On the eve of the European Grand Prix Michael and Ralf Schumacher make peace in the family with the mediation of their father Rolf; for Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella the turbulent Monaco Grand Prix is now over. Tensions for overtaking in Monte-Carlo, attempted or successful, remain high only among the Scuderia Ferrari drivers. Thursday 26 May 2005 Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello do not meet at the Nurburgring circuit, where the European Grand Prix will take place on Sunday 29 May 2005. Michael Schumacher defends his maneuver on the last lap and good-naturedly forgives his teammate's outburst. Which does not correct one iota of the accusations made on the spot:
"I may be Latin, but after four days I repeat the same things. I'm not an Eddie Irvine who makes everything go right, someone who you say comes second and you're good. If I had done the same maneuver on Michael the world would have come down. I understand that 3 points are few for a team used to winning 18, but if I had followed my trajectory we would have lost those three as well".
It's a river in flood, Rubinho, so much so that one suspects that the relationship with Ferrari is worn out and divorce is near (BAR or Williams are the possible alternatives for next season). Not even a gesture of peace returns his smile:
"Michael called me on Monday to wish me a happy birthday (33 years old, ed) and I thanked him. Todt also phoned asking me if I had calmed down. My position doesn't change, this is no longer the Ferrari of 2002, when I had to give way".
Finally, even a small hint of self-criticism:
"Maybe I was slow to react because I thought Michael was further back. But I thought he defended my line. I explained my point of view to him, but he continues to do his own thing anyway. We've already had three or four disagreements in the past. From now on, every time I have him behind me, I'll have to defend myself against any opponent".
Around Rubens Barrichello's neck hangs a pendant offered by a new sponsor, a medal engraved with the phrase: Do not disturb.
"So we close the discussion (with Schumi, ed). Bullshit has been written about me".
He refers to the hypothesis of a divorce from Ferrari at the end of 2005, one season before the expiry of the contract. Jean Todt calms things down:
"In these six years we have asked Rubens for two small sacrifices. And this is a small discussion, because healthy competition never hurts. I have nothing to reproach the riders with because the team's interests have been respected".
The sacrifices are the 2001 and 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, when the Brazilian gave up second and first place respectively to his teammate who was striving for the title. It's hot at the Nurburgring, and tempers are struggling to cool a week after the Monte-Carlo overtake. This tension is hitting the Maranello team. The signs of awakening are timid, but in times of famine nothing is thrown away.
Rubens the rebel got the seventh fastest time. Excluding the test drivers, who do speed races on Fridays with the tank empty, he climbs back to fifth place. The detachments collapsed. They were almost two seconds in Monte-Carlo, they are three tenths in the Eiffel woods, in the heart of Germany. An electronic problem blocks Michael Schumacher in the second session. In the first part he was the fastest among the starting drivers.
"Things are looking good".
More red flags are waving in the stands than in Imola, the pace of Mercedes and BMW. The organizers have 83,000 spectators, the stuff of a World Cup final. And it's only Friday. The new qualifying format made its debut on Saturday 28 May 2005 at 1:00 pm: pole position was assigned with a flying lap with full tanks. Skip the Sunday morning appointment. Scuderia Ferrari appreciates it. Michael Schumacher comments:
"We are weak in qualifying. At least we will suffer for just one session. Seriously, we've improved. And in the race we are strong".
Plus, you can overtake at the Nurburgring. Rubens Barrichello completes the equation:
"I want to give this single-seater its first victory".
The Maranello team is the outsider in the Anglo-German derby between McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-Bmw. The Renaults seem less unbeatable and Fernando Alonso less perfect than at the start of the season. For the second time, the Spaniard risks a penalty: the Renault driver sets the best time when the yellow flags wave on the track for Narain Kartnikeyan's exit, risking a one-second penalty in qualifying. The stewards ignore the event. In Monte-Carlo he had done worse, cutting a chicane twice to resist the attack of Mark Webber, who then overtook him all the same avoiding a penalty. His teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella, seems resigned:
"The World Championship? I see it hard. Now there is also Raikkonen in the middle".
The debut of Frank Montagny, Renault reserve, at the wheel of the Jordan as the third driver on Friday is a strange case. The French driver tests the Bridgestone tires before returning to wear the blue jacket of the French team (which mounts the Michelins). Montagny was so curious to test the competitors' tires that the mechanics made him try six sets instead of the four required by the regulation. On Saturday 28 May 2005 the pole position of the European Grand Prix, which was held in Germany, is for the first time of the German Nick Heidfeld with the Williams powered by the Bavarian BMWs. He chose the right place, Nick Heidfeld, to take the first pole position of his Formula 1 career. In front of tens of thousands of fans, the Williams driver unexpectedly installed himself in front of everyone. And he hit his teammate, the Australian Mark Webber, who had to settle for third place. Nick is another product of that talent scout named Peter Sauber. For three seasons the Swiss manufacturer had kept him with him, coming from the Mercedes nurseries, after his debut in 2000 with Prost. Then he had been forced to let him go, as it was better to bring a driver home with a suitcase full of dollars, that is capable of at least attracting some rich sponsors. On Monday 31 January 2005, in Valencia, Williams presented its new car and had to communicate the name of the second driver. In the ballot until the previous evening were Nick Heidfled, in fact, and the Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia.
Once on stage, Frank Williams had announced that the chosen one was the twenty-eight year old from Moenchengladbach, the same city of origin as another driver who has frequented the circus in recent years, namely Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Pizzonia's desperation, little Nick's infinite joy.
"That was the most beautiful and lucky day of my life so far".
Heidfeld's story is intertwined with that of other pilots. Karting (first lessons on the track named after Wolfgang von Trips in Kerpen, the same one on which the Schumacher brothers learned), minor formulas, the McLaren junior team with success in the Formula 3000 championship. All-round sportsman, inseparable from his laptop, lover of modern art and literature. Reserved attitudes, few friends in the environment, a small dose of presumption, Nick is a kind of abbey at the wheel. Looking at him, he is just over one meter sixty tall, the physique of a jockey, you would say he is submissive, weak. But in the cockpit of a single-seater the boy transforms. As he demonstrated in Monte-Carlo with his second place, his best result since his debut day, conquered by passing Mark Webber and then Fernando Alonso. And now? What will happen in the race?
"In the meantime, I'm enjoying the result of qualifying. It's almost a dream, I struggle to realize. We will see. In the past, departures have never been my forte. But I am optimistic and confident. Williams has made remarkable progress these past few weeks and anything is possible. We don't set limits. After the second step of the podium in the Principality, we can continue to dream. One thing is certain, however: I will do my best to make myself, my family, the fans and the team happy".
A party? Yes, but for a few. The local idol is a seven-times World Champion from Germany who suffers like on all accursed Saturdays of this 2005. Michael Schumacher will start from the center of the starting grid: a tenth time conditioned by a venial mistake at turn 10. Rubens Barrichello, seventh, it was good to get a little angry in recent days. At least he managed to get ahead of his bulky teammate. The Maranello team suffers from the usual qualifying pain. The format has changed, the result hasn't changed, even if the gaps have reduced compared to the Monaco Grand Prix: the tires will give their best in the middle of the race and in the meantime the drivers will have to make do, hope that traffic jams don't form, stay the as close as possible to the fugitives to launch the attack when the Bridgestones allow. It seems that the heat has nothing to do with it. The air reaches 30 °C, the asphalt 44 °C, values like Bahrain. A refresher is planned for Sunday. No one seems to care, even if the grip of the compounds remains unknown. The Radio box claims that the Ferraris - and the Renaults - are overloaded with petrol and at a distance they will assert themselves, while the very light Williams will have to stop first in the pits to refuel. The only one who cares about strategies, in the sense that he always goes fast, is Kimi Raikkonen. He will start from the front row alongside Nick Heidfeld: if he also wins in Germany, it will be a problem for Fernando Alonso - who will start from sixth position. Among the Italians, Jarno Trulli is better, who sets the fourth fastest time and is increasingly a wizard of qualifying, compared to Giancarlo Fisichella, who will start from ninth position. Both have abandoned their ambitions to win the title. Rubens Barrichello feels an air of enterprise:
"We can do a double, first and second like a year ago".
"It's a matter of compromise. If starting from behind allows us to win, it means that the compromise is right. The tires don't always perform in the same way and I'm optimistic".
In Monte-Carlo it was a festival of overtaking, let alone on a wide and mixed track like the Nurburgring. However, not everyone in the Maranello team shares the same confidence. Michael Schumacher, for example, says:
"It would already be nice to get into the points. The podium? Let's hope".
Oh god, are the two at odds again?
"We are as calm and relaxed as ever. We've had more difficult moments".
Rubinho denies divorce hypothesis from the Maranello team:
"Overtaking after the Monte Carlo tunnel is a closed matter. I'm happy with the car, the team and the engineers, so I have no reason to leave before the end of 2006".
It is peace, or at least an armistice. The European Grand Prix is the last round for Ferrari to remain in the group aiming to win the World Championship. A placement would be useless. The company is needed. The season began with the old car, which wasn't up to par, and continued with the F2005, which debuted with a series of youth problems and now has this handicap in the flying qualifying lap which seems like an unsolvable puzzle. If the F2005 can recover in the race, and especially win for the first time, the championship will find the champions of the last five years. The short classification favors comebacks: Renault is down after the four initial victories, McLaren is very fast but fragile, Williams is recovering after a bad start. There are 37 points between Michael Schumacher and standings leader Fernando Alonso. However, if the main opponent becomes Kimi Raikkonen, the gap drops to 15 points. Sunday 29 May 2005, with an ambient temperature of 25 °C and a track temperature of 45 °C, the cars lined up for the start of the race. However, when the lights come on to signal the start, Giancarlo Fisichella signals that the engine of his car has stopped and the start must be stopped. As the field sets off for another formation lap, Giancarlo Fisichella's car is pushed into the pit lane and the race distance is reduced by one lap. At the start of the European Grand Prix both Williams sprint slowly. Kimi Raikkonen preceded Nick Heidfeld entering Turn 1, while Mark Webber was passed by both Jarno Trulli and Juan Pablo Montoya on the opening lap. Desperate to keep Jarno Trulli behind, Mark Webber braked very late and locked his right front tyre. Subsequently Juan Pablo Montoya spun and his car collided with the Williams of Mark Webber. The Australian rider was forced to retire due to suspension damage. Juan Pablo Montoya's car remained intact, but the Colombian driver lost several positions due to the forced exit and finished the first lap in thirteenth position. Numerous drivers are forced to take evasive action, including both Ferrari drivers losing a lot of time and Ralf Schumacher damaging his front wing. During the first lap, Takuma Sato also damaged his front wing and, together with Ralf Schumacher, was forced to pit at the end of the lap. David Coulthard manages to avoid the confusion and climbs into fourth position, after starting twelfth. Both Jordan riders also got off to an excellent start, finishing in tenth and eleventh place. Meanwhile Kimi Räikkönen extended his lead to 1.9 seconds at the end of the first lap.
While the Jordan and Minardi drivers are forced to drop their positions to the faster cars, Jarno Trulli receives a drive-through because his mechanics were still on the grid within 15 seconds of the start of the race. The Italian driver drops from third to ninth position after serving the penalty. During the sixth lap Rubens Barrichello is fighting with Jenson Button. The Brazilian driver conquered the eighth position after having tried to overtake the British driver on three different occasions. Jenson Button lost time due to overtaking, favoring the return of Juan Pablo Montoya and the consequent overtaking. Rubens Barrichello also passes Vitantonio Liuzzi and conquered the seventh place during the eighth lap. The Brazilian driver started with less fuel load, so he was forced to pit first and drop back to twelfth position. During the following lap Nick Heidfeld also made his first stop, proving that his pole position was helped by having less fuel than his direct rivals. The rest of the field began to refuel around lap 18, allowing Juan Pablo Montoya to pass Vitantonio Liuzzi and take eighth place, while Rubens Barrichello made some fast laps and moved up to fourth place. David Coulthard receives a drive-through penalty for exceeding the pit lane speed limit. With all stops completed, Kimi Räikkönen took the lead again with a 2 second lead over Nick Heidfeld, followed by Fernando Alonso, Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard, Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya. During lap 30 Kimi Räikkönen seemed to lose concentration, running wide at the Ford chicane and allowing Nick Heidfeld to take the lead for a lap before the German pitted again for fuel. Due to the excursion off the track, a bargeboard on Kimi Räikkönen's car is damaged: moreover, the mistake allows Fernando Alonso to gain 4 seconds. Nick Heidfeld rejoins the track in third position after making his second pit stop while Rubens Barrichello, also on a three-stop strategy, maintains fourth place. A few laps later, while lapping Jacques Villeneuve, who ignored the blue flags, Kimi Räikkönen locked the front right tire and took a wrong line in the corners, losing some time against Fernando Alonso. But, above all, the Finn flattens the rubber, damaging it irreparably. In fact, due to the 2005 regulations, Kimi Räikkönen will not be able to change the tire and continue the race, causing serious problems in the rest of the race.
During lap 33 Ralf Schumacher was forced to retire after losing control of the car at the Ford chicane and spinning in the gravel. During lap 36 Kimi Räikkönen continues to lead the race with a 15.2 second lead over Fernando Alonso, who in turn has an 8 second lead over Nick Heidfeld, followed by Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard, Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya. Despite the damage to the tyre, Kimi Räikkönen manages to record competitive lap times and keep the lead over Fernando Alonso intact, but the Finn is forced to make his second pit stop on lap 43, handing the lead to Fernando Alonso and the possibility of closing the gap. Fernando Alonso sets the fastest lap of the race at the end of lap 44, but then loses around 7 seconds after going off the road at the Dunlop hairpin. After completing the refueling series, the leading riders maintained their positions: only Giancarlo Fisichella managed to get ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya. Meanwhile Felipe Massa goes off the road and loses a lot of time, also damaging the tyres. With eight laps to go, Kimi Räikkönen had a 7.4 second lead over Fernando Alonso, but the tire damage caused the car and suspension to vibrate severely, affecting the car's stability under braking and cornering. Fernando Alonso, with a much faster car, was able to quickly close the gap and, with two laps to go, reduced it to just 2.7 seconds. Kimi Räikkönen's tire begins to show signs of imminent failure and the vibrations in the car become more and more intense. However, the McLaren team decided not to change the tyre. When Kimi Räikkönen starts the final lap of the race, he is 1.5 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso. However, under braking, before entering turn 1, the suspension on Kimi Räikkönen's car broke due to the increasing pressure, causing him to spin and narrowly brush Jenson Button's car. Kimi Raikkonen ends his race in the gravel, while Fernando Alonso wins the European Grand Prix, ahead of Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello at the finish line. David Coulthard collects a valuable fourth place for Red Bull Racing, followed by Michael Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jarno Trulli. Alonso-Raikkonen finished 10-0 this time. The Spaniard now has a 32-point lead and his hands on the World Championship. Impregnable when the car works and lucky in moments of difficulty: nothing else is needed in Formula 1.
Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn, came close to the feat and defended it with the recklessness of his 25 years. He led for ten laps chased by his rival, trying to reach the finish line with a deformed tyre.
"Everything was vibrating, my head was shaking and I couldn't see anything".
The dream vanished with four and a half kilometers to go because the suspension gave way at the end of the straight and the McLaren went crazy on the verge of 300 km/h, touching Jenson Button's BAR-Honda and crashing into the crash barriers. Raikkonen felt no fear:
"Just feeling like shit, because you realize you lost".
All is well for Scuderia Ferrari: it is true that Fernando Alonso becomes unreachable and the World Championship will be celebrated elsewhere after five years - it is useless to cultivate further illusions - but at least we see a driver from the Maranello team on the podium again. Rubens Barrichello raced with the grit of his best days, when everything goes wrong, his teammate appears listless and he has to invent something. He was seventh on the starting grid, twelfth after the first corner, eighth at the end of the opening lap. He then passed Button alongside him and continued wheel to wheel until the maneuver was completed. He approached Nick Heidfeld - second again, he is the protagonist of Williams' redemption - in the finale, but he reached the podium thanks to the retirement of Kimi Raikkonen. Michael Schumacher finished in fifth place. Once it would have been a disappointment, today it's three points that shake up the standings and lift morale. Even the mWorld Champion was involved in the initial chaos, coming out in last position. Then he recovered thanks to pit stops rather than spectacular maneuvers. For a long time he followed Massa's Sauber without causing any trouble. In addition to the Ferraris, the start penalized Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella, knocked out Mark Webbber and launched the Raikkonen-Heidfeld duo. Fernando Alonso said at the end of the race:
"Someone bumped into me. I was afraid I'd have to stop".
The impact is with Ralf Schumacher's Toyota. But luck seems to love the yellow-blue colors of Renault, which continues quickly, as confirmed by the driver:
"It was a beauty to drive. I would have been satisfied with second place, but I pushed right through to the end. To defend himself, Kimi had to push until he damaged the tyres. We were very lucky, but also strong like in the first races of the season".
No other reference to the rival. A second and a half separated them at the moment of the accident: Alonso was halfway down the main straight when, 150 meters further on, he saw a cloud of dust in the run-off area and the silver silhouette of the McLaren disappeared.
"They shouted to me over the radio: you're first, you're first. I, on the other hand, was thinking of avoiding scrap metal".
The last one to lose a race on the last lap was another Finn from McLaren, Mika Hakkinen, who ran out of petrol in 2001 in Spain. Jim Clark even lost two World Championships at the last lap of the last race, in 1962 and 1964. Kimi Raikkonen bears a few more responsibilities than his compatriot, two errors with locked wheels that ruined the front right tyre.
"We didn't know if it was better to stop and replace it, because the regulation is not clear. I was in the lead and we feared a penalty".
McLaren's strategic decisions are made in real time in Woking, at the headquarters emphatically christened Paragon, and sent via email to the garage. Boss Ron Dennis had boasted about it after his triumph in Monte-Carlo, the result of a risky decision: skipping the pit stop while the safety car was on the track. In Germany, however, the engineers of the Anglo-German team have not found the right solution. for Renault it is a victory that goes beyond expectations. On Friday afternoon, Briatore had summoned the two riders and technical director Pat Symonds to his office. After two hours of discussion they had decided on a prudent strategy. Objective: to finish behind McLaren, in order not to lose too many points. At the same time, the most electric week of the coexistence between Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello ends with a frank handshake. But when the Brazilian arrives in the Ferrari motorhome, fresh from the podium party and the various collateral ceremonies, the German is already playing backgammon, alongside his wife Corinna, with Luca Baldisseni, one of the technical managers of the Maranello team. The race was also different for the two drivers: third Rubinho, author of an exceptional race, fifth Michael Schumacher, at the end of an uphill and a bit out of the way race. The South American's F2005 was at the level of its best rivals, while that of the World Champion always seemed to be at the limit, in apparent difficulty. Once again, external elements influenced the result. Especially the initial carom that threw back the two cars from Maranello, forced to avoid the other cars that collided. Rubens Barrichello says, at the end of the race:
"To be honest I was lucky to get on the podium due to Raikkonen's crash. But I also had to make up for lost time right after the start. In the first lap I managed to make a great comeback. Then the team applied a perfect strategy. I made my first pit stop to get back on track with a lot of free space in front and this allowed me to push hard. At that moment the Ferrari was flying".
She seemed to be going very fast especially in that spectacular pass on Jenson Button's BAR-Honda.
"After finding myself behind the two Jordans in the first corner, I mentally said goodbye to a good finish. Then, with Ferrari's performance and the situation improving, I gathered courage and took the plunge. I couldn't lose any more ground, it was necessary to take some risks. At that point I had a blast. But in the cockpit I didn't get to enjoy what was happening, I was too concentrated to try to reach Heidfeld. Unfortunately that was not possible".
Last year you had a habit of getting on and off the podium. Is it nice to find certain situations again?
"The taste is different. The problem is that we are not here for the podium but to win. And that's what I hope we'll be doing in two weeks in Canada. I'm also happy because the team has scheduled the next test at Silverstone. Normally we test at Mugello or Fiorano and on those tracks the set-up of our cars is always in place. In England we will probably have more information on what is needed to develop the tires and set up the F2005".
The other side of the coin is represented by Schumacher, less optimistic than usual.
"Considering that I was last at the start, fifth place is fine for me. But a strange thing happened. We know that the F2005 is not very fast in qualifying, but excellent in the race. Here this reversal of performance has not occurred. Rubens had a fantastic race, just like Heidfeld did very well. Unfortunately my car was slow, I had an extra dose of understeer. And if you ran off the racing line, the asphalt was very dirty. For this I also ended up off the track. But even without this mistake I would never have been able to overtake Coulthard who was just ahead of me. We still need to improve in all sectors, but Rubens' podium will give us a big boost".
Almost certainly not only the circumstances affected the performance of the two teammates. The choice of Rubens Barrichello and his technicians to opt for three pit stops allowed the Brazilian to make the most of his car and tyres. Michael Schumacher's - two pit stops - was too conservative. A positive but not brilliant balance, therefore, as underlined by Jean Todt:
"Two Ferraris that are reliable and on point. It's a step forward, still not exactly what we want. We have to grow more and keep fighting".
And it is German logic, that of Michael Schumacher, a perfect synthesis of the European Grand Prix that launches Fernando Alonso towards his fourth victory of the season and the 2005 title:
"Once again we were too slow in qualifying and not fast enough in the race".
Scuderia Ferrari is recovering, but it's too late. With each race that passes, the leader of the World Championship moves away. The World Champion has 16 points, Fernando Alonso has 59. And among them are Kimi Raikkonen, Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld, Mark Webber, Giancarlo Fisichella, and even his brother Ralf, who doesn't combine the right one. In the standings of the Constructors' World Championship, the gap to Renault is 45 points (76 to 31). On the Nurburgring circuit, the German driver took fifth place. And his countrymen download it:
"Schumi is now racing in Serie B".
It is the title of the Bild.
"Nicky Nick has suddenly become number one in Germany".
Adds the popular newspaper next to the podium photo of Nick Heidfeld, protagonist of a second place ahead of Rubens Barrichello.
"They did the best".
Luca Montezemolo says of his men, on the sidelines of the assembly of industrialists in Novara.
"Seeing a Ferrari on the podium again is a sign that logically gives me great pleasure. Too bad about the first lap that made everyone lose many positions. This is the risk of starting backwards".
The recipe for getting out of the crisis is the usual: work and kilometers. First Luca Badoer and then Rubens Barrichello will test at Silverstone from Tuesday May 31st to Friday June 3rd 2005, while Marc Gene will be on the track at Monza at the same time. Jean Todt says:
"We have to improve all the parameters. We need to work at 360 degrees on tyres, engine, chassis and aerodynamics".
Ferrari's general manager keeps the goal high:
"It's true that the World Championship is more difficult, but one thing is certain: we won't give up. On June 12th in Canada we will fight for first and second place".
The Montreal track is in theory favorable to the F2005, with its long straights and tight corners, a fast track that uses little tires and requires less traction. At the Nurburgring Barrichello scored the top speed (313.1 km/h), a skill that will come in handy.
"Talking about optimism for Canada would be misplaced. If anything, there will be more determination and enthusiasm in the team".
Will Fernando Alonso be the new World Champion?
"He is the favourite. In addition to winning four times, he finished all races in the points. But this is a very difficult sport. You saw what happened to McLaren on the last lap. Better to be careful. Never jump for joy too soon. This is also why I know how much our successes in recent years are worth. I say it with caution, but I say it: let's get ready for another Ferrari victory".
Even Formula 1 needs the former invincibles to be great again. Audience figures for the European Grand Prix confirm a drop of more than 20%, as had already occurred in Monte-Carlo. The race broadcast in Italy was followed by 8.100.000 people, with a share of 50.94%. Until 2004, when Michael Schumacher cannibalized everything, there were never less than 10.000.000 people.