In view of the Spanish Grand Prix, the fifth round of the 1999 World Championship, Formula 1 anticipates by a week its arrival in Catalunya to carry out a testing session in which all teams take part. On 20 May it was David Coulthard who scored the best overall performance, while team-mate Hakkinen was held up twice by the chronic reliability problems of his McLaren. The Finnish driver made up for it the next day, taking first place with a tenth's lead over Michael Schumacher, second, ahead of Damon Hill and Coulthard, slightly further back.
With the lead in the world rankings firmly in their hands, Ferrari is looking at the Catalan Grand Prix with a veil of pessimism, especially as the track has characteristics that should favour the Mp4/14s driven by Hakkinen and Coulthard. On the contrary, Maranello is talking about the toughest track on the entire calendar for the F399. President Luca Cordero di Montezemolo expresses some concerns about the euphoria enveloping the team following Schumacher's two consecutive victories, at Imola and Monte Carlo:
"There is an excess of optimism, and I prefer it to stay outside the factory gates. Nothing has changed: we know that there is a lot to work on, that the World Championship is long and the rivals are always strong. The next race will be very hard, I don't think we can win. But hope remains".
To conclude, Montezemolo spent a few words on beryllium and its toxicity:
"A scandal. Whoever can, should intervene. I'm against it, because it offers nothing to research, it's toxic and it's insanely expensive. And in the end, we may have to adopt them in order not to be inferior".
On 24 May 1999, before embarking on the fifth race weekend of the season, World Championship leader Michael Schumacher takes part in the Partita del Cuore, an event with charitable aims in which what is known as the Nazionale Piloti (National Team of Drivers) takes part, including, in addition to Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella, Riccardo Patrese and Jean Alesi, and the Nazionale Cantanti (National Team of Singers). The match ends in a draw, with Schumacher in great form and motivated by the head-to-head with his friend Gabriel Batistuta, who was also present at the event. Two days later, Michael is at Fiorano to carry out the last tests on the F399: he stops his chronometer at 1'02"795.
On Thursday 27 May, at the opening of the Spanish race weekend, both Schumacher and his designated rival for the title, Mika Hakkinen, are present at the press conference. The first question concerns the Champions League final that took place the day before in Barcelona between Bayern Munich and Manchester United, which the English won in the final minutes. Schumacher says a draw would have been fairer:
"So it's like running out of petrol on the last lap after dominating a race. 2-1 is too much. But that's football".
Michael then vows to avenge his Bayern compatriots, while Hakkinen, who went to see the match at the Camp Nou stadium, says:
"I had a great time, it was an exciting spectacle. It was the first time I had seen such an important match live".
He then confesses:
"I didn't actually see the two winning goals from Sheringham and Solskjaer because they were interviewing me, and I thought the result wouldn't change by now. However, I couldn't have expressed my support for Manchester, as my English car has a Mercedes engine.
Returning to matters that concern them more closely, Schumacher says there will be nothing new on the Ferrari:
"Even the engine is still the same. We've been waiting for months for a new version, but nothing. The problem here is that we have to defend ourselves, and if we were to find out on Sunday that we are very close to McLaren I would be very surprised. We have the same car as in Imola and Monte Carlo, but the differences depend on the circuit: here there are faster corners, the asphalt is smoother, there is more grip, we have to be careful and try to be competitive to defend our position in the World Championship. More favourable races will come for us. We will have a difficult weekend, but nothing is impossible. If we were closer than expected? I don't know, it would be surprising for us. However, one thing seems certain to me: this season, the fight will be restricted to four drivers and two teams. Some other teams have very good potential, as Stewart showed in Brazil, for example, but in the long run the challenge for the title will be a matter between McLaren and Ferrari".
For his part, Hakkinen wants to put the dark moment behind him, characterised by the mistake that led him to retire at Imola, and by a reviewable performance at Monte Carlo, with such a struggle to find the right set-up on the McLaren and some avoidable inaccuracies in the race. Mika must try to restart from the extraordinary pole obtained on the narrow streets of the Principality, even though it did not lead to victory. Even in Spain, however, on a circuit where overtaking is very difficult, the pole can be crucial. Should he fail to beat Schumacher this weekend, the reigning champion admits:
"It wouldn't be a disaster, but it would be close. The world championship is now about two drivers, but there could be just one left and then, yes, it would be a disaster".
Regarding the reliability of the Mp4/14, he states:
"I don't think the problems are due to an excess of technology. Of course, when you build a completely new car you always take risks. That's normal. But the performance is extraordinary. And we are working very hard to avoid more problems before the finish. I am confident".
At the end of the first two free practice sessions on Friday, Ferrari's fears of a weekend dominated by the McLarens faded. Eddie Irvine set the best performance on his second timed lap, and there was no one able to dislodge him from the top spot for the duration of the sessions. The reason? The wind. Big gusts rose for the rest of the first session and for the whole duration of the second one, to the point that in the afternoon only Frentzen managed to improve his performance by mounting a set of new soft tyres (the German of Jordan was second in the total time count).
Irvine, who the day before, while travelling in his private plane at 10.000 metres, saw one of the cabin windows crack, thus forcing his two pilots to return immediately to Milan, didn't seem at all affected by the big scare and enjoyed the first position. However, the Northern Irishman is also among the many drivers who have been affected by the wind, as he did not escape a track exit that fortunately did not seriously damage the bottom of the car:
"Terrible, everything has changed compared to last week's testing. I was used to taking corners in a certain way, braking at a certain point and now everything is different. It's terrible, and at one point a sudden gust of wind caught me from behind and I flew off the track".
Michael Schumacher is third at three tenths, but unlike his teammate, he runs his best laps on hard tyres. McLaren smiles because finally there are no mechanical problems of any kind on the cars; as for the lap times, Hakkinen and Coulthard seem to be hiding, and they place themselves respectively in fourth and seventh position. Results to be taken with a pinch, as Ferrari's technical director, Ross Brawn, says, because of the many variables offered by a track that is different from what it should look like on Sunday, given that the weather forecast announces a hot, windless day. Schumacher speaks of a car that is better performing than in testing, but highly unstable:
"Yes, this wind thing is true, and in fact almost all of today's best times were set in the morning session when there was little wind. But for us the problem was to get everything in a good balance, especially the aerodynamic set-up and the mechanicals, and we did that. The times don't count in these conditions, everything can depend on a stroke of luck or wind. But the important thing is that I feel the car is going much better than in previous years, which makes me confident. It's true, I've said many times that this is not a favourable circuit for us, but maybe I should correct myself: it wasn't favourable because when a car goes better these judgements also change. Last year, whatever test you did, you realised that things didn't improve much. This year it's different: every test I do, something improves and that explains why we don't have anything new here. We have a car that an entire team has managed to put right in many small details without any substantial changes, and the performance gap has been greatly reduced".
In the middle of the group, Benetton continued to struggle more than expected, struggling to find its way after losing experienced drivers like Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. Young Fisichella and Wurz, after making the most of a car that in the previous years offered serious chances of gaining the podium, now they didn't seem to be able to show a real way to develop a B199 lacking grip, and that in this first stage of the season was a poor appearance in the fight for the last positions of the points zone. At the end of Friday's free practice, Fisichella was fifteenth, Wurz seventeenth.
Hard times for Minardi, as Marc Gené, after three accidents in two days in Monte Carlo, crashed again destroying the rear wing and a suspension. Luca Badoer, on the other hand, crashes hard on a kerb, breaking the bodywork. Spare parts were scarce and the hoped-for progress was slow in coming. Jacques Villeneuve sketches a smile, ninth at the wheel of a BAR that is slowly finding competitiveness, but for the moment has not yet finished a race.
Meanwhile, Craig Pollock's team made official the agreement with Honda for the supply of engines in 2000. This news was not appreciated by Supertec, managed by Flavio Briatore, who announced his intention to sue the Japanese company, guilty of having behaved incorrectly. At the beginning of the year, Supertec had sent a letter to Honda stating that BAR was under contract until the end of the 2000 season. A document that Briatore intends to use to claim damages and receive monetary compensation.
On Saturday 29 May Villeneuve's smile became even more pronounced, as the Canadian driver, thanks to a great lap, even got the sixth position. But the great performance of the 1997 World Champion is not the only good news of the day, as the FIA doctor, Sid Watkins, finally gives the go-ahead for the return to the track of Ricardo Zonta, who was replaced by Mika Salo following his accident at Interlagos. The Brazilian will leave Salo in charge for the last time, in Spain, after which he will test at Silverstone, and if all goes according to plan he will return to racing from the next Grand Prix, to be held in Canada.
With Villeneuve in such good form, the British team can seriously hope to gain the first points of the season; the problem, more than competitiveness, was the fragility of the cars, which for the time being did not allow either Villeneuve, Zonta or Salo to see the chequered flag. Satisfied with the third row, obtained on soft tyres, Jacques told the press:
"I am really happy because this is a difficult circuit that subjects the single-seaters to a real test. If you are strong here you can be confident for the rest of the season, and I am. We are six tenths off pole, and I could have done better if the wind had blown as hard as it did yesterday. It's strange but my BAR was really good in those conditions. The thing that surprises me most is the engine: it seems really powerful here. I hope to see the chequered flag because the race will be a lottery if the conditions don't change and we can get a really good result. I have to congratulate the team because for once this result was not only thanks to me, but the car gave a great contribution".
The day's poleman, until nine minutes from the end of qualifying, was only on the third row, with the mechanics working on his car for one of the many adjustments made during the session. Back on track, Mika Hakkinen leaves no one any chance for the fifth consecutive time this season. After a difficult morning, at the end of which he decided to take the route chosen by his teammate Coulthard and take his cue from his set-up, Mika struggled to complete a clean lap in qualifying. Then, in the final minutes, he completes a perfect lap, which gives him his fifth pole out of five qualifying sessions. Noting this statistic, the Finn jokingly declared to the press:
"At this point I suggest we do something: give points to whoever gets pole. Considering how many I've done, and the situation in the standings, I could really use some. After free practice, Coulthard and I spoke to each other. He was faster and felt more comfortable in the car, although he still had a few problems. At that point I decided to adapt, taking the best of what he had done so far, and then refine it. I made a few mistakes on the first and second attempts and now you will say that I always make mistakes. The truth is that our car is very difficult to adjust".
What is the secret of so many pole positions? Hakkinen answers:
"There isn't. In qualifying you just have to go to the limit. If anything, it's important to choose the right moment to take to the track.
Despite the pole position, on a track favourable to McLaren it was legitimate to expect a greater margin over the competition, given that Eddie Irvine, second, was 131 thousandths behind".
A thought expressed by Ron Dennis himself, who says he is happy for the pole, but not for the performance of the car. Hakkinen, on the other hand, states:
"I remain convinced that this car has more potential than it has shown so far. It can improve and we need to do that. Soon. Reliability problems? There have been, it's true, but at Imola we were unaffected, and in Monaco Coulthard had an abnormal problem that hadn't occurred before. Anyway, we will try to do something more to secure the result. We desperately need points".
Coulthard, in fact, after a Saturday morning characterised by the breakage of the tie rod of the right rear suspension while driving through the last curve at 230 km/h, with the third place of the day, at one tenth and a half from Hakkinen, is among the disappointments of the day. The disappointment was made all the more bitter by the fact that for twenty thousandths, Eddie Irvine robbed him of second place, and therefore of the chance to start on the front row.
For the fourth time since he joined Ferrari, the Northern Irishman is faster than Schumacher (only fourth) in qualifying. It had already happened in Australia in 1996, in Austria in 1997 and in Germany in 1998. Eddie promises a battle ahead of the race, and even recriminates about a small mistake at the bottom of the downhill which prevented him from obtaining pole position:
"I'm close to Hakkinen and I was faster than Michael, as few can do. I am more than satisfied. It will be important to get a good start and maybe take the lead at the first corner. If I'm in front, and there's a McLaren between me and Michael, the choice is forced: I have to do my race and go for the win. The desire is there, and I think I have a chance. I will do everything to win, but I don't want to compromise my position in the championship either. I had noticed that the track was getting slower as time went on, so I gave it everything I had beforehand".
A bit like Hakkinen did with Coulthard, after a troubled free practice Michael Schumacher decided to follow Irvine's lead and fit soft tyres during qualifying, and consequently, as per the rules, also in the race. Michael, however, struggled to find a set-up that satisfied him, and at the end of qualifying he paid 189 thousandths of a second to Hakkinen; only 50, however, separated him from Irvine, and 30 from Coulthard. With such small gaps and the difficulty announced in overtaking, it is clear that the race will be decided above all by the strategies. Schumacher, in the post-qualifying session, says he is not satisfied with the timing of the race, but he can still see the glass half full:
"At the end of the day it would have been better to go out early, as Alesi and Irvine did. Instead, I thought that the asphalt would have become faster as it got rubberized. Eddie found the best set-up, and I couldn't imitate him because I didn't have the time anymore. In some corners I was oversteering, in others understeering: there wasn't a good balance. However, the gaps are very small, we are all there and this race could give us satisfaction: to be less than two tenths of a second from the McLarens would have seemed fantastic a fortnight ago".
Good at exploiting the soft tyres, Jean Alesi was also the protagonist of the day, who together with Villeneuve occupied an interesting third row, just behind the four cars that were likely to play for victory and podium. Slightly later than the previous weekends Barrichello and Frentzen, who will start from the fourth row. To close the top ten, Jarno Trulli in a Prost in slight recovery, and Ralf Schumacher, at the wheel of the Williams, for which the same cannot certainly be said.
On Sunday 30 May 1999, under the scorching sun irradiating Catalunya, the minutes before the start of the race are quite intense for the Ferrari drivers. Both Schumacher and Irvine, in fact, shortly before the pit lane was closed, returned to the pits so that the mechanics could make last-minute updates on both cars. Everything is regular anyway, and the two F399s are on the grid, ready to give battle to the McLarens.
At 14:00 local time, the lights go out and the fifth race of the championship begins. Hakkinen has a great sprint and at the first bend he keeps the lead undisturbed, while behind Irvine makes the rear wheels skid and is flanked by Coulthard. Also, Schumacher starts well but remains stuck behind his teammate and the Scot. At the first braking, Jacques Villeneuve took advantage of the free track in front of him, who took advantage of the outside trajectory to overtake the two Ferraris and incredibly established himself in third position, behind Hakkinen and Coulthard, who managed to get the better of Irvine and Schumacher. The Northern Irishman not only lost positions on Coulthard and Villeneuve, but also found himself behind Schumacher; his second starting position was rendered completely useless, and Eddie found himself in fifth position.
Schumacher knows he cannot afford to lose time behind Villeneuve, he tries an attack at turn 5, but the Canadian stubbornly closes the ideal trajectory. Olivier Panis and Marc Gené remained stationary on the grid: the French driver of Prost managed to restart, the Minardi driver, on the other hand, had to retire without having covered even one metre.
At the end of the first lap Hakkinen had already started his escape, with Coulthard following him not too far away. Then Villeneuve, hunted down by Schumacher and Irvine, while Jarno Trulli closed the points zone thanks to a great start that allowed him to gain three positions.
As it had been announced on the eve of the weekend, and as we had already seen in the past races, overtaking would have been an arduous task, and Michael Schumacher, despite himself, became the clear example of this difficulty, as he could not overtake Villeneuve, who was clearly slower than him. The trio, led by the BAR driver, lost a second and a half per lap to Hakkinen, who in the meantime set some excellent times, easily overtaking Coulthard as well.
The Ferrari driver never manages to be dangerous, he doesn't even hint at being seen in the mirrors. For his part, Villeneuve does not commit the slightest inaccuracy, savouring every second of the longed-for return to the top. To understand how much the former World Champion is making a difference, it is enough to look at the position of his teammate, Mika Salo, who is only fifteenth.
After ten laps, Hakkinen has a fifteen second lead over BAR and the Ferraris; after just twenty, he already has the margin to make the pit stop and stay ahead. All this while Villeneuve begins to suffer from tyres, repeatedly blocking the front ones in the braking of turn 1 and turn 4. Also in Ferrari, however, both drivers complain about an excessive consumption of the rear tyres, with Schumacher in particular who also talks on the radio about an excessive understeer.
On lap 23 of the 65-lap race, Ferrari made their move, calling Eddie Irvine into the pits. The following lap it was Hakkinen's turn, who easily maintained his position over Villeneuve and Schumacher, momentarily losing his position over Coulthard before the latter pitted. Afterwards, Villeneuve and Schumacher go to the pits for a pit-stop at the same time.
In the long-distance battle between the mechanics, the Ferrari mechanics won by detachment, sending their driver back onto the track well ahead of his rival, while the BAR mechanics bungled things and even allowed Irvine to take the position over the blameless Villeneuve, who, in any case, at the end of the first series of pit-stops had an excellent fifth position. After all the drivers have stopped, Hakkinen continues to drive with a considerable advantage over Coulthard, who during his pit-stop arrives long at the lay-by and causes a delay of a few seconds in changing tyres and refuelling.
His stop lasts twelve seconds, six more than his teammate. Schumacher is third, with a clear track, but he pays the beauty of thirty seconds from the race leader. A gap that seems impossible to close. Michael, however, does not want to leave any stone unturned.
The two-time world champion set a fast lap of 1'24"982, gaining a second and a half in just one lap over Coulthard, who, from the height of his fifteen second lead, could feel comfortable. But this is not the case.
The gap dropped steadily lap after lap, also thanks to the Scotsman's difficulty in getting rid of the lapping cars of Salo and Wurz. Ten seconds. Eight seconds. Six seconds. Three seconds. Nine tenths. Thanks to a monstrous race pace, on lap 40 Michael Schumacher is behind David Coulthard. In the same lap, unfortunately, Jacques Villeneuve's race ends.
When he returned to the pits, the mechanics could not immediately remove one of the rear wing's planes, because it was not properly fixed. As revealed in the post-race, Villeneuve had explicitly asked not to remove the part, as this would have led to a huge waste of time, as indeed it did. When, after several seconds, the Canadian driver tried to restart and restart the race, which was now compromised, the BAR turned off and would not restart.
In the fight for second position, reopened thanks to Schumacher's comeback, Ferrari try to undercut Coulthard on lap 43. However, as he entered the pit lane, the German driver was slowed down by Takagi's Arrows, which was just ahead of him. The time lost will prove crucial, as Michael himself will stress at the end of the race.
When Coulthard made his pit stop two laps later, he was able to keep second place over Schumacher by a matter of tenths. The new set of tyres fitted to the Scotsman's McLaren seemed to work better than the previous one, so much so that Schumacher this time lost a little contact with his rival. The gap oscillates between four and five seconds.
Ten laps from the end, the only battle on the track that moved an otherwise absolutely flat race was the one for the sixth place between Trulli, Barrichello and Damon Hill. A compact trio in which Hakkinen runs into first, who after the second pit-stop continues his solo race, and then Coulthard and Schumacher.
During the lapping phases, the German approaches again, getting back to a second and a half, but without ever getting under the second. Damon Hill gained seventh place on Barrichello, taking advantage of the fact that the Brazilian had lifted his foot to give way to Schumacher. A shrewd manoeuvre that, however, will not earn him any points, as Jarno Trulli easily manages the sixth place in the very last laps.
The same for Mika Hakkinen, who went on to win his second race in the championship after his success in Brazil a month and a half earlier. David Coulthard completed the McLaren one-two, the first of the year for a team that until now had never completed a race with both cars. Michael Schumacher limited the damage and was third ahead of Irvine, Ralf Schumacher, the last of the unlapped drivers, and Jarno Trulli, who gained the first point of his season, the second for Prost. In the parc fermé, Schumacher took a long look at the rear and then the cockpit of Hakkinen's car before his brother Ralf arrived and began to chat with him.
With the four points gained, the Ferrarista rises to 30 points in the championship, +6 on Hakkinen, who thanks to this success has 24 points and overtakes Irvine, who drops to third position with 21. Fourth remains Frentzen with 13 points, who retired on a disappointing day for Jordan, while Coulthard is fifth with 12 points. In the constructors' category, McLaren gained points, with 36 points reducing the gap to Ferrari to 15. In the press conference, Michael starts by talking about the start:
"In truth, my start was quite good, but I was caught between David and Eddie, I couldn't go anywhere, in fact I even had to brake, and this offered Villeneuve the chance to jump in front of me and block me for a long time. I would have had the opportunity to pass him immediately on the first lap, at turn 5. I passed him on the inside but it was a bit of a risky manoeuvre so I decided to put my foot down, I didn't know how he would react. I preferred to wait but after that I was never close enough to him to try again. Jacques was doing his race properly after a good start, but unfortunately this allowed Hakkinen to gain about thirty seconds in twenty laps. At that point it was impossible to think of catching him again, the fight for victory was already over".
Second place, however, was called into question by a second stint in a comeback, thwarted by the presence of Takagi in the pit lane:
"Takagi looked like he was going to the bar for a coffee, I had to brake so hard that I lost that second that prevented me from getting back on track ahead of Coulthard. It was at that moment that I lost second place, but what can you do? That's the way racing is, there are setbacks and you have to play along. We had done everything we could to get out in front of Coulthard, because without Villeneuve I had managed to make up a lot of ground; unfortunately with Takagi I lost the time I needed to jump to second place in the pits. After that it was all useless, the third set of tyres didn't work as well as the previous ones, but especially in today's Formula 1 it is practically impossible to overtake. I saw that Coulthard had a hard time overtaking a Minardi, so it means that the problem in Formula 1 is not the speed of the cars but other causes, wrong regulations, tyres, aerodynamics and if we don't change these things it will get worse and worse".
A problem, that of overtaking, on which we must act as soon as possible, according to the German:
"We, as the drivers' union, would like to have meetings with the FIA as soon as possible, to put forward proposals to make racing a little more lively. We have ideas for change, but we have to see if they will listen to us".
Concerning the tyres, the choice of soft tyres proved to be the right one:
"We didn't suffer our choice. We had various strategies in mind, but with that start there was no alternative. However, we should not be dissatisfied, we had a good race and collected points that could be very useful in the future".
Given the premises, then, we can speak of a weekend all in all positive:
"Compared to what we feared, yes. After the tests here in Barcelona we expected bigger gaps and instead we were not in bad shape, we were able to improve things and fight. Let's not forget that in qualifying we were all there, in less than two tenths In Monte Carlo we missed the pole by a very small margin and also here in Barcelona we were very close. So you have to assume that there is not much difference between us and the McLarens. We should also be competitive in Canada. It will be a matter of finding the best solutions for the set-ups, and whoever succeeds will be at an advantage. We go home with more confidence, and after Canada there are other circuits that should be more suitable for our car. Now we feel really comfortable".
Finally, he is asked what he was observing about Hakkinen's Mp4/14:
"Nothing in particular, but the fact is that I hardly ever see a McLaren up close except on these occasions and so I take the opportunity to have a look, you never know, maybe you see a little thing that explains a lot more. You never know, it's better to turn around and have a look".
The Ferrari team manager, Jean Todt, accepts the defeat, but is confident for the next races:
"It is better to think that the McLarens are ahead, contrary to what the classification says, so we find the right tension to improve. It is useless to say that in Barcelona we could have won, the theory does not count; but in Canada we can do it. We have to improve the chassis, engine and aerodynamics: the latter can change the season. To make the car more stable in the corners, compared to the McLarens we have to load the wing much more and we lose speed in the straights. In Spain, in terms of top speed, there was a difference of thirteen kilometres per hour. At Magny Cours, at the end of June, we should be racing the new engine, the Evo 2, but it can only be a winner with efficient aerodynamics. Only there can we improve, because as a driver Schumacher is beyond question: I don't think he can make up another three tenths, he's already at his best".
Perfection' is the term used by Mercedes sporting director Norbert Haug to describe the race weekend of the McLaren Mercedes, which returned to celebrate a one-two finish that had been missing since 2 August 1998, at Hockenheim. Yet, Mika Hakkinen disagrees with Haug:
"It's not because I'm not happy, having halved the gap in the standings to Schumacher makes me happy, now I'm only six points behind, the championship is once again in the balance. But it's because I think about our potential, which is terrifying and we haven't managed to exploit it to the full yet. This car is not as fast as it could be, it's nervous, unstable, difficult to control when driving, as my crash at Imola shows, it doesn't allow me to be as relaxed in the race as I would like. The engineers are working to get the best out of it, I hope this can happen in Canada. Because now Ferrari is close, but with the real McLaren it would not be like that. If we can find the right solutions quickly, the World Championship will be ours again. But we have to speed up the development, we can't waste any more time".
The next race will be Canada, at the Montreal circuit:
"It will be fundamental to start in the lead, and considering what happened here I expect again a test on the hundredths, but also to find the right set-up, which has been our main handicap so far".
The fragility of the Mp4/14 no longer seems to worry him:
"That's a problem we've overcome now. When both cars reach the finish line, it means that mechanically everything is perfect. In recent months the gearbox has been a pain, the mechanics have had to work hard, but now everything is under control. This victory shows that we are a reactive team. For the first time we were really chasing, we had a lot of pressure on us: it could have eaten us up, but instead it became the springboard for rebirth. Nobody at McLaren has relaxed because we won the title last year. There is still a lot of desire to fight, we will never give up".
The real driver of the day, however, is undoubtedly Jarno Trulli, who with a very solid performance takes the Peugeot-powered Prost to sixth position, worth an important point for the constructors' standings, since the team owned by the four-time world champion of the same name takes the lead in the standings over Arrows and Sauber, stopped at one. The Italian driver, after receiving praise from his boss, told the press:
"This is a real point, obtained against very strong cars: the one in Belgium, last year, was given to me by the rain".
Over the last four laps, the two had been in constant radio contact and their assessments coincided:
"Yes, but don't compare me to him, I have to eat a lot of steaks before I become like Prost. Now the recovery in the classification is possible because the car is starting to be competitive, and soon we will have a new Peugeot engine, more evolved. The clutch is very good, and it allowed me to start like a rocket, from ninth to sixth".
Beyond the individual performances of the drivers, the lack of overtaking was the main issue after an emotionless Spanish Grand Prix. Jean Todt says that when you get in the slipstream you lose grip and as a result overtaking manoeuvres become impossible. A theory supported by many drivers, most notably Michael Schumacher, who warns the FIA:
"Development is going in the wrong direction. Everyone notices the problems we have when we have to overtake".
Eddie Irvine talks about the Grand Prix being so boring, to the point where he wishes he had a radio in the car, and the same idea is expressed by Villeneuve and Damon Hill, who focus not only on the difficulty in overtaking:
"The whole thing has nothing to do with racing anymore. What I say will reach the ears of president Max Mosley, but I will repeat it to him personally. It's not acceptable that a car that was going well last week on this circuit should become unrideable because a bit of crosswind gets up".
Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard also joined the one-sided chorus:
"If you want to try to overtake today, the danger of ending up off the track is high. And nobody is taking the risk".
The Scot adds:
"Tight cars without grip have no future. We have to go back to wider cars and wider tyres".
Montezemolo and Patrick Head also supported the drivers. The Ferrari president attacks:
"I don't like a Formula 1 where duels are not possible. Formula 1 is a combination of technology and driving skills. It's bad for the sport if the driver is prevented from overtaking by technology".
Patrick Head, on the other hand, raises the ratings alarm:
"Today, viewers at home have a choice of over fifty channels. If motor racing is no longer attractive, they change channels. These are no longer races".
Forced at least to defend himself, FIA President Max Mosley justified the changes in regulations implemented in recent years by the improvements in driver safety:
"We have significantly reduced the risk of fatal or dangerous crashes. In the last twelve months we have seen accidents that without the changes introduced since 1994 would have had more serious outcomes. There is always romantic talk of drivers wanting to go to the limit and experience the thrill of risk. It's all well and good until someone dies. And it would be unacceptable for someone between the ages of twenty and thirty to die. This must be prevented at all costs".
Amidst a dominant return of McLaren that reopens the rainbow games, and the controversy over regulations that do not favour the spectacle, Formula 1 is approaching the sixth round of the 1999 World Championship, to be held on the Montreal circuit, where everyone hopes to see a race with more action on the track.
Davide Scotto di Vetta