarens wanted: Hakkinen got off to a good start, as did Coulthard, who protected his shoulders from any attacks by Schumacher. In the meantime Irvine took advantage of Hill's indecision in attacking Schumacher and took the fourth position, ahead of the British driver of the Jordan and Villeneuve.
After a few laps the first three drivers started to detach the rest of the group, with Irvine who was slow in equalising the race pace of those who preceded him, and when he did he already paid about five seconds' gap. The Northern Irishman's race, however, only lasted thirteen laps: due to a gearbox problem, the Ferrari driver reached the pits with difficulty to sanction his second retirement of the season (the first was in Barcelona due to an accident with Fisichella). A hard blow for Ferrari in the Constructors' Championship, where the situation was already very poor. Irvine's retirement allowed a suffering Frentzen - suffering from a strong stomachache that degenerated into a loss of blood caused by a perforated ulcer after the race, which forced him to go to hospital urgently - to enter the points zone.
Although at the beginning he almost seemed to be the stopper on Coulthard, with the approach of the first pit-stop Hakkinen accelerated, putting four seconds between himself and the two pursuers, who instead continued to travel in pairs. Ferrari makes the first move and calls Schumacher back to the pits for the first stop, excluding a priori the possibility of stopping only once, to try an undercut on Coulthard, who is in difficulty with his tyres compared to his teammate.
Michael, however, returned to the track behind Jacques Villeneuve, who was much slower than him. This allowed Coulthard, who stopped on the next lap, not only to keep his position on the Ferrari driver but also to gain a few seconds on him until Villeneuve came into the pits on lap 31.
The Canadian's stop lasted longer than expected due to a problem with the front left tyre, an inconvenience without which Villeneuve would have managed to snatch the fourth position from Hill. This is not the case, and after the first wave of pit stops the situation in the points zone remains unchanged. In the meantime Hakkinen has also stopped, whose first position seems unbreakable.
With the track free thanks to Villeneuve's pit-stop, Michael Schumacher is unleashed: turning in 1'19"952, the German starts a series of very fast laps thanks to which he immediately regains contact with Coulthard. The German driver is the fastest of the leading trio, while Hakkinen is the slowest. The reunion is only a matter of time. When Coulthard and Schumacher crossed paths with Schumacher's younger brother Ralf, Ron Dennis paid a brief visit to the Jordan pit wall to make sure the kid wasn't playing any tricks. Michael's pressure on Coulthard was relentless, and the slightest indecision on the part of the Scotsman could cost him dearly.
On lap 43 the Ferrari pit wall made a decisive move: since there was a clear difference in speed between Coulthard and Schumacher, Ross Brawn decided to anticipate the second pit stop, taking on less fuel, and then make a third stop. Brawn warned Schumacher by radio, telling him that he would have to gain the necessary time in the following laps to be able to carry out this difference in strategy, which had now been changed to three stops:
"Michael, you have nineteen laps to get 25 seconds out. We need nineteen qualifying laps".
The German's response is eloquent:
"OK. Thank you".
The pit stop lasts 6.8 seconds, Schumacher immediately starts to push like a madman, while at McLaren they wonder what to do.
The Woking team's reaction comes too late. Coulthard goes to the pits two laps later, and on his return to the track he is clearly behind Schumacher. But it is not over here, because also Hakkinen goes to the pits, and after a pit-stop of 8.4 seconds he has to acknowledge that he has sensationally lost the lead of the race to the advantage of his direct rival for the title.
In few laps, the race is overturned: at the forty-seventh lap Michael Schumacher takes the lead, while Hakkinen and Coulthard follow him, stunned and much slower than him. Michael, in fact, will have to stop again, so he continues his qualifying stint gaining an average of two seconds per lap on the McLarens. The aim is to have a 24-second lead by the time he makes his third stop. In the middle of this arduous mission, for Maranello's top driver there was also a dangerous but harmless off-track in the last corner.
In the meantime, there was something wrong with Hakkinen's McLaren: his lap times were so high that he was losing five seconds a lap to Schumacher, and at one point, with a team pass, David Coulthard overtook him, hoping that at least one of the two could challenge Schumacher for victory. In the meantime, Schumacher set a deadly race pace, constantly on the foot of 1'19; on lap 60 Coulthard was 25 seconds down.
At the 62nd lap Schumacher goes to the pits for the third time. The pit-stop is perfect, and for Coulthard there is no possibility to worry him. With fifteen laps to go, the lead remains in the hands of the German driver, who after a huge effort can now limit himself to managing the car until the chequered flag. The end of the race for Hakkinen was a suffering one. Overtaken even by lapped drivers, the McLaren garage refused to give any explanation for the problem that was afflicting the Finn's Mp4/13.
The Finn was overtaken by Villeneuve, Hill and Frentzen. On the last lap he was even lapped by Schumacher, who put the icing on the cake of an amazing performance. After crossing the finish line, Michael celebrated his fifth victory of the season, the 32nd of his career. In terms of the number of victories, only Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna are now ahead of him, with Nigel Mansell being left behind.
David Coulthard is second, Villeneuve makes only one pit-stop in the whole race and so he gets the better of Damon Hill; for Jacques it is the second podium in a row. Hill finishes fourth, ahead of Frentzen and Hakkinen, who is still in the points zone despite the problems that, according to rumours leaked from the pits, concerned the gearbox, which was missing its sixth gear. Schumi, Schumi: the Ferrari fans shout, a chorus so deafening that it covers the Italian and German anthems. On the podium Schumacher celebrates with his praiseworthy leap of joy, after which he consumes almost the entire bottle of champagne to spray it on Jean Todt, saving only a few drops for his final sip. Five victories.
Last season's result has already been tied, and the end of the championship is four more races away. With nine points gained over his opponent, the distance between Hakkinen and Schumacher narrows to seven points. Despite Irvine's retirement, Hakkinen's troubles allowed Ferrari to take three points away from McLaren in the constructors' championship. However, the Prancing Horse, with one hundred and two points to its credit, is -23 from the Woking team, still firmly at the top of both classifications. In the press conference, Schumacher expressed all his joy, and told how he experienced the sudden change of strategy:
"I feel an enormous satisfaction. The last two races have been very hard for us. Today, although we were cautiously optimistic after qualifying, after the start it didn't look like there was any chance for us to pass the McLarens. After the first pit-stop I remained behind them when we hoped to be already in front, moreover I found myself behind Villeneuve who made me lose contact with Coulthard. At that stage I was even starting to worry about my third position. But then the race developed in our favour and I kept pushing and believing. So all of a sudden I was in first place and I didn't even realise it. The team radioed me and I thought Hakkinen was still ahead of me and I was pushing like crazy to get closer. That's why I made that mistake at the last corner and went off the track. Luckily it didn't cost me dearly. After the last stop it was easy to keep the lead, but up to that point I had been lapping as if they were always qualifying laps, pushing non-stop, which is very difficult to do on such a stressful circuit. For sure we were also favoured by the problems Hakkinen had, but racing is like that and more than once we were the ones who had to pay the price for bad luck".
Michael concludes his thoughts by talking about the championship fight:
"People often fantasize about what the ideal outcome of a race might be, and I won't hide from you that I have. But to be realistic, the most I was aiming for today was to win the race with Mika second. What happened today is certainly important for the championship. We have a very good chance to win in the next races. The team is working great, and so is Goodyear".
A masterful performance of driver, pit wall and mechanics, as well as a renewed competitiveness after the bad German parenthesis. Jean Todt is delighted with what can only be described as a team victory. The French team manager acknowledges that the only acceptable result for the Reds to keep the championship fight open was a success, but admits that:
"Starting in third and fifth position was not easy to achieve, although in seventy-seven laps of racing, and with the strategies adopted, anything could happen. We scheduled Michael's first pit stop on lap 25, in an attempt to send him ahead of Coulthard, but we didn't succeed. At that moment we thought about changing the tactic from two to three stops. We won because we believed in it, because we didn't want to give up. We have a great driver who ran an exceptional race, plus the Goodyear tyres were great. It's a shame about Eddie, he was going really well and could have got a good result and some valuable points for the team. Unfortunately we had a gearbox failure, the first one this season for us. We have to keep our feet on the ground, in the good times and in the not so good times the team must always have the same behaviour. Now we must above all try to be more competitive in qualifying, to avoid giving ourselves headaches in the race. We couldn't do any worse than first, and now woe betides if we stop working. From tomorrow until Thursday, at Monza, Schumacher and Irvine will be testing the long-wheelbase Ferrari, which should make us competitive on fast circuits and especially in qualifying. We're fed up with giving ourselves a headache, always inventing something to make up for our second or third row starts".
Ron Dennis wasn't the only one to go to other pits over the lapping issue, as if the Briton only had a chat with Eddie Jordan, Jean Todt, no stranger to this kind of attitude, went to three different pits:
"This is customary. I think it's fair to ask those in charge to tell their drivers not to get in the way of those who are committed to winning. I went to Jordan, Benetton and Sauber. They were all very understanding. I avoided going to Ron Dennis, I don't think he would have taken it very well".
Todt concludes jokingly. The mood at McLaren was the opposite, where they were already savouring their third double win in a row after a brilliant qualifying session. The problem that afflicted Hakkinen remains a mystery.
"Problem with the gear selector".
Says Mario Ilien, the manufacturer of the Mercedes engine, and the explanation could be plausible if it were not immediately denied by the team, which in the official communiqué speaks of problems with the front suspension, while Hakkinen declares:
"At the beginning everything was perfect for me. I could always see Coulthard in the rear-view mirrors and I was pushing a bit hard, a bit trying to manage the car. But I was always in a comfortable position. Later on I decided to increase the pace to create a good lead before the pit stop. No problems so far. At the second pit stop I started to suffer from oversteer, but I can't say what caused it. Gradually the car became impossible to drive, especially through the corners. So, I had to hang on until the end, with the other drivers passing me on all sides. Now I am waiting to find out what happened, I think the team will let me know as soon as the car is disassembled. We had the worst race of the season, in these conditions it's already a lot to have collected a point, it's better than nothing, since I was almost convinced that I could not get to the finish line. The World Championship has been reopened, Schumacher is threatening again, we have to work hard and remedy this half disaster immediately. I would never have imagined losing so many points, on the eve of the race I had spoken of a perfect car, of wonderful sensations, I really felt them".
The damage was limited by Coulthard, who talked about the unfortunate choice of tyres to be used in the race, and threw a few barbs at his team, guilty of allowing him to pass Hakkinen too late:
"We were wrong to choose the soft tyres, with the hard ones we would probably have had to make three pit stops, losing a lot of time, but I am convinced that the result would have been different. Here the Bridgestones were deteriorating too much, the Goodyears were superior. I don't know what problem Hakkinen had, but certainly the tyres penalised him. I waited too long to pass Hakkinen, the green light came too late. It was him, on the fifty-second lap, who told me to overtake because he couldn't take it anymore; I didn't get any signal from the pits. If we had made up our minds earlier, maybe I could have chased Schumacher. A serious mistake".
Returning to the subject of the strategies that allowed Schumacher to win, Ross Brawn, brilliant strategist, simply explains:
"I thought of it straight away, after I saw how we had started. Then, after the first stop, with Michael even behind Villeneuve, I was definitely convinced. Either something was worked out, or goodbye victory".
Obviously, the Ferrari president, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, could not miss the comment, beaming:
"Everyone did really well, from the last of the mechanics to Michael. A great victory in a difficult race. No, it wasn't easy, we came from two bad races in Austria and Germany, but we didn't give up. We continued to work hard, but really hard, to try to react and we succeeded. I don't know how many hours in the last few weeks our drivers have been on the track, trying and trying again engines. And the work paid off in the end. The strength of this team's reaction is what I am most pleased about. Michael was amazing, he is the best driver and we are not discovering that today, he is the only one who makes a difference. But this was a victory for the whole of Ferrari. Of the mechanics who worked on the tests at Fiorano and who gave us a reliable car in Hungary, capable of withstanding incredible stresses; of the technicians who decided on the strategy; of the great performance in the pits. Everything worked to perfection and, I repeat, it is not by chance but the result of our philosophy: work, work and more work. This victory should not make us too excited, just as we did not get depressed after the last two bad performances. Let's keep working, then we'll take stock at the end. To our fans I can only say that we will fight until the end with concentration and determination. Last year we lost the championship with twenty laps to go, this year we are still protagonists and we will try to win this title with determination until the last metre of the last race. At Ferrari we are a little tired of being told that every Grand Prix is decisive for us. We don't need to be reminded at every race that it could be the decisive one. We've been working with a last-ditch spirit since the first race, because that's the only way to be competitive. Winning is the best way to remember Enzo Ferrari. But I also know what the Engineer would have said to me on a day like this: Bravo, a great success, but now let's look ahead and prepare the next victory".
In Budapest, a response was expected from a Ferrari in crisis, and the response of the Maranello team arrived promptly, thanks above all to its number one driver, capable as usual of making the difference. Those who seemed to be on the run, McLaren, are approaching the thirteenth round of the World Championship on the historic circuit of Spa-Francorchamps with fewer certainties. With only seven points between the duellists, the Belgian Grand Prix promises sparks.
Davide Scotto di Vetta