#729 2004 Chinese Grand Prix

2022-02-09 23:00

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#2004, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Alice Simonin,

#729 2004 Chinese Grand Prix

On Sunday, 19 September 2004, Jacques Villeneuve announces Shanghai peace:  "I intend to reconcile with Michael Schumacher". The Canadian driver, a co


On Sunday, 19 September 2004, Jacques Villeneuve announces Shanghai peace: 


"I intend to reconcile with Michael Schumacher".


The Canadian driver, a countercurrent and controversial character, is ready to comeback. In the past, there were bickering and controversies between the two drivers, the most serious story was at Jerez, in 1997, when the German driver tried to put his rival off track, but he remained on track and clinched the title. 

"Things of the past that are forgotten. From now on, we'll certainly get along fine". 


They will see each other again during the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, where the sport has been a tool of relaxation over and over again in history, from the ping pong policy between Nixon and Mao at the 2008 Beijing Games, that will bring the Giant of the East closer to Europe and America. Jacques Villeneuve comes back in Formula 1 after a season spent at home and three disappointing ones with BAR. He is the only driver in activity to have won a World Championship - in 1997 - other than Michael Schumacher. Renault called him to replace Jarno Trulli for the last three Grand Prix and will be offered a seat at Sauber until 2006 included. And, as the skillful director of his own image, he chooses the spotlight on Shanghai to make the beautiful gesture. On Sunday, 26 September 2004, there is the first Chinese Grand Prix of history scheduled, a huge sport and commercial event for the great engine Circus. A population of 1.300.000.000 people with an economy growing at 10% per year represent a market of interest for the big constructors, the sponsors and the drivers themselves. Michael Schumacher will put on sale a surprise gadget that celebrates the worldwide title with a dedication to the local public. Ferrari inaugurated the circuit with an exhibition during the month of June that coincided with the opening of a showroom in the center of the megalopolis of Shanghai. Williams-Bmw is the first team to have a Chinese driving a Formula 1 bolide, the twenty-one-year-old Ho-Ping Tung, then imitated by McLaren-Mercedes with Cheng Cong Fu. But the most popular driver is called Han Han. He participates in the Formula Bmw championship and wrote a rather criticized book on the education policies of his country. For the young, he is a sort of James Dean, for the authorities, he is a nuisance. The circuit was designed by Hermann Tilke, an Austrian engineer with a technical studio in Germany, in Aachen, who has already designed the tracks of Bahrain and Malaysia. From a bird's eye view, the track looks like the kanji above. It is 5415-meter long, includes seven right-handed corners and as many left-handed corners. On the longest straight (1175 meters), speeds of 330 km/h are expected, which force a thrilling braking moment onto a Monte-Carlo-like turn at 85 km/h. The organizers claim that:


"The overtakes are guaranteed. It will be the most challenging and spectacular circuit of Formula 1". 


Between futuristic structures and references to tradition, the entire facility cost 250.000.000 euro. Money spent well, if official figures are reliable: 90% of tickets have already been sold. Shanghai's national circuit grew in eighteen months, widening into a glabrous side of the terrifying suburbs. From a bird's eye view, its corners outline the first two letters of the city name. Because everything is symbolic in the East. Legions of spectators are officially expected, who knows if they will really arrive. Until a few weeks ago, not even the taxi drivers knew where exactly the circuit was. And yet, to make the engine world a little less alien to the local people, a DTM race was organized in Shanghai during the month of July. A street circuit had always been built in the suburbs, and Jean Alesi had arrived. Then the vibrations of the car blew a manhole cover up, which took off over the hoods and the heads. No one protested. The contrary of what happened in 1999, with the failed arrival of the World Rally Championship. 


Great fear among the drivers, on the eve, for the safety conditions that seemed like bamboo, instead everything went smoothly. It was the people, the audience, that did not care about the race. The impression is that even the billionaires of the likes of Bernie Ecclestone relatively matter to the people. Perhaps they matter to the rich, the novelty of China post Tien An Men, the class that the new emperor Hu Jintao leads, who just succeeded Jiang Zemin. A grandstand ticket will nearly cost 400 dollars, in a country where the average wage is not even of 300 dollars. The wealthiest will end up on the most expensive seats, they have already booked a private jet, a Maserati or a Ferrari, Italian brands that have already moved in the former prohibited market. The Chinese will even get to Formula 1, when market democracy will have lowered the cost of dreams. For the moment, the Chinese rather prefer other Western sports more. The football, for example, with its more understandable epic challenge. And in the meantime, the battle between Michael Schumacher and Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 boss, is solved in favor of the Scuderia Ferrari driver. In Monza, the British manager had said that the German driver could not sell his 2005-version cap with the seven stars which symbolize the win of as many world titles. 


"He won't be able to do it until when the Fédération officially proclaims him World Champion in the month of December during the ceremony that takes place in the Principality of Monaco". 


But, while he was pronouncing those words, the object in question was already on sale in the stores and in the stands of the Monza racetrack. 


"Based on my points, nobody will be able to strip me of the World Championship, not even if I don't finish among the first eight ever in the last three races remaining. Reason why I don't see why I should keep my caps in stock until the proclamation for the title". 


For this reason, Willi Weber, prosecutor, mentor and partner in Michael Schumacher's business (they call him mister 20%, that is to say the percentage that he earns on all the earnings of the World Champion and of Ralf Schumacher), rushed to fill the stores with the new red and silver headgear. But there is more: Michael Schumacher had also prepared a special version of his cap in advance, to be sold in China. On the back, in fact, is embroidered a dragon, typical of the Asian country, with a writing difficult to translate literally, but that could mean more or less the quote reported above, that is to say:


"With the Prancing Horse I am the fastest, the Champion". 


The turnover of this gadget has been enormous: changing it every year it is estimated that Michael Schumacher has sold more than a million pieces. At the current price of 24.90 euro on Internet, 30 euro each in stores, the business becomes huge, almost a second salary. Not counting the sponsorship revenues. Prestigious names used his image to promote themselves over the years. From Omega to Nike, from Fila to L'Oréal. Recently, Fiat has put up for sale a special and limited edition of the Stilo named after the driver. It will certainly be a sought-after piece by collectors, therefore a valuable one, in the future. Besides, Michael has always taken advantage of his vast popularity to distribute items branded with his name. The list of products is almost endless: it goes from numerous collars with pendants and bracelets (from 29.50 to 89 euro) to an impressive series of T-shirts also for children, to the scarves, to the purses and wallets, keychains, fitness clothing, up to the backpacks. He is also a World Champion in this field.


“Excuse me, why is the Ferrari red?”


On Wednesday, 22 September 2004, from his bedroom, Michael Schumacher answers all the possible questions regarding Formula 1, sport in general, life, politics, the future, the past and the present. He always finds a sensible answer to each question. But this time, the World Champion falters, smiles, outlines: 


"Well, it has always been". 


The Chinese chronicler urges: 


"And why do you always wear a red racing suit? Is it your lucky color?"


This is Michael Schumacher's first impact with the Chinese press, which, with a naive eye and without prejudice, is more interested in the folkloric aspects than in the technical aspects of Formula 1, which will make its debut in Shanghai. A megalopolis of over 15.000.000 people who used to ride bikes until a couple of decades ago is experiencing mass motorization without having any automotive tradition. This is why Europe is trying to export its car culture and is using Formula 1 as a means of communication. The most acclaimed idols here are also the Scuderia Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, who hears his name being mispronounced. 


"Mister Schumaco, do you know that the red color, in China, together with yellow, is the imperial color?"


The German driver answers:


"Fantastic, let's hope it will be good to us".


Yellow is also a Ferrari color, the background of the badge on which the Prancing Horse is reproduced. And red and yellow are the colors of the grandstands and of some structures of the all-new circuit, that Ferrari actually inaugurated back in June. If you pay attention to the symbols, there will be no story in the race this time either. The Maranello team has a clearly superior car, as it was shown at Monza catching up with extreme ease after a terrible start. 


"But the circuit is all to be discovered. We usually have a large database of the past season and we start from that to try some adjustments. We have to learn from scratch, but it will be like that for everyone". 


Despite its originality, the circuit has the same problems as Indianapolis: a low downforce would be needed on the two long straights (1.3 km and 800 meters), like at Monza; the other sections would need the necessary set-ups for Monte-Carlo, because of the tightness of the corners. The best compromise will win. Michael Schumacher, as soon as he is asked a normal question, explains:


"It's my first trip to China and I'm eager to try the circuit. It's beautiful to be here and see that a lot of people love our sport. We hope to do many overtakes". 


Rubens Barrichello also thinks about overtakes, especially on his teammate. Charged from his win at the Italian Grand Prix, the Brazilian contemplates doing an encore: 


"I'm more amused by winning one single race than maintaining the second place in the general standings". 


The following day, on Thursday, 23 September 2004, the director of the Shanghai circuit does the honors:

"Welcome to the most modern circuit of the world".


He is called Mao and it is a name with a certain effect around here. However, the racetrack is not named after anyone: Shanghai International Circuit. From the city, you arrive in an hour's drive in the midst of hellish traffic. Around the facility, there is nothing, but a convention center, hotels and shopping centers will soon be built. It will not be a cathedral in the desert like in Bahrain. Matter of numbers: 500.000 people live in the small Middle Eastern state, the number climbs to 15.000.000 in the Chinese megalopolis and the 200.000 tickets have been sold at prices between 35 and 400 euro. Until the month of October 2002, on this area of five square kilometers in Ja Ding district, there was a swamp. Now there are 5451 meters of track, surrounded by futuristic steel and glass structures mixed with traditional style houses built on the water, between oriental gardens and bridges. 


"Fabulous, it looks like a little game, it's so perfect".


Comments Giancarlo Fisichella, who however reserves a technical judgement for after the tests: 


"Until you get out on track, it's impossible to judge and the simulator is useless". 


And sometimes it is even harmful, given that Ralf Schumacher was taken by retching after two laps on the sim. 


“I feel good. I would have already raced in Monza had it not arisen a loophole with insurance". 


His brother Michael drives on track with the inevitable electric scooter. The verdict? 

"Interesting. There are great combinations of corners. I predict many overtakes".


Jacques Villeneuve is also curious, returning here with Renault after a year of early retirement. The Canadian driver reiterates that he has made peace with Michael Schumacher. 


"We randomly saw each other in Monte-Carlo. For me, the friction is forgotten. I have respect for Michael". 


In the meantime, Flavio Briatore risks the international incident: 


"With the beauty of this facility, the inadequacy of many European circuits, such as Magny-Cours and Silverstone, becomes evident". 


But Eddie Jordan shouts at him, telling him:


"You forgot Imola. I was only giving out some examples".


Flavio replies.


"And I'm helping you make them better".


Counterattacks the Irish manager, also concerned about Ford's retirement, that will be leaving Formula 1 at the end of the season, both as a team - under the Jaguar brand - and as a supplier of Cosworth engines. Jordan and Minardi will lose their reference engine supplier. However, according to reports, a buyer has come forward: three-time World Champion Nelson Piquet, who wants his son Nelsinho, 22 years old, who is dominating British Formula 3, to make his debut in Formula 1. The operation would take place through Piquet Sport with the blessing - including financial - of Bernie Ecclestone. In the months leading up to the Chinese Grand Prix, Nelson Piquet had announced his intention to race in GP2 alongside his son to teach him the tricks of the job. On Sunday, 26 September 2004, Luca Montezemolo will be present at one of his very rare Grand Prix in person. Only because we are racing in Shanghai will Ferrari's Chairman, leaving for China, live intense days as ambassador of the Made in Italy in the country of the emerging future. At the Paris Auto Show, meanwhile, the Chairman of Ferrari invites everyone to look up, where a red billboard adorned with trophies looms: it is the list of the six World Constructors' Championship won, all in a row, by the team of Maranello. 


"It doesn't even look true, it seemed impossible and if I didn't see them there, I wouldn't believe it".


Exclaims Luca Montezemolo. The present exalts him, tomorrow worries him. There is not only the fight without exclusion of blows with Bernie Ecclestone for a more reasonable division of profits; there is also the prospect of having to line up, from next year, a third single-seater to compensate the withdrawal of Jaguar. Entertaining, but expensive. 


"This is in the contract that we have signed, and unfortunately there is a possibility that we will have to respect it. The Americans did some math and understood that Formula 1 today is not a great business, so Jaguar had to give up. Except from Toyota and BMW, other teams could find themselves in difficulty from an economic point of view. If there are less cars on the starting grid, we need to replace them". 


There is no denying, Luca Montezemolo, a colorful comparison to highlight the current mistakes of the Circus directed by Bernie Ecclestone: 


"It seems to me that it's become quite an equestrian circus, the monkey is missing to do the afternoon show, we have to find four or five more monkeys and throw them on the track. It means increasing costs dramatically, but revenues will always be the same". 


Absurd, according to Ferrari's Chairman. The prospect could change if a signature racing driver climbed in the third single-seater of the Maranello team. Question: would you like it if Valentino Rossi would be the one driving the extra single-seater? 


"Absolutely yes, unfortunately I fear that it won't realistically be possible because, today, he has other schedules and is committed to winning elsewhere. An Italian driver? Honestly, we haven't really thought about it seriously yet. There's still time". 


On Friday, 24 September 2004, Hennann Tilke succeeds in his attempt to put Michael Schumacher in difficulty. The corners of the Shanghai International Circuit create some embarrassment to the German driver: 

"I didn't manage to find the ideal trajectories and the right set-up".


Explains the Scuderia Ferrari driver at the end of the day of free practice, which he ended with the eighth best time lap and troubled by a software problem that stops him at the end of the pit lane, followed by a shove to the cameraman who captures his angry feelings. In short, Michael Schumacher did not understand anything but he will still have a morning to change his destiny. But why is Michael Schumacher so upset when he already has the title sewn on his cap? First, because he is a perfectionist and a pure agonist whose unique purpose - textual - is to beat his rivals. Secondly, because if Formula 1 has committed itself to explaining motorsport to the Chinese it is not for the pure love of sport: the business is huge, a paradise that will fetch the winner - and the sponsors - an incredible return of image. Examples include the case of Anthony Davidson, the BAR development driver who takes the stage every Friday, newly unstoppable for everyone and hunting for a seat. The secret? He is a great driver, of course, he has a fast car, obviously, but he just happens to drive a blue-tinted single-seater for the occasion with the logo of a well-sold brand of cigarettes in China. Advertising requirements impose that it be highlighted and its mechanics probably loaded fuel with the dropper and mounted an engine that would not have held other kilometers to enhance its performance. However, the BAR's second-best time with Jenson Button confirms the performance of the car, while Takuma Satō breaks yet another engine and will lose ten places on the grid. The audience is lukewarm. It is explained to the Chinese that the event is important and that 150.000 tickets have already been sold. Michael Schumacher and Kimi Räikkönen have become the idols of the youngest fans, but trying to convince the people that the free practice and qualifying sessions are an unmissable show is a wasted effort. Scattered in groups, 13.500 people will be seated on the huge grandstands of the racetrack. Proportionally, it is as if 1.500 spectators arrived at Monza from Milan. The protagonists have more fun, like children on a discovery of a new little toy. All drivers like turn 1, which seems like a motorway exit, except that a Formula 1 car faces it at 110 km/h. Fernando Alonso rates the final turn:

"But the whole track is particular, specially designed to allow overtakes".


Michael Schumacher is impressed by the passage between turns 2 and 3, a very challenging change of direction, where many mistakes can be made or, on the contrary, where ground can be gained. 


"And I found out that many corners are blind. During the track walk lap on scooter, I didn't realize it, because the view is different on foot". 


Rubens Barrichello wants to make a joke: 


"It is said that there are many drivers in Brazil because they learn to drive in a chaotic traffic. If it's true, I predict that many champions will grow in Shanghai". 


For two drivers, the Chinese Grand Prix is a return to the races. Jacques Villeneuve is still in break-in:


"This track has everything: straights, fast and slow corners, good pace. It's a concentration of the other circuits. My goal? Being ahead of BAR". 


While Ralf Schumacher recovered from his Indianapolis crash and is immediately faster than Juan Pablo Montoya. 


"Returning to drive, I understood what I was losing".


On Saturday, 25 September 2004, the qualifying sessions end with a Ferrari at the front, one at the back and the other competitors in the middle. The leader is Rubens Barrichello who, as in 2003, gives his best in the finale of the championship: in Shanghai, the Brazilian claims his second pole position - in a row - of the season. The Ferrari that starts from the back is the one of Michael Schumacher. His qualifying lap lasts 500 meters: at turn 1, the German driver stumbles into the most trivial of spins, like Gianmaria Bruni. In the modern era, we have never seen the #1 Ferrari so badly placed on the grid. For the German driver, it is the worst Saturday of his career. In 1995, in Belgium, he set the sixteenth best time behind the wheel of his Benetton-Renault and won the race, today however, he is nineteenth in the official starting grid, just ahead of Gianmaria Bruni who had been slower in pre-qualifying. During the race, we will see from which position he will start because the Ferrari technicians could decide to take a new engine, with automatic relegation to the last place, to start from the pit lane to change fuel load or - still with a pit lane start - to use the spare car and adjust it better. 


"We'll decide during the night".


Explain the men of the team from Maranello, after having studied the telemetrics, which are like the flight recorder of a plane. Did Michael Schumacher or his F2004 make a mistake? The man or the machine? The car cannot talk, but the driver can: 


"I don't think I've made mistakes". 


Then comes the technical argumentation: at this point, Michael Schumacher claims to have always had understeer, in other terms, a tendency to widen the trajectory; in qualifying, despite not having change the set-up, the contrary happened and the single-seater spun. 

"If the technical data don't provide any explanation, it will mean that the problem was between the tank and the steering". 


It is a joke, not an instant comprehension, to acknowledge that he may have made a mistake: 


"The first thing I thought was: good thing that the World Championship has ended, because otherwise the consequences could have been serious". 


And in fact, the result is irrelevant in terms of the standings. Now the show matters. So far, during the first Chinese weekend of Formula 1, the World Champion has suffered and in the race, to bounce back, he will have to do a Monza-like comeback, facilitated by a track that allows overtakes. At the Shanghai International Circuit, there are 71.300 spectators present in the grandstands: at the sight of the spinning car from Maranello, they explode in a roar of disappointment, surprise and negative cheers. For the race, between 150.000 and 200.000 spectators are expected, record numbers in Formula 1, in a country that knows as much about motorsport as an average European of Confucius. Hero of the day, first poleman in China, Rubens Barrichello says he is surprised by the mistake of his teammate: 


"It doesn't often happen to him, I feel sorry for him. I'm very happy and I aim for another win. The car is great, the tyres are great, it will be a difficult fight". 


He is followed by Kimi Räikkönen, who climbs on the podium for sure, provided that the delicate mechanics of his McLaren hold up the 305.256 meters of the race, particularly challenging for the engine on the long straights. Next, Jenson Button, other candidate to the podium, on the waiting list for a first win. The fourth best time made by Felipe Massa is surprising and confirms the quality of the Bridgestone tyres. Both Renault are in difficulty: Fernando Alonso will start from sixth position, Jacques Villeneuve from the thirteenth. Back in racing, the Canadian driver admits that he still has to take the steps with the single-seater and the engineers with his driving style: 

"When I change settings, what I expect doesn't happen. The goal is to finish ahead of Satō".


That is, the driver who replaced him at the end of the 2003 season at BAR. A whim within his reach: the Japanese driver starts from the penultimate row because he has changed his engine. On Sunday, 26 September 2004, at the start of the first Chinese Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Räikkönen keep the lead of the race; Fernando Alonso gets himself right behind them, while Jenson Button dropped to fifth place, overtaken also by Felipe Massa. The British driver gets his position back from the Sauber driver over the course of lap 3, after an intense duel. Over the course of lap 4, Felipe Massa is also overtaken by Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher. In the meantime, Michael Schumacher struggles to come back at the front, stuck at the seventeenth position behind the Toyota of Olivier Panis, who had a terrible start because of a launch control issue. On lap 7, Jenson Button also overtakes Fernando Alonso, bringing himself to the third position; the BAR driver sets the fastest lap time of the race. After ten laps of race, Felipe Massa is the first driver to come back into the pits to do his refueling. A little after, Michael Schumacher hits the car of Christian Klien during an attempt to overtake him to the detriment of the Austrian. Schumacher continues, while Klien has to retire because of a damaged suspension. Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Räikkönen make their pit stops together over the course of lap 12, while Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button remain out on track. Both drivers come into the pits over the course of lap 13 and lap 14 respectively, keeping the fourth and third positions. Further back, Michael Schumacher, who is pushing to the maximum to try to climb up, ends up in a spin, losing quite some time; the German driver is the last driver to do his refueling, over the course of lap 20, after having overtaken Giancarlo Fisichella as well as Ralf Schumacher. Leading the race, Rubens Barrichello struggles to hold Kimi Räikkönen back; the gap of the Brazilian over the Finnish remains steadily under one second. In third position, a little bit off, Jenson Button follows; the British driver, however, started with a 2-stop strategy only, against the 3-stop strategies of his rivals. Fernando Alonso keeps the fourth place, ahead of Ralf Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella and David Coulthard. 


Kimi Räikkönen does his refueling for the second time over the course of lap 27; when Rubens Barrichello also does his second pit stop, over the course of lap 29, his gap over the Finnish increases. Thus, Jenson Button takes the lead and does his refueling over the course of lap 35. At the same time, Michael Schumacher has a puncture to a tyre, losing again more ground regarding the leader of the race. Over the course of lap 36, Kimi Räikkönen does his third and last pit stop, anticipating it in the attempt to overtake Rubens Barrichello; however, the Finnish comes back on track behind Jenson Button, in third position. Over the course of lap 37, David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher make contact while fighting for the seventh position; the Scottish ram the Williams driver and both drivers are forced to come back into the pits. David Coulthard is forced to replace a punctured tyre, while the Williams mechanics have to perform checks on the car of Ralf Schumacher. However, the German driver comes back into the pits right when his team was waiting for Juan Pablo Montoya; the German driver loses two laps and, after having done a test lap, comes back into the pits and retires. In the meantime, Rubens Barrichello pushes to the maximum to increase his gap over Jenson Button as much as possible; when the Brazilian does his refueling, over the course of lap 42, the BAR driver remains behind him. In the last laps, Rubens Barrichello manages his lead over his followers, who come close to the Scuderia Ferrari driver but do not manage to threaten his first position. Rubens Barrichello wins the Chinese Grand Prix and claims his second triumph in a row, ahead at the finish line of Jenson Button, Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso, Juan Pablo Montoya, Takuma Satō, Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa; Jacques Villeneuve, returning after a year of inactivity, only claims the eleventh place, finishing ahead of Michael Schumacher. In the fight for the second place in the Constructors' Championship, BAR scores more points than Renault, after having surpassed it in the standings during the Italian Grand Prix. Ferrari wanted China. A question of sport and of spot: the first Formula 1 Grand Prix disputed in Shanghai is a huge commercial in which Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari played the leading role. 


The success of the Brazilian driver was as spectacular as the misadventures of his teammate, Michael Schumacher, struggling with mistakes and misfortune assorted that cost him being lapped, finishing behind his former enemy Jacques Villeneuve, returning with a lot of rust on him and getting the worst result of his career, excluding his retirements. Only figure under his belt, the lap record, set parading next to the checkered flag. The Barrichello of better days came back to give prestige to the family brands (Ferrari and Fiat) in front of 150.000 spectators and of a potential market of 1.300.000.000 people. An exemplary race, spent at the lead and under tension. Kimi Räikkönen and his renewed McLaren worried him at the beginning, Jenson Button and his BAR scared him in the second part of the race with a surprising strategy. The Brazilian responded to both attacks. At the start, he kept the first position, he always arrived with a sufficient margin of lead for his pit stops (great mechanics) and pushed to the maximum when he understood that Jenson Button would stop once less than him. There is no need to give Michael Schumacher a vote. Let us give him the right to a certain strain after an extraordinary season. He did several mistakes and, as it happens in these situations, he put himself in the conditions of committing other mistakes in the attempt to make up. He did not like the track, so different from the layouts that he printed in his brain and that he interpreted very rigorously. Shanghai is a particular track. Hermann Tilke, the designer, had fun making things worse for the drivers for the sake of the show. And Michael Schumacher, for once in normal version, has endured. 

"See you in 2005. I'll come back to win". 


Besides the image, Ferrari collects new records: 181 wins, 176 pole positions, 180 fastest laps, 14 seasonal wins out of 16 races (and constant appearance on the podium). For Rubens Barrichello, it is his second win in a row and the ninth of his career. The world titles were already largely won over, so does his second place in the standings now. What stimuli will Maranello's team invent in the last two events of the year? No problem: Japan is the homeland of Bridgestone, which made the difference on the rivals of Michelin. You do not want to give them a win as a sign of gratitude? And then in Brazil: is it possible that the poor Rubens Barrichello never manages to celebrate in front of his Tifosi? Insatiable. During the week following the Chinese Grand Prix, three days of tests are scheduled at Jerez with Luca Badoer and Michael Schumacher and as many are scheduled at Fiorano with Andrea Bertolini, with an eye on the season's grand finale and another on 2005. Except for Jenson Button, still second, and Kimi Räikkönen, the competition finished at a safe distance. Fernando Alonso keeps the hopes of Renault alive, which lost more points at Shanghai compared to BAR-Honda and is now 9 points off. Then, Juan Pablo Montoya for Williams, ghost of the aggressive driver at the beginning in Formula 1. Before being hit by the car of David Coulthard, his teammate, Ralf Schumacher, returning after three months of injury, has always been ahead of him. 


"It's really a shame that my race ended ahead of time. I got a flat after having touched Coulthard. He was trying to overtake me but he was too optimistic. When I came back into the pits, I thought I had damage. The mechanics told me that I could come back on track, but I had lost too much time. It's sad, because until that moment, the race had gone well and I could have finished among the top five".


Takuma Satō, who started from the back of the grid, confirms the good day of BAR. Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa, in the points with both Saubers, were the protagonists of their usual good performance behind the top teams. The return of Jacques Villeneuve was difficult. He was seen treading water to keep the Renault on the road and helpless behind a Jaguar. He wanted to get back to Formula 1, let's see what he will be able to do in Japan and in Brazil. 


"To be honest, I just took too much time getting into the race's pace. I had a good start but I didn't warm up the tyres enough and I lost what I had made. I learned a lot, now I know the single-seater better; I did a complete race and I know what it means to drive in Formula 1 in 2004. I'm sure it will go better at Suzuka". 


Flavio Briatore is not delighted: 


"We're not satisfied, but still, we brought two cars to the finish line and one grazed the podium. The team did an excellent work, Fernando pushed until the end of the race and Jacques won a difficult duel". 


His future is a riddle: the manager Craig Pollock claims that we will see him again at Renault next year (instead of at Sauber for whom he has signed). Giancarlo Fisichella, who has already signed a contract for that seat, categorically excludes that his transfer may not be successful. In the World Championship of the others, the historic duel between Williams and McLaren starts all over again: it is only a competition for the fourth place, but the respective engine manufacturers, Bmw and Mercedes, particularly care about it. Williams is ahead by 6 points, McLaren seems in better shape. A rookie climbs up on the podium of Shanghai. Together with the three drivers, accepting the trophy as representative of the Constructor (Ferrari), goes Luca Montezemolo. 


"It's the first time in fourteen years". 


The ceremony of the anthems proceeds with the usual sacredness, but during the handover of the trophies, the atmosphere warms up. The Ferrari Chairman sends a kiss to his daughter Clementina, then he cherishes the trophy. The champagne ritual follows. Rubens Barrichello has a moment of hesitation, gosh, the boss is always the boss, he loves to dress well and appear in order, wears blue jacket, caki-colored sports trousers, a blue shirt without a single fold. What should be done? Kimi Räikkönen, first, and then the Chairman himself take him out of embarrassment. The Finnish driver has no hierarchical constraints: opens and sprinkles as always. Montezemolo lends himself to the game, bending down right in front of the drivers, and goes through a champagne shower. So, he returns soaked to the Ferrari base where John Elkann awaits him. Along the way, he replies to all, signs autographs, embraces local interviewers, praises Ferrari as a symbol of Made in Italy, answers the phone. And the soaked jacket? 

"I'm sorry, I didn't bring a spare one. It wasn't planned, but the men pushed me, forza Chairman, and so I accepted to go on the podium. It was exceptional, especially since I stopped following the race at the circuits from the moment when Ferrari got back to winning ways". 


A great Rubens Barrichello and a not-so-bad Michael Schumacher? 


"Rubens' win and his second place in the World Championship show his strength and the strength of this team. Maybe from the outside, it seemed like an easy race. In reality, it was really hard. The driver is informed every minute of the situation by the pits. It wasn't Michael's day, good thing he's already won the title for a while". 


Montezemolo adds:


"It's like being at Monza. Did you see all those Ferrari banners, caps and t-shirts? We took the pole position, we won, we made our Chinese Tifosi happy. This is a huge publicity for our technology and for the Italian industry, for Ferrari and Fiat, which is present in China since the beginning of the '80s with IVECO, for our Italian suppliers. And also, for all the small companies that I represent here as Chairman of Confindustria". 


Other theme: Valentino Rossi, the last temptation of Formula 1, a mutual infatuation that has not yet resulted in love. If three teams would retire themselves and Ferrari would be forced to line up a third car in 2005, would we see Rossi in the car from Maranello? 


"First of all, we hope that the third car will not be necessary because it would involve many complications. Valentino is a great champion and I think that he will win a lot again in Moto GP. We're waiting for him anyway". 


Rubens Barrichello seems more emotional by the show on the podium than by his win. 


"For the first time, I showered with a man. And moreover, he is my Chairman. I also made him cry by spraying champagne in his eyes. I always want him on track and I will invite him in Brazil because he brings me luck. The day of my first pole position (Silverstone 2000, ed), he was there". 


The good Rubinho has redeemed in two weeks, in Monza and Shanghai, a season in the shadow of his cumbersome teammate. With his 108 points in a normal season, he would have been World Champion. And perhaps, he will be one day, if he quickly tunes in with the car. In 2003, his season finale was also exciting, until the win in Suzuka that saw Michael Schumacher claim the title. 


"I'm happy. It was important to win in China for Ferrari's image. I was amazed by the warmth of the Tifosi. Traffic aside, it's a wonderful place. People here should drive in Formula 1, given how they overtake". 


For once, he gladly does without Michael Schumacher: 


"I was ignoring the situation. I was imagining that he was among the first six, but I've never asked information on his position via radio. I was too focused on driving. I had some problems of front tyre wear and I didn't have a moment of rest". 


The Chinese people are curious to know if he liked the circuit. He nods: 

"Beautiful, we can overtake, everything is perfectly organized. One only thing: I would prefer if the hotels would be a bit closer to the racetrack". 


Every day, it took him almost three hours by car (with a driver) like his colleagues. Was it painful? 


"Yes, because I couldn't drive myself".


A thousand-point pair: Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello are about to become one. After five seasons together, two races away from the end of the championship already won, they have scored 972 points. In 2004, 36 points remain at stake, Ferrari would need two second-place and two third-place finishes in the races scheduled at Suzuka and São Paulo. Nobody did better in the Formula 1 history and nobody ever even came close to these levels. It is true that the number of Grand Prix per season increased compared to the first decades of Formula 1 and that today the regulations assign more points, but the gap is huge. Another share of 500 points went only to Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard with McLaren: 646 between 1996 and 2001, with two world titles won by the Finnish driver. In only three years, still with McLaren, Senna and Berger touched the number 359, Mansell and Patrese (Williams) 356, Senna and Prost (McLaren) 340. Michael Schumacher arrived in Maranello in 1996, Barrichello in 2000. And the Brazilian is proud of that: 


"Since I'm here, Ferrari has always won the Constructors' World Championship. Michael can't brag about that". 


He says this with a smile, because he is not the type to be arrogated for merits that are not only his. He has always acted the assigned script: regularity of results, good-position finishes, some wins. In some cases, he has kept the prestige of Ferrari high when it was not his teammate's day. It happened to him in Hockenheim in 2000, for example, with an extraordinary comeback from eighteenth to the first place, under the astonished eyes of Michael Schumacher, reduced to the role of spectator following a crash at the first corner with Fisichella. It was a decisive win for the Constructors' World Championship and also for the Drivers' one, taking points away from Mika Häkkinen. Then, in Japan, in 2003. In Shanghai, the last pearl. The circuit, unique and complicated, has exalted its aggressive driving skills more than the German technique, which took a well-deserved vacation after twelve wins. It is still him, Michael Schumacher, the main character of this particular standings. In 1996, winner of both World Championships with Benetton, he accepts the challenge of bringing the Maranello team to the top. It took him some years, he lost two championships during the very last race (1997 and 1998) and one because of a crash which kept him out during six Grand Prix (1999), but it was worth it. He clinched five titles in a row and beat all the Formula 1 records except for the pole position record. But it is difficult that it escapes him in the next season. Jean Todt says:


"The win in Shanghai was extraordinary. Rubens had a huge pressure on him knowing that Michael would start from the pits and could not fight for the first position. This result guarantees him the second place and gives us the fourteenth seasonal win out of sixteen races. Once again, Bridgestone provided us with fantastic tyres". 


The General Manager of Ferrari recalls the importance of the Chinese showcase for commercial and image reasons, especially for the Fiat Group. 


"Also, because Ferrari has always sold all their produced cars. Today, in China, we're at 50%. We plan to double the share, but it will take a long time before we reach the 1600 sales of the American market".


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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