On Monday, September 12, 2005, is a special day. Of course, not for everyone. It is for Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello and for fencing champion Giovanna Trillini. The two of them will forever have engraved in their hearts and minds the day of September 12, the date of birth of their children. Rubens Barrichello, 33 years old, two-time Formula 1 World Vice-Champion, Brazilian like Ayrton Senna, has become Fernando's father. Trillini, born in 1970, gave birth to Claudia. Both of them decided to break the news a day after the happy event, away from the limelight and gossip, in line with their way of being.
"We are overjoyed".
Rubens and Silvana Barrichello simply said. For the Brazilian driver, Michael Schumacher’s ideal sidekick, 2005 was an intense year. Before the birth of their second child (the first is Eduardo and he is four years old) the driver from San Paulo nicknamed in Brazil Pe’ de Chinelo (couch potato) divorced from Ferrari, to which he had been linked since 2000, and signed a contract for BAR-Honda, a team for which he will race from next year and with which he has big plans:
"I will become World Champion".
Compared to Rubinho's, Giovanna Trillini's new season will be tougher: the new mother will have to divide her time between feedings, the uphill nights of the first months and athletic preparation. It will not be easy to start again and reconcile training, physical fatigue and few hours of sleep. Stefania Belmondo, the Nordic skiing champion and mother of two boys (Mathias, two years old, and Lorenzo born in March this year) is well aware of this, admitting that being away from her children is difficult and has postponed her decision on participating in the 2006 Turin Olympics. Trillini, unlike her friend and rival Valentina Vezzali, who gave birth in June and immediately returned to competitions, will not compete in Leipzig for the world championships. Giovanna has decided to go at her own pace, to recover without stepping on the accelerator:
"Now I just want to think about Claudia. If I see her already with the foil in her hand? She will choose the discipline she likes most".
The little girl, weighing just over two kilograms, thanks on behalf of all children. However, the attention of the Formula 1 world, of course, is all on the challenge between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen.
On Thursday, September 22, 2005, on the eve of the Brazilian Grand Prix, the Spanish driver said he would attack, while the Finn replied that he could only win and hope that his opponent would not finish higher than fourth so as not to have the mathematical certainty of defeat. But Michael Schumacher recalled:
"I have always won World Championships on my own, without help".
Juan Pablo Montoya, however, made it known that he would not help his Finnish teammate if Fernando Alonso is third:
"I will fight for the win".
Ferrari is thinking about scoring points for the Constructors' World Championship standings, Rubens Barrichello, on the other hand, dreams of winning. The World Championship, in the opinion of Flavio Briatore, is a masculine superstitious gesture for now.
"Everyone is congratulating us, what a bummer…".
Just six points separate Fernando Alonso from the title.
"Let's start scoring them, then we will celebrate. It would be enough for Fernando to finish seventh in the three remaining races, but I wouldn't want to end up at the cardiologist".
But on Friday, September 23, 2005, the practice session offered no shocks: some played hide and seek, and others showed their level of competitiveness. It is called, not by chance, free practice: fuel at pleasure and laps at will. In the end, as Briatore says:
"It’s just us and McLaren, McLaren and us".
Round one went to McLaren: the fastest were test drivers Alexander Wurz and Juan Pablo Montoya. Alonso was third in the first session and 11th in the second. He explained that he had continued to use the same tyres and that he had tested with a full tank. Kimi Räikkönen, the only one who could still take the final win away from him, set first the fifth, then the sixth time.
"The set-up needs to be improved".
Details: on Saturday in qualifying and especially in the race, the two of them will be the protagonists. The Spaniard lives in seclusion this weekend. On Thursday, he gave up tennis to avoid any injuries. The only leisure allowed: the Real Madrid match on television. In Interlagos, a sunken neighbourhood in the middle of the favelas of San Paulo, the coronation ceremony is being prepared. Fernando Alonso, 24 years old, is preparing to break the record that belongs to a Brazilian, Emerson Fittipaldi, who at the age of 25 became the youngest champion in the world. It was in 1972. The Brazilians of today are Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa, Ferrari's present and future. Neither of them at the moment can give great emotions to an audience that still and always has Ayrton Senna in its heart. For Ferrari, there are no positive expectations. But Rubens Barrichello dreams of a providential downpour in the middle of the race that could upset the consolidated balance. Otherwise? The question remains unanswered. Michael Schumacher answers:
"Otherwise we hope to get into the points".
Saturday, September 24, 2005, Fernando Alonso keeps his promises:
"We have to hold on until the Brazilian Grand Prix. There we will be back to being stronger than the McLaren".
The Spaniard resists and Renault makes the decisive effort to close the game in their favour: in São Paulo, the French team brought new aerodynamics, that is, new wings, and returns to being competitive. The Spaniard starts on pole position in the race that could give him his first World Championship and a place in Formula 1 history.
"I imagined it to be more difficult, Räikkönen made my life easier today, but he wouldn’t have overtaken me".
The Finnish, indeed, made a mistake under braking. The McLaren bounced on the chronically bumpy asphalt of Interlagos, a wheel locked up under braking and the Finn lost 0.7 seconds along with the blue smoke from the tyres rubbing against the asphalt. He will start in fifth position with a full tank and make only one pit stop, compared to his rivals' two. He could win, but Fernando does not care: a podium finish is enough for him to become, at 24, the youngest-ever world champion. Emerson Fittipaldi is expected to be in the grandstands. He is the record holder. Today he is 58 years old, he was 25 when he won the first title of his career. As fate would have it, he is from São Paulo, as are most of the Brazilian drivers, from Ayrton Senna to Carlos Pace (after whom the autodrome is named) to the contemporaries Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa. So pole for Fernando Alonso, the eighth of his career and the fifth of the season. A perfect lap, the only one under the limit of 1'12"0. Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren will start alongside him. On the second row is the other Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella and the BAR of Jenson Button. Jarno Trulli (Toyota) is relegated to P18 for an engine replacement. Nothing new on the Ferrari front: midfield positions on average with seasonal performance. The aim is to keep Toyota behind to save third place in the World Constructors' Championship standings. Rubens Barrichello (P10) took it out on the car:
"In free practice in the morning it was much better. I don't know what happened".
Michael Schumacher (P7) took issue with the tyre pressure:
"At the beginning it was fine, then it went up".
Does Alonso's pole virtually close the championship?
"It had already been closed for a long time".
Meanwhile, Takuma Satō apologises to Michael Schumacher for the collision in Belgium. The two met in the paddock toilets, a place democratically frequented by all the workers. Toilets are not a place where males like to communicate, but the Japanese driver must have thought that perhaps such an informal occasion would have encouraged forgiveness on the part of the champion and rehabilitated him in the eyes of his colleagues. So it was.
"We clarified and I made up with him".
Said Takuma Satō, about whom a market rumour is being leaked: Jordan wants him, which from 2006 will be called Midland but will continue to use Toyota engines. In short, a nice Japanese marriage. Other negotiations concern Nico Rosberg, who has inherited excellent technique from his father, Keke, 1982 World Champion. He is in the running with Nick Heidfeld (back from a shoulder injury) and Antônio Pizzonia (his replacement in Monza, Belgium and here in Brazil) to run the last two races. But above all he will be alongside Mark Webber next season, replacing Nick Heidfeld who will move to the Bmw, formerly Sauber. For Rubens Barrichello, it is the last time on this circuit behind the wheel of a Ferrari (next year he will be with Jenson Button at Bar-Honda). But also for São Paulo, it could be one of the last Grands Prix: in October the renovation of the sports area and the Jacarepaguà circuit, in Rio de Janeiro begins. The aim is to build a state-of-the-art facility by 2007 when the metropolis will host the Pan American Games. And bring Formula 1 back there. Probability of success? The designer is Hermann TiIke, Bernie Ecclestone's design arm. A good reference.
On Sunday, September 25, 2005, the start was frantic: Montoya jostled Alonso but could not find a way past. Räikkönen overtook Giancarlo Fisichella to take third place at turn three, then Schumacher launched his Ferrari at the Renault at turn five and scrambled ahead in a scintillating move. Meanwhile, the Williams cars had sandwiched David Coulthard’s Red Bull and all three crashed out - though Mark Webber limped back to the pits and resumed on lap 29. This required a brief safety car intervention and on the restart, Alonso ran deep at turn one. Montoya pounced and reversed the move and Alonso had no choice but to let him through into turn three. With Räikkönen third, there was no need to fight anyway. Fisichella reversed Schumacher’s pass at the restart as well, so the Constructors’ Championship leaders now held the top four places. Although Montoya could only eke out a three-second lead over Alonso, lap 22 gave the lie to Renault’s performance as Alonso pitted five laps before Montoya and eight before Räikkönen. Klien justified the high praise of his qualifying lap by stopping on lap 24, but Felipe Massa had clearly been showboating as he stopped to refuel on lap 17, covering 18 laps fewer than teammate Jacques Villeneuve. Räikkönen’s stop was enough for second place, just behind Montoya, but as in 2004, he lacked the pace to really push the Colombian. Surprisingly it was Raikkonen who showed the first signs of neck fatigue around the high-downforce Interlagos track, not his teammate who is apparently still recovering from a shoulder injury. Alonso was back in third, keeping an eye on the gap to Schumacher (who passed Fisichella again during the pit stops) and let his metronomic Renault reliability carry him to the title. The fuel stops put the race into a stalemate. None of the top three had any particular inclination to catch the others, and Schumacher in fourth did not have the pace to get closer. Once again question marks hung over Fisichella, fifth, who should not have ended up behind the Ferrari, which is part of the reason why McLaren finally seized the initiative in the Constructors’ Championship from Renault. Rubens Barrichello, Button and Ralf Schumacher take the remaining points. But the Drivers’ World Championship is all over. On lap 71, Alonso became the youngest-ever World Champion. At the end of the Brazilian Grand Prix, champagne washed the tension from Fernando Alonso’s face. It was a shower that the new World Champion treated himself to on the podium, a ritual that in Asturias they call escanciado de la sidra. Here is the little kid who succeeds Michael Schumacher.
"It had become a nightmare. I woke up and I was in my bed".
For six months they had been telling him that he would become number one. He answered to wait, and in the meantime, he would pray. Now it is really over. Third place was enough for him, the maximum result with minimum effort.
"I was hearing noises all around. I was afraid that the car would abandon me at the last minute, that I would not be able to celebrate".
As if that were not enough, on the radio Flavio Briatore was shouting at him to push, because there was a risk of rain and Michael Schumacher was lurking.
"I had to gain a certain margin over him. But did Ferrari have to wake up now?"
And the rain came: ten minutes after the end of the race, to wet the youngest world champion world champion in Formula One history. A few drops: a symbolic tribute from the sky while on the podium Juan Pablo Montoya rejoiced, with his third win of the season and seventh of his career (like Fernando Alonso, look at destiny); Kimi Räikkönen, who already knew the ending of this story and gave McLaren-Mercedes its first one-two of the season, smiled; Fernando Alonso went crazy, giving free rein to 71 laps of pent-up adrenalin in the cockpit of his R25. Alonso filled his champagne glass, lifted it up and poured it over himself.
"It was the longest race of my life, but it was worth it. I have been thinking about the title since I pressed the accelerator at the start".
After the return lap, his first hug was for the team. A mechanic showed off the T-shirt for the occasion: on the front, it says World Champion, on the back the more mocking one: Schumacher who? It was an impromptu party that followed inside the pits. Flavio Briatore had superstitiously and strictly forbidden any preparations, although the party continued at a club in the centre of São Paulo that had been booked the previous week. In the interviews, Flavio Briatore lost the verve of the best victories. Bright-eyed, soft-spoken, thanking everyone. Ten years after the last World Championship (with Michael Schumacher) the only difference he reported is age-related. Kimi Räikkönen took the defeat with elegance:
"I have been disappointed before. I had long since given up hope. Now let’s think about the Constructors’ title".
Juan Pablo Montoya giggled:
"We are stronger than Renault".
But in his box, no one is popping champagne. The party is elsewhere. Successes sometimes take away the words. Even to those who normally do not hesitate to open their mouths. Even Flavio Briatore, a true media sensation, appears dazed after Fernando Alonso's conquest of the title. With seven laps to go, he ran away from the pit wall for a few moments, taking refuge in the pits, and when he returned he almost ate the small microphone he held in front of his face. Then, pressed by questions, as soon as his Spanish driver crossed the finish line, he celebrated with a few thoughtful sentences.
"It went well, didn't it? When things go like this you can't complain. I am happy especially for the guys in the team. We've suffered over the last few months with McLaren coming after us. Now everything is great. I feel better. I felt like I was living a nightmare. Then I woke up and was quiet in my room. We had a big project: in five seasons, with a young team, we succeeded. It was not easy. Very hard work. Two things have been extraordinary about this adventure: it had not happened since time immemorial that a generalist automotive company like Renault won the F1 World Championship. And we were able to do it with the youngest driver ever. I think it was a second miracle, after what we had done with Benetton, with a team that started with t-shirts and went on to win three titles, two drivers' and one constructors'".
With his grey hair dishevelled, his face a little paler than usual due to the tension, Briatore then went to hug Alonso, who was also exhausted, almost unable to celebrate any more after dancing in the park ferme by jumping on a tyre of his single-seater. And after having participated in the podium ceremony alongside Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen, on the third step, Fernando did not spray all the champagne. He precisely poured some of it into his big glass and drank it with care and indescribable joy.
"At the moment I find it impossible to fully realise what has happened, I can't even say how I feel. It was a day full of nervousness. At the start of the race, I thought that I could even fight for the victory. After the first pit stop, I realised that I was not going to make it. So I did what I had to do: control, and drive steadily, cautiously and calmly. Now I am very tired".
The Spaniard even had to fight with a Ferrari, something that had not happened to him since the San Marino Grand Prix:
"I had to resist Michael Schumacher's overtaking attempts. After half the race, when I was only thinking about settling for third place, which was the placement I needed to win the title immediately, I was still looking for the motivation to get to the end without making mistakes. From the pits, over the radio, they were just telling me to hang in there and not to be afraid of the rain that wouldn't come. When I crossed the finish line it was a liberation. Ever since I started racing I have always been driven by a great passion and the will to emerge. For that, I only have three or four people to thank who have been particularly close to me".
No names are mentioned by the new World Champion, but at the top of the list is certainly his family. Especially his father Luis, who is now also his manager. Alonso cannot forget how many sacrifices they have made together, when driving a station wagon they covered thousands of kilometres without much money in their pockets to compete in the minor categories. But the reward has arrived. Big, in fact very big. In addition to Renault, Ferrari is also celebrating, as it managed to defend third place in the Constructors' World Championship standings, which sees McLaren overtake Renault at the top (164 to 162 points). Timid signs of awakening for the Maranello team. Above all, good pace in the race. Both drivers finished in the points: the former World Champion is fourth, Barrichello sixth penalised by a bad qualifying. If only it had rained, as Rubens Barrichello’s grandmother from São Paulo predicted... Michael Schumacher managed to keep behind the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella. The overtake, for a change, occurred during the series of pit stops. However, the Italian driver did nothing in particular to prevent it, finishing in a grey fifth place. More combative was Rubens Barrichello, who was keen to leave a good memory at Interlagos, where he has not yet managed to win. His overtaking move on Button on lap 45 was good: the two will be teammates at BAR-Honda, and sparks are expected, although the manoeuvre was very correct.
"It's a shame, if I hadn't compromised my race with qualifying it would have been better. Sixth place, starting from the fifth row was the best we could have expected. In the last twenty laps, I also had some problems with the steering, the car was pulling to one side. However, it was back to normal standards. And that is a great result".
The Brazilian, loudly greeted by his many fans, also spoke about the duel with Jenson Button, which lasted for several laps until the Ferrari overtook the Englishman's BAR:
"It was fun, we engaged in a wheel-to-wheel battle. I took a few risks to overtake him because on the inside of the track the asphalt was still damp from the rain that had fallen in the morning. However, everything was normal, that certainly doesn't compromise the relationship with my future teammate".
For Jean Todt, the Brazilian Grand Prix represents a small step forward for the Maranello team:
"First I have to congratulate Alonso and Renault, they did well. As for us, our strategy was perfect and allowed Michael to overtake Fisichella. For the last two races of the season we will leave no stone unturned, we will keep fighting".
It went even better than expected for Ferrari. The tyres held up well, the cars proved to be reliable once again. But it is clear that Michael Schumacher cannot be satisfied. For him, fourth place was just a consolation prize. If he can, he will fight in the last two races of the season, in Japan and China, hoping to return at least to the podium. The German, meanwhile, pays compliments to Fernando Alonso, but without exaggeration:
"I think he is happy. He deserved the title because he did a good job. I also like the fact that some of the people who worked with me in the Benetton days are behind this success. I'm looking forward to fighting with them, all of them. Ferrari? Next year we will face a new season".
The laconic statement about the future hides a great desire for revenge. The driver from Kerpen has by no means lost competitiveness. As soon as the car was slightly more competitive, he showed himself. A great start, then a series of fast laps.
"The race was slightly better than the previous ones. Hopefully, it will be a positive sign for the next ones. The Constructors' standings are also important for Ferrari and we want to be competitive to confirm third place".
Little is known about Renault's party at a club in São Paulo on Sunday night.
"Toma, take it".
Fernando Alonso shouted to those present, offering glasses of champagne. The Spaniard had spent the post-race that crowned him World Champion on the phone. King Juan Carlos, influential people and many childhood friends. Congratulations also arrived on Monday morning in the Bild, where Michael Schumacher wrote in his own handwriting:
"Welcome to the club, you are a worthy winner".
Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo also congratulated the Spanish driver, Renault and Michelin:
"I hope that in 2006 Ferrari can return to winning ways. That is why I also plead with the suppliers, especially the tyre suppliers who are very important".
The nail on the tyres is only to be hammered in this way. As the fresh champion prepares to enjoy the last two races of the season (Japan and China), one wonders what his driving secrets are. In theory, if you dominate in F1, you should be the best driver in the world. But what are his secrets behind the wheel?
"The most important advantage in F1 compared to driving a normal car comes from the fact that we have telemetry. That is the computerised system that records millions of data points while the single-seater is running around the circuit. When we return to the pits we can see the graphs. At the same time, especially during qualifying, I don't miss a single image of my opponents, so I can understand if there have been changes in the asphalt conditions, in the direction of the wind that affects performance. So on the fast lap, I try to see if I have been able to prepare my car in the best possible way".
Yes, but what about the driving?
"My best quality is consistency in the race, I try to be very precise. regular as a metronome. It's clear that as time goes by I have to adapt to tyre wear and fuel load, which affects performance a lot. The reactions are also different and I adapt well. Going back to the corners, you have to feel them, be sensitive on the steering wheel".
Let us look at an example.
"I can make a comparison with my teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella. I take my foot off the accelerator a little earlier than him as I approach a corner. And I push harder on the brake pedal after releasing the accelerator completely, taking care to ease the pressure on the brake itself gently to avoid locking the wheels, also because as the car lowers and changes the aerodynamic set-up, the grip becomes precarious. As for the steering wheel, I move it more quickly and try to make a single movement. This allows me to have more speed at the apex of the curve. Then I accelerate again to the maximum so as to have a constant progression, to direct the wheels without letting them slide on the asphalt. But the real secret, which can affect everyone, drivers and motorists alike, is to make one hundred per cent use of the material available. This does not mean exaggerating or looking for unnecessary risks, but being aware of what you can do in a car, or a sedan, to travel on a normal road".