For Michael Schumacher and Ferrari the week of number seven begins. While the team from Maranello celebrate their 700th Grand Prix in Formula 1 (there have been 726 races since 1950), the German champion, on Sunday, could obtain his seventh World Title and his seventh victory in Belgium. The season is at its crucial moment on the German driver’s favorite track, not intending to leave space to his rivals not even to Rubens Barrichello.
"I always race to win. There’s an additional reason to do it here, on a track I really like, where I have special memories".
In 1991 the German driver debuted on the beautiful track in the Ardennes, replacing the Belgian driver Bertrand Gachot who got arrested in England. The following year, he obtained his first victory with Benetton.
"Those were intense emotions. I was a youth and I was on track with Ayrton Senna".
Surprisingly, the beginner qualified in seventh position and during the race he stopped almost immediately because of a clutch failure. But it was clear that he was a star player. Thirteen years have gone by and Schumacher still has the same determination.
"But don’t take anything for granted. Every race has a different story. There are teams which can make our life difficult. Especially McLaren, BAR and Williams. The track has been modified partially. There’s a new chicane replacing the old one at the Bus Stop, 50 percent of the track surface was renewed. But I’m confident, we have done well on all tracks, I don’t see why we can’t be still competitive".
The rivals (especially Raikkonen, Montoya, Button) dream of breaking the rule of seven. But Rubens Barrichello is hopeful too:
"I would like to arrive at the last race in Brazil with the fight for the world title still open".
However, Schumacher will need only 2 points more than the driver from São Paulo to settle the score. It will be a show anyway, since the weather conditions here are always uncertain. The organizer monsieur Didier Defourny, who brought the Belgian Grand Prix back to Francorchamps after a year, hopes in a show and printed 400.000 tickets for these three days. If the Belgian Grand Prix were the first race of the season, there could be some doubts on Ferrari’s competitiveness. The result, with Schumacher in P4 and Barrichello in P8 in the sum of the two practice sessions held on Friday 27th August 2004, could ring the alarm bells. But Scuderia Ferrari already won the Constructors World Championship and the Drivers World Championship is a family affair between Michael and Rubens. Actually, the German driver has almost won it already because - as mentioned earlier - he will need two points more than the Brazilian driver to win his seventh, well-deserved, world title. This doesn’t mean that Ferrari lowered their pace. The race opening tests have been dedicated to setting the F2004 up and choosing the tires, without paying too much attention to the timing. But we don’t even have to underestimate the ranking which sees Kimi Raikkonen leading largely with a lap time of 1'44"701 (almost a second more than the pole obtained by Schumacher two years ago), with a 0.314 second gap on Button’s BAR, 0.403 seconds on Anthony Davidson, BAR’s test driver (one of the drivers who only drive on Friday) and 0.436 seconds on Michael Schumacher. Two of Ferrari’s main rivals, the Finn and the British drivers, would like to improve the evaluation of their season with a prestigious victory on the track which, for its complexity, crowns a talented driver. Kimi Raikkonen, who hopes to redeem the forced abandonment - an electronic problem on his McLaren - which took him out in Hungary, wants it more. Jenson Button is sensible:
"Let’s not deceive ourselves, Ferrari is always strong. We gained something but if everything goes regularly, the first place is taken already. For our part, it will be important to control the Renault for the constructor standings".
Saturday’s practice sessions which, once again are threatened by rain, could hold some surprises. The track is difficult. The British Ryan Briscoe, Toyota test driver (BAR, Jaguar, Toyota, Jordan and Minardi line a third car up, respectively assigned to Anthony Davidson, Björn Wirdheim, Ryan Briscoe, Timo Glock and Bas Leinders), who made a mistake at the legendary Eau Rouge, where you need to be brave and precise to drive full throttle, knows it. The British driver’s car swerves at full speed and after spinning it crashes against the barriers. The driver remains unharmed but goes to the hospital as a precautionary measure. Schumacher slides too between Fagnes and Stavelkot. Without scratching the car. And he laughs:
"The rear wheels arrived before me".
Overall, Michael Schumacher is satisfied:
"We completed our schedule calmly".
Jarno Trulli got married secretly on Thursday 19th August 2004 to Barbara Mercante, who’s an architect from Teramo, a sporty woman who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight and the races, and in Spa on Saturday 28th August 2004 he gives himself a fantastic wedding gift obtaining the pole position in the Belgian Grand Prix. It’s the second time in his career: it happened on Saturday 25th May 2004 in Monaco and it repeats on one of the tracks, the one in the Ardennes, which legitimize a talented driver. In the narrow streets of Monaco and in the amazing turns of the longest track of the championship, the thirty-year-old from Abruzzo, not only imposes his driving skills but also his slyness and courage. And - coincidentally - once again he’s on the first row next to Michael Schumacher. Jarno is a simple and honest guy. So discreet that he didn’t want to bring the media’s attention to his wedding, celebrated in Florence during the race season after a quick trip to Athens to follow the Olympic Games. But on Saturday afternoon, after his success he can’t contain his excitement and dedicates the pole to his spouse, whom you don’t see much in the Paddock. They met five years ago in Florence, where he was busy with a meeting of the drivers’ charity soccer team.
"It was the most important match and it was fatal for both of us. Now we will live in England, we will celebrate our wedding differently at the right time".
Trulli, whose dad Enzo gave him a Finnish name in honor of a great rider, Jarno Saarinen, obtains a prestigious success in a difficult moment of his career. The divorce from Renault, the contract for 2005 still not announced (Toyota?), some disagreements with his current team, promptly denied by Flavio Briatore and the driver, but which are real and tangible.
"After collecting points for nine consecutive times, I was left with nothing for three races. Also, here on Friday the car wasn’t the best. It took the rain to fix everything. I was lucky. When I went on track, I realized that it got partially dry. Then I asked for the medium tires. It was risky. But it was also the only chance I had to give my best. It went well and I could also warn by radio and tell Alonso he could do the same thing. I’m very happy, even though I don’t think the race will be easy for us if the forecast, according to which there will be good weather, will be confirmed".
The first congratulations call on Trulli’s phone comes a few minutes after the end of qualifying. on the phone is Jean Alesi:
"He’s a great friend, he cares about me. We’re similar, we always say what we think and what we believe is right. Among other things, both of us produce wine, maybe we’ll do something together. But now I want to think about ending well the season. I don’t look at the standings: I want to achieve good results. I hope to begin here in Belgium again and to continue until the last race, in Brazil".
Former champion and now kart manufacturer, the Renault driver already has a designated heir: this is Vitantonio Liuzzi, born near Bari but residing in Pescara, just like Trulli. And just like Jarno he was a karting World Champion, specialty in which he raced against Michael Schumacher a few times, beating him. Liuzzi, twenty-three years old, won the International Formula 3000 in second place behind his Dutch teammate Doombos. But on a total of nine races, he won six, prevailing on the rivals. There are good prospects for him: in 2005 he could become test driver for an important team, but he could also be an official driver. We’re talking about Jaguar, BAR and Sauber. Trulli and Fisichella represent the current Italian motorsport in Formula 1, Liuzzi could represent the future. They say that Michael Schumacher is a driver of few emotions, but the few he felt were exactly here in Spa, Belgium, about seventy kilometers away from Kerpen. Now the race eve is calm: the second place in qualifying is more than enough. The only problem is an aesthetic detail:
"I would like to win here to celebrate the 700 Grand Prix raced by Ferrari in the best way".
Seven hundred race for the team from Maranello, seven world titles for him. The victory at the Belgian Grand Prix today would defend him from an unlikely recovery from Rubens Barrichello, the only driver who could still reach him, theoretically. But his teammate suffered the rain in qualifying and will start from the sixth position. Michael just needs to collect two points more than the Brazilian driver to end the championship with four races to go, but the German driver says:
"It’s true, but I want to win. It’s much more satisfying".
Saturday’s sessions have been shortened significantly: the first one was cancelled completely because the fog prevented the rescue helicopter from taking off, while the second one was interrupted after thirteen minutes due to safety reasons, after Antonio Pizzonia and Gianmaria Bruni went off track in two different points of the track. Qualifying was held under intermittent rain and, as said before, the opportunity was taken by Jarno Trulli who, using a moment where the rain got lighter, obtained pole position ahead of Michael Schumacher, only 0.072 seconds away. Third position for Fernando Alonso, followed by David Coulthard, Giancarlo Fisichella, Rubens Barrichello, Mark Webber and Felipe Massa. Kimi Räikkönen only in tenth position, ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jenson Button. Lastly, qualifying was a disaster for Zonta, who qualified in last position after going off track with his Toyota. On Sunday 29th August 2004 at the Belgian Grand Prix, Jarno Trulli starts well maintaining the lead of the race; Michael Schumacher doesn’t start as well and gets overtaken by Fernando Alonso and David Coulthard. Further behind, Mark Webber has a contact with Rubens Barrichello and creates a lot of confusion leading to many contacts in the group. Despite the front wing of his Jaguar got stuck in the front wheels, the Australian driver continues: once he arrived at the dangerous turn of the Eau Rouge, Webber can’t control his car and crashes into Takuma Satō. In order to avoid the Japanese driver’s car, Gianmaria Bruni slows down but gets hit by Zsolt Baumgartner, spinning and getting hit by Giorgio Pantano. The race direction deploys the Safety car to remove the debris and the crashed cars from the track: Webber, Satō, Bruni and Pantano retire, while Olivier Panis, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Rubens Barrichello and Zsolt Baumgartner go back to the pits. The Ferrari driver has to pit again in the following lap to repair the support of the rear wing which got damaged in the contact with Webber; despite this accident, the length of the track allows Rubens Barrichello to avoid being lapped.
When the Safety car returns to the pits at the end of the third lap, Schumacher has some troubles with warming the tires up and gets overtaken, during the following lap, by Kimi Räikkönen and Juan Pablo Montoya; a lap later, Räikkönen overtakes his teammate too, chasing Trulli and Alonso. Trulli starts the first series of pit stops between the leading drivers, entering the pitlane on the tenth lap. During the following lap, Alonso spins at the braking area of the Kemmel straight: in fact the engine on the Spanish driver’s car broke and some oil ended up on the rear wheels. After spinning again, the Renault driver retires the car, handing the lead of the race over to Räikkönen. Almost at the same time, Coulthard punctures the right rear tire and has to do almost an entire lap with three wheels losing a lot of time. Räikkönen pits on lap 13, getting back on track ahead of Trulli; after two laps Montoya pits as well, copied also by Michael Schumacher a lap later. The German driver takes advantage of the pit stop to overtake the Colombian driver who is slowed down by a duel with Felipe Massa, who hasn’t pitted yet; one lap later, the Ferrari driver overtakes Trulli at the Bus Stop chicane. Antonio Pizzonia leads the race for a lap before pitting during lap 17; after the Brazilian driver’s pit, Räikkönen leads the race again, ahead of Button (who hasn’t pitted yet), Michael Schumacher, Trulli, Massa, Montoya, Pizzonia, Fisichella, Panis, Barrichello and Klien. During lap 19, Montoya tries to attack Trulli after overtaking Massa thanks to his pit stop; however, the Italian driver closes his trajectory and they end up touching each other. The Renault driver spins losing two positions; instead the Colombian driver keeps racing almost unharmed. Three laps later, Jarno Trulli pits for the second and last time, copied one lap later by Rubens Barrichello, who had just overtaken Fisichella. On lap 29 Räikkönen, Montoya and Klien pit simultaneously; the Finn goes back on track behind Michael Schumacher. A lap later there is a plot twist: a second after lapping Zsolt Baumgartner’s Minardi, the right rear tire on Jenson Button’s car suddenly burst. The British driver loses control of his BAR, spinning and hitting completely the Hungarian driver’s car.
There are no damages for both drivers, but the race direction deploys the Safety car; Michael Schumacher, Pizzonia, Zonta and Massa take advantage of the situation to pit. However the Williams driver, who had climbed up to third position, has to retire the car immediately due to a gearbox problem. At the end of lap 33, the Safety car moves out of the way: Räikkönen immediately creates a good gap on Michael Schumacher, who is ahead of Montoya, Barrichello and Zonta; further back, Klien and Coulthard climb up in the ranking by overtaking and gaining P8 and P9. On lap 36, on Montoya’s Williams the right rear tire punctures; while going back to the box, the suspension on the Colombian driver’s car breaks and Montoya has to retire. Two laps later, Coulthard hits Klien at the top of the Eau Rouge hill; the Scottish driver has to go back to the box to replace the nose of his McLaren. The Safety car goes on track for the third time, staying until lap 41. At the restart, Räikkönen outruns Schumacher again while Zonta in P4 has to retire because of an engine failure on his Toyota. During the last laps, Coulthard overtakes Trulli and Panis gaining the seventh place, while his teammate easily controls the chasers obtaining the first victory in a difficult season for the British team. Michael Schumacher defends himself from Rubens Barrichello’s attacks obtaining the second place and the mathematical certainty of winning the seventh Drivers World Championship of his career; Felipe Massa, Giancarlo Fisichella, Christian Klein (collecting the first points of the season), David Coulthard and Olivier Panis close the points area. Seven world titles, the last five are consecutive. The man of records is World Champion, again. The second place was enough, behind the Finnish Räikkönen, to celebrate the new incredible success with four races to go. A formality: he needed two points more than Barrichello, theoretically the only one who could still worry him. The Brazilian driver, who did a great race, arrived in third place despite a difficult start, with a rear-end collision which forced him to chase from the bottom. Also the unbeatable Michael Schumacher had to work hard to follow the wake of a finally competitive McLaren, but his class and a Ferrari that never deceives brought him the result he was looking for: two points more than his rival. At the end, a champagne shower and collective words of gratitude for the team from Maranello:
"This is a birthday present for Montezemolo, but I don’t want to draw a ranking list up: everybody helped me achieving this success, which at the beginning of the season seemed so difficult to achieve".
The President of Ferrari reciprocates with the most beautiful compliment:
"We have to thank Michael hugely, he’s always decisive and precious. Someone who works as a team, in good and in bad times".
In Maranello the fans’ celebration, who take the street, explodes uncontrollable. The celebration will continue in Monza, where the Italian Grand Prix is scheduled.
"We’re not satisfied, we want to win again. We have to do it for our fans, who will want to celebrate on the home track the two World Title we just obtained. It doesn’t matter if we had to share this last success with the television audience of the Olympic Games: Formula 1 fans definitely saw it".
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi was invited to Monza as well and the presence of the President would be an additional reason to rejoice legitimately. World Champion: Michael Schumacher finally can celebrate without pleading, the title is his just like everyone already predicted in April, when Ferrari was flying on both slow and fast tracks, with both warm and cold weather, while the competition looked weak, divided, fragile. On the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix Michael Schumacher was joking about the number seven:
"I would like to obtain my seventh World Title on the day of Ferrari’s 700th Grand Prix".
He did it but he interrupted his winning series which, lo and behold, lasted for seven races, starting from the race on the Nurburgring track to the one in Budapest. In Spa the German driver was on the podium as a World Champion, but without jumping on the highest step of the podium. Kimi Räikkönen won with a McLaren that goes fast again. In the end everybody is happy and content: the future champion, who throws down the gauntlet for the 2005 season, and the reigning champion who writes another page of his history. For Schumacher this was the most difficult and agonizing race. This year we never saw him in sixth position. Overtaken at the start by Alonso and Coulthard, overtaken during the race by Räikkönen at the legendary Eau Rouge, the most spectacular and difficult turn of Formula 1, and then by Montoya, just like in the most difficult moments of the past season. The staff of Ferrari admit:
"We worked towards maximum reliability, sacrificing a bit the performances".
They were right, as usual: nine cars didn’t cross the finish line, Schumacher is World Champion for the fifth consecutive time, Barrichello consolidates the second place in the standings. Everyone behind helped him: Button’s tire (BAR-Honda) burst on the straight and he was lucky he got out of the car unharmed; Trulli got hit by Montoya but claims that the Renault became undriveable after the first pit stop (Flavio Briatore comments coldly: "The telemetry doesn’t show anything irregular"); the engine of the other Renault, Alonso’s, began spraying oil on the rear tires and made him spin off track; Montoya punctured a tire as well and while going back to the box he damaged the suspension. And if these are the rivals, also Ferrari’s difficult moments can be solved without any problem. The deployment of the first Safety car allowed the great mechanics of the red team to replace Barrichello’s rear wing in 3'20"0, sending him back on track in last place but still not lapped. The second Safety car allows Schumacher to move closer to Räikkönen, but when the Safety car gets deployed for the third time it’s the Finn who benefits from the situation. It’s a tire issue: the compounds cool down at low speed and the Michelin of McLaren, Williams and Renault work better than the Bridgestone worn by Ferrari under these conditions. Räikkönen gets back on track and calmly manages the last laps: this is his second victory after the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2003.
This is the only negative side in a day of celebration for Ferrari. Schumacher loses the second race of the season: he was rear-ended by Montoya in Monte-Carlo and here he surrenders to an opponent who, overall, was quicker. Spa carries great memories for many: first victory for McLaren with the founder of the team, Bruce McLaren, in 1968. The debut (1991) and the first victory for Schumacher (1992), who races at the home track because the German border is 30 kilometers away and his fans’ clubs live in this area so close to Kerpen, the city where he grew up and drove a kart for the first time. Massa’s fourth place and Fisichella’s fifth place with the two Sauber with a Ferrari engine complete the success of Scuderia Ferrari. Klien (Jaguar) obtains an unexpected sixth place, Coulthard deserves to lose the seventh place for the way he tried to overtake Klien: rear-ending him instead of going past him. Some pieces of carbon end up on the rear wing and his return to the box call to mind Gilles Villeneuve’s adventures. Williams end the race without collecting points: in addition to Montoya’s tire, Pizzonia’s gearbox breaks, the driver was doing a good race and the challenge between constructors (especially those motorized by Bmw and Mercedes) becomes interesting. The Belgian Grand Prix ends with a huge number of flags and alarms. But the big celebration will be held in Monza. In the name of the Italian audience. Kimi Räikkönen doesn’t surprise. If after 64 races the Finn driver, who will turn 25 on 17th October 2004, won only twice it's not his fault. The guy from Espoo has a real talent for driving for sure: he’s precise, fast and confident. Everybody knows it: the rivals who respect him and the team managers who would like to hire him. If there are some names on Jean Todt’s notebook after Schumacher, Räikkönen’s is very likely to be at the top of the list together with Fernando Alonso. Perhaps it could be the very first. But we have to take in consideration that Kimi, last year, renewed his contract with McLaren until the end of 2007. We will have to wait to understand the future, for sure bound to some clauses.
In Formula 1 since 2001, hired by Sauber, he had won only the European championship of Formula Renault when he improved incredibly, Räikkönen at the end of his first championship was literally kidnapped by the team led by Ron Dennis. In order to have him, McLaren paid Mr. Peter Sauber 25.000.000 dollars, including the eight Mercedes trucks that the Swiss team use for all their movements. But the expense has been paid already, at least in part. Bombarded by the troubles of the team from Woking (which didn’t win for 18 months, the last victory was at the start of the season in 2003 in Malaysia with the Scandinavian driver, who got married to the beautiful Jenny on 31st July 2004), Räikkönen managed to stay strong. Almost always faster than his teammate Coulthard, he paid for failures, accidents and some small mistakes, caused by the desire of being fast with an uncompetitive and unreliable car. Since the McLaren MP419B debuted in Magny-Cours, things have changed. And this also means that the team from Woking are coming out from their most difficult period. Even though he was helped by the four starts (three behind the Safety car) which enhanced the capabilities of the Michelin tires of being immediately fast, Räikkönen has been undoubtedly the best. Apart from the fastest lap with two laps to go, he inflicted a gap of more than 0.3 seconds on Schumacher during the best lap of the German driver. The victory in Belgium (a track where in general only the best ones win) gave Kimi another merit: other than breaking the ice with being the best on the podium, it took that complete detachment he usually expresses away from him for a couple of minutes. Jumps, spraying champagne heavily and also some sort of emotion. And for a driver who, on a communication level usually seems a deaf-mute, it’s no small thing. A beautiful and unusual race. No offense to the Ferrari fans who would rightly want to win always. Two world titles obtained well in advance after dominating completely from the start of the championship, are already a great prize. And there are also four races before the end of the season. The seventh mark. It was announced as much as you like and almost certain. But, until you mathematically win it, it’s still not yours.
"Yes, all sorts of things happened. I slipped back, everything could be compromised. It went well. If we think about what happened to Barrichello, who got hit in the traffic, stuck in the garage for three minutes and then he finishes third. It’s an outstanding result for us, on the day of the team’s 700th race. Räikkönen won and he deserved it. He was the best. This time he could not be stopped, he had an uncatchable pace. Even if I had gotten closer to him, probably I wouldn’t have been able to overtake him. Of course, I would have preferred obtaining the title ending the race in first position. But it’s not possible for me to not be happy".
A World Title won in Belgium, exactly on the track where he felt his greatest emotions.
"A truly special, moving and touching moment. I’m not as good as a poet in describing what I felt. This World Title is different than the other six, for many reasons. I remember that when the F2004 was unveiled in Maranello, they told me it would have been impossible to win again. Look what we’ve done. I was confident after the first tests and on the eve of the opening race in Australia. But knowing that I could have struggled I wanted to prove them wrong even more".
It’s a pity that the Olympic Games removed a lot of the television audience (actually, the challenge between Schumacher and Räikkönen and the many twist plots of the race, probably the most entertaining race of the year, have been followed by 7.800.000 people against the 5.300.000 people watching the volleyball Olympic final between Italy and Brazil).
"No. The Olympic Games are held every four years and are amazing. I believe I have done something remarkable. Honestly, I don’t mind if many or few people saw me. I believe my fans heard it".
Are you thinking of continuing also after the end of the contract with Ferrari in 2006?
"I don’t think this is the right time to talk about the future, I have other things going on. Meanwhile, I’m happy for Luca Montezemolo, our President. On Tuesday he could celebrate his birthday in the best way possible. I believe he can do that with a lot of joy".
Since the beginning of the season Schumacher looked calm, way more relaxed than usual. Is that true?
"Of course. I am even now. I didn’t feel any pressure. I think the others, our rivals, were worried. They were right to be worried. I’m calm and happy. Because of what happened in the Belgian Grand Prix and because of what we’ve done all together in the last few years".
Is there a particular person you want to dedicate this title to?
"I don’t think it’s necessary because there are too many people who deserve it. It would be unkind to dedicate it to only one person. Obviously, a big part has been done by Montezemolo. But I repeat it, it would be unfair towards the others. I dedicate it to everybody, to Ferrari, to the fans, to everyone who always supported us".
There are four races to go. What will you do now?
"We respect our rivals and we know they will fight against us. Even though I won the title, we will try to win always. Actually, we will do it without having to pay attention to the standings. In Monza we will be free to race to the maximum. And to have fun as well. We will try to celebrate with our fans, this means to try and win. I can’t guarantee it, but I promise we’ll try".
It looks like the fans from his city, Kerpen, celebrated greatly. And the blood alcohol level went through the roof…
"My regards to all. I hope to join them soon, obviously in the blood alcohol level as well".
A mission statement which had a continuation in the revelry during the night in Spa, which involves the whole Ferrari team after a dinner in a restaurant near the thermal baths. And before going to the appointment with Todt and the staff, Michael Schumacher says something in German:
"Feucht und froehlich".
Which literally translates to:
"Happy and moist".
In other words, drunk and soaked in champagne. Ferrari’s celebration is held at a hotel in Spa-Balmoral and it continues until late at night. Schumacher promised to go wild and keeps his promise, as he does every year once he obtains the World Title, with high alcohol levels. A private party to which 150 people are invited: 80 people from the team and the sponsor’s representatives (Bridgestone, Shell, Vodafone). Next to the German driver there are his wife Corinna, his father Rolf and his friends Peter and Heribert. Rubens Barrichello, who after the toast in the motorhome at the track goes back to Fiorano because of an advertising job in the morning, is missing. In thirteen years of career, Michael Schumacher won 82 times. It’s a record, obviously: Prost arrived at 51. The other drivers agree:
"He’s the number one and he’s insatiable".
Ferrari has to thank Schumacher immensely. This is the comment of Luca Montezemolo, after the umpteenth world title of their magic driver which follows the extraordinary one of Scuderia Ferrari:
"There will be few champions like him in the future history of motor sport. A champion who won like no one else in the world and who in the good moments, as in the bad ones, knew how to be one with the team. Michael won the title with intelligence, precision, courage and great determination, showing genuine human skills also in difficult moments. For this reason Ferrari has to thank him immensely".
Maranello is celebrating once again. A triple hip-hip hurray welcomes Schumacher at the Ferrari Club at the end of the race in Spa. People are celebrating in the streets: blaring of trumpets, carousels of cars and the traditional bells of San Blaise’s church which are always rang in celebration for Ferrari’s victories by the vicar father Alberto (just a few minutes late: he was busy with a baptism). Alberto Beccari, President of Maranello’s Ferrari Club, screams:
"It’s a beautiful victory. It doesn’t matter if he arrived second, because he became World Champion once again; and the race was full of difficulties".
Around him a lot of fans, gathered to follow every minute of the race. The celebrations continue until late evening in the town where the big heart of Ferrari was raised, the huge banner which accompanies the Ferrari fans since 1994. Father Alberto gets dragged by the enthusiasm too:
"This is a masterpiece, a work of art signed by everyone, not only by Schumacher. We’re full of a contagious joy".
The new mayor of Maranello, Lucia Bursi, excited at the phone from where she is on vacation:
"An important goal for the whole town. I’m thankful to the team and very proud to be the leader of a community which with hard work, enthusiasm and the talent of many contributes to achieving such prestigious results".
For Rubens Barrichello scoring two points less than Michael Schumacher was enough to lose any hope left of fighting for the World Championship. Which precisely happened: also under the most difficult conditions, the German driver doesn’t forgive anything. But the Brazilian did one of his most beautiful races, the best of this season for sure. Sixth on the starting grid, involved in the crashes at the Source and the Eau Rouge, in P14 at the end of the first lap when he was forced to pit to replace the punctured tire. He found himself last after the long pit stop in the following lap to replace the rear wing, damaged in the crash with Webber’s Jaguar (the Ferrari mechanics made a miracle: a change in less than three minutes, just enough to go back on track in front of the Safety car, which was on track, and not lose a lap). Rubens Barrichello was on the podium under Räikkönen and next to his teammate. His race was extraordinary, in any case.
"At the beginning I was really unlucky. Then, also thanks to the Safety car, I had the pleasure of fighting until the finish line. Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive soon enough. It is also fault of someone who, at the beginning, lost the perspective of the race which wasn’t going to end at the second turn".
The driver from São Paulo, however, took the result as a relief:
"Now that everything worked out fine, with two world title for Ferrari, we will be even more free to do our races, we will give our best. And I believe we will have always a really, really competitive car".
Having Schumacher as a teammate it’s not the easiest thing in the world. Rubens Barrichello explains it making a joke:
"The bad part is that he is very strong. The good part, as far as I’m concerned, is that I am the only driver to know, during the race, when he will pit to refuel and change tires. Together we are a strong pair and with Badoer we know how to develop the car well, which is always of highest quality since I’ve been at Ferrari. Before the end of the season, I’ll win at least one race. If it is going to be in Brazil, for me it will count as a World Title".
The secret to these victories is a mix: the greatest driver, the best car, a great team. In this way Ferrari became a factory that produces successes. Records. Miracles. An icon of a winning Italy. It has been winning the Constructors World Championship for six years and Michael Schumacher has been winning the title for five years.
"We fight against the world’s greatest car manufacturers".
Jean Todt recalls every time. It was him, called by Luca Montezemolo in 1993, who rebuilt the team. Michael Schumacher arrives in 1996. He won two titles with Benetton. With the German driver, two architects of his first successes later move to Maranello. The technical director Ross Brawn and the car designer Rory Byrne. The team grows and so does the car.
Three championships, from 1997 to 1999 vanished on the last race. Then the longest cycle in Formula 1 history begins. Is it annoying that the last title arrives with a defeat? Jean Todt says:
"Can I answer sarcastically? We obtained 216 points on 252, which is 85%. If we won six consecutive titles, if the champion was one of our drivers for five consecutive times, if we are second in the standings and 23 points ahead, if both our drivers are on the podium, then I can accept the fact that for once another driver, who was faster and today had different goals than us, wins".
The Ferrari general manager is aware that the golden age will end:
"As late as possible, I hope. And when we’ll be retired, we’ll remember everything we’ve done. Now we only have to think about working".
And to win again: in Monza for the Italian fans, in China because it’s a strategic market other than a new track, in Japan for Bridgestone’s satisfaction, in Brazil in the name of Barrichello, hoping it will be his turn to win. From Wednesday to Friday there will be tests in Monza (Schumacher and Barrichello) and in Fiorano (Badoer). Tires will be tested. The Bridgestone used in Budapest turned out to be extraordinary on slow tracks, but they haven’t been tested for fast tracks. Therefore, on the Belgian track Ferrari preferred to use old and reliable tires. Back in the factory the technicians are focused on 2005. They are testing new components, the wind tunnel works full time and the engines run on the test stand. Ferrari is likely to arrive early compared to the competitors also for the next season. Ross Brawn explains:
"I’m proud of this team. It has been a race full of events, at the pit wall we didn’t have a moment to catch our breath".
Not even the time to eat a banana, as he usually does. Schumacher is the emblem of success. He’s the one who transforms the work of eight hundred employees of Maranello’s Sport Management. Jean Todt tells:
"I have the privilege of knowing him well as an employee and man, to be his friend. And every day his hunger to win, his unique determination amaze me".
We still have to talk about the safety alert which, this time, comes from the tires. People are debating a lot about it and three odd punctures (Coulthard, Button and Montoya), all on Michelin tires and always on the right rear, are worrying everyone. Three coincidences are a proof and so Pierre Dupasquier, head of Michelin’s competition department, doesn’t hide:
"We could think about debris, but tire it seems unlikely always on the same. Besides, the right rear tire on this track is the least stressed one. We walked on the entire track to understand. Maybe the cause is the impact between the grass and the curb in the inside turns. We will test more strictly in the future because we don’t want to endanger the drivers’ safety".