Wednesday, May 21, 2003, after over a year of development, the new McLaren MP4/18 completes its first laps at the Paul Ricard circuit. The car arrives at the circuit at 6:00 a.m. transported by a Russian Antonov airplane, and it completes its first lap at 12:57 p.m. with Austrian test driver Alexander Wurz at the wheel. In the afternoon, the MP4/18 completes another small series of passes, five consecutive laps at maximum speed. Aesthetically, the race car is very different from the team's previous models in Woking: a nose that lowers significantly towards the ground, low and narrow sidepods, and a fin on the engine cover. Even the Mercedes V10 engine is new. There had been talk of debuting in Canada. However, Ron Dennis says there is no rush and that the start could even be postponed to the European Grand Prix at the end of June.
"We have shown that our cars are competitive. So, we don't feel pressure. The new Ferrari has made progress, but it doesn't seem revolutionary to us. Ours, on the other hand, is very innovative. The feedback we have received from simulations and wind tunnel tests is extraordinary".
Meanwhile, the new McLaren is significantly slower than the old MP4/17D driven by David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen: there is a difference of 5 seconds per lap. However, the true values will be seen in the coming days. In the meantime, Ferrari explains the origin of the fire on Michael Schumacher's Ferrari during the Austrian Grand Prix: a small amount of fuel remaining in the vent tube of the refueling nozzle leaked due to a defective seal. On Sunday, June 1, 2993, the Formula 1 circus will be called upon to perform at the Monaco Grand Prix. On the most anachronistic but also the most fascinating track in the entire World Championship, where fans are in close contact with the cars. The seventh race of the season is full of points of interest. After three consecutive victories, Michael Schumacher attempts to overtake or at least catch up with Kimi Raikkonen at the top of the standings, who still has a two-point advantage, while Ferrari aims to consolidate its lead in the Constructors' Championship, distancing itself from McLaren-Mercedes. The race will present enormous difficulties. With the new regulations, engineers will be busy solving the most difficult equation: finding the right formula for the pole position (essential for increasing the chances of success) while also devising a valid race strategy with only one pit stop, since overtaking is unlikely on the tight Monaco street circuit unless one has a significantly superior race car. It is easy to predict that on Saturday afternoon, before qualifying, the computers available to the teams connected directly via satellite with the team headquarters will be working at maximum capacity to prepare all possible simulations, taking into account the variables regarding weather conditions as well. Michael Schumacher says after completing three days of testing at Fiorano, then completed by Luca Badoer and Felipe Massa:
"The F2003 GA is an extraordinary car, a chameleon capable of adapting perfectly to every type of circuit. We understood this after Spain and Austria; we had confirmation in all the tests we conducted. I am very confident: there is, at least on paper, the concrete possibility of turning the championship around".
Moreover, the German champion, by winning the race, would also equal Ayrton Senna's record of six victories. In any case, Michael Schumacher, who had been forced to retire twice while leading in the past, seems to appreciate the characteristics of the city circuit that enhances the qualities of precise driving, with millimeter-close trajectories near the guardrails, rewarding those who make fewer mistakes. Rubens Barrichello, with three second places to his credit, has always been competitive in the Principality as well. However, all drivers will have to revise their usual references because two points on the track have been modified: before the Rascasse corner and at the exit of the pit lane. The most formidable opponents, in theory, should be David Coulthard, Kimi Raikkonen, always very competitive, and the two Renault drivers, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. McLaren will bring the MP4/17D with which they won in Australia and Malaysia.
The new car will probably not be ready before the European Grand Prix, which will take place at the Nürburgring circuit at the end of June. David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen, however, will have cars adapted to the track, with a particular aerodynamic configuration. The young Finnish driver, after a performance held on Saturday in Stuttgart alongside Ralf Schumacher and the Williams-BMW team on the occasion of the centenary of the German Automobile Club, appears optimistic:
"Everyone talks about Schumacher and Ferrari, but I'm here too. Don't underestimate me".
There is much anticipation around Renault, which, with an agile and balanced car, could become a threatening outsider. Much will also depend, as always, on the tires, in the eternal technological challenge between Bridgestone and Michelin. According to tradition, the Monaco Grand Prix begins on Thursday, May 29, 2003, a day early. And, still at the end of the first day's practice, no one can outrun Michael Schumacher and the F2003-GA, Maranello's new record-breaking candidate car. Leading at the debut in Spain in the three Grand Prix sessions, after making an encore in Austria, the F2003-Ga sets the fastest time on the first day of the Monaco Grand Prix. The German driver is 0.3 seconds ahead of his teammate, Rubens Barrichello, while the competition trudges on with gaps from 0.5 seconds up (way up). A matter of tires, McLaren, Williams and Renault justify themselves. They suspect Ferrari has chosen a compound too soft for it to hold up in the race. Just as McLaren did a year ago (with Michelin), which won its only success of the season here. David Coulthard kept right behind Michael Schumacher, who escorted him to the finish line with no chance of overtaking. This is the catchphrase of the most anomalous Grand Prix in the Formula 1 World Championship. The track is a path torn from the city's road system and surrounded by 32 kilometers of guardrails, hastily assembled and dismantled to host the event. Racing in Monte-Carlo is a mixture of madness and a challenge, insiders admit. The circuit has been modified and widened to the Rascasse and Piscine turns, so that at least hypothetically - some daredevil might dare to overtake. But Rubens Barrichello argues:
"It improves safety, and lapping will be easier. Otherwise, nothing changes: if you have someone in front of you who runs three seconds slower, you can't do anything about it. He either lets you pass or you stay behind him".
Let's take David Coulthard again as an example: in 2001 he was blocked by Enrique Bernoldi's Arrows and followed it for a long time, cursing it. That is why it is crucial to start in the lead. At Ferrari's home, optimism reigns. Technical director Ross Brawn extinguishes rivals' illusions:
"We found the right tire right away".
Rubens Barrichello confirms:
"Bridgestone provided us with two types of tires, both excellent".
Of the single-seater we already know that it is the best. But it is not just a matter of horsepower or aerodynamics. In Monte-Carlo, the driver plays his part, and mistakes are not allowed. Schumacher made none, his young, supposed heirs did. Kimi Raikkonen, who in the race will defend the two-point lead he still has over the World Champion's Ferrari, slips into P11 (1.6 seconds his delay), Alonso is even in P14, Mark Webber is in P9 with the alibi of the dirty track, because before it was his turn the engine of Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Sauber-Petronas exploded, spraying oil for a few hundred meters. In contrast, more experienced drivers give back for all they're worth.
Like the two Italian drivers-Jarno Trulli is fourth, Giancarlo Fisichella seventh-with a Jordan-Cosworth living off his exploits. Or like Jenson Button, a former baby, even third with the BAR-Honda that Jacques Villeneuve cannot push past P12. Saturday resets everything. The last will be the first to go and will leave a light layer of rubber on the asphalt for the benefit of the fastest drivers. Especially hopeful is Kimi Raikkonen, who has been good at accumulating points at the start of the season and regularly placing in podium positions. Michael Schumacher wants to overtake him in the standings or at least catch up. And success, which for the German driver would mean reaching Ayrton Senna's quota of six, depends above all on pole position.
"Turning alone one at a time is not that big of an advantage. In the past I've always managed to find the right moment without traffic. The changes to the circuit? When safety increases, it's always good, even if the difficulties decrease".
And, in the meantime, he enjoys his Friday off.
"I have my private commitments, I certainly don't tell people".
As is the tradition of the Monaco Grand Prix. Rubens Barrichello, on the contrary, would prefer to speed up the practice:
"The break bores me. I'm going to the casino to play cards with my father. If my grandfather had been there I could have played bowls".
Although gambling reigns supreme in the Principality, bluffing is not allowed on the track. Especially with the new regulations in place in the Formula 1 World Championship. The champion counts. Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso know something about this. One lap and the one who makes a mistake, pays. The risks are many: all it takes is braking too hard, a wrong line even by a few millimeters, to jeopardize everything. Says the Spanish Renault driver:
"The curbs can also help you, but if you trust them beyond measure they become a trap, they throw you out".
Opinion shared by Rubens Barrichello:
"If the car is not perfectly balanced, better to go 99 percent. Pushing to the maximum, every meter of the circuit becomes an obstacle course. So the best compromise becomes a puzzle. If you lose a few tenths of a second, you can climb several positions on the grid. But at the same time in Saturday's qualifying you will have to think about the race, have the necessary fuel load to implement the right strategy".
The Monaco circuit enhances the drivers' driving and intelligence. You do not improvise. It is true that there are a lot of automatisms to help drivers (think of the past when the transmission was hard and mechanical, with more than 10.000 shifts in 80 laps of the race), that traction control and start avoid possible mistakes. But it is the man who plays his part more than anywhere else. Every reference is most important, the eyes, hands, feet must be faster than the car in order not to make the slightest mistake. The teams, when the single-seaters come out of the pits, can no longer do anything. Drivers are alone with themselves, with no chance to fix it if something goes wrong. Not to mention the possible contingencies.
"We lost three races so as to revive interest in Formula 1. Now we even go back to boredom".
Ferrari President Luca Montezemolo jokes: but he asks his men to overtake. McLaren-Mercedes has been leading the World Championship for six Grands Prix, an eternity he is no longer used to. A Michael Schumacher victory in Monte-Carlo would be enough to settle the score. That's what the president wants: a win, maybe a one-two finish. If he could at least achieve it, the official first place would be his: in Formula 1, with equal points, the one who has won the most is ahead (three times the German, only once the young Finn).
"I don't like the new scoring mechanism. With the rules of a year ago, Michael would already be in the lead".
Wearing a red helmet and a blue jacket, Ferrari's president enters the paddock at 11:40 a.m., a passenger on a scooter driven by a mechanic. The Friday of the Monaco Grand Prix is a day of rest for the drivers: the right opportunity to calmly greet the team, which on Saturday will be engaged in the conquest of a pole position that between the hairpin bends of the Principality is a mortgage on victory, and to meet colleagues and top management of Formula 1. One eye on the present and one on the future: the current championship to be won, those of the future to be reorganized. Mr President, a prediction about the race?
"I would rather avoid it. This is the Grand Prix I like least. Too many unknowns, often the values are skewed. When we were less competitive we came here with the hope of getting something. That said, I want to come back to Maranello knowing that I am leading the World Championship".
Michael Schumacher is in great shape, as he showed in Austria, and the new car is working perfectly: are the difficulties of the beginning of the season archived?
"We were never in crisis. In the first three races, when we pulled out we were always in a position to win. The transition from an exceptional single-seater like the F2002 to the F2003-GA went very well: so far we have always taken pole position, always set the fastest lap in the race and always won".
Yet there is another driver in the lead…
"Yes, and that's a mistake. In an extreme sport like Formula 1, whoever comes first should be rewarded more. They changed the rules because they were worried that we were winning too much. For a while we will go on like this, then we will go back to the old system, otherwise you risk the paradox of a driver becoming World Champion by winning only one Grand Prix".
Won't it also depend on the progress of the competition? Is there an opponent you fear in particular?
"It will be a difficult championship, but we are there. I don't want to hear any more about new, heirs of Schumacher: it's enough for one to score a goal in an important game that immediately he is considered incredible. I would rather say that Barrichello is doing well".
Does the drop in spectator numbers worry you?
"For the San Marino Grand Prix, the share was 60 percent. There is interest and it's thanks to us: we did it on purpose to lose the first three races. Now the goal is to get back to boredom, which is to always win".
Back to the new rules: what is the balance after six Grand Prix?
"Changing every now and then is fair, in the history of Formula 1 it has always been like that. I consider the rule about the Parc Ferme to be against nature, because the mechanics must be able to work on the cars both for safety reasons and to increase their competitiveness".
In the future, is there always a risk of a break with Bernie Ecclestone and the organization of another championship by the manufacturers' association?
"The reason for my visit to Monte-Carlo is a meeting precisely with Ecclestone and FIA president Max Mosley. We are making progress, the important thing is to reach an agreement within the year. An agreement that takes into account the role of the teams, which are the real players in Formula 1. It is not fair that the teams get a share of the income that is just 27 percent of the total".
Many contracts at Ferrari, those of the drivers and Jean Todt for example, expire at the end of 2004: have you already started discussing renewals?
"There is time. My goals are continuity and stability, but there will be room for some internal changes".
Behind the often smiling face - when things are going well, otherwise he never takes off his helmet - of Kimi Raikkonen hides a kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A tough guy on the track, determined, brave, cold and calculating. In private he walks hand in hand with girlfriend Jenni, a 21 years old blond beauty, two years younger than him, a former Miss Scandinavia, who with a bit of heels also towers over him in height. They seem to be flying in their dream of love, indifferent to the gazes that follow them, that investigate. Kimi, having picked up the difficult legacy of Mika Hakkinen, who beats playing golf on Friday, of his compatriot has only the manner. He speaks softly, under his breath, words must be waited for. Never once has he been seen altered, also because when he could be he prefers to hide. The fact that he is in Michael Schumacher’s crosshairs, who here in the Principality wants to seize the opportunity to make an overtaking move in the championship standings, snatching the leadership from the young Finn, does not seem to move him much.
"The important thing is to have the car in place. On Thursday the setup of my McLaren was a mess. I made a mistake, I wanted to change something before pre-qualifying, but I made a technical choice that caused even more difficulties. I'm not too worried though, I want to recover. Even in Austria on Friday we were far apart, I was eighth. Then I gained the front row. Here, being in front will be decisive. So I will do everything I can to hit this first goal".
Clear ideas. After all, Kimi has always been decisive, even when he was little more than a child. He convinced his father Matti, a truck driver in a company that paved roads, and mother Paula, an employee at the pension board, that they had to invest in letting him race in karts. Good but not great, partly because there were few means available.
Despite everything Raikkonen managed to find financial supports and move to England where he won the Formula Renault championship in 2000. An achievement that convinced the spotlight of the talent scouts to bet on him. And when Swiss carmaker Peter Sauber had no luck trying to sign Jenson Button, he allowed himself to be persuaded by some advisers who proposed the Espoo-born youngster. It was a bargain, although to get him the superlicense needed to get him to drive in F1 he was forced in the winter to drive thousands of expensive test kilometers. After seventeen races and one season with Sauber, Kimi Raikkonen was considered by Ron Dennis to replace Mika Hakkinen, who had retired to private life. There were no arguments: McLaren-Mercedes paid the handsome sum of 25.000.000 euros, more or less, for the Finn's price tag. With the first salary Kimi bought a house in Switzerland, in the canton of Zurich. Then he helped his brother Rami, who is looking for his way in the rally world, by buying him a competition car. With the McLaren the feeling was immediately very good. Last year the car was not going anywhere, Kimi retired due to mechanical failures and accidents in nine out of seventeen races, but he had never complained. At the beginning of the season there was the explosion. Qualified fifteenth in Australia, finishing third in the race won by teammate David Coulthard. Seventh in the timed laps in Malaysia and first, stunning, win with also taking first place in the standings, which he still holds with two more second places and despite an accident with Antonio Pizzonia's Jaguar. He has two points left over Michael Schumacher. Kimi Raikkonen knows that he could be overtaken. However, he does not make an issue of it:
"The championship is still long".
And meanwhile he relegates David Coulthard to the role of second driver. Radio-box whispers of a possible departure of the Scot from McLaren at the end of the year. The Monaco Grand Prix will be important for both. No one, however, will be comfortable if Kimi Raikkonen's helmet on which Iceman is written appears in the rearview mirrors. That's what his team mechanics called him. And such a cold lad might even attempt an overtake deemed impossible. However, on the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix Bernie Ecclestone says he is certain that Michael Schumacher will win his sixth World Championship this year:
"He will be champion again, because he is simply very talented. Similar champions are there in other sports, for example Tiger Woods in golf. He was no match for his opponents, Williams and McLaren or Renault have fallen asleep".
In Monte-Carlo, it often happens to see a Rolls Royce, a couple of Ferraris and a few Lamborghinis or Jaguars at the same time in the queue at a traffic light. A tax haven and a place to meet and live in, the Principality has nevertheless lost some of its elitist appeal over the years. Prices, on the other hand, especially for the Grand Prix, are for the rich. That there was a feeling of recession in the air had already been sensed at Imola, where the alibi of Easter had scaled down the case of unsold tickets. In Spain, the Alonso effect led to a sell-out again; in Monte-Carlo, the problem recurred. The extra 4.000 seats made from the new grandstands will not be filled ahead of Saturday's qualifying. There are still 2.500 coupons for sale, and good weather might convince the last few fans. But something has changed. It used to be that sell-outs were recorded two months in advance. If it's not an air of crisis, it's a crisis of refusal to overcharge. Admission to the circuit costs the same as elsewhere, from 50 euros for the circular ticket (which, however, here offers a lousy view, balanced precariously on the slopes of the fortress) to 420 euros for the grandstands. It is everything else that has unapproachable proportions: for a Grand Prix view terrace you spend 50 to 100 euros, a berth comes 8.000 euros, a berth in the old harbor around which the track winds comes 30.000 euros. The cost of food and lodging is proportional to the ones mentioned before: staying in a good hotel, certainly not at the Grand Hotel, costs more than 1.000 euros per night, and reservations are not accepted for less than six days (the cost for a family of four is equal to the average income for a year), half a liter of mineral water is worth 2.5 euros, a bowl of ice cream 5 euros, a full meal from 50 to 200 euros.
The expense is rewarded by close encounters with the protagonists of the Circus. Between the paddock where drivers pass by all the time and the arcades open to all (for free, as long as you just walk and breathe) is a gate that allows you to stretch out your hands to ask for autographs or take pictures. The organizers continue to invest in this circuit, the craziest and most anachronistic in Formula 1, because no one can imagine a championship without the Monaco race: twenty million will be used to modernize it and make it safer by 2005. Saturday, May 31, 2003, it's back to the track, but Ferrari slips on the wrong tire choice and scores its worst qualifying in two years. Michael Schumacher, fifth fastest, will start on the third row, Rubens Barrichello (P7) on the fourth. The comeback relies on strategy and luck: at Monte-Carlo it is difficult to lap a Minardi, let alone overtake. The fastest is Ralf Schumacher, who redeems a bad start to the season and gets the second pole position of his career (the other was in France in 2001), then Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren-Mercedes), who will be able to defend more easily his two-point lead in the standings from Michael Schumacher's attack. Third is Juan Pablo Montoya in the other Williams-Bmw, then Jarno Trulli (Renault). All single-seaters with Michelin tires. Ferrari aside, the best of the drivers using Bridgestone tires is Jacques Villeneuve, stuck in 11th place. However, Bridgestone engineers say:
“Our tires are good and suitable to race conditions. Maybe the qualifying results depend on the fuel load of our opponents".
That may be, but in the 2002 Monaco Grand Prix David Coulthard won despite being slower than the Ferraris because he took the lead at the start. Ferrari hopes to have more range than its rivals and make up positions in those two or three laps where perhaps it will find a clear track. Otherwise it will have to latch on to the little train and hope for others' troubles. All to go again, in fact. There is no longer any talk of tipping the scales in the standings, but there is an attempt to understand what happened between Thursday, when Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello seemed uncatchable, and Saturday's practice. The Bridgestones lost their advantage as the track rubberized, but they should yield more as the miles went by. The last time Ferrari drivers deserted the Saturday conference reserved for the top three was July 28, 2001, at Hockenheim in the German Grand Prix. Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen preceded Michael Schumacher (who did not cross the finish line the next day), David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello. The difference was that the German of Ferrari already had twice as many points in the standings as his nearest pursuers, and the World Championship victory came three weeks later in Budapest. Michael Schumacher explains:
"No, I'm not very happy. It is true that we are perhaps heavier, but that does not justify the gap. However, we are not giving up: with the car we have we can only be confident. In the strategy game there will be opportunities to catch up. It is not certain that my brother and the others will be able to keep the same pace in the race as in qualifying. My performance? I don't think I made any mistakes. The only problem was the tires: in the first sector I was going strong, in the second and third sectors I was not. It had also happened in Austria".
Rubens Barrichello will have to start in the middle of the pack.
"Let's see the behavior of the opponents, you never know. McLaren and Williams had been going strong in the warm-up. We thought a bluff, instead we find them in front of us. It used to be that we would change strategies to catch up, now everything is already set. Maybe our choices will turn out to be better".
There is one case that would reopen Ferrari's chances: making one less pit stop than the rivals. Last year they all stopped only once, but with the new regulations the trend in every Grand Prix is to make one more refuel.
Open result, therefore, for the benefit of the show. Ferrari's comeback, Ralf Schumacher's redemption, Kimi Raikkonen's ambition aiming for a stretch in the standings. The seventh race of the World Championship is being run in Monte-Carlo. It is not the boring Formula that Ferrari hoped for and the competitors are increasing, because Jarno Trulli with his Renault is aiming determinedly for the podium. The Italian driver, a victim many times of unfavorable circumstances, never spoke of bad luck.
"That one hit those who do not have health. I am fortunately fine, I do what I like and I am also paid for it".
His fourth place in qualifying gratifies him of previous dissatisfaction and gives him hope.
"Being up there in front gives me great chances in the race. I think I ran a good lap even though I could not avoid a mistake at the exit of the chicane after the tunnel".
Among other things, Trulli was also better than his teammate, Fernando Alonso, who will start from eighth place.
"I am happy to have overtaken Fernando, who is good and with whom, moreover, I have a very good relationship. Everyone, however, has to think about themselves in the race. Do I have Coulthard and Schumacher behind me? I am not worried about that. The problems, if anything, are with them. However: if they touch me this time we'll go to the hands".
A joke said with a smile on his mouth, but also a warning.
"I am calm and will certainly have slept well before the Grand Prix. Ferrari is always very fast. It was in the first sector of the track, went down in the second and sank in the third. It is my personal idea, but I think they have problems with the tires. I am almost sure that Michael and Barrichello will suffer a lot in the race. The Michelin tires are really strong here. I knew that since Thursday, even when the lap times had not been particularly brilliant".
And it seems that Renault is also confirming quality and progress.
"Yes, the car is remarkable, otherwise you would not get certain results. Mine performs well all along the course and is particularly effective in the Pool area. I think I have a special feeling with Monte-Carlo, a circuit different from all the others. However, I am convinced that The results achieved in the Principality make it possible to promote or fail a driver. You have to be able to adapt to all situations, this is important. I am confident, as always. A particular track, a difficult race, but I think there will be some good surprises".
Also hoping to do better is Giancarlo Fisichella, only 12th, declining after Thursday's good performance. But the Italian driver intends to make up for it in the race:
"A disaster. I was sure to get into the first eight, and that's why I was disappointed. We suddenly lost grip right on the qualifying lap. Because of this, with the car becoming very nervous I also made a number of small mistakes. The problem should not recur during the Grand Prix. I know it will be almost impossible to recover positions, but this is a race that has always rewarded those who are able to keep a high pace and not make mistakes. It only takes a gap of millimeters to end up against the crash barriers. I hope to see the finish line. And, if I do, certainly the result will be positive".
It is, however, a difficult weekend for BAR-Honda; first the accident to Jenson Button in free practice, then the financial demands of a former sponsor who is demanding $3.000.000 and has obtained an order to seize three single-seaters. The team is threatening lawsuits and assuring that it will get the seizure on Monday and be in the race on Sunday, as usual. But this also makes for a spectacle in the Principality. Jenson Button has the Hans collar to thank. At the beginning of the second free practice session, the young British driver's car skidded at the exit of the tunnel, where the speed reaches 290 km/h, spun and crashed into the protective barriers, first with the rear and then with the side. Rescue was immediate: despite logistical difficulties, the efficiency of safety systems in Monte-Carlo is exemplary. The session was suspended about ten minutes, time to extract Jenson Button from the cockpit. Then admission to the Monaco hospital named after Princess Grace, a CT scan of the head and a reassuring bulletin: no injuries, a little nausea as a consequence of shock, the order to skip qualifying and spend the night in the hospital for observation. The team hopes to be able to field him at the start. By rule he will have to start from the pit lane. A pity, because on Thursday he had achieved a surprising third place. But also a miracle that he was not hurt. His team's engineers calculate that the side impact, most dangerous to the vertebrae in his neck, occurred at 80 km/h, a speed sufficient to cause injury (a car plunging from the third floor would touch 50 km/h). The Hans collar held the head still at the moment of impact. The mechanism of operation is very simple: two straps tie the helmet to a collar resting on the driver's shoulders and stop its movement in the event of impact. The indestructibility of the carbon frame and the wall of tires used as a protective barrier at that point on the track also contributed to safety. Says David Richards:
"Jenson would have liked to be back on track right away. We are counting on getting him back in full shape for the race".
The same spot was the scene of a terrible accident for Karl Wendlinger in May 1994. The consequences were more serious because Formula 1 had not yet reached current safety standards: the Austrian driver remained several days in a coma. Meanwhile, Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone continue to play their game in an attempt to retain all the power - and money - in the Formula 1 business. On Friday the patron of the great circus had said:
"The new regulations are no good, people are deserting the circuits. I propose official practice all together on Friday and Saturday with a super pole in the afternoon with 3 points to the first, 2 to the second and 1 to the third. Sunday morning starting grid by drawing lots".
On Saturday, however, the FIA president declares:
"For two years the rules will not be touched. And we are close to an agreement with the manufacturers".
Aside from the fact that there are still many aspects to be discussed, it would be interesting to know what the FIA does with the money ($800.000.000) paid by Bernie Ecclestone's company to have the rights to the Formula 1 logo for the next hundred years. Bernie Ecclestone also explains that Formula 1 stands on the big teams but also on the small ones. That is why he is thinking about the establishment of a common fund from which the small teams can draw. And about the calendar he is clear:
"We will almost certainly introduce the Grand Prix of China and Bahrain. We would also like to reintroduce the Belgian Grand Prix, but that does not depend on us, but on Belgium's tobacco laws".
Speaking of the latter topic, an amendment to the law prohibiting tobacco advertising could allow Belgium to have the Formula 1 Grand Prix back. The hypothesis is put forward by the Walloon Minister of Economy, Kubla. According to the minister, the program of the new federal government could in fact include a measure to revise the law in force in Belgium. Returning to the subject of the Monaco Grand Prix, in the end Jenson Button, protagonist of Saturday's spectacular accident when he destroyed his BAR-Honda, will not take part in the race. After being admitted to the hospital for checks, the Englishman would have liked to race, although still sore from the bruises he suffered. But after a consultation with doctors, the team decided not to field his car at the start. Sunday, June 1, 2003, at the start of the Monaco Grand Prix Ralf Schumacher maintains the lead. Behind him Juan Pablo Montoya overtakes Kimi Räikkönen, while further back Fernando Alonso passes both David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello. During the first lap Heinz-Harald Frentzen slams into the guards at the second Piscine chicane, filling the track with debris. The German driver is forced to retire, while race management decides to bring the safety car onto the track. The safety car returns to the pits on lap five. Over the next few laps Ralf Schumacher tries, unsuccessfully, to create a wider gap over Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen, while Jarno Trulli fends off Michael Schumacher's attacks; more detached Fernando Alonso, David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello follow. Virtually nothing happens until the first series of pit stops, on lap 21, when Ralf Schumacher pits and returns to the track in eighth position, ceding the lead to his teammate. The Colombian pushes hard, setting the fastest lap in the race, and makes his first fuel stop during lap 23, returning to the track just ahead of his teammate. Two laps later, Kimi Räikkönen also makes his own pit stop, squeezing in between the two Williams-Bmw drivers. Jarno Trulli, who found himself momentarily leading the race, pits two laps later, leaving the way clear for Michael Schumacher. The Ferrari driver, free to turn at his own pace, also marks the fastest lap and after refueling on lap 31, re-enters the track in third position, ahead of his brother but behind Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen. In the laps that follow, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen manage to pull away from the following drivers, but no position changes occur. The first to make his second stop, on lap 48, is again Ralf Schumacher, who drops from fourth to eighth place. A lap later his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, also returns to the pits to refuel; Kimi Räikkönen, in the lead, pushes hard, also setting the fastest lap, but when he makes his second pit stop five laps later he returns to the track behind the Colombian driver.
Meanwhile, Ralf Schumacher makes a mistake at the last corner, but manages to avoid contact with the barriers. His brother, momentarily in the lead, makes his second stop on lap 59, re-entering the track in third place behind Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen. The situation stabilized itself, without any further changes in position, and Juan Pablo Montoya took the first win of the season for himself and Williams-Bmw in the Monaco Grand Prix, after an uninspiring start to the season, preceding Kimi Räikkönen, Michael and Ralf Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Jarno Trulli, David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello at the finish line. We see Juan Pablo Montoya again, finally. We had almost forgotten about his exploits, the battles with the Schumacher brothers, the breath of irreverence he brought to Formula 1. He returned to success in Monte-Carlo, the most fascinating and crazy race. And Ferrari thanks him for holding off Kimi Raikkonen, now a regular subscriber to second place (four times in the last five races) but still leading the World Championship. The Maranello team leaves the Principality with Michael Schumacher's third place: an honorable compromise between the German driver's comeback ambitions and the risk of losing contact, perhaps permanently, from the top of the standings. Chasing is difficult: the successes at Imola, Barcelona and Zeltweg had barely been enough for him to get closer; the podium allows him to remain 4 points behind, however, it does not avoid a disappointment for Ferrari, which loses the lead in the Constructors' World Championship. Rubens Barrichello's contribution was lacking. The Brazilian's eighth place was the result of a test as unfortunate as it was colorless, without a high note or an opportunity to push through lapped cars and bottlenecks. The Williams-Bmw cars were perfect. They took advantage of the superiority of the Michelin tires and got the strategy right, which in Monte-Carlo is very simple: you have to try them all to start in front. This is the only certain advantage. Other calculations are difficult, because there can always be an accident or a lapped car to lose time when it would be necessary to push to the limit. Take a look at Ferrari: one driver managed to make up ground just before stopping for the pit stop, the other ran into rush-hour traffic in the crucial stages. Ferrari had decided to start with plenty of fuel, to take advantage of the longer life of the Bridgestone tires.
But those extra twenty kilograms of fuel with which it faced even qualifying caused it to lose valuable positions on the grid, perhaps even pole position. If Michael Schumacher did not win, he owes it mainly to Jarno Trulli, who qualified better and preceded him by a third of the race in a less powerful car. Evaluated in hindsight, the Maranello team's choices did not seem impeccable. Bridgestone engineers are not self-critical:
"Our tires worked well, Ferrari discounts its choices on fuel load".
Juan Pablo Montoya made one decisive overtake at the start, when he passed Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren-Mercedes. Then he followed Ralf Schumacher, passed him during the first series of pit stops and held the first place until the finish line, without making any mistakes, mindful of the spin in Australia, in the first Grand Prix of the season, which gave success to David Coulthard. For Kimi Raikkonen, the judgment is specular: he suffered that one overtake that cost him success, and meanwhile he defends race after race the top spot in the standings, waiting for the debut of the revolutionary McLaren MP4/18. The Woking team has begun testing at Le Castellet, but has not announced a debut date. Meanwhile, McLaren boss Ron Dermis is also enjoying first place in the World Constructors' Championship. David Coulthard scored two points and was the author of one of the few thrills of the Grand Prix, risking a collision with Jarno Trulli in the pit lane. The Renault driver restarted after refueling a fraction of a second early (thus a few centimeters). In such circumstances, no one slows down, but the mandatory speed limiter on the pit lane prevented a collision. The two single-seaters returned to the track at the prescribed 60 km/h, sixth the Italian and seventh the Scot. Obviously, they had no other opportunity to duel and held their position until the checkered flag. A curiosity: there was only one accident (Heinz-Harald Frentzen on the first lap, entry of the safety car). The French say that the guard rails in Monte-Carlo are like a woman to rub up against but not touch. Everyone in Formula 1 has learned that. Looking only at the result, although it had a negative influence on both World Championship standings, Ferrari comes out of the seventh race of the season with a positive result. First, it would have been worse if Kimi Raikkonen had won instead of Juan Pablo Montoya.
The second reason for satisfaction comes from the third place of Michael Schumacher, who started in fifth position, and his performance, along with the team's perfect performance in the race. In addition, the F2003-GA, although beaten for the first time since its debut, was reliable and under certain conditions, especially in the Grand Prix finale, even more competitive than its direct rivals. A decisive role was played, of course, and as always in the Monaco Grand Prix, by the tires. There is no doubt that Michelin offered the five teams tied to it tires with an overall superior performance. This is demonstrated by the qualifying positions and consequently the strategy chosen by the Maranello team's engineers. More gasoline in the tank, with the hope of setting faster laps when the opponents had already stopped in the pits to refuel. A tactic that might have worked if traffic (but especially Jarno Trulli's Renault) had not slowed Michael Schumacher's pace. No blame can be placed on the Italian driver who was always very correct: the truth is that in Monte-Carlo one overtakes only when others are stationary or at most in lapped cars. Ross Brawn and his technicians, on the other hand, claim that there was no viable alternative. the problem for Ferrari is that it is practically alone among the top teams that run Bridgestone tires. So when things go wrong there’s trouble, with so many competitive cars to fear. Another consideration concerns the championship as a whole. Regulatory changes certainly have created uncertainties and more unknowns. But it is also true that one could not expect Ferrari's dominance to be similar to last years. When you are at the top with large margins of advantage, it is more difficult to increase performance in high percentages: if you are faster by one second per lap, it is already a miracle to try to get to 1.2 seconds. At the same time, though, the competition that is behind can make longer strides. It is therefore normal that Williams, McLaren and Renault, given also their means, have come closer.
However, the Maranello team still has considerable potential on the technical level and also because of the presence of Michael Schumacher. While Rubens Barrichello fell short of expectations, but it is known that the Monaco circuit is not among the Brazilian driver's favorites. In 2002, Ferrari awarded two winning chances to the other teams: in Malaysia when Ralf Schumacher in the Williams-Bmw won and in Monaco itself in the race in which Michael Schumacher unsuccessfully tried to overtake David Coulthard and the McLaren-Mercedes. Now the two jokers were already out. In Canada he will have to make it clear whether the party for the others will be if not over, at least somewhat cooled. Ayrton Senna's record, six times on the top step of the podium to receive the winner's cup from the hands of Prince Rainier, endures. For the past two years, Michael Schumacher remains steady at five. But it was predictable that betting on the #1 in Monaco roulette would be a very high risk. Sure, if things had gone all right, if Michael had somehow managed to gain a position or two at the start, perhaps he could have been thinking about the gold medal instead of settling for the bronze. But no one is making excuses. Jean Todt is very clear in his analysis:
"Our package was not up to that of the others. It's as simple as that. The only difference between qualifying and the race concerns Schumacher's position, from fifth to third. I am convinced that our strategy was good, that we could have even won on paper. Michael lost some time in the first part of the race behind Trulli, and in the second section we were not fast enough. However, don't look for culprits: we are not being held hostage by the tires. The others are progressing and going fast. Since the first practice the track conditions have changed. On Saturday we thought that the potential de our car would allow us to go to the front row even with a few extra pounds of fuel. That was not the case".
"It doesn’t exist. No one was able to overtake in the race. Not even him. Among other things, we kind of sacrificed him in the pit stops to try to give the best for Schumacher".
Was it an error of judgment that jeopardized Schumacher and Barrichello's Grand Prix in Monaco? Says Jean Todt:
"We thought we would get the front row despite a few extra pounds of gasoline".
In Formula 1, consumption is not measured in kilometers per liter (a single-seater runs one, one and a half at most depending on the circuit), but in kilos per lap: in Monte-Carlo it takes about 2 kilos to complete the 3.340 meters of the track. Michael Schumacher made his first pit stop on lap 31, Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 23, so the German's Ferrari at the start and in qualifying weighed about 15 kilos more. Translated into performance, this ballast in practice cost about 0.4 seconds, equal to the gap to Ralf Schumacher who took pole position. At Ferrari, they were convinced that they could still qualify among the front runners and gain seconds in the race as their opponents stopped to refuel. In part, the strategy worked, and Schumacher recovered from fifth to third place. More at Monte-Carlo is difficult to do.
"The competition has grown. The four leading teams in the World Championship have now reached a high level of competitiveness and reliability. In Formula 1, it is not logical to have a one-second lead over the rivals, as happened to us last year, because the others have means like us, have men up to the mark and good drivers".
And for the first time comes explicit criticism of Bridgestone. Says Michael Schumacher:
"With other tires the result would have been different. If we managed to hold our own against our rivals, it was only thanks to a great car. The gap to Raikkonen has increased to four points, but I am not worried".
Todt’s statements are, on the other hand, more cautious:
"There was a suboptimal performance of the car-tire package".
The German also failed to overtake his rivals on the track, but managed to gain two positions thanks to pit stops. Just enough to take third place. Asked if he ever thought he could win, the German replied:
"If I could have kept the pace I had in the final maybe I would have succeeded because I would have been much closer to Raikkonen and Montoya, I probably would have passed them in the second stop. Since it went otherwise, because I lost time behind Trulli, every attempt was useless".
A negative balance?
"In the end you can also be happy. I did not lose much ground in the championship. And it's silly to only think about the tires. In Barcelona the ones of our rivals were better and we made the difference, in Austria the Bridgestones made you fly. It is not a matter of slow or fast circuits. What matters is the conformation of the asphalt. This time our tires in some moments of the race did not have enough grip. We have to work as always on the tires, however, there is no need to push our Japanese suppliers, they always know how to find the motivation. I could not be regular. But we still struggled because we have a great car. There was a lot of pushing, though. I always went 100 percent. The race was very hard and difficult".
William growing up, McLaren preparing a new car, does Schumacher have no fears for the future?
"No. I don't think I will get a headache out of this. We knew even before the season started that there would be a fight, that the challenge would be close. We were not wrong. But we are here to fight, all the way".
Rubens Barrichello also seems to be intent on enlivening the fight.
"My championship will start again in Montreal. It didn't go well in Monaco. I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When I could pull I had someone in front every time to slow me down. This is unfortunately the rule of the circuit. Of course, I am disappointed. But I was way behind Ralf and also behind the Minardis. When I needed two free laps, before the second pit stop, to gain a couple of positions I still found myself in traffic. It was like when you are in a hurry in the city and find all the red lights. However, I remain convinced that the strategy adopted was the right one, only things didn't go well".
The Brazilian also allows himself an unexpected quip:
"I used to say I was tired of placing third. I was satisfied: eighth this time".
Juan Pablo Montoya has set a record and equaled another: he is the first driver without a license to win in Formula 1 and the second (after Graham Hill) to have won both the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, that is, two of the most prestigious motor races. The Colombian Williams-Bmw driver's driving permit is still in the hands of French police, who had stopped him a month earlier speeding at about 200 mph:
"But I handed the officers the Colombian license, not the one I use in the rest of the world".
Good and blustery, Juan Pablo Montoya made his debut in 2001 because he was strongly wanted by Frank Williams. His resume included a Formula Cart victory and one, indeed, in the Indy 500, which in America had made him number one (hence the nickname One, a Yankee mispronunciation of the Spanish Juan). In Europe he soon gained a reputation as the anti-Schumacher, making no distinction between Michael or Ralf. With the former he initiated the finest duels of recent years; with the latter he was limited to bad manners and bad words. Yet in Formula 1 he had so far achieved little: third place in the World Championship standings in 2002 and only one success, in September 2001 at Monza, in the face of so many broken promises.
"I had few chances to win a race and the last one I threw away in Australia. I felt under pressure because I couldn't make any more mistakes. To win in Monte-Carlo is fantastic, it feels unreal".
Reaching the finish line, the Colombian driver runs to hug everyone, his wife Connie, his dad Pablo and mom Libia, the mechanics. And he screams with joy.
"Don't ask me what I was saying, I didn't understand it either".
Then he recounts, talking about the race:
"The hardest moment was at the first pit stop. On the radio they asked me to push hard to increase the lead over Raikkonen. I succeeded. The car was working really well. I thank the mechanics, Bmw and Williams did a great job, while the Michelin tires performed exceptionally well from 'beginning to end".
A decisive start.
"I remembered Coulthard last year: I was on pole, but he was faster at the start. I got my revenge with Raikkonen. In the World Championship I am behind, but if the car can express its full potential I can still attempt a comeback".
The presence of the family had a great effect. Mom Libia is the only parent to recommend their son to go fast, dad Pablo considers him the best and predicts him World Champion perhaps as early as this year, and he does not disdain the rumors that would have him at Ferrari as Schumacher's successor. For Williams-Bmw it is the first victory of the season: the last success was in the 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix, the last one in Monte-Carlo even in 1983, with Keke Rosberg. Iceman, aka Kimi Raikkonen, is on the one hand happy, on the other disappointed, even with himself. The happiness comes from the fact that he has, with his second place, not only retained the lead in the World Championship, but also managed to increase his lead over Michael Schumacher. Anger comes from being overtaken at the start by Montoya.
"I was not lucky. I always chased the Colombian, from the first corner, but honestly I never had a single real chance to overtake. I controlled one Williams and the other one got away. After that, I could only hope for a mistake by the person in front of me. I tried to put pressure on Juan Pablo, but he never made any mistakes. In the first part of the race I also had to hold off Trulli who was tailing me. In any case, taking unnecessary risks would not have paid off (and from the pits they also told him over the radio not to try to attack in the last laps, ed). Car and tires were great, from start to finish. Now we are waiting for the McLaren MP/18, but we have shown that even the current car is always competitive. We will be competitive in Canada as well. The difference between new and old could be important, however, to move from current placings to victory. Expect us".
Fernando Alonso had whispered in the days of the Spanish Grand Prix that if there was one race he could potentially make his own, it was the one in the Principality. Instead, the weekend held little satisfaction for Flavio Briatore's protégé compared to what he expected. Although the young Madrid driver's fifth place becomes the brightest result of the race, as he was eighth on the grid. The dwarf, as they call him, was phenomenal at the start, when he managed to jump with a reckless but perfect maneuver almost in one fell swoop both Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari and David Coulthard's McLaren.
"It was the riskiest start of my life. I really had to try hard to resist the temptation to take my foot off the accelerator. But other than that, I think the placing was the icing on a cake that all weekend had a bitter taste to it. I honestly couldn't get the most out of my Renault in qualifying. And that compromised at least part of the race. The only real satisfaction is to have picked up some points and moved up to third place in the championship standings. However, I am sure that the future will still hold some very positive moments for us".
Fernando's moderate optimism is matched by the disappointment of Jarno Trulli, who was aiming for a different result than sixth place finish.
"There was everything in place to do very well. An almost perfect car, Michielin tires developed in the best way for this track, my form, determination. I think I was competitive in all the practice sessions and also in the race. During the Grand Prix I pushed like a madman, I was able to keep Michael Schumacher who was following me from getting close after I avoided losing positions at the start. Unfortunately, I happened to be in the worst traffic at the time of my second pit stop, finding a very slow group of lapped drivers. So I lost one position to my teammate. It was certainly not what I expected from this race. I took three points, very little".
Flavio Briatore, who, however, in turn is consoling himself with his new girlfriend, German model Heidi Klum, is also a bit disappointed, if not angry:
"The only positive thing is about the points won and the two cars at the finish line. We thought we would be more competitive in Monte-Carlo, and we were surprised by the performance of the Williams".
David Coulthard, seventh at the finish, appeared disappointed at the end of the Monaco Grand Prix. He probably realized that he has now been supplanted by his teammate in the role of favorite. And he complains about the traffic:
"I could have done much better, but I was always behind someone slower. We are always among the best and now I'm looking forward to testing (tomorrow in Barcelona, ed.), the new single-seater".
McLaren, meanwhile, is at the center of controversy. Indeed, the protagonist of what some are calling a scandal. For the third time (it had already happened in Brazil and Austria), the FIA's technical delegate, the ineffable Jo Bauer, has allowed some engine parts to be replaced on Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren-Mercedes. Since the decisions are at the discretion of the person in charge, it is unclear why such favoritism was allowed. On the V10 engine of the Finn's car, an exhaust valve and practically all head gaskets and retaining rings of the oil tank, a cylinder and other parts were changed again. The regulations stipulate that after arrival in the parc fermé, single-seaters are no longer modified or tweaked except for justified safety reasons or for very small aerodynamic work. For example, on Schumacher's Ferrari, only a new left rear wheel that had appeared damaged was fitted. On other cars, such as Renaults, sensors and parts concerning the exhaust were replaced, on the Jordan-Cosworth the refueling system and the engine hood, on a Toyota a baffle, on others still minor adjustments on broken parts. It is not understood how every time on the McLaren-Mercedes, always Kimi Raikkonen's, such major repairs are allowed. Yet no one complains. The behavior of the Federation is not only strange but, at this point, even suspicious. It is fine to change technical and sporting regulations to try to increase the show and make the outcome of races more uncertain. But to use double standards, always in the same direction, is out of all rules. The next Formula 1 Grand Prix will be held on Sunday, June 15, 2003, in Montreal, Canada. And the news coming out of the endless North American state is not exactly reassuring about the epidemic of Sars, the atypical pneumonia that continues to claim victims. In Toronto, the death of a woman is recorded: it is death number 31 certified by the Ontario Ministry of Health. The situation, needless to deny, is worrisome, to the point that those who will break the quarantine imposed to avoid spreading the Sars contagion risk even being chained to their beds. It is the health minister himself, Tony Clement, who warns possible anointers:
"I don't know how people will take it, but we can chain people to the bed if it becomes essential".
The fact, then, that the great circus of Formula 1 is landing on Canadian soil leads some to test the waters and ask drivers for their opinion. Rubens Barrichello, among others, shows great serenity and demonstrates in-depth knowledge of the problem:
"I know that the whole world is doing its best to find a solution. For our part, I can say that the Formula 1 organizers would certainly not send us into the fray. Reason being, we go to Canada calmly".
Meanwhile, from Tuesday, June 3 until Saturday, June 7, 2003, work resumes ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix. Rubens Barrichello will be busy at Fiorano and test driver Felipe Massa at Monza. On Wednesday the two Brazilians will test at Monza, on Thursday it will be the turn of the other test driver Luca Badoer at Fiorano and Felipe Massa at Monza. On Friday and Saturday at Fiorano, Luca Badoer is expected to do further testing with the F2002. Michael Schumacher will leave in the next few days for Canada.