Tuesday 7 January 2003 will see the old Ferrari take to the track (more and more components for 2003), Wednesday 8 January 2003 the new Toyota will be presented, Tuesday 14 January 2003 BAR, Thursday 23 January 2003 Renault and so on. The challenge, technological and sporting, of Formula 1 begins again. The rules have changed and the money has decreased. In exactly 60 days' time in Melbourne we will see Friday practice: a single flying lap that will be used to determine the starting order for Saturday's qualifying (also a single-lap race). Arrows will be missing, overwhelmed by the economic crisis, but the other teams, especially the smaller ones, have also had to reckon with falling revenues. A former sponsor quoted by The Times explained that the cost of a single-seater advertising space has plummeted in the last three years. In 2000, at least 750,000 euros were needed to have a small company brand appear on a mid-range car, while today - the English newspaper reveals - 450.000 euros are enough. The advertisement on the rear wing, one of the most expensive because of its excellent visibility on television, is said to have dropped from 11.000.000 to 6.000.000 euros. To save money, the latest temptation is to abolish electronic devices such as the recently reintroduced traction control and two-way telemetry. FIA president Max Mosley will discuss this on Wednesday 15 January 2003 at a meeting with team managers. He will probably find the support of the small teams, such as Minardi and Jordan, but not that of Ferrari and McLaren, who have invested several millions in the development of the microchips. After the Christmas holidays, the Maranello team sends test drivers Luca Badoer and Luciano Burti back to the track in Barcelona. Michael Schumacher will be asked to test a single-seater very similar to the future F2003 after 20 January 2003.
Ferrari has not yet announced the exact date when the new car will be presented (first half of February), but the testing schedule will be respected because the 2002 single-seater will run in the first three Grands Prix (Australia, Malaysia and Brazil). The same strategy at McLaren-Mercedes, which will start with a hybrid car, while Williams-Bmw will be ready on Friday 31 January 2003, in time to relaunch the challenge to the Maranello team from Sunday 9 March 2003, in Australia. Fourth force in the World Championship, Renault will make its debut on 20 January 2003. During the championship, the French team could take advantage of the two hours of free practice on Friday mornings reserved for teams that do less than ten days of testing during the season. Tense atmosphere, finally, at BAR: the two drivers, Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button, have barely met and have already given up speaking to each other. Two places are still vacant: one at Jordan, which has the Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella (who dreams of a 2004 at McLaren-Mercedes) as its first driver, the other at Minardi, which has hired English rookie Justin Wilson, Formula 3000 champion, a 191 centimetre giant who will need a tailor-made cockpit. Close to the signing are two Dutchmen. One is Jos Verstappen, an old Formula 1 acquaintance, former Arrows and friend of Michael Schumacher, with whom he is spending his holidays in Norway. Negotiations with Eddie Jordan are well advanced. Christijan Albers, 23 years old, is instead in Paul Stoddart's sights, provided he brings with him a $3.000.000 sponsorship dowry. Albers would become the fourth rookie of the season after Justin Wilson and Brazilians Cristiano Da Matta (Toyota) and Antonio Pizzonia (Jaguar). If you finish eleventh in Formula 1, have never won a race in seven seasons and your colleagues, people who understand, vote you the best driver, then some explanation is needed. Let's look at the facts: on Sunday 12 January 2003 Giancarlo Fisichella surprisingly wins the Drivers' Driver award.
"Giancarlo is one of the best three, and I would personally say one of the best two drivers of our time".
Says Murray Walker, historic Formula 1 commentator for the BBC in presenting him with the accolade at the F1 Awards ceremony in Birmingham. Fisichella is the driver with the least brilliant career to win this title, awarded on the basis of a secret ballot between all the drivers in the circus. He beat World Champion Michael Schumacher, Ferrari's number two, Rubens Barrichello, the impetuous Juan Pablo Montoya, the talented Kimi Raikkonen and six other colleagues who preceded him in the 2002 rankings. On the surface, the explanation is simple: Fisichella drove (and will drive this year) the modest Jordan and got seven points out of it. In the hands of Takuma Sato the same single-seater scored only two points. The story repeats itself every year.
After making his debut in 1996 with Minardi, the Italian driver had a first season in the Jordan in which he was regularly ahead of his team-mate (rookie Ralf Schumacher). He moved to Benetton in 1998 and stayed four seasons with the Anglo-Italian team, which then ended up in the hands of Flavio Briatore and Renault. When the French manufacturer decided to build a car with its own name, the other Italian Jarno Trulli took the place of Giancarlo Fisichella, who returned to Jordan in 2002. Balance of these seven championships: 107 Grands Prix disputed, one pole position, five second and four third places. It is more difficult to understand why none of the three top teams ever offered him a chance. The fans dreamed of seeing him at Ferrari (Italian driver in an Italian car), but at Maranello they have never had a more winning pair than Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, both under contract until 2004. Williams has bet on Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya and does not seem willing to change, McLaren would have reason to renew, but boss Ron Dennis does not like Italians. Giancarlo will test the 2003 car at Silverstone on Tuesday 14 January 2003.
"The car looks good and the goal remains to win my first race in Formula 1. If Jordan is competitive I will stay another season, but if I have the opportunity to drive for one of the top teams then I really have a chance to establish myself".
Michael Schumacher was also honoured in Birmingham: for the third year in a row he received a golden statuette offered by owner Bernie Ecclestone as best driver according to the jury. The German is not present and the statuette is collected by Damon Hill, who receives it from the hands of Nigel Mansell.
"I have the feeling that it is finally me receiving something that is Schumacher's".
Ironic Hill, who was a bitter rival of the German in 1995 and 1996. The other Bernies (as the F1 Awards are called) go to the Ferrari F2002 as best single-seater, to the Australian Mark Webber (best rookie), to the Melbourne circuit (best facility) and to Ron Dennis for his career. Wednesday 8 January 2003, it rains at the Paul Ricard circuit. The facility, owned by Bernie Ecclestone, is a technological jewel: there are no grandstands, the cars are followed metre by metre by automatic cameras. This is where the 2003 Formula 1 season officially kicks off. First laps of the flamboyant Toyota TF103, Frenchman Olivier Panis at the wheel. The Japanese team, based in Cologne, Germany, has changed a lot after its first year. Away with the two drivers (Mika Salo, too discontinuous, and Alain McNish, rather slow), in with the experienced 36-year-old Olivier Panis and the Brazilian Cristiano da Matta, 29, winner of the last Cart championship. He raced a Toyota-powered car and is considered very fast. Brazilian from Belo Horizonte, he has a grandmother from Arezzo. His father Toninho was fourteen times national champion in touring cars. He has done the whole classical rigmarole: go karts, various formulas, English Formula 3, Formula 3000. In 1999 he was named rookie of the year in the Indy Lights series ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya. Cristiano is the classic jockey-driver (1.65 metres by 59 kilos). He has reddish blond hair, an intelligent face, loves playing the guitar and cycling. His idol is Lance Armstrong, but he also loves Marco Pantani.
"I don't want to hear comparisons with Ayrton Senna. If someone had told me two years ago that I would end up in Formula 1, I would have laughed. Instead, here I am. And I'm not there to be an extra. My goal, as for everyone, is to win the World Championship one day. I believe in Toyota, I know how they work. I was impressed by the size of the team and the enormous means at their disposal".
To achieve their goals, the two drivers (plus a third, test-driver Ricardo Zonta) will have the TF103 at their disposal. Designed by Gustav Brunner, it has of the old one only the shape of the steering wheel.At first sight it looks like a daughter of the Ferrari F2002, but that is normal, whoever wins influences the others. However, it is a small, well-finished single-seater with sophisticated aerodynamics. Even the engine has been redesigned, has a 90° V, is more powerful, the dimensions are reduced and the centre of gravity has been lowered.
The entire engine department (with 160 technicians at work) is in the hands of Italian engineer Luca Marniorini, who has been promoted from designer to director.
"Ferrari is the reference point for everyone, but we have very interesting solutions of our own".
The plans? Prudent.
"Always qualify in the top ten and score points consistently".
On Tuesday 14th January 2003 the new BAR-Honda makes its entrance, driven by Jenson Button, directly on the stage of the Catalan capital's Trade Fair. It is the second car that will participate in the Formula One World Championship already presented this year, after Toyota. On Wednesday morning it will start testing at the nearby Monlmeló circuit. Compared to last year's single-seater, it has changed completely: narrower, longer, lighter and lower. Only the classic livery with the white, red and green-grey colours of the main sponsor, Lucky Strike, remains. A mix of the best cars from 2002 with some new solutions. The designer Geoffrey Willis, ex-Williams, engaged to a noble Italian maiden, put all his art into it. But as was the case with Toyota, there is a greater Japanese presence in the team. At the Tochigi technical centre, Honda has unleashed its best men. Formula 1 project leader for the engine is Takeo Kiuki, while Ken Hashimoto has collaborated with the British for the chassis. Kiuki says:
"We have 8000 engineers in our research and development department. Everyone can do something".
BAR, directed by rally wizard David Richards, has 360 employees at its Brackley site. In its fifth year in Formula 1, born from the ashes of Tyrrell, it came from a disastrous season: eighth in the championship with 7 points (4 from Jacques Villeneuve and 3 from Olivier Panis). The Canadian champion was confirmed. Next to him has been called the Briton Jenson Button, an emerging star on debut, now somewhat dulled by two championships alongside Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli who knocked him out. Jacques Villeneuve, World Champion in 1997 at the wheel of the Williams, believes that this will be the decisive year.
"With this team I am not integrated, but the car is certainly good, it will be competitive. It has improved in terms of chassis, aerodynamics and weight distribution. We don't know what the engine will be like, but we have confidence. We had already made very good progress at the end of last year's championship. The goal is to exceed 900 HP. Ferrari will remain the team to beat, we hope to beat everyone else. That is possible. For me, it will be important to regain my composure and results. In fact, I will play the room. If it doesn't go well, no one will give me a car to drive any more".
On the new Hans safety collar, the judgement is drastic:
"If it had been used in previous years, it would not have prevented anyone from being injured. In fact, Diniz would have died".
In the past few days, however, he had been shooting his mouth off at his new teammate, claiming that he is not fast enough. At the preservation he increased the dose by declaring:
"So far Jenson has done nothing. It's his fourth year in the World Championship, if he doesn't wake up he's finished".
Button, whom the fans have already named the most beautiful driver in Formula 1, cannot complain: he is rich, has a house in Monte-Carlo, a luxurious yacht. He replies, embarrassed, to Jacques:
"I don't understand how he can judge, he doesn't know what car I was driving the last two seasons. We'll see, I'll try to change his mind".
At BAR they are not afraid of the rivalry between the two drivers.
"Villeneuve, too, even if he has a first-driver contract, has to prove himself at the moment".
David Richards adds. And Takuma Salo, hired as third driver (Anthony Davidson is the test driver) says he is ready for anything. The other two are making the ritualistic pleas. But, in the meantime, on Wednesday 15 January 2003, comes the revolution in Formula 1, first suggested now imposed by the FIA. Gone are the electronic trinkets that control the driving, the radio communications that inform the drivers, the reserve single-seaters used in the event of a breakdown in practice. The announcement is made by Max Mosley, president of the Federation, to team managers:
"Gentlemen, there is a crisis and two stables have gone bankrupt. Do you have a unanimous idea to reduce costs?"
There are many ideas, but no unanimity. So, Mosley explained, we have a proposal. Or rather, an order. And down goes the list of cuts and bans that will make the current bolides less easy to drive and less expensive to build: as of today there is no more two-way telemetry, a sophisticated electronic system that allowed the car to communicate with the pits. Mechanics will no longer know if the oil is so hot that it would incinerate a crisp in half a second, nor whether the engine will explode within a couple of kilometres, nor will they be able to intervene by typing instructions on a keyboard. Nor will they be able to talk to the driver, because the radio becomes off limits. The driver will be alone in the cockpit and will have to make do. The steering wheel-dashboard will be similar to that of a hatchback, because the Fia has made a clean break with mechanical aids managed by the electronics: gone will be the launch control button, which allowed drivers to start without depressing the clutch and, above all, without skidding. Gone will be the buttons that managed the gearbox and exempted the driver from having to change gear (and decide when to do so) a few thousand times per Grand Prix. No longer will you see those perfect cornering trajectories, with no skidding on the exit, all managed by microchips. Other bans concern the maximum number of cars allowed at a Grand Prix weekend: there will be a maximum of two per team. Gone is the reserve car, which was an invaluable resource in the event of accidents in practice. Those who break down go home, also because, and here the FIA legislators have gone one step further, from 2:00 p.m. on Saturday (the end of qualifying) to the start of the race the mechanics will not be able to intervene, because all the cars will be isolated in the so-called parc fermé (except in exceptional cases to be established). On one point the Federation was tolerant: traction control, start control and automatic gearbox will (perhaps) be allowed for a few more months or the whole season, but from 2004 there will be no more talk of them. Other cost-cutting proposals have not entered the diktat and will be discussed calmly in the coming months. These are details, by comparison: use of common components for different cars, standard ailerons, long-life parts, engines lasting two Grands Prix (from 2005) or six Grands Prix (from 2006).
"These are not suggestions, these are orders".
Confirmed an FIA spokesman at the end of the meeting. Mosley had already tried in the autumn to shake the consciences of Formula 1 with such outlandish proposals (ballasts for the first in the standings, drivers alternating at the wheel of the various single-seaters) that in the end they had aborted minimal changes: different scoring scale, single-lap qualifying and little else.
The problem, for the FIA, is that any change to the technical regulations must be voted unanimously to be immediately enforceable. This is the law: the deception was soon found. It was enough to rummage through some articles that had never been repealed. Number 60, for example:
"Each driver must drive alone and unaided".
Trivial in its simplicity, yet of a power that unhinged the Circus. Another extraordinary loophole in Article 71:
"Every car must be controlled by the stewards".
It is enough for the stewards to check only two and the reserve car becomes a memory. The teams are now preparing counter-moves. On Friday 17 January 2003, the technical directors will meet, then the FIA commission, the legislative body to which all the Formula 1 protagonists belong. The prevailing idea is to find an agreement that really cuts costs, limiting the damage of the revolution and the risk of endless litigation. The news of the revolution wanted by the FIA arrives in Trentino during Ferrari's traditional week of skiing holidays. All the drivers of the Maranello team, from Michael Schumacher to Rubens Barrichello, to test drivers Luca Badoer and Luciano Burti, do not comment on what has happened even though the measures taken to reduce costs in Formula 1 will change a lot the life of the drivers who will no longer have the help of many electronic supports. The World Champion does not speak, continuing to smile as if unaware. A little more understanding is his team-mate who, when told of the news, has a rather puzzled expression but does not want to express himself. Instead, fairly precise indications come from Maranello team sources:
"Reducing costs was the goal of all the teams. We have always been in favour of avoiding overspending and above all trying to go back a little. In fact, an excess of electronics in F1. even if in the normal product it offers extraordinary results and guarantees, it causes¬ goes problems at the level of driving and entertainment as far as racing is concerned. Drivers were now reduced to robots forced to operate knobs and buttons in an almost unnatural way. The cars even gave the impression that they could drive themselves".
Ferrari also reiterates that it was the first to accept and propose the reduction of engines since 2004 with the use of only one engine per Grand Prix:
"The current situation offers the opportunity to accept a good challenge that we will face in the best possible way. The hope is that these changes will not ruin the essence of the sport, which is still centred on the ability of the riders and on technology".
It also comes back to the subject of the championship wanted by the manufacturers if a solution to increase revenues is not found before 2007:
"The teams are aware that these innovations will not be ima definitive solution, however, if revenues are not increased. Everyone knows that there is an ongoing dispute about the division of premiums and especially revenues for TV rights. But also with regard to all the business created by the World Championship".
The team, which has won seven world titles in the last three years, will immediately set to work to revise its programmes and also the work on the car for 2003, which should be presented in early February.
All the technicians are engaged in this titanic work because it involves changing many things on the single-seaters, and redoing all the calculations that concerned electronically controlled systems, which from now on will have to be used without the support of computers and software:
"The most important thing is to hold our own and try to defend the position we have gained".
In fact, these sudden changes, decided on a date already quite close to the start of the World Championship, will create quite a few problems and force the engineers to do some very intricate and difficult finishing work. There will also be all the calculations to take into account the impossibility of using even a reserve car on race weekends and also the problem arising from the imposition of keeping the cars in a closed park after qualifying until the race. Differing opinions at Sauber. Willy Ramph despairs:
"We had just spent 700.000 Euro on a new telemetry system".
Says, on the other hand, Heinz-Harald Frentzen:
"It's about time. The skill of the driver will count for 40% more".
His colleague Giancarlo Fisichella is enthusiastic:
"We were becoming remote-controlled drivers and the values were levelled. Now technique will finally count. The gaps between the cars will also decrease, because electronics offered an additional advantage to the richer teams".
And Michael Schumacher's philosophy, one day after the decision by the FIA, what is it? Simple, if the rules are the same for everyone, he is sure to play with anyone:
"No problem. I have already driven cars without electronics, in fact I started my F1 career in them. The difficulties will be for someone else".
In Madonna di Campiglio for a final holiday break, the World Champion learned on Wednesday evening of the revolution in Formula 1 that abolishes telemetry, radio, back-up cars, traction and start controls, and automatic gearboxes. And he is not frightened. Some interpret the revolution as a system to slow Ferrari down: does that not worry you?
"No, I don't agree. If a team is strong, it stays at the top with any regulation. Ferrari and the other top teams will continue to make the most of their funds and will be the quickest to adopt countermeasures. I remember the McLaren world championship in 1998: we thought its superiority depended on a couple of reasons, in reality there were thousands. Formula One is a big puzzle".
What is the difference between a single-seater with electronic aids and one without?
"Electronics allows you to optimise the set-up, to bring each component to its maximum. It is a challenge for drivers and engineers. Without aids, you need more sensitivity to handle today's power (around 900 horsepower, ed). Young drivers would not be so fast after just a few laps, while for the experienced ones not much would change. It's only in the rain that the difference in driving without traction control is considerable and you need extreme sensitivity".
Which car do you prefer?
"The one with electronic controls".
So did they spite you?
"It's not that: for the result, the important thing is that the rules apply to everyone. I like electronics because it represents an extra challenge: it brings the car to perfection".
Heinz-Harald Frentzen claims that from now on the driver will count for 40% more. Does he agree?
"Every driver has his own opinion. I repeat that it won't change the life of the good ones: the difficulty is to reach the limit of a single-seater, whatever its driving systems are. The teams that haven't developed electronics will be fine, but I don't know which ones are".
The other novelties: away with the radio, abolished the reserve car.
"The radio is important: it allows the pit crew to tell you if there is oil on the track or if it is raining in certain sections. It would be better to avoid a ban on it. The rule on the reserve car has to be interpreted: it is unthinkable that a team is eliminated from a race because, for example, it breaks its engine on the reconnaissance lap before the start".
Will someone try to be clever by circumventing the bans?
"No top team will do that. The engineers have their own way of interpreting the regulations and that sometimes generates disagreements. But it doesn't mean that whoever wins cheats. If someone tried that, sooner or later they would be found out".
Do you agree with the changes approved in recent months on testing and scoring?
"Qualifying will be more exciting. The new scoring penalises those who win many races. Last year I wouldn't have won the championship so early, but in the future I won't necessarily have the advantage".
From this year you and your colleagues will wear the Hans collar. Some, like Jacques Villeneuve, claim it is useless, perhaps harmful.
"From what we know, Hans offers many advantages. In F1, as in everyday matters, there is no 100% solution. However, if it is 95% valid I consider it valid. The problem with Hans depends on the build of the drivers. It hurts my muscles because it's very stiff and tight. We are working on it and will put it right".
Is it a fair revolution?
"I think F1 has to adapt to the times. The economic crisis has put some teams in difficulty and it is important to reduce costs. Grand Prix are also run without telemetry and now it will be easier for new teams to enter. It will be a more entertaining Circus".
The technical revolution wanted or proposed by the FIA in Formula 1 will have a decisive epilogue on Friday 17 January 2003 in London. A meeting between the federal managers and the teams' Technical Working Group will define the changes that will be possible to adopt immediately (i.e. from the Friday of the first race in Melbourne) and those that will instead have to be postponed or rejected. Theoretically, the Federation could also try to impose its will, but that would open up a dispute that would be difficult to resolve and so, in all likelihood, compromises will be found. This hypothesis is also supported by the impressions reported by Jean Todt, the general manager of Sport Management, after attending Tuesday's meeting in England. First of all, however, the French manager gives an important piece of news: the 2003 Ferrari single-seater will be officially presented on Friday 7 February 2003, but it will certainly not debut in the first race of the World Championship. As happened last year, the debut will be postponed until the car is deemed competitive and reliable.
"The decisions that will be taken in a general sense have always been supported by Ferrari, because they are aimed at reducing costs and improving the show. As far as the timing is concerned, we will have to assess in detail the concrete possibilities of implementation. In our opinion there should be no problem in eliminating two-way telemetry. We are prepared not to have it, even though we had a very good programme in place. The one from the car to the pits, on the other hand, would require a different organisation and therefore costs to avoid its use. Radio transmissions with the driver do not have a cost and are a guarantee of safety for everyone, so I don't see the need to eliminate them. The idea of keeping the cars in a closed park between qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday seems reasonable to me. We will have the opportunity to change the engine between 11:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. (time now set for the timed lap that will determine the starting grid, ed). After that, if there are serious and justified problems, each team will be allowed to use the reserve car for the race".
What scenarios lie ahead?
"There are three possibilities. One is that all changes are rejected. Which seems difficult to me. As well as accepting them outright. I think it would be fair to reach a compromise".
In theory, there should therefore not be many traumatic changes in the short term.
"It seems unlikely to be able to remove traction control and the automatic start system from the cars right away. In any case, it will be a case of clear and precise rules for everyone. We are in favour of many of the other proposals. We will be fine in the future with brakes made by a single supplier for all teams, an identical rear wing on every car, the use of long-life components and the sale of elements to other teams. Ferrari in recent arms has supplied engines to one other team and also to two and is willing to continue. For a fee. And I stress for a fee because we don't have the means to do it for free. In the coming arms we will also be able to sell old and new chassis and other parts. A supermarket will be created that will be open to whoever sees fit".
The fact that aerodynamics has not been touched for now is a fact of opportunity.
"You can't keep everything under control. How do you, for example, limit the use of the wind tunnel to ten hours a week?"
So all that remains is to wait for London's decisions. But one thing is certain, Todt concludes:
"We respect and fear our rivals. But we have the means and the motivation to try to stay at the top. If a team is strong, it adapts to all the rules. We are not conceited to the point of considering ourselves the strongest, but we are determined to fight to continue to achieve the results of recent seasons".
Having changed the rules, now the patron of Formula One may change. Two days after the electronic counter-revolution, Bernie Ecclestone's position falters. The GPWC - a group of manufacturers that includes Ferrari (taken over by Fiat), Daimler Chrysler (Mercedes), Bmw, Renault and Ford - meets on Thursday 26 January 2003 in Berlin and will negotiate the purchase of Slec, the company that owns Formula 1 in all its activities. The manoeuvre will be conducted by an investment bank, Goldman Sachs. Slec is a creature of Ecclestone (the acronym stands for Slavica, the boss's wife, and Ecclestone). Last year the majority of its shares were sold to the Kirch television group and then taken over by some of Kirch's creditor banks.
"We have started negotiations with the Slec shareholders".
A statement from the Gpwc reads. The objective is clear: more power and more money for the teams. Today, 25% of the Circus' total revenue goes to the constructors, which in TV rights alone amounts to 400.000.000 euros.
"And then they ask us to cut costs".
The big Formula 1 car companies are getting angry. The war on Ecclestone could be resolved within a year. And then in 2004 Formula 1 would have rules dictated by the teams. If, on the other hand, the takeover of Slec fails, the GPWC will organise a new racing series by 2008, effectively emptying Formula 1 of its main protagonists. The constructors' group then panned the new rules introduced by the FIA as a surprise:
"We do not want a precedent to be set. We agree on cutting costs, but if the rules are changed at the last moment the result is the opposite: increased expenses. Moreover, Formula 1 must retain one of its peculiarities: to express the highest level of technology and the application of the most advanced research'".
We shall see. Meanwhile, while Max Mosley, president of the FIA, assures the Guardian in an interview that he has never done Ferrari any favours, in London the technical directors of all the teams are discussing how to adapt to the new regulations. They will have to meet several more times, before the start of the World Championship, but almost all seem to agree on the exclusion of two-way telemetry and radio, postponing cuts to electronics until the end of the season. A proposal that will, however, have to get the green light from the FIA. Away from the summits of the Formula 1 top management, Michael Schumacher spends his last day of holiday at Madonna di Campiglio, performing in a disastrous giant slalom race (he fell in the first heat, jumped over a door in the 20th) and in a spectacular kart race on ice with Rubens Barrichello, Luca Badoer and Luciano Burli. He then concedes to the microphones, in Italian:
"The new Ferrari is great. The competition has grown, but we can win the World Championship again".
Tuesday 21 January 2003, the revolution goes ahead, albeit softened: electronics will disappear mid-season, radio communication will become public, the reserve car will survive, two-way telemetry will not. FIA president Max Mosley accepts some of the objections made by the technical directors of the various teams: changing too much too quickly does nothing to cut costs. On the contrary, it makes them rise. As stipulated in the document of Wednesday, 15 January 2003, telemetry from the pits to the car is forbidden. That is, technicians will not be able to telemeter the single-seaters with a banal computer. The prospects of this technology were the stuff of science fiction, the development only in its infancy. At Ferrari, which was also in the vanguard, they still trusted Michael Schumacher more than microchips, so the abolition was painless. The transmission of data in the opposite direction (from the car to the pits) will be allowed until 2004: it does not interfere with driving and cannot be eliminated quickly. From next year a standard system will be introduced that is the same for everyone.
There is debate about the radio. It is useful for safety,' object the engineers, 'we need it to warn the driver of a danger. Fine, replies the FIA president, then communications will be heard by everyone, including television. For confidential communications, the teams will have to invent a code language. The timing of the pit stop, for example, is a crucial, changing and highly secret choice in race strategy. Until now, it was enough to croak pits into the microphone, from Sunday 9 March 2003, in Australia, green light to coded messages. The reserve car will remain. The only restriction is that it cannot be used at will, but only in case of need (breakage that cannot be repaired during practice, breakage just before the start, interruption of the race in the first two laps). Goodbye savings, of course, but the FIA didn't feel like holding out on this point. Imagine a bit of rain during qualifying, five or six drivers go off the track and break their chassis, two others melt their engine on Sunday on the formation lap, five collide in a carambole at the start (and we are talking about frequent situations over the course of a season): a disaster for the show. The ban on working on the single-seater between the end of qualifying and the start of the race remains. A restricted list of maintenance work will be approved, while any other operation will require the permission of the race stewards. And we come to the much-debated electronics issue. Mosley said:
"We envisage a waiver, we realise that it is not possible to eliminate by March all the devices that we will ban".
Someone asked for this to be postponed until 2004, since the single-seaters designed and built in the autumn are full of electronic content. Solomonic was the FIA's decision: half the season with aids, half without. The ban will start on Sunday, 20 July 2003, at Silverstone. Starting with the British Grand Prix, the drivers will lose three systems: traction control, already common on many production cars, which prevents the tyres from slipping under acceleration and is used to avoid skidding coming out of bends, when the drivers press the accelerator, unloading 850-900 horsepower onto the asphalt; the automatic gearbox, since today the driver presses a button on the right of the steering wheel and a software decides the gear changes, presses one on the left and the software sets the downshifts. There will be no return to the cloche gearbox (two buttons or two levers will remain) but it will be the human being who decides the right moment of the change; and, finally, the start control, since with the current system, the driver follows a brief procedure that tunes the system, then releases a button and the car starts, without skidding or switching off.
"We have special sensors and new technology to control those who try to break the rules".
And still on the subject of technology: Ferrari's website is the most clicked on on the web. According to a ranking of industrial brands compiled by the search engine Google, i! Cavallino is ahead of giants such as Sony, Nokia, Disney and Microsoft. The importance of the Internet in Formula 1 is growing, so much so that a racing team like Jaguar has entrusted the presentation of the R4 to the web. A virtual launch that breaks the tradition of glitzy conventions of journalists and photographers. On Thursday 23 January 2003, while, less than 500 kilometres away, at the Spanish circuit of Montmelò, Michael Schumacher at the wheel of the old Ferrari F2002 set a new track record (1'15"016, against 1'15"266 set by David Coulthard's McLaren-Mercedes), Patrick Faure, president of Renault Sport and Flavio Briatore, general manager of the French team, presented the new R23. A single-seater with which Jarno Trulli and the very young (21 years old from Oviedo) Fernando Alonso, will have to fight in the Formula 1 World Championship. The objectives, according to Faure, are clear:
"Aim for the podium among the constructors this year and next year fight for the title".
Which would mean, for 2003, ousting from second and third place either Williams-Bmw or McLaren-Mercedes. Briatore, tanned - arriving from Brazil - and for now not engaged, is even more cautious:
"We have worked a lot, but it is hard. I feel like on the first day of school, when you are happy, then everything becomes difficult. But we believe in it: we are 400 in England, with 200.000.000 euro budget, almost all covered by sponsors, and 300 in France for engine and research. Even if we had twice as much money, we would not necessarily be faster. We have a good pair of drivers. Jarno is a safety, Fernando a great talent, for me a phenomenon for the future".
The Piedmontese manager embraces the innovations wanted by the FIA, but not all of them:
"Formula 1 is old, it has to change. The elimination of two-way telemetry and the reduction of electronics are fine. But be careful: the FIA must be certain that it can exercise perfect control over the systems adopted, avoid controversy and doubts, otherwise we will end up in ridicule. Cost reduction? We will save very little in 2003. In any case, for now we do not feel the crisis. The technical and sporting innovations have reawakened interest".
The eclectic Briatore continues his entrepreneurial activities untiringly. He has bought a large property in Saluzzo that he is renovating and will be managed by his brother Walter. He will plant 2500 olive trees in the hills. Will we soon see Briatore oil? In the meantime, in his own words, he has also set up a henhouse. Seven youngsters, aged between 16 and 23, who will race in various European categories, sponsored by Renault. Potential Senna or Schumacher, he says: Heikki Kovalainen, Fabio Carbone, Eric Salignon, Carlo van Dam, Jose Maria Lopez, Adrian Valles and Danny Watts.
"They have yellow overalls, they are chicks, but soon they will lay eggs...".
Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso (who will be helped in testing by the recycled veteran Alan McNish and the transalpine Frank Montagny) are starting to get going right away. For now, the R23 is a hybrid car: under the skin there is an all-new mechanics, including gearbox and engine (which, however, remains with the strange 111° V opening), the bodywork is provisional, awaiting the real one to be shown only on the eve of the championship. Jarno Trulli explains:
"The first notes are positive, but we will have to wait. I feel in great shape. The car is lighter, built with a lower centre of gravity, now it reacts better to adjustments. My dream? First of all to finish more races than last season, when I had to retire nine times out of 17. Then to grow. Renault is making a big effort to get to the top and we are with the team".
On the other hand, the popular 37-year-old Eddie Irvine is no longer with the team, announcing his retirement from racing. Eddie Jordan asked him to bring $6.000.000 to get the wheel. The driver has given up, and Michael Schumacher comments that Formula 1 will now be sadder. Perhaps a space will open up for the Brazilian Felipe Massa, if his sponsors will pay enough. The following day, Friday 24 January 2003, on the Fiorano track, Ferrari's training ground, the yellow flag with the prancing horse, symbol of Francesco Baracca, hero of the Great War before becoming the world's most famous car, flies at half-mast. Luca Montezemolo mourns Giovanni Agnelli:
"He leaves an unbridgeable void in my life".
It was the Avvocato who wanted him in 1992 at the head of Ferrari, a team in an identity crisis after the death of Enzo Ferrari.
"For over thirty-five years, his friendship and affection have been an irreplaceable point of reference for me. I will never forget how close he was to me in the most difficult moments".
On Friday, 24 January 2003, Gianni Agnelli passed away, at the age of 81, in Turin in his historic hillside residence Villa Frescòt due to prostate cancer. Luca Montezemolo remembers the phone calls that Agnelli made to him during Grand Prix races, the encouragement at the time of the crisis, the compliments in the seasons of triumphs, anecdotes and stories of many years spent at Maranello. The first meeting with Michael Schumacher, for example.
"In the summer of 1995 we arranged a meeting in Monte-Carlo to formalise the engagement. Agnelli knew everything about the driver, but he wanted to meet the person. In the end he said to me: Good, good... I like him".
And so he commented on the contract:
"He didn't come for a loaf of bread, but he came of his own free will anyway".
He later compared the German driver to Pelé and Andy Warhol, the best of football and contemporary art. 1999 was a turning point at Maranello. After two world titles eluded at the last race, the feeling, on the day the new single-seater was launched, was that the season would be full of satisfaction. Always close to the Scuderia Ferrari, Agnelli intervenes with one of his lightning jokes:
"It's twenty years since Ferrari won the World Championship, woe betide if it comes of age".
Victory in the Constructors' Championship and defeat in the Drivers' Championship arrived, conditioned by the accident to Michael Schumacher. 2000 was the year of great joy. But also of the fear that the triumph still eludes. The Italian Grand Prix comes at a crucial moment. A week before the race, Montezemolo talks to Agnelli and asks him to visit the team.
"To tell the truth I had already thought about it".
The Avvocato replies, and on 30 August he shows up at the Monza circuit, where Ferrari is testing, and conveys courage and comfort:
"I believe in victory, but if Ferrari loses we will reconfirm everyone".
The following month at Suzuka, Michael Schumacher is in the lead with 13 laps to go. Victory would mean the World Championship.
"The lawyer phones me at home and says: Luca it's done, now I'm going to turn off the television and read Barbara Spinelli's article in La Stampa. Today, with great gratitude I dedicate our successes to him, knowing well the fundamental part he played".
Michael Schumacher also held Giovanni Agnelli in high esteem:
"I am very sorry. Meeting him was a source of great pride. Each time I was struck by the competence and curiosity he had for Ferrari, Formula 1 and football, as well as his sensitivity to world problems".
In Jean Todt's opinion:
"We have lost a legendary character with an inimitable style. An unrepeatable cycle comes to an end".
Piero Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari's son, still has in mind the day he met Agnelli, in 1969 at Mirafiori:
"I accompanied dad to Turin (for the sale of 50% of the shares to Fiat, ed). I was struck by his charisma, his extraordinary capacity for synthesis, his curiosity. I had the pleasure of seeing him many other times and he always had words of appreciation for my father and for me. Beyond company matters, he had always been a true admirer of Ferrari products".
The following week, Friday 31 January 2003, Williams resumed its challenge with Ferrari by going with a completely new car. After finishing second in last year's World Championship, but far behind the Maranello team in the standings, the British team was forced to design and build a different single-seater from the 2002 model. An evolution of the previous model would not have been enough to allow Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher to try and block the way for Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. In fact, the FW25 presented at the Montmeló circuit is nothing like last year's car. Smaller dimensions, extremely refined and complex aerodynamics, the result of long and sophisticated wind tunnel studies, revised mechanics. Also brand new is the Bmw P83 engine (over 19.000 rpm and 900 HP), which has a modified gearbox and a particularly evolved clutch. The Munich-based company has redesigned its V10 engine. Bmw Motorsport manager Mario Thyssen explains:
"We have obviously increased revs and power, but our aim, given also the new regulations that will only allow us to use two engines on race weekends, was to seek maximum reliability".
Statement to which Gerhard Berger, sports director of the team supplying the engines, adds a joke:
"We have also sent one of our technicians to Mercedes, so that they can improve".
Williams and Bmw are in negotiations to extend their agreement after the deadline set in 2004, the German brand having practically given up on setting up a team of its own. The tough question for Frank Williams is the duel with Ferrari.
"The important thing is not to beat Ferrari but to fight with Ferrari".
A little diplomacy doesn't hurt, which is why, perhaps, officially the Grove team and its Bavarian partner announce they will only aim for the title in 2004. The drivers also preach calm. Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher, who never hide their rivalry that is evident in their gestures and attitudes, avoid proclamations. Says the Colombian driver:
"The FW 25 looks good to me. And if the car will be competitive I am ready to do my part. I don't fear single-lap qualifying. But it will not only be a challenge for the drivers: the technicians will also have to play their part. Michael Schumacher? I don't have any messages for him, I'll see you on the track, I've prepared well. Even if some people say I don't try hard enough".
Ralf Schumacher prefers not to talk about Ferrari's World Champion, but is nonetheless moved to answer the accusation that he was not aggressive enough towards his brother.
"Last year in Brazil I had assessed that it was better to take six points than to risk finishing off the track. It was not possible at that time to be faster than the Ferrari. Over the years I have become more reflective. That doesn't mean that if the opportunity presents itself I won't attempt a hard overtake".
Ralf Schumacher, then, not having bigger targets at his disposal, lashes out at Eddie Irvine who has always criticised him:
"Eddie as a driver is poor and wants to earn a lot. He did well to retire, so he can enjoy the money he has put in his safe".
The FW25 ran its first laps after 14.30. It is difficult to give an immediate impression. "In a few days, after some more in-depth tests," Montoya concluded, "we will be able to make some valid judgements. If a car is good you can tell very quickly. In 2002, Williams, BMW, Ralf Schumacher and Montoya had to suffer the superiority of the Maranello cars and its drivers. Now, also taking advantage of regulatory changes, they hope to make 0 big hit. But they are not saying so and are waiting for the response from the track. On Monday 3 February 2003, Ferrari takes to the track with the old F2002s that will run the first three Grands Prix. Williams tests the FW25s that have just come out of the Grove stables and will run the entire season. In Barcelona, Montmeló circuit, the two great rivals of last year savour the taste of the challenge again: Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello against Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya. At the end of the day, the fastest lap is the one set by Rubens Barrichello, 1'16"900. The rivals' best time is set by Juan Pablo Montoya, 1'18"511: 1.6 seconds difference. An abyss. Between the two German brothers the gap is similar: Michael sets the second fastest time behind his team-mate, 1'17"282, Ralf the tenth, lapping in 1'18"725. The comment from the Maranello team is without emphasis:
"We had planned tyre tests. We will continue testing with the same drivers. The gap to the Williams? We are refining a proven single-seater, they are covering the first kilometres with the new car".
The Anglo-German team is looking for the reliability of the new, very powerful Bmw engine, which with Juan Pablo Montoya completes 41 laps and with Ralf Schumacher arrives at 62 (the Spanish Grand Prix includes 65). The two Ferrari drivers cover more kilometres than their rivals: 64 laps for the Brazilian, even 88 for the German, spent evaluating the behaviour of the Bridgestones and testing a few solutions that will end up on the new single-seater. Behind the usual two, still uncatchable for everyone, comes Cristiano Da Matta with the Toyota (1'17'563). A rookie in Formula 1 (he is 2002 Formula Cart champion), this 29-year-old Brazilian has so far done very well in testing. Fourth place goes to the Italian Jarno Trulli (1'17"778), who is growing the Renault. Next, Jenson Button (BAR-Honda, 1'17"826), Nick Heidfeld (Sauber-Petronas, 1'17"907), Antonio Pizzonia (Jaguar, 1'18"079), Jacques Villeneuve (BAR-Honda, 1'18"342), the two Williams-Bmw and finally Alain McNish (Renault, 1'19"203). Engines off at Jordan, which has not yet made official the name of the driver who will flank Giancarlo Fisichella. The candidature of Englishman Ralph Firman, 27 years old, former Formula 3 champion, is emerging. In any case, at Maranello they deny any interest in Felipe Massa as test driver. The confrontation in Barcelona between Ferrari and Williams-Bmw will continue until Thursday 6 February 2003. The next day all attentions will shift to Maranello, where the new Ferrari will be presented, which will then make its debut on Monday 10 February 2003 on the private Fiorano track. Formula 1 is not against the principles of Islam. It is the world that revolves around it that leads to sin. So it is better to prevent it, thought the Bahraini Parliament, at the cost of giving up the spectacle and the profits that a Grand Prix brings. The Bahrain Grand Prix was more than just a project and could have been realised as early as next year.
vBut with Formula One, the prostitutes would come in droves".
Commented the spokesman of the parliamentary services committee Isa Al Mutawa. The request for the USD 200.000.000 needed to begin construction of the circuit was therefore rejected. According to the Gulf Daily News, there is still a chance: the issue will be discussed by the Shura, the emirally appointed consultative assembly. If the Shura is in favour, the project would be discussed by the National Assembly (parliament plus Shura). Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone had agreed to organise a race in Bahrain since 2004. The Arab world, more tolerant than Europe towards the advertising of another vice, tobacco, would thus have its own major motor racing event.Bahrain, population 650.000, capital Manama, had won the competition from countries like Dubai and Egypt thanks to the efforts of the heir to the crown, a great motorsport enthusiast. While Ecclestone negotiates, Scuderia Ferrari sets itself a difficult and ambitious goal: to improve the best Ferrari ever. In Maranello they have been working on it since at least July, when they closed the world file in record time. The result is parked inside the Nuova Logistica factory, hidden by a tarpaulin that will be lifted on Friday 7 February 2003 at 11:00 a.m.. On the track, the F2003 will take to the track on Monday at Fiorano with Michael Schumacher, while in the race we will see it on the Easter weekend at Imola (18-20 April 2003). The new features are covered by military secrecy, but rumours anticipate a single-seater revolutionised in some parts and refined in others. New is the 052 engine designed by Paolo Martinelli and Gilles Simon, which has undergone a slimming treatment that has succeeded in the miracle of making it lose kilos (about six) and centimetres, while gaining more horsepower. The top speed could reach the threshold of 19.000 rpm, at least during qualifying. On the dyno the engine performed well and now it will have to pass a long test on the track, because reliability is considered a fundamental value at Maranello. On chassis and aerodynamics the work of Rory Byrne, the father of the record-breaking single-seaters, has been long and complex.
"I used to see the lights on in the middle of the night in the wind tunnel".
President Luca Montezemolo revealed before Christmas. By reducing the size of the cast titanium gearbox, it was possible to shrink the rear of the single-seater even further in the so-called coke zone, a solution that other teams have copied. One of the strengths of the F2002 had been the tyres, built to Ferrari's specifications by Bridgestone. The agreement with the Japanese company has been renewed. The only unknown factor: the wet weather tyres. The regulations no longer allow two tyres (intermediate and rain): Ferrari is opting for the intermediate because, in the event of a downpour, the race is usually slowed down by the entry of the safety car. A separate discussion deserves the electronics. Everything is the same as before until the French Grand Prix; from Silverstone the traction control, the fully automatic gearbox and - perhaps - the start control will disappear. Ferrari has continued the development of its microchips: tests without electronics will begin late in the season and will also affect the tyres, which without the help of technology wear out faster. The aim is to win the constructors' title for the fifth time in a row and the drivers' title for the fourth. There is no talk of records: 2002 remains an unrepeatable season.Williams-Bmw is scary, despite stuttering during the first tests. McLaren-Mercedes is expected to grow, even though it will debut with a hybrid car, a preview of the one yet to be presented. The protagonists of the ceremony in Maranello, in front of 600 journalists from all over the world, will be President Montezemolo, the Head of Sports Management Jean Todt, technicians, mechanics and, of course, the drivers. With a novelty: alongside World Champion Michael Schumacher, deputy Rubens Barrichello and test driver Luca Badoer, Brazilian Felipe Massa will take part in the group photo in place of Luciano Burti. Originally from São Paulo like Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa will be 22 years old on 25 April 2003. He has a jockey's physique (166 centimetres in height for 59 kilos) and a good talent that has so far been overshadowed by impetuosity (at Sauber, they still haven't forgiven him for all the single-seaters he has wrecked). His CV includes a European title in Formula Renault and one in Formula 3000, as well as four points in Formula 1 last year. Not much, but the future in red is his. Say goodbye to Luciano Burti, who will race in Formula Nissan:
"I am grateful to Ferrari for the opportunity it gave me in 2002. It was a fantastic experience, which allowed me to improve. I had an agreement for the 2003 season, but because of my good relationship with the team, they agreed to let me go".
The new Ferrari is called F2003-GA, in memory of the Avvocato. It is 11:10 a.m. when Jean Todt, his voice barely veiled by emotion, announces the name of the single-seater that will defend the Formula 1 world title. GA, or Giovanni Agnelli. Long applause. The drivers lift the veil covering the Maranello team's latest jewel. The Ferrari style is understated, with no special effects or intrusive music. For the launch, the Nuova Logistica di Fiorano has been chosen, a futuristic pavilion in the shape of a blimp, with aluminium and plexiglass vaults. Here, during the rest of the year, the trucks that transport the single-seaters to circuits all over Europe are parked.
"It's beautiful, we can't wait to see it run on the track".
Says Jean Todt. The head of Sports Management has a personal memory of Agnelli:
"I had the privilege of meeting him often and today I can tell you a little secret: he was the one who mentioned my name to Montezemolo. I consider it a privilege to have met him. I have been to his office at Lingotto several times, to his boat, to his home in Turin. I don't know if there is another person of his stature in the world. I think not: kings are born of royal families, he was born a king of himself. We will miss him".
The F2003-GA has an important name and a difficult inheritance: it is the evolution, rather than the revolution, of the F2002 that won fifteen races out of seventeen, pulverised all records and rewrote Formula 1 statistics. From the nose down to the middle of the chassis, no differences are noticeable, but starting from the sides, the novelties are important: the design of the bellies has changed, the radiators have shrunk, the rear end has been narrowed again thanks to a smaller and more efficient engine and gearbox. The power steering is new, the suspension design pure, the electronics have a higher processing speed and engine control is improved. The engine, the technological heart of the car born in symbiosis with the chassis, is brand new. The engineers have managed to give it 200 more revolutions per minute, take four kilos off it, lower the centre of gravity and increase the power, which remains a secret (an estimated 850 horsepower in race trim). The fathers of the F2003-GA take turns on the red stage and those who will have to wean it off and make it grow. They all speak Italian, even Michael Schumacher. The accent changes, German or Brazilian, English or Italian. Ross Brawn, technical director, cold strategist who eats a banana at the decisive moments of every Grand Prix, says he is proud of the car and the people who created it. This is his seventh single-seater and each one has been faster than the previous ones. In 2003 it would be enough for him to tie. Rory Byrne, the designer, explains that the basic philosophy has not changed, but nothing has. When he put the white paper to the workbench, he started thinking about how to optimise aerodynamic efficiency, lower the centre of gravity, maximise engine and tyre performance.
"To take a step forward in performance I had to revise many areas of the car, because the development of the previous model had reached its limits. Where the basic design has not changed, it has been refined. Almost every part of the single-seater has been redesigned. In the wind tunnel and on the test bench the results are beyond expectations. It will be the best Ferrari ever".
Paolo Martinelli, the engine chief, every year has to improve an engine that never breaks down:
"We built a new power unit. Both the architecture and the materials have changed".
The suppliers also promise great progress. Bridgestone, which has played such a large part in the triumphs of recent seasons, is convinced that it has found the ideal wet-weather tyre (the regulations from this year only require one type). If it were to rain all the time, the climb to the fourth consecutive drivers' title (and fourth for the constructors) would be a formality, whisper the Japanese tyre specialists.
Shell has prepared new petrol and lubricants suitable for the increased performance. According to the Italian Minister of Infrastructure, Pietro Lunardi:
"Italy and the government should take Ferrari as an example".
Fiat's top management is also there. President Paolo Fresco is enthusiastic:
"I am surprised by the courage of this company, which wins and changes completely. The dedication to Agnelli? I did not know. Montezemolo had told me about a surprise. The Avvocato will appreciate it from where he is now. This is the most beautiful tribute he could receive".
Alessandro Barberis, managing director of the Turin-based group, defines Ferrari:
"Our jewel. Events like this give us the charge".
John Elkann, grandson of the Avvocato, closes:
"It is very beautiful. Now we are waiting to see her win".
Although he has been the protagonist of thousands of public meetings in his professional career, Luca Montezemolo cannot hide his deep emotion. The new Ferrari and the dedication to Giovanni Agnelli also involve the Ferrari president on a sentimental level. In a voice that is for once less confident, Montezemolo explains the motivations that led to the choice of the acronym to remember the figure of the lawyer:
"We are all thrilled. Ferrari cannot forget a man who has done so much for the company and for me personally. Gianni Agnelli was a fundamental point of reference for thirty-five years of my life. From 1992 to 1999, even under difficult conditions, his support was crucial. We will miss him and I will miss him very much and we are very happy that this car bears his name, just as the last granturismo, the most competitive and fastest ever, was dutifully named after the founder of Ferrari".
With the F2003-GA in front of him, Montezemolo also talks about the stability of the team, the pride of belonging to the Fiat Group, the upcoming championship, the opponents and those who have helped:
"The best companies in the world collaborate with us".
And they will help Ferrari to renew its achievements.
'We set off for a new season as if the past did not exist, as if everything had to be put back into play. This is what Agnelli would say today if he were here. We have won nothing, we repeat ourselves, we start from scratch. We are not yet satiated. So determination, humility and commitment. Ferrari's secret is always to invest in technology, to look forward and never backwards. In Formula 1, losing five days of work is like standing still for a year. You live by hundredths of a second. We have the challenge in our DNA, we try to transfer innovations from the track to the road, on Ferrari and Maserati production models, and we have in racing the courage to take risks. This is also the beauty of motorsport".
Then the president adds:
"We have very tough battles ahead of us, we know that the adversaries will grow, that it will be impossible to repeat the extraordinary results of 2002, we have our feet on the ground, but we will give it our all. We agree with the technical and sporting changes wanted in Formula 1, in trying to reinvigorate the regulations and the spectacle, provided that this is done taking into account the general interests, of all the teams, and above all the need for it to remain the most advanced expression of motor sport and technology".
As the flashes go off, while the cameras explore faces and the F2003-GA in all their detail (the most interesting are certainly hidden under the skin or perhaps still stored in the workshop to present them at the last moment on the track). Afterwards, Luca Montezemolo hugs Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello as if they were his sons. Open applause for everyone, including Jean Todt, who acts as presenter on stage throughout the morning.
"We want to win the Constructors' and Drivers' World Championships again. Formula 1 is our daily passion. A beautiful profession".
Finding a fault with Ferrari is more difficult than seeing a Minardi in pole position. The name, the line, the technical content, the victories, the image, the cheering, the passion: it is all at the highest level. The F2003-GA is a tribute to Giovanni Agnelli, as well as the evolution of a single-seater that other teams have tried to imitate. Naming the car after the Avvocato means, not so implicitly, being sure of having done a great job. In the midst of dutiful, superstitious caution, designer Rory Byrne lets slip that the car came out even better than expected. And World Champion Michael Schumacher, always cautious in his assessment of opponents, makes it clear:
"I fear McLaren more than Williams".
That is to say, he is more worried about a team intent on debuting with last year's car, which was netting almost a second a lap, than one that has already put a 900-horsepower beast on the track. The Williams-Bmw is an unknown: in the Spanish tests it displayed embarrassing speed limits. It also happens to the best, during the early stages of development, but it is difficult to transform a single-seater in a month, the time until the championship debut. When you have to catch up with your rivals, you have to make radical choices, which do not always pay off. On the contrary, Ferrari's engineers have started from a model that has pulverised every record and have improved its strong points: the aerodynamics of the sides and rear, accompanied by the miniaturisation of the gearbox and the slimming treatment of the engine. The tyre challenge will continue, but the same considerations apply: at the end of 2002, Bridgestone were ahead of Michelin. Now that the F2003-GA has been christened, it needs to grow. The Maranello team will have to work on three fronts: first of all, preparing the F2002 that will race in Australia, Malaysia the and Brazil. This single-seater has no more secrets for the men of the Maranello team, however - as president Luca Montezemolo reminds us - in Formula 1, whoever stops for five days loses a year. In addition to having a proven, reliable and winning car, the advantage of this choice also depends on the new regulations, which reduce the time available for set-up and force one to race with the same set-up used in qualifying: the set-up of an old single-seater is simpler and quicker. At the same time, Ferrari will have to break in the F2003-GA and correct its youthful flaws in preparation for its debut at Imola over the Easter weekend. Not only that: on Sunday 20 July 2003, at Silverstone, Formula 1 will change its rules. A good deal of electronics will disappear (traction and start control, automatic gearbox), so an F2003-GA will have to be prepared in testing for the second part of the season and the drivers will have to train again at the starts. This is the timetable for the new single-seater: first kilometres at Fiorano, then it will move to Mugello, then to Imola from Monday 17 to Wednesday 19 February 2003 for a series of comparative tests with the 2002 car (the Sauber, which mounts Ferrari engines, will also be on track).The following week, from Tuesday 25 to Thursday 27 February 2003, tests in Spain side by side with the rivals. The F2002 will, instead, be entrusted to Barrichello on Tuesday, who will test in Valencia.
There would be no point in building a very fast single-seater if the tyres were not up to scratch. Bridgestone has continued its development work in symbiosis with Ferrari, but it will be the comparison on the track that will verify the quality of the result. Michelin's rivals, suppliers to Williams-Bmw and McLaren-Mercedes, flaunt optimism:
"Our new compounds are excellent. If Ferrari does not improve its lap times by at least a second, the chance of beating Barrichello and sometimes even Schumacher will increase".
On one point the Japanese engineers have no doubts: their rain tyres are the best possible. The regulations no longer allow two types of tyre, so the manufacturers have had to choose a compromise solution which, in the case of Bridgestone, seems particularly quick. Tuesday 11 February 2003 Michael Schumacher takes off his helmet and the first sentence he utters is:
"Giovanni Agnelli would be proud of this car and this team".
Michael Schumacher christens the F2003-GA dedicated to the Avvocato, Scuderia Ferrari's latest jewel, on the track, completing 78 laps, one faster than the other, breaking the record seventeen times. The chronometers, in the end, stop at 57"045. Last year's extraordinary single-seater had come in at 57"476, almost 0.5 seconds faster, an eternity on a track barely 3 kilometres long. It is 6:00 p.m. when Ferrari lowers the shutters in the pits at the private Fiorano circuit, a stone's throw from the Maranello factory. The sun sets on the horizon. Michael Schumacher tries until a glimmer of light allows him to see the training track he knows by heart. And a few hundred fans stay behind the protective nets all day to brave the cold. A couple from Massachusetts, he 35, she 28, choose their holidays in Europe for Ferrari. A Japanese woman returns to Italy these days because she missed the debut of the F2002 last year. They are so sure, at Maranello, that they have chosen Friday to present the car to the world and Tuesday to debut it, disregarding the proverbial superstition. The F2003-GA starts the engine at 9:03 a.m. under the eyes of President Luca Montezemolo, who has arrived by helicopter from Bologna: a lap of the track, then a long stop. The technicians take the car apart, check it piece by piece.From the flyover beside the track, the fans check alarmed with binoculars. But this is the practice at the start of every test session, let alone on the day of the first outing. At 11:20 a.m. second lap and a new stop. It resumes at 11:37 a.m., finally eight laps in a row. The morning ends with a time of 58"291, which is lowered by one second in the afternoon. In addition to the record, the Maranello team's engineers appreciate the reliability: the 052 engine runs its first 232 kilometres (a Grand Prix is about 310) without any significant problems. On Wednesday and Thursday it is repeated: Michael Schumacher weans the new single-seater, Rubens Barrichello in Valencia adjusts the old F2002 that will have to face the first races of the World Championship. Unless, as the German driver is convinced:
"If we can achieve the reliability and speed targets sooner, it is not certain that we cannot bring forward the debut. The date has not yet been fixed".
At Maranello they prefer to keep a low profile:
"When there is something new, Michael gets excited and would like to use it straight away. Let's continue testing and see".
The following week promises to be an interesting session at Imola: the F2003-GA and F2002 should face off against the stopwatch. In the meantime, the debut of the new F2003-GA is a slap in the face of the competition, which still has to make up for last season's delay. At its debut, the new Williams-Bmw ran at the pace of BAR-Honda. But the challenge is still wide open, because Juan Pablo Montoya responds to Ferrari by setting a new record on the Valencia track (even if Ferrari's unofficial chronometers show a higher time).
The Maranello and Anglo-German teams have chosen opposite strategies: one postpones the race debut to capitalise on the reliability of the old single-seater; the other tries to anticipate the development of the new one, to get ahead of the work and catch up with the technological gap. He repeats, meanwhile, the World Champion:
"Exceptional test. The record? I wouldn't put too much emphasis on it, because the Fiorano track was recently resurfaced and it is impossible to make an accurate comparison with the times of a year ago. I would rather emphasise the reliability: for 78 laps it didn't give any problems. It's a great car, I feel it very well".
Thursday 13 February 2003 Michael Schumacher improves his own record, set two days earlier, by about 0.3 seconds at the Fiorano circuit, dropping below 57 seconds. The German driver, in the new Ferrari F2003-GA, stops the stopwatch at 56.807 seconds, showing how fast and already reliable the new single-seater from Maranello is. Ferrari, however, the team plans to make its season debut with the old F2002 and bring the F2003-GA onto the Imola track. Michael Schumacher, by the way, also receives Bernie Ecclestone's best wishes:
"I wish him a sixth World Championship, although he won't have it as easy as last year given the new points system: I doubt, however, that anyone will be able to beat Ferrari".
On Monday 17 February 2003, surprisingly, the F2002 is faster than the F2003-GA. The car in which Michael Schumacher won the 2002 World Championship keeps the exuberance of its heir at bay.
The men of the Maranello team emphasise: the young F2003-GA has to grow and mature. The confrontation takes place at the Imola circuit. It is an equal challenge: Michael Schumacher alternates driving the two cars (the World Champion is the only one to have driven the new single-seater). Even the distance covered is similar: 34 laps with the F2003-GA, equal to 168 kilometres, 23 with the F2002 (113 kilometres). The stopwatch marks 0.185 seconds of difference, 1'21"795 versus 1'21"880. A minimal, normal and predictable difference, claim Ferrari. Predictable for the technicians, less so for the fans who had trembled seven days earlier at the Fiorano track to witness the F2003-GA's first outing. Armed with a stopwatch, they had followed the progress kilometre after kilometre, until the lap record had fallen seventeen times. At Imola they were expecting another exploit, especially after Monday's breakdown that had limited testing to just eight laps. A question of tyres, it seems. They both use the same Bridgestone, it is clear, but the development work is different: the current tyre is tailor-made for the F2002, the result of thousands of kilometres of testing in all weathers and on circuits all over the planet. Finding the right tyre for the F2003-GA will take months of work, not to mention the development of mechanics, electronics and aerodynamics, so far only tested on the bench or in the wind tunnel.
"We are not worried. We knew that the new car would not be ready for Sunday 9 March (date of the first Grand Prix of the season, in Australia, ed). The choice to debut with the old one was made a long time ago".
Past experience is encouraging. Even twelve months ago, a winning car and a factory-fresh one that had just shattered the Fiorano record were compared. Between the two the gap was a full second. In favour of the older car, which in the first two races of the season won a first and a third place, a foretaste of the triumph that followed. Wednesday at Imola is scheduled for the last day of comparisons, although at Ferrari they specify that it is work on two fronts: the development of a single-seater and the preparation of another that in eighteen days will have to defend the title against competition that promises no discounts. Rubens Barrichello and Luca Badoer also test, alternating on the two F2002s at their disposal: the Brazilian, who is not in perfect physical condition, completes 26 laps, the fastest in 1'22"739; the test driver stops at 15 (the best in 1'23"022), before being blocked by a mechanical failure that leaves him stationary on the track.