On Sunday, May 11, 2003, the police had photographed Juan Pablo Montoya while speeding with a Bmw X5 at 204 km/h on the highway. On Tuesday, June 24, 2003, the Draguignan court sentenced him to four months of suspension of his licence on French territory and to a 1200 Euro ﬁne. The Colombian pilot is not present in the courtroom but gives his lawyer a letter, addressed to the French State, in which he apologizes for the excessive speed held on the highway. Meanwhile in Kerpen, birthplace of Michael Schumacher, preparations are underway for the mega party that the World Champion organizes in honor of Ferrari. Like every Wednesday before the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Michael Schumacher prepares a very special Ferrari Day: great event on track with karts made available by his father, owner of a very successful kart track where all the men of the Maranello team will participate:
"It’s nice to see engineers, mechanics, assistants and cooks doing something different and having fun at the same time".
And after the rehearsals all at the table, for a huge buffet with Italian specialties prepared for 150 people. Rubens Barrichello will not be present at the event. And this is not the ﬁrst time:
"I am very sorry not to be there, but I have already made a series of commitments that I can not give up. I’ll see if I’m free for next year".
The Brazilian driver remembers last season’s victory:
"The ﬁrst lap was decisive, at the end of which I was already ﬁrst. Qualifying wasn’t particularly good but the ﬁrst lap was really phenomenal. Getting back on that track makes me very happy. I have always done well in Germany and this is another reason to be optimistic".
As for the new Ferrari, Barrichello has no doubts:
"The F2003-GA is still new to us and there is still a lot of potential to emerge. This is another element that will make the second part of the season particularly interesting".
If Formula 1 had a director, Michael Schumacher’s thousandth point would be shot at the Nurburgring. About sixty kilometers from the circuit that Sunday, June 29, 2003 will host the ninth race of the season is Kerpen, the town where the World Champion (with his brother Ralf Schumacher ) grew up and learned to drive, where there is a museum named after him, where Daddy Rolf lives. Michael Schumacher has 999 points, and it is already a good record, because in second place, among the drivers in business, there is David Coulthard at 425 that will never be able to ﬁll the gap (and not even Rubens Barrichello, who has 303 points). One point is missing, that is an eighth place, to inaugurate the club of a thousand and remain the only member until old age. But it is bad to talk about it, and Michael Schumacher does not. He prefers to deal with family matters: Ralf is a younger brother in every sense? Someone once again asks the question after the Canadian Grand Prix. In Germany, Michael is unusually aggressive about this:
"People who say those things are idiots".
Yet, between the two did not ignite the duel on track in Montreal, although the Williams-Bmw had appeared at least as fast as Ferrari.
"The matter is very simple. There are too many people who discuss topics they do not know, so that one day you happen to be criticized when no one should allow you to open your mouth".
It was expected (someone expected) that Ralf would try to pass Michael in the ﬁnal laps.
"But it did not happen for the simple reason that it was not possible. If you have followed the race, you will have noticed that there were not only me and him, but also Montoya and Alonso, and no one has overtaken anyone else. At the start of the race I found myself behind my brother’s back and I couldn’t attack him either. Okay?"
Better to deal with technical topics. The Nurburgring, modiﬁed this year by a chicane in the straight opposite to that of the pits that promises to facilitate overtaking (curiosity: shopping will be covered thanks to an exhibition by Michael Schumacher scheduled Sunday, September 7, 2003), could enhance the characteristics of McLaren-Mercedes (which in the days before the European Grand Prix sees the rejection of the crash-test the new MP4/18 by the FIA: the debut of the new car, already postponed to mid-July, could thus delay further) and Renault more than Williams-Bmw. Toma questioned the primacy in the standings, now to the advantage of Ferrari and the German driver.
"I have long said that this season would be more difficult for us, why should I be surprised now?"
Michael Schumacher, who won here four times (two with Benetton), explains. Last year the success went to Rubens Barrichello, who urgently needs to do something good to deserve the renewal of the contract, like the rest of the dream team:
"I want to do well, but I prefer to avoid predictions: when I said I was tired of ﬁnishing third, I ﬁnished eighth and ﬁfth. In Brazil I could have won, if luck hadn’t stopped me (ran out of gas). Michael and Ralf? I don’t know if I could duel with a brother. Of course, I am Brazilian, I have a different sensibility, even if since I am at Ferrari I have become colder".
Friday, June 27, 2003, Nurburgring circuit, 12:00 a.m., free practice of the European Grand Prix: Ferrari trudges and Jean Todt, head of sports management, called Luca Montezemolo. The president interrupts a press conference at the Bologna Fair (he is also the head of that), listens worried, inquires about the temperature and performance of opponents, asks for technical information on the tyres. And to the reporters who listened in silence the conversation reports:
"It goes like this".
Two hours later the results improved: in pre-qualifying Michael Schumacher scored the second time (in the morning he was tenth), Rubens Barrichello the ﬁfth (he was twelfth). From Germany the update arrives in Montezemolo on time, but far from prying ears. Even the president is concerned about tyres. It’s the season’s catchphrase. A year ago everything was ﬁne, now - among the teams that assemble the Bridgestone - Ferrari suffers too. In free practice there were nine cars with the Michelin in the ﬁrst ten places.
"Thank God it wasn’t ten out of ten".
Michael Schumacher, prodigal of optimism, jokes:
"We don’t know how much gasoline these times have been obtained, however the quality of a tire depends on the durability. I am convinced that in the race the balance will change".
Usually the difference is made by the German driver, who gives 0.5 seconds to his teammate:
"This is the best benchmark of my performance".
Could the tyres make him lose the championship?
"In the race we can be very competitive".
But the fastest in pre-qualifying is Kimi Raikkonen, who will face the pole position lap last on Saturday. An advantage, in general, unless it starts to rain in the middle of the session (ask Cristiano Da Matta and Jacques Villeneuve, which got on track under a downpour and with dry tyres, because the race director had not yet authorized the use of rain tyres). Rubens Barrichello explains:
"The new rules should favour the weaker teams. This time they had the opposite effect of Robin Hood: they helped the strong".
The weather conditions are unknown in Germany and the forecast turns to bad weather. Meanwhile Kimi Raikkonen starts to score the territory: the Finn is in the land of the Schumachers to recover the three points that separate him from the World Champion, and return to the top of the standings.
"I did a good lap, I enjoyed myself".
The two Williams-Bmw cars are third and fourth, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher in the order. David Coulthard’s McLaren-Mercedes is sixth behind Rubens Barrichello, 0.9 seconds behind. Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso followed with the Renault, more than a second from the ﬁrst. The others are far away, and not only because of the rain. One topic of discussion concerns the new chicane before the pit straight. Two ﬂexible pins have been mounted on the curbs that surround it. They are made of soft and elastic material, but at 200 km/h they can detach the front wing of a single-seater (it happened to Jenson Button). Jean Todt recommends attention to his, while Michael Schumacher laughs:
"The important thing is not to pass over them, then they could also build them in concrete. Joking aside, the changes have made the layout of the Nurburgring more technical, even if no mechanical part is stressed more than the others".
Kimi Raikkonen against Michael Schumacher, the young rampant against the champion, McLaren against Ferrari. On Saturday 28 June 2003 the Finn took the ﬁrst pole position of his career, followed by the German at 0.032 seconds. In the standings of the World Championship the positions are reversed: Michael Schumacher has recovered in Canada the ﬁrst place with three points ahead.
Eight races to go, including the European Grand Prix. The two will be in battle, but they respect each other. The elder applauds:
"Well done, you’ve earned it".
The other rejoices in the Finnish:
A draft of a smile follows. It is the school of Mika Hakkinen, his compatriot, the last protagonist of a true dualism in Formula 1. Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen have dueled for years, always and only on track to the sound of overtaking and disconnecting, without ever a word too much. There is also a story that repeats itself: Hakkinen took the ﬁrst pole position of his career at the Nurburgring, in the Grand Prix that was then awarded to Luxembourg, on 27 September 1997.The next day, the Schumacher brothers played against Jacques Villeneuve, who would become the World Champion a month later. With time Hakkinen became more talkative and friendly, so hopefully Kimi Raikkonen can do as well. A World Championship with two protagonists improves the show. So much is cold Kimi Raikkonen, so much is blood Norbert Haug. As soon as the monitor with the official timekeeping signals the pole position of the Finn, the Teutonic in charge of Mercedes Motorsport shakes his ﬁsts for about ten seconds. For him the European Grand Prix has a particular value because it is held in Germany, the land of Mercedes and Bmw, engine suppliers to McLaren and Williams. A challenge in the challenge, which is renewed every day in the competition on series cars.
"Great Kimi, a perfect ride".
At the same time, Ron Dennis draws a sigh of relief thinking about the youth problems of the MP4/18, the new single-seater on which debut has been repeatedly postponed, waiting to make it reliable.
"Having a competitive car and ﬁghting for the World Championship allows us to carefully decide the date of the debut. The next tests will be decisive".
It is more difficult to explain the gap of 1.2 seconds between their drivers. Dennis calls David Coulthard’s qualifying disappointing, while Kimi Raikkonen enjoys his ﬁrst pole ﬁnish:
"We knew that if we did everything right we would be in front".
Despite soporiﬁc rules, in qualifying the emotions of the last few minutes chase each other as in the good times, when the best drivers on the track competed to score at the last second the best performance. First Rubens Barrichello, then Ralf Schumacher, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen set the pole time, while Juan Pablo Montoya came in fourth. On the virtual podium on Saturday three different teams (McLaren-Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams-Bmw) climb, enclosed in less than 0.1 seconds. Juan Pablo Montoya and Rubens Barrichello follow at 0.25 seconds. Jarno Trulli at 0.45 seconds, while David Coulthard once again disappoints expectations: ninth place, 1.2 seconds behind his teammate (yet the renewal of his contract is close).
Beware of Olivier Panis: if Toyota did not play with the quantities of gasoline, it could be the surprise of the day. The French driver was very fast in free practice in the morning and scored the seventh time in the afternoon, positioning himself in front of Fernando Alonso’s Renault. Much has been said about tyres. One thing is signiﬁcant: Ferrari apart, the fastest with the Bridgestone is Jenson Button, twelfth with the BAR-Honda. Yet the men of the Maranello team are calm. Above all Jean Todt and Ross Brawn:
"Bridgestone has done a great job on tyres, which makes us conﬁdent". And Michael Schumacher conﬁrms:
"In the distance I think our tyres are better. Ralf claims the opposite? Well, I’ll try to disprove it. I think our strategy will turn out to be right".
And Barrichello remembers:
"Also last year we started in third and fourth position, then I won and we made a double".
On a certainty there is unanimity: it will be a tough and difficult race, given the minimum gaps between the ﬁrst. No mechanical part is particularly stressed by this circuit, but there is the pitfallof the new chicane, bordered by two pins ﬁxed to the curbs that cut the front wings of Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button on Friday. Michael Schumacher goes on to say:
"I will start from the dirty side of the track. Almost the third place would have been better".
His lap was slightly conditioned by braking with the front wheel locked.
"Yes, without that mistake I would have got the best time, but all the drivers could complain about their own lap. I’m so happy. Kimi did a great lap, and he should be in the front. I do not envy him, but respect, Given the ranking, is the opponent I fear the most".
Without losing the attention paid to his brother, fourth in the ranking of the World Championship and decided to prove that he is able to surpass the ﬁrstborn at least once in his life. Maybe today at the home rink. What if Rubens Barrichello was one of the three contenders?
"Anything is possible, I’m counting. Our car has improved a lot compared to Friday. The only disappointment is that we are ﬁve very close and I am ﬁfth. Raikkonen does not surprise me. In practice he is like this: either he goes very strong or makes a mistake and ends up out".
The Brazilian driver doesn’t like 2003 qualifying’s version:
"I would prefer a fast lap like Friday with little fuel, to see who is really the fastest in ideal conditions. However, these are the rules for everyone and must be accepted. Everyone must ﬁnd the right motivation within themselves. And I am motivated".
Sunday, June 29, 2003, at the start of the European Grand Prix Kimi Räikkönen easily kept the lead of the race, while behind him Ralf Schumacher passed his brother, Michael Schumacher, and took second place. Behind them is Rubens Barrichello, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Kimi Räikkönen immediately broke away from his rivals, while Ralf Schumacher resisted his brother’s pressure, and subsequently managed to gain a fair margin over his rival. Rubens Barrichello loses ground to his team-mate, but has no difficulty in containing Juan Pablo Montoya. The situation remained stable until the ﬁrst series of pit stops, inaugurated by Ralph Firman on lap 10. Kimi Räikkönen refueled on lap 16, keeping the lead of the race ahead of Ralf Schumacher. Behind them the positions remain unchanged, except for the overtaking of Fernando Alonso on the team-mate. During lap 26, however, the McLaren-Mercedes of Kimi Räikkönen broke the engine and the Finnish driver was forced to retire, giving up the lead of the race to Ralf Schumacher. There will be no more important events until the second series of pit stops, opened among the leading drivers by Michael Schumacher during lap 37. Taking advantage of pit stops, Juan Pablo Montoya overtook Rubens Barrichello, then quickly came back on Michael Schumacher. On lap 42 the Colombian driver scored a time of almost two seconds faster than that of his rival, leading his attack during the next step. Montoya joins the rival outside the hairpin bend Dunlop: Schumacher tries to resist inside but ends up in contact with the car of the Colombian, spinning and stopping at the curb. The German driver, however, keeps the engine of the car running and the stewards, given the dangerous position in which his car was, help him to start again by pushing his car. The German driver is back on track in sixth place, behind Fernando Alonso and David Coulthard. The latter, rose to ﬁfth place also thanks to the withdrawal of Jarno Trulli for mechanical problems, in the last rounds he tried several times to overtake the young Spanish driver of Renault, in crisis due to high tyre wear. With four laps to go, the Scottish driver is forced to abruptly widen the trajectory of the chicane to avoid crashing the rival, losing control of the car and ending his race in the escape route.
At the end of the race David Coulthard will express his disappointment towards Fernando Alonso, accusing him of braking ten meters earlier than he had done in the previous round. Ralf Schumacher maintained the ﬁrst position until the ﬁnish line, and won the European Grand Prix. The German Williams-Bmw driver leads his team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya and Rubens Barrichello to the ﬁnish line. Fernando Alonso defends the fourth place from the comeback Michael Schumacher, while Mark Webber closes in sixth place, obtaining the best result of the season for himself and Jaguar. Jenson Button and Nick Heidfeld, the latter who made a good comeback after starting from the pit lane, took seventh and eighth place. Germany celebrates the super Williams with Bmw engines, the city of Kerpen celebrates the triumph of Ralf Schumacher, while Michael Schumacher celebrates the escaped danger and the historic quota of a thousand points. And McLaren-Mercedes might throw a party. The defeat against the Bavarian engine rivals always burns, but if this occurs on a German track, in front of the great boss Jurgen Hubbert and is accompanied by overtaking in the standings of the Constructors World Championship, then some position falters. The European Grand Prix, held on the Nurburgring circuit, was the home race for too many people to ﬁt everyone. Ferrari returns to Maranello stronger in the standings, but weaker on the track. Disappeared Kimi Raikkonen with the engine broken after a lonely ride lasted 26 laps, the dominance of Williams-Bmw was clear. Two of the most important episodes. First, Ralf Schumacher overtook his brother, who also tried to cut him off. He’s been dreaming about it for years. Until Friday, he was accused of alleged subjugation (and Michael even intervened in his defense, calling the critics out). Heartened by his older brother, Ralf Schumacher was perfect. Decided from start to ﬁnish, good to never miss and lucky, the skills that serve in Formula 1. Second episode: the overtaking of Juan Pablo Montoya on Michael Schumacher, another chapter to add to the personal story of the two drivers. The Colombian passes outside the Dunlop hairpin bend, leaving the opponent minimal (but sufficient) space to face the curve, but Ferrari drifts slightly to the left and a contact occurs. The car of Maranello ends in spin and starts again pushed by the stewards and the driver of the tow truck.
Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher began their challenge in 2001, in Brazil. For the Colombian it was the third race in Formula 1, framed by an irreverent overtaking with contact with the rival’s car. The duel was repeated a month later in Austria and last year again in Brazil (collision in which Williams-Bmw lost the front wing). In the race, on the Nurburgring circuit, the maneuver was hard, but both protagonists deﬁne it lawful, waiting for the next opportunity. We probably won’t have to wait long. After a troubled start to the season, the Williams-Bmw are in great shape: the German double, the ﬁrst of the season, opens the way for the title to a suitor who, in June, won two pole positions, two victories and three other podiums. Ferrari has played in defense: in difficulty with the tyres, less brilliant than usual as aerodynamics and engine, the cars of Maranello have responded with the proverbial robustness. Wise is Ross Brawn, the strategist, when he says:
"Reliability has allowed us to bring two cars to the points and increase our advantage in both championships".
In the Drivers' World Championship standings, Michael Schumacher earns 4 points over Kimi Raikkonen, and now has a 7-point lead, but he will have to beware of the threat of Ralf Schumacher who is 15 points behind and Juan Pablo Montoya, who is 19 points behind. As for the Constructors' World Championship, the lead over Williams-Bmw is 13 points (95 to 82 points). On the eve, the gap - on the McLaren-Mercedes - was 9 points. Rubens Barrichello, who represents Ferrari on the lowest step of the podium, also took the lead. A good performance for him: starting from the ﬁfth position, he immediately passed Juan Pablo Montoya and maybe he would have overtaken his teammate if he had insisted, but at the risk of colliding with his car. Then he was overtaken by the Colombian during the second pit stop and managed the positionuntil the ﬁnish without making mistakes. In the meantime, Ralf Schumacher takes it easy, after winning his ﬁfth career, the ﬁrst of the current season:
"I’ve been criticized, yet even a bad driver can win. Maybe I would have reached Raikkonen because the car worked great, the tyres were perfect, the team did a fantastic job".
It is his day. Better, it would be his day if his teammate had not stolen the spotlight after making an exceptional overtaking against Michael Schumacher.
"I really enjoyed overtaking Michael in the Grand Prix in front of his fans. I gave it the ﬁrst chance, I don’t see why I should have put it off. He was fast on the straight and slow on the turn, so I took advantage. The maneuver? Regular, I don’t think he’ll have anything to complain about. I gave him enough space, certainly not the whole track".
An extreme overtaking, an accident, a car driven by the stewards that arrives at the ﬁnish and is classiﬁed as if nothing had happened. The European Grand Prix proposed many regulatory issues, all of which were resolved without dispute. At the end of the race, ﬁrst Michael Schumacher and Juan Fabio Montoya, then David Coulthard and Fernando Alonso are summoned by the race management, and they are asked for clariﬁcation. The ﬁrst case concerns the maneuver that cost the Ferrari driver a spin (lap 43). No action was taken during the race, as a rule allows to postpone any sanctions to the next Grand Prix. First to speak is the World Champion, who turns off the case.
"It was a normal race accident. Juan Pablo is not to blame".
The whimsical Williams-Bmw driver launched his attack at the end of the Dunlop hairpin bend: fake inside and attack outside. When the contact takes place, the blue and white single-seater is almost one meter ahead and therefore has a kind of right of way. The doubts are other: Montoya has left enough room for the rival? And Schumacher did everything he could to keep the internal trajectory and avoid impact? Both protagonists say yes and the videos conﬁrm their story. Michael Schumacher, on the other hand, is good at getting out of a jam in a situation that seems desperate. Finished with the rear wheels off the track, the German manages to keep the engine running (thanks to the anti-slip system of which the Formula 1 cars are fomite), but not to restart, because the tires skate on the sand. Another driver might have gone down to the pits on foot. Not him, who has printed in his head every article of the code: if a car is pushed it triggers the disqualiﬁcation, unless there is a condition of danger. This is the circumstance. The pilot arms himself and the commissioners intervene. Even the tow truck driver comes to the rescue (the small advantages of running in the house).
"They were exceptional".
Michael Schumacher tells us that while he was resuming the race that brought him to ﬁfth place, he did not forget to thank the providential rescuers with a gesture of the hand. The one between Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher was not the only accident on the track. There was also another moment of great tension, much more serious than the ﬁrst. It happened when McLaren Scotsman David Coulthard, at the new chicane, ended up in the escape route at crazy speed, risking to overturn. All this to avoid crashing the car of Fernando Alonso, who was calmly setting the entrance to the chicane and obviously did not calculate the speed of those who were coming behind him. Alonso, at the end of the race, candidly admits his mistakes.
"I must say that the car was no longer as good as in the previous laps and maybe it is true that I unplugged a bit before the licit".
More poisonous comment by David Coulthard, who lost a good performance and valuable points in the standings:
"If Alonso can’t brake, it’s his business, but if he puts someone in trouble, then it’s my business. However, I prefer to talk about these things with him directly, away from prying eyes".
Two opponents are better than one for Ferrari, because they share the points and remain at a safe distance in the standings. Of course, if Juan Pablo Montoya hadn’t gone so hard...
"Yes, but his overtaking was regular and the off track at the end cost me only two points".
He recognizes Michael Schumacher, who with a metaphor explains the maneuver of the Colombian:
"It left me little room to breathe, but enough to survive. In its place I would have behaved in the same way. Of course, if he’d given me a few more feet I would have been happy, but he wasn’t there to do me a favor. These things happen when you duel. Sometimes you’re ﬁne, sometimes you’re not. A year ago in Brazil, for example, he hit me at the start and broke the wing".
Also the convocation from the commissioners of contest is archived:
"I explained to them that they did not even need to hear Juan Fabio, because he had no responsibility".
The German champion sees the season (seven Grands Prix left) from two points of view:
"A tough championship that ejaculates today is slightly easier, as the lead in the standings has grown. Luck? The stop of Raikkonen gives me an advantage, however I do not like to take advantage of the troubles of others to earn points. I’m happy for my brother Ralf: he didn’t deserve such criticism and winning here, in front of our audience, must be fantastic for him. He got himself a nice birthday present, since he is celebrating 28 years".
Affected aside, the World Champion is worried. The tires let him down.
"I hope that Bridgestone will continue to develop, because the Michelin on this occasion were superior".
In Jean Todt’s opinion it is not just a question of tyres.
"Chassis and engine were also not the fastest".
Ferrari sports management team principal explains. The Maranello team leaves the Nurburgring without recriminations. A third and a ﬁfth place are enough to consolidate the record, but the faces are worried. Adds Jean Todt:
"It will be hard even in seven days in France".
Formula 1 doesn’t take the usual bi-weekly break. So prohibited tests (apart from 50 kilometers of running in) and via to Magny-Cours with the same forces put in place in Germany. With an added bonus: the French circuit consumes a lot of tyres, because it has a smooth and dark asphalt that turns red and melts the rubber. The opponents are pressing.
"We knew we couldn’t win, but Ralf surprised me. He passed Michael at the start and kept him behind while having a greater load of gasoline".
Identical, disconsolate judgment comes from technical director Ross Brawn:
"It was a tough race for us. Our opponents proved to be more competitive and there was little to do to reverse the situation. I don’t think there is a speciﬁc area from which to attribute what happened: we have to work on the whole set to improve our performance".
According to Rubens Barrichello, a ﬂaw of the F2003-GA is the loss of balance at full load. That is: when the strategy provides for fewer stops and more petrol must be loaded, the single-seater becomes more difficult to drive.
"I managed to start well and pass Montoya, then I kept the pace of Michael and his brother, trying to save fuel".
After the stops, the problems.
"Unfortunately Montoya passed me during the pit stops. The balance was not very good with a lot of petrol and improved a bit as the car lightened up. The problem lasted throughout the race, so much so that we tried to solve it by changing the tyre pressure and adjusting the front wing. The second set of tires worked better and I managed to get closer to Michael".
The incident of the teammate does not speak:
"I didn’t see it, when I arrived they were waving yellow ﬂags. They told me later. That’s when I was third. I was not able to recover and behind my back Alonso did not worry me, so I slowed down to avoid problems. Considering the difficulties I had, a place on the podium is not to be despised".
The interest immediately shifts to Magny-Cours, a place of recent, beautiful memories. During the summer of 2002 Michael Schumacher celebrated his ﬁfth World Championship three months in advance (the German doesn’t even mention having reached 1004 points, the ﬁrst driver in the history of Formula 1). The German won, but the chronicles remember that Kimi Raikkonen, until a few laps from the ﬁnish line, was in the lead. He slipped on a slick of oil. And this time he promises revenge. The same Kimi Raikkonen had to park his car, get out of the cockpit and push away badly the race commissioner who showed him the way out of the Nurburgring circuit. If he too, the ice Finn, nicknamed Iceman, never manifests some form of feeling (in good as in bad luck), snaps like that, it means that the nerves in McLaren are blown. He was marching towards victory, the Finn who dreams of becoming the youngest Formula 1 World Champion.
"The car was perfect, the gap increased and there was no sign of what was going to happen. Sometimes the races end like this: even if you are the fastest and you earn half a second per lap, you happen to win nothing. I would have arrived ﬁrst easily, without that break. I was back in the lead and continued to earn even after the pit stop. I have nothing to blame".
Until lap 26, the European Grand Prix had been his best race weekend. After making the best time in Friday’s pre-qualifying and earning the pole position on Saturday with a perfect lap and also applauded by Michael Schumacher, he was also impeccable at the start. He gained ground lap after lap, also because Ralf Schumacher, loaded more than the others with gasoline, held back his brother’s ambitions, and seemed unattainable.
"I was surprised by so many advantages, but on the other hand we had worked very well. Driving was a pleasure. I hope to have the same opportunity for success in France, because I only need a good result to get Schumacher back. Last year went well".
He ﬁnished in second place, betrayed a few kilometers from the ﬁnish line by a slick of oil that paved the way for the German driver. The question of the new car is back in the news.
"He has had reliability problems so far and so the team felt it was right to postpone the debut. But if even the old car has problems with durability, we might as well risk it".
The MP4/18 will take part in a series of tests in Barcelona after the French Grand Prix. Tests that the patron Ron Dennis deﬁnes as decisive and that could allow the debut in the next race, or decree a postponement until the Italian Grand Prix, because after the British Grand Prix a period of suspension of testing. An embarrassing situation: the new engine is likely to be used for only three races, as from next year the engines will be different (by regulation will have to last a whole weekend of races). If the trouble suffered by Kimi Raikkonen wasn’t enough, in the ﬁnal David Coulthard’s ﬁfth place also vanished, risking a lot to avoid Fernando Alonso’s Renault. In short, one of those days that should never start, that would be better spent at home, to avoid further trouble. Ron Dennis takes stock, which at this point does not look rosy at all:
"There are seven Grands Prix left at the end of the season and we will do everything to get back in the lead. We have the car and drivers to succeed".
Norbert Haug, head of Mercedes Motorsport, agrees, as happy Saturday afternoon as visibly disappointed after the race:
"Kimi was undoubtedly the fastest. We do not yet know the reasons for the breakup. Until then, all the telemetry data was ﬁne. We will work hard to reduce the gap from Schumacher".
The fact that there is a crisis around and that the fans' audience prefer to reduce unnecessary expenses is evident. The European Grand Prix also had to deal with the lower turnout. But the result was so heavy that no one expected. The organizers had planned, in the three days, about 300,000 spectators for the weekend of the engines. A total of 220.000 arrived, 120.000 of them on Sunday alone (instead of 150.000 last year). A bad blow: 80.000 fewer spectators represent a huge lack of revenue and also a wake-up call for future editions.