All drivers like the spa track. And who wouldn’t like it, if he loves to drive, go wild along the circuit of the Ardennes: 6976 meters of toboggan in the middle of the forests, with crazy speeds, breathtaking climbs and descents, braking at the limit, great chances of overtaking, the legendary sharp bend of the Source and the compression of the Eau Rouge, how to measure the courage of those who are behind the wheel? Here Michael Schumacher played his first race in 1991, he won six times, on three occasions he finished second. The German driver was first also in 1994, when he drove the Benetton, but he was disqualified because of the bottom of his car which was irregularly consumed. The story of competitors for the title it’s dfferent. Fernando Alonso had raced with Minardi in 2001 and was forced to leave, as he did last season. Kimi Raikkonen’s palmares in the Belgian Grand Prix is better: two retirements and the beautiful success of 2004. At the vigil of the Belgian Grand Prix the participants repeat what they had already said at Monza. The finnish driver says:
"I must attack. Victory is all that matters to me. I realize that the chances of prolonging the challenge are reduced to a minimum, but I won’t give up until I am condemned by mathematics".
The spanish driver plays defense:
"McLaren for now is always the best car and remains the favourite. In Formula 1, however, anything can happen. I am confident even if for the moment I don’t want to think about the World Cup, because to win it on Sunday I think I have to hope for a Kimi’s retirement. The season is still long. And, starting from the Brazilian Grand Prix, I will have an even more competitive Renault".
Also Michael Schumacher seems to want to postpone any dreams of success:
"It’s been less than a week since Monza, things can’t be changed. It’s a difficult situation for us. I don’t care too much about the title that’s long since faded. Instead, I would like us drivers and the team to leave this championship well, so as to better prepare for 2006. We hope to go strong in the last three races. My priority is to see Ferrari where it should be, at the top".
Michael Schumacher rejects the hypothesis that the team is in decline:
"The team is the same as in 1998 and 1999, when we lost the title. Indeed, from the negative moments it has always been able to find the strength to react. The problems were elsewhere. I have already apologized to our fans".
The German driver doesn’t go into details, but admits:
"This year, in several races, we and our suppliers failed to understand why we were so far from the best".
He doesn’t go beyond Michael Schumacher, but he feels a certain discomfort, probably the relations with Bridgestone are a bit tense. Also in Belgium the Japanese company failed to bring more competitive tires, there is a new compound but the construction is always the same. Thunderstorms are expected this weekend, but Michael Schumacher has no illusions:
"It’s true that the slippery bottom track balances the performance. However, it has been too long not to race in the rain to know what the values on the track are under a downpour".
The fact of having left the helmet in the hands of Fernando Alonso or Kimi Raikkonen doesn’t worry the German driver:
"I never felt like a champion at all costs, nothing is ever taken for granted. To win you have to work hard all the time. Kimi and Fernando are good, very fast. I don’t think the title will change their lives. They too will have to sweat to take back the World Championship. One thing makes me suffer: the track is so beautiful that I would like...".
Friday, September 9, 2005, so much Michael Schumacher prayed that it rained.
"You don’t compete with this rain".
Says the German driver with a regretted tone, almost must also apologize for the weather. On the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps there is a downpour that causes the mighty winds of Formula 1 to remain warm in the pits throughout the second session of free practice. Fernando Alonso ventures and takes a lap, then Vitantonio Liuzzi returns to the garage, he is a test driver, he has more courage, but he returns to the pits in a service car, while his Red Bull Racing is picked up by the tow truck at the Radillon bend. For what the performance is worth, in the first session - with wet asphalt - nothing new happens: the fastest is Kimi Raikkonen ahead of Alexander Wurz, then the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella who must check the good functioning of the engine, consumed by the weekend of Monza. Michael Schumacher scores the eighth fastest time, Rubens Barrichello the twelfht. The World Champion explain:
"I just had time to get an idea and it’s not a good idea: in the dry racetrack we have no chance to win. With the slippery bottom though...".
The sentence remains pending. According to forecasts, the weather will go worse.
"It would take a boat to run quietly. Our fans have gone too far with the rain dance. Please stop it".
The Belgian Grand Prix, the sixteenth round of the World Championship, once again decisive - here in 2004 was awarded the title mathematically to Michael Schumacher. This year Fernando Alonso could become World Champion with four points more than Kimi Raikkonen - he risks not being disputed. Or become a fighter. It is possible a start behind the safety car waiting for a glimmer of visibility that allows you to cover a few laps fast. In such a situation the standing becomes decisive, because overtaking is prohibited when the safety car is on the track. The organizers are desperate. On Friday they manage to bring 40.000 people to the circuit by giving away 40.000 tickets. Hosting the event costs $14.000.000. It takes 67.000 paying spectators to cover expenses. The Germans don’t intend to cross the border to witness a melancholy performance by Michael Schumacher, while Belgians think Formula 1is a minor sport.On the contrary, for Scuderia Ferrari, rain is an opportunity to return to competitiveness: in the past, Bridgestone tyres with sculpted treads have proved superior to Michelin. It isn’t said that the advantage has remained unchanged over time, but a worse result that under the downpour is difficult to assume.
The last Grand Prix like this was held in Brazil in 2003. Giancarlo Fisichella won with Jordan and Bridgestone tyres, which in the last valid laps - the race was closed in advance due to an accident - even overtook Kimi Raikkonen, while the two Ferraris stopped. The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix also comes to mind, when a wild Michael Schumacher, thrown towards a comfortable victory, crashed into David Coulthard’s McLaren during an overtaking and then tried to attack his rival in the pits, accusing him of having slowed down in purpose. Fernando Alonso hopes for a good result. The only thing he wants to avoid is the withdrawal. Kimi Raikkonen, who has 27 points to come back, has to run. Thunderstorms permitting. Saturday, September 10, 2005 the McLaren-Mercedes are camouflaged with the Belgian sky. Gray on gray and no one sees them. Too fast for the competition, including Renault. Juan Pablo Montoya took pole position at the Belgian Grand Prix, the first of the season and the twelfth of his career. Kimi Raikkonen will jump at his side to play the last chance of comeback. Fernando Alonso, who will start from the fourth place on the grid, is restless. He isn’t reassured by the four match-balls available to win the title. Before qualifying he wanted to change the engine.
"It works really well".
The engineer who follows him explained.
"Then why are you replacing Fisichella’s one?"
The spanish men ask.
"Because it risks breaking".
The engineer tries to reassure him.
"I can’t afford a retreat: wouldn’t it be better to change mine? I lose ten positions, but at least I run quietly and I do some points anyway".
Eventually they manage to convince him. He will use the same engine used on the straights of the Monza circuit. Maybe Renault will take away some horses limiting the number of laps, but meanwhile Alonso will start close to McLaren. He had the fifth time, but gained a position because Giancarlo Fisichella was relegated by ten places. He will start alongside Jarno Trulli. The goal of the spanish driver is the same as always, putting pressure on the two drivers of McLaren to induce them to force the pace, so maybe they break some pieces or make mistakes, as has happened throughout all the season. Fernando Alonso has 27 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen: if he goes down to 24 points he won’t make a drama of it, if he increases to 31 points the World Championship will be his.
"If they don’t make mistakes, those are first and second".
Says the Spanish driver, hinting with his head in the direction of the nearby McLaren motorhome.
"Not a surprise, because now they are the strongest. But on pole I would have expected Kimi".
Do you feel pressure?
"Nothing special. When I lower the visor of the helmet I don’t care where the others are. I just think of winning points, maybe a podium".
Doesn’t Michael Schumacher’s legacy excite him either?
"I didn’t beat it before because my car was inferior".
Flavio Briatore pampers his driver:
"Fernando must score 14 points in the four remaining races. Nothing more. We have already scored the goal; now the ball is in the center and the game is up to McLaren".
On the other side Kimi Raikkonen lives the tranquility of those who have nothing to lose. His McLaren is going strong, despite the car loaded with fuel that will allow him to make a single pit stop.
"What do I expect? Well, I try to win, what else can I do?"
The Finnish driver also thinks about the constructors' classification; the gap from the French is eight points. In case of rain, the race will become a lottery. Renault has bet on the dry: downforce aerodynamics to go fast in the straight and overtake. Giancarlo Fisichella admits:
"With water there would be big problems. But Fernando doesn’t have to worry: the World Cup is his anyway".
Even on Michael Schumacher’s favourite track, the Scuderia Ferrari can’t get out of the bad situation it’s in this year. There is no reason to smile. So the German driver is a bit cluttered, not inclined to make predictions. Even the relegation of Giancarlo Fisichella to thirteenth place isn’t evaluated positively.
"I’m sixth on the grid, maybe it was better seventh, because I’ll be forced to start from the dirty side of the track. But we knew we didn’t have many chances, there wasn’t time, after Monza, to try to improve something".
In the standing, without the penalty inflicted on the Italian driver for changing the engine, ahead of the Ferrari there are two McLaren, two cars of the French team and also the Toyota of Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher. Not to mention Rubens Barrichello, who, with the thirteenth time is also seen by two BAR-Honda, a Sauber-Petronas and a Red Bull Racing.
"That’s pretty much what we expected. It’s clear that the result of the dry lap is conditioned by the strategies adopted for the race by the different teams, so something could change today. In any case, our goal remains to enter the points zone".
Among the thousand uncertainties of the Belgian Grand Prix the most talked about is the weather forecast. During the GP2 race it rains. But also in this field the teams are divided; the Ferrari that turns to Meteo France has indications for high probability that they will run in the wet; while Weather Eye, supplier Renault, excludes this possibility. So the cars of Maranello went to the track with a fair amount of aerodynamic load, the cars of Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso quite discharged.
"With the rain the result becomes very open, in the dry it will be difficult for us. They told me that the fans dream of the podium. We too".
Barrichello justifies his performance with the choices made:
"Michael and I have opted for different strategies. We and the team, given the arrival of possible thunderstorms, tried to have at least one car in the best conditions to face the race. We are always left with doubts because it’s too long that we don’t compete with the rain and we don’t know if we have preserved the advantage we had. It’s fun, all in all. Fans dream of the podium? I dream of winning the next Grand Prix in Brazil".
Nobody talks about tires. From the outside there is the impression that Ferrari and Bridgestone are groping in the dark. Once you take the wrong path, it’s hard to find the right one. The Maranello team will have to struggle against the Toyota of Jarno Trulli, third, and Ralf Schumacher, fifth, to keep the third place in the standings of the Constructors' World Championship. But it’s a minor challenge. Apart from Renault and McLaren-Mercedes, the teams think about the future. Saturday is a day of announcements: Dietrich Mateschitz buys the Minardi to make it a junior team, that is a nursery of young drivers. Michelin will remain with five customers in 2006, as Williams officially announces that it will switch to Bridgestone, while Toyota will do so shortly. Not only that: the French manufacturer will leave Formula 1 at the end of 2007 if the Federation insists on asking for a single tyre supplier. Sunday, September 11, 2005, before the start of the Belgian Grand Prix, it rains on the Spa circuit. However, when drivers start lining up on the grid, much of the circuit starts to dry out. Almost all drivers opt for the start with intermediate tires or slicks, except the two Minardi drivers, Christijan Albers and Robert Doornbos who prefer to start from the pit lane after changing the set-up of the cars. Incredibly, there are no accidents at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Juan Pablo Montoya maintain the first potion, while Kimi Räikkönen rejects Jarno Trulli’s attack. Further down, Takuma Sato is back in the standings and takes seventh place, behind Michael Schumacher. Later, while Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen continued undisturbed, Jarno Trulli repelled Fernando Alonso’s attacks. Meanwhile, a mistake made by Ralf Schumacher at the bus stop takes the German Toyota driver to eighth position and allows Jenson Button to attack his teammate, Takuma Sato. During the first stages of the race Giancarlo Fisichella recovered ground until he reached eighth position with a series of manoeuvres and clean overtakings. However, after passing Jenson Button, the Italian rider climbs the curbs of the Eau Rouge curve and goes into the barriers of the Radilion curve at high speed. The Italian driver leaves his Renault destroyed without injury, while the Safety Car enters the track to allow the stewards to remove the debris. In this phase many drivers return to the pits. Before making his stop Kimi Räikkönen slows down the group, to avoid being stuck behind the teammate during refueling. Only Jacques Villeneuve remains on track, climbing to second position behind Juan Pablo Montoya, ahead of Ralf Schumacher, who had stopped one lap before the SC. Juan Pablo Montoya continues to lead the race, while Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso attempt to overtake Toyota of the German lead and the Canadian Sauber-Petronas driver. Meanwhile, Takuma Sato missed the braking point at La Source, hitting Michael Schumacher’s car and eliminating him from the race. Jacques Villeneuve lost several positions in a short time, but Ralf Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso, while gaining a position, couldn’t get close to Juan Pablo Montoya. In the end of the second series of stops only Ralf Schumacher lost other positions, while in the final stages Rubens Barrichello, Mark Webber and Antônio Pizzonia decided to use dry tires and quickly recover ground.
As a result, Jenson Button quickly managed to get closer to Fernando Alonso. When three laps to go left, Antonio Pizzonia, overtaked, hit McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya at the Fagnes corner. Both are forced to retreat. Kimi Räikkönen, who led the race, slowed the pace and won the Belgian Grand Prix, followed by Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Rubens Barrichello, Jacques Villeneuve, Ralf Schumacher and Tiago Monteiro.
"The McLaren always helps me…".
It is enough to wait: Fernando Alonso understood this and built his fortunes on it. From the Belgian Grand Prix comes no judgment, but only the confirmation that the title will win this Spaniard with a smart smile, fast and kissed by good luck, good and aware of being good and calculating by necessity. Kimi Raikkonen won the race. Fernando Alonso took a second place (as in Istanbul and Monza) that shields him from any risk: 30 points remain to be won and the Spanish driver only needs six. That is a third place. Or three seventh places, or an infinity of combinations all within the comfort of Renault. After that, Fernando Alonso, 24, will have a record, the youngest Formula 1 winner. Juan Pablo Montoya helps him again, he was in second position and had to get to the finish line. And in fact, the Colombian was so quiet that he was hit by a overtaken, Antonio Pizzonia. No one warned by radio the drivers about the danger, none of them saw the other one. In short, to hear the protagonists of the accident - three laps from the end - we don’t understand how it is possible to race a Grand Prix with wet track. The rain fell in the night and in the morning, but was disdainfully denied during the race, when it would have been convenient to Ferrari. The men of the Maranello team had been dreaming for months about a bit of water, because the dry tires don’t go, and above all they wished a good shower in the middle of the party, hoping to be able to make the right decision at the right time. But this is a negative season: the only improvised decision turned out to be a flop. It happens during the first pit stop (round 12). The Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella has just crashed. Drivers take advantage of the safety car to anticipate the pit stop. Michael Schumacher, like others, asks for dry tyres. He gets back on track, realizes the error and goes back to the pits. The race is lost, but for safety we think the Japanese Takuma Sato with the best number of his repertoire, the harakiri, to eliminate from the race the car #1. The collision is textbook, also the anger of Michael Schumacher, with quarrel in the world vision. For Sato there is a penalty: Sunday, September 25, 2005, in Brazil, he will lose ten positions in the starting line-up. Considering the salaries of Formula 1, the punishment for Antonio Pizzonia is lighter: $8.000 fine. Thanks to his opponents, Fernando Alonso admits that a third place would have been great.
"Lucky me? Yes, of course. But I’m always there to take advantage of other people’s mistakes or problems, This is a merit".
Flavio Briatore scolds him:
"In the final part he made us frightened. There was Klien trying to overcome him and he resisted. On the radio I shouted: let him pass, he is overtaken. He wouldn’t listen to me".
Christian Klien in the final had fitted dry tyres and was faster than the leaders of the race. The same had done Antonio Pizzonia. Only the Brazilian driver clashed with the car of Juan Pablo Montoya, while Klien avoided doing the same against the car of Alonso. Maybe it’s a matter of luck, maybe you have to know how to avoid troubles. On the podium and in the press conferences, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are side by side, without friendship or resentment. They fight when under the wheels and ignored themselves in private life. In the meantime, the finnish driver pretend to believe in a possible recovery:
"I will push to the last kilometre. The Constructors' World Championship is also in play. McLaren is six points behind Renault".
He also pretends to have passed teammate by virtue of his speed. But actually Juan Pablo Montoya, in all his unreliability, realized that he had made too many mistakes this year and slowed down before refueling. Since team orders that alter the order of arrival are prohibited, you have to be smart. Montoya did it. And he tells:
"While Kimi is ahead, I can’t win".
Then he adds:
"I took pole position and had a good race. Sorry for the team, my points would have been very useful. Pizzonia tried to pass me to double up using his dry tires and hit me. It was the bad conclusion of a perfect weekend".
In the Colombian driver’s entourage there is disappointment and the controversy emerges. It’s argued that, in order to attempt an impossible chase in the standings of the Drivers' World Championship, you risk losing the Constructors' World Championship. If Juan Pablo Montoya had stayed in the lead - that’s the theory - he wouldn’t have been hit by Williams. Meanwhile, the person responsible for the accident, Antonio Pizzonia, apologizes:
"Juan Pablo stopped early. I thought he wanted to give me a lead and I joined him. He actually didn’t see me and he was widening the trajectory to set the curve. I’m sorry, I’m not here to hurt anyone. All the more so since I also ruined my race".
In the evening Antonio Pizzonia receives a bad news and a good one: he will pay, as mentioned, a $8,000 fine, but he will probably also run the last three Grand Prix of the season, since Nick Heidfeld fractured his shoulder when he fell on his bike in Stafa, Switzerland. After the race, anger speaks Italian. Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli have been the authors of two sensational track outings, despite the fact that both the Renault driver and the Toyota driver could also have celebrated on the podium. Giancarlo ended up against the barriers at the exit of the Eau Rouge, frightening his wife Luna and his sons Carlotta and Cristopher who were in the pits. Jarno finished his run in the third corner of Les Combes, after a collision with Thiago Monteiro’s Jordan. After the accident, Giancarlo Fisichella had to undergo a medical examination: apart from the shock, the Italian driver also reported a disturbing headache. Then everything passes, except anger.
"It was hard, because I was going 280 km/h. I don’t know what happened. I had passed the same point ten times on the same trajectory. Suddenly I lost control of the car and there was nothing to do. In the confusion of the start I was also behind, but my Renault was flying and I was recovering. Given how things went I could get in the first three. Bad luck? Of course, but also luck in not hurting me".
No damages also for Jarno Trulli who, if angry with the portuguese Thiago Monteiro, but also and above all with the men of his team, Toyota:
"I had a good start passing Alonso and keeping the McLaren rhythm. I don’t know if I would have won, but I certainly would have celebrated with champagne on the podium. When I got behind the Jordan, I think Monteiro accidentally hit the speed limiter in the pits. It is as if he had braked and I couldn’t avoid the collision. But the race was already compromised: I had asked several times to the pits, via radio, to mount again the intermediate tires, wet. The team wanted to try the dry ones and I had to stop a second time. They are mistakes that shouldn’t happen. And it has happened on other occasions".
For the record: Thiago Monteiro finished the race in eighth place. He is the only rookie driver to have finished all the races. And he had already been on the podium in the six-car race at Indianapolis. Good luck to who follow him. It’s Ferrari’s negative year. It needed rain to look for an important result: the sky drained water, but before and after the race. So the asphalt remained a little wet, perhaps the worst conditions for the Bridgestone tyres on the F2005. As if that wasn’t enough Michael Schumacher, after a pretty brilliant start, he made a mistake by fitting dry tyres too early, then he was literally eliminated by the unsuspecting Takuma Sato. With his BAR-Honda, the Japanese crashed into the German’s Ferrari at the Source corner and then, not satisfied, he finished the job by hitting it a second time a few meters later. Thus, during lap 14 the race of Michael Schumacher ended. Who, after going to scold personally Takuma Sato still in the cockpit of the car, didn’t see from the pits the victory of Kimi Raikkonen and the placement of Rubens Barrichello leaving the circuit. The only positive note of the day, the Brazilian who didn’t reach the points from the British Grand Prix. Michael Schumacher says before leaving the Belgian circuit:
"I can’t tell what I said to Sato. I wanted to tell him more anyway, unfortunately I don’t know enough Japanese. I held back, because there were children watching television. I didn’t even realize what had happened at first. I was focused as I passed a Jordan, I felt a big blow behind me. My Ferrari turned and someone hit me again. When I came down I saw the nose of the BAR and I realized: we were at the usual. We talked many times with this pilot, not only me, but everyone. It didn’t help, he made another harakiri of his".
The German doesn’t know how he could have arrived without the accident:
"The only thing I know for sure is that I would have to fight a lot to get back up. We had focused, in preparing the race, on possible weather variations. As the conditions were at the start, anyway, that wet track but not too much, we had no advantages. The Bridgestones that always made a difference when it rains a lot weren’t better than the competition. With McLaren there would be nothing to do, maybe the Alonso’s Renault could have been my rival. But these are unuseful discussion, unuseful incidents".
It isn’t even the case to undermine the negative period of the Ferrari.
"Things are like this, and without the rain at most you could aim for a few points. I also took the risk of fitting dry tyres when the asphalt seemed to dry out, but it was a wrong assessment. When I got back on the ice, I thought I was ice-skating, so I stopped again. We had agreed with Barrichello to try two different strategies, me with slick tires, him with the intermediates, to see how it worked: it didn’t go well".
It ended a little better for Rubens Barrichello, comforted with a sweaty fifth place, little gift for the birth of the second son Fernando. After the race, the Brazilian driver left for Brazil to watch his wife Silvana give birth.
"We hope this is the beginning of a better time. I would love to win on the home track in two weeks. We should have something new to try, even though I won’t be conducting the tests. That would be the best way to take my leave my fans, taking with me the red uniform, which will always be in my heart. In the race we had only one problem: we weren’t fast enough. My car at the beginning was heavy for the fuel load and the tires didn’t go in temperature. So I lost some position. Then I managed to recover and we collected some points, there were no mistakes in the choice of my tyres and in the pit-stops. All in all it went well, we brought something home for the team’s ranking".
Ferrari will be on track from Tuesday, September 13, 2005, for three days, in Jerez, Spain. At the wheel of the F2005 there will be Marc Gene. The program of these tests has only one goal of work: the tires. Looks like Bridgestone found something new to save the last three games of the season.