On Tuesday 1 July 2003, the Formula 1 world was shaken by the news of the arrest of Hirotoshi Honda, the eldest son of the legendary founder of the Japanese car company and president of Mugen, a company that supplies engines for Formula 1. Hirotoshi was taken to prison with the charge of alleged tax evasion. According to the Japanese prosecutor, he hid 1.000.000.000 yen, about 8.000.000 euros, from the tax authorities. The news of the arrest has a great effect, above all because of the great respect that the Japanese have for their father, Soichiro, founder of one of the most important automotive companies on the planet. And there is no shortage of immediate repercussions on the stock market. In fact, the Honda Motor stock lost 11% in just a few minutes. On the sporting front, it is worth noting the announcement by Flavio Briatore who, in practice, reconfirms Jarno Trulli in Renault for next year:
"He will stay with us".
Says the Italian manager present in Venice during the presentation of the new Billionaire restaurant, managed by Arrigo Cipriani. In fact, it is his intention to exercise the option for the confirmation of the Italian driver.
"So at least it is until July, then we'll see".
On winning the 2003 World Championship, Briatore says he still sees Michael Schumacher and Ferrari as the favorites. What about tire problems?
"But which tyres. For just one negative race, I don't think we can talk about a tire problem".
If Michael Schumacher finishes last and is happy, it is obviously a game. The champion this time is Rubens Barrichello, who snatches pole position and dominates the race from start to finish. Behind him the test riders Felipe Massa and Luca Badoer, then, half a minute later, the German driver, who combines many things between mistakes and spins. And comments, amused:
"I had problems with the tyres".
There would be nothing to laugh about if it weren't, in fact, a video game. The four take the track on Wednesday 2 July 2003, at Fiorano. Not on the real asphalt track, but on the virtual one (of Monza) simulated by the EA Sports CD-ROM. The realism is excellent: in addition to the drivers, four authentic single seaters connected to a computer are installed, a reproduction of the pit wall where the technical director Ross Brawn takes his seat, who is provided with a banana to eat during the race (in the crucial moments of Formula 1, the Ferrari strategist usually has a snack). The president Luca Montezemolo explains:
"We wanted to reveal what happens behind the scenes of a Grand Prix, from the departure from Maranello to the conclusion of the race".
There are 500 spectators, representing over 300 Ferrari and Maserati supplier companies, invited to the annual Ferrari Podium ceremony (Lear, Skf and Rieter were awarded). Having just recovered from the half-defeat suffered in the European Grand Prix and on the eve of the weekend of the French Grand Prix, which will be held at Magny-Cours, the four drivers are in excellent spirits. And they are much more self-deprecating than when they comment on the feats that matter. Rubens Barrichello, for example, of his virtual pole says:
"For now I'm satisfied, but tomorrow is another day".
Phrase heard at least fifty times: he knows it and winks.
"I won because I train every day at the Playstation. Michael didn't scare me: I only feared Massa, who is more of a child than me. Of course it was tough, with all these riders who don't respect the rules".
His three rivals hit him and cut all the chicanes possible, but no penalties are given. Schumacher inflicts three penalties on himself in the pits, scolded by Brawn:
"No one had called you to the pits, you had to stay on track".
Before the race, the technical director talks about the organization of an away trip: in the European stages about 40 tons of material are loaded on trucks, in the non-European stages (with air transport) it is limited to 35 tons.
"During the meetings we mainly talk about strategies and tyres, analyzing the data we have collected. Before taking the car to the track for the first free practice sessions on Friday morning, we've already done so many simulations that we're at a good level of setup".
The most difficult moment is Saturday morning: after two test sessions, there is time from 11:00 a.m. at 2:00 p.m. to decide the race strategy, because the new rules prohibit working on the car at the end of qualifying. Barrichello and Schumacher say:
"Two hours before the start, we eat a plate of pasta and lie down for a moment".
On the starting grid the drivers are given the latest recommendations. Unveil Ross Brawn:
"I review the strategy with them and inform them of the weather forecast".
Stefano Domenicali continues:
"I, on the other hand, remind them of some points of the regulation, for example in the event that the start has to be repeated".
Luca Montezemolo concludes:
"We simulated the Monza Grand Prix, because it reminds me of two of the best moments of my career: Niki Lauda's success in 1975 which brought the title back to Maranello after fifteen years and Michael's in 2000, when there were four races left to go until the end of the season and we had to win them all to become champions. And so it was".
Luca Montezemolo does not speak about the European GP. To those who ask him if he would take a few points off Juan Pablo Montoya's license for overtaking Michael Schumacher at the limit, the Ferrari president replies with a joke:
"I leave it to Minister Lunardi to decide".
The next Grand Prix?
"I said at the beginning of the year that it would be a very difficult year. Someone said that McLaren was no longer there, but instead they did a great race last Sunday. Williams has made a lot of progress, and the tire suppliers of our rivals (Michelin, ed) have taken a big step forward. It's normal: the biggest car manufacturers in the world work behind our rivals".
It won't be easy, Jean Todt also recalled from the stage, called to present all the men of Gestione Sportiva.
"It has always been difficult to stay at the top and after a dominated 2002, our opponents reacted. The competition is tighter".
On Friday 4 July 2003 Formula 1 returns to the track at the Magny-Cours circuit for free practice and pre-qualification for the French Grand Prix. After testing some electronic innovations with Luca Badoer, all the Ferrari material is shipped. In the World Championship standings Michael Schumacher defends a 7-point lead over Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren-Mercedes), Ferrari is 13 points ahead of Williams-Bmw. Ferrari has won the last two editions with Michael Schumacher, while Rubens Barrichello took pole position in 1999 and was on the third step of the podium three times (1999, 2000 and 2001). Last year's race was particularly fortunate for Ferrari: until a few laps from the end it seemed that Michael Schumacher's World Championship victory party, which had been booked for some time, would have to be postponed by a couple of weeks. And instead the leader of the race, Kimi Raikkonen himself who is fighting for the title today, slipped on an oil stain and had to settle for second place. It was Michael Schumacher who took advantage of it, winning the race and the World Championship. It was only July, but the invincible 2002 Ferrari had already closed the fight with its rivals. Ferrari didn't go slower than usual in the last Grand Prix: it's the opponents who were faster. Much stronger than a year ago. A subtle yet important distinction, remarked Michael Schumacher, because it means that the Maranello team has no particular problems or did anything wrong in the design of the last single-seater, nor did it accidentally use the tires of a city car.
"The competition has grown. We expected it".
The German driver is calm and ready. On Wednesday evening he plays in Oprato alongside Zidane and other stars, hits the crossbar, and serves two decisive assists to Pauleta. Thursday, July 3rd, 2003 he gives himself to notebooks and microphones, avoiding falling into the trap of politics. Magny-Cours is another chapter. First of all, it's good luck: six victories for Michael Schumacher in his career, the last one decisive for the title. And then the balance changes quickly, precisely because there is no team that is superior to the others like Ferrari was in 2002. Indeed, the balance of power changes from day to day as small factors vary (five degrees of temperature, more or less dirty track, quantity of fuel). The Ferrari drivers remember, for example, the Monte-Carlo Thursday dominated by the cars from Maranello. Too bad that in qualifying Schumacher scored the fifth time and Rubens Barrichello the seventh time.
Someone underlines the importance of Michelin tires in the recovery of McLaren and Williams. Turning the subject around, one could speak of the role of Bridgestone in Ferrari's difficulties. But it would be ungrateful to the Japanese manufacturer which has contributed to the conquest of the World Championship in the last two years.
"There are areas in which we are ahead and others where we struggle. The fight is close, and the championship is difficult, but we can still win it".
This is what the bookmakers also claim in their odds (7 to 1): Would Michael Schumacher invite his fans to bet?
"No, because it's something that is not of my interest".
At the 90th French Grand Prix, tenth of the sixteen rounds of 2003, Michael Schumacher - as mentioned - is 7 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen: a score easily defensible from a reliable car like the F2003-GA, which got him a podium even on difficult days. And yet Schumacher prefers the boring Formula 1 of when he always wins:
"I wasn't bored. Staying ahead is not easy. You risk losing concentration, you have to be careful of the pursuers, you are afraid that something will break. And in any case, even last year there were difficult races and amusing duels. I avoid comparisons: Winning this year would be as good as a year ago, even if more difficult".
Speaking of duels: Montoya still talks about the overtake at the Nurburgring. There's always someone who asks him, but it's not like he backs down.
"They told me that Ross Brawn (technical director of Ferrari, ed) thinks that I’m not very sportsmanlike. Maybe he did it on the wave of emotion. If my maneuver were considered unfair, it would be the death of Formula 1. All overtakes has a degree of aggressiveness".
The Colombian does not disdain a little thought of the World Championship, even if - as long as he shares the points with his teammate Ralf Schumacher - it is difficult for him to recover. Unless Williams decides to focus on just one driver.
"Team orders don't exist here. Two years ago they told Ralf to let me pass because I was faster, and he didn't. So no one asks me to help him".
Kimi Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher, and Rubens Barrichello are pawing between the two litigants. The Brazilian is missing an exploit after so many placements:
"At the Nurburgring for the first time in four years we weren't competitive. But we learned a lot from that experience. The championship? I could be in the mix as well".
Curiosities from the French Grand Prix: it will be the 150th race in Formula 1 for David Coulthard (McLaren) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Sauber) and the 100th race for Jos Verstappen (Minardi). There are also legal troubles for Bar-Honda. The cars of the British team are seized by the French gendarmerie and locked up in a truck where the technicians cannot touch them. The story arises from the complaint of the Monegasque film production company called PPGI, which boasts a credit of 3.200.000 dollars for having obtained a sponsorship from the Canadian network Teleglobe. If the parties do not reach an agreement by Friday morning, Jenson Button and Jacques Villeneuve will have to give up on the French Grand Prix. In Monte-Carlo, at the end of May, the local court had ordered the preventive seizure of the single-seaters but authorized the team to compete. BAR has engaged attorneys to sue PPGI. One last piece of news arrives on Friday morning: the Bahrain Grand Prix will take place on Sunday 4 April 2004. The announcement was made by the kingdom's sports minister, Sheikh Fawaz ben Mohammad al-Khalifa. In order to host the Formula 1 Grand Prix, Bahrain has begun to build a racetrack capable of hosting 70.000 spectators and equipped with five different tracks, the most important of which - 5.4 km - intended for Formula 1. The facility will be ready on March 7, 2004 at a cost of approximately $150.000.000. A Ferrari-like day, who knows how many times Giancarlo Minardi dreamed of it: on Friday 4 July 2003 he read his name at the top of the standings and rubbed his eyes in disbelief. It is the name of the team he founded in 1985 in Faenza, which every year risks being swept away by lack of funds and instead survives after 296 Grands Prix and an unknown and growing number of last places. Thus ended the pre-qualifying of the French Grand Prix: best time by Jos Verstappen ahead of Justin Wilson (later relegated to last place due to a weight problem). The best of the top pilots? Rubens Barrichello, tenth and over 6 seconds behind. Michael Schumacher? Eleventh at 7 seconds. Even further away McLaren-Mercedes, Williams-Bmw and Renault. The sky takes care of good luck, which waters the Magny-Cours circuit as top riders pass and dries it up when it's the turn of the poor to pass on the asphalt. Giancarlo Minardi, 54, a life dedicated to engines, adds courage:
"Ten minutes before it was our turn, I insisted with our engineer that he choose dry tyres".
His best result dates back to March 1990, when Pierluigi Martini conquered the front row in the United States Grand Prix, which was then held in Phoenix (pole went to Berger in the McLaren at the last second). Dal Monte, known as Mattley, remembers:
"It was a historic feat. We didn't do much in the race".
Since then, more disappointment than glory, compounded by a lack of resources that the new owner, Australian Paul Stoddart, hasn't resolved. The Minardis are fitted with a Cosworth engine from a couple of years ago (one hundred horsepower less than the competition) and Bridgestone tires from last season (just on Friday they received a supply of 2003 tyres). Giancarlo Minardi claims:
"Formula 1 needs new sporting rules. This qualification system brings our sport to life. If we were in pole position, many more people would follow the race, and in the end, whoever has the money and technologies would still win".
Dry weather is expected on Saturday, so someone will have to wake up from the dream. But Jos Verstappen is keen to say that:
"Whatever it goes, this weekend is already a triumph".
And poor Justin Wilson is resigned:
"They demoted me to my usual position, but for a while I rejoiced".
In their heat, the technicians had made a mistake: they had mounted dry tires (a couple of kilos lighter) without compensating with fuel or ballast. The single seater thus weighed 602.5 kilos instead of 605 and the English driver's time was cancelled. In Saturday's qualifying he will lead the way. The Ferraris are doing well, despite their position in the standings. Michael Schumacher finds the track in the worst conditions, yet he slips a second off Juan Pablo Montoya and 1.2 seconds off Raikkonen. The French Friday of the Maranello team will be remembered rather for an accident: after a simulated pit stop, Schumacher receives the green light from the mechanics and enters the pit lane as Mark Webber's Jaguar arrives. The collision took place at low speed (60 km/h the limit), but Jaguar was forced to replace an expensive rear wing. Michael Schumacher says:
"It's so obvious we're wrong that I don't know what to say".
Ferrari pays a $10.000 fine. Good news for BAR-Honda, however, which has had its judicial seals removed: the Nevers judge declared himself incompetent and the Monegasque company, which was claiming a credit of 3,200,000 dollars, was ordered to pay the legal costs. As anticipated, it didn't rain on the circuit on Saturday, so the performance of the cars returned to normal. And it can be said that three pole positions in four races are more than an indication of competitiveness for Williams-Bmw. Everyone calls him Ralf, because the surname rightfully belongs to Michael who has won five World Championships. This year he is taking away a lot of satisfaction and is starting to think big: 15 points behind in the standings can be recovered if Williams-Bmw continues to be so competitive (some say that the credit also goes to Antonia Terzi, a former Ferrari aerodynamic engineer).
"On a single lap I'm faster than my brother, I hope to keep the advantage in the race".
It will be a tough race, he adds, as superstition dictates. In reality, after conquering the fourth pole position of his career, he dreams of a sixth success (the second of the season). Sportingly, he waited for Jos Verstappen's Minardi to complete the lap before exulting, then exchanged a few pats on the back with the technicians and mechanics. After winning the alleged subjection to his brother, he now has to watch out for his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya.
"Excellent qualifying for me too, the car has improved a lot compared to free practice. Last year I was on pole, a sign that this circuit suits our characteristics".
The only one to curb the enthusiasm is Frank Williams:
"We have to be careful about Ferrari. They went for a long stint in practice and in the end the tires were still in good condition".
But Ralf Schumacher is becoming a problem for Michael Schumacher and the championship is likely to become a matter between the two brothers. Prices for Williams-Bmw are up, those for Ferrari are down, McLaren-Mercedes are stable.
The 2003 Formula 1 has this beautiful thing: every lap reshuffles the values in the field. From Monte-Carlo to today, the favors have shifted towards Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya. In the first three Grands Prix Kimi Raikkonen had taken the lead, in the following three Michael Schumacher had recovered. Then the Williams-Bmw, precisely, at Magny-Cours. The World Champion sets the third fastest time, resulting 0.5 seconds slower than his brother, without making any mistakes. The French Grand Prix promises to be difficult for the team from Maranello, protagonist, with the eighth time of Rubens Barrichello, of one of the worst qualifying of the season. Only in Monte-Carlo was it worse: fifth and seventh. To find equally dull days, you have to browse through the album of memories, dated 1999.
"We announced it at the beginning of the season that it would be tough, why should we be surprised?"
That's the answer from the Ferrari men. No one blames the tires anymore. It is the whole, which last week at the Nürburgring and now at Magny-Cours, is proving to be inferior. It's not good news, but there are some glimmers of optimism. While keeping a low profile, Jean Todt and the Maranello team hope to overturn the prediction in the race. It is true that the Michelin tires seem extremely competitive, however in the race they could last less. Ferrari chose hard compounds in anticipation of a very hot day. Above all, the dark asphalt of Magny-Cours absorbs the heat: on Saturday the thermometer reads 23 °C, while the sensors on the circuit reach 35 °C (and on Sunday they could exceed 50 °C). Rumors of a Michelin offer to Ferrari are denied by the French tire specialists themselves:
"We’d prefer to be their opponents and beat them".
Is the gap compared to the Williams-Bmw a question of tyres?
"If I knew, I would be able to explain many things".
Michael Schumacher replies. In the first sector of the circuit he is the fastest, in the other two he loses a lot of ground against the Williams drivers.
"Maybe it depends on the strategy, or maybe on the fact that the opponents are faster. I expected more, I can't deny it. This is a good circuit for us, but in Formula 1 the development has become faster and faster. Every time a team introduces something new, the balance changes. Soon we will also bring new developments. It would be too easy to say that Ralf is in top form. He's always been a great driver and I've never underestimated him. The difference is that now he has a better car".
On the question of the heat and the performance of the Michelins, Michael Schumacher doesn't say much:
"The temperature remained within normal limits. I don't think the speed of the Williams is a matter of degrees. We'll see in the race".
Meanwhile, the good news is that Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren-Mercedes is behind: fourth place, same row as Michael Schumacher on the starting grid but on the dirty side of the track. In front of the German, on the other hand, is Juan Pablo Montoya: at the Nürburgring sparks struck on the track between the two. Overtaking the Colombian cost Ferrari #1 a spin. But Michael Schumacher says:
"No problem, dueling is part of this sport. And then we were close on many occasions".
It's true, but something happened every time: car collisions, rear-end collisions, off the track. It didn’t go well for Rubens Barrichello, who can't get in tune with the F2003-GA. Eighth place has few extenuating circumstances. Just scroll through the standings: almost all the riders will start alongside their teammate, he won't.
"I decided to sacrifice qualifying to favor performance in the race. The result is that I compromised everything. Unfortunately I had a very strong understeer, and the tires didn't hold up. However, we understood what didn't work in Germany and I'm sure it will be another matter in the race. If I find a hole at the start, I immediately recover a couple of positions".
McLaren-Mercedes doesn't seem competitive, but the Woking-based team has been struggling on a single flying lap since the beginning of the season. Kimi Raikkonen explains:
"We are in an excellent position to score valuable points".
Sunday 6 July 2003, at the start of the French Grand Prix, the two Williams-Bmw drivers, Ralf Schumacher, and Juan Pablo Montoya, maintain the lead of the race, while Kimi Räikkönen overtakes Michael Schumacher, moving into third position. David Coulthard, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso and Rubens Barrichello follow in order. The latter is the author of a spin at the end of the first lap, slipping to the back of the group. Ralf Schumacher quickly imposed his pace on the race, gaining a good margin over his teammate and the other pursuers, setting the fastest lap several times in the race. His brother, having difficulty with the tyres, lost ground against Kimi Räikkönen and suffered a comeback from David Coulthard, who began to follow him. The Scottish driver is the first of the leading group to refuel, on lap 15. During the following lap, Kimi Räikkönen and Jarno Trulli also return to the pits to refuel, while Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Schumacher, and Fernando Alonso pit two laps later. Ralf Schumacher made his first stop on lap 18, returning to the track in front of Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Räikkönen, David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher, overtaken by the Scottish driver in the pit stop. The situation remained similar to that of the first laps, with Ralf Schumacher maintaining an unsustainable pace for all the others and Michael Schumacher struggling to keep up with the two McLaren-Mercedes drivers. The second round of pit stops, opened by Kimi Räikkönen on lap 31, brought no changes to the race standings, with the exception of Fernando Alonso's overtake on Jarno Trulli. Michael Schumacher approaches David Coulthard thanks to a slightly postponed stop but fails to concretely undermine the Scottish driver. On lap 44, Fernando Alonso retired with an engine problem, followed two laps later by his team-mate, Jarno Trulli. Mark Webber thus advances to sixth position, followed by Rubens Barrichello and Antonio Pizzonia. Once again it was Kimi Räikkönen who opened the third and final sequence of pit stops, during lap 47, followed by David Coulthard, but during his stop there were problems with the fuel filler cap, which did not enter the tank correctly. The mechanics then use the reserve equipment, but the Scottish driver restarts when refueling has not yet been completed, losing even more time. In the meantime, the two Williams-Bmw drivers maintain the race lead without difficulty, while Michael Schumacher pushes hard to try to pass Kimi Räikkönen: the German returns to the pits on lap 52, returning to the track right in front of the slowed-down Finn dubbed by some. In the final laps Ralf Schumacher managed his advantage over his pursuers and won the French Grand Prix, ahead of his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, his brother, Michael Schumacher, then Kimi Räikkönen, David Coulthard, Mark Webber, Rubens Barrichello, and Olivier Panis. We will call it Formula Schumacher.
Ralf dominated from the first to the last lap like his brother Michael did a year ago. He started in the lead, imposed a frantic pace, and forced his teammate to surrender, the same Juan Pablo Montoya who risks so much only when he sees Ferrari red. Michael Schumacher once again avoided defeat for Ferrari. When he fails to win by force, the German plays with cunning, aided in this by the master strategists of the Maranello team. There was only one way to overtake the two McLaren-Mercedes on the Magny-Cours circuit: to try to overtake by calculating how much fuel to put in and guessing how much the opponents had. The rider would have taken care of the rest, not for nothing he won the World Championship five times, and they pay him a salary of 50.000.000 dollars a year. And so it was: Ross Brawn understood that the rivals of McLaren-Mercedes, the only ones reachable, had less fuel on board. So they would have stopped earlier. So they should have filled the tank. So they would have been heavier and slower in the last part of the French Grand Prix. So they waited for them to stop for the third time, they radioed Michael Schumacher and shouted at him: push hard for five laps, then you too stop to refuel. Said and done: when Schumacher rejoined the track after his pit stop, he was ahead of the Silver Arrows, who no longer seem able to match the performances they had at the start of the season. To assess whether a controversial race went well or not for Ferrari, one must first read Michael Schumacher's expression as he takes off his helmet and follows his post-Grand Prix rituals. The man doesn't know how to pretend: a contracted face and tense chin mean that he's breathing bad air, while an open smile, on the other hand, indicates that the worst is over. Michael Schumacher is happy: partly because his brother has won, partly because he increases his lead in the standings.
"That overtake allowed me to score two more points that could be decisive".
In fact, Kimi Raikkonen is now 8 points away, Ralf Schumacher is close but is still 11 points away. Ferrari resists and takes it to 103 points, but the Williams-Bmw follow by 100 points. In short, what can be saved is safe and the calendar is advancing. In the end there are six appointments left. However, the excessive power of the Williams-Bmw and the reached maturity of Ralf Schumacher are frightening. His victory has never been in question. Only his teammate managed to approach him, but it was a matter of flags: the yellow one (danger on the track, no overtaking) prevented a lapping in a stretch of track, slowing down the race leader. After the inconvenience, there was no more history. Raised by the beautiful Monegasque sun (or more prosaically by a new front tire with a larger section), Ralf Schumacher has racked up an impressive series of results, finally worthy of the surname he bears. In France he obtained the sixth victory of his career, the second consecutive of the year. On Saturday he took pole position, as well as in the Monaco and Canadian Grands Prix. Before the appointment in the Principality, he had never been competitive. But beware: he is the only driver to have finished every race within the top eight positions. And now he has 53 points, against Kimi Raikkonen's 56, Michael Schumacher's 64 and Juan Pablo Montoya's 47, his badly tolerated teammate. Ralf Schumacher says:
Then he breathes and the film of his race is gone in one breath:
"At first I went away easily, after the second pit stop the tires weren't performing as before, maybe it was a pressure problem that we'll have to check and Juan Pablo got closer. I had trouble lapping and lost time with Trulli who had slowed down in an area where the yellow flags were waving, so I couldn't overtake him. After the third pit stop, everything worked perfectly again. Our superiority? If we keep working well, it will last. We have a lot of new things to try this week that could make us go even faster. Of course, in Formula 1 you quickly lose the advantage".
If he enjoyed it, overall it was a static race. The top five on the starting grid went to the first five places, in identical order. On the sides of the best there were no duels or overtaking, apart from the one during the stops of Michael Schumacher at the expense of the two McLarens. But the championship is enriched with new volumes: the challenge between brothers, the three-way fight for the World Championship. Or maybe four, if we include Juan Pablo Montoya, who contributed to his team's second consecutive one-two finish (the number 33 in history, against Ferrari's 61) again with the place of honor. The Colombian gets excited when he has the other Schumacher in his sights. At Magny-Cours he was never seen attacking. Indeed, in the finale he lifted his foot from the accelerator to save the car. A sign of intelligence, rather than surrender, because it would have been a mistake to risk a result that still keeps him in the running. Satisfied with second place?”
"Well yes, at the beginning I didn't feel very comfortable with the car. I called the garage, asked what I could do. Later, things got better. I did the fastest lap and the record in the three sectors of the circuit. Unfortunately I found traffic, it's not easy to overtake here, however I'm happy for the team".
If both drivers catch up on Michael Schumacher again, it will be fun to see how the team handles the results, despite team orders being banned by boss Frank Williams. And Chief Engineer Sam Michael confirms:
"The boys are free to manage the race as they wish, but they are not stupid. Ralf has worked better, he's always been faster, he's in top form and in his career".
From technical director Patrick Head comes a huge thank you to Michelin:
"We owe the victory to the tyres. I thank Michelin for the coverage they provided us with. Luckily, we have them and not Ferrari".
In fact, the secret of the Anglo-German single-seater seems to be the wider Michelin front tyres, which McLaren (another team with French tyres) prefer not to use. The novelty was introduced in Monte-Carlo: from that moment on, Ferrari was forced to chase. The two cars from Maranello achieved the highest top speeds: 322.4 km/h for both drivers, against 319.6 km/h for Ralf Schumacher, 318.4 km/h for Juan Pablo Montoya and 315.8 km/h for Kimi Raikkonen. A sign that they had a more relaxed set-up to attempt overtaking at the end of the long pit straight. Another strong point should have been the duration of the Bridgestone tyres, which had proved to be inferior in the single lap, while Rubens Barrichello's task, who started with more fuel than his teammate, was to stay on track longer than his rivals and slow them down on their return after pit stops.
"Without that spin at the start, I could have finished fourth, or fifth".
There is a bit of bitterness in Barrichello, however compensated by the run-up that led him to take two points:
"It was a very difficult race. After a duel with Webber, I changed my line and ended up on the curb. This machine is a bit tiring to control. However, it is clear that it was my fault that I spun. After that we decided on the two-stop strategy".
Did you expect Williams to be this far ahead at this point in the season?
"Objectively not. They've done a great job. From Monte-Carlo onwards they've improved a lot, both the car and the tyres".
The race betrayed several expectations, starting with the Brazilian's spin at the start (seventh at the finish line after a tenacious comeback), who took responsibility for the mistake. What's wrong? The package, the men of the Maranello team respond in chorus: chassis, engine, electronics, tyres. A week of forced labor begins on Tuesday on three tracks: Barcelona (Luca Badoer and Rubens Barrichello), Mugello (Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher), Fiorano (only on Friday and Saturday with Michael Schumacher). New components will be tested to recover. After the British Grand Prix, testing will be banned until September. Jean Todt says:
"We are still in the lead, and we will work hard to stay there".
The commitment concerns everything. If the F2003-GA and Bridgestone tires don't work well together, the reason is comprehensive and complex. The Japanese company has sent its staff to Europe, which will follow the tests scheduled during the week. All the customers will be on track in Barcelona: in addition to Ferrari, Jordan, Sauber, and BAR will be present, so as to collect as much data as possible. Perhaps what Michael Schumacher claims is true:
"Our car is excellent, but so is the Williams".
The balance of power between McLaren and Ferrari has shifted slightly since the start of the season. The novelty is that, at the table of the top teams, a third wheel has reappeared. And how inconvenient. Admits the German pilot:
"This time we could not do better".
Is Williams-Bmw stronger at the moment?
"It seems so".
And is Ralf among the drivers who could compete for the victory of the World Championship?
"There's no reason to exclude him from the group, especially after his performance and that of the car".
Who is the best Schumacher today?
"In my eyes Ralf has always been the fastest. Now he finally has a means to prove his worth and fight for the title. I fear him as much as Raikkonen, even if he is three points behind. And then I expect McLaren to improve. The fight is between three teams".
How do you explain such a quick change in performance?
"It happened in the past too. In 2000 everyone said I would win after three initial successes. Instead, after the Hungarian and Belgian Grands Prix Mika Hakkinen took the lead. I had to finish first in the last four races to make it. The mistake is thinking of 2001 and 2002: after two exceptional seasons it's a normal championship again".
Maybe he's starting to be pessimistic?
"In Formula 1, it takes very little to improve the situation. I am convinced that we will find what we are missing".
What is Ferrari's main weakness today?
"It's wrong to reduce everything to just one point. We need to work on the chassis-engine-tyres package. We will do it and I'm sure we will improve".
Despite the difficulties, the standings have improved: aren't you angry about this?
"True, I'm not. Third place depends on an excellent strategy. The whole team worked well, we were calm and didn't panic. So I was able to build up enough lead on the McLarens before the final pit stop. Third place is the best I could get".
What did you lack to win?
"I wasn't fast enough".
Is it frustrating having to drive knowing you can't do more?
"No, you are still forced to concentrate and set a goal: to score important points. Overtaking Raikkonen and Coulthard is worth two more which perhaps at the end of the season will prove to be decisive. And then you have to be ready to take advantage of every opportunity. Experience teaches me that something can always happen".
After the triumph in Canada, would you have expected such a difficult championship?
"I've repeated it several times, just re-read my interviews from the beginning of the year. It's tough and we knew it well".
What about Ralf's lapping on Barrichello?
"Rubens spun on the second lap and dropped to last place. Then it was slowed down by traffic. That's all".
And how do you explain Raikkonen's overtaking at the start?
"He got off to a better start. We need to see if it was down to my reaction time or something on the car. Coulthard almost managed to pass me as well. We were side by side for a couple of corners: it was exciting".
At the start of the championship, Michael Schumacher claimed to have a fantastic car. Do you still think so?
"My car is excellent. And Williams is too".
After the British Grand Prix, private testing will be suspended until September. Is that a problem for Ferrari?
"It's like that for everyone".
Yes, but the opponents are ahead at the moment.
"At the moment. We have often witnessed, especially between 1997 and 1999, moments in which we were inferior and then, with small changes, we returned to winning".
And if Ralf became World Champion, would you be happy anyway?
"Of course, I rejoice in each of his successes. He has been in Formula I for a long time and deserves to win. Above all, a Schumacher would be champion again".
"Whoever deserves it will win".
In difficult moments, serenity in the pits lacks: it is an unwritten law of Formula 1. It happened to McLaren, during David Coulthard's third pit stop. The petrol filler refuses to enter the tank and the refueling operator takes the reserve one. But the second filler also gives some problems, the mechanic struggles to extract it. In the confusion, the lollipop man - responsible for giving the green light to the pilot - raises the paddle a fraction of a second early. The McLaren restarts and hits a mechanic, Steve Morrow. Moments of panic: Coulthard stops, but Morrow himself, on the ground in pain, signals him to leave. Fifteen seconds flew by. Nothing will change for the standings, given that Michael Schumacher has already gone away, Kimi Raikkonen is ahead, and Olivier Panis is late. David Coulthard will have to settle for the fifth place he had in qualifying. Good news instead from the box: Morrow is fine. The one complained by McLaren is not a rare inconvenience: occasionally the fuel pumps supplied to all the teams by a French company, Intertechnique, do not deliver petrol or get stuck in the filler neck of the tank. It also happened to Jenson Button at Magny-Cours, but he didn't want to wait: he restarted without refueling, with the intention of stopping on the following lap. Result: he ran out of fuel two kilometers later. But the problem in the McLaren pits is also a sign of a certain tension. The pit stop is a crucial moment, often the only opportunity a driver has to overtake. The responsibility for a race weighs on the 15-16 mechanics, because an error can cost positions on the track that will never be recovered.
Everyone must carry out their task in less than ten seconds: unscrew the nut, remove the used wheel, insert the new one, screw it back in, insert the filler, remove it, clean the pilot's mask, adjust the inclination of the front wing to vary the aerodynamics. Training and synchronicity are fundamental, but without serenity everything becomes more difficult.
McLaren (and in particular Mercedes which supplies its engines) is suffering from the superiority of Williams-Bmw, the gap from Michael Schumacher, the farce of a new car that risks being forgotten without ever making its debut. And mistakes beget mistakes. Staying on the subject of errors, there is a new installment of the judicial gate between the Monegasque film production company against the British BAR-Honda team. For the third time (the second at Magny-Cours) the PPGI of Monte-Carlo sends a bailiff into the paddock, claiming the right to impound the team's cars as bail for an alleged credit of 3.200.000 dollars. The team let it be known that it considers PPGI's request totally unfounded and says that it will regularly load its cars on trucks to return to England. Finally, the meeting of the managers of the Formula 1 teams, held in the morning at Magny-Cours in the offices of the race management, decided to update any assessment on the request of the owner of Minardi, Paul Stoddart, who threatens to go to Silverstone without electronic aids. This is in case the other teams decide not to apply the Heathrow pact, launched on 15 January 2003, which provided for the abolition, starting from the British race, of all electronic support for the drivers. The situation had changed in Barcelona, when Max Mosley had postponed any decision in this regard, considering the elimination of aids too dangerous at this stage of the season. Storddart argues that, in the absence of a precise date in which aids will be abolished, there is a violation of the agreement reached in England at the beginning of the year. According to the Australian tycoon this would be a situation that would favor the richest and most technologically advanced teams. Stoddart, who wants to return to more humane competition, says he will wait until the Thursday before the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He will then race without electronics and appeal against the teams that use them, accusing them of being irregular. In the meantime, Ferrari will look for a cure. At Magny-Cours he suffered again: the two Williams-Bmw were too fast. Monday morning in Maranello is painful. Luca Montezemolo intervenes in the traditional briefing that follows the Grands Prix. The technicians must answer a series of questions from the president, who wants to understand the situation and evaluate the next steps. In the end, no panic because the Maranello team is still leading the World Championship after ten races, but woe to underestimate the situation. Tires under attack?
"So why isn't McLaren going as fast as Williams, given that both are on Michelin tyres?"
They object to Ferrari. The therapy concerns the car as a whole. The Maranello workshops are preparing novelties - obviously secret - which concern every area of the single-seater to make up for lost ground. Mechanical, aerodynamic and electronic parts will be tested from Tuesday July 8th, 2003, to Saturday July 12th, 2003 by the four riders, engaged in Barcelona, Mugello and Fiorano. Bridgestone's top technicians will line up on the Catalan circuit to tackle the rubber problem afflicting the cars from Maranello, even though they are aware that it's not just a matter of tyres. Assures the technical director of Scuderia Ferrari, Ross Brawn:
"The car as a whole needs to be improved. We need a complete job, we know which areas to intervene on. We weren't fast enough at Magny-Cours".
When they talk about speed, engineers mean average speed. On the straight it was Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello who scored the best performances at over 322 km/h, against the 319 km/h of Ralf Schumacher (very acclaimed in Germany after two consecutive successes) and the 318 km/h of his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya.
This too is a sign that the car has lost the balance it had shown in the three consecutive races it won at Imola, Barcelona and Zeltweg. In addition to Luca Badoer and Rubens Barrichello, as mentioned, three other teams with Bridgestone tires will be busy on the Catalan circuit until Friday, namely Sauber, Jordan, and BAR (only Minardi is missing). The Japanese technicians want to collect as much information as possible. Hisao Suganuma, Technical Manager of Bridgestone Motorsport explains:
"We will try some new specs. We will win again; we are sure of it".
Bridgestone denies that the change of test driver at Ferrari (the Brazilian new signing is now primarily responsible for tire testing) has influenced the results. Rather, the least amount of data available weighs: the rival Michelin interacts with three teams of the strength of McLaren, Williams, and Renault, as well as Jaguar and Toyota. Will these five days be enough to revive the F2003-GA? Next week, testing will be limited to 50 km, as always on the eve of a Grand Prix, and will then be banned until September.
"After Silverstone, or rather after Monza, I'll be able to answer. We will have done three races and we will have understood if the blocking of the tests has benefited or damaged us. And to see if we've managed to make the necessary improvements to get the strongest package back".
Jean Todt remains cautious, in good times as in bad. The French race brought unexpected points.
"There was a moment, a long moment, when Michael Schumacher's third place didn't seem achievable. And instead that podium finish, those six points are very important. Like the two from Barrichello, despite the spin at the beginning".
According to the head of Ferrari sports management:
"Those who didn't find past championships fought enough will be happy. For us it will be an even more exciting challenge that we will try to win. If we manage to catch up on our opponents and reverse the cycle, the points taken on Sunday in France will be decisive".
Does it really take very little, as Michael Schumacher says, to win again?
"Just do the right things".