The new year begins with a special test on the Valencia circuit: in fact, on January 13, 2002, the 51-year-old Niki Lauda makes his comeback on a Formula 1 car. The former world champion goes on track with a Jaguar R2: he is the manager of that team. He completes ten laps, going for the straighter lines around the corners and when he gets out of the car declares:
"It was important to learn Formula 1’s progress. It is a very different car from the one I was racing in: the gearbox is gentle, you just have to press a button and the engine reaches 17,000 rpm. Now I will help my drivers - De La Rosa and Irvine - more".
On January 15, 2002, Ferrari gets together in Madonna di Campiglio for the traditional winter meeting organized by Marlboro, while in the following days McLaren, Renault, Williams and Jordan are preparing to present their new cars that will race in the 2002 championship. It is a very busy week for the teams that have to race in the championship, but there is an exception: Prost. Prost’s employees are waiting for the official communication of the winding up of the firm. The Prost went into receivership in November with the expiring date on January 15, 2002, to find a new partnership or some buyers who can reduce the company’s deficit, which now amounts to 30,000,000 euros. However, Alain Prost says that many people have contacted him but they have just made promises:
"Unfortunately, Formula 1 is a particular sector. For this reason, many industrialists, after having examined our balance and the files, have preferred to abandon this adventure. In the last few days, the custodian has received a proposal from a businessman group that will bring 46.000.000 euros in the society to face the immediate costs and start the championship waiting for other partners. The proposal is being examined but, for better or worse, only the custodian can decide. I am confident, but I prepare for the worst".
Before going to Madonna di Campiglio, on January 14, 2002, Michael Schumacher runs a test on the Fiorano Circuit. A short test with an exploit of the current champion: a new track record of 58"783. The previous one, which dates back to October 3, 2001, was 58"792 and was obtained by Schumacher with the same car 208 that he used in this test. However, the two cars share only the same construction number with the frame approved by the FIA. Everything else is new, the innovative gearbox in particular, and seems to have sped up the car, but all these new elements still have to be tested to see their reliability.
To see it, there will be the Valencia tests, scheduled for the following week. After the new lap record, Schumacher talks a lot with the technicians, Todt, Ross Brawn and President Montezemolo, who arrived by helicopter at 2:00 p.m.. Ferrari wanted from the driver an indication on how to build the new car and what to develop on it. And after 69 laps every question was answered. In this private seasonal debut, Michael Schumacher deepens the more ugent and technical issue: choosing which solutions proposed at Luciano Burti can satisfy his expectations. Rubens Barrichello, instead, knows that this third year as a Ferrari driver could be the last one because his contract expires in December. But Rubens doesn’t want to be under pressure:
"If when I drive I think about the future, I don’t do anything. I can’t try to overtake while thinking: maybe now I spin and they don't renew my contract. It would be the best way not to obtain anything".
The Brazilian driver knows that he is under examination, but wants to focus only on the present. He says:
"If they help me, if they give me the same car as Schumacher, I can win the Championship. Even if I know that sixty-five percent of the attention is on him and just thirty-five percent on me. It’s up to me to change this percentage and I will try to do it. If one day I will wake up thinking that I can’t win, I will immediately retire".
Ferrari looks forward to the Championship. On February 6, 2002, they have to show the car for the new season. After some hours of skiing, Michael Schumacher gives the first interview of the year. How does the World Champion feel after a long holiday?
"Very good, magnificently, fit. I’m ready to start this season and win again. I’m even more motivated than before and you know why? Not only because I feel good and this is the first year that I’m taking a two-months holiday. There is another reason: because I race for Ferrari. We are now a tight-knit group where everyone knows what to do and how to do it. You don’t find this anywhere else. For this reason, I can say that I don’t want to race with any other team apart from Ferrari. I see my future only at Ferrari".
Four world titles, the fifth at hand as Juan Manuel Fangio: do you ever think about this?
“No. I never think about the past, I don’t like it. Of course I know who and what Fangio was, but I’m not motivated thinking about his example. I don’t think about confrontation, I prefer looking ahead and thinking about what I can do, but not because there was Fangio before".
2002 will be a magic year as was 2001 or do you see any threats coming?
"We can repeat the same success because I know that the team is building a great car, but I also see some threats. The first is coming from my brother and his teammate. As for McLaren, it is unknown because they are changing the tyres, so there aren’t any previous examples and we don’t know almost anything. BMW, instead, is much better than the past. Everyone is very strong in that team and this is a problem for us".
What will the new Ferrari - that you are going to present in February - look like?
"Essentially it is the evolution of last year’s car, which was pretty good. There aren’t any big changes because regulations haven’t changed. There will be a new gearbox in titanium and other innovations. I consider it a new car, but you don’t have to think about anything really different".
However, someone says that this new car has some problems and that you could race with the old one in Australia.
"Yes, it is not impossible. Here’s the thing: if we reach the needed reliability, we’ll drive the new car immediately, otherwise we’re ready to use the old one. Actually, there were some problems with the new gearbox. We have almost solved them and the work of January and February will be useful for this, because a car can be reliable or not. But I’m confident that in Melbourne we will race with the new car".
It is said that Schumacher imposes to have an unproblematic teammate but, at the same time, Barrichello is complaining about the fact that the team doesn’t support him.
"I know, but it’s not like this. I don’t have any contractual nor moral power to do these things. It is true that inside the team we talk, discuss and choose. But they choose, Todt and Montezemolo. I’ll do an example: how many times have I driven the mule car and was quicker than with my car? This means that the equipment and the cars are the same for everyone. Anyway, Rubens and I have a very good relationship. For the newspapers it is convenient to make up all these things".
The Italian language is a sore point for a German driver in his seventh year with Ferrari. What do you have to say about it?
"Here in Madonna di Campiglio I have a friend that, every year during all these meetings on the snow, gives me a book. Today he wanted to give me a Heidegger book. Do you understand? It is challenging and difficult even in German, let alone in Italian. I don’t read much, so I’ve chosen a book full of pictures. It is a book that is used to teach Italian to children. I’ll read it little by little and make progress. Having said this, I add: do you know that in Ferrari we only speak English? Not because I don’t know any Italian, but because in English we understand each other better".
About the new Ferrari, Jean Todt says:
"It will be a new car, not an evolution of the old one. Maybe not anyone will notice it straightaway at its presentation, but there are many innovations and if you look carefully at it you will understand it. Aerodynamics has been redone and this is very important. The engine is new. The gearbox maybe...".
The sore point: the new gearbox.
"The new gearbox is there and we have been using it a lot. There are some problems and, as you know, we are searching for reliability because without it you don’t go anywhere. Listen up: our program - and we’re working on it every day - is to race with the new car. But if it all goes wrong, we know that we have an old car that is faster than last year and that could put us in a good position for the championship. But it is an extreme option".
The British press affirms that Ferrari is interested in Montoya and that he could take Barrichello’s seat before the end of the year:
"We never had any direct or indirect contact with Montoya or his manager, plain and simple".
Prost, to whom Ferrari supplies the engines, is going bankrupt and it is unknown if the team will race in Australia or not: are you worried about this bad sign?
"Yes, I’m worried. Unfortunately, we’re facing hard times. It’s not easy to find sponsors and money, but I’m confident that Prost is going to solve his problems. Of course, it is not a good sign and this shows how things have gotten hard for anyone - some more than others - but we have to move on".
This year there will be the double telemetry, the old one from the cars to the pits and the new one from the pits to the cars that are racing: what is it for?
"Well, for example, it is useful in some cases to modify, from the pits, the setup of the car".
Who are Ferrari’s main rivals this year?
"Williams for sure, maybe McLaren. We’ll see".
Meanwhile, on January 14, 2002, in Valencia the water used to artificially wet the track plays a dirty trick on the teams that are doing their tests. In fact, the temperature lowers and the track stays wet, forcing the drivers to use the intermediate tyres until 11.30 a.m.. In the afternoon, with a dry track, the teams start properly. The fastest drivers of the day are the two McLaren-Mercedes drivers, with David Coulthard ahead of the new driver, who has taken the place of Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen.
Juan Pablo Montoya’s Williams-BMW has problems and he comes into the pits with the engine on fire under the eyes of the design engineer Mario Theissen. A lot of tyre work for Trulli and Button with Renault as their box is full of Michelin’s technicians. At the end of the morning, the Jordan almost has an accident, when Sato spins in front of Fisichella. To avoid him, the Roman driver goes into the gravel, switching off the engine. Then, in the afternoon the Japanese driver brakes the differential. Eddie Irvine completes just five laps, slowed down by the mechanical failures of his Jaguar 2001. Minardi goes into the gravel for the first time this season with the Malaysian driver Yoong and his third driver Matteo Bobbi.
On January 18, 2002, Luciano Burti, the new third driver for Ferrari, successfully tests in Mugello the new titanium gearbox that is causing some problems. The Brazilian driver completes 73 laps (around 380 kilometers) that warms the hearts of Ferrari’s tifosi, given that some rumours talked about a 200 kilometers autonomy. This new gearbox, detached from the engine block, allows to save some space that, according to rumours, should expand the tank which should reduce the pit stop gap that Ferrari had with McLaren last year. Burti’s test seems to have been pretty good, given that Schumacher and Barrichello - that are in Valencia since January 19 and 21, 2002 - are working with the old car only on tyres. The tyre test is important too - the challenge between Bridgestone (Ferrari) and Michelin (Williams and McLaren) could decide the season - , but their tests show that the gearbox problem is not that worrying.
The following day, the post-Hakkinen era begins for McLaren. The new car is presented in Valencia with the two drivers, the veteran Coulthard alongside the young and promising Kimi Raikkonen from Sauber. The MP4/17 is a car that with its anteater nose and high exhausts is similar to last year’s Ferrari. Anyway, it shows some important innovations: an unprecedented front suspension (the triangle has fittings on different levels) and the rear tyres fairing. The engine is completely new, the ten-cylinder Mercedes that they were studying since November 21, 2002. There is a great optimism inside the team (that will host Alesi in the DTM championship and as third driver in Formula 1). Ron Dennis, McLaren boss, is convinced to beat Ferrari and Williams. Haug, Mercedes boss, ensures that reliability (sore point of last year) will not be a problem anymore:
"We don’t want to stop during the race. We are sure that we will never fail in the start management".
Coulthard is the most aggressive and immediately attacks Schumacher:
"He thinks that his greatest rival is his brother Ralf? I don’t care about his predictions. The most important thing is that my car is faster and more reliable than last year".
Michelin’s tyres are the greatest innovations. Nobody says that, but the McLaren thought is clear: Bridgestone favored Ferrari. Now, according to Dennis:
"Working with Williams, we can finally fight".
While Raikkonen is eager to race:
"I want to win some races".
On the same track, Rubens Barrichello’s new season starts with a scary accident, luckily without any serious consequences. The Brazilian driver was doing his tests on tyres with Schumacher doing 101 laps without any problems. Barrichello, instead, at the twenty-first lap spins, goes off the track at 240 km/h at turn 17 and crashes against the barriers violently. Rubens gets out of the car with just a hit on the right shoulder. However, he can’t go back on track because his car is seriously damaged at the back and has to be carried to Maranello to make some technical checks. Barrichello, instead, flies to Portugal to undergo a medical check. About the accident, Rubens explains:
"The car spun suddenly of 180 degrees. I didn’t make any mistake, maybe something broke".
But Ferrari doesn’t confirm this hypothesis. Furthermore, the reticence is understandable: on the car probably there were some new components of 2002, even if the gearbox and the engine were old. At this stage of the season, it is difficult to see some failures. However, Schumacher doesn’t have any problems. He is happy to be back on track and for his birthday present that the team gives him (late): a clock. On January 25, 2002, the car that everyone thinks to be Ferrari’s biggest rival is unveiled. Maybe that car can bring Williams to the top after five seasons. FW24’s presentation is in a tent in the middle of the Silverstone British paddock, with rain and wind. Decorations are simple, there is little lightning and the tent is subjected to continuous temperature changes due to the door openings. Williams and Head - and the two drivers - are pretty careful with their declarations:
"We want to win, we need it, but I don’t know if this is going to be the right season to achieve this. We’re lacking something. And I’m speaking about the cars and the drivers".
Admits Frank Williams without mince words, even if he was in front of the car that could contradict him. Ralf Schumacher says explicitly:
"My brother and Ferrari are the driver and the car to beat, but I don’t know if we’re going to do it".
Is it a pre-tactic or realism given Ferrari’s predominance in 2001? In the meantime, everyone can admire the FW24 (which went immediately on track to do some laps) that was made with some specific objectives, as Patrick Head explains:
"Last year’s car was fast on some tracks, such as Hockenheim, but not on others, such as Monaco or Budapest, where it wasn’t reliable. We just had to fix this: reliability and performance consistency".
How? For example, regaining aerodynamic efficiency, as the design engineer Gavin Fischer explains, instead of following the current trend. So, he decided to keep the nose high:
"We’ve studied Jaguar, McLaren and Jordan’s solution as well - that implies a different front suspension attachment - but the results weren’t so positive so we didn’t change it".
From their side, Mario Theyssen and Gerhard Berger swear that the BMW ten-cylinder engine - tried and tested before the long winter break and which was installed on the FW23 - is new for dimensions and weight, in fact it seems shorter and built to lower the car’s centre of gravity. The basic concepts are the same of the old car, starting from its architecture. The transmission has been changed too, it is more compact and efficient to reduce frictions. Theyssen adds:
"In this way we will lose less horsepower to make it work properly".
But to win, a solid car and a powerful engine aren’t enough. Suitable tyres and an efficient team are necessary. As regards the first ones, Williams and Head are positive about McLaren and Michelin collaboration because this will speed up the development. As regards the team structure, Sam Michael - the director of 400 employees from Grove - doesn’t hide the fact that some strategy or pits mistakes haven’t been forgiven. He says also that something has changed concerning the group that worked on the refuelling and the tyre change. Finally, the drivers. Head is certain to have the best pair of the grid. He is not worried at all about the fact that Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya, in an internal fight, could steal each other's points in favour of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.
"I’ll try to go faster because now I have an extra mouth to feed".
This is the promise of a Ralf who is relaxed and has changed (for better) after his wedding and fatherhood. Montoya, instead, nips all the controversy with the two Schumachers in the bud. To Michael, who in Campiglio said that his brother was his main rival, Montoya replies:
"I would have done it too if my brother was involved. All the Schumacher family against me? I don’t think so: Michael and Ralf are so different, both in and out the track, that they don’t even seem to be brothers".
Frank Williams, having left the presentation stage, lets his guard down and becomes more friendly. On his two drivers admits:
"We don’t live in an ideal world. It makes sense that these two have different behaviors, it has to be like this".
Then, he makes an authentic admission:
"Do you remember Brands Hatch 1986? Mansell and Piquet in the fight that lapped twice every driver and many others even three times? That time I was in heaven".
What is the difference between the Colombian and the German driver?
"One is extroverted and the other introverted".
Laughs William's boss. Then, he continues:
"Who is introverted? Coulthard said that one of them is all cute and cuddly and I don’t think that he was referring to Ralf...".
Montoya replies to Coulthard:
"Did David really say this? We have an excellent relationship but this surprises me. By the way, I’m sure that he is not trying to court me".
Then the Colombian driver states:
"This year I’m starting the season much more relaxed. I know everyone in the team and there is a family atmosphere. With Ralf too? Here’s the thing: we don’t have anything in common and anything to say to each other. We have different behaviours. But when we’re talking to our technicians we have to work together, for our interest and the one of our team".
The new FW24?
"I wish that the car and the new BMW engine will be more competitive than 2001. Competitiveness and reliability are the keys to a better season. At the moment, I don’t think about the championship, but I hope to win more races and to do a better job than last year".
On a technical level, the new FW24 has the same concepts as last year’s car that won four Grand Prix, three with Ralf Schumacher and one with Montoya. A conservative car, while other competitors have shown really revolutionary cars. Patrick Head says:
"I saw that Adrian Newey did some interesting things at McLaren. I’m happy to see his creativity and his willingness to take risks back. We’ve preferred to be conservative but soon, already from the tests in Spain, there will be many new details on the car".
Williams’ technical director clearly refers to the front wing and other details that will be different. Gavin Fisher, the technician who follows the project, explains:
"The car for the Australian Grand Prix will be very different from this one. We’ve worked on concepts that we were sure about and better the reliability of our car. Unfortunately, in this sector we failed last season".
The new FW24 is really similar to the car of the previous year. However, on the back of the car there are many innovations, such as the big spokes inside the rear tyres and the lower engine box. The new car has exhausts that blow in the upper part. This solution was introduced in the last two races of the 2001 season. The BMW ten-cylinder is new as is the gearbox. This allowed the lowering of all the back of the car.
Two days after, on January 27, 2002, inside the huge Renault’s Technocentre near Paris - where 10,000 people work inside a wonderful building - there is the presentation of the car. This represents Renault comeback in Formula 1 as a team, not just as an engine supplier. Its director is Flavio Briatore. The car is black and yellow and the engine is described as revolutionary. Nothing is known about it, unless two things: many people are trying to break into the Technocentre to steal the projects and the engine is almost flat, with a cylinder bank opening of 111 degrees. All the rest is top secret. The new structure of the Formula 1’s team is headed by Patrick Faure, helped by Briatore and Engineer His, who has been successful in Formula 1 and had worked for a short time in Ferrari. Briatore declares:
"There are many expectations because Renault is very important in France, but also at an international level. But we have to be realistic. We will try to do our best staying just behind the three leaders of Formula 1, but in 2003 we want to win races".
Louis Schweitzer, Renault’s president, is more direct:
"We want to win, we did it in the past and we can do it again. This is a big challenge suited to our possibilities".
The new car, driven in Barcelona by Jarno Trulli and the third driver Fernando Alonso, seems to be really similar to the Benetton of last year. But this is the same reality as the other cars which were presented. The true innovations will be seen soon because they are inside or under the car and aren’t shown by these official presentations but later on in the championship. Alongside Trulli there will be Jenson Button, a 22-year-old British driver in his third year in Formula 1.
For Alain Prost and his team there won’t be a championship. On January 29, 2002, the bankruptcy is announced and the judgements about the four-time World Champion - who lost in the constructors area - are harsh.
"Prost has only himself to blame".
Comments Le Figaro.
"Being a good driver doesn’t automatically make you a good manager".
Adds René Arnoux. Henri Pescarolo, a successful transalpine driver who won multiple times at Le Mans, is very harsh too:
"To be a constructor, some skills that Prost don’t have are needed. The team’s failure is his failure".
Jean Alesi goes in depth:
"Prost was followed by everyone, myself included because I left Sauber to go with him. But he ruined everything".
Very harsh, strong and cruel reactions. They correspond to the strange atmosphere that was created around Prost during his last year, when in the Grand Prix paddock didn’t have many friends anymore. But, mostly, were the bosses and very important people, those who criticized his management of the team. So, in the end, it wasn’t a surprise when nobody helped Alain. The reasons for this cruelty? They are difficult to figure out because constructors and important people are linked with many economic interests. These types of interests are the ones that make people argue. In the end, Prost is the only constructor in history to be officially in bankruptcy. But Alain doesn’t give up, and says to TF1:
"Formula 1 isn’t over for me, but certainly I will not continue in France. I did all this for France, I thought I had to give something to my country".
Now, to the other side of the fence, there is another World Champion who runs a team that is not his own. It is Niki Lauda, Jaguar’s director and a friend of Prost. Lauda tries to speak up for him:
"Alain paid for the fact that he didn’t have a big business behind him. His team was in trouble at the wrong moment, when the economy was in trouble too. This has worsened the situation".
Max Mosley, FIA’s president, in an interview given to Reuters, tries not to alarm anyone:
"Over the last years there were over fifty Formula 1 teams. The problem is that smaller teams have to deal with the fact that all the media attention goes to the bigger ones. Are other teams in danger? Everything is possible".
Mosley adds that with Prost’s bankruptcy, there are two more seats available in Formula 1:
"Regulations allow another team to join as long as it buys Prost’s position and respects the regulations. Otherwise the seat is empty and could go to another team in the future".
But the time is running out, the Australian Grand Prix (on March 3, 2002) is just around the corner. Every move, even the one of an investor group of Modena interested in acquiring the brand, should respect the timing established by the bankruptcy judge of Versailles. So the Championship will start with twenty-two cars, as in 2001.
In late January, on the Montmelò circuit, two dangerous accidents occur to Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello during one session of winter tests. The German driver goes off track at turn 12 at 240 km/h: the car spins, then flies mid-air and crashes against the barriers. The rear tyres come off, the wing breaks down and the car has to be entirely rebuilt. But, luckily, Schumacher gets off the Ferrari n. 209 by himself, having done eighteen laps. At that time, he had the second best time lap of the day, behind Barrichello.
"These things can happen during practices, I got distracted. I made a mistake between turn 11 and turn 12".
Admits Schumacher, dazed. When practices start again after the suspension to clean the track from the debris, Barrichello makes an accident with his Ferrari n. 210, the last of the lucky series of 2001. Same as Schumacher, but at turn 9: a spin and a crash against the barriers. Another wrecked car. Ferrari packs all its equipment to go back home because this type of damage can only be repaired in Maranello. In the Barcelona session with the old car, the aim was to compare many types of Bridgestone tyres because Ferrari is the test team of the Japanese multinational. Ferrari’s task is to test plenty of compounds and different carcasses to be used in the Championship. It is impossible to know if the two accidents are due to the distraction of the drivers or to some special compound with which the drivers went too fast.
The previous year in Barcelona was Badoer the one who had a similar accident - from which he came out alive but in a bad state - that kept him away from races for a while. Now, with many tyres to test (30,000 kilometers of tests during the year are scheduled) fatigue and risks increase. Before getting on a plane and going home, the two Ferrari drivers make the two better lap times: Barrichello 1’18”096, Schumacher 1’18”552. For Barrichello it was an improvement compared to the 1’18"697 of the day before, while for Schumacher it was a worse time. However, both drivers are far from the 1’17"328 that Kimi Raikkonen made in some previous tests.
On February 6, 2002, the new Ferrari is presented. During his first years in Maranello, when the new car was unveiled, Luca di Montezemolo tried to see in the sky some sort of sign which could indicate a positive omen. A ray of sunshine through the clouds, a pouring rain, a sprinkling of snow. Illusions. The blows continued for Ferrari. On this cold day of winter there is a quite thick fog, but the president doesn’t notice it. He doesn’t need to see some superstitious sign anymore.
"Actually, it is the first time that I don’t ask my employees to do better than the year before. I would accept the same results of 2001 with great enthusiasm as long as this doesn't go to their head. I don’t know what will happen, but I’m sure that Ferrari starts this championship to win it again. To accomplish these things consistently exceptional man, atmosphere and working method are needed and I’m proud because Ferrari has all this".
The presentation of a new Ferrari is always a very important day, now more than ever because the team is in a positive and winning phase. Montezemolo points out:
"There is emotion, hope, the knowledge that we have worked hard. First of all, it is an extremely innovative car. Developing further the car of last year wouldn’t be easy - in fact, even now it is very quick - , so we’ve decided to choose a risky way. Risk is part of our job, we have to innovate, go on with the projects and the technologies. We have to have a strong group behind, formed by technicians, mechanics and drivers. We have Michael Schumacher, who is a World Champion and not only a great driver but he’s also very close to the team and very helpful even in difficult moments. We have Rubens Barrichello who always brought us many points to win the Constructors Championship. Next to the F2002 there is another new car Grand tourer because we’ve wanted to point out how sport competition has seeken advanced research for the Ferrari and Maserati Grand tourer cars as never before".
As always, president Montezemolo wants to point out that sponsors and providers are very important - “they’re essential for our activity, without them we can’t win and maybe neither race”: from Bridgestone to Philip Morris, from Shell to Magneti Marelli and to the new Vodafone and AMD.
"Many of them have had faith and patience through the hard times that we’ve gone through. Now it feels good to be able to give something back. And then the Fiat, our shareholders that we have to warmly thank. Fiat is an essential technological support with the research centre of the car, the engine and the simulation. Today Formula 1 means intense competition among the biggest car companies and we are proud to have Fiat as our human, technological and innovative support. Fiat doesn’t ask us anything, while we are always asking Fiat for something and have always received what we wanted. We thank them with all of our heart".
Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne define the F2002 the best Ferrari ever built. What does the president think about it?
"I think that if they say so, it means that they really mean it and I think they’re right. Surely the other teams have been working hard, so we have the pressure of the other competitors. But we hanger for more wins. The competition will be difficult but we’re ready to face it in the best way, with the maximum effort as we’ve always done. To continue to win, of course".
Piero Ferrari is also there for the occasion, to see the presentation of the F2002:
"I think that is really beautiful and that we can face this season with optimism. I told Schumacher that if the F2002 will be as good as him doing his speech in italian, we won't have any problem".
Then, when he is asked who, according to him, will be the surprise of the year, answers:
"If Raikkonen will immediately win, he will be the man in the spotlight. He’s the type of driver that my dad would certainly have liked because he loved young rookies".
Montezemolo thanks Giorgio Ascanelli, who leaves Formula 1 to start the Maserati adventure. Why has the gearbox been redone? Rory Byrne answers:
"The previous gearbox dates back to the early ‘90s, then it was updated but it was not up with the times anymore. Now it has a titanium casting box which is smaller, stiffer and lighter than the previous one. All the internal components are new, as well as the gear selection mechanism. The result is a quicker and less abrupt gear shift. The prototype of this gearbox has been studied for two years and tested since last September on a F2001 mule car".
When Jean Todt is asked why the F2002 will not be tried out until Saturday and Sunday, he answers without mincing words:
"Because it’s not ready".
However, everything seems alright.
"Some important things are missing. But we don’t waste time because tests continue with the F2001 mule car".
It is a very important day. There are all the technical heads of Maranello, but of course Ferrari doesn’t want any news or secrets to be leaked out. A true challenge, given the fact that there are almost three hundred journalists from all over the world who are seeking for datas. It is not easy. Gilles Simon, head of all Ferrari’s ten cylinders, is one of the most likely to be revealing something.
"Secrets are not an obsession, they are part of the challenge. In this Formula 1, which is always so extreme on everything, both on a technical and a human level, every kind of data could help our rivals: could make them spare a lot of money and, above all, a lot of time searching and developing the components".
Nicolas Tombazis, head of Ferrari aerodynamics, interestingly confirms:
"There are some rules, I can’t speak. Maybe in October, after the end of the season".
Todt, commenting the interview of the Greek technician, laughs and says:
"Nicholas is very good. I always say that".
Yes, but the fans want to know something. What do you say to them?
"I say that that’s okay, that’s the way Ferrari has reached an excellence level that for five years allow us to fight for the World Championship. For three years we have been winning the constructors and for two years, with Michael, the drivers championship. The team is solid and will remain like this for years. Our strength doesn’t come from success, but from the determination that made us win. We will face 2002 with the same spirit. It will be a very difficult season because new teams and constructors will fight with us and they don’t want to lose, while those who lost in the last few years will not want to lose anymore. We don’t want to lose either. We have all in our hands to keep winning and I’m very proud of the team and its employees".
It is useless to ask for some news to the few engineers that can speak. Paolo Martinelli is peremptory:
"The datas about the lower centre of gravity? I don’t remember them. The power? We never say it. BMW reaches 19,000 rpm yet? We don’t comment on our competitors’ data".
Ross Brawn is the only one that reveals that the tyre compound will be crucial this year too. And Ferrari has huge news.
"On the basis of a three-year contract with Bridgestone we have formed two common work groups, in Maranello and in Tokyo, to exchange information both on the project and on the development of the car".
Then, speaking with his English friend, he reveals two news about the titanium casting gearbox, the one that Rory Byrne promised to use on the car in the middle of last year:
"It has been ready for two years and we’re bench-testing it. It has been on track since the beginning of September. And you have immediately said it, before Schumacher could reveal it".
Ferrari has succeeded to do one thing: surprise everyone and disprove any prediction on the shape and on the innovative concepts of the new F2002. Rumours have talked about some split front suspensions and many other solutions, with images that were all completely wrong. In fact, the F2002 is revolutionary, but not concerning the concepts, which have been used by other competitors. The major innovations are on the centre and rear part of the car. Ferrari focused on trying to reduce what has always been a problem for Formula 1 cars: rear tyres aerodynamic release. On this side, the new car of Maranello is extremely innovative with cutting-edge solutions. The sides of the car are really high, rounded and have a large charging mouth, even if it is a bit smaller than the F2001. The sides end very low, are narrower and, above all, are almost completely closed. The warm air outlet happens in one place. This is an extremely ingenious and new solution: to put together in a sort of chimney stack both the vertical warm air outcome from the radiators and the engine exhaust outcome.
On the 2001 car, exhausts were cut flush with the body and let out the air vertically; now, on the F2002 they are hidden inside two particular chimney stacks that blow in an orizontal way towards the rear of the car. A good protection prevents the flames from reaching the rear suspension arms that are entirely made with carbon. At the rear end there are other innovations. Starting with the 051 engine, further lightened and with a lower centre of gravity, and arriving at the new gearbox which, for Ferrari, is revolutionary. It is really small, with a particularly accentuated V section in the lower part, which is narrow. To improve aerodynamics, the rear suspensions have been redesigned and don't have external vertical dampers anymore, on the sides of the gearbox: now they are hidden inside the structure.
Obviously, the Ferrari of the presentation will not be the definitive one. For this reason, any comparison between the new wing and the old one is useless. Both the front wing and the rear wing seem to be the same as those of the 2001 car: they will most likely be changed after the first tests. Concerning the aerodynamic choices, the F2002 has a nose which is higher and more squared on the lower part than the old car. The front suspensions have an aerodynamic function with wing-shaped fairings in the arms, which are entirely made with carbon. Another peculiarity is the position of the driver, who now sits slightly further back and lower, with shorter side pods.
The F2002 will be driven by Schumacher the weekend after the presentation until February 20, 2002, at Fiorano and Mugello. And just before going to Australia it will be decided if to use it in Melbourne or delay its debut. There is also the possibility that a driver will use the new car immediately and the other driver will use the old one, which will be partially updated in the engine and the aerodynamics, and with the gearbox and the rear end of the F2002 car. Michael Schumacher declares in this regard:
"Of course I want to race immediately with the new car because I’m convinced that it is better. But I will do it if I am certain to finish the race".
Barrichello confirms this statement. He really wants to be back on track and wishes to win some races again:
"My contract will expire at the end of 2002 but I forced myself not to think about the renewal, but to focus only to go fast".
He says it: will he make it? Schumacher’s declared aim is to win the fifth World Championship. His secret aim is to keep his brother Ralf’s reputation up, from whom he has good information if he says that BMW has some tricks up their sleeves that they don’t want to show: they will be the main rivals. But it goes without saying that Michael will be the driver to beat with the new Ferrari or even with the old one in the first races. And the F2002 is already a dangerous weapon even if it hasn’t been tried out yet because McLaren, Williams, Renault, having seen some pictures of the new Ferrari, understand the technological level that Maranello has reached. The F2002 debut starts really well: on February 10, 2002, on a spring day and with many spectators. The Abetone road is full of fans, who are following Ferrari’s tests on the Fiorano track from over the bridge.
"A promising debut. The first impressions are excellent".
Says Michael Schumacher at the end of the session. In fact, at the end of the day Michael makes the new track record: 58''620. Total number of laps held: sixty-seven. Everything is promising, just like the year before when the F2001 was tried out, did many laps without breaking down and did the new track record that has been written in minutes for years. Schumacher arrives on time as always. He arrives the night before by plane because he was afraid to find some fog and goes on track early. At 10:00 a.m., he does a first lap and goes back to the pits to do the usual checks. It is a slow and nerve-racking test because at 1:30 p.m. Schumacher has only made 15 laps in small doses. In the afternoon, he starts pushing to feel how the new car reacts and, shortly after the sunset, has done over 200 kilometers without failures. There are just detailed checks every time he pits. This debut raises the hopes to use the new car in the first Grand Prix that will be held in Melbourne, Australia. However, no decision has been made yet.
Some time will be necessary to come to a decision. Thanks to the good weather, Schumacher and Ferrari’s engineers can fully seize the opportunity to do some tests from morning to evening. And while the German driver the next day is still in Fiorano, Rubens Barrichello is in Mugello with the old car setup in the eventual 2002 Australian version. If the test seemed promising, more tests have to be made to try the new 051 engine and the titanium casting gearbox that caused many problems in the last few months. The doubt that has been haunting Ferrari’s technicians for months is this: why has the new gearbox broken down so far? Because it isn’t good or because they tried it on the old car that does not foresee its use? The sixty-seven laps done by Schumacher are promising, even if he stopped many times, but it is clear that the new car has to undergo harder tests, always on the edge of the record.
More confirmations on the new Ferrari come over the next few days, when Schumacher does many laps in Fiorano with lap times that are quicker than the old F2001. Then the car is carried to Mugello where on February 13, 2002, arrives also the champion in charge and where Barrichello has already done around 350 kilometers, with the best lap time of 1’22"220, which is very close to the track record. The two Ferrari cars are developed together for a choice before the debut in Australia. Meanwhile, from Berlin, Bernie Ecclestone - Formula 1 patron - says positive things about Schumacher:
"He will dominate for a long time in the racing world, I don’t see anybody that could worry him at the moment. He’s one of the best drivers in Formula 1’s history and the strong competition points out his skills".
Jean Alesi, following his decision to retire from the Formula 1 world at the end of last season, will not be a competitor. He decided to become a McLaren’s test driver. The French driver, during a night in London when he receives a recognition for his career, declares:
"My credit? Having increased the love for the Grand Prix".
He has had little satisfactions - meaning strong results - during his long career in Formula 1. But his popularity can be compared to other drivers who have been more successful than him: thanks to his big heart and passionate behaviour, Alesi, 37 years old and 184 races completed, left his mark in Formula 1. The Grand Prix world does give him his credit by handing him a sort of Academy Award for his career. Max Mosley, FIA’s president, gives it to him.
"It is an award for all the mess I’ve made...".
Laughs Jean. Then he says seriously:
"People find it difficult to accept that I will no longer be fighting in the next Championship and I’m glad to hear this because this shows how I’ve contributed to increase the love for this sport. I think that this award is the confirmation".
This important award is given only twenty-four hours after the news of his first test for McLaren. The test will take place on March 4, 2002, on the Barcelona circuit.
"I take this as an award for my career too. I will give all my experience and speed to the team to help McLaren to become World Champion".
It doesn’t matter if this will go at the expense of the so loved Ferrari:
"It is necessary to distinguish between passion, heart and professionalism. For me, it is an honour to get in a car that will fight again this year - as it has done during the last seasons - for the title".
Explains the French driver. Two weeks before, he was in Woking to get the seat done:
"I was really impressed about the technological level of that factory and I said this after thirteen years of career in Formula 1".
Even if the British team, as Martin Whitmarsh - the general manager - said, tends to limit this experience to Spain, Alesi wants to have a stable role as a special consultant that he explains like this:
"As opposed to Coulthard, an official driver, I can say more openly what I think about tyres, aerodynamics, engine without fearing to create unnecessary tensions with the technical director or damaging my image inside the team. I am and will remain a Mercedes driver, who is focused a hundred percent on German tourism but who, thanks to my experience, can give a great contribution on the development. I have been talking about this with Haug since when I signed the contract. Norbert has always agreed with me, even if he said that it will be developed slowly. So I consider this to be only the first one".
Three weeks before the start of the championship in Australia, the controversy about tyres bursts out. In fact, the FIA says to the two constructors, Bridgestone and Michelin, to not bring to Melbourne some compounds that have been changed radically in the design or that consume too much and become slick, otherwise they won’t be used for the race. Max Mosley, FIA’s president, mentions it vaguely, saying that there are some controversial aspects that are being analyzed for Melbourne, but there is just one thing that the Federation considers as illegal and that has been said to the responsible people. One of the two tyre suppliers is thinking about bringing some tyres that have a new type of symmetrical groove and a sidewall inclined on the tread. A representative of the constructors, who remained anonymous, replies declaring that the FIA regulations are too vague and that this decision is too close to the first race. A more precise statement comes from an employee, anonymous too, of the FIA:
"We believe that grooves should be uniform wherever you look at them, but there is someone who doesn’t agree and that says that a groove sidewall more inclined than another is allowed".
Jos Verstappen sets off another controversy. He claims that he has a valid contract for 2002 and sues Arrows, which meanwhile has preferred Frentzen and Bernoldi to him. Meanwhile, in Fiorano there are the first big problems on the F2002. The new Ferrari doesn’t seem to be reliable yet, especially the gearbox. So, in the Australian Grand Prix Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello will officially use the old F2001, which has won a championship anyway. This decision was made by Ferrari’s heads, after an in-depth analysis on the problems that the car had on the first days of the F2001, between Fiorano and Mugello.
"The new car has immediately been very quick, but we don’t have enough time to be sure about its reliability. So we have decided to go to Melbourne with the F2001, a car that during winter tests has been competitive and reliable".
Says Jean Todt three weeks before the new season, when all is quiet after seven intense weeks of tests for all the teams. The teams rest before heading to Melbourne for the first race of the fifty-third edition of the Formula 1 World Championship.
Davide Scotto di Vetta
Translated by Monica Bessi