Ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix, the Ferrari chairman, Luca Montezemolo, does the first statement of the season, talking about engines, sport regulations and of the future of Formula 1.
"There are those who buy pages of publicity to celebrate a second place. To us Ferrari, if we don't win, they say that we're in crisis".
Are the problems of Ferrari overcome following the debut of the F2003-GA?
"In five races, we've scored four pole positions, four fastest laps and two wins. Without some mistakes from the team and from Schumacher, we would have got more points. To me, it doesn't seem like a bad start".
McLaren is leading, Renault is chasing: where does the dominance of the Maranello cars end?
"We all need, team, sponsors, Tifosi, to get used to a Ferrari that doesn't always win. The rivals, except for Williams-Bmw, have improved and Michelin caught up the gap from Bridgestone. It's the way of things, after two unrepeatable seasons".
Will Alonso take up the position previously occupied by Schumacher?
"Him also? When Montoya won his first race, everyone was talking about a new phenomenon. Then, it was Räikkönen's turn, now Alonso's. A generational renewal is inevitable, but I only see one champion out there and we got him".
This does not refer to Barrichello, does it?
"Rubens is a great driver and we are satisfied with him and with how he interacts with his teammate".
Their contract expires in 2004. Is the renewal incoming?
"Schumacher will decide, if he wants to stay, the seat is his. Regarding the others, development drivers included, we are very satisfied. We'll focus on the contracts well in advance to give serenity and tranquility to the team".
There is an agreement, however, that the main car constructors would like to change and which concerns the future of Formula 1. The deadline is for 2007: what will happen next?
"The cake of Formula 1 is composed of three items: television rights, advertising in the circuits and tickets. 47% of the television rights goes to the teams and 0% of the rest. The GPWC, which brings together the main constructors, asks for 70% of the total. The agreement has to be found quickly, otherwise we'll organize another championship on our own".
Jordan and BAR did not appreciate the fact that, in the proposal for the division of profits, a bonus is granted to Ferrari.
"Perhaps, they haven't understood that Formula 1 would not exist without Ferrari and I don't know if their disappearance would have the same impact. When they will win a third of what we have won ourselves, then I'll explain it to them".
Now that the championship has started, do you appreciate the new rules?
"In general, I'm in favor of the change, as long as it doesn't go against the nature of things".
In what sense?
"Formula 1 represents the pinnacle of motorsports: it doesn't make sense to send on track a single-seater which hasn't been regulated before the race or which doesn't have the appropriate tyres. Like this, we're making fun of the audience. Let's take football as an example: what would happen if we would make a star player play on a wet field with sneakers? He would probably slip while he was going to score. That is not the kind of show that the audience expects".
On Friday, 16 May 2003, at Spielberg in Austria, the only moment of uncertainty concerning the final result occurs at the end of the pre-qualifying. Michael Schumacher has the best time, Rubens Barrichello follows him 0.3 seconds behind, McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-Bmw are struggling between the sixth place of Juan Pablo Montoya and the last place of Ralf Schumacher, who ended in a spin before completing his lap, but there is a problem: the weight of the Ferrari #1 - according to rumors - is outside the 605 kilos limit (five more than in 2002) under Regulation by a few grams. The weighing is reiterated and everything is back to normal. The men of the Maranello team do not comment:
"For us, there never was anything irregular. The controls required some more minutes than usual".
Schumacher is the one to clear up the mystery:
"The weighing machine wasn't constant in measurements and was not zeroing. In the end, the race commissioners solved the inconvenience and checked the respect of the limits".
Otherwise, the German would have been relegated to the last position and, on Saturday, he would be the first to go out on track in qualifying. The rule is precise: the weight of the single-seater with the driver in it should never be inferior to 605 kilos. No difference is tolerated and it is forbidden to add fuel or anything else before the controls. The technology allows to create cars of less than 450 kilos, which are then weight down in a way to have the right balance. It is not a matter of lightness, therefore, the secret of the performance of the F2003-GA, the single-seater that dominated two weeks ago in Spain and at Zeltweg, in the pre-qualifying of the Austrian Grand Prix, sixth round of the World Championship, controls the rivals with disarming ease. Schumacher and Barrichello were anything but perfect: the German comes out skidding from the last turn, the Brazilian commits a couple of mistakes in the first part of the circuit. And yet, the gaps over the rivals are increasing. The third position is from the Australian Mark Webber (Jaguar), who always performs very well in terms of single laps ("I dream of the pole position but there's no hope against these Ferraris"), the fourth and the fifth positions are from both BAR (Villeneuve and Button in the order).
In the days leading to the Austrian Grand Prix, Juan Pablo Montoya said he was unimpressed by the new cars from Maranello. But at Spielberg, in qualifying, he does not go beyond the sixth position, off by nearly a second. Perhaps, he will have to change his mind. Behind him, the McLaren-Mercedes of David Coulthard and Kimi Räikkönen, that still hold the first place in the Constructors' World Championship's standings. Ferrari aims to overtake them in this sixth round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The fresh air of Zeltweg and the asphalt of the A1-Ring favor the Bridgestone tyres, that had suffered lifespan problems at Barcelona. Among the teams supplied by Michelin, only Jaguar manages to be part of the first five positions. The uncertainty of the rain remains: not so much on Saturday during the qualifying, as Sunday in the race. And Michael Schumacher admits:
"Under the rain, we never know what can happen. In normal conditions, we are the favorites. The new car performs in an exceptional way and is improving. On this track, it is difficult to find the right balance: I managed to do it since the free practice of the morning. My mistake? I went a bit wide, fortunately I managed to control the skidding. We checked the telemetry data: I lost very little, a tenth maximum. Things that happen when you drive to the limit".
His time, 1'07"908, is already inferior to the pole position set in 2002. Rubens Barrichello is also satisfied:
"The F2003-GA goes very fast, but I have to improve the set-up a bit to correct a problem of oversteer that made me go wrong a couple of times".
One year ago, he was forced to let the first place in the race to his teammate. Now, he does not think about it anymore:
"The bad memories are a waste of energy. The A1-Ring is a circuit that I like. They asked me what it takes to be fast here, and I said you have to be Brazilian, blonde, 5'7 tall".
The track record set by Michael Schumacher says a lot about the potential of the F2003-GA. On the 4,326 meters of the A1-Ring (one of the shortest of the World Championship), the German managed to drive in 1'07"908, at an average speed of 229.333 km/h, 0.174 seconds less than the record set by Rubens Barrichello in 2002. But the difference could be way more substantial if the qualifying, like in the past, would take place on Saturday. According to the opinion of the technicians, Michael Schumacher, who also committed a small mistake in the entry of the pit lane losing a tenth of seconds, could have set a time even faster, considering the improvements that the tracks allow when they are cleaner and the rubber left on the asphalt provides greater grip. The new Ferrari, in addition, is only at the beginning of its development. And yet, it shows special characteristics. The first, obvious, is to be able to reach higher speed with great downforce, maintaining a perfect balance. Also in qualifying, the two drivers of the Maranello team, with a set-up that allows not to take risks, have set the best times in the three detection sectors with also the highest speeds. Only Villeneuve, with his BAR-Honda, outpaced Schumacher (312.5 km/h vs 310.9 km/h), but the Canadian chose a configuration with low air pressure, counting on his control skills. And like this, on Saturday, 17 May 2003, no one manages to overtake Michael Schumacher at the wheel of the F2003-GA again. From the Spanish Grand Prix (including the two qualifying sessions) to the pole position on the A1-Ring of Spielberg, different drivers take turns at the second and third position, from Kimi Räikkönen to Rubens Barrichello, from Fernando Alonso to Juan Pablo Montoya and Mark Webber, but no one manages to threaten the German driver and his single-seater. Which authorizes a couple of conclusions: Ferrari is always the car to beat, it is again difficult to reach and could regain the lead in the standings (Michael Schumacher has to win and Kimi Räikkönen must not arrive second).
Rubens Barrichello is not perfectly at ease (it happened to him two years earlier with the extraordinary F2001). Though used to dominate, at the end of qualifying on Saturday Michael Schumacher raises his fist to the sky right when crossing the finish line, greets the audience, completes the lap to return to the pits and runs to hug Jean Todt. An explosion of joy which is usually reserved to the wins. Why?
"I had committed a mistake at turn 2 and I was happy to have caught up".
Michael Schumacher saw himself, on live television, claim the pole position. Right when crossing the finish line, in fact, the World Champion looked at the big screen put at the end of the pit lane and understood that he had done it. At that moment, he could not hold back a joyful scream under his helmet and raised his right arm to the sky. What a satisfaction: the applause of the crowd for the feat after the booing on the podium of last year. And after a mistake at the second turn which could have compromised everything. But Schumacher is capable of anything. So much so that Jean Todt, once again almost with tears to his eyes, talking with Willi Weber, the German's manager, exclaims:
"He's always the best".
The Ferrari driver does not hide his happiness:
"It was a particular thing. I thought that the mistake made at the beginning of the lap was unrecoverable, that I wouldn't be able to overtake Räikkönen and Montoya. The fact of having managed to do it got me excited. The race? We're very close. I'm a bit surprised because Kimi and Juan Pablo went fast. But I don't know how fast they will be during the race. We will be competitive, the car and the tyres are doing great. I'm not worried about the start, the circuit is normal. The only complicated one is Monte-Carlo. Obviously, it will be decisive to be at the front".
Schumacher adds that it does not give him particular emotions having next to him and right behind him his most direct rivals:
"I'm used to it. I only hope to get the strategy right. I'll have to try to escape, while Barrichello will try to recover positions. Unfortunately, Rubens started his qualifying when the track was very dirty because of the off-tracks of Villeneuve and Webber".
Thanks to its supremacy, Ferrari adopts a strategy that will be in their favor for the race. That is to say loading in more fuel than the rivals and, despite that, setting the best time. Or, third hypothesis: one year ago Barrichello slowed down a few meters away from the finish line to let him win and him, still today, with his German pride hurt because of the booing of the audience, wants a clean and clear success at all costs in this Austrian Grand Prix. The Brazilian will start from the third row. Jean Todt justifies it, explaining that he did different choices from his teammate and will catch up in the race. Rubens Barrichello does not reveal anything because the strategies – he explains – are like a poker game. At the finish line, when everyone will have dropped their cards, we will know who is bluffing. The Brazilian is a bit disappointed by his fifth position, but is optimistic:
"I did different technical choices from the ones of my teammate, I hope that it will pay off during the race. This is a circuit where we can overtake and I really hope to be the driver that will do more overtakes than the others".
Have the rivals really got closer or are they trying the desperation move with the empty tank? If Nick Heidfeld, author of a perfect lap with his Sauber-Petronas, gives the idea that he cannot defend the fourth position at the start, Kimi Räikkönen and Juan Pablo Montoya are sure to win. Starting from second place, the young Finnish will try to defend his four-point lead in the standings over Schumacher, waiting for McLaren-Mercedes to give him the new single-seater, planned a little optimistically for the Canadian Grand Prix (Ferrari took almost three months of development before the debut of the F2003-GA, while the new Silver Arrow did not yet cover a single kilometer on track). Raikkonen and Montoya also have great confidence (but in words it cannot be otherwise), so much so that both have spoken of the possibility of winning.
"I'm convinced I have great chances to win. Our McLaren is in sound progress. The minimal differences in qualifying prove it".
And the Colombian (third best time) is looking for redemption after the disappointing start of the season: failed success in his debut race at Melbourne because of a spin when he was at the lead, he tries to emerge from the mediocrity in which Williams-BMW has sunk. Compared to Friday, both their progress is miraculous for sure. Their respective teammates are not the authors of great results in qualifying: David Coulthard committed a series of mistakes that force him to start from P14, behind BAR, Toyota and Jordan-Cosworth (great ninth place for Giancarlo Fisichella), in short not really the top teams. Ralf Schumacher is slightly more competitive (P10) and if nothing else, he has the alibi of the garbage collector, because he goes out first and finds dust and debris on the asphalt. A happy note is given by the sixth best time of Jarno Trulli. The Renault car does not like the Austrian circuit, all about power and acceleration, but the use of a modified engine provided about twenty extra horsepower. The Italian driver swears that he will stay away from trouble at the start, after the bad experiences of Barcelona and Imola, then, calmly, he will aim at the podium. His teammate, Fernando Alonso, stops stepping into vice-Schumacher's shoes for a day. A mistake at the Lauda corner makes him end up in the sand. He will start from the last row with the aim to go into the points. Flavio Briatore acquitted him because whoever drives to the limit can make mistakes. Among the disappointments of the day, the Australian Mark Webber (Jaguar), third on Friday, is also the protagonist of an excursion on the green meadows of Styria which surround the circuit. But, as mentioned, the biggest question before the race, with the new regulations, is always the same: how much fuel will they have in their tank?
In the search for the best compromise between the need to be fast in qualifying, without compromising the final result of the Grand Prix, the team strategists perform complicated calculations and ration the fuel. Comparing the time recorded on Friday to the ones done on Saturday, apart from drivers' mistakes, we can theorize that Ferrari has filled the tanks of the F2003-GA with more fuel than McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-Bmw. The timings are quite clear: during both days, with different weight, Michael Schumacher lost 1.242 seconds, while Kimi Räikkönen and Juan Pablo Montoya were slower only by 0.211 and 0.230 seconds respectively. It is true that there are other factors to take into account. During the first day, the air and track temperatures were lower and, in the norm, the Michelin tyres improve with the cold and with the rubber that settles on the track. Then, there is the set-up of the cars. The ones from Maranello, perhaps, adapt themselves better and faster to the different tracks while the single-seater of the two Anglo-German teams need a less simple set-up to guess. But all of this does not completely explain the situation. It is likely that Ferrari has opted for a good load of fuel. However, regarding the gap between Schumacher and Barrichello, apart from the more serious mistakes committed by the Brazilian, there is certainly a different choice of tyres. Michael opted for the ones with softer compound, while Rubens asked for the hard ones, more consistent during the race. In the timed lap, the match between the two tyre providers nearly ended at par numerically: five cars for Bridgestone and as many for Michelin in the first ten.
But we need to consider that for the first time this season, there are a Sauber-Petronas, Nick Heidfeld's one, on the second row, with Jenson Button (BAR-Honda) seventh and Giancarlo Fisichella (Jordan-Cosworth) ninth who sponsor the Japanese tyres. Not forgetting that the minimum gaps recorded between the World Champion and Kimi Räikkönen (0.039 seconds) and Juan Pablo Montoya (0.241 seconds) are also due to the very fast (225.214 km/h on average for Schumacher) and short track (4,326 meters), the highlight of the race will be the start. If Michael Schumacher manages to keep his Ferrari ahead at the start, he will be able to take some margins of advantage that will enable him to control the race. Otherwise, the story will get very complicated because he will lose time, having to follow one or more rivals. Fortunately, the Austrian track is a track that provides overtaking opportunities with a minimum of risk, in the first two corners, Castrol and Remus. And also in the third one, Gosser, where, however, the hazard is very much higher. The rules are not the same for all. After that Max Mosley had said at Imola, ensuring that there would be no more exceptions, everything happens in Austria. Under the parc fermé regime, when the car should not be touched anymore, the federal technical director, the ineffable German Jo Bauer allows a series of interventions on the single-seater of eight teams. The most sensational concession is given to McLaren, since there is a failure to an engine valve on Räikkönen's car. The mechanics are allowed to replace all the defective parts. According to the rules in force, the Finnish should have start from the pits, but he will legally remain on the front row. Renault is allowed to replace two sets of qualifying tyres considered degraded. In the paddock, discontent and allegations wind their way. On Sunday, 18 May 2003, the starting procedure has to be interrupted twice in a row because there is a launch control problem on the car of Cristiano Da Matta which causes the engine to switch off. During the second starting procedure, Heinz-Harald Frentzen also remains stationary on the grid, unable to restart his own car and is thus forced to retire. Everything ok for the three reiterated starts, though. Fortunately, the Brazilian was quick to shake his arm on both occasions.
In those cases, the yellow flags are being waved while the red lights of the signals in front of the competitors do not go out and light signals warn everyone not to go forward. Finally, on the third attempt, the start takes place properly: Michael Schumacher keeps the lead of the race, while Juan Pablo Montoya overtakes Kimi Räikkönen and Rubes Barrichello overtakes Nick Heidfeld. Antonio Pizzionia also starts really well and brings himself in sixth position. At the back of the grid, however, Jos Verstappen has a problem with the automatic launch system, remaining stationary on the main straight. As it was not possible to move the car of the Dutch driver, the race direction opts for the entry on the track of the safety car. When the safety car comes back into the pit lane, at the end of lap 5, there are no changes in the top positions of the classification. The first series of pit stop is started by Nick Heidfeld over the course of lap 13. A little after, some rain drops start to fall on the track without causing particular contingencies, apart from a mistake during braking by Michael Schumacher, which costs the German driver a great part of his lead accumulated over his chasers, and a spin of Jarno Trulli. Juan Pablo Montoya is the first driver of the leading group to do a refuel, going into the pits on lap 20. Over the course of lap 21, Rubens Barrichello also comes back into the pits; however, the pit stop of the Brazilian driver will end up slowed down by a problem with the fuel rig which gets blocked making them lose about ten seconds. In the meantime, Michael Schumacher keeps leading the race ahead of Kimi Räikkönen and Jenson Button. The three of them come back into the pits simultaneously over the course of lap 23. However, while the British and the Finnish leave without problems, there is again problems with the filling equipment during the pit stop of Michael Schumacher: some fuel leaks out from the rig because of a defective valve, ending up on the hot exhausts and catching fire. The fire, relatively small, is rapidly extinguished and the German driver goes out again, however losing some seconds. Thanks to this incident, Juan Pablo Montoya takes the lead, followed by Kimi Räikkönen, Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso (yet to stop into the pits) and Ralf Schumacher. The Colombian is however forced to retire over the course of lap 32 because of the failure of his Bmw engine.
At the same time, Michael Schumacher, clearly faster than his rival, overtakes Kimi Räikkönen, bringing himself to the lead of the race again. Three laps later, Rubens Barrichello overtakes Jenson Button, clinching the third position and starting to get back to Kimi Räikkönen. Further back, Jacques Villeneuve and David Coulthard make different overtakes, climbing up to the sixth and seventh position; ahead of them is Ralf Schumacher who complains about problems with tyre wear. Michael Schumacher does his second and last refueling over the course of lap 42, going back on track behind Kimi Räikkönen and Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian catches up the gap which separates him from his rival, who does his second stop on lap 49. The Brazilian driver does his refueling one lap later for his part, giving in the lead of the race to his teammate and rejoining the track in third position. Jacques Villeneuve drops at the back after an unexpected event during his pit stop which costs him over a minute. Leading the race, Michael Schumacher calmly operates his own lead, while Kimi Räikkönen has to bring attention to the attacks of Rubens Barrichello, who catches him in the last laps. However, the attacks of the Brazilian turn out unsuccessful and the McLaren driver keeps the second position, ending the race behind Michael Schumacher, who wins the Austrian Grand Prix. Jenson Button claims a great fourth place, ahead of David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber, author of the third fastest lap of the race after the ones of the Ferrari drivers, and Jarno Trulli, who ends in eighth position. The new Ferrari is stronger than the rivals and than the fire. Michael Schumacher brings the F2003-GA to the second win in a row (the third for him bearing in mind the farewell race of the F2002), after as many pole positions.
Rubens Barrichello ends the race at the third place again, McLaren-Mercedes gives in the first position in the Constructors' World Championship standings, Kimi Räikkönen resists in the Drivers' standings but his lead on the unleashed German is now reduced to two points. The F2003-GA dominated for the whole weekend, yet the win at Zeltweg was fought, suffered, for some, endless dramatic moments. After nine years, the fire appears again during a refueling in a Formula 1 pit. It is the lap 23: Michael Schumacher drives with about a ten-second lead when he goes into the pits for the first of his two pit stops scheduled by the strategists of the team from Maranello. The mechanics surround the single-seater with the usual synchrony of movements: they lift the car, change the four tyres, clean the radiators and input the fuel. The fuel rig is the same one used two laps earlier to perform the refueling on the car of Rubens Barrichello. This is the only anomaly: each driver has his own dedicated filling equipment but the Brazilian's one was stuck. A bit of fuel remained in the hose, leaks and makes contact with the hot car body (or due to an electrostatic charge) which catches fire. These are moments of fear. Two mechanics are hit by flames and throw themselves backwards (the fireproof suits prevent burns), two others intervene with the fire extinguishers. No more fuel comes out from the dispenser, a machine that the French company Intertechnique supplies equally to all the teams and that pumps twelve kilos of fuel per second, and the fire is extinguished. Twenty seconds have passed during which Michael Schumacher observed everything from the rear-view mirrors without moving a muscle, frozen, silently, his hands on the wheel ready to press the paddle shifters.
"I only thought about my friend Jos (Verstappen, ed) and about the fire of 1994 at Hockenheim".
The German driver recounts: the two were teammates at Benetton. The car of Verstappen catches fire in the pits and, this time, the driver has to get out quickly from the cockpit not to burn alive. And you were not afraid for a moment?
"Yes, I was afraid that the fire or the incendiary liquid could do damage. However, everything went well, as they told me from the pits, where they were keeping an eye on the telemetry data. The GA kept going really fast and allowed me to win. When I was young, I was playing with fire, in Formula 3 a similar event had happened to me and I remember the risk run by my teammate Verstappen in 1994: he so much risked it because the car caught fire".
Did you see well what happened in the mirrors?
"Obviously. The mechanics probably thought I was cold and tried to warm me up. Joking aside, there was nothing I could do, so I didn't need to worry about it. The guys handled the situation perfectly, I always trusted them and they always proved to deserve it. They're the best of the pit lane. The only problem was the dirt on the visor of the helmet: I had already torn away the protective tear-offs when it rained, so I had to clean it with my glove".
Did you face the second pit stop with your heart pounding?
"It's difficult that an exceptional event repeats itself. I came into the pits feeling calm".
Repeating three starts can lead to drops in concentration in a driver?
"I didn't have particular problems. The stress is especially for the engine that overheats quickly".
Montoya did gestures because Schumacher was slowing down too much while there was the safety car was on track.
"Ah, really? I don't know what he saw or why he complained".
What happened when Alonso broke his engine?
"It was a stupid situation. The commissioners waved yellow flags and I thought that Alonso slowed down because of that. I also slowed down, but not enough to pass unharmed on the oil that his Renault was losing. I went off track, fortunately there's a wide asphalted run-off area at this point. It also happened to others behind me".
If Barrichello had managed to overtake Räikkönen, Schumacher would be leading the standings.
"Too bad for Rubens, I saw his attack and I thought that it had been successful. I feel sorry for him because he's my teammate, because he's a friend and because of the standings situation".
How did you see him?
"On a giant screen of the circuit".
During the race?
Are you surprised by the performance of the F2003-GA?
"To be honest, no. Over the weekend we found that the benefits and the constant performance were outstanding. Ferrari did another extraordinary single-seater, we're well aware of it".
You got the pole position in qualifying despite skidding, you won the race despite a starting fire: do you think you are a lucky person?
"I don't know if we can call this luck. I think I was very unlucky to have this kind of problem".
Did you close the account with last year's criticism of team orders?
"Yes, now I feel like a winner".
Let's talk about your rivals: Montoya led the race before his engine failure, are the Williams dangerous again?
"I still don't know how it went for my brother Ralf. Montoya looked faster than Räikkönen, for a while he was able to dictate the pace".
Does the fight for the World Championship remain with the McLaren of Räikkönen?
"At this moment, it seems so, but it's still too early to talk about it. We know that a DNF can overturn the standings, so I'd rather avoid predictions, since that there are still ten Grand Prix to go before the end of the World Championship. The win here, in Austria, is very important and unexpected. At a certain point of the race, I had started to resign myself to the third place and to do the math of the points behind the rivals. Then, the GA allowed me to attack and win for the third time in a row. After a difficult fight, the success has a special flavor".
Jean Todt had an earthy face when the fire broke out alongside Michael Schumacher's car.
"Yes, I was afraid. Very afraid. Then, I understood that we had got out of it, but it was hard. A difficult race. I think that it will be part of the history. While facing a very strong rival, we had the best package available. The problems during the pit stops cost us a possible 1-2. Barrichello was extraordinary, without the inconvenience in the pit stop, he could have also win. Or finish second still. The report is positive: Michael came close to the top, while with the 16 points scored we're leading among the Constructors. Congratulations to the team, it would have been easy to lose it but instead it was really fantastic".
The fear having passed (of Jean Todt, of the Ferrari technicians, of the public, certainly not his), Michael Schumacher therefore went back on track, gave a clean with his hands to the helmet tear-off dirty of incendiary liquid and completed the masterpiece, flying towards the win number 67, the 162nd one for the Maranello team. The championship is finally reopened. Michael Schumacher really wanted this one, after last year's controversies about team orders that forced Rubens Barrichello to slow down a few meters away from the checkered flag.
And the feat, so troubled, would be enough to ennoble the last Austrian Grand Prix (the race has been canceled from the next calendar to give space to exotic Grand Prix, in China or in Bahrain). But instead, from the start to the finish, the dramatic turn of events were continuous. In the meantime, Rubens Barrichello, the podium ceremony and the usual interviews over, asks to withdraw in the motorhome to recover: he does not feel well and hardly comes.
"I have a cold and I didn't sleep much during the night. I sweated a lot in the car. I couldn't drink from the bottle, the water was hot. I could barely breathe. Too bad because, apart from the inconvenience at the first refueling, the race was beautiful and my F2003 was going strong, although perhaps I paid for the choice of tyres made on Saturday before qualifying".
The Brazilian driver had put on tyres of harder compound, convinced that they would be consistent. In reality, he never had problems, but the performance was slightly inferior to the one of his teammate who had chosen soft tyres, especially during the first laps.
"I had the opportunity to overtake almost immediately Räikkönen, at the start. I was on the outside and I went ahead of his McLaren. But I was in the dirty part of the track and I had to give up. The same thing happened in the final lap, when I came close to the Finnish again. I had well studied his trajectories, I understood that he had a lot of understeer, I tried to overtake on the outside. But I realized, being on the dirty asphalt, that I was risking ending up off track so I had to abort the attempt. He increased his pace a bit and the turbulence produced by his McLaren forced me to definitively give up. A shame, without some misadventures I could have finish in a better position".
This week, Barrichello will get some rest. The next race will be prepared at Fiorano, first by Felipe Massa and then by Michael Schumacher. Now, there are no more doubts. After only two races the F2003-GA confirms all its skills. Double victory in Spain and in Austria, couple of third places with Rubens Barrichello. The qualities of this car out of the laboratories of Maranello are obvious: high performance, possibility to reduce the aerodynamic pressure without compromise the grip, agility, braking, an engine without comparisons. And full reliability, an indispensable condition to arrive to the finish line. Not to mention that, starting this year, between Saturday and Sunday (from qualifying to the race), nothing could (the conditional is a must given what is happening) be touched, let alone change the power unit. The direct technicians of engineer Martinelli have done an exceptional job, preparing a fabulous, powerful, flexible and resistant V10-engine. The data that the men of Jean Todt will bring to analysis from Monday are all positive, to say the least. Track record on Friday with Schumacher fallen to 1'07"908, at an average speed of 229.333 km/h. Then pole position on Saturday, 1'09"150, when at least 60-70 kg of fuel were loaded in the car. Extraordinary performance during the race: Michael, on lap 12, did the fastest lap (last year it was 1'09"298), falling to 1'09"289. Then, he improved himself four times, up to doing a time of 1'08"337, that would have allowed him to make the pole position with nearly 0.9 seconds of lead on his closest rival. During the race, the closest was Rubens Barrichello, thanks to a time of 1'08"913, the third was surprisingly Mark Webber with a gap of 0.629 seconds and Kimi Räikkönen was the fourth fastest 1.086 seconds away. A real abyss. But it is not enough: in Austria, the World Champion was the fastest in all three of the sectors in which the circuit is divided. The combination of his fastest times, done at different moments, would have led him to an ideal perfect lap of 1'08"163. Nothing to do for the rival cars, against the Ferrari F2003-GA, also regarding the top speeds: Rubens Barrichello reached a speed of 319.2 km/h in the first sector, Michael Schumacher of 215 km/h in the second and the German again of 285.9 km/h in the third one. Even in the speed trap (the point where theoretically the top speed is detected, but it is not always the case), Michael Schumacher ended up being the fastest of all: 316 km/h. In the very positive report of Ferrari, the behavior of the tyres must also still be added. It is clear, perhaps not only because of the characteristics of the track and of the asphalt, that Bridgestone did a considerable step forward compared to Barcelona.
Not only does the general performance of the whole weekend show it, but also the perfect fourth place of Jenson Button with BAR, the best result of the season for the British and his team, where Jacques Villeneuve seems to have lost his edge and concentration. With Williams-Bmw in crisis, even if Ralf Schumacher remains the only driver to have scored points in all the six races disputed, McLaren-Mercedes can congratulate itself only to have recruited a consistent driver like Kimi Räikkönen. Now, the Finnish and David Coulthard have hope for the new MP4/18 that will make its debut during the tests at Le Castellet on Wednesday, 21 May 2003. Ron Dennis, however, makes it known that the debut race will not happen at Monte-Carlo. It will almost certainly be ready for the following Canadian Grand Prix. For the F2003-GA, which in the meantime will immediately have further development, a new difficult challenge will start at that moment. But it will be able to face it with great and legitimate confidence. Especially if we think that Jean Todt, revealing a new detail about the new Ferrari, says:
"At the Mugello, when we were testing the GA, every three laps we had to change the engine because we had a chronic problem. After a couple of weeks, we have been able to simulate three Grand Prix without a single problem. It's the result of an exceptional work done in each department".
It is surprising that this single-seater, two pole position and two wins out of two, may have had flaws. But perhaps, it is unavoidable that the first kilometers are an obstacle course in the secret of the private tests of the beginning of the season. However, the head of the GES in Maranello did not want to confess to a backstory, but to emphasize the importance of teamwork. Michael Schumacher is at the top: the win at Zeltweg was a masterpiece of composure, determination, courage and skill. The impassive attitude of the German driver as the fire flared a few inches from his head impressed, and perhaps he did not praise his calm enough on the occasion of the two false starts: while his colleagues drove a few meters, worn out gearbox and clutch, he remained motionless because he realized that the start had been postponed before the others. Behind the exploits of the champion, there is the work of an entire team. Schumacher admits it:
"I have the best mechanics of the pit lane".
Todt reiterates, talking about the teamwork:
"We didn't discover that our guys are the bravest of the world at Zeltweg. They follow fire prevention courses, even though we've never simulated the extinguishing of a fire during a pit stop".
In twenty seconds, they have been able to change four tyres, refuel (after the race in Brazil in which Barrichello remained out of fuel, Ferrari adopted new tools to measure the amount of fuel in the tanks) and tame a fire. Ferrari employs twenty-two people for the pit stops: three for each tyre (one unscrews and screws the unique fastening bolt, one removes the used tyre, one puts the new one), two for the jacks, two for the fuel dispenser, one for the lollypop (the pallet that gives the stop and start signal) and others who deal with the cleaning of the radiators and of the driver's visor, the possible adjustment of the wings or replacement of the nose, or simply follow the operations and intervene in case of emergency. They have to wear a fireproof suit in Nomex, a material that resists for 12 seconds to temperatures up to 800 °C and in constant training, even during the downtimes of a race weekend, to synchronize movements. One of the most delicate tasks is that of the refueling staff, who has to insert the fuel pump into the hose of the car, which opens automatically when the driver engages the speed limiter in the pit lane. Sometimes the operation is difficult or the dispenser does not flow the fuel.
It happened during Barrichello's pit stop: the mechanics had to employ the dispenser intended for Schumacher for both drivers and they did not have time to clean it. The fuel drained from the pipe, in contact with the heat of the car, thus ignited.
"To win in Formula 1, a good engine, good tyres and a good chassis aren't enough. An excellent group is needed. It wasn't completely like that at Zeltweg. What happened during the first pit stop is a problem".
Those who know him well can imagine the troubled mood of Luca Montezemolo, in his house in the hills of Bologna: he was petrified in front of the television. With Schumacher doing his pit stop and those sudden flames. It lasted a moment. Then a sigh of relief, the restart, the triumphant ride. The phone calls to Jean Todt to congratulate the team. Chairman, how did you experience those moments that could become dramatic?
"I felt a great enthusiasm for how Schumacher behaved, for what he did. It was exceptional, really exceptional. His calm, his composure, his class, those are the qualities that make a difference. Composure in the moment of the flames and, believe me, it is not easy to remain impassive in certain situations, with the fire around. But he was extraordinary during the entire race. Always very fast and amazing in that great overtaking of Räikkönen that has once again thrilled me. The problem at the pit could have knocked the team down. Instead, they were all very good at not panicking, not losing their minds in such a delicate moment, and solving the problem quickly. In fact, the following pit stops were perfect".
A difficult Grand Prix from the start, that never came.
"In this situation also, I admired Michael's composure: they were all there moving, getting away forward. And he was motionless, very concentrated, to protect the clutch. These details, assuming that those are details, really define the great champion. Of whom knows how to be decisive in each situation".
"He was also great. Without the refueling problem, he would have arrived second for sure. His comeback was huge".
Third success in a row. A lot has changed since the first races.
"Great, like this nobody will ever be able to complain saying that Ferrari killed the interest for the races. It was a very spectacular race. Managing to win in this way and with this gap, even with the car on fire, I think it has never happened in Formula 1. So, let us enjoy this third win in a row, the second out of two races of the new GA which allows us to take the lead of the Constructors' World Championship".
The first overtaking of the McLarens has been achieved.
"To be back at the top of this standing has a very high specific value. The Constructors' World Championship is the sum of the work of the whole team, for me it remains the most significant title: synonym of reliability, unity of the team and global quality of the work".
The F2003-GA is turning out to be very fast and reliable: two races and two wins. It is the single-seater dedicated to Giovanni Agnelli: a tribute that Montezemolo personally decided. However, the chairman does not want to talk about this decision anymore: he is afraid that a sincere gesture of affection can be mistaken as instrumented. He knows that “The Lawyer” would have been the first to be excited about this Ferrari.
"A two-point lead? Better than nothing. They are enough for me to stay ahead. After all, I'm glad I've kept the leadership in the Championship".
Even in the exhibition of the obvious, Kimi Räikkönen is a champion. But he does have a point, it could have been worse if Ferrari had not found themselves playing with the handicap of two pit stops gone wrong. For the time being he still has the best average points, with one win (Malaysia), three second-place finishes, a third-place finish and one only DNF, in Spain. The Finnish stands out for his few words and many facts. He is increasingly asserting himself as the strongest and closest rival of Michael Schumacher in the fight for the victory of the World Championship.
"I'm happy because I managed to bring an important result home. At the start, I wasn't able to push to the limit because I was on the dirty part of the track and Montoya overtook me. I also had some problems to keep myself behind Barrichello. Then, the car started to perform better and I didn't have too many difficulties. When Juan Pablo, after the first pit stop, found himself leading, I was following him. I was watching the Williams that was smoking and I didn't realize that Schumacher was attacking me. It took just a moment of distraction to lose a place. Unfortunately, I also had some fears with the engine. I couldn't get to the limit of the rpm, because the mechanics had to fix a valve failure at the last moment in the morning. In the final lap, there was an exciting duel with Rubens. When we started the last lap, I understood that, keeping the trajectory, he couldn't have overtaken me anymore. That's how it was, second place is good".
His teammate, David Coulthard, achieved a fifth place in the race and now far off in the standings, says that he is satisfied:
"Taking a few points at the end of a tough weekend is a decent result. Actually, the balance of my McLaren has never been perfect. I had fun, between overtakes and heavy traffic like on the highway. Fortunately, the strategy chosen by the team turned out to be positive. Now, I think about the future, the next Monaco Grand Prix. It's a circuit that I like, on which I've already won twice, last year included. It's a track where the driver still makes a lot of difference. We'll work thoroughly to be well prepared".
Norbert Haug, Mercedes boss, congratulates the team and both drivers. But the most heartfelt words are for Kimi Räikkönen:
"He fought like a lion, in difficult situations and under pressure. He was very great to achieve that result, although he couldn't ask everything from the engine of his car".
Ron Dennis, McLaren boss, instead, incenses himself:
"Once again, our race strategy turned out to be perfect and allowed us to score valuable points. Now, we'll also think about the new MP4/18 that will do its first kilometers this week".
They are all curious to see the single-seater announced as absolutely revolutionary. And it will also have a new Mercedes engine. The setback does not take away the good mood from Juan Pablo Montoya, who, in certain situations, acts as a professional and makes no excuses:
"The most positive fact concerns the car. It has improved a lot. Unfortunately, there was overheating of the water that did not appear on the display. I didn't notice anything until I had to retire. Given how things turned out, as I would have stopped at the pits after Michael Schumacher, I could have probably also won. It will be for another time".