The new season officially starts on Monday, January 15, 2001. Ferrari is taking part in a test session at Jerez with the F1-2000 car. Ferrari test driver Luca Badoer immediately deals with a double drawback. He stops the car in the morning after suffering an electro-hydraulic problem. The engine then blows up at the rear of the spare car in the afternoon. Badoer is still able to do 70 laps despite the mentioned issues. His best lap time is 1'23"923. It is much slower than the times set by the two BAR cars of Olivier Panis and test driver Mika Salo. Hakkinen makes his season debut. He has not driven a McLaren car since the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, October 22, 2000. The Finnish driver became a father a month ago. He is ready to start the 2001 season:
"There is only one goal in my mind: regain the world title. I drive to win. I don’t think that the birth of my son will slow me down. Being a father is making me stronger and more complete as a driver. It’s accentuating my hunger to win. I think that it’s going to be a hard yet interesting battle with Schumacher and I’m not backing out of it".
Badoer continues to have issues during the Montmelò four-day test that starts on Sunday, January 21, 2001. The first day should be peaceful but unusual. The goal is to test the new Bridgestone tyres and some small solutions that will be used during the second half of the season. A tragedy has been averted as Badoer is the victim of a crash in the most breathtaking and fastest section of the circuit: the breaking zone at the end of the straight, where a Formula 1 car normally reaches an average speed of 320-330 km/h. It is 11:30 a.m. The Veneto driver is able to put together only a handful of kilometres (11 laps with a best time of 1'22"976). After driving through the pits, the Ferrari car goes wild at 290 km/h and starts a fast and impressive carom. The F1-2000 first spins around and rises a little from the asphalt. It begins to spin on itself until it violently hits the triple row of tyres that are placed in front of the concrete wall. At that point, the Ferrari takes off and makes a 360° turn around its own axis before falling heavily to the ground, with the cockpit facing upwards, right on the driveway located between the wall and the protection nets. What caused the incident? The footage, filmed by the closed-circuit television system, shows that the left rear wheel flies off and the car and progressively disintegrates as a result. However, there is not enough footage to establish the fault. The suspension could have been broken, maybe either the hub carrier or the rear wing collapsed. A first investigation is being carried out from the pitlane. The car is reduced to a wreck except for the survival cell. Badoer gets away from the incident relatively unscathed, thanks to the cell. The conscious driver is extracted with every precaution from the car. After a first visit to the medical centre, he is transported to the University General Hospital of Catalonia at Sant Cugat via helicopter.
Assisted by the logistic responsible Massimo Balocchi and Ferrari physiotherapist Raniero Giannotti, Badoer undertakes a series of x-ray examinations that exclude fractures and lesions. However, the doctors prefer to keep the Ferrari driver under observation for the next 24 hours. The Maranello team makes the precautionary decision to organise his return to Italy with a medical flight. While Badoer is in hospital, the Ferrari mechanics load the remaining car pieces on the camion. They are sent to Maranello for a more in-depth analysis, together with a copy of the video of the incident. In a couple of days, the cause of the incident will be known. The next day, the mechanics cannot do anything since they have to wait for the result of the exams from the factory. Furthermore, no one else is available to drive the car. Schumacher and Barrichello are doing sponsorship events at Losanna. Therefore, they cannot test the car on the following days. Following Badoer’s accident, the track is closed for an hour and half. The helicopter returns to the emergency spot to retrieve all car pieces. At first, the marshals are unable to find the front right tyre. They soon discovered that it is outside the protection nets of the track. This delay slows McLaren’s work. Coulthard is in charge of the tyres until the engine gives up. Meanwhile, Wurz is putting the engine, differential and gearbox under pressure. The Arrows team is also delayed by an incident. De La Rosa is left stranded as the car has issues with the fuel pump and the gearbox electronics. Michael Schumacher does his first outing as the new World Champion on the third day of testing in Catalunya. He sets a lap time of 1'21"659 at the wheel of the F1-2000 with chassis n. 201. His time is fractionally slower than Coulthard’s best lap of 1'21"241, who completes 65 laps. Is he excited for his first day of school?
"Not at all. I’m too old for school anyway. It’s very nice to come back as world champion but I don't drive around the track thinking about it. I’m always here to fight. That's no different to any other year".
Schumacher called Badoer after the incident:
"He was a bit stunned but did not lose any of his usual wit. That incident was strange: it reminded me of the 1996 Imola weekend when the suspension broke after taking pole position. I tested and re-tested those suspensions at Suzuka and everything was fine. It’s a good thing that it wasn't anything serious. I re-imagined that incident when I was on the straight. I momentarily thought about my incident at the 1999 Silverstone Grand Prix as well. I was born to race. I want to be at the limit all the time and this still gives me a lot of joy".
Michael is well trained and on top form:
"I see many new faces at Ferrari, it’s a sign that the team is investing a lot. The team is getting better and better all the time. There are all the intentions to start a new successful era. We had a specific handicap compared to McLaren in terms of starts. The issue was not electric. This gap has been reduced".
Five hundred people, exclusively journalists, are at the Hinwil base for the presentation of the new Sauber on Wednesday, January 24. It is far less compared to the ten thousand fans that were present last year at the Zurich Hallenstadion. The Swiss team decides to use a low profile to present the C20, the car with which they hope to redeem themselves in the upcoming season. Peter Sauber explains:
"Last year we went big in order to present what we thought was going to be a great season. Our sponsors want us to move from 8th in the constructors’ standings. Therefore, we’ll leave less space to the show, hoping that we’ll have better results on track".
It is a simple car that was created by Argentine designer Sergio Rinland, who will leave the team at the end of the month. The car is powered by the Ferrari world championship engine.
"The engine is a guarantee. We hope that we have built a quick and reliable car underneath it. We aren’t happy that Ferrari will also supply the engine to Prost. However, we need to respect this decision. Furthermore, Jean Todt assured me that we’ll always have good materials".
Pedro Paulo Diniz will not drive for Sauber. Alain Prost and Mika Salo’s associate were attracted by Toyota’s yen to become a test driver this year. Sauber has two new drivers on board. The Swiss team gambles on a completely new drivers’ line-up this season. The first driver is 23-year-old German Nick Heidfield, who had a difficult season at Prost last year. The second is rookie Kimi Räikkönen. The 21-year-old Finnish driver has only 23 races under his belt. He won ten Formula Ford and Formula Renault races from pole position, with the added fastest laps. Sauber admits that they wanted Frentzen to come back to the team. The latter decided to stay at Jordan though. However:
"We caught another Monchengladbach talent in Heidfield. He’s a very fast driver. Nick learned a great deal in his first year in Formula 1 with Prost. He brings that experience with him. I’m convinced that we are doing the right thing in signing Räikkönen despite his youth and lack of experience. It’s certainly a risk to have such young drivers on the team because you don’t know how they will improve. We need drivers of the calibre of Trulli, Barrichello or Frentzen to move forward. However, we can never get never these drivers. That is why we have to take on very young talents and let them learn with us".
The duo thanks him and promise to fight. Heidfield says:
"I found the year at Prost positive even if it was a disaster in terms of results. I learned a lot from Alesi last year. I feel ready to bring Sauber to the top. It’s difficult to say which results we are aiming for. The new C20 is already a better car than the C19".
It is difficult to get a whole sentence out of Räikkönen. Like other great Finns, he does not speak much. The Finn shows great confidence when asked about the criticism from FIA president Max Mosley, on the Formula 1 world, on his arrival and on the super licence:
"Everyone has their own opinion and it’s fair to say what you think. It does not change anything for me, it doesn’t create any sort of pressure. I will let the others do all the talking while I will only focus on driving".
The new C20 promises to be a good car. Furthermore, the arrival of Credit Suisse as a sponsor, one of the most important banks of the world, will give new life to the reinforcement project of the team. Peter Sauber can be optimistic about having a good season after hiring two young drivers that are hungry for success. He tells us a story about these two drivers:
"Nick and Kimi tested the 2001 car and were immediately able to improve on Salo and Diniz’s 2000 lap times. Kimi then called our technical director Willy Rammpf to ask what had changed. The answer left Kimi speechless: the drivers".
Everyone wants to know more about Kimi to discover who he is. The 21-years old driver is already in Formula 1, having done 23 races in junior categories.
"Peter Sauber called me for a test at Salo's invitation. He obviously liked me and that is how our relationship started. I was happy when he told me that the FIA had given me the super licence but I didn’t jump for joy. I just asked when I would drive again".
The Finnish is not worried at all by the transition from the 180 horsepower of a Formula Renault car to the 800 of a Formula 1 car.
"I was impressed by the speed, braking and grip at first. I got used to it after the first day. Now I need to wait. The aim is to do a lot of driving and learn more in order to get ready for the start of the season".
Heidfield does not fear the role of top driver for the team:
"It gives me even more motivation to do well. The goal is to gain as many points as possible. We hope to consistently score points. Kimi is motivated. He will push me to do the best possible job".
The presentation of the new Sauber C2O is not a big surprise. The single-seater already debuted at Fiorano. There are some interesting details when analysing the Ferrari-powered Swiss car. It has many new features even if the car seems fairly simple at first glance. The car designed by Sergio Rinland is light and nimble. Peter Sauber specifically asked for a reliable car. The weight reduction is another interesting aspect to look at. The car is 35 kg lighter than the 2000 qualifying version that was used in the last two races of the 2000 season. At the same time, though, it is more than 45 kg heavier than that shown at the start of the season. This result was obtained through the use of carbon fibre in the suspension. The car has a weight reduction in all the details, even the smallest ones.
The slimming cure is even more interesting given that all chassis need to become even more robust, in order to support the severe impact tests that the Federation is imposing for the 2001 season. Those involve the sides of the car and the roll bar which need to withstand a load that is identical to a single-seat wind in the vertical direction. Sauber uses the very fashionable spoon rear wing for aerodynamics purposes. It was created by Minardi back in 1995 and then used pretty much by all the other teams. This one has a unique interpretation. It has a split suspension attachment in order to avoid using the central fin, which is the same for every other single-seater. According to the Sauber aerodynamic engineers, it disturbs the air flow in the inferior part though. It is a flow that is becoming even more important with the aerodynamic limitations that are imposed for this season. Two days later, it is BAR-Honda’s turn to present the car on Friday, January 26, 2001. The Anglo-American team puts together a spectacle in order to exorcise the past disasters. The cabaret lasts twenty minutes. At 11:30 a.m., the 2000 single-seater is revealed with a new livery on stage. The only sample of the 003 chassis was severely damaged after an incident in last week’s Jerez testing. It is a presentation where everything seems to go wrong. The 2001 car is not there, the reflectors are exploding and the maxi screens are only showing a snow effect. Basically, there is zero reliability. What about the drivers? The launchers cannot get them as they are fast escaping from the stage. Self-irony and wicked English humour are used in order to send a precise message: the comic and funny scenes from the 1999 and 2000 seasons, when BAR somehow finished 5th in the standings, are over. Honda manager Takefumi Hosaka is convinced that the team can potentially do well:
"The goal is to win as soon as possible. We’re only interested in the top step of the podium; we aim to do many pole positions as well".
They also supply Jordan this season. It is an advantage according to Honda:
"We think that this sense of healthy competition will benefit Honda's long-term objective. We’ll do everything to fulfil BAR’s plans as well as ours".
The Honda engineers collaborate with the BAR technicians for the development of the 003 chassis ever since the 1999 season. The gearbox is created by the Japanese team. The suspensions and aerodynamics are also influenced by the Japanese’s hands, yet nobody wants to investigate further into it. It is a mystery. Another one is the budget. BAR is the team that spends the most, after McLaren, despite the fact that they do not pay for the engine. Villeneuve seems to be more trained after last week’s Jerez test. Apart from the incident, he initially thought that the 2001 BAR-Honda car was slow and difficult to drive. This time though, he changes idea:
"We didn't understand the whole car. We worked hard on it and we improved it. The car went back to the factory and the technicians understood better the work that they did".
Jacques hopes for the third place in the constructors’ standings:
"We aim to battle with the top teams. We may also finish 2nd in the standings. 2000 was a big improvement compared to 1999. We'll be in the front if we do the same improvement again. I want at least that improvement. We might be able to fight with Ferrari and McLaren. It will be better for us if Ferrari sleeps on its laurels".
Schumacher needs to be beaten in order to win against Ferrari. Villeneuve hurls one dart at the world champion:
"I’d prefer duelling with Hakkinen If I could. I’d have to say Michael is harder to beat than Mika because you don't know what he's going to do. You don't know if the track is going to be wide enough for you, you don't know if he's seen you. It's very difficult to judge. In general, with Mika, you know he's going to think like a normal human being and have a normal behaviour. I know that I can still beat Michael if I am able to use the full potential of the BAR car, even after two winless years. I wouldn’t have stayed otherwise".
Two winless years should leave a mark yet Villeneuve continues to believe in BAR:
"I don’t see any reason for me to go anywhere else if the team keeps improving".
The BAR 003 is less affected by Adrian Reynard (one of the partners and founders of the team along with Pollock and BAT). It is instead more influenced by Malcom Oastler, who supervises the development of the car in close contact with Honda.
"We’ve made a saving of around 30 kilos on the weight of the car and have already exceeded our original aerodynamics targets".
Oliver Panis joins the team as test driver, after the sabbatical year in which he tested the McLaren-Mercedes car. The French driver overflows with optimism. Villeneuve gifts him with the number five, the one that he had when he won the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix for Ligier.
"I think that BAR is strong enough to beat McLaren after testing their 2001 car".
The two main drivers are presented on stage along with a group of four test drivers. 22-year-old French driver Patrick LeMarie and 25-year-old English driver Darren Manning are reconfirmed once again. Two more drivers joined the team: 20-year-old English driver Anthony Davidson and 24-year-old Takuma Sato, rising star of Japanese motorsport. Honda is investing lots of money on Sato’s career. Ferrari unveils the new car on Monday, January 29, 2001. It has the difficult task of defending the two world titles that were gained a couple of months prior. It is called F2001 as expected: a simple name for a very difficult challenge. No more desperate chases, no more chasing after unbeatable opponents, no more promises and hopes. Now it is time for the others to promise and hope. There is a different atmosphere in Maranello, one of a winning team who is looking down on everyone.
"I want to say now that we want to win the 2001 World Championship. We are motivated, determined and enthusiastic".
Accentuates Montezemolo. He sounds like a director that dictates the script to all actors. Schumacher follows him perfectly:
"We will open a winning cycle".
Almost a thousand people are present under the great tent at the Fiorano track. The single-seater lies at the centre of the platform. The Maranello club fans are behind it. This grand gala is symbolically dedicated. A welcoming roar envelops Michael Schumacher, who exits from one of those doors at 11:00 a.m. Schumacher, Barrichello and Badoer remove the red veil that covers the single-seater at exactly 11:12 a.m. The hearts of the Tifosi start to beat faster when the veil slips away. It is raining outside; the red Ferrari sun is shining inside though. Its beauty cannot be discussed. The most evident new feature is the return of a low nose after five seasons. Designer Rory Bryne states:
“This is the first time that I chose a similar solution since I started designing Formula 1 cars back in 1992”.
The second new feature is the modification of Schumacher’s position at the wheel:
"It doesn’t change much for Barrichello. Michael’s cape will be retreated by 20 millimetres, according to the regulations. He’ll sit with his torso more inclined".
The designer admits that every single car part has been lightened despite the regulations. An added slimming cure will come with the arrival of a more compact transmission. It was designed at the end of 2000 but it will debut on track mid-season. A new feature involves the suspensions:
"They are made out of carbon, especially in the attachment of the chassis. They were previously made in titanium".
The new engine also helps in the slimming cure:
"We've built the car in record time since the engine was born in March".
The 050 is derived from the last version of the 048. It has been shortened and lowered by about 20 millimetres. It weighs 8% less due to the use of special alloys and a micro fusion basement. The architecture remains the same (the V remains at 90°). The technicians worked in reducing the consumptions (diminished by 3.4%) and researching performance. The engine produces around 850 horsepower. The first increase will be brought at Imola, as per tradition. There are questions that only a technician can really comprehend. What is understood is that there are many revolutions on the car. You can modify it, yes, but sensibly. The performance, security and adaptability to the new regulations are the three main guidelines that inspired the creators of the F2001. The rules will change on the run and will surely create more thrills than usual. It would not be Formula 1 if there were not any question. Jean Todt is the first to speak and opens the way for the president saying:
"There's exceptional motivation, which is even stronger than in the past. There is even more motivation to continue winning and we want to keep this number one on the car".
Barrichello chooses a stadium slogan:
"We will never give up".
The Tifosi give the Brazilian a strong applause. It is now time for Schumacher’s sermon in Italian. It does not matter to anyone that the German’s first word is paroli and not parole.
"I want to say only a few paroli [words, ndr]. I wrote the speech on my own as I did last year. I will publicly read it right now. I didn’t do many steps forward on improving my Italian. I will have other lessons after this presentation. It’s truly an amazing feeling to see the car with the number 1. I don’t know whether you have seen my face when we were taking out the veil. You might have seen a particular expression. We want to keep the number one for many years and this is what we’ll keep fighting for".
The track will reveal how Ferrari’s season will look like in a couple of days:
"The car wheelbase has changed. The cars will be bigger. The Federation decided to make some changes for everyone’s request, including us drivers. I am confident that it is a step forward but I cannot say whether it’ll be sufficient".
At the moment Schumacher is enjoying the F2001 car with his eyes:
"I really like certain details of this car. It is different compared to last year’s single-seater. I don't know how this car will go. We finished last year's championship strongly. We think that we’ll do the same at the start of the 2001 season. Ferrari was strong in 2000. We should therefore build up on this winning momentum. I think that the order of the standings will more or less remain the same. A few more constructors will join Ferrari and McLaren in the championship battle. It could be that Williams will be up there too and I've also got a good impression so far from seeing teams like Sauber and Jordan in testing. More drivers will have the chance of winning races. I prefer to fight with many other opponents for the win".
Schumacher will reach a motorsport legend, Alain Prost, at four championships if he is able to win another drivers’ title.
"I don’t think about that to be honest. I’m more interested in winning as many races as possible. We’ll then make the counts. I luckily have a character that doesn’t require any extra hunger in order to do the best job possible. I’ll probably look back at my career and celebrate everything that I’ve achieved once I retire".
Montezemolo closes the presentation by signing his men’s statements and thanking the Tifosi, the sponsors and the investors (Fiat mainly) for their patience. He then pays tribute to Jean Todt, the man he wanted in the team and defended more than the others in difficult times.
"We’ll not allow the team to come apart. Ferrari as a team will remain together like this for many years to come".
People are standing up and applauding whilst Todt and his collaborators are sitting down for a while. The roar continues. They do not resist the temptation of standing up. Under the white tent, at the top of all the work done, is the word motivation. The topic also peeps out in Ross Brawn’s speech in a stunted Italian.
"People outside of Ferrari have asked: is it time to relax now that we have won the Championship? Will our team be so competitive? Will we still be hungry for success? I have watched our staff during this winter and during the design, manufacture and assembly of this car. I have seen their enthusiasm. We’ll never give up trying to win".
The start of the season is more than a month away, but there is already someone that is throwing venomous words at Ferrari. This situation somewhat ruins the presentation of the new Ferrari car. A couple of days ago, Villeneuve said that he would prefer battling with Hakkinen rather than with Schumacher. The 1997 champion portrayed the German as a public danger. Twenty-four hours later, Patrick Head, Williams technical director, reveals that the Maranello team was the one to stop (or delay to be precise) the return of the electronic traction control. Jean Todt is not bothered by the first provocation. It has the effect of a water drop that slides down in a waterproof suit. The head of the Ferrari sporting sector wants to make a point in regards to Head’s statement:
"It’s true that Ferrari didn’t want to have such a radical change to be introduced at the start of the season. We would have said no if we really did oppose to it, even for the future. There should be a positive judgement from all teams in order to have such a similar modification of the regulations".
The French director then counter-attacks when given the occasion. He is asked if there has been any doubt regarding the complete regularity of the rivals in the past.
"I don’t have doubts. I knew that other teams used questionable systems back in 1997 and 1998. However, we only noticed those at the end of each season. I don’t think that we will have those again before the re-introduction of the electronic aid. The checks will be much more severe from the Barcelona race".
Todt excludes that the re-introduction of the electronic aid, from the Spanish Grand Prix, could shift the ranking order. He further denies that the war between Bridgestone and Michelin could provoke, according to what Head said, controversy in regard to the tyres’ degradation at the end of each Grand Prix.
"I don’t think so. I think that it would only be a technical battle which will make the championship even more intense".
The head of the Ges indicates the development stages of the car at length: from Fiorano to the Catalunya circuit, then straight to Mugello and lastly to Vairano. Schumacher will debut the new car whilst Barrichello will test the old F1-2000 car at Barcelona from Thursday 1 to Saturday 3 February 2001. Rubens continues to repeat, in every single language possible, that he does not want to have any sort of expectations and proclaims. Let Michael say that he aims for the championship; Rubens wants to do whether it is necessary in order to fight for the top positions. Imagine his reaction when asked to clarify about his situation at Ferrari and whether or not the forklift is available:
"I don’t want to answer this question. Michael is the number one driver. I’m the second driver yet we have the same cars and materials".
Close argument: it is better to talk about emotions.
"I’m looking forward to this year. The fire is burning inside myself for driving and racing. It’s emotional to see the red car that I’ll drive this season. The sensation is similar to the one that I had last year as a Ferrari rookie. I’m now in my second year with the team yet the emotions are still very high. It’s sensational to see the car with the #1".
Even if there are already some elements, some things still need to be verified with the new rules:
"I don’t know how it’ll be like to drive this car. On paper, it should be a winning car. I believe the same thing. It seems to be very well-made. We still have to see if we interpreted the new rules well. All teams will need to deal with a loss of aerodynamic effect. Whoever has lost the least will win".
He then makes a promise to Ferrari:
"We were in a certain position at the start of the development stage. Big steps were made from then on. I think that the team will work even harder in order to get closer to the 2000 performance. It’s difficult to say whether the car weaknesses have been eliminated, especially when the rules change like that. We previously had less traction. The car is overall different compared to last year. At the end of the day, the F2001 car will have better traction".
It is useless to talk about objectives even if he gives something away:
"I’ve one year of experience now. I know the team and their working ethics as well. Last year I avoided asking the mechanics to make many set-up changes because I felt tense. I have more familiarity now. I can take more risks".
On the same day, in Spain, the new Williams FW23 car makes its debut on track. Ralf Schumacher is at the wheel of it. Instead, Juan Pablo Montoya drives the 2000 chassis with the new BMW engine. Sauber is the fastest car at the end of the Barcelona test session, with Heidfield finishing ahead of Räikkönen. Eddie Irvine’s Jaguar completes many laps but is very slow. Meanwhile, the Finnish Sauber driver receives the super licence. It is valid for the first four races, as revealed by Peter Sauber in an interview with the German newspaper Motorsport Akyuell:
"I understand Max Mosley’s arguments. However, we believe that Kimi is up to it. We’re convinced, based on our experience up to now, that he’ll perform well".
Young Kimi needs to be careful in not getting involved in any sort of incident from Melbourne to Imola. Otherwise, he could already say goodbye to Formula 1. The test is looming and Luca Badoer is still injured. Ferrari decides to have faith in Fabrizio Giovanardi, Alfa Romeo driver in the European championship Superturismo. He makes his debut on the first days of February at Vairano. Giovanardi is very emotional. It is a kind of first day of school for him. There are many known faces, friends and Tifosi of the Superturismo series that will keep the tension low. Giovanardi even has the advantage of speaking in the Modenese dialect. He subs the injured Badoer on a token basis. Fabrizio is at the wheel of a single-seater for the first time since 1992, when he decided to change from F3000 to Superturismo. In that particular series, he became the man to beat due to the use of rear traction. He also raced with Peugeot Italia cars that were previously managed by Claudio Berro and by Jean Todt in Paris. Fabrizio finds these two at Ferrari now. Coming back to a single-seater cockpit is giving him a claustrophobic feeling, since he is used to the space of an Alfa Romeo 156:
"I was claustrophobic for a moment. I was a bit nervous but then everything seemed normal. I found the same technical solutions that enabled me to win the 1986 world kart championship. I’m talking about steering wheel clutch, left foot brake, steering wheel and gearbox. I’m not worried about the Vairano tests. I think I can do well in the straight. I’d have been a bit more worried If I had to test on a real track. The call from Ferrari was a surprise, a gift. I asked to test with Ferrari three years ago. I never thought that it could happen. I was playing with friends in Sassuolo when Stefano Domenicali called me. He asked to go to Maranello to try the suit. I thought it was a joke. Ferrari is a dream for me, as it is for everyone. I would’ve been happy to drive any Formula 1 car. I got lucky; it’s extraordinary to go from nothing to Ferrari. This was a new and enjoyable experience".
On Thursday, February 1, 2001, all eyes are glued on the F2001 car and Michael Schumacher. The latter generates a lot of enthusiasm from the present Tifosi at Fiorano. The track requires high downforce. The German puts some record lap times on the first day of testing without having any technical issues. His best time is a 59.505s at the end of an 86-laps stint. He is 8 tenths faster than the performance of the 2000 championship winning car. It is an exceptional time. It is the second-best lap time ever done in the history of the Fiorano track. It is the fastest time since the introduction of the four-grooved tyres. The less-than-a-minute barrier has never been broken until now. It is a difficult record to be redefined. Schumacher tries to not get too carried away though.
"Let's keep our feet on the ground".
Says immediately the German at the end of the first day. He is worried that the enthusiasm could make the team relax, which is something that needs to be avoided in this delicate first phase of pre-season testing. However, it is too difficult to stay calm especially when you see a driver completing record-breaking laps and even daring to joke around with the fuel. At the end of the day, he is out of fuel.
"It’s only because we need to know certain parameters, understand the effective fuel consumption and be patient when the car needs to be pushed back into the pits".
Everything seems to be going really well under the watchful happy eyes of Montezemolo, Todt and the entire technical department. The mood is so high that even Schumacher says a catchphrase:
"This is the right car to win".
Michael does not forget about the tyres when analysing the times:
"The times are very good thanks to the new Bridgestone tyres which perform better than last year’s".
Schumacher improves even further on the next day, pinning the chronometer at 59.231s. He is 3 tenths quicker than the previous best time set 24 hours ago. He is just a whisker away from the absolute record of the circuit of 59.007s, set by the German on Friday, May 2, 1997, with the F310B. Meanwhile, Barrichello concludes the three-days test at the Montmelò circuit by setting a blistering 1’18"605 lap time. He is 382 milliseconds faster than Alesi’s Prost-Ferrari. It is a record that annoys Bridgestone’s men (the French team uses the Michelin tyres). On the morning of the last day of testing, the Japanese supplier extracts from the truck a new set of special tyres, the same that are being given to Arrows and Sauber and not to BAR and Jordan. It should also be noted that Rubens could have improved his time even further if Ferrari had used the latest electronic development. Barrichello accentuates that that fantastic lap was due to his driving ability.
"Bridgestone brought here some fantastic tyres and the record came on its own. I don’t think that the time could have been improved even further. The car is very good. It is clear that I could have driven even faster with the electronic aid. This isn’t the objective though".
Rubens denies that his time is a Bridgestone answer to Michelin:
"It’s only a test and I’m satisfied. I’m okay with that. This record doesn’t have any absolute value but it’s nice to drive a well-balanced car. The tyres are really good. There’s still a lot of work to do but it’s a sign we’re on the right track".
What is the overall balance of the test?
"I’m happy with what we have achieved. We got hold of the electronic aid. The underlying theme is the tyres though. The ones for Melbourne have been chosen. The tyres for the Brazil Grand Prix are almost defined".
Apart from Barrichello’s record, the day is dominated by the tyres in view of the Melbourne test on Sunday, March 4, 2001. Sauber and Arrows are happy with Bridgestone’s special order of development tyres, in order to let Heidfield and Bernoldi be competitive. Räikkönen is slowed down by a broken suspension. Barrichello makes a statement about his compatriot, the new Arrows driver Enrique Bernoldi, who replaces De La Rosa.
"I still do not know him very much yet I am sad for De La Rosa. He did an outstanding job: he is a good driver but he had to give up his seat for money. There are not many good drivers like him in Formula 1. At the same time, it is good to have another Brazilian driver on the grid".
McLaren-Mercedes prefers to test at Jerez. Hakkinen sets the best winter lap time of 1’22"136. On Monday, February 5, on a humid Mugello track and on wet tyres, Schumacher stops after just 7 laps for an anomaly in the power supply system of the F2001. The damage requires the disassembling of the entire engine. The first day of testing in Tuscany does not end well for the German driver. He arrives by helicopter at 11:30 a.m. on the next day. 20 minutes later, he is already on track with the new car. The German is on his own since Barrichello lost the flight from Berlin. After the brilliant times set at Fiorano, Schumacher seems to be worried for the first time.
"The car is very good and quick straight out of the box. However, we had some reliability issues that need to be discovered and solved. Thus, the more time driving the better. Some verifications need to be done after the Fiorano test. Unfortunately, the weather conditions at Mugello and the engine damage did not give us any time to do much. The speed depends on the tyres but we will discover the real situation only in Melbourne. I have a good feeling with the car. I wish to discover the issues beforehand if there is something wrong".
McLaren unveils the new car in Valencia on Wednesday, February 7, 2001. Whilst this is going on, Ferrari re-signs the top management until 2004: from Jean Todt to Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne. McLaren is not impressed by Ferrari’s record lap times at Fiorano. Norbert Haug sentences:
"This performance is due to the tyres; you can go more than one second faster on new tyres".
Ferrari is pulled into the shenanigans. Dennis talks about the electronic aid, which will be free to use from the Spanish GP on Sunday, April 29, 2001:
"It would have been better to start the world championship with certain rules. It’s not good to change rules halfway through the season. One team opposed and we had to sled the revolutions. It surely was convenient for them".
First approaches in the big battle against Maranello, a war full of nerves and lap times. Dennis predicts copious amounts of venomous words.
"The story about the tyres does not convince me. You could be disqualified if the tyres are too worn out by the end of the race. I await lots of complaints. I wish that the regulations were interpreted the same way".
Hakkinen is much calmer compared to last year. The Finn is proud of McLaren’s gift of a car seat. He will be able to bring his little son Hugo along. Mika lets his wife Erja drive whilst he is skating around on ice. He is in fact busy with an advertisement that will be shown on Italian TV as well. Mika is relaxed, tanned, happy; he seems meek and yielding. Be wary of appearances though. The new McLaren car seems similar to the old one at first glance. In reality, there is a disguised revolution: a lighter engine, optimised dimensions, a much taller nose, a lower back end, a much slimmer form in order to beat all the rivals with its aerodynamics. The Woking team organises the car presentation at Valencia. Nonetheless, the MP4/16 was already seen on track a couple of days prior. David Coulthard was at the wheel of it for 120 laps. The Scottish driver will probably be another contender for Schumacher’s title. He is radiant:
"It's the best first run-out of a car that I've had at McLaren".
There it is. The new bellicose McLaren that wants to regain the title. Hakkinen has this goal in mind:
"I prefer being the hunter. There's no pressure on me because I don't have to defend my title. My son does not slow me down. I feel stronger and more comfortable. I don't think that sort of feeling will be negative for my driving. I’m born to win, I only race to win. Schumacher should not be eluded. The number 1 does not make you any faster and he is already at the limit. My problem is not my son, it’s the reliability that makes the difference. The first three races are outside Europe. We cannot have any retirements".
Reliability is something that Dennis talks about as well.
"Last year we made too many mistakes with each car. We need to be perfect".
On Thursday, February 8, 2001, on the third day of testing at Mugello, Schumacher stops his race simulation due to an engine issue after 35 laps. The cause of it is an oil leakage. Rubens Barrichello finally makes his debut with the new Ferrari car on the following day. The Brazilian does 45 laps, the best being a 1'32"645 despite some spits of rain. The first impression is good:
"The car seems very stable in the fast corners and handles well in the wet".
The start of the 52nd Formula 1 season is less than one month away. Max Mosley wants to express his opinion on the probable sale of a portion of the SEC’s shares, Bernie Ecclestone’ society that controls Formula 1, to the big constructors. He also shares his thoughts regarding Kimi Räikkönen’s super licence.
"I think that the arrival of big constructors can have a positive impact in stabilising our sport. They will have practically no say in the running of the sport because they just have one vote out of 26 on the Formula 1 Commission. I think we have checks and balances in F1 which would mean that the constructors would be interested really in the commercial exploitation, rather than in how the sport is actually run. We’d obviously listen to them, like we listen to Bernie, if it comes to that. However, that's a very different thing from a massive influence".
Räikkönen is awarded the super licence for the first four races of the 2001 season. Mosley emphasises his negative opinion:
"I think that our super licence system is in need of an overhaul. There are very clear rules on how to get a super licence: you either have to win the Formula 3 championship or you need to have certain success in Formula 3000. Exceptions were made in the past for big calibre drivers, such as Alain Prost who has lots of experience in Formula 1, that make a comeback in the sport. This exception is now used in Räikkönen’s case in order to give him a super licence".
Mosley specifies that he expresses admiration towards Räikkönen:
"There is no question that he is a very good driver. He will have done 4000 kilometres in a Formula 1 car before he gets to Melbourne. I think that he will do a very good job and I am confident that he will be successful. I still think that those criteria need to be respected though".
Ferrari is not able to complete a race simulation at Mugello. On Saturday, February 10, 2001, Barrichello does a 20-laps warm-up before lunch. He then does four more preparation laps at 3 p.m. The Brazilian will probably do a long run next. The technicians meet up and decide to postpone the simulation for the next day. What is going on? The Maranello men categorically exclude further technical issues:
“The reason for this postponement is exclusively related to the track conditions. We have repeatedly tried to do it. The asphalt is damp in some parts of the track whilst it is quite wet in others. In addition, it is very cold. A test in these conditions would have been useless considering the risk of rain at any moment. You can’t run with wet tyres because there are dry sections. You can’t use dry tyres because there is standing water in some parts of the track. We did the warm-up with the intermediates. The mechanical parts are not stressed as much as we would like since you cannot go under the 1'31”0 barrier. A Grand Prix simulation in these conditions is no use. Moreover, we have only one engine for the race simulation at the moment. We cannot start the test because we might be forced to interrupt it. It is much better to postpone it for the next day".
Twenty-four hours later, the race simulation is finally completed. The results are satisfying. Rubens Barrichello and the F2001 do a very good job. He completes 330 km without any issues. His best lap time is 1’25"739. In the meantime, Schumacher has other problems to solve. The champion is involved in a mysterious case. The Bild am Sonntag talks about a complaint against the German at the Aquisgrana proxy, which should be official in the morning. The case involves Franck Saasen and manager Marc Schroder’s Fame agency which cures his interest. Franck is Schumacher’s look-alike. There is a dispute going on between Saasen and the Maranello driver. Certain documents and computer data have been stolen in this agency, regarding Shroeder’s professional commitment and his contacts. The agency suspects that Schumacher could have been the sender.
"My client will file a complaint against Michael Schumacher".
Says Shroeder’s lawyer, Alexander Buecken. The answer from Willi Weber, Michael’s manager, is adamant:
"We are not worried, we did not commission anything".
Let’s find out the reason behind this complaint. A private police investigation agency found a letter that apparently stated this:
"Attached are all the collected documents about the look-alike and the Fame agency, as stated accordingly by phone".
The letter is put through a shredder in order to be destroyed. However, the police are able to reconstruct it. Another report is made by the helmet production company Bell. It says that the Ferrari driver violated a signed contract and instead chose to use another brand’s helmet. The driver’s entourage knows that Schumacher took for granted the fact that there would have been no problems in doing so. Speaking of good news, Schumacher receives the honorary citizenship of Modena and a street dedicated to him at Kerpen. He is also awarded with another trophy: the Bernie, a small gold statue that should remind the Oscar but is instead similar to Ecclestone, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. A charity event is held in order to raise money that will be donated to the foundation patronised by Formula 1 doctor Sid Watkins. Schumacher cannot be present at the gala evening. The trophy is instead given to Jody Scheckter. In the meantime, BAR is doing a test session in South America. Jacques Villeneuve is back talking about his ambitions:
"Having the third-fastest car is not enough. We need to aim higher".
The upcoming season is really important for Jacques. The Canadian driver is anxious to know whether it was worthy to continue with BAR for the third consecutive year, renouncing Briatore's offers. The Italian manager previously invited the driver to join Renault. Villeneuve won the 1997 world championship with the Renault engine. This is his first test until the start of the new season in three weeks’ time. Have you reconsidered the criticism that you had at the start?
"The first car test wasn't good but it seems that we have improved since the first test. We learned a lot from it. There is still a lot of work to do on the car. The steering wheel is still really heavy, for example".
What is your opinion about Michelin?
"It seems that only Williams is able to use them correctly".
What are your objectives this year?
"I fought like crazy in the last two seasons. I wish to be better. I would love to finish on the podium and to win again".
What do you think about the new Honda engine?
"The new engine isn’t actually very different to last year's for now. On the other hand, though, the BAR is not the best car".
Will Ferrari and McLaren still be ahead?
"In 1997 Williams won whilst the other teams were far behind. It could happen again".
What do you think about Räikkönen?
"It’ll be tough for him. He has to learn to fight against the others".
Would you have given him the super licence?
"It isn’t normal to give it to someone who didn’t do many races in junior categories. There are some rules that need to be respected. The hunt for the youngsters has been opened since Button proved to be a fast driver. The youngsters are satisfied with low salaries. They do not mind being half a second slower than their teammates. Instead, the drivers, who have worked many years to get to the top and that give prestige to Formula 1, are suddenly no longer needed".
The electronic help will be legal from the Spanish Grand Prix:
"I am in favour of it. At the same time, though, I am opposed to traction control from a driver's point of view because it takes away from what you can do in the car and from how you feel the car. There is no way the FIA can keep up with it and find out whether someone is cheating or not, with 11 teams all using different systems every week. It's better to have it open so at least we can tell that no-one is cheating".
Is there something that you would change in this Formula 1?
"The tyres. I would gladly return to the smooth tyres. They allow for precise driving. Furthermore, you immediately lose grip because the tyres are way too hard under humid conditions due to the grooves. It’s extremely dangerous".
Does Jacques complain about tyres being too smooth at the end of each grand prix?
"It would have been better to return to the slicks. Ferrari probably says the same thing. We cannot fight against the FIA even if we are 100 against 1. They decided, and we have to settle".
Is Michael Schumacher really the number one, the best of all?
"Last year he clinched the third title after subsequent tries. It’s obvious that he’s the man to beat this year. I feel strong as always".
Is it frustrating to be so far off the top teams?
"It was in 1999. However, it wasn’t the case last year since we were able to improve".
It is time to get serious in three weeks’ time. What do you expect from the first GP?
"I wish to be the surprise of the race. I like the Australian track. The momentum is favourable since some teams will arrive with undefined but reliable cars".
Whilst BAR is testing in South Africa, Ferrari divides the work with Barrichello and Badoer at Mugello and Fiorano respectively. The test driver returns on track after the incident on Friday, January 12, 2001. The Brazilian does 65 laps for a total of 340 kilometres, with a best lap time of 1'24"627. Badoer instead completes 44 laps. His best lap time is of 1'01"404. Schumacher alternates with Barrichello in order to complete the last testing session from Wednesday, February 14, onwards. The Australian race will open the 2001 World Championship. Other issues are troubling the world champion from a personal perspective. The Stoccarda Court Appeal firstly sides with a gallery owner, who is accused of exposing a painting of the Hungarian Peter Dardai which depicts a shirtless Michael in front of his wife Corinna. The court then gives way to Willi Weber’s appeal. The exposition is thus blocked temporarily. In the meantime, the other teams are also completing their last test sessions before heading to Australia. Benetton ends the Estoril testing with Button. The latter sets his best time in 1'19"410 whilst completing 63 laps. The team will then drive at Silverstone the following week. They will be joined by all the other English teams that are committed to finish winter testing. The only exceptions are McLaren and Williams who book the Montmelò track. Ferrari almost touches Mugello’s record on Saturday, February 17. Schumacher marks a time of 1'23"780 at the wheel of the F2001. It becomes the best time ever achieved by a Formula 1 car after the introduction of the scaled tyres. Schumacher’s testing session is then interrupted due to a gearbox issue on Tuesday, February 20, 2001. Despite this, he is able to complete 41 laps.