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#698 2003 Australian Grand Prix

2023-01-23 23:00

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#2003, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Monica Bessi,

#698 2003 Australian Grand Prix

Everyone is racing against Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. Nine teams and 18 drivers. The 19th is Rubens Barrichello, who at Maranello accepted to be

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Everyone races to beat Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. Nine teams and 18 drivers. The 19th is Rubens Barrichello, who at Maranello accepted to be number two, but he is patiently waiting for the right occasion. It has been 3 years, and on the eve of the Grand Prix the question is still the same: will the Maranello's team succeed in repeating the past season? No, it hasn't been able to do it for a long time. Every year it improves, the rivals are further away and the World Championship is decided in advance. In 2000 Michael Schumacher celebrated in October in Suzuka, in 2001 in August in Budapest, in 2002 in July in Magny-Cours. This year he seeks poker, the date doesn't count. The regulations have been modified to avoid that the last races would lose interest, spectators and sponsors. Now, between the first and the second place there are two points of difference (before there were 4) and accumulating a great advantage in the standings has become difficult. Ferrari aims at an extraordinary record, too: the fifth consecutive constructors' title. McLaren has four as between 1988 and 1991 it didn't have rivals. At Maranello they will take advantage of the time available to create a car that fends off attacks from fierce competition. They calculated that the old, unbeatable F2002 would have been able to start the season and to be at the top for a while, so they took one more month to prepare the new F2003-GA, whose debut is set for Sunday, April 20, 2003, in Imola, a few kilometres away from the motorhome, in the first European Grand Prix. 

 

The same strategy of last year: you saw how it went. From the presentation until now, the F2003-GA has shown that Ferrari has made another step forward and that the rivals will have to make at least two to get close. Beautiful, fast, reliable: the first tests promoted with flying colours the car dedicated to Giovanni Agnelli. Like the old F2002, that last year won 14 races out of 15 and that will dispute the first 3 Grands Prix of the season, the new car made its debut on the Fiorano track with a record lap. Then it moved to Imola, and also there the record was broken after a few attempts. So let's try understanding why at Maranello they decided to give up this gem at the beginning. The decision had been taken well in advance, when it was understood that the advantage gained in 2022 ensured top performances for a while. That said, the rest comes as a consequence. The times of development require severe standards in terms of mileage. Reliability is Ferrari's pride, it was when the victories were coming with parsimony. If the F2003-GA left everyone taken aback, this doesn't mean that it is capable of ending a Grand Prix without snags. From the nose to half chassis there are no visible differences compared to the old car, but starting with the sides the news are crucial: the sidepods, the design of the radiators and the rear internal suspension are basically new. Rory Byrne, the father of the F2003-GA, explains:

 

"This allowed us to make a step forward in terms of performance and cooling efficiency".

 

The transmission is tighter, shorter and lighter, while the system of gear selection allows a fast gear change. The collaboration with Bridgestone improved the interaction between tyres and car. Almost all of the elements were refined and a lot of them were produced using materials and processes of new fabrication to reduce weight. The search for lightness, apparently useless (a car with the driver has to weigh not less than 600 kg), it's useful to lower the centre of gravity: nowadays, cars weigh around 400 kg and, to get to the limit of the regulations, ballasts are used. In the end, the electronics: the new system of Magneti Marelli has more power and elaboration speed.

 

"We have achieved all the goals we set ourselves and have gone even further".

The engine is new, too: the 052 is more than an evolution of the 051. Designed and developed together with the overall design of the F2003-GA, it guarantees more performance and better drivability, while maintaining the reliability of its predecessor. The engineers led by Paolo Martinelli have managed to make it do 200 more rpm, remove four kilos, lower the centre of gravity and increase the power, which remains a secret (an estimated 850 horsepower in race trim). 

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Shell guarantees that fuel and lubricants have been adapted to the new performances. 

"Giovanni Agnelli would be proud of this car and this team".

Michael Schumacher said at the end of the first day of testing. Enthusiastic about the new features, the German driver would have liked to debut the car earlier. 

"It would be enough for us to achieve the reliability and speed targets sooner. The date has not yet been set".

 

In Ferrari they would do anything for him, except give him a car not yet fine-tuned. So it will be discussed again in Imola, near Maranello (should a problem ever occur, the spare parts are not far away). Technical director Ross Brawn defines this car:

 

"The most important success in terms of performance until now".

 

The F2002 is going to adapt with no problem to the new rules. First of all, it will be retired way before the British Grand Prix, when a series of bans on electronics will start: no more control on the start and on the traction that avoid skidding at the start or exits in the turns, especially in the case of rain, and stop to the automatic gear change. Surely, they are not going back to the cloche control, but a semi-automatic system controlled by two levers or buttons: the driver is going to decide when to change to a lower or higher gear, while a rev limiter will avoid damages to the engine because of human mistakes. Michael Schumacher is a perfectionist and with the microchip he feels good because they allow him to have an accurate fine-tuning. But when everyone has to go hungry without it, he will be able to compensate with his skill better than anyone else. Even the elimination of the two-way telemetry does not disturb the Maranello team's men's sleep. The possibility of intervening from the pits on the single-seater during the race was still in the early stages of development. As for the new qualifying mechanism and the ban on intervening on the car between Saturday and Sunday (refuelling is also banned), having a run-in single-seater is even an advantage. From the drivers to strategist Ross Brawn, from the engineers to the mechanics team, everyone knows the F2002 to perfection and will be able to adapt quickly to the new working hours, in the frenzy of practice and the race. With the abolition of the warm-up and the ban on adding fuel after qualifying, strategy will become very important. 

 

Each driver will have to choose between a light car, which would allow him to qualify better but force him to stop after a few laps, and a heavy car with the opposite effect. Brawn is a magician in these calculations. The opponents so far have not shone. At Williams, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher have distinguished themselves more by their mutual barbs than by their performance on the track. And their bosses, in agreement with those at McLaren, have politicised the new rules introduced to increase the spectacle and reduce costs. The two teams accused the FIA president of ruining the World Championship with wrong rules, such as the one-engine rule for six races (from 2005). And Max Mosley retorted by calling them irresponsible and accusing them of not making proposals to relaunch a championship that in two years has lost Prost and Arrows due to them going bankrupt. From 2008 another Formula 1 could be born, organised by the constructors united in the GPWC (Ferrari, Mercedes, Bmw, Ford, Renault, which Toyota could soon join), distributing more resources to the teams and less to the organisers. Meanwhile, the show goes on. Williams-Bmw finished second last year ahead of McLaren-Mercedes. Quite a victory in the challenge between the two German engine manufacturers. The problem was that Ferrari was uncatchable on all circuits. 

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The designers were therefore forced to create a radically new single-seater to allow Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher to fight for the World Championship. The timing was also accelerated. The FW25 was presented on Friday, January 31, 2003, ahead of the other two top teams. The car has smaller dimensions and refined, complex aerodynamics, which are the results of long studies in the wind tunnel. The Bmw P83 engine is also brand new. Power figures are not revealed, but the Bavarian manufacturer has never denied that it has 900 horsepower at over 19,000 rpm, the maximum in current Formula 1.

 

"The aim, having seen the new regulations that will allow us to use only two engines on race weekends, was to look for the maximum reliability".

 

Mario Theissen, technical director of Bmw Motorsport, explains. The first tests are not exceptional.

 

"We have to understand why the car is so slow".

 

Beated in 2022 by Ferrari and Williams-Bmw, McLaren-Mercedes is preparing a re-foundation rather than immediate ransom. The aim is to regain positions, but without making mistakes because of rush. At Melbourne a new car won't race, but a hybrid version that will probably also face the two next Grands Prix. The winter tests showed progress in terms of speed and also reliability: the race simulations were brought to the end without major setbacks and David Coulthard beat the record of the Montmelo track (Barcellona) after 3 days of tests. Adrian Newey explains:

 

"While designing the MP4/18 we decided to favour a car that can win races. It means that it will be difficult to aim for the World Championship: we should collect points from the beginning and then try to win as many races as possible".

 

The drivers have been confirmed: David Coulthard guarantees consistency of results, even if we don't expect big feats from him. Kimi Raikkonen had a year to improve and he might turn out to be the surprise of the season.

 

"This year we aim for the podium in the constructors’, next year we'll fight for the title".

 

This was said by Renault Sport's president Patrick Faure and team principal Flavio Briatore while presenting the French team's season, which finished fourth last year. This would mean beating Williams or McLaren (Ferrari is still believed to be too far ahead) and in 2004 attacking the Maranello team. The new engine is still a 10-cylinder with a very open V, an idea in which Renault engineers continue to believe a lot and which they began to develop in 2001. The R23 is more powerful and has a lowered centre of gravity, consumes less fuel and the power unit (over 800 HP) merges with the chassis. A lot of work was done on reliability, which wasn't satisfying in 2002. The drivers are the Italian Jarno Trulli and the Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who returns to Briatore's court in place of the Englishman Jenson Button (seventh in the 2002 World Drivers' Championship). So far, in the tests the old chassis has been used and the results have been quite good. When the new one is ready, the R23 could make the leap forward it needs to reach the podium. Flavio Briatore still manages to carve out a few small spaces for himself but, having passed the 52-year mark, he no longer has much time to devote to his playboy mission. Of Naomi Campbell he is left with fond memories and friendship. 

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Now that he has grown up, the Italian manager must deal first and foremost with F1, a team that is now completely dependent on him, after a few weeks ago he added the Viry-Châtillon plant, near Paris, to the management of the Enstone operational headquarters in England. And then he has to take care of his business, which is multiple and articulated. From the Billionaire discotheque in Sardinia to the management of some important companies. Jet, helicopter, chauffeur-driven car, telephones ringing all the time, secretaries searching for him eighteen hours a day. The goal? To return winning the World Championship after those won with Benetton (and Michael Schumacher) in 1994 and 1995. Briatore, will the title come after a couple of seasons of study?

 

"It would be amazing. But unfortunately it is not like this. We want to improve, to fight with the best. In 2002 we were fourth in the standings, behind Ferrari, Williams and McLaren. To move forward we should beat one of these teams. It won't be easy. I think about some podiums and then, hopefully, a victory. It's best to postpone the Championship to 2004".

 

This has become a real job.

 

"I never thought differently. When I arrived in Benetton in 1989, everyone was smiling. They knew that I was familiar with races. However, apart from rare cases, there are few technicians that manage a team in Formula 1. It is not necessary to be an engineer. You need to deal with marketing, drivers, the image, especially when behind your back there is a big car manufacturer. I believe in Renault because it has an extremely dynamic spirit, unlike the attitude at times uncertain and hesitant of other constructors".

 

By the way this year in the Championship there will be a lot of technical and sporting changes. Is it an advantage or disadvantage for you?

 

"A change to the environment was needed. I don't know if everything was done in the right direction, but I am convinced that at least there will be a more uncertain battle starting with qualifying. If at the start we won't always find the same drivers, it will be better for everyone. In theory, I expect a lot of surprises".

 

According to a lot of insiders, however, the man to beat is still Michael Schumacher.

 

"He is good, strong, I know that. And he also has a great car. A perfect team. However, the years go by and there are some youngsters that want to arrive. I don't know if it will be easy to win another World Championship, even for the German".

 

You chose drivers with different characteristics.

 

"Trulli is fast, determined and also expert. I count a lot on Jarno. Then we got Alonso instead of Button. Without doing many considerations. Jenson didn't give us the hoped-for results in these two years. I saw in Fernando a considerable potential and we bet on the young Spaniard. After all, I think that I have done a great job with the drivers, I tried to sort them out in the best way to give them as many opportunities as possible. It is also the case of Mark Webber, that we settled in Jaguar, and in the past it was Giancarlo Fisichella's case".

 

However, the best memories are still those related to the period with Michael Schumacher.

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"This is partially true. We won a lot. But I must reveal that my best memories in Formula 1, on the human side, involve two episodes that have nothing to do with the German champion. They are related to two races in Japan, at Suzuka. In 1989 with Alessandro Nannini's affirmation and the year after with the one-two obtained by Piquet and Moreno. I had hired Nelson after his two negative years with Lotus. They tried to dissuade me from hiring the Brazilian, many thought that he didn't have any motivation left. Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne disagreed. And Nelson won".

 

Do you hope to repeat it in a short time?

 

"Difficult to say. In 2000 we got acquainted with the back of the grid. I know perfectly well what the price of effort to progress is, on the individual and on the common side. In Formula 1 nothing is taken for granted. Now we have to understand where we are with our new car, the R23. The winter tests are difficult to interpret, the race is needed. Only in Australia will we have the first data, compared to us and to our rivals".

 

A prediction?

 

"I would rather not make it. However, it seems obvious to me to bet on Ferrari".

 

A motorhome near London, one in Kenya. Is Flavio Briatore an ultimate emigrant now?

 

"To tell the truth I got a great property in Saluzzo, in my native city. On the hill we are planting several hundred olive trees. But I did it more for my family, my brother takes care of it. Frankly, I don't think I'll go back to live in Italy. Unless motorsport requires me to do it".

 

When Bernie Ecclestone - the great patron of Formula 1, one of the richest people in the world - speaks, leaves a mark. The English manager is used to being in charge. His sentences sound condemnatory. The Belgian rulers knew something about it as they suddenly saw Spa-Francorchamps, one of the most fascinating races of the Circus, cancelled. And also the Austrian ones know something about it, after Ecclestone said in an interview to the newspaper Kronen Zeitung:

 

"This year’s Austrian Grand Prix will be the last one, too".

 

With a flick of the wrist, a great slice of Formula 1 history is gone. Eliminating the Belgian Grand Prix, theatre of epic battles, was a risky move. Michael Schumacher has never hidden that he loves this track, to the point of calling the FIA's decision a bestiality. But is there a chance that Bernie will go back on his decisions? Not really. The pretext for cancelling the two European Grands Prix is linked to the decision of the two governments to make the ban on tobacco advertising immediately enforceable, without waiting for the EU directive that will, in any case, ban cigarette advertising at the end of 2006. Belgium and Austria pay first for what will be the real revolution in future Formula 1. But the tobacco problem is only an excuse, since for years Grands Prix have been held in France, Canada and Great Britain with the brands of the big tobacco companies cleverly camouflaged. The truth is that both Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, president of the FIA, care much more about the princely markets of the Middle and Far East. Above all, the Chinese one. Beijing, in order to have a Grand Prix in 2004, has spared no expense, throwing millions of dollars into the work. 

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It is no coincidence that last month a futuristic railway station was inaugurated in Shanghai, where the superfast trains built in Germany arrive and depart. Ecclestone has been clear, foreshadowing a scenario for the first decade of the new century that is truly impressive (assuming he is still running the big racing business):

 

"In 2004 we ran in Shanghai and in Bahrain. In 2005 it will be Istanbul's turn and maybe also Russia's. But other nations are ready to hit the track. They have ambitious projects, which we will have to carefully examine".

 

One of these is Egypt, which dreams of building a circuit on the outskirts of Cairo, not far from the Pyramids of Giza, which would be clearly visible from the facility. Just think what boost such an operation could have on Egyptian tourism. But India has also expressed interest in hosting a Grand Prix. The chosen area could be Bangalore, ready to inherit a project that Calcutta no longer seems able to complete. Everything easy? No. Even for the great Bernie there are obstacles. The last one happened to him at the end of January, when the Bahrain parliament surprisingly rejected the request for the $200,000,000 needed to start building the new circuit. The reason is curious:

 

"If Formula 1 arrives, prostitutes will enter the country en masse".

 

In short, the proposal is in contrast with the Islamic values. Nothing is lost yet, the vote is not definitive and the project is yet to be discussed by Shura, the consultative assembly nominated by the emirs. Bernie Ecclestone can always count on, looking at West, the United States (Indianapolis) and Brazil (San Paolo), while Messico and Argentina, as soon as the economic situation improves, have a will to get back in the loop. What will happen to Europe? Ecclestone's words don't promise anything good:

 

"I think that in the Old Continent there will only be five or six races left".

 

Surely some races will be saved like Monte Carlo, Monza and the French Grand Prix (Magny-Cours or Le Castellet), Great Britain (Silverstone) and Germany (Hockenheim). Then maybe, an European Grand Prix for which there are in the runoff all the big excluded, meaning Barcellona, Imola, Nurburgring, Budapest, Spa and A1-Ring.

 

"He said that the Concorde Agreement must be rediscussed? Good for him, there are a lot of things to discuss here. Tomorrow we are having a meeting with the constructors, who are rushing to organise the future: you know what I think, I said it a thousand times".

 

Luca Montezemolo thinks so: a World Championship without Bernie Ecclestone, managed directly by the teams. If possible, even before 2008 (the fateful pact between the teams and the boss will expire in 2007). It is also rumoured that Kirch's creditor banks are ready to side with the teams to oust the English manager, always in need of new revenues to feed his gigantic apparatus. But Bernie Ecclestone suddenly appears at the Maserati stand where Montezemolo dictates the possible new lines (i.e. the alternatives). It is Ecclestone himself, with his white tuft, who enters the scene with a brilliant coup de théâtre. Montezemolo sees him and summons him, more amused than annoyed, into the infernal crowd of insiders surrounding the Ferrari president:

 

"Come and listen Bernie. I was just talking about you".

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Montezemolo tells Ecclestone, also being a translator:

 

"I was explaining that my hope is to find a satisfying deal for everyone. But at least 3 conditions are needed: the weight of the constructors has to grow in the organisation of the World Championship and in the technical control of the regulations, the incomes for the teams have to increasingly grow, and stability needs to be found in the long term. It remains to be seen whether these conditions will really be possible".

 

To sum up, all that will go extra to the teams, will go less in Ecclestone's coffers. Who sketches with little conviction, before replying:

 

"I just hope that now Montezemolo is very busy with the Fiat matter, so he will have less time to think about me. So he'll give me a break".

 

Meanwhile on Sunday, March 9, 2003, in Australia, off they go. Are the Ferraris always the cars to beat?

 

"We are coming off four amazing seasons. We will try our best to keep it like this, so we will surely be competitive. But this year we haven't won anything, you always have to start from scratch, so every prediction would be risky. The new car looks very promising, it is exceptional, but at least the first two races will be raced with the F2002. Then we'll see".

 

A lot of unknowns. All involving the new rules. Montezemolo accepts them with doubts:

 

"A lot of things have changed and some leave me quite puzzled. The risk is that they are going to lose the main features of Formula 1. It was important to change, but you should never cross the line".

 

Translation: Yes to the flying lap in qualifying ("I really like it, it's an amazing challenge"), no to the parc fermé on the weekend, eliminating every chance of changes in extremis.

 

"I don't really get this. I still think that overall the best driver with the best car should win. Even if Ferrari has joined the necessity to change something to make the World Championship more unpredictable. And the others, more than us, had interest in doing so... It is important to change, I hope that a single engine per weekend, the new qualifying, the reduction of the electronics will also reduce the prices. Surely they will refresh the competition. But some doubts remain: after the first two races we'll give a verdict and we will evaluate if we went too far, if it's the case to not force anything".

 

And, in parallel, the possibility of winning a sixth world title and becoming the most successful driver in the history of Formula 1 does not seem to interest Michael Schumacher:

"I race because I have fun: I was born for this, I don't need any other motivation".

On the eve of his departure for Melbourne, the World Champion entrusts the Ferrari website with his thoughts. Thoughts aimed in particular at the new regulations. 

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"We will finally be able to realise their effect. It doesn't change my attitude towards the race weekend, but the preparation is different, especially as Friday has become more important. I would like to get a better idea on this before making a judgement. I understand the need to improve the spectacle and reduce costs. The world economy is going through a difficult time and even in Formula 1 some teams are in bad waters, so the changes are going in the right direction".

In agreement with the general principles, the German driver has several objections to the individual changes. 

"I am not enthusiastic about the refuelling ban between the second qualifying session and the race. The search for the perfect qualifying set-up was a challenge for me; I think this will lose an exciting part for the spectators as well. Still, I am attracted to the idea of a single flying lap: it will be more exciting".

 

Ferrari's goal is to win, although no one expects to repeat last year's results.

 

"It's not that simple, I am always nervous before a race, especially at the beginning of the season, because in Formula 1 things can change very quickly. It's like a physical feeling that takes hold of your stomach, a combination of excitement and nervousness. Even though, actually, there are no well-founded reasons to be worried: we have worked hard all winter and the results of last weeks' tests have shown nothing worrying. However, I am convinced that starting out too confident is a first false step". 

Twelve years in Formula 1, thirty on the track, Michael Schumacher continues to enjoy himself: 

"Every time it is nice, exciting and stimulating to start again. The idea of a sixth world title is not an extra stimulus. And I don't want to talk about it now".

Melbourne brings good luck to Ferrari: in 1999 Eddie Irvine won, then always Michael Schumacher. The Albert Park circuit (a huge park with an artificial lake where people can go sailing) is in the middle of the city. An artificial track that almost looks like a permanent installation, such is the care with which it is set up. In January and February it never rained and the city authorities forbade the use of drinking water for irrigation. The circuit managers managed to get water donated from a nearby swimming pool exhibition and save the grass growing on the wide runways. The theme has been the same for three years now: finding a challenger. Michael Schumacher's most creditable opponent is Rubens Barrichello, whose ambitions last season were curbed by an unfortunate start (zero points in the first three races). Ferrari is in Melbourne with three examples of the F2002, last year's single-seater. They say it is enough to win again. Australians are optimistic. They expect 400,000 spectators from Thursday to Sunday for their Grand Prix, a rosy forecast linked to the new Formula 1 rules, just enough to hope for an uncertain and gripping spectacle. One thing, however, is certain: even if on a technical level the changes imposed by the Federation are not relevant - after all there is only the abolition of two-way telemetry, it will no longer be possible to transmit orders from the pits to the car to change certain parameters on the functioning of the engines - the new sporting rules, on the other hand, constitute a real revolution. Act One: qualifying divided into two rounds. The practices scheduled for tonight will be real. In their one timed lap, the drivers will in fact fire their engines at full throttle with a minimum load of fuel: in other words, the real performance of cars and drivers will be seen. Quite a different matter for the second round, on Saturday. 

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Since, according to the regulations, enough fuel has to be put into the cars' tanks to be able to take part in qualifying, but also to make the formation lap and line-up on Sunday and at least run the first part of the race properly, the single-seaters will therefore be heavier than on Friday and therefore, in theory, less fast. A rather complicated system. In reality, therefore, the best performances of each car will be those obtained tomorrow, i.e. on the eve of the race, but they will only serve to define the order of the timed practice on Saturday: the author of the worst time will enter the track first and so on, until the fastest car will do its timed practice last on Saturday. On Friday, therefore, the teams will have to choose between two options: to put in little fuel and thus gain a place among the first on the starting grid (but then stop almost immediately in the race to refuel) or to favour a final set-up and thus be penalised in the starting grid (but then be able to make the stops deemed most appropriate in the race). The fact that the cars, between qualifying and race, can no longer be modified (nor is refuelling allowed) imposes a substantial strategic choice right from Saturday's official practice. In theory, therefore, one could see a Minardi in pole position and Ferrari forced to start on the fifth row. In addition to all this, there are of course the unknowns of mechanical failures, off-tracks, and sudden weather changes. In fact, it must not be forgotten that the use of the reserve car will no longer be allowed, unless special exceptions are permitted by the technical commissioners. 

 

And in any case, if the reserve car is used, the unfortunate driver will have to start the race from the pits, behind everyone else. It is precisely this rule that is the most debated: what criteria will the stewards use to allow one car to be fixed and forbid it on another? Already numerous and complicated complaints are expected from those who feel disadvantaged. Car performance aside, at Ferrari they have already realised that this year they will have a better chance of winning if they know how to simulate best the races on the computer, thus finding the most effective compromises and ideal tactics. Maybe there will be less work in the pits (only one engine can be replaced before the second qualifying round), but at the factory they will go crazy processing the data collected and studying the most suitable fuel loads for each circuit. Perhaps the show will gain from it, but the sport will count for less and less. Ayrton Senna's famous pole positions at the last moment will remain just a memory. The reliability of the cars and the skill of the engineers will count a lot, while the drivers will have to lucidly judge when to attempt overtaking if they are forced to start from the back. The new regulations, which Juan Pablo Montoya likes a lot, are instead criticised by David Coulthard and Jacques Villeneuve, while for the time being they leave Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello uncertain (who in the meantime, on Thursday morning, will be engaged in a singular challenge in the kitchen, organised by Vodafone: the German has to cook a garlic and oil pasta, the Brazilian tortellini with tomato sauce). The Federation is cautious:

 

"If something needs to change, we'll do it".

 

Isn't that a little too adventurous as a statement? We shall see. In the meantime, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jordan's first driver, is being honoured by his colleagues who choose him as the drivers' driver, despite the fact that he has never won. 

"I am honoured, it is very important for me to get this recognition".

On Thursday, March 6, 2003, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello spend the eve of the Grand Prix in total relaxation; photos and even a singular challenge in the kitchen. Michael and Rubens prepare a garlic and oil pasta and tortellini with tomato sauce respectively. Model Megan Gale, elected to be the judge of the challenge, after a quick taste declares a no-win verdict. 

"They are even".

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She says, smiling. In reality, both dishes are inedible, a real mess. The German's execution is a little better, also because it is an easier recipe. Just enough, however, to put the two drivers in a good mood. From the Brazilian only one sentence of note: 

"Do you want to know if I consider myself Schumacher's number one opponent? My intention is not to beat Michael, but to stay ahead of everyone. He is the best, though".

Schumacher, do you also consider yourself the strongest?  

 

"I never said that. Someone asked me if another driver with the Ferrari F2002 would have achieved the same results as me. I don't know. But I've been in Formula 1 for twelve years, and with the Maranello team we've also gone through bad times. Now we have reached a point of extraordinary success. It's the results that speak for themselves, without a lot of words".

Schumacher turned 34 on January 3, has a wife and two children and a fair amount of wealth. How does he manage to find the motivation to always try his hardest?

 

"The truth is simple, I have told it many times. I love putting my hands on the wheel. I love this sport and as long as I enjoy it, I will not leave racing".

So, after equalling the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio by winning his fifth title, does he want to surpass the Argentinean ace? 

"I'm not one to think about records. Maybe I will do it when I am a grandfather and tell fairy tales to my grandchildren. Fangio? Other stories, different eras, they cannot be compared. The important thing is to have the pleasure of the race".

Doesn't he feel the stress of a heavy commitment between tests, races and constant travelling? 

"No, absolutely. I have to recognise that Ferrari takes care of my mental health and my privacy. We have achieved a perfect balance between work and free time. And I get on well with this guy [Barrichello, ndr]. We know each other well, we hang out, our relationship has improved over the years. And it's precisely in our free time that Rubens is the real world champion: he has taught me how to use my free time well, having fun".

However, there will be no joking around on the track with the new regulations. 

"Not everything agrees with me completely. It will be necessary to take stock after two or three races. The game however is common for each of the drivers, we start on equal terms with the same problems. It is useless to think about the weather conditions that can change in qualifying, making life easier for one or more difficult for another. When you prepare the set-up of the car you don't think about the weather forecast, if anything you deal with the difficulties, if they come, at the right time".

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David Coulthard has stated that the new rules could lend themselves to strange manoeuvres between allied teams. He claims, for example, that Sauber using Ferrari engines or Minardi training at Fiorano could influence some results if they were to start at the front. 

"It seems strange to me. First of all I don't think David said these things, if it was true I would be surprised. It would be an unfair tactic. Also, if you like, suspicions can be created at any time. I'm not worried, at the end of the day we will all be on an equal footing, except for the performance of the cars and the qualities of the drivers".

Speaking of performance, how is the F2003-GA going? 

 

"At the moment, I have the impression that I have a good feeling with the new car. There are still some things we need to understand. We started from the base of the F2002 and have been looking for improvements in all areas. The development continues and there are some details that remain to be defined. Everything is going very well and even the engine seems to me to have taken another step forward. The thing that impresses me most is the team, Ferrari. Everyone is giving their best as if we had never won anything". 

So, optimistic with the old F2002 back on track these days and very confident for the single-seater that will probably make its debut at Imola. But what about rivals? Will there be new ones? 

"I am convinced that we will have to deal with the usual ones, so first and foremost Williams and McLaren. Some surprises might however come from BAR and Toyota. They have made considerable progress. I think they will be closer to us this year, partly because of the new rules, partly because they have worked hard to catch up. For me and Rubens, for the Maranello team, it will be more complicated and difficult. But I look to the future with the idea that we will be able to do it again".

At the same time, Juan Pablo Montoya is convinced that he can be more competitive than last year.

 

"Our car has improved. We have also worked on reliability, which had caused us problems and disappointments in 2002. It's true that we don't know where our rivals are and we won't know until Sunday after the race. In the last championship here in Australia I placed second, so I have a good feeling with the circuit. As I want to build my season race by race, I want to have a great start. It is not true that I have a difficult relationship with my teammate Ralf Schumacher, I simply intend to go faster than him. I like the idea of one lap in qualifying, so I am optimistic".

Quiet atmosphere also at McLaren. The Woking team presents the 2002 single-seater, but in a much modified fourth version. Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen says:

"I feel ready to beat Schumacher, the important thing is to get to the end of the races, which I didn't do too well last year. I have experience, but that doesn't count for much, being fast is not a skill you acquire with time".

More cautious David Coulthard, who limits his targets: 

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"The winter tests have shown us good progress, however our first goal will be to overtake Williams who beat us in the last championship. Then we will think about Ferrari".

Max Mosley, president of the FIA, the main proponent of the regulatory revolution in Formula 1, forfeits his appearance at a long-scheduled press conference. Official explanation from his spokesmen: 

"He was not guaranteed first class air passage from Singapore to Melbourne".

 

An excuse that would make one smile were it not for the delicate moment the motorsport is going through. In all likelihood the British manager, son of that Oswald Mosley who was the leader of the British Nazis, prefers to avoid media questions and the indirect confrontation with Frank Williams and Ron Dennis who have sued the FIA at the sports tribunal for having unilaterally imposed the new rules, considered by the Williams and McLaren managers to be a blatant violation of the agreements in place. Among other things, the decision could also take more than a year. From the qualifying session on Friday, March 7, 2003, valid to determine the starting order for Saturday's practice, come confirmations and surprises: there is the usual Ferrari in front of everyone, that of Rubens Barrichello, then the McLaren-Mercedes of Kimi Raikkonen; fourth Michael Schumacher, squeezed between the Bar-Hondas of Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button. Far away the Williams-Bmw: Juan Pablo Montoya marks the tenth time (without understanding the reason for such slowness), Ralf Schumacher the sixteenth (he, at least, is aware of having made a mistake). A few curiosities from free practice: the first off-track of 2003 is Ralf Schumacher's, the first broken engine is the Honda mounted on Jacques Villeneuve's car, and the second is Jenson Button's (an assembly error, the Honda engineers justify themselves); the first spin is Kimi Raikkonen's, while Michael Schumacher sets the best time for the first time after 20 minutes.

 

"I will judge the new rules at the end of the Grand Prix".

Comments the German Ferrari driver. But he grumbles: 

"Should I be leading the championship, every Friday I would have to be the track sweeper".

That is, the one who goes first and clears away the dust deposited on the asphalt. Until last year, the thankless task was carried out spontaneously by Minardi in exchange for a bit of TV visibility. 

"Fun, a pity to be forced to be a spectator for so long".

Rubens Barrichello summarises cheerfully. He immediately liked the single lap challenge. Since he stopped grumbling he has started winning and this year he has a very simple goal: to improve on his second place from 2002. It would be premature to pass judgement on the new Formula 1 rules. It will be necessary to wait two or three races to understand exactly whether the regulatory impositions decided by the FIA will have achieved the desired results: improved spectacle, increased interest, a better balance between the teams, and more hard-fought and uncertain races. However, a first impression can be given. Perhaps the spectators who watched on television also enjoyed themselves, the fans above all were able to concentrate on the skill of each individual driver and follow each car on its lap. 

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Less appreciated was the show from the fans in the grandstands. In fifty minutes everything was resolved without any great surprises and very limited emotions. Opinions, of course, are mixed, depending on the interests at stake. Jean Todt says:

"These are important changes. We have accepted the rules, but you cannot say that we wanted and sought them. We will wait some time and see if adjustments are necessary. It seems to me that this is easily understandable. Why should we have promoted changes in Formula 1 after the season we had last year?"

That is: a team that wins cannot be touched, as long as it can. Then what happened? 

 

"We wanted to avoid any kind of controversy. The rules that have been approved are the maximum we could accept, even if we don’t fully agree with some of them. We count on taking stock after two or three Grands Prix to decide what needs to be revised".

Ron Dennis, owner of McLaren, is more positive: 

"It was mandatory to freshen up the facade of Formula 1. On the single lap decision, I think it gives a better appreciation of the quality of the cars and the skill of the drivers. But we will only have the real comparison between the old and the new when there will be data on the audience and the enjoyment of this formula. A lot also depends on the ability of the TV commentators to make free practice exciting".

The novelty fully satisfies Flavio Briatore. First because his drivers, Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli, would perhaps have been further behind with the previous system, second because the Renault manager is particularly interested in marketing:

 

"Our sponsors will be happier because there is more visibility this way".

Eddie Jordan also likes the commercial plus but is not sure that the show is better than in the past. Jean Todt, Frank Williams and Ron Dennis - who have not been winners for a few years - confirm that they have asked for an arbitration against the revolution decided by the FIA which will be entrusted to an expert chosen by the Swiss Chamber of Commerce. But on one topic all three agree: the Concorde Agreement, which regulates the relationship between the teams and Formula 1, is no good; either it is terminated on its expiry date, i.e. at the end of 2007, or it is changed, perhaps shortly. Frank Williams claims that:

"Dirty laundry should not be washed in public".

But everyone reveals: there is a negotiation between the GPWC, the group that includes Ferrari, Renault, Ford, Bmw and Mercedes and threatens to organise another Formula 1 starting in 2008, and Bernie Ecclestone. The intention is to renegotiate the pact so that whoever owns 25% of the Circus (Ecclestone) does not earn 75% of the profits. Ron Dennis explains:

"Formula 1 is a sport from when the race starts to when the chequered flag waves. Everything else is business".

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Returning to the subject of the single lap, among the drivers who are favourable - apart from Rubens Barrichello - there are Kimi Raikkonen and Jacques Villeneuve, i.e. those who immediately adapted to the spirit of the different challenge. The truth, however, is that a driver cannot truly love this type of competition as it has been implemented. Showing great intellectual honesty, Jarno Trulli clearly repudiates innovation. 

"The real pole position no longer exists. In the first round you don't push to the maximum, you don't do the lap at full speed. At the end of the day you know you don't have to risk finishing off the track in order not to start first the next day. And in Saturday's qualifying, on the other hand, everything depends on the strategy you decide for the race and the fuel load you put in the tank".

 

On Saturday, March 8, 2003, on the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, the run-up to a title that Michael Schumacher is defending for the fifth time, the third since he has been at Ferrari, begins. On the starting grid it seemed that nothing had changed from a year ago: two Ferraris in front, two Minardis at the back. Instead, to arrive at the same result, Formula 1 revolutionised the rules, and in doing so left some important points uncovered and ambiguous. Having made the law, it was inevitable that shrewd team managers would find the trick. But not Ferrari, which with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello gives the usual speed lesson: for the German it is pole position number 51 (number 39 with Ferrari), for the Maranello team it is number 159. Juan Pablo Montoya is third, Ralf Schumacher ninth, even more distant the McLaren-Mercedes (David Coulthard eleventh, Kimi Raikkonen fifteenth). Minardi, however, managed to turn a punitive rule to its advantage. A single-seater that does not finish the qualifying lap - the new regulations state - starts in last position, but must not be taken to the parc fermé, where the mechanics could no longer touch it except for authorised interventions. Paul Stoddart, the Australian owner of Minardi, considered:

"Since we would qualify with the last time anyway, let's at least take advantage of it".

So the single-seaters of Justin Wilson and Jos Verstappen entered the pit lane at the last corner, to the amazement of the public who did not understand the meaning of this apparent harakiri. Stoddart himself explained: 

"We could even have avoided going on the track, but then we wouldn't have been framed by the television and the sponsors would have complained. So there is a chance to work on the car until the start. This is very important for us, as we did not test like all the other teams".

 

Also according to Stoddart, in the event of rain, there would be an advantage in setting an ad hoc set-up. On this point the regulations are unclear: 

"In the event of weather changes, some changes to the car are allowed".

It is up to the referee, in short, whether to extend this faculty to the other teams. Nobody is complaining, at least publicly, also because Minardi's performance so far does not appear irresistible. Nevertheless, we can imagine that Bernie Ecclestone jumped on his armchair: is this the spectacle the FIA promised with its new laws? What if a little joke like that was played next time by a top-class team? It seems absurd that a driver would give up qualifying in the front rows in order to give his mechanics extra time. Yet imagine the case of Kimi Raikkonen: the Finnish McLaren driver made a mistake in qualifying and finished 15th. If he had followed Minardi's example he would have started 18th (just one row further back), because in the event of a tie, Friday's classification counts. And he would have had considerable advantages: deciding the fuel load, correcting the defects of his single-seater, setting a strategy - that the others had to decide before qualifying - at the last moment. He did not, perhaps because none of his bosses had imagined such a scenario. Now that the example has been set, they await - bad - imitators.

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On Sunday, March 9, 2003, the race starts on a wet track, but with the weather clearly improving. Kimi Räikkönen comes into the pits at the end of the formation lap, fitting dry tyres; Juan Pablo Montoya and Olivier Panis also start on dry tyres, while the Ferraris, Sauber-Petronas and BAR-Hondas fit wet tyres. At the start Rubens Barrichello moves ahead, but remains behind his teammate. The two Ferrari drivers immediately build up a good lead over their pursuers, led by Juan Pablo Montoya and Nick Heidfeld. However, the track dries quickly and soon the two Ferraris experience abnormal tyre wear. After two laps David Coulthard, who had started on wet tyres, comes into the pits to replace them with dry tyres. On lap 6, the Ferrari box informs Rubens Barrichello that he would have to serve a drive-through penalty for an early start. The Brazilian driver loses concentration and crashes into the barriers, irreparably damaging his car. In the meantime, Kimi Räikkönen quickly recovers from the back of the field, while David Coulthard, on dry tyres, sets the fastest lap of the race. Despite this, Ferrari choose not to immediately call Michael Schumacher back to the pits. On lap 7, Cristiano Da Matta goes off the track: the Brazilian's car stops in a dangerous spot and the race management decides to bring in the safety car. All drivers who have not yet refuelled return to the pits to fit dry tyres. When the safety car returns to the pits at the end of lap 11, Juan Pablo Montoya leads ahead of Jarno Trulli, Ralf Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen, Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber, David Coulthard and Jacques Villeneuve. Five laps later, however, Mark Webber's Jaguar breaks the right rear suspension and the safety car enters the track again. Juan Pablo Montoya, Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher take advantage of the break to refuel, but the German driver loses a lot of time due to a spin and restarts at the back of the pack. The safety car comes back into the pits at the end of lap 20, with Kimi Räikkönen in the lead chased by Michael Schumacher, in turn followed by David Coulthard, Jacques Villeneuve, Jenson Button, Juan Pablo Montoya, Olivier Panis and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. On lap 25 Jacques Villeneuve, having problems with his radio, pits with teammate Jenson Button, causing a lot of confusion in the pit box and making the Englishman lose almost twenty seconds. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher unsuccessfully attacks Kimi Räikkönen. Unable to pass him, the German driver pits on lap 29. On lap 32 the two McLaren drivers also return to the pits to refuel. 

 

Juan Pablo Montoya then takes the lead, followed by Kimi Räikkönen, Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. The Finnish McLaren driver is penalised with a drive-through for exceeding the speed limit in the pit lane. Kimi Räikkönen serves his penalty on lap 39, returning to the track behind the two Renaults. When Juan Pablo Montoya refuels for the last time on lap 42, Michael Schumacher takes the lead. The German driver, however, damages the flow diverters of his Ferrari by passing too violently on a kerb. Pieces of the damaged aerodynamic appendages come off and slip under the bodywork. The Race Direction then shows the German the black flag, with an orange circle, indicating that he must return to the pits within three laps to carry out repairs. Michael Schumacher, who has to make another pit stop anyway, is then forced to do so on lap 46. Juan Pablo Montoya thus is back leading the race, but two laps later, in trouble with his tyres, he spins. David Coulthard, who is following him closely, takes advantage of this to overtake him and wins the Australian Grand Prix. Behind the Scot, Juan Pablo Montoya struggles to keep Kimi Räikkönen and Michael Schumacher behind him, but they are unable to overtake him. Jarno Trulli ends the race in fifth place, followed by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Fernando Alonso (who picks up his first career points) and Ralf Schumacher. The rain in Melbourne washes away the controversy, the doubts, the fanciful interpretations of the new rules. The race was decided by the protagonists, who were forced to improvise and decide in a few seconds by drawing on ancient resources such as experience and intuition. In the Formula 1 of computers, electronics, and simulation systems, the Australian Sunday returns the most complex role to man for once. Ferrari came from 53 consecutive podiums, Michael Schumacher from 19. Together they have won seven world titles in the last four years and in Melbourne they wanted to send a signal to their rivals: we are back and we are still the strongest. Until Saturday everything went according to predictions, with Michael Schumacher taking pole and Rubens Barrichello finishing second. At 2:00 p.m., the Albert Park track was wet when the twenty single-seaters lined up on the grid.

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But it had stopped raining. Each driver had to decide in a matter of seconds what type of tyre to start with: those of Ferrari and McLaren chose wet tyres on the assumption that the asphalt would dry slowly, the two of Williams dry tyres. During the formation lap, Kimi Raikkonen realised he had made a mistake. He gave up the normal start, went to the McLaren mechanics and asked for dry tyres as well. Relegated to last position and forced to start from the pit lane, he began a furious comeback that would have culminated in success, without an unforgivable mistake, an excess of speed in the pit lane that cost him a penalty (the drive through, i.e. the obligation to pass again at reduced speed along the pit lane). Kimi Raikkonen is the emblem of a crazy, spectacular, uncertain race until the chequered flag waved by Cathy Freeman, the 2000 Sydney Olympic gold medallist in the 200 and 400 metres. At the start it was like watching an old film: the Ferraris were gaining five seconds a lap, the others were fighting for third place. The illusion is short-lived: Rubens Barrichello is first punished for an early start, then crashes, betrayed by the slippery track (or an error in judgement, depending on your point of view). The Ferrari #1 also struggles on the dry asphalt, loses the lead in an instant and on lap 7 finally stops to change tyres. On his return, the German is tenth. All to go again. The pole position, the very fast start, the initial strategy are thwarted. He could catch up, but the gap between the Maranello car and the rivals is no longer the same as in 2002. 

 

Michael Schumacher is unable to overtake Frentzen's Sauber-Petronas, which has less fuel, nor Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren-Mercedes, then breaks the deflectors by jumping over a kerb and dangerously drags two pieces of sheet metal behind him. David Coulthard wins, without doing anything extraordinary. An unblemished task: the tyre change at the right time, no serious mistakes, the gift from Juan Pablo Montoya that opens the way for his thirteenth career success. Fourth place brings five points into Ferrari’s pot. Michael Schumacher knows that this year the World Championship is also won by placings, because the gap between the front runner and the others has been reduced. Of course, there is the regret of a wasted pole position. The mistake in tyre choice is the drivers', while Jean Todt admits that with hindsight the strategy would have been different and Michael Schumacher would have stopped once less. On balance, the F2002 was unbeatable in practice and set the second fastest lap time during the race, 0.035 seconds behind Kimi Raikkonen. We will see it again in a fortnight in Malaysia and in a month's time in Brazil, before its likely retirement. In the meantime, the Maranello team's test drivers will continue to extract its remaining resources and decipher its very last secrets. The new series of tests is scheduled to start on Tuesday, March 11, 2003, with Felipe Massa at Fiorano. At the same time, at Mugello, Luca Badoer will continue the running-in of the F2003-GA, the new single-seater that, in the fans' expectations, will have to re-establish the distances with McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-Bmw.

 

"They were not kind to me. For 1.1 km/h more they took away a possible victory from me". 

In a calm voice, Kimi Raikkonen explains his misadventure: the so-called drive-through, i.e. the imposition of having to return to the pits and restart, which the stewards inflicted on him for exceeding the 80 km/h mandatory limit during pit stops. A kind of speed camera deprived the 23-year-old Finn of his first success, relegating him to third place. The McLaren driver had been leading the race from lap 17 to lap 32 and was trailing Juan Pablo Montoya closely when he was punished with relentless severity. 

"I think I had a good race. I didn’t qualify well, 15th, and when I realised on the formation lap that the asphalt had dried out, in agreement with the team, I decided to come back in, change the tyres and refuel to make just one more stop. A wise move, as I didn't have much to lose. I think I fought well, but it wasn't enough to get on the top step of the podium. I'm not giving up, it will be for next time".

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Last year Kimi, in the Magny-Cours race, had gone off the track on an oil slick on the last lap: he was in the lead and had to settle for second place behind Michael Schumacher, who had won the title. In Melbourne, however, the Espoo driver partly returned the blow to the German, blocking him in an overtaking attempt at the end of which the world champion was forced to go on the grass.

 

"It was a good duel, fair, we had fun. In that corner there were not two cars on the same side and I braked at the last moment not to let him pass. The Ferrari is still faster than our McLaren, but not too much, we have it in our sights". 

Kimi Raikkonen is not talking nonsense. He has the qualities to become a dangerous rival for Michael Schumacher and for those who want to be at the top. The perfect heir to his compatriot Mika Hakkinen. The other opponent to watch out for is Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian also has something to complain about, second place is a tight squeeze for him: 

"It was a race that was both enjoyable and disastrous. Twice I managed to pull away from everyone, to gain a handful of seconds' lead, and on as many occasions I had to squander it all because the safety car came in. I had chosen the right tyres, dry tyres, and the car, especially when the tyres were a bit worn out, was very balanced and stable. Then you know how it went. I was in front, at a certain point I took a corner, under acceleration the car took off, I ended up spinning. My fault. But what bad luck, I was already enjoying a good win".

Perhaps David Coulthard did not realise how much the bad luck of the others favoured him. He, who drove with precision and consistency, but without ever shining. 

"I am very happy. I did not expect such a result, but I am convinced that I had some credit, in a very difficult race I made no mistakes. Those who made mistakes suffered from the pressure. The championship is off to a good start for me".

 

McLaren manager Ron Dennis watched him from afar. Maybe Kimi Raikkonen will be the future champion, but David Coulthard is still the man who can break Ferrari's superiority. He already did it last year in Monte Carlo. Ron Dennis says: 

"Now we are a bit closer. And this is only the beginning".

Sooner or later it had to happen. But Michael Schumacher did not accept defeat very well, perhaps because he realised that he had contributed greatly to his descent from the podium, after having been on it nineteen times consecutively. He had been leading the World Championship since 24 September 2000 (US Grand Prix), i.e. 897 days. This time even the best driver has made a mistake. After the race, on the face of the German champion there is contrariness rather than anger, for someone who is used to planning things and instead had to face many unforeseen events. His analysis, however, is calm and objective, even though he never blames himself. Michael, difficult day? 

"The result was determined by a combination of things, in particular the tyre choice and the entry of the safety car. On the one hand I am disappointed. On the other hand, however, I am satisfied to have finished a race in which everything really happened. At the end of the day I evaluate positively the five points we took". 

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Did you expect such strong opponents? 

"We know McLaren is always strong and dangerous. But this time it was helped by a series of unpredictable circumstances and the delays imposed on the race following several incidents. However, I don't know if its success was determined by performance or just by favourable events. In any case, Montoya, had he not made a mistake, or Raikkonen, without the penalty, could also have won".

 

David Coulthard won, but his Finnish teammate appeared to be in great form. 

"I have always considered Kimi a very good driver. He has already proved and confirmed it. I have no idea how it would have ended if he had not been penalised. However, it is a bit early to say who was really stronger. I need time to analyse what happened".

What happened to Michael Schumacher? 

"The uncertain weather conditions made for a chaotic race. It was difficult to make calculations. With the safety car deployed twice, you also had to be lucky to take advantage of it at the right time. In the end, I even damaged my Ferrari quite badly. The deflectors came off. At the moment I didn't understand if there was a serious problem or if I had punctured a tyre. You don't always realise what's happening from the outside. I also didn't really know how my opponents were doing. All in all, I can be happy with fourth place and with five important points. The F2002 is still very competitive and we can move forward".

Used to winning, is it difficult to accept a more modest ranking? 

"No, I would say not. Finishing first is nice, but you have to know how to lose, learn the lesson and draw conclusions in a positive sense. We know that we could have done better, that there were unforeseen problems. It's better to accept these types of races too, you can't believe that everything always goes perfectly as it did last year. The season is still long; I repeat, I am not completely dissatisfied". 

Have the new rules affected the result?

 

"What happened in the race has nothing to do with the changes. Rain and safety cars are nothing new".

To a large extent the race was conditioned by the initial choice of tyres. You wanted wet ones... 

"It was a difficult decision, the track still felt very slippery. However, nothing disastrous, although in the end we have to admit that we made a mistake. With hindsight it is easier to talk and act. Now we know more, but it is too late. What if it had rained again?"

Given, however, that you lost, do you think the F2003-GA would be needed sooner than expected? 

"I think we lived up to expectations in terms of performance. If everything had gone well we would have had a good chance of victory. Ferrari will only take the new single-seater to the track when they are sure of its reliability, after they have all the answers from the tests we are doing. I am convinced that after a small setback we will be able to resume our role, even if our rivals are not asleep".

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The balance of the first world championship race, then, is not entirely negative. 

"Perhaps, I repeat, I am a little disappointed; but because with the old Ferrari we could have won. We will face the next race with a certain optimism and good expectations". 

Out for the pile-up suffered by Ralf Schumacher last year, against a low wall at Turn 5 - named after Niki Lauda - at the start of Lap 5. The Australian Grand Prix on the city track of Albert Park does not bring luck to Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian, however, does not accept the hypothesis of a curse. 

"These things happen".

Says the Brazilian, showing an unsuspected optimism mixed with good humour. His adventure lasted only a few minutes because of two problems: perhaps a mistake on his part at the start (the early start) and certainly a mistake at the moment of the accident, which was violent and seriously damaged the Ferrari.

 

"At the start the car moved suddenly. I tried to brake, I pushed hard on the pedal, but there was nothing I could do. So I anticipated the lights going out and the marshals gave me the penalty. I had to go back to the pits. I was talking to the technicians on the radio and I took the corner too fast, understeering. I was no longer able to control the car, perhaps I was already having problems with a front tyre that was deteriorating on the now dry asphalt. I ended up against the guardrail faster than I could have thought".

Barrichello says that the decision to use rain tyres was determined by the fact that the track, especially on the side opposite the pit straight, was still very wet: 

"We went out almost last, just to get the pulse of the situation a few minutes before the start. There was still a quarter of an hour to go and there was a lot of water. It went badly. However, I think that if we had opted for dry tyres we would have been in more danger". 

According to Rubens Barrichello the race was a lottery for everyone: 

"In the end, the driver nobody expected won. Coulthard was the only one who never had any trouble. I was also disturbed by the Hans, the tool they imposed on us for safety reasons and which we have to wear around our necks. The bearing that supports it got pierced and it hurt. I couldn't stand it, perhaps I had become disoriented also because I thought I would have to face almost the entire race with that pain. I've already tried two or three types, but I'm not happy, they bother me incredibly".

The Brazilian, in any case, is confident that Ferrari is always a winner and that this was an episode that will not be repeated.

 

"Did you see the lap times Schumacher could achieve even when he had broken both deflectors? He was going fast. And, without those aerodynamic appendages, the car loses stability, overtaking is impossible. No, the F2002 is still a marvel. I'm calm, I'm still convinced that this year will be even better than 2002. We just have to hang in there and keep working as we have done so far".

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Jean Todt, on the other hand, cannot hide a bit of disappointment: 

"It was a different Grand Prix from what we expected. There were two Ferraris on the front row and it was logical to think of a good result. We did not manage to make the most of the situation. And we were not the best. However, we don't intend to continue giving gifts to others".

The rematch is in twelve days' time. Jean Todt assures:

"We will attack again. We know it will be a difficult championship, but we have the means to win it". 

Defeats can be good, the French manager argues, because they help to keep one's feet on the ground: 

"We are not phenomena".

At Sepang, Ferrari will evaluate itself and its opponents. Last season, it was believed that the Maranello single-seaters had a six-month technological advantage over the competition. During the winter, while Ferrari divided its energies between the creation of the F2003-GA and the latest developments of the F2002, the rivals made up for a few months. It was predictable, because last year the same thing happened, then the new car fixed everything. The aim is to repeat history. Unexpected and marked by mistakes, the defeat in Melbourne is difficult to metabolise. The Ferrari front row and six laps in the lead seemed like the beginning of a triumph. 

"Obviously with those premises Schumacher's fourth place is disappointing. We have to work well to win the next race. It is comforting that the F2002 still proved to be competitive".

Is it still the best car in the Circus?

 

"I wouldn't bet on it. In Melbourne it wasn't".

 

It remains a mystery, pending verification, why Rubens Barrichello in the race got off before the start signal. The two cars return to the track from Tuesday: the new one at Mugello with Luca Badoer, the old one at Fiorano with Felipe Massa. The plans do not change: Ferrari's top management confirms that the F2003-GA still has to pass a series of tests, in particular on durability and reliability. The defeat will not accelerate development time as it is attributed to special circumstances (rain, wrong strategies, driver mistakes). The two starting drivers are given a few days off to avoid a long trip back to Europe. Michael Schumacher will join his wife Corinna in a secret location between Australia and Malaysia, Rubens Barrichello will leave with Silvana, who has been with him all weekend in Melbourne, but he does not reveal the destination. The tests in Italy will serve to gather useful data both in the medium term and for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The new regulations have upset the pace of Formula 1 and forced even the computers to work overtime to simulate unprecedented situations. Between qualifying and the races, the cars can no longer be tuned, so a compromise that allows a fast lap time and competitiveness over the 310 kilometres of a race is needed. This is the engineers' new dilemma. The information gathered in Melbourne is of little use, as the rain has dissolved the plans studied at the table and in testing, but never verified in the race. Between the Maranello headquarters, the circuits where Ferraris test and the Grand Prix circuits, billions of pieces of data are collected. 

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During each lap on the track, sensors attached to vital parts of the single-seater send two megabytes of information to the pits, which the engineers have to translate into innovations. After the return to success, McLaren will also be at work. The Australian newspapers praise Cool-thard, playing with the Scotsman's name (cool means cool, but it is also a compliment). Good David has kept it simple, proving that avoiding mistakes already guarantees a good placing (the new close scores reward Prost-like accountants). And if there's Juan Pablo Montoya in the mood for gifts in front of him, success can also be achieved. In the Australian Grand Prix, the balance for the Italian drivers was mixed. Giancarlo Fisichella was classified twelfth after retiring on lap 53 while in tenth position. In the refuelling game, the Italian driver had also been fourth, but he was under no illusions: his only hope in Australia was to finish in the points. The only real positive note for Giancarlo was that he drove a Jordan, which all in all did not perform badly. It was a very different story for Jarno Trulli, fifth at the finish, overjoyed and wild:

 

"I think I showed that I am a driver who fights throughout the race, disproving some critics who claim that I am not consistent. With the first two sets of tyres, although I still don't know why, I was skidding all over the place. With the last one instead, the car was perfect. In fact, I was the fastest, by sum of times, in the final part of the race. Renault has prepared a very good car this year. Fernando Alonso was also very good. Now all we have to do is upgrade the engine. Work has been done on reliability, and I know that the necessary horsepower will also arrive to improve performance and be competitive with everyone. If we keep to our plans, we will soon be fighting almost on an equal footing with Williams and McLaren".

Bernie Ecclestone is not happy. From his headquarters in London, the supreme, as the British call him, lets it be known that he is even furious. The Australian Grand Prix, given the circumstances, was interesting and spectacular for him, as expected. But he absolutely did not like the new qualifying system:

"It felt like a procession, which didn't give me the slightest emotion. Those with a keen and experienced eye like me already knew after the first intermediate time how each driver would do. No chance of recovery, possibly only that of getting worse by making mistakes. If we introduce new rules they must work, they must have a logic of improvement compared to the past".

The Formula 1 boss had made his own proposal for timed laps: 

"Let's make four half-hour sessions, two on Friday and two on Saturday, with a sum of times. Everyone would be obliged to go out on the track all the time and push, offering an exceptional show, especially to the spectators on the circuit, but also on television".

 

His idea was not considered and Ecclestone regrets this. He will probably return to insist on changing the regulations, even if he will find opposition from many teams who consider the current formula ideal for guaranteeing a specific space on television for each car engaged in its own flying lap. In this way, however, the 72-year-old but still very combative Bernie blames Max Mosley, president of the FIA, who imposed the new rules. Bernie Ecclestone had organised a meeting in Melbourne between Max Mosley himself and the two dissidents Ron Dennis and Frank Williams who sued the Federation for having in practice violated the Concorde Agreement with its decisions. Which in terms of regulations also requires the agreement of the teams. The purpose of the meeting was to find a solution to avoid having to go to court. Instead, Max did not turn up. In the vein of controversy, Ecclestone also speaks out against the GPWC, the car constructors’ association, which is threatening to form its own championship if the economic conditions are not reviewed, with a fair redistribution of Formula 1 revenues: 

"If they continue with their plan I will unleash my lawyers. They must not delude themselves into thinking that they can take our place".


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