While Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn and designer Rory Byrne are rushing to find a solution, preparing new material for the F2003 GA ahead of the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, it can be interesting to examine what has happened since the beginning of the season. The team from Maranello had started with the F2002 from the previous year. In the first three races, the old single-seater could have won, or at least scored some points if numerous types of issues - take Rubens Barrichello running out of fuel while he was in the lead in Brazil - had not favoured the successes of David Coulthard (Melbourne), Kimi Raikkonen (Sepang) and Giancarlo Fisichella in Sao Paulo. Still, Ferrari had made up for it with the victory of Michael Schumacher in Imola, the F2003-GA’s debut in Spain was dazzling, so much so to allow the German driver to make up almost a one-minute gap from Fernando Alonso. Then, another success in Austria, difficulties in Monaco (Michael Schumacher third) and again a win in Canada. Since Sunday, June 15, 2003, Ferrari has not shined, except in Great Britain where Barrichello seemed to be a Martian and having the best race of his life. But negative signals were coming from Michael Schumacher who obtained a third, a fourth, a seventh and an eighth place. There are two hypotheses to explain what happened. On the one hand, Williams-Bmw has made considerable progress, McLaren-Mercedes has made some small steps forward, and Renault’s improvements suit tracks like Budapest. On the other hand, the constant growth of Michelin tyres, adopted by their main competitors and a possible technical decline by Bridgestone. Engaged in a hectic innovation process, the technicians at the Japanese firm have started making experiments. In Hungary, there were eight different types of tyres. One of them, tried by Minardi on Friday morning, did not last a single lap as it was too soft. It may be that the heat wave is partly responsible: with high temperatures, Bridgestone tyres, exceptional in the wet (look at Fisichella) generally struggle. Then, some are obviously exacerbating a rivalry that is getting more heated and eventually going beyond the sport. Recently, news has come out that Francois Michelin, honorary president of the French group, in attendance at the Rimini Meeting where he held a presentation on the management of firms, clearly stated:
"I would also like Ferrari to have Michelin tyres, but it does not depend on me".
In short, how to add fuel to the fire. Even more so, apart from Ferrari, the teams with Japanese tyres have achieved little this year: only a fourth place by Jenson Button in his BAR-Honda in Austria. Now all that is left to do is catch up. Tyres will be subject to relentless testing next week in Monza and Fiorano, while in Maranello the engines are being put together for the Italian Grand Prix which will represent the evolution of the 052 model, with more power. This increase in horsepower has been studied to allow Ferrari to get a better exit out of slow corners where it is struggling due to the tyres. Then, an unexpected twist:
"It came from us".
"In Budapest, Bridgestone gave us photographic proof that at the end of the race, the tread width on Michelin tyres was too wide. Therefore, we asked the Federation for clarification".
The Federation has done some measurements and almost certainly found that Ferrari was right; however, they chose not to go ahead and disqualify them (the new tyres had always been found to comply with the rules). Alas, the Solomonic decision:
"Starting from the Italian Grand Prix in Monza on September 14 we are also going to check used tyres".
But Maranello will not hear of it. The team avoided starting a formal protest in Hungary so as not to cause any uproar (the first seven cars would have risked being disqualified) but they will file complaints from now on. Michelin was uncompromising too. Pascal Vasselon, head of communication, explains:
"There is no way. We started using wider front tyres at Imola in 2001, after asking the FIA if they complied with the regulations. They gave us a favourable judgement, and they cannot stop us now with three races left in the World Championship".
Bridgestone’s rivals are carefully watching from a distance. They do not have a wider tread width, whether to respect the rules or because they could not extract the desired performance from them. Nonetheless, they keep an eye on the work of the competition. Here is how they found out:
"A photographer brought us a picture taken in Parc Ferme. We analysed it (using software on a computer allowing you to measure with a good amount of accuracy the components of a single-seater, Ed) and we showed it to the men at Ferrari. Once they realized that there could be some wrongdoing, they went to the FIA".
The French tyre company defends itself on two fronts: we did not have the time to comply; the new regulations talk about new tyres, we did not invent anything. Ferrari had already tried a new specification at the testing in Monza in 2002, which Bridgestone then supplied to all its clients ten days later. And the new adjective in Article 77 of the Sporting Regulations seems to refer only to the measurement of grooves. If the situation is not resolved by next week, the certainty of the rules will be questioned: ten single-seaters (Williams, McLaren, Renault, Toyota and Jaguar) would run the risk of being disqualified because the FIA’s clarification is part of the rules. But it would not be a Formula 1 World Championship anymore: it would become a legal battle, fought using stamp paper, appeals and pleas. McLaren has made no comment, Toyota is expecting to receive regular tyres, and Williams is worried. Sam Michael, head engineer, says:
"We are still considering the implications of the letter the FIA sent us. We will consider all the options".
Tuesday, September 2, 2002, at Monza, anyhow, on the first day of testing after the August break, the Anglo-German team is still using the wider tread. Ralf Schumacher completes 62 laps, setting the second fastest time of the day, 1'22"398, behind David Coulthard (McLaren, 1'22"039, 61 laps). Third is Michael Schumacher (1'22"524, 30 laps), and Juan Pablo Montoya comes only ninth (1'23"146) though he completes 88 laps so as to do a Grand Prix simulation.
"Illegal tyres? It is normal that Bridgestone and Ferrari are trying to find the reasons for their disadvantage. It is their right".
This is Ralf Schumacher’s comment over lunch break. At the end of the day, while the starter is about to wave the checkered flag and declare that the session is over, the German driver suffers a horrible crash. At the entry of the first Lesmo corner, his Williams goes out of control, spinning several times, then landing on four wheels. Ralf gets out of the cockpit on his own and still has the spirit to joke around with a marshal:
"I would rather get in the car with you, I don’t like the ambulance".
A visit to the medical centre at the track, then the transfer by helicopter, accompanied by his brother to San Raffaele Hospital in Milan. A CT scan rules out any issues: we will see him again on track at the Italian Grand Prix. Wednesday, September 3, 2002, Ralf Schumacher leaves the San Raffaele Hospital over the course of the morning, accompanied by his wife. The Williams driver, who was hospitalised on Tuesday night after a frightening crash during the tests in Monza, signed his discharge against the doctors’ advice of another twenty-four hours of observation and ten days of rest. His team thinks they will be able to have him line up at the start of the Italian Grand Prix.
"I only have a bad headache, but after an accident like this I can’t complain".
Thomas Hoffman, his spokesperson, adds:
"Ralf doesn’t want to miss the next race, but we will have to see how he is doing".
The team says they are aware of Ralf’s medical situation, still, they shared the decision of the driver to leave the hospital to go back home and rest until Monday. Meanwhile, Ferrari wins the tyre battle. Where the engineers failed, the lawyers succeeded using the regulations: starting from the Italian Grand Prix, Williams and McLaren have to use narrower tyres. Tuesday, September 2, 2002, the FIA sets the record straight on the rules, sharing the argument made by the team from Maranello:
"The tread width must not exceed 270 millimetres. If a bigger measurement is found at the end of the race, race stewards and the appeal court will have to decide if the rules have been broken. We can confirm that the report came from Ferrari".
Michelin took the blow. In the last few days it had, in this order, threatened to boycott, declared that it would leave the tyres’ dimensions as they were, and swore that it would never be able to produce narrower tyres on time. Pierre Dupasquier, director of Michelin Motorsport, corrects himself:
"We have been working twenty-four hours a day for a week. These past few days in Monza we have also been testing the new tyres. It’s a huge challenge for us".
You cannot change the rules with three races to go – added the French company. Objection dismissed: article 77, paragraph E, of the Sporting Regulations, mentions grooves (to be measured on new tyres) and tyre tread (the adjective new does not appear anymore). As soon as they leave the grounds of Clermont-Ferrand, Michelin treads are within the limits, but after a couple of hundred kilometres, they expand. Ferrari’s opinion is that this would explain some exceptional performances, especially on slower tracks, where traction and stability under braking are crucial. Among the men working for the team from Maranello, the smile returns.
"Accusing us of being cheaters? Can you imagine if someone found out that our cars have been illegal since 2001?"
The chances to win the World Championship which were slim after the defeat in Budapest (Schumacher eighth, Barrichello out) have just gone up again. Technicians had estimated the advantage of the illegal tread to be around half a second. Michael Schumacher will have better chances to defend his lead in the standings, just one point ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and two points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
Ferrari will not even need to file a complaint at the end of the race because the checks will be done anyway. Actually, with an official protest, the disqualification would have already taken place after the Hungarian Grand Prix. Luca Montezemolo jumps in:
"On the matter of tyres, I can confirm what our technicians have already said".
Before the last statement by the Federation, Ferrari’s president had commented:
"We do not consider ourselves as prisoners of Formula 1. We are carefully taking into consideration what is happening, having every intention to stay".
After being called into question in the past months, Bridgestone has taken a small revenge. As Hiroshi Yasukawa, number one at Bridgestone Motorsport told us:
"Our clients, for example, Jordan and BAR, kept asking us for wider tyres. And we answered that it was not possible. Do you know how wide were Williams’ treads in Budapest? 286 millimetres. I have had some suspicions for some time, but we needed pictures to be sure of it. Otherwise, we would have brought it up earlier".
The others, among them Williams, McLaren, Renault, Toyota and Jaguar are playing along. They are still testing in Monza, where the tests will be extended until Friday morning. And they are still going fast, the McLaren-Mercedes of David Coulthard in particular.
"Narrower tyres? Michelin guaranteed that our performance will not be affected by it".
Says Fernando Alonso, who dominated in Budapest. All this attention on the Michelin-Bridgestone duel is bothering him:
"When Schumacher won, nobody claimed that it was thanks to a Japanese company. Now that he is losing, it all falls on Michelin".
An evasive comment by Sam Michael, head engineer at Williams:
"We are carrying out the testing program. We are testing new tyres, as always".
Rubens Barrichello deals with the question from Bridgestone’s point of view:
"I followed the affair in the Brazilian newspapers. If someone is not sticking to the rules, they should adapt. Winning like that is unfair. But I am not the one deciding who is complying and who is not".
Luca Montezemolo, president of Ferrari, is uncompromising:
"I am not talking about tyres. It is a technical matter. Our people in charge have already done that".
In fact, Tuesday, on the first day of testing in Monza, ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, Scuderia Ferrari technical director, Ross Brawn, had said, referring to the tyre affair:
"In Hungary, we noticed that Michelin front tyres, after the race, or at least after usage, had a tread that was too wide. Like this, they are illegal".
Reflecting, bitterly, on the affair, Montezemolo adds:
"We are not prisoners of Formula 1, we do not think we have to race at all costs and in every condition. We are carefully considering what is happening and what will happen in the future, but obviously, we have every intention of staying where we are".
This a natural concern, after all these years of fighting to get to and stay at the pinnacle of this sport, even with the awareness that you cannot always win. Still, the problem lies elsewhere. Formula 1 has gone through countless storms, and it settled many discussions and controversies with a lot of compromises in the past. Yet, they have often punished harshly the teams, perhaps even disqualifying a car for a front wing being too low by a millimetre or for fuel that in a ridiculously low percentage did not comply with the regulations. It should be pointed out that in 1999 both the Ferrari of Irvine and Schumacher, first and second, were excluded from the standings and then re-admitted after a hearing at the court in Paris because the technician in charge had gotten the measurements of the lateral flow deflectors on the cars from Maranello wrong. Now, at a particularly delicate moment of the season, the FIA has finally - with serious delay - built up the courage to apply regulations by the book. If the incriminated tyres are found to have a tread width of more than 27 centimetres allowed as the maximum, they cannot be fitted on the cars. Rightly so, those who keep using them will be disqualified. Already last year the FIA suffered a setback when it had to readmit the use of sophisticated electronic systems for traction control management because it was unable to determine whether they complied with the regulations. This time it was just about taking some measuring tape and taking the measurements. And there are no excuses to be found. Like the ridiculous one, according to which you cannot manufacture standard tyres in around ten days, as they had been until the race in Monte-Carlo when McLaren first adopted the wider front tyres. If in Monza one of the two suppliers, Michelin or Bridgestone, were to find an experimental type of tyre that had some advantages, they could begin the production of approximately 2000 tyres necessary for the race without any problems. It is just a matter of being professional. Otherwise, Formula 1 would face situations that would compromise the validity of the championship. With the implications that come with it. Meanwhile, Thursday, September 4, 2003, he is the fastest once again: Michael Schumacher. On the third day of testing in Monza, he set the fastest time (1'22"281) ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen, the spitting image of the World Championship standings. Having won the legal battle on the tyres, Ferrari is back to being competitive. Is it thanks to some innovation or their opponents’ demerits, forced to try tyres with a narrower tread width? In the words of Michael Schumacher, the cars from Maranello have made a step forward:
"Bridgestone tyres work, the aerodynamics too. I have always argued that on this track our car goes fast".
He did say that, it is true, but lately, it was hard to believe him. Since Rubens Barrichello’s win in Silverstone, the F2003-GA had not managed to stand out.
"It is only right that every one of us, Tifosi included, should worry. Like in 2000 after being overtaken in Spa".
If the analogy is valid, in nine days Monza will turn red. Just like then, when Michael Schumacher obtained one of his heaviest wins and embraced it with a long liberating cry.
"Yes, we can do it again this time, as long as we give it our all and we exploit our potential to the maximum. In Budapest and Hockenheim, we were not able to do that".
Not even a thought for the opponents, having to go through the calculations, the assets, strategies, and aerodynamic loads in a hurry so as not to exceed the infamous 270 millimetres of tread width in the front tyre. It will be measured before and after the race, as declared by the Federation, sparking outrage among the men at Michelin. On Thursday, Williams is taking their test driver, Marc Gene, for a race simulation. The technicians working for the Anglo-German team want to carefully study the conditions of the tyre treads after the mileage of a race, to assess whether the part of the tyre in continuous contact with the asphalt will remain within the 27-centimetre limit.
"I do not think that tyres will be a determining factor on this track. The aerodynamic package is just as important".
It is better to weigh your words. In Clermont-Ferrand, they did not like those of Ferrari technical director, Ross Brawn. A Michelin statement reads:
"We reserve the right to sue him. Until the 2001 San Marino Grand Prix the FIA had homologated our tyres. The measurements were done on the new tyres, in accordance with the regulations. In the aftermath of the Hungarian Grand Prix, the FIA unilaterally modified the interpretation of the rules. We will try to adapt to these changes, but we still think that there should be an extra time margin".
Ferrari does not reply but gives the impression that they could theoretically ask for a revision of all the results of the season. Setting aside the tyre war, the attention shifts to the stopwatch. Ferrari is taking a gamble by entering the fray with all of its resources. There have been three cars on track in Monza since Tuesday. Michael Schumacher complains, being meticulous as always about his work:
"We would have liked to cover more kilometres, but we faced a number of small technical issues (on Thursday the engine broke for the second time, Ed) and that is why we asked for another morning of testing".
Williams is tagging along, although Juan Pablo Montoya does not seem to be as keen on working overtime. One car from Maranello is being used on the track in Fiorano as well. It is the old, glorious F2002, which the team still considers excellent for tyre development. On Tuesday, it was Luciano Burti driving, called back in a hurry to cover for Rubens Barrichello whose back was hurting after taking a hit in Budapest. Then it was Felipe Massa’s turn. The young Brazilian did 155 laps, over 400 kilometres. On the Spanish circuit of Jerez, away from prying eyes, McLaren-Mercedes is testing a different car other than the race car: it is the MP4/18, the single-seater whose debut was postponed multiple times. Behind the wheel, Pedro De La Rosa and Darren Turner are taking turns. The results are top secret. The great work in Maranello has paid off. A week ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari leaves Monza satisfied, knowing that it is once again ahead of Williams-Bmw with both drivers. This is the verdict of the last day of testing. In the head-to-head between Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya, the German wins with a time of 1'20"825, only 0.339 seconds from the track record set by Juan Pablo Montoya, in last year’s qualifying. Michael Schumacher covered 62 laps, 9 more than the race distance.
Behind Schumacher, who constantly laps around 1’'21"00, Barrichello (1'20"856 is the best of his 54 laps), then Montoya (1'21"054, 71 laps). Gene (1'21"488, 34 laps), Badoer (1'22"870, 37 laps). Despite the frightening accident on Tuesday, Ralf Schumacher says he will regularly take part in the Italian Grand Prix:
"The most important thing for me right now is to get back to being at a hundred per cent form. The injury itself does not bother me and I am not afraid of not being ready".
Michael Schumacher cannot be truly satisfied: his popularity, if nothing in Germany, has not been remotely affected by his still uncertain season in Formula 1. On Sunday, September 7, 2003, the Ferrari driver felt firsthand the love of his tifosi: 26.000 people defied a cold and rainy morning, rushing to the grandstands at the Nürburgring circuit, on the day the driver devotes to them. Many of them arrived after waking up at the crack of dawn, not to mention the countless people who were at the Nürburgring already on Saturday evening. Just after Michael Schumacher’s arrival, whose helicopter spectacularly landed on the finish straight, the rain stopped, and the party began. Sure, a majority of Tifosi, almost all of whom are dressed head-to-toe in Ferrari red, with all the necessary gadgets, from hats to flags, will have to make do with seeing their idol from quite afar. Only a few are allowed to the barriers around the box, with some even managing to get an autograph. Always shielded to the maximum with his usual security system, Michael Schumacher still interacts frequently with the crowd. In an interview at the centre of the track, broadcasted by the amplification system and the big screens on the circuit, after having thanked his fans, the driver says he is optimistic about the next Grand Prix:
"After the last tests, we think we have found our old strength. We hope we will be able to say that after the race too".
But regarding the rest of the World Championship, he does not go out on a limb:
"They will not be easy races. The times set during the tests in Monza were very close to each other. But we can realistically fight for the win, we have new aerodynamic solutions, and we want to widen our points lead".
He then made a very careful hint about the delicate tyre issue:
"It would be a bit too easy to say that tyres are the main reason behind our difficulties at the moment. I can only say that we need to do our jobs well and that we obviously have not done as well as our opponents".
The public particularly enjoyed the commentary done by Michael Schumacher from behind the wheel of a Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge, and most of all his performance driving the Ferrari F2002 from last year, on which Michael made a few laps leading up to an anticipated series of doughnuts in a cloud of smoke coming from the tyres. Certainly, those who are having the most fun, among the Tifosi, are Cornelia Dittmann and Peter Butt, who paid about 4.000 euros to ride a couple of laps with Michael Schumacher behind the wheel of a Ferrari 360 Challenge:
"I don’t regret a single euro I spent on this".
Mrs Cornelia declares jubilant, a rather glowing and roundish blonde woman from Munich, at the end of her experience alongside Schumacher. The amount spent by the two for this unique ride in the fastest taxi in the world will be devolved to UNESCO, of which Schumacher is an ambassador. Schumacher, enjoying the embrace from his Tifosi, held himself back and only touched upon the complicated tyre affair in quite a diplomatic way; meanwhile, in Germany, two almost identical interviews with Ferrari’s general director, Jean Todt, have been published respectively in the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Bild am Sonntag. Todt defends Ferrari for having reported to the FIA the tyre problem. But it goes beyond that.
"We think that the tyres of our opponents are illegal. I don’t know for how long Michelin has been using those tyres but in fact, all the teams that have fitted them should be disqualified from the races where they used them. Now I expect Michel to react accordingly".
And again, referring to the competition, Todt stated:
"What do you think would have happened if Bridgestone tyres fitted on a Ferrari turned out to be too wide? Do you think we would have kept quiet? Everyone would have crucified us, and they would have accused us of fraud".
Some call him One, a contraction-translation of the name Juan, others prefer the nickname Juancho which has an aggressive meaning, with the English comparing him to a bull. But it is always him, Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian driver who since his appearance in Formula 1, in 2000, has had Michael Schumacher in his sights. They recall a sensational overtake in Brazil and then countless attacks, always decisive and harsh. With his Williams, he had some brilliant drives, and he has won three times in almost three full seasons so far: Monza, Monte-Carlo and Hockenheim. He is now one point away from his German rival, and together with Kimi Raikkonen, two points off the Ferrari champion, can make up a pair of dangerous contenders for the world title. Montoya is not a nobody, landing a spot in Formula 1 with the help of a suitcase full of dollars or generous sponsors. His career so far has been studded by hard work, sacrifices, and successes. A Formula 3000 title in 1998, working as a test driver for Williams, an American Cart championship snatched brilliantly in 1999 and a success in the prestigious Indy 500 the following year. In 2002 he came third in the Formula 1 World Championship behind Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Now he is shooting for the stars. Do you consider Monza to be a decisive race in the title fight?
"For sure. And I will race on a track I really like. It is a circuit that suits my characteristics. I did not get two pole positions and my first success in Formula 1 for nothing. During testing last week we proved to be strong and in good shape, therefore I am confident. Next Sunday in the race I will fight for first place. And if I can overtake everyone, then it will be more complicated to beat me in the last two races of the season in Indianapolis and Suzuka".
Italian fans seem to have a liking for Montoya…
"I came to Italy for the first time way back in 1990 for a few weeks. I was hired for the Karting World Championship in Lonato, near Brescia. I learned a bit of the language right away and now I can understand when they speak to me. People here are friendly and passionate. The atmosphere at the track is really special. Clearly, there are a lot of Ferrari fans around the track. It would be great for me to get another win here at the home of the Maranello team. But I have to admit that Ferrari was really quick in practice last week".
What is your real objective for the Italian Grand Prix, then?
"As you know, I am living from day to day. But at this point, I am focused on a strategy to allow me to bring the title to Colombia. I will try to finish the races, to get as many points as possible and especially to stay in front of my two opponents, that is to say, Michael and Kimi. It will not be easy, but I will try. One thing is for sure: they will be very, very interesting and intense races. Starting with Monza".
Gerhard Berger has just stepped down as head of Bmw, as Williams’ partner, and he has been involved first-hand in memorable duels driving for Ferrari and McLaren against Montoya’s current team in the past. He thinks that the Colombian will be the man who can beat Schumacher after three years of total domination by the German.
"The only fault, if we can call it that, Juan Pablo has is that he is too aggressive. Some reckless moves sometimes damage him. At the moment, if he wants to win, he needs to stay out of trouble. If he can get the pole position in Monza and keep it in the first few laps, it will be rather difficult for his rivals to snatch the first place. And when he is at the top of the standings, with his morale skyrocketing, then it will be all the more complicated for Raikkonen and Schumacher".
Meanwhile, Flavio Briatore, who did not appreciate the accusations of the team from Maranello at Michelin, in an interview with the German magazine Welt am Sonntag says:
"Ferrari is ruining Formula 1".
The managing director of Renault reveals that Bridgestone had proposed to him tyres similar to the French ones in the past, but the proposal was declined.
"Ferrari wants to win the World Championship with a political decision. Since the 2001 Imola Grand Prix Michelin has been producing the same type of tyres, and even a child knows that they deform during the race. In Maranello, they discovered the secret now, all of a sudden, just at a time when the Scuderia is having technical difficulties and risks losing the world title".
Flavio Briatore challenges Ferrari's technical director, Ross Brawn, and he considers Michelin’s public accusations of not abiding by the rules and playing dirty unheard of.
"In FIA regulations it is written that tyres have to be measured before, not after the race. Who is Ross Brawn, the supreme judge of Formula 1 or the FIA president?"
According to the Italian manager, Ferrari scored an own goal by turning down Bridgestone’s proposal.
"A year ago, they turned down tyres with a similar structure to that adopted by Michelin. For the good of the sport, I hope that Ferrari's domination will end in 2004. There are already three young drivers that will make life hard for Schumacher, who still is a perfect driver, and capable of exploiting a hundred per cent of his potential for another two or three years. This is good for Ferrari, given that it’s Schumacher who is behind their successes".
The Italian Grand Prix, with its corollary of passion, is for Luca Montezemolo a completely unbearable hassle.
"It would be better if there was no Monza".
The charismatic president of Ferrari reiterates, kept busy on all fronts by the preview of the Frankfurt Motor Show. Instead, Sunday, September 14, 2003, in Monza, will probably decide the whole season: heaven or hell for Ferrari fans. And the Italian racetrack will set the scene for a party, a jubilation of Ferrari flags ready to be waved. Monza is a fatal crossroads.
"In fact, there would be no way to cancel this race, talking about Monza is like talking about the temple of racing. We will be confronted with a unique scenery, that has no equals in terms of passion and public participation, and we expect great support. But every year, because of this extraordinary pressure, we suffer more for a race that is special by tradition. Luckily, I also experienced great joys in Monza and some unforgettable days: I won my first World Championship in 1975 with Lauda, and then Michael made us thrilled in 1996 and 2000. This time it will be an important Grand Prix, indeed extremely important".
Heaven or hell. Schumacher only has a point of advantage over Montoya and two over Raikkonen. Will it be enough? We need to be ready for a very high-tension sprint anyways. The German champion, in Frankfurt, is full of smiles and optimism:
"The margin is tight, but I have great faith. I know that Monza is special, and I don’t want to let anyone down. I don’t want to lose the title. It is useless to make predictions on who is going to be the most dangerous opponent, every time we have done that we have been proven wrong in the race. Montoya and Raikkonen are both extremely tough and good, I don’t underestimate them, even though I would have preferred to fight my brother Ralf for the championship".
He speaks of a Ferrari that has come back to life:
"Testing last week was very satisfying, and we will do more during the weekend. Inside the team everyone has worked hard, and well, in these last few days. The results are clear and encouraging. The premises to get back to winning are there, although the balance this year is clear and indisputable. Our opponents have grown a lot".
The renowned tyre war seems to be over after the new interpretation of the regulations. It has put Bridgestone back on track and readmitted Michelin. Luca Montezemolo brushes over the subject, as he does not want to spark up new controversies, but to conclude he does not use periphrasis:
"I obviously expect Ferrari to win on Sunday. But in terms of fair and healthy competition. A word to the wise is enough. There is a Federation whose role is that to write and enforce the regulations, and now it has clearly expressed itself. We will go on track with determination and guided by a rightful sporting spirit".
But it is not enough for the president. He cares a lot about this World Championship:
"Let’s not forget that Schumacher is still leading the Drivers Championship. And that just three Grand Prix ago, Ferrari won in an extraordinary way, literally dominating, the race in Silverstone. Faith has not diminished, after England, the tests in Monza were all positive, and we are very satisfied with our work".
At the same time, the FIA notifies that the new Michelin tyres are legal. But it is Ferrari who won the war which could overturn the balance in Formula 1. Other than shutting down any margin of interpretation or negotiation, on Tuesday, September 9, 2003, the FIA used some hefty words at the end of a meeting with representatives from Michelin and two of its main clients (Williams and McLaren). Firstly, the measured tyres are legal as long as they are used in the same way as those examined by federal technicians. Secondly, the regulations have not changed and neither has its interpretation: measurements were set in 1999 and the FIA has never led teams to believe that tread width after use was unlimited.
"It is disappointing that the teams that used Michelin front tyres did not consult with the FIA on the possible excess of tread width as soon as they realised it".
Thirdly, the case is closed, and the World Championship can resume with all teams in equal conditions. What is implied is that there was no equality before. Ferrari, fitting Bridgestone tyres, has not commented on the provision, but its position on the matter, which emerged in the last few days, was confirmed as a whole.
"We are not the villains here, we realized that a norm was not being applied and we pointed it out".
As the technical side is clarified, the sports side remains unknown. In Budapest, where the affair broke out, tyres were measured at the end of the race. According to Article 179, paragraph B, the FIA has time until Sunday, November 30, 2003, to summon the race stewards from that race and review the classification again. After the tyre war, won by Ferrari, begins that of engines. The Monza circuit is the temple of speed: last year David Coulthard reached 363 km/h during qualifying and in the tests, Michael Schumacher unofficially (and extraordinarily) hit 374 km/h. And, on Sunday, always closer to the 400 km/h benchmark, the decisive match of this Formula 1 World Championship will be played in front of a public who is getting ready with their rigorously red uniforms (there are still 5000 tickets in the grandstands). No one can afford to lose points: not Schumacher, reigning World Championship and leading the standings, nor the two rivals, Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian, and Kimi Raikkonen, the Fin. The fight for the 2003 title is theirs. The others, including Ralf Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Rubens Barrichello, and David Coulthard are not mathematically out of the game but they have abandoned all hopes. In order to go fast you need horsepower, more than tyres which have decided the last races. The Ferrari engine and the BMW engine powering Williams are accredited to be the most powerful. Fun fact: it was right here in Monza in 2002 that the Bavarian company announced they had reached two technological objectives during qualifying, 19.000 RPM and 900 horsepower. The pole went to Juan Pablo Montoya, but the race ended in smoke (literally). The last tests say Ferrari: fastest lap by Schumacher, always closely followed by Montoya. McLaren-Mercedes have reached great reliability and constant performances (only one win by Kimi Raikkonen was needed to still be in the running, against the four of his German colleague and the two of the Colombian), yet they seem to be inferior on faster tracks. Faith has returned among the men of the team from Maranello. Even if Bridgestone has not found a miraculous tyre, the situation has changed, performance has improved and opponents have had to change their front tyres as those they had been using so far were not legal (tread width expanded with usage, exceeding the 27 centimetres width limit).
"It will be an uncertain finale, like three years ago".
Michael Schumacher predicts, then he winks:
"Do you remember how it ended?"
He won in Monza, and he won the title that had been missing in Maranello since 1979. Rubens Barrichello is optimistic as well. With his 2002 win ahead of his teammate. The first win in Monza of a single-seater from Maranello dates back to 1951 with Alberto Ascari, who won again the following year. Phil Hill won back-to-back in 1960 and 1961. Gerhard Berger’s success in 1988, a few days after the death of Enzo Ferrari, was romantic. Michael Schumacher was victorious three times: in 1996, 1998, and 2000. A sad memory is linked to Ronnie Peterson, who died Monday, September 11, 1978, at the Niguarda Hospital. The day before he had been injured at the start of the Italian Grand Prix. The 34-year-old Swede had won ten races, three of which in Monza. In that season he was fighting for the World Championship: he finished second. Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya challenge each other with jokes, irony, and digs, waiting to battle it out on track.
"What do I like about my opponents? The fact that they’re behind in the standings".
Michael Schumacher strikes. And Montoya replies:
"Three reasons why I will win? Let’s say that there are no three reasons why I should lose".
What if Raikkonen came between the two contenders? The hypothesis barely touches them:
"When you are behind the wheel the only thought is to push to the maximum and to avoid any mistakes".
Tests say that Ferrari has a small margin on Williams and a bit more on McLaren. Let us start with the most delicate topic: what did you think when the FIA intervened on the tyre issue, making Michelin narrow the tread width? The German answers:
"Honestly, I asked myself what would have happened if the roles were reversed, that is to say, if Ferrari was the one using wider tyres. I am here to race, that is what matters. What is important is that everyone follows the rules and races in the same conditions. From now on it will be like this".
And the Colombian recalls:
"They called me saying: we need to change our tyres. I answered: why since they work so well? Then they explained everything. I have nothing to comment on. I will not get into the controversy, I will stick to driving".
Will the teams supplied by Michelin be disadvantaged?
"Let me put it like this: I don’t think they used wider treads to be slower".
And Juan Pablo Montoya says:
"We tested the new tyres a week ago here in Monza: both in the simulation of a Grand Prix and on a single lap they proved to be very competitive".
Would a single supplier eliminate controversies?
"No, I enjoy working on tyre development because it can improve the car’s performance".
And Montoya agrees:
"There is no reason to change".
Another difficult topic: with three races to go, do you expect any help from your teammates? Should we expect team orders?
"In Ferrari, there have not been so-called team orders in a long time. Barrichello can help me by staying ahead of my opponents as he did when he won in Silverstone, where incidentally Coulthard let Raikkonen overtake him easily. But I will not get into it now, you never know what can happen during a Grand Prix".
The Colombian driver replies to the question, saying:
"Williams does not give team orders, besides Ralf is still in the fight for the World Championship".
Does racing in Monza favour Ferrari? Schumacher:
"For sure. We have a good tradition. I remember my successes in 1996, 1998 and 2000. The passion of the fans motivates us. In 2002 I finished second behind Rubens. Seeing the crowd under us from the stage was an extraordinary experience".
And Juan Pablo Montoya answers:
"No, it does not change anything. What matters is being fast, and our car is extremely fast. The chances of winning the Championship and every single race are the same".
Can you make a prediction?
"In the tests, we carried out an intensive work program. The results were positive: we are competitive. Compared to the last races, in which we were inferior with respect to our direct opponents, we have improved. This situation reminds me of 2000 when I arrived in Italy six points behind Hakkinen. I had no choice: I had to beat him at all costs. I managed to do that and we won the World Championship. I hope I can leave Monza on Sunday night with the same feeling".
Meanwhile, the Williams driver says:
"The development work went well, except for Ralf’s accident. In the end, I was completely relaxed: I am driving a wonderful car here. Our reliability has improved as well: since the Austrian Grand Prix we have never had any breakdowns. I will fight for the win even if the objective is to get points finishing ahead of Michael and Kimi. If I will be able to do that from now on until the end, I will be World Champion".
Over such a long sprint, how much does experience count?
"Having already faced an intense season finale can help during strategic phases, but it does not make you go faster. We will all give our best".
"I won in Formula Cart but I don’t think this will be a decisive advantage. And I also think that success in Formula 1 would be more prestigious".
Isn’t it odd that Ralf Schumacher’s help could decide the fate of the World Championship?
"He needs to do his job. If I were him, I would put family relations aside".
The teammate of the Williams driver from Germany instead says:
"I will say this again: he is still in the fight for the title, he doesn’t have to help anyone".
In the meantime, the French company Michelin is frantically trying to manufacture a couple of thousand tyres (needed to supply five teams for the whole weekend), brand new, made according to the measurements prescribed by the regulations. On Thursday, September 11, 2003, Ralf Schumacher passes the medical examination with flying colours after the bad accident he had last week, therefore he will be driving his Williams. He says he considers himself happy:
"Ferrari gave us an advantage with the protest. New tyres are working like a wonder and we are very competitive".
It is still all to play for, but the tyre affair has put the team from Maranello in a tough position, aside from the disadvantage in the last races. If Schumacher or Barrichello were to win, someone will certainly argue that it is because of the protest, if they lose you can easily expect comments such as:
"You see that it was not the tyres making the difference and they lost anyway?"
And this is not right. Fair play in Formula 1 is quite normal. Generally, you would turn a blind eye to rather creative interpretations of the rules, instead of a head-on collision. Although, in this specific case, the matter of the tyres not following the spirit of the regulations was too important to be overlooked. Respect for technical limitations needed to be reinstated, and that can be decisive in determining the results. The FIA had already failed to do its job when it did not entirely apply the article on the shape of the tyres at the end of the race. Said-article states that the four mandatory grooves on the tyre (2.5 millimetres deep) need to be visible at the end of the race. That rule was never followed. Now, Flavio Briatore, Fernando Alonso, Juan Pablo Montoya, and other opponents are criticizing the Italian team for asking the FIA to check the tyre measurements. One is left to wonder: what if the roles were reversed, what if Williams, McLaren or Renault were to find out that Ferrari dominated the last seasons because it was using illegal tyres? What would they do then? Let’s not forget that, theoretically, the team from Maranello still has a few tricks up its sleeve, just in case. Article 179 bis of the Sporting Regulations speaks clearly of the possibility to file a complaint by Sunday, November 30, 2003, about the right of review of any race, even after the official publication of results, if new elements, which could have influenced the result, are discovered. In theory, given that it has been proven that tyres used by teams supplied by Michelin were wider than allowed after the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix, the classification could be challenged. And considering that the French company stated they have fitted been fitting tyres developed and manufactured this way since 2001, this would create a huge mess. One can only hope that none of this will happen, that the race on Sunday will go as planned, and that it will be spectacular and intense. If it is true, as Ralf Schumacher claims, that Williams will be back to being as strong as before, so much the better. We could finally say: the best has won. Without any tricks or ruses. As a matter of fact, Friday, September 12, 2003, the fastest in qualifying practice is Juan Pablo Montoya. Far away from all others except Rubens Barrichello, who is just 0.1 seconds off. The crowd is suffering, with countless red spots in the park of Monza, who has come to support the Maranello team in its most difficult moment.
"Didn’t they ban their wide tyres?"
Yes, banned, but for him, it seems that nothing has changed. Ferrari is not far off, they have recovered from the flop in Hungary and they have gotten back on track with the best they could do after 5000 kilometres of testing. In fact, Barrichello is second, and Michael Schumacher third. The world champion explains:
"If we look at Rubens’ time, we are on the same level as Williams".
But the Tifosi are watching him: why is he struggling where he once strolled? And how come is his teammate always ahead of him in qualifying? It has happened six times in a row now, from Saturday at Silverstone to Friday at Monza, with half a second gaps or more.
"I cleaned the track and I am happy to be paying the consequences. As long as the first lap of pre-qualifications is my turn, it will mean I am leading the World Championship".
With his car, Michael Schumacher has picked up some leaves and dust off the asphalt, giving an advantage to his opponents: this partly justifies the 0.6 seconds gap from his Colombian teammate, who is following him point-by-point in the standings and who is now aiming for the overtake. But the gap from Rubens Barrichello on a single flying lap has multiple explanations: in Budapest, Ferrari inflated the tyres with the wrong pressure, and on other occasions, the Brazilian dared more as he had nothing to lose (not getting a good lap on Saturday can cost the race, and with three Grand Prix to go, for the first of the class it could mean losing the title) or other times, still, it was because of small mistakes. Let us not forget the merits of Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian, loyal as always, defends his teammate:
"Michael is always the same. He can handle the pressure. The tyres? Some people hope to see us behind Williams to say that it was a mistake to raise the issue".
He also speaks well of himself:
"As I get older I am becoming a lead foot".
At 31 years old he found maturity and balance. His contract ties him to Ferrari for another season and he is earning the renewal with his results.
"It is not the time to bring it up. What matters is to always improve. In 2000, in the beginning, I had difficulties with Ferrari because the team was shaped around Schumacher. Then I carved out my space and now we are at 50%".
What about pole position?
"It’s within my reach".
Michael Schumacher is confident as well.
"Tests went well and we are always lapping around the same times as Williams. We hope to be strong. We expect an intense race".
McLaren is struggling, after the good lap times obtained during last week’s testing. Raikkonen came fifth overall and that is not bad. What comes as a surprise is the 1.3 seconds gap. Coulthard is still at the back (P14), 2.5 seconds off. As expected, Renault has not been able to repeat the exploit from Hungary: at the Monza circuit, Jarno Trulli (P7) is starting ahead of Fernando Alonso (P8). Cristiano Da Matta’s feat should be pointed out, who came fourth with Toyota. It is a matter of horsepower. On the extremely fast Monza circuit, the engine is key: in the first four positions are the three most powerful thrusters. It’s relatively easy: only the race will tell if Ferrari has recovered from the disadvantage shown especially in Hungary. The racetrack has some particular features, it brings out the power of the engine and aerodynamics. On the F2003 GA, there are many upgrades, and even Williams and McLaren seem to have brought significant changes to their single-seaters. It is a sign that the battle is not only on track but also, most of all, in the teams’ technical offices. The aerodynamics division has probably spent entire weeks in the wind tunnel while thruster developers spent even their holidays on the test bench. But all eyes are on those black and round things called tyres. During the usual Friday afternoon press conference, Ross Brawn (Ferrari), Patrick Head (Williams), Ron Dennis (McLaren), and Flavio Briatore (Renault) are in front of the microphones.
Credit where credit’s due the FIA may stumble on the study and application of regulations, but it certainly knows how to make public discussions animated and interesting. And given the controversies these days surrounding tyres and decisions taken by the FIA itself, the meeting is on fire. Of course, everyone stands their ground. A volume would not be enough to tell everything that was said. The managers of the three teams opposing Maranello formed a united front. Head attacks Brawn:
"We would like to know why you filed a complaint only in Budapest when Michelin has been using the same type of tyre for about thirty races".
The Ferrari technical director replies:
"This is not true, these excessive dimensions have been used since the Monaco GP this year".
There is talk of grey areas, that is to say, subject to different interpretations, a thesis supported particularly by Briatore:
"The rule says that the tyre is measured when it’s new. I think that FIA technicians do not even have the instruments to measure them after the race. Anyway, you cannot change a standard practice with three races to go to the end of the season, with three drivers fighting for the title in one of the most beautiful and exciting championships of the last twenty years".
When the time for questions comes, Anglo-Saxon media unite against Ferrari.
"Tell us when the Federation has ever decided against the interests of Ferrari".
At this point, Brawn snaps:
"We do not have to go way back in time. Last year we were dominating, over the winter many regulations were changed, both technical and sporting. They mixed the deck and certainly, they were not doing us a favour. We would have preferred keeping the old rules, but obviously, we accepted the new changes".
There are moments of embarrassment for Patrick Head too when he is asked if it is true that his team has done some testing outside the terms allowed and that an agreement has been signed by all team managers.
"We have done some testing on the Michelin track, but only for wet tyres, it is a matter of safety. Still, we had asked the Federation for permission and informed the other teams".
But the technician does not mention any other tests that took place on the same track owned by the French company supplying the tyres. Some credible voices in the paddock say that they tested tyre durability using an F3000 car masked as a Formula 1 car to be used in Monza. In fact, this is not considered by regulations. And it is not forbidden. But it still goes against the spirit of the regulations that ban the testing of material on track during race week. Meanwhile, BAR is having troubles within the team and with Honda who is supplying the engines, with Jacques Villeneuve who could be replaced by the Japanese, Takuma Sato, for the last race, the Japanese Grand Prix held at Suzuka. The issue is that the 1997 World Champion does not have any future prospects:
"Some say that my economic demands were too high. But I never talked about money, yet all doors have been shut for me. And I do not want to race for a minor team. I also rule out taking a year off: if they do not want me for the next World Championship, why would they hire me in 2005? Is Sato replacing me in Japan? It is laughable but everything is possible. Anyway, it would bother me, it would be humiliating".
Saturday, September 13, 2003, Michael Schumacher is back, the real one. Evil, determined, tidy on the racing lines, clean under braking. At the finishing line, the German driver raises his fist in the air. At that moment, Rubens Barrichello and Juan Pablo Montoya were yet to finish their qualifying laps, but he already understood that you could not go any faster. He had done a perfect lap, and the others could only get behind him. Montoya was extraordinary, and Barrichello pushed to the limit (but he made a small mistake at turn one); second and third. For Michael Schumacher this is the fifth pole position of the season, number 55 of his career (ten to go to reach Senna’s record), and number 165 for Ferrari. It is also the most important of this tormented and hard-fought 2003: firstly because Monza is the home Grand Prix; then because it improves the teams’ and his morale at a delicate moment. His detractors had just finished labelling him as somewhat incompetent, insinuating the doubt that he was starting to feel the weight of the years and his reflexes were not the same as before. His performance proved to be a raging response. Ferrari and Williams are similar in terms of performance. The two cars from Maranello prevail because the drivers are making a difference: Schumacher over Montoya and Barrichello over Gene (fifth), the test driver called last minute to stand in for Ralf Schumacher, who had to step down because of the injuries sustained from his accident the week before the Italian Grand Prix, during tests. At 8:00 a.m. Ralf Schumacher was excited as he arrived at the track. Shortly afterwards he left to head back home to Salzburg, with a grey face and his mouth closed. After free practice and qualifying on Friday, Ralf Schumacher was replaced by Marc Gene, a Spanish test driver from Sabadell, 29 years old, three of which spent as a Williams test driver, ex-Minardi driver.
"In agreement with Sid Watkins, FIA doctor, because he did not feel at 100% as a consequence of the injuries from last week’s accident, Ralf decided to not go ahead, and he will rest for a couple of days".
Schumacher and Montoya lock out the first row, then. Historical rivals, leaders of the standings, separated by one point in the standings and by half a tenth of a second over a single lap, here at Monza, side-by-side, a great part of the World Championship is to play for. At the start, the driver does not matter that much; the two electronic starting systems that so far have proven to be on a level playing field will be up against each other. The Ferrari driver is the favourite because he will start from the clean side of the track. Even stronger emotions at the first chicane, a very tight S where drivers reach 70 km/h after braking with a high risk of collisions. Kimi Raikkonen, starting fourth, is not giving up. He is third wheeling, so far always behind on the extremely fast Monza circuit, but he is ready to take advantage of others’ mistakes and exploit the reliability of the Mercedes engine. Renault: a good Jarno Trulli starting from the third row, while Alonso will start from the back after he lost traction control and spun. With regards to tyres, for a day at least there will not be any talks of issues with the regulations. Narrower Michelin tyres seem to work perfectly well on the Williams, but other teams using Bridgestone are now sneaking up in the upper parts of the field: other than the two Ferrari, there is Jenson Button starting seventh and Jacques Villeneuve tenth. Maybe it is not by chance. The team from Maranello has been collecting data from last week’s massive effort, from the 5000 kilometres of testing, from the new aerodynamic and engine components introduced on the F2003-GA for this Italian Grand Prix. Horsepower will also be decisive, over 900 for the Ferrari V10, pushing Michael Schumacher to reach a speed of 362.5 km/H; an impressive result, taking into consideration the fuel load. But in the end, with a very balanced situation, it will come down to the details. Having the right strategy, a faster pit stop or some lucky situation. And if the balance continues, the drivers will make a difference. For now, Michael Schumacher smiles as if he took a weight off his shoulders, Juan Pablo Montoya is, as always, cheeky and careless. The first is cheering as he crosses the line, and the other serenely confesses that as soon as he was told that he missed the pole, he said some unspeakable words.
Michael Schumacher dedicates the comeback to the guys back in Maranello who have worked day and night to give him a super Ferrari. A pole position after eight Grand Prix:
"It is good to know that we are back".
Understanding how much the performance over a single lap is worth before the end of qualifying is probably part of the DNA of a champion.
"I was surprised to see I set such a quick lap. I am very happy, for me and my team, because results are the best way to motivate people. I have a match point that I will try to take advantage of".
What has changed in the F2003 GA? What led to this quantum leap compared to the Hungarian Grand Prix?
"Aerodynamics and engine are the two areas in which we improved the most. An amazing work. Bridgestone did its part as well, supplying us with great tyres. Not that they weren’t great before, only now the situation has changed a lot".
What follows is a reply to the criticism that has rained down on him:
"We corrected some inaccurate representations and restore the truth. We have taken some pressure off ourselves. In the last two races, we were not able to extract performance out of the car, here instead we managed to do that".
Is the crisis over?
"Who knows, the criticism never ends, but we are used to that. I have always believed in our strength and as I said many times, I knew we would come back to the front. Now, I am happy to have shown it on track as well. It’s the best we can offer to our Tifosi".
The German driver has a good feeling about the race, the third to last of the season. He analysed his time in the three sectors in which the track is ideally divided and he realised that he was faster than anyone. In particular, his advantage over Montoya built over the last sector, while in the first two, their performances were equal.
"On the straights, Rubens and I are 5 km/h faster than the others. It is a good sign. In sports, you experience ups and downs. We have been unlucky, we were slightly inferior in a couple of circumstances, and now we are back where we deserve to be".
What about Ralf being excluded?
"It’s a shame he is not racing, but I think it is a sensible decision. After an accident, you may seem to have recovered, but you are not when you have to drive at three hundred kilometres an hour. Formula 1 is dangerous if you are not in excellent shape physically".
Rubens Barrichello is ready to help his teammate:
"Maybe by winning. It will be a long race, unfortunately, I made a small mistake at turn 1 and lost some speed into turn 2. In the second part of the track, I had the pace of Michael and Juan Pablo. I could not make up for the time lost given that they were extremely quick. Anyway, being back in the first two rows of the field gives me great satisfaction".
Even Montoya recognises Ferrari’s progress.
"If Schumacher makes a good start, it will be difficult to catch him".
Praising him up to this point. Then he goes back to teasing, making jokes and poking fun. He makes time for cameras and notebooks way over the established time because he enjoys telling tall tales.
"I feel strong. From my debut in Formula 1, a couple of years ago, I improved a lot. Before I was only trying to go fast, then I learnt to interact with the technicians, to understand the tracks and to make the most of the car".
Would winning a World Championship two years from now, maybe when Michael Schumacher is retired, have the same value?
"Of course. He did not win when Senna was here and no one said that his titles were worth any less because of this. He is a good driver, and there are others like him, such as me, Raikkonen or Barrichello".
Are you nervous about the race?
"Far from it. When I leave the track I think about other things".
At the end of qualifying, Ferrari’s president, Luca Montezemolo squeezes his driver in a hug and he does not even wait for questions:
"I am happy, especially for Michael and the criticism received these past few days only make me smile. This lap gives me huge satisfaction, someone forgot too early that our car only won three Grand Prix and we are leading the World Championship".
All in one breath, with shining satisfaction and the smile of someone who is ready to come back:
"This is proof that we are still hungry. The drivers are not robots, there was a setback, but the team performed very well today. Barrichello also had a great lap. The Ferrari-Bridgestone duo proved to be perfect once again".
No one wants to talk about tyres but everyone uses them to have a go at others:
"There is no sport in the world where you can stay four years in the front keeping your competitors at a distance. We have had problems in Hockenheim and especially in Hungary, others have improved, but when you see Jaguar and Renault being this fast you start having some doubts".
In the Renault garage, there are only long faces, with Alonso wasting his good lap, Briatore shaking his head, and moments of disappointment that make the rounds on the screens scattered around the motorhome. Then, Ferrari’s president does not want to talk about the constructors’ meeting:
"I would say we did not reach any conclusions, but we will not drag it out like they do with football, there are deadlines, but we will see".
Then he jokes on the phone with Minister Lunardi:
"We went over all the speed limits, do not take points off our licenses".
As tension wears off and the paddock is brought back to life after holding its breath. Giuseppe Morchio, Fiat Group’s CEO, does not want to be taken for a lucky charm:
"It is the first time I have come to see a Grand Prix with Ferrari but it is not a debut, I have worked in Formula 1".
There is some room to relax and the desire for payback slips away with a pat on the back and some praise. The World Championship is oscillating between three points, with Montoya grumbling, Raikkonen going straight, Schumacher conceding some sparks of optimism, Megan Gale strutting about with some dubious heels and a fan from Bahrain wearing a turban and a sponsored Bmw jacket running around looking for autographs. He is already thinking about the race he will have at home next year while the others are setting aside their lap times and focusing on the race.
"Good for the fans, less good for me".
Montezemolo admits that he will miss it: on Sunday he will not be at Monza, leaving the Tifosi to hype up the atmosphere. He has already done that in Hungary and it seems that it has worked:
"Criticism was directed at everyone, including me; the president at times has to take off his suit and put on the overalls".
Many would like to have those overalls around here: including Albertini, the mayor of Milan:
"Can you let me try the single-seater?"
Models hanging around with their see-through dresses (given the lack of fabric, they would need overalls) and especially the Tifosi, though there are not that many, but together, with their hats and the Prancing Horse on their heads, they would push the car if they could. They won a lot but they want more, they try to improvise a Mexican wave outside the gates and they are not making an effort with their signs either. The most creative one is a sheet that reads:
"At Monza, all in on the red".
They do not seem very organized, they rely on their authenticity and loyalty. They are not flashy and they cultivate a deep love that they keep inside of them. Instead of Schumacher becoming more Latin, it is the Tifosi who are becoming a bit German. Cold, but ready to go wild for the next win, the same as Michael, with a poker face only on the surface but then capable of giving goosebumps all of a sudden, just like after yesterday’s pole. They are also waiting, now that they are used to winning and this thrilling World Championship can be exciting for them only if it ends as usual.
Sunday, September 14, 2003, at the start of the Italian Grand Prix Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya keep their first positions. Behind them, Jarno Trulli who made a very aggressive start, while at the centre of the group, Justin Wilson, had to start in second gear because of a problem with the gearbox on his Jaguar, he started slowly, wreaking some havoc for the drivers starting behind him. Jos Verstappen and Fernando Alonso were damaged the most from this situation, with the latter violently rear-ending the Dutch Minardi driver: both were forced to return to the pits to repair the damage to their cars. Over the course of the first lap, Juan Pablo Montoya tried to overtake Michael Schumacher at the Variante della Roggia. The two went into the variant side by side, also coming into contact, but the German had the upper hand, defending from his rival’s attack. Jarno Trulli is forced to retire after a few corners already due to engine problems, making way for Rubens Barrichello, Kimi Raikkonen, David Coulthard, Marc Gene, Olivier Panis and Jacques Villeneuve. Leading the race, Michael Schumacher has an advantage that is growing more and more over Juan Pablo Montoya, who needs to watch his back from the attacks by Rubens Barrichello, while Kimi Raikkonen was slightly further behind. The first drivers of the leading group to refuel were David Coulthard and Oliver Panis on lap 11. Two laps later, Kimi Raikkonen and Marc Gene return to the pits as well, while Rubens Barrichello makes his first stop a lap later. Michael Schumacher stops to refuel on lap 15, a lap later also Juan Pablo Montoya returns to the pits and comes back on track behind his rival. After the first round of pit stops, Juan Pablo Montoya starts reducing his gap from Michael Schumacher, while Rubens Barrichello is slowed down by a set of tyres that is not particularly effective, and he struggles to stay in front of Kimi Raikkonen. A bit behind, David Coulthard maintains his fifth position in front of Marc Gene and Jacques Villeneuve, who overtook Olivier Panis. The duel between the first two is very intense, with Juan Pablo Montoya who is gradually gaining on his opponent up to the point there is only a one-second gap, just before the second round of pit stops, beginning on lap 31 with Rubens Barrichello.
A lap later also Juan Pablo Montoya and David Coulthard come in to refuel, and on lap 34 Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen return to the pits as well. The German driver re-enters the track ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya, retaking the lead of the race, when Marc Gene comes into the pits too on lap 35. Then, Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya are back to their duel for the lead of the race: the gap between them is around 1.5 seconds but while lapping Heinz-Harald Frentzen (who had climbed back up in eighth position thanks to Olivier Panis’s retirement) the Colombian even loses a second. From this moment on, Juan Pablo Montoya is unable to keep up with his rival’s pace anymore, starting to accumulate an increasingly consistent gap. Rubens Barrichello is also slightly pulling ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, while on lap 45 David Coulthard retires due to his Mercedes engine breaking on his McLaren. As a result of this, Mark Webber moves up one position. In the last stages of the race, there are no other noteworthy events, except for Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s retirement due to technical issues, therefore Michael Schumacher wins the Italian Grand Prix, crossing the line ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya, Rubens Barrichello, Kimi Raikkonen, Marc Gene, Jacques Villeneuve, Mark Webber, and Fernando Alonso, who overtakes Nick Heidfeld on the last lap, taking the last point up for grabs. It was a race – like the whole weekend – full of tensions, on edge, and it tipped in favour of Michael Schumacher only in the last laps, involved in a close-up fight with Juan Pablo Montoya. All it took was the smallest mistake, a slip-up coming out of nowhere, to overturn the result. Winning is always a challenge, even more so, when you are basically obliged to do it. Pole position, the success of the German champion, and the third place of Rubens Barrichello (that is not to be taken for granted) were all necessary not only to maintain the leadership in the standings of the Drivers’ Championship and close the gap to Williams-Bmw in the Constructors’ Championship, but it was also and mainly to have some confirmations and a confidence boost after some races that were not really brilliant. Now comes the most difficult part.
Two races overseas, the first in two weeks in the United States on the hybrid track in Indianapolis, then the grand finale in Suzuka, Japan, on Sunday, October 12, 2003, where Formula 1 will be up against an extremely demanding track. It goes without saying that technicians and drivers know these tracks by heart. They have at their disposal thousands of data to set up the cars. But, given that testing is never held on these circuits, and since cars and tyres are completely different from previous years, there are a lot of variables at play. It is extremely hard to make predictions. In terms of tradition and statistics, one could say that the United States and the Japanese Grand Prix predictions should be in favour of Ferrari. We have been racing in Indianapolis for three years, in modern times; and there have won, in order, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello. In the last six editions on the circuit in Suzuka, four successes by the German champion and two by Mika Hakkinen, with Michael being able to score three first places consecutively from 2000 to 2002. But, as has been said, many things have changed and one must acknowledge that especially Williams has made a lot of progress. Theoretically, at the end of September and in the first half of October the weather should be milder, and that should give more chances to those fitting Bridgestone tyres, especially if it were to rain. The layout of the tracks, instead, could push Williams-Bmw and McLaren-Mercedes, which – as they have shown – behave better on tortuous circuits. Nevertheless, there is another issue that needs to be addressed: are narrower Michelin tyres as competitive as wider tyres have been in the central part of the season? Anyways, the setups of the cars will also be decisive. The F2003-GA seems to particularly like straights or fast sectors. Williams was unstoppable at Magny-Cours, a track with a lot of high-speed corners. Hence, it is not possible to make a sensible prediction. The only thing that is for sure is the effort the teams will pour into the track in the following weeks. While Williams will be at Silverstone and McLaren at Barcelona, Ferrari will be busy on three fronts. Only Rubens Barrichello will be resting as he arrived back home to stay with his family. Michael Schumacher, instead, will be testing from Tuesday to Thursday at the circuit in Jerez, Spain; then Felipe Massa in Monza and from Thursday, Luca Badoer in Fiorano.
Not leaving any stones unturned. He is not called ‘the cannibal’ by chance: Michael Schumacher is a devourer, not only of teammates and rivals but of records too. These days the German champion has set a whole new set of records. Though the two obtained during the race are historic; on lap 35, taking the slipstream off the Sauber-Petronas driven by Nick Heidfeld at the end of the pit straight, before braking, the Ferrari driver reached a speed of 368.8 km/h, the highest ever achieved by a Formula 1 car in a championship race. And then he beat the record that had lasted since 1971, of the average speed during a race, which was 242.615 km/h, set in Monza by Peter Gethin on a B.R.M. Michael averaged a speed of 247.585 km/h for a total race time of one hour 14'19"838. Instead, the fastest speed record of 363.2 km/h was held by Jean Alesi who had set it on a Jordan in 2001. One must also say that the old record set by the Frenchman was also beaten at the Italian Grand Prix by Marc Gene, Rubens Barrichello, Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard, Cristiano Da Matta, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Jenson Button. This goes to show that cars, despite the restrictions imposed to slow them down, are only getting faster thanks to sophisticated aerodynamics and engines with over 900 HP that for a while have been limited to a three-litre displacement. But the fact is that Michael Schumacher has once again written his name in the Hall of Fame of records and that will remain for at least a year. On his Italian ride, the Ferrari driver obviously pushed all of his personal limits. In short; win number 69 out of 193 races (number 50 with Ferrari), and pole position number 55 (he is ten away from Ayrton Senna). With this success, the German has now reached the Brazilian legend in the number of races won starting from pole, 29 exactly. Another record is the number of points scored; 1027 (the second is Alain Prost with 798.5 points). It is clear that his result has improved Ferrari’s numbers as well: 165 wins, 165 pole positions, and 166 fastest laps of the race. And, speaking of fastest laps, that of Michael Schumacher, the fourteenth in 1'21"832 has registered an average of 254.848 km/h. It could be the highest speed ever recorded in Formula 1, but it is not official, because the speeds set when they raced at Indianapolis from 1950 to 1960, when they were only racing on the high-speed oval, were not recorded.
The German is also close to the record of the average of points/race. Fangio, only taking part in 51 races, had obtained an average of 5.44 points, while Michael Schumacher comes close, in second place, clear of Ascari with an average of 5.32 points. Of course, the record of titles won (five like Fangio), the World Championship won the most in advance (2002 in Magny-Cours on Sunday, July 21, 2002), wins in a season (eleven in 2002), and that of 1-2 finishes (fifteen together with Barrichello) are all still his. Moreover, the record of races in which he scored points (144 out of 193), in which he finished on the podium (121 out of 193), of hat-tricks (pole, fastest lap and win) which are 15. Finally, but the figures have been lost, the kilometres in the lead of the race, laps in the lead, and the most consecutive number of Grand Prix finishes in the points (24). Where could he arrive?
"Today is the best day of my career".
After 69 wins in Formula 1 and five world titles, Michael Schumacher still gets excited after winning a race. It is not hard to read his mind; he began to believe those saying he was on the decline. He was suffering because of it these days. But in Monza, he showed who is the best. The determination and courage in the first corners, when he had to keep Montoya behind at all costs, technique when he had to extend his lead, and intelligence when he needed to keep his opponent’s comeback under control. It is a small personal victory; lapping Alonso on lap 9, then again on lap 23. In Hungary, he was subject to one but he did not take it well.
"I am thankful for all the guys at Ferrari, from the mechanics to those in charge of cleaning. They were all motivated and they have more than 100 per cent. I love them all".
And they, the guys of the team from Maranello, rush into the pits to make him a cake on the fly with fifty candles, his wins with Ferrari from 1996 up to today. Then they sing: ‘Sei un Mito’ (You are a Myth).
"This result is the best way to motivate them".
Speed makes him human. 368.8 km/h is scary if you think about it. Only winning affects him. He is born to race, he has the DNA to dominate.
"Have you seen the duel with Juan Pablo? Hard racing but fair, that is what people love to see. And I won".
And then he talks about technical details:
"After the start, at the end of the straight I locked up and I almost cut the chicane. I had to choose between going straight or making the wrong trajectory and I opted for the second solution, even though I could have lost the first place. And it almost happened because Montoya and I were side by side. It was key to maintain the position".
Special emotions, those in Monza:
"I was coming from two races which ended badly. Then there is the fact of the fifty wins driving for Ferrari, the importance of the ten points which could be worth my sixth world title, and the satisfaction of seeing our amazing rejoicing".
Is the crisis over? No one can say that Michael Schumacher is an ex-champion anymore.
"I never stopped believing in ourselves. Bad moments come and go. The objective was to pull ahead of Montoya; you see how important it is to have a three-point advantage with two races to go".
There was a critical moment between the first and the second pit stop.
"Juan Pablo was getting closer. I don’t know why but the second set of tyres didn’t work as well as the first and third. Anyways, in the last part, I was able to make up for it".
"Still uncertain. Here in Monza, we had an excellent aerodynamic package and an extraordinary engine that helped us a lot. Our starting system was perfectioned as well. We need to keep working, as those who will improve the most will get the title".
What about the future?
"Now, I don’t care. Before I have to analyse the race with the engineers because we can’t overlook anything. Only then I will think about relaxing. As far as I remember, Indianapolis is a circuit with similar characteristics to this. Hence, I have a good feeling about this".
Is it an additional satisfaction to win the fastest Grand Prix of all time?
"No, I care more about the ten points".
Talking with Michael Schumacher about records and statistics is useless. He says that he will think about it once he retires. After finishing the first lap unscathed, the most exciting moment for the German driver was the re-entry into the track after the second pit stop.
"I saw a Williams zooming past me, I thought it was Montoya and I was wondering how that was possible. The math was not adding up. I was sure I had some margin over him and that we had a fast pit stop. It took me a while to realise it was Gene. Even in the garage, it took them a bit to realise what had happened. I stepped on the accelerator like a madman until I had confirmation of it. Tensions did not ease off immediately. I kept worrying until I saw that Juan Pablo was being slowed down by lapped cars and their traffic".
On the podium, the German makes his typical jump, with his legs wide open and only raising one arm. The last time was on Sunday, June 15, 2003, in Canada. During the national anthems, he yields to a habit criticized three years ago by Francesco Cossiga; moving his hands to Mameli’s hymn, miming an orchestra conductor. He only does it for a moment, which the ex-president of the Republic will forgive.
In the end, Schumacher waves to a frenzied red crowd from the top of the Monza podium, a round platform hanging above the track.
"From up there it is quite an impressive sight. Once again, thank you. To everyone".
There is no more time for blustering. When Juan Pablo Montoya swears on the radio after crossing the finish line, it is not yet another selfish curse word. It is a genuine, and at times desperate, outburst of someone who knows they have done their best, yet they have missed out on something. Points, the highest step on the podium, the chance to see Michael Schumacher behind you, and perhaps, even the whim of celebrating in front of an all-red crowd. That would have been a sneer, but the Colombian’s look is now serious. He does not shrug his shoulders as usual, he does not grumble, and he does not mix sentences with self-pleased giggles, he speaks out clearly and blames Heinz-Harald Frentzen who slowed him down when he was being lapped.
"He made lose two years of life".
And precious seconds, although even he does not know how many. According to official timings, it was one, the Williams driver claims it was one and a half in the press conference and more than five in an interview on television. It does not matter much, overstatements do not change anything, and there his chase was over:
"There was a parade of blue flags, I realised that it was over and, yes, the idea that Frentzen was on a car with a Ferrari engine and Bridgestone tyres did cross my mind. Then there was also the Jordan driver, what is his name, Baum…Baum something".
The full name, Baumgartner, was suggested to him, he nods, which is the only witty remark of the day. The Colombian had a proud look on his face and a clear conscience, he had a great start and the German managed to keep him behind, he pushed the car to the limit, taking advantage of every kerb, but there was someone there in front who would not hear of it. There, in front, was a perfect Schumacher and Montoya has no problem admitting it:
"Probably I would have never been able to pass him, it was clear that on this track they were too quick. Still, I could have tried until the end, and instead, the lapping festival prevented me from being able to do so".
It is unclear who was the first to decide that it was better to hold on to the eight points of the second place and avoid risks. Patrick Head, technical director and Williams co-owner maintains it was the driver’s choice, the driver in question simply thinks there was nothing to choose.
"At that point, it made no sense to force it, there are still two races to go and it is there that the World Championship is to play for".
His team needs to get a move on:
"And be in front in Indianapolis, because Suzuka is a track that suits Ferrari better".
But Montoya has already thought about the next Grands Prix in his car when he had to secure the points, and now he no longer feels like it. He only sees the film from this race, from this track and regret makes him feel cold. Now, strangely, the restless Montoya seems like his opposite, Kimi Raikkonen, another one who does not give up.
"I am not giving up, even today I tried overtaking Barrichello, but he was unstoppable on the straight, on the straights we definitely need to increase our power. We will work on that before heading to Indianapolis. Michael had a brilliant race, but we are all still there".
The Fin does not even have the right car, but he does not want to give in, the points are still up for the taking, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen today look at them with the same gap and the same desire. One is more aggressive, and he is always up for some banter, the other is imperturbable and does not know irony, differences of personality, not of strategy; as they are both cold-blooded drivers. In Monza they had to do the math, choosing not to take unnecessary risks, but the time will come when they have to go all in and it is not a good idea to waste it. There in front is a monster that does not make any mistakes and collects record after record, and to stop him from breaking another one by taking the sixth consecutive world title you have to be sharp, and his opponents know it. Even Montoya, who avoids all moves, shots and provocative glances, the repertoire of the cocky driver is set aside for a while. Waiting for some good acceleration, provided that Michael Schumacher leaves him one. Given that the Ferrari driver is getting ready to play the match point that is worth his sixth world title, the fourth consecutive, other than a ton of records, glory, and money. Sunday, September 28, 2003, he could secure the title: he needs 7 points more than Juan Pablo Montoya and 3 more than Kimi Raikkonen, the rivals that have kept him busy since the beginning of the season until the last corners at the Italian Grand Prix. And they are not giving up. Alternatively, the flying German would only need a win and a fourth place in the two final races, that in the United States and the next in Japan.
"We need to score points, we are already working on it".
The smiles are back, after the bitter return from Budapest. Tuesday, September 16, 2003, Michael Schumacher will turn his engine on again at the Spanish circuit of Jerez, whose tortuous track recalls the twisty part of Indianapolis, added to the mythical oval, so as to adapt it to the rhythm of Formula 1. At the same time, as already said, there are some tests scheduled in Monza with Felipe Massa (two days, starting today) and in Fiorano with Luca Badoer from Thursday to Saturday. Tradition is more favourable to the team from Maranello: since 2000 a car from Maranello has always won both in Indy and Suzuka. Japan in particular is the personal turf of the German driver who has won five times there, the first time driving for Benetton.
"You have been perfect".
As Luca Montezemolo reiterates in the usual post-race debriefing on Monday. The men, the team and the drivers were perfect; the car, which apart from winning in front of the home crowd, has set the most fascinating record in motor racing, that is the speed. No one had ever been this fast behind the wheel of a Formula 1 single-seater. From the race analysis, what emerges is that Michael Schumacher drove as in his best moments, Rubens Barrichello was excellent at keeping up with the pace of the Colombian first and then keeping Kimi Raikkonen behind, and the engine designed and built in Maranello performed almost as well as the BMW. Jean Todt summarises:
"We have overcome a major obstacle, now we have two more to go. What mattered was to reverse the trend of the last few races".
Ferrari’s head of Gestione Sportiva admits he had some fear, but not when Montoya was attacking Schumacher:
"When Michael finished his second pit stop and he re-entered the track, there was a Williams ahead of him. I was afraid it was the Colombian driver, although I did not understand how he could already be there. Luckily, it was Gene".
The keyword in Maranello is to stay on alert.
"In Monza, we fought with grit and determination that it seemed we had never won a Grand Prix. It is this hunger for results that drives us. The season finale? The Indianapolis Circuit is a mixture of Montreal and Monza, two tracks where we won. In Suzuka, the driver can make the difference".
And Michael Schumacher has once again proven he is the greatest. Another element is in favour of Ferrari: tyres. The new Michelin with narrower treads, which in Monza still behaved well, could slow Williams and McLaren down on slower tracks. Controversies?
"Rules have not changed. The FIA simply gave the right interpretation, it is clear that the one given by our opponents was not right".
Bridgestone are at home in Suzuka and for a while, they have been experimenting with custom-made tyres for the Japanese track. In Maranello, they are counting on it because if the Drivers World Championship is favourable to the team's ambitions, instead the battle for the Constructors World Championship is still tough with Williams-Bmw leading the standings with 141 points against 137 of Maranello’s team. It should not be ruled out that in the United States, Marc Gene will race again to replace Ralf Schumacher. The Anglo-German team maintains that Michael’s brother did not make a full recovery after the accident during the tests before the Italian Grand Prix. The German Williams driver claimed he had recovered and on Friday he did the pre-qualifying. The following morning, Frank Williams sent him back home, fuelling some suspicions, among which the possibility that he may be helping out his brother instead of his teammate.