Tuesday, March 22, 2005, the F2005 is tested for the first time by Rubens Barrichello. Mugello circuit: 95 laps, 11 of which on the short version of the track, best time 1'21"435, covering over 450 kilometres. Then the feeling that there might be a problem leads the driver to switch off the engine, park on the side of the track and put the car back in the hands of the mechanics. While the F2005 was going around the track, in Maranello Luca Montezemolo called his men to report and asked for explanations regarding the Malaysian Grand Prix, the troubles with the F2004M, the tyre problem, the development times of the single-seaters who are entrusted with the hopes of redemption. The summit begins at 10:00 a.m. and concludes with an invitation to all, teams and suppliers.
"We bring out the character that we have".
But without the anxiety of making the new car debut in Bahrain.
"When we go back to winning, it will be more fun".
Yes, but when will Ferrari be competitive again and fight for success? Michael Schumacher replies:
"Little will change in Bahrain. In Imola we will take a good step forward. I guarantee that we will win some races".
On Thursday it is up to him to get on track on the Tuscan circuit, do a hundred laps, return to the pits and in the evening, after a day's work, meet with the engineers and give his opinion, the most authoritative:
"it’s ready for me".
"It's not worth the risk".
Luca Montezemolo repeats:
"Let's not get anxious".
Even if Scuderia Ferrari collected ten points in two races and in Sepang showed an embarrassing inferiority not only against the wild Renault but even against Red Bull Racing. There seems to be no alarm for the start of the season below expectations, but rather the desire to react with the usual tools: passion, grit, and hard work. In Maranello they ensure that the situation is under control, that we are not living in a climate of last resort and that problems must be faced with the usual determination, with the character of the team and suppliers: we win and lose all together and we need to do a great effort all together. The president had an exchange of ideas with Bridgestone's number one, Shigeo Watanabe, and spoke with both drivers, who said they were determined and calm. On Thursday evening or at the latest on Friday morning it will be decided whether to take the new car to Bahrain.
The pros: better performance and a strong signal to the competition. If Ferrari decided to postpone, the debut of the F2005 would be postponed by two races and making a fool of themselves in front of the Italian fans would leave its mark. The cons: uncertain reliability and technical difficulties, because production had been calibrated for a debut in May. Rubens Barrichello votes yes, and explains to Luca Montezemolo during the mid-day break:
"This car is better than its predecessor in every way".
Tuesday's best lap time was 2.5 seconds higher than his record, set in 2004 with the F2004, but - the Maranello team engineers point out - the test was carried out in race set-up, i.e. with a full tank. And the breakdown, whatever its nature, occurs at the end of the session and after a thousand kilometres: almost enough distance to cover two race weekends. On Wednesday, March 23, 2005, Michael Schumacher also says yes:
"The F2005 made me realise that it's good and fast".
The feeling was immediately excellent at Mugello, when the German driver tested the new single-seater for the first time, already weaned on by test driver Luca Badoer and Rubens Barrichello: 81 laps, equal to 422 kilometres, without technical problems and with a best time of 1'21"233, a couple of tenths less than the best performance established by his teammate. Michael Schumacher's yes weighs at least as much as the will of the Scuderia Ferrari to redeem the poor Malaysian impression. In the comparative tests, the new single-seater proved to be 0.8-0.9 seconds faster on the lap. All ready for the debut in Bahrain, then? Not at all: the decision will be made today after an examination of the data collected and a discussion with the Bridgestone engineers. The work passes to the tyre specialists: the compounds tested on the Tuscan circuit resisted well to asphalt temperatures between 16 °C and 23 °C, just as in Australia they had allowed Rubens Barrichello to make a good comeback, ending with second place. But in Malaysia, where the bottom of the track touched 56 °C, the Ferrari tyres, in addition to being poor in qualifying, could not handle the 305 km race. Rubens Barrichello was forced to retire, and Michael Schumacher managed the race without attacking just to bring home two points. Ferrari is asking Bridgestone for a tyre capable of withstanding the best chassis and engine performance on the most difficult circuit of the season, where the heat and sand of the desert make the asphalt as abrasive as sandpaper. If the Japanese company gives a favourable opinion, the debut will be possible and the Maranello factory will work day and night to prepare the second car. So far, in fact, only one model has been built (a second chassis was used for crash tests). If, on the contrary, from the data collected the advantage over the F2004 were to be minimal, the debut would take place in Spain, as announced on the day of the presentation. In this case, the men of the Maranello team would have an extra month to prepare a winning single-seater but would be forced to face two Grands Prix, including the one that will be held at Imola in front of the Italian public, in conditions of inferiority compared to their rivals. On the eve of the decision, Ferrari is however ruling out two options: going to Bahrain with two different cars and switching to the F2005 in the San Marino Grand Prix, suffering a ten-place grid penalty on the starting grid. Schumacher hopes. His optimism emerges from a sentence pronounced as tests were still ongoing:
"It's always a thrill to get behind the wheel of a new car. This time it's an even more particular feeling after what happened in Malaysia".
The satisfaction shown by Michael Schumacher is combined with the good news arriving on the state of health of the engine tested on Monday and Tuesday by Luca Badoer and Rubens Barrichello which, after a thousand kilometres, had malfunctioned.
"Based on the first analyses, already carried out in the evening at Mugello and the checks carried out in Maranello, no particular issue has been found".
An expression to say that the engine does not have structural problems but drawbacks of youth. Michael Schumacher concentrates the work program on the central hours of the day, the hottest ones. A continuous going in and out of the pits for fine-tuning.
"It was a beautiful day. It was also important to gather my impressions, which were as positive as those of Luca and Rubens. Driving sensations are good. We have no comparison with the F2004M on this circuit but, fundamentally, the F2005 represents a step forward and I am undoubtedly satisfied".
The time obtained by the World Champion is lower than those of Luca Badoer and Rubens Barrichello, but far from the circuit record set a year ago by the young F2004. The main reason is the new rules on engines, tires and aerodynamics. What is more, the day's program was not lap time performance (the F2005 is faster and you do not need confirmation), but rather behaviour over distance in a Grand Prix and the relationship with the tyres. On Thursday, March 24, 2005, Scuderia Ferrari announces its decision: the F2005 will make its racing debut in Bahrain. Two new cars are being shipped to the Sakhir circuit, while an F2004M will be used as a reserve. There are many reasons which prompted Jean Todt to bring forward the debut of this single-seater, initially scheduled for the Spanish Grand Prix. The data collected by the engineers during the tests and interpreted positively by Ross Brawn, the positive impressions reported by Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher in recent days at Mugello and - lastly - the negative results obtained above all last week in Malaysia. The German driver expresses his satisfaction with the decision taken by Scuderia Ferrari.
"I can only be happy with the decision to use the new car starting from the next race. From the first outing, it gave me positive sensations. I was able to do numerous laps with the F2005 and, as the hours went by, working on the set-up, the single-seater improved more and more, also allowing us to gather valuable information. I can't wait to get to the Emirates to go on the track with this new Ferrari".
Last year, at the brand new Sakhir circuit, the Maranello team achieved one of its many one-two wins of the season, with Michael Schumacher ahead of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button with the BAR-Honda trailing by almost half a minute. Michael also recorded pole position and the fastest race lap. The brilliant precedents and the prospect of having a more competitive car available should not, however, create easy illusions. The competition this year is very strong and, in a certain sense, compact, with seven teams on the Michelin tyres that prevailed in the first two rounds of the World Championship. Renault proved to be a team in great form, with two victories, but McLaren, Williams and Toyota also went faster, while Red Bull Racing took advantage of the Italian team's problems. However, the Bahrain track should, in theory, help the F2005 make the best use of the tyres. The sand on the asphalt could in fact prevent the accumulation of rubber particles that had stuck to the wheels of Rubens Barrichello's F2004M, putting the Brazilian's Ferrari in crisis. But, above all, the new car, designed for the changes in aerodynamic and mechanical regulations, should have better balance in order to obtain high and constant performance. It will also give the two riders the opportunity to mount the most up-to-date version of the engine, designed to have perfect integration with the chassis, whereas a compromise had to be made in order to use it on the F2004M. It is clear that having anticipated the debut of the F2005 by two races could lead to some risk of reliability, because fewer tests have been carried out than expected. But it is also certain that Jean Todt and his men did not act only under the pressure of the results. The new car is certainly more competitive than the old one and will probably solve many of the problems that emerged in Australia and Malaysia.
Already in Friday's practice in Bahrain, it will be possible to understand if hopes will be confirmed, but the real verdict (race aside) will come in Saturday's qualifying when the timed lap will be done with the minimum fuel in the tank. In Melbourne and Sepang, on the same occasion, the F2004M had never managed to finish in the top ten, conditioning both Grands Prix. Meanwhile, the three banks that hold 75% of the Formula 1 rights are close to an agreement with Bernie Ecclestone. The agreement precedes by a few weeks the start - scheduled for Tuesday, May 10, 2005 - of a process in which Bayerische Landesbank, J.P. Morgan Chase and Lehman Brothers opposed Bernie Ecclestone himself to gain control over Formula One Administration and Formula One Management, two companies still under the control of the English tycoon. The lawyers of the two parties have informed the High Court of London of the imminent settlement. The new agreement - writes the Financial Times - should avert a contract between the three banks and the GPWC, a company managed by the big manufacturers - Ferrari is out of it - born to organize an alternative championship starting from 2008.
"It appears that Bernie gave in after losing control of one of the two companies".
Juan Pablo Montoya is a talented and feisty driver, messy and also a bit unlucky. He wants to imitate Schumacher, he intends to win as much as he did, and he went on a diet to offer the same image of a sports athlete and fitness lover. In vain. Michael Schumacher is a regular on football fields all over the world, he dedicates himself to snowboarding in winter, he practised free climbing and parachuting without twisting a hair, while Juan Pablo Montoya just needed a trivial tennis lesson to end up with a battered shoulder. And now the Colombian risks missing the Bahrain Grand Prix. It happened on Saturday, March 26, 2005, on the eve of Easter: the McLaren driver made an appointment with a coach in Madrid, took to the field, played for half an hour, and then slipped into a change of direction. A messy fall caused him a microfracture in his left shoulder plus a slight injury to tendons and muscles.
"These things happen".
McLaren-Mercedes comments benevolently, specifying that Juan Pablo Montoya will undergo other tests and clinical examinations, including a CT scan.
"The final decision will be made on Thursday whether he is fit to race or not".
The injury itself is not serious, but it affects a very important joint for steering wheel control. The reserve driver for the first three races of the season is Spaniard Pedro De La Rosa, who usually attends Friday free practice in the third car. In the event of Juan Pablo Montoya's forfeit, the race would be disputed by the Spanish driver, while the tests would involve the other test driver, the Austrian Alexander Wurz. Of a very different temper is Mark Webber, an Australian of few words and brisk manners. On Monday, March 28, 2005, the Australian rider revealed that he had raced in Australia and Malaysia with a fractured rib during testing in Barcelona due to badly adjusted belts. Takuma Satō will return to Bahrain instead, forced to miss the Malaysian Grand Prix due to an intestinal virus and replaced by Anthony Davidson. A similar problem had hit Jarno Trulli, who had recovered in time and was the protagonist of an unexpected second place. But the most awaited event on the Sakhir circuit in the Bahrain desert, the third round of the Formula 1 World Championship, is the debut of the F2005, the new single-seater that should revamp Ferrari.
"After last year's experience (one-two Ferrari finish), we all know what to expect. It's likely that it won't be an easy race for us, but for that matter, most races aren't. I'm happy to take on this challenge".
Regarding the disappointing start to the season, the German driver is serene:
"After fifteen years of Formula 1, I have learned that in every season there are ups and downs. This will be the longest championship we've ever had, so anything can happen".
How do you explain Ferrari's decline after five consecutive titles?
"We are seeing how things can change in the blink of an eye, but we know that hard work makes you grow. We continue to focus on the work".
The Maranello team scored second place in Melbourne with Rubens Barrichello and seventh with the world champion in Sepang: just 10 points, against 26 for the winning Renault with Fisichella and Alonso. The early debut of the F2005 will try to bridge the gap to its rivals as soon as possible. With the Malaysian heat, a lot of responsibility has been attributed to Bridgestone tyres, and the climate in Bahrain is not much different. After the tests at Mugello last week, the riders are optimistic:
"Bridgestone knows exactly what we need. It is enough to recall 2003 when it had a moment of difficulty from which it recovered very well. The tyres must necessarily improve, but Bridgestone is capable of turning the situation around".
A statistical curiosity: since 2000 Michael Schumacher has won the debut race of the new car. No Bahrain Grand Prix for Juan Pablo Montoya. On Wednesday, March 30, 2005, the Colombian McLaren driver was forced to forfeit the third Grand Prix of the Formula 1 World Championship after sustaining a shoulder injury while playing tennis last Saturday. Montoya, who has undergone a series of medical and x-ray tests, will be replaced in the race by test driver, Spanish driver Pedro de La Rosa, who raced for Arrows and Jaguar from 1999 to 2002. In reality, there are two riders who will not be able to participate in the Bahrain Grand Prix. One is the injured Montoya who needs no introduction, the other is called Chanoch Nissany and is almost unknown. His role is that of reserve at Minardi, but he has not been granted an entry visa to the Arab country, because he is of Israeli nationality. Strange story, that of this driver who at the age of 42 would like to enter the world of Formula 1. He started racing when he was thirty-seven, more or less the age at which Michael Schumacher could start thinking about retiring.
"Someone smiles because they don't know me. I'm like a pit bull: when I bite I never leave my prey. I dreamed of being a racing driver as a boy, but car racing is outlawed in Israel, you can't do it. So I prepared for my future. I looked for a good job in entrepreneurship and moved to Budapest. In 2000 I started with a Formula 3 car, I paid for my seat. Then I found some sponsors who helped me. In 2003 I won the Hungarian Formula 2000 championship and also the Central European title in the same category. I think I was the first Israeli to win a motorsport championship".
Chanoch is a bit special in everything. Married to Michelle, he has three children with his wife. Two boys, Roy and Romy, and one girl, Dada. Roy is ten years old and already competes in karts.
"Mine is not just a dream. I've planned everything, in three years I'll be a race driver. To be successful, several conditions will be necessary: physical fitness and I train hard. Very quick reflexes, which I believe I possess and above all great mental strength. I don't lack this. Which is why I don't see how I could miss the target. Meanwhile, I continue to prepare myself by practising a very particular martial art, kung fu, that of one of my idols. Bruce Lee".
The companies that support the Minardi driver are Israeli. One produces plastics, the other cosmetics.
"They allowed me to have these first experiences. Before joining the Faenza team, I had also tried out for Jordan. It is certainly a difficult job. There are few places available and if you don't try hard, everything becomes more problematic. I also did some races in Formula Nissan and some in Formula 3000 with Coloni. But - as I said - I am determined and ready for any sacrifice, helped by the family that helps me".
Among the many problems, there is also that of Grands Prix in Islamic countries: at the moment, along with Bahrain, Malaysia and Turkey will be in a few months.
"I am not giving up on this, I will also solve this problem. I could even get to change my nationality. For now, however, I am not dealing with it. When I can't be in the pits, I watch everything on television. But I also spend a lot of time close to the team, to learn from my colleagues, from the mechanics, and from the engineers. For now, I'm happy with the reserve role, you'll see that sooner or later I'll be able to find a place in the sun. Remember the pit bulls".
Illusion? Maybe, how many drivers are there who believed they could race in Formula 1 and were disappointed for various reasons? Because they were driving uncompetitive cars, or because they were not up to the task. Just remember the case of Michael Andretti, a phenomenon in the United States, a disaster with McLaren. For Nissany, however, there is a famous precedent: Juan Manuel Fangio arrived in Formula 1 at the age of 39 and won his first world title at the age of 40. Sure, the Argentine was a champion and above all the times and cars were very different. But Chanoch is a young man who has clear ideas. Will they be enough to launch him into the difficult circus of engines? We will see. Meanwhile, on Thursday, March 31, 2005, tanned, calm and smiling, Michael Schumacher arrives at the Sahkir circuit where the Bahrain Grand Prix begins on Friday, April 1, 2005, with the first tests. If he feels under pressure, the German driver does not show it. First, the German driver greets the sheikhs who have come to welcome him, then goes to the pits where he puts on his overalls and tests the cockpit of the new Ferrari F2005. A car that he tested for just one day on the Mugello track and which left him with positive impressions.
"We will certainly do better than in Malaysia. Even much better. But if we look at the gaps we suffered in the first two rounds of the championship, I'm not sure we made such a huge leap in terms of performance. But there will be time to take another step forward. I would like to remind you that there are nineteen races to go, so we still have seventeen to face, a lot, with a good chance to recover. The important thing is to progress from Grand Prix to Grand Prix".
To those who remind him that since 1999 all the new Ferrari debuts have won, Michael Schumacher replies confidently:
"In the past, we had been able to prepare better, because each single-seater was the evolution of the previous one, there hadn't been any radical changes. Now we were thinking of debuting with the F2005 in the fifth round, in Spain, but we preferred to anticipate. The reason is simple. This single-seater is faster than the F2004, much more stable, saves tires and reacts well to the settings. It's like driving the old Ferrari with less fuel in the tank".
Michael Schumacher's analysis of the defeats in Melbourne and Sepang is simple:
"Our opponents have made many mistakes in recent years. They studied the situation and managed to build very competitive cars, avoiding repeating mistakes. But that's normal. We've won a lot lately, so it wasn't a surprise for us to lose in the first two races. At best we didn't expect to go so badly, as happened in Malaysia. But I am convinced that we will be strong again. The team and us drivers are very motivated. Tyre problems? Our results did not depend on just one factor. With Bridgestone, Ferrari dominated for five consecutive seasons. We are confident. In 2003 after three races I had 8 points, now I only have 2 but there is still one race to go".
The driver does not even fear bad luck as he was forced to get rid of the necklace and bracelet he used as amulets, because the FIA has banned any type of chain or earring for safety reasons when driving. In any case, Michael Schumacher sports a new tattoo on his right forearm, a bird designed by his son Mick. Nobody takes that away from him. Meanwhile, his opponents are enjoying the favourable moment. Alonso and Fisichella feel fit, and ready to win again. Briatore is even euphoric, always ready for one of his jokes:
"The new Ferrari? In the first two races, a Red Bull or a Toyota were behind us, not Ferrari. I look at who is close to us, not who is at the centre of the group. However in Maranello, they were good at bringing it forward by five weeks, we wouldn't have made it. But I don't know if they made up two seconds per lap. For now, we're going ahead".
Friday, April 1, 2005, the new Ferrari takes half a step forward. The World Champion almost regained the pace of the best, while Rubens Barrichello broke the gearbox after five laps of free practice. Behind the test drivers who do the speed races on Friday (Zonta in the Toyota in the first session, Wurz in the McLaren in the second, the best) there is still a Renault, and it is once again that of Fernando Alonso. Michael Schumacher is the first of the regular drivers in the morning and third in the afternoon on tyres that had already done fifteen laps, 0.5 seconds off from Fernando Alonso and one off the other Spaniard, Pedro De La Rosa, who replaces Juan Pablo Montoya behind the wheel of the McLaren. And, in this regard, Kimi Raikkonen lets slip one of the rare smiles of his expression:
"De La Rosa is slower, I have one opponent less".
At the end of the day, Michael Schumacher has a relaxed chin and the smile of the best of times:
"We are moving in the right direction. I have no terms of comparison on this circuit with the F2004M, but in general the new car is better".
It's a comforting statement because, on the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain, Formula 1 finds the same Malaysian climate that had melted the Bridgestone tyres: air temperature of 38 °C and asphalt temperature of 51 °C.
"I expect a good performance in qualifying and I hope for a podium in the race".
Under the suit, he continues to wear a lucky necklace.
"The Federation has banned metal piercings, rings and pendants. Mine is leather and I can keep it".
Will it bring luck? If so, one should be ordered for Rubens Barrichello. After five laps, of which only two flying laps, the Brazilian driver heard Ross Brawn's voice in his headphones:
"There is a problem, come back to the pits immediately".
The left gearbox bearing cracked.
"I don't remember a breakdown like this ever happening at Ferrari. It's not a structural problem, because the gearbox used by Rubens is the revised one that had done two thousand kilometres with Badoer without problems. Some mistake was probably made during the assembly".
Rubens Barrichello follows the second free practice session from the monitors.
"It will mean that I'll get Michael to recommend the right tyres, he seems like a good driver, I'll trust his impressions".
Then he drafts an explanation:
"The engineers preferred to try to repair the gearbox to understand what happened, rather than replace it".
The truth comes a couple of hours later: the gearbox has not been replaced because there was no spare. Anticipating the debut of the F2005 forced Ferrari to show up in Bahrain with a limited amount of spare parts. Ross Brawn confirms:
"Tomorrow the new piece will arrive from Italy. Barrichello will run free practice with the gearbox repaired, and then we'll see".
And Rubens Barrichello adds:
"The car was going well, I was in third place behind Zonta and Michael. Too bad: unfortunately it was not an April fool’s prank. The opponents? Renault and McLaren are strong, Toyota is constant".
Giancarlo Fisichella, however, complains of oversteer problems:
"It's the opposite of Malaysia, where my car understeered. Unfortunately during Friday's free practice we always keep the same set-up to compare the behaviour of the two types of tyres".
The duel at home with Fernando Alonso?
"Renault is one step ahead of all the others, even if Ferrari has improved. The goal is to keep winning".
Once the engines are turned off, the pilots worry about the Pope's condition. Rubens Barrichello, very religious, says:
"No one is more in the hands of God than he is".
Giancarlo Fisichella, who keeps a photo of Wojtyla with his daughter Carlotta at home, adds:
"In 1999 he received the national football team of pilots. It was a very intense emotion".
Michael Schumacher, who was in the Vatican on Monday, January 17, 2005, with the Ferrari team:
"That meeting gave us great motivation. We are all very worried".
Saturday, April 2, 2005, Michael Schumacher takes his seat again in the ritual press conference reserved for the top three, and never mind if he is only in third place.
"I expected an improvement, but not so important. I'm happy for President Montezemolo: after the Sepang race he was quite nervous".
The F2005 performed the miracle of bringing Ferrari back to the top teams, Bridgestone refined the tyres, and the number one found his cannibal hunger again.
"It's time we start making life difficult for Alonso".
Adds the German, accompanying the reasoning with a pat on the back of the Spaniard, author of the provisional pole. An affectionate gesture that is also a gesture of defiance. The two are joined by Jarno Trulli, who never failed to get second place in qualifying. The heat is infernal: air temperature of 44°C in the air, asphalt temperature of 53°C. The Sakhir circuit is located in the middle of the desert, beaten by a light wind that barely mitigates the heat and complicates life for the drivers, because it disturbs the delicate aerodynamic balance of the single-seaters. Engines and tyres do not seem to be affected by the temperature, but the real test is in the race. With its alternation of straights and tight corners, the track designed by Hermann Tilke slaughters the brakes. During the first Grand Prix, that of 2004, Michael Schumacher managed a splendid performance, followed by Rubens Barrichello, who had qualified only fifteenth after missing free practice.
This year, Renault sets the pace, with Toyota close behind. Ferrari reserves the podium.
"We're better in the race than in qualifying, so I expect a good result. I'm happy to have repaid the team for all the nights of work".
On Sunday morning the German will defend third place in the session which assigns the definitive pole by sum of the times, and will subsequently lead the F2005 to its debut in a Grand Prix. The statistics have been favourable for six years, that is since Eddie Irvine brought the F399 to success in Australia. Since then the cars from Maranello have never failed to win on their debut. Ferrari tries again. A lot will depend on the pace of others even if in Malaysia, in similar climatic conditions, only the BAR-Honda gave way. What has changed from the F2004M to the F2005?
"The new car has more grip, treats the tyres better and has better aerodynamic efficiency. All in all, it's faster".
Will it be enough to reach Alonso?
"We will see".
The men of the Maranello team have decided to take the new single-seater to Bahrain to remedy a performance crisis, at the cost of showing up with limited spare parts. Rubens Barrichello says:
"Before leaving we said to each other: let's hope nothing happens. And instead, it happened. It happened to me just like it could have happened to Michael. Yes, I know it happens more often to me".
The Brazilian driver broke his gearbox at the start of Friday practice. A new one was sent from Maranello on a private plane which landed at Manama airport on Friday evening. The piece will be mounted this morning and will not cost any penalties on the starting grid. Barrichello faced the first qualifying with the gearbox repaired but was forced to miss free practice to avoid the risk of an irreparable breakage.
"I was walking around the car and asking the mechanics to let me use it. I sounded like a child crying for candy. In the end, I had the candy, but it was too late. In my thirteen-year career, I had never faced a qualification so unprepared. Unfortunately, I made a mistake. In the race, I think I'll finish in the points".
Fernando Alonso does not appear particularly concerned by what is happening behind him:
"Michael's third time? When I think about who he is, I'm not amazed. If I look at Malaysia, I'm surprised by his recovery. In any case, two cars are in front of him and Trulli scares me more".
The Spanish driver will also have to watch out for the return of his teammate.
"I plan to pass Heidfeld and Schumacher. The telemetry data shows that I was as fast as Fernando, but the car lost some grip on the dirty track in a couple of corners".
No one to blame but himself: without the incident with Mark Webber at Sepang he would have finished the race in a good position and would not have been forced to go out on track so soon. Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli hug each other and swear:
"We remained friends and we are still fast".
One is still at Renault and has become the leading driver in the World Championship, the other has moved to Toyota and turned it into a top team. The separation between Trulli and Briatore was abrupt, even if now the Renault boss sends messages of peace:
"I'm really happy for Jarno, he likes to be close to us on the track as well".
The Italian Toyota driver replies:
"He will be less happy the day that I will be in front of him".
Jarno Trulli is the surprise of 2005 perhaps more than Fernando Alonso himself (indicated by many as Michael Schumacher's heir) precisely because he accepted the challenge of starting from the bottom, with a team with great resources but modest results so far. He has so far obtained an extraordinary sequence of second places in all five qualifying sessions held. Plus, he finished second in Malaysia. The runner-up is said to be the first of the losers. We should ask the opinion of the other Toyota driver, Ralf Schumacher, who is said to be losing his nerve: since Jarno Trulli is not a brawler, Ralf Schumacher is forced to suffer variable gaps in silence.
"I'm good with set-ups, maybe that's why my teams grow up quickly".
Thirty years old, Italian, married to Barbara and waiting for his first child, at the end of 2004 he began his adventure with the Japanese.
"In the two races last year, I let them have their own way. Then I started giving directions and taking matters into my own hands".
They also say that he is the magician of the fast lap.
"Well, it means that I've already left a mark. If Schumacher is so good at 36, it means I have a long career ahead of me. I would like to show my little boy how good his dad is".
As usual, the driver shares the credit for the performance with the whole team:
"They are all doing a great job. If no one is wrong, we get excellent performance. We must work to maintain this moment of grace. A good race is not enough for me: I want an unforgettable season".
"I dream of something more than second place. But we have to be realistic: I never thought I'd go so fast in the opening races of the season. However, the championship is long…".
Final qualifying on Sunday morning was once again without major incidents, with Fernando Alonso taking pole position and Michael Schumacher in second, driving the brand new F2005 car. Rubens Barrichello, after having gearbox problems on Friday and Saturday, qualified in fifteenth position and decided to change the engine, therefore starting from the back of the grid. The afternoon of the race brought the hottest temperatures ever recorded in a Grand Prix, with an air temperature of 42.5 °C and a track temperature of 56 °C. This exceeded the record temperatures of the 1955 Argentinian Grand Prix and the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix. Christian Klien failed to take the start of the warm-up of the Bahrain Grand Prix. His car was pushed into the pits but the Red Bull Racing team was unable to restart it and the Austrian driver was forced to retire. At the start, Fernando Alonso had an excellent reaction time and was first into Turn 1. Michel Schumacher moved from second place on the grid to the clean side of the track, positioning himself in front of Jarno Trulli, who tried to pass the German driver in the first two corners but was unsuccessful. Rubens Barrichello made an aggressive start, climbing up to tenth place at the end of the first lap. Giancarlo Fisichella's engine began to smoke during the second lap: the Italian driver was thus forced to return to the pits to retire. However, while applying the pit lane speed limiter, Fisichella felt a return of power and returned to the track. But the recovery was short-lived and on the fourth lap, he returned to the pits to retire. On lap three, Narain Karthikeyan's car suffered an electrical failure similar to that of Christian Klien. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher continued to follow Fernando Alonso closely until lap 12, when the World Champion passed turn nine and made a 270° turn in the run-off zone. At the end of the lap, Schumacher pitted, registering his first mechanical retirement since the 2001 German Grand Prix, ending an extraordinary run of 58 consecutive Grands Prix. It will later emerge that the car's hydraulic system failed, preventing the German driver from downshifting to use the engine brake when cornering. Therefore, Jarno Trulli moved up to second place, 2.7 seconds behind Fernando Alonso, with Mark Webber in third position. On lap 18 Ralf Schumacher made his first scheduled pit stop among the leaders, rejoining the track in twelfth position.
Fernando Alonso, Jarno Trulli and then Mark Webber all pitted over the next few laps, in what appeared to be the now fairly standard three-stop scheme. After the pit stops Fernando Alonso maintained the lead, followed by Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber, Kimi Räikkönen, Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. On lap 25 Nick Heidfeld retired due to a BMW engine failure. On lap 27 Takuma Satō was also forced to retire, after being the author of a spin due to a malfunction of the front brakes which had already been smoking for a few laps. In the following laps the brakes of his teammate, Jenson Button, also seemed to emit more carbon dust than usual. The British BAR-Honda driver was busy defending himself from the attacks of Pedro de la Rosa, who intended to take seventh place. De la Rosa was making his first start for McLaren-Mercedes, replacing a benched Juan Pablo Montoya. Pedro De la Rosa managed to pass Jenson Button on lap 33, overtaking him at the first corner. On lap 34 Mark Webber lost control of his car exiting turn 8, spun entering turn 9 and allowed Kimi Räikkönen and Ralf Schumacher to pass. In the following laps, before the second pit stop, the closest battle was between Rubens Barrichello, sixth, and Pedro De la Rosa, seventh. De la Rosa continued to press the other Ferraris, but initially only managed to push too far, running wide into the first corner and allowing Jenson Button to close in behind him. In the end, however, he manages to take sixth place at the last corner. Fernando Alonso made several fast laps to increase his lead and pitted on lap 41. The other drivers also returned to the pits without problems, except for Jenson Button, who was forced to retire due to a broken clutch on his BAR-Honda. After several attempts to restart the engine, the British driver nearly took the rear jack with him before retiring at the end of the pit lane. After the second series of pit stops, Fernando Alonso remained in the lead, followed by Jarno Trulli, Kimi Räikkönen, Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber, Pedro De la Rosa, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa. In the final stages, the main fight sees Mark Webber and Pedro De la Rosa as protagonists for fifth place. Webber put up a mighty defence, but in the end, Pedro De la Rosa overtook him with two laps remaining in the race.
Jacques Villeneuve retired on the penultimate lap, while Rubens Barrichello slipped further and further back, allowing Felipe Massa to take seventh place and score points in the 200th Grand Prix for his Sauber, and David Coulthard moved up to eighth position in the last lap. Fernando Alonso won the Bahrain Grand Prix with a comfortable 13.4-second lead over Jarno Trulli, leading Renault engines to win the 100th Grand Prix of the World Championship. Followed by Kimi Raikkonen, who in turn precedes Pedro De La Rosa, Mark Webber, Felipe Massa and David Coulthard. Scuderia Ferrari's illusion lasted twelve laps, enough time to see Michael Schumacher making life difficult for Fernando Alonso. He had promised him the day before:
"You win too easily".
Then it happened that the F2005 broke down and the Spanish driver continued the race in blissful solitude. It was even worse for Rubens Barrichello: ninth place, including being lapped. His car held up, but the tyres did not. The Maranello team suffered one of the heaviest defeats in recent years in Bahrain. Michael Schumacher had not retired due to mechanical problems since Sunday, July 29, 2001, on the occasion of the German Grand Prix. And after the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix, at least one Maranello car had always finished in the points. This time it is worse: Renault and Fernando Alonso have something more. The Spaniard looks like the Schumacher of 2004. Two consecutive victories as well as a third place in Australia after a qualifying session compromised by the rain. His race was like a long, pleasant stroll. Starting from pole position, he resisted Michael Schumacher's attack going into the first corner, then controlled his attacks until the red silhouette vanished from the rear-view mirrors. The Ferrari was running on the straight with a blocked gearbox and ended up in the long asphalt escape route. Michael Schumacher returned to the track immediately, but the car broke down: the hydraulic system that powers the main functions of a single-seater, including the gearbox, lost pressure. The gears no longer engaged, and the #1 Ferrari crawled back to the pits at low speed. For Fernando Alonso, a heated Sunday turned into a stroll, while Jarno Trulli moved into second position. The distance between the two remained unchanged until the end, a photocopy of the Malaysian race. The other Renault was not working. After a good start, Giancarlo Fisichella was overtaken by the BAR-Honda of Takuma Satō. He returned to the pits, but they told him to keep going. He followed orders, but after a lap at a leisurely pace, he was forced to stop due to a drop in oil pressure. Spring in Bahrain can reach impressive temperatures.
The wind has a temperature of 42 °C, the asphalt reaches 57 °C. 42.300 people are holding up in the stands. It is a fun Grand Prix because, behind the two Renaults, McLaren, Williams and Ralf Schumacher's Toyota have similar performances. Barrichello also emerges from the back. The turn of events having to do with his gearbox is a textbook example of bad luck: broken during free practice (Friday); repaired for the first qualifying session (Saturday afternoon); and replaced with a piece arriving from Maranello on a private flight (Saturday evening); broken during the second qualifying (Sunday morning); newly replaced with the old gearbox and a new engine (Sunday before the race). By regulation, the Brazilian driver started from last place. After two laps he was tenth thanks to a series of extraordinary overtakes. In the middle of the race, he reached sixth place, and then the decline of Bridgestones began. But Rubens Barrichello did not give up. Pedro De La Rosa tried everything to overtake him. The Ferrari driver invented new trajectories and occupied the centre of the track to better defend himself. And in the end, he induced the adversary to attempt an impossible overtake under braking at the end of the straight. The McLaren ended up in the escape route, rejoined the track and after chasing him once again, he was closing in. This time the Brazilian driver was no longer able to resist. Jenson Button, Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber, Felipe Massa passed him and even David Coulthard, who recovered the last available point at the eleventh hour. The Red Bull Racing Scotsman is the only driver other than Fernando Alonso to have always finished in the top eight. Pedro De La Rosa's show continues. He got the fastest lap and closed in on Mark Webber. The duel lasted eight laps, it became a matter of principle because only fifth place was at stake. Webber had a slower car.
De La Rosa is a test driver with little training in overtaking. But in the end, he won. BAR-Honda was a disaster: Takuma Satō retired due to a problem with his brakes, and Jenson Button had a clutch problem during the pit stop. The mechanics pushed him and he set off, taking the hose with him for a few metres, then parked at the end of the pit lane. Satō and Button are the only ones who have never seen the checkered flag. Ferrari meditates. The traditional post-race meeting will be held in Maranello on Monday. Simultaneously in Barcelona, Marc Gené will inaugurate a series of four days of testing. There are two full weeks to solve the F2005's reliability and tyre problems (the San Marino Grand Prix is scheduled for Sunday, April 24, 2005). Ferrari wants to present itself as a winner again in front of its fans and gets back to work starting from the only strong point that emerged on the Sakhir circuit: the new single-seater is very fast over a single lap. Now they need to provide tyres that can last an entire race and give it back the reliability that has been the pride of the Maranello team for years.
"Now I know that I can fight to win again. We will not disappoint our fans at Imola".
Say Michael Schumacher and Jean Todt after the defeat. The men of the Maranello team use reassuring words. They are looking at the positives from the disaster in Sakhir: the newfound speed.
"We have great potential, now we're working on reliability and tyres".
The trial against the F2005 and the decision to anticipate its debut by two races is rejected for four reasons: the debut of the car made it possible to immediately discover the strengths and weaknesses of the project which would not have emerged in testing; the F2005 will be able to get on track again at Imola; with the old car, the hopes of finishing in the points were slim. Michael Schumacher talks about his rough day:
"Everything was fine, I was even faster than Alonso. Suddenly the pressure in the hydraulic circuit dropped and I was no longer able to shift gears. In the first few laps, there was a lot of debris on the track, maybe they have caused the damage. We will find out in Maranello. I'm sorry, but this is the situation and we have to acknowledge it. I am an optimist by nature and I try to grasp the positive aspects of this bad Sunday".
The World Champion thanks the team for the effort and for working night and day which made it possible to race in Bahrain with the F2005.
"It was the right decision. From now on we will be very competitive".
It is a promise, that of Michael Schumacher.
"I can't wait to be in Imola. And now to work. Four days await us in Barcelona with Rubens, Badoer and Gené".
Jean Todt points out:
"For twelve laps we felt like we were back in the best possible situation. Instead, Michael had to stop, while Rubens had a difficult weekend. He made a good comeback, a good start, but then he had to slow down due to excessive tyre wear".
So would Michael Schumacher also have had the same problem?
"No, on Barrichello's car, we adopted the same set-up as Schumacher, which is not suited to his driving style. When Michael retired, his tyres were fine".
Jean Todt ends with a joke:
"In Imola, we will be close to home. If we need a new gearbox, it will be easier to get it".
For Rubens Barrichello, it was the worst weekend of his career:
"The tyres ruined my race. I was able to come back, but then they deteriorated, especially the rear ones. I've done my part. Too bad those last three or four laps. There was nothing I could have done, I also had to give in to Massa and Coulthard, losing the last two points up for grabs. It is a bad time, which we need to learn from".
The debut of the new single-seater?
"If we had already had it in Melbourne, in the first Grand Prix of the season, we would be able to win at this point. It's a matter of time and work: we will solve the problems quickly".
As for the prospects for the Imola race, Barrichello is very clear:
"It's a difficult track in terms of brakes and engine. We'll still struggle a bit with these tyres. But one thing is important: the car is there".
Fernando Alonso has great talent, an excellent car and solid self-esteem. Ferrari does not scare him:
"Yes, they have improved, they have shown that they’ll still be fighting for first place as they did here in Bahrain in qualifying and in the first twelve laps, but right now we don't need to worry too much. Rather, Toyota seems to be the main opponent to me. Perhaps Schumacher could have passed me at the start, but I was sure of the efficiency of the Michelin tyres and that I would have been able to recover the position without any problems".
Born in Oviedo, Spain, 23 years ago, Nano is the youngest winner of a Grand Prix - Hungary 2003 - and is also a candidate to become the youngest world champion. He seems to have freed himself from the internal competition of Giancarlo Fisichella, winner in Australia. Renault offers him a competitive single-seater.
"It's perfect. This time the drinking system also worked".
In Malaysia, on the other hand, he had reached the finish line dehydrated. Days of glory also for Flavio Briatore, who reserves praise for Ferrari and a joke:
"They will come back, I'm sure. In the first laps, Michael was strong. I'm glad that the championship is becoming interesting. Favouring Alonso? Absolutely not. We are not in Maranello here, there is equal treatment. One win for Fisichella, two for Alonso. In Imola, we’ll let Fisichella win again because we are in Italy".
Will the three weeks that separate us from the San Marino Grand Prix, which will be held at Imola, allow Ferrari to recover?
"Why would that be? We are not going to stay here just to sleep under the palm trees. We will use the time better than them. They made a mistake in not starting the season with the new car and now they are paying the consequences".
Jarno Trulli is also radiant at the end of the race:
"Calm down, I'm happy but let's not exaggerate. In the middle of the season we will take stock of the situation and see what this championship can give us".
Entering the race for the World Championship for example?
"Well, at this point I have to admit it: among the drivers and Toyota among the manufacturers, we are the second force after Alonso and Renault. At the moment they are one step ahead. But we will improve".
New aerodynamic solutions designed by Niccolò Petrucci will arrive in Imola. And 20 more horsepower are ready for the engine designed by Luca Marmorini: behind Jarno Trulli's success, there are also two Italian engineers.
"And if I hadn't had those problems with the tyres in Australia…Enough, I don't want to look back".
If he had not had problems with the tyres in Australia, he would have twenty points by now, very close to Fernando Alonso's 26 points. He is now at 16:
"An extraordinary balance in these first three races. My goal is to improve. I'm enjoying the moment, but I want to beat the Renaults".
It is something beyond the sports results: it is the revenge of a driver discharged from his former team, a small revenge against his friend-enemy Flavio Briatore, who believed more in Fernando Alonso.
"I took on a team at the bottom of the standings but with great potential, whose engineers I have the utmost confidence worked in, for example, Mike Gascoyne, with whom I worked very well at Renault. I took risks: either I succeeded or I drowned. Toyota looked for me even before I won last year in Monte-Carlo and they behaved wonderfully with me. But I repeat: let's keep our feet on the ground because it is going to be tougher in Imola and Barcelona".
Ferrari melted away in the Bahrain desert. The technical retirement of Michael Schumacher - first breakdown after 56 races - and the lapping suffered by Rubens Barrichello reminded the Maranello team of the difficult years of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, who in 1993 at this point of the season had scored a meagre point. The difference is that now the engineers of the Maranello team know where to put their hands: on the gearbox and tyres. Jean Todt repeats:
"We understand where we are. Fans can come and wave their flags in Imola".
The post-competition meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 4, 2005, in the general manager's office. They have to organise the work until Sunday, April 24, 2005, the date of the San Marino Grand Prix:
"Two weeks of testing to get back to the old ways".
The Bridgestones worked for the qualifying lap but in the race, with the torrid heat of Malaysia and Bahrain, they gave way. On the Sakhir circuit, the cars with Michelin tyres occupied the first eight positions and scored all the points. If the temperature is a weak point, the situation will improve on the European circuits. At Toyota, they admit:
"In February the car was a disaster. It relied on the cold: the tyres were unable to reach operating temperature (around 90 °C). However, winter has now passed".
Test driver Marc Gené will be on track in Barcelona on Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6 April 2005 with the F2004M to test new compounds. Badoer and Barrichello will be filming on Thursday, and Badoer and Schumacher on Friday. The Ferrari program will then continue at Fiorano and Mugello.
"We are the only top team to use Bridgestone tyres. With the slightest problem, everyone can overtake us".
Conversely, Renault and Toyota are the teams that make the best use of the Michelins. Or, more likely, the French tyre specialists pay particular attention to them. Enough to allow Fernando Alonso to make a difference:
"Even if Schumacher had passed me in the opening laps, I would have recovered the position because our performance doesn't drop in the last kilometres".
Renault's excessive power is an additional problem for Scuderia Ferrari: if only one team always wins, the comeback becomes difficult. The French team worked very well in the winter. They improved the engine and overall balance of the car. Ferrari, on the other hand, is late: it has made a great effort to anticipate the debut of the F2005, but it has brought to Bahrain, together with its hopes, also the weaknesses of the single-seater's youth. However, says Michael Schumacher:
"Now I know that we are strong again. I will still fight for the win".
Only a madman could say that after a beating. A crazy man or a champion. There are still sixteen races to go, Fernando Alonso has an 18-point lead over Rubens Barrichello, and 24 over Michael Schumacher. If he always managed to finish on the podium, the Ferraris would risk never reaching him. But in 2003, a difficult start complicated Michael Schumacher's run. But then the German driver won six races and took the title by just two points.