The wall that the other teams had tried to build around Ferrari to isolate Scuderia Ferrari, after the latter had signed a deal with Bernie Ecclestone to compete in the Formula 1 World Championship until 2012, seems to be falling apart. The British manager suggests this, saying that two teams have signed the new Concordia pact. According to reliable reports, they would be Red Bull Racing and Jordan. Negotiations would also be ongoing with the Swiss people at Sauber. For the time being, Mercedes-McLaren, Bmw-Williams, Renault, Toyota and Honda-BAR keep their position, but Ecclestone himself makes it known that an alternative championship cannot be created easily, as his organization has the majority of circuits interested in hosting a World Championship round under contract for a long time. In any case, as it is known, Flavio Briatore organised a conference that will take place in the South of Italy, in Puglia, after the Bahrain Grand Prix, to discuss the current problems with the interested parties in depth. Meanwhile, Ferrari continues the tests at Jerez where, on Thursday, March 10, 2005, Marc Gené and Luca Badoer will also drive the F2004M and the F2005. The Spanish driver is going to work on the development of the Bridgestone tyres, while the Italian driver will continue the tuning of the set-up of the new single-seater. The Maranello team would have chosen not to replace the engine on the car used by Michael Schumacher in Australia, which had run just 43 laps. A decision also intended to literally interpret the spirit of the regulation according to which a power unit, if it does not break, must last for two races. As a consequence, that same V10 will be used during the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The situation would thus make it possible to make the F2005 debut in the third race of the season during the round disputed in the United Arab Emirates, anticipating the debut that was initially expected for the Spanish Grand Prix, the fifth round of the World Championship. A lot will depend on the results of the coming tests. So far, no significant issues have been found on the single-seater. A decision that will however be taken only at the last moment, when Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello will also have had the opportunity to test the F2005 after the race in Malaysia, since at the moment the two race drivers are still on vacation. Before managing to schedule the debut, Ferrari will also have to wait to be sure of having at least three chassis available, the minimum allowed to face a race. The data collected so far are considered positive and therefore it is not excluded that the anticipation will be implemented. On Wednesday, March 16, 2005, at Sepang, a district of the Malaysian capital city Kuala Limpur and home to the circuit, Giancarlo Fisichella comes first in class. Renault's Italian driver arrives in Malaysia, displaying a pallor from late winter, unlike his colleagues who have spent a few days of vacation at the seaside in this part of the world. He had returned home quickly because his son Christopher, 2 years old, had been hospitalized on the eve of the Australian race for gastroenteritis, now cured. After thinking about not racing in Melbourne, now Giancarlo Fisichella is ready to defend his lead.
"I've received an exceptional welcome in Italy. Just think that Todt wrote me a letter of congratulations".
The Australian journalists have supported a theorem: give Fisichella a competitive car and he will beat Schumacher.
"Indeed, we managed to do it at the first opportunity and I'll try to do it again. However, it was the rain that cut Michael out of qualifying".
Schumacher does not care about the rumours coming from Germany - and reported by Bild - about an alleged pact against him, an agreement between the drivers to treat him in the same way as he treated the German Nick Heidfeld in Melbourne, who ended up off-track. The Ferrari F2005 continues on the fast track - 110 laps in Fiorano with Luca Badoer - a fine-tuning job that could anticipate its debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix, in less than twenty days. The tests with both race drivers after their return from Malaysia will be decisive. However, there is a crisis in the air for Jacques Villeneuve. The Canadian driver risks an early firing for poor performance. Sauber, whose main sponsor is the Malaysian oil company, is in contact with Anthony Davidson, a BAR development driver, and is reprimanded by the Federation for having withdrawn the two drivers in Australia one lap from the end to get around the regulations and be able to replace the engines without penalty.
Starting from the Malaysian Grand Prix, the retirements will be justified.
"The Malaysian Grand Prix? It's like running 20 kilometres on foot at the Equator around midday".
After so much concern about tyre wear, which risks melting because of the heat, and the engines that have already run 700 kilometres in Melbourne, Michael Schumacher raised his voice to draw attention to the human factor in Formula 1. The race of Sepang, the second round of the season, is the hottest of the World Championship: more than 35 °C, over 60% humidity. Continuously, day and night. Let's add that drivers naturally wear a helmet and a heavy fireproof racing suit, which protects from fire, not from the sun, and they get crushed for an hour and a half in a narrow cockpit for aerodynamic reasons and are subjected to acceleration forces equal to those of a fighter jet. Common sense - and doctors - strongly advise against dealing with prolonged efforts in these climatic conditions, but drivers for once fall into Ironman's shoes. The training differences translate into tenths of a second, especially in the last laps. The most prepared, lo and behold, is always Michael Schumacher. No one ever saw him sweat. After the Australian Grand Prix, he had moved to an island in Malaysia and had treated his physique with the usual, painstaking meticulousness: running under the sun to acclimatise, gymnastics, massages, hydration. And football:
"I always play football, wherever I am. It's the most fun method to stay fit".
Inside the car, the drivers bring a bag of water and mineral salts from which they sip during the race through a straw. Some drivers put their racing suits and helmets in the fridge until just a few minutes before the race. Stratagems that do not change the substance: the Malaysian Grand Prix remains a test of strength for men and their means. Where Ferrari want their revenge. In Melbourne, they have collected the second place of Rubens Barrichello and the retirement of Michael Schumacher because of a crash with Nick Heidfeld.
"For me, the World Championship starts now. With a qualifying session without rain, given the lap times, I would have fought for the win. The F2004M is faster than we expected".
How come Renault is ahead?
"Because they worked well".
Isn't there an urgent need for the F2005 to make its debut?
"It's not a matter of urgency: when it will be ready, we'll use it. Before developing it, we were thinking that the ideal date for its debut was on May 18 in Spain, but if the tests that Rubens and I will do at the Mugello go well, we'll anticipate its debut on April 3 in Bahrain".
Will the Ferrari domination from 2004 come back at this moment?
"I sure hope so".
The crash with Heidfeld is settled with a joke. Did you close his trajectory because he was trying to overtake on the right?
"No, I would have blocked him even on the left. Jokes aside, we are adults and we'll clear this up without any problems".
Rubens Barrichello also claims that the World Championship starts now:
"The engines are the same ones used two weeks ago, let's see if they'll push like in Australia. I can do it, our Ferrari is ultra-reliable. The second place? I also started like that last year. The difference is that Michael won that time, but he is not my reference point: I only have the goal to arrive first".
What about your rivals?
"Renault and McLaren are on our level, the others are further back".
Fernando Alonso or Giancarlo Fisichella?
"Fisichella, because he has more experience. Still, they are a great pair. Don't ask me for predictions because, this year, we can't understand anything. In Brazil, everyone asked me about the new regulations. I had to explain them to my father, then to my grandfather... A mess".
Some of the back stories of the race in Australia are revealed. Kimi Räikkönen admits:
"At the start, my car stalled because I released the clutch control too much. It was my mistake".
But the McLaren Finnish driver cares about precision:
"Don't say that I pressed the wrong button because it's not true".
Flavio Briatore argues an original thesis: Renault is the most Italian team in Formula 1.
"For sure: we have the blue racing suits, the colour of the Italian national team. Besides, it's also a more relaxing tint".
Is it the only reason? The French players also have similar colours...
"Ferrari has a French team manager and I am Italian, our drivers speak Italian, one of them is Italian and many Italians support him".
Aside from patriotic and chromatic issues, many credit you for having spiced up Formula 1.
"It's true. After all, it's more interesting to watch Juventus-Real Madrid rather than Juventus-Lecce, with all due respect for Lecce. If someone starts to beat Ferrari on track, the result becomes uncertain and the public follows the races more willingly".
What kind of race do you expect here in Sepang?
"In 2004, I had said: I want Renault in the points at every race. This year, the goal moves forward: I always want a Renault on the podium".
In Australia, there were even both cars on the podium with the win of Fisichella and third place of Alonso.
"We got more than we expected, but we could have even scored a 1-2 if Alonso hadn’t lost that much time behind the Sauber of Villeneuve".
Well, if Alonso had been in a position to attack his teammate, how would you have behaved in the pits?
"No team orders. Our drivers are paid to do their best for the team, to battle without damaging themselves. If one gets pole and doesn't make mistakes at the start, his teammate can't attack him. There's no need to give team orders: this is just common sense".
The last time an Italian driver won a Formula 1 World Championship was Ascari in 1953. Do you dream of being the team manager who will succeed?
"Relax, Giancarlo has only won the first Grand Prix. Now, we think about Malaysia. One step at a time, what's important is to keep developing the car, race after race".
The new regulations promised a great show, but nothing new was seen in Australia. Would you change something?
"Satisfying everyone is impossible. Let's wait some races, we'll talk about it after Imola. The qualifying sessions, for example, have been conditioned by the rain. In normal conditions, in the Saturday session, we'll see who is the absolute fastest, while strategies matter in the Sunday session. Perhaps, someone gives the pole position up because of twenty extra kilos of fuel".
A mess broke out on the engines, until the Federation intervened...
"Everyone here at Sepang uses the same engine used in Melbourne, except for Honda, who made the cunning trick to stop its cars at the last lap in Australia to exploit a loophole in the regulation. From now on, who retires will have to provide a justification".
McLaren finished fifth last year so, now, they can use a third driver during the Friday tests: do you think that it is an unfair advantage?
"No, the third car is used to help the weakest teams".
Does Michelin provide you with the information collected by other teams' third drivers?
"For now, no, but if they really care about winning, they'll do it".
In an interview with a Spanish newspaper, Jean Todt would have defined Fernando Alonso as the best Formula 1 driver.
"I thought that it was Michael Schumacher... I appreciate it, since Fernando is in our team".
Someone talked of a climate where Flavio Briatore and Renault are separated but still living together.
Bullshit that makes you nervous?
"After fifteen years in Formula 1, you need something more to make me angry".
And Giancarlo Fisichella announces an Italian derby in Formula 1:
"Attention: the big favorite here, in Malaysia, is Ferrari".
Winner in Australia of the first race of 2005, the Italian driver is worried about the Maranello team. His prediction is expressed on Friday, March 18, 2005, at the end of the first day of free practice, despite Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher finishing in seventh and eighth position respectively. What did you see beyond the lap time?
"They are the point of reference. During the race, they will be competitive again".
It is not only a matter of fair play and superstition. Michael Schumacher is the fastest in the first session behind the three development drivers of that Friday (Ricardo Zonta for Toyota, Pedro De La Rosa for McLaren and Vitantonio Liuzzi for Red Bull Racing), who are very fast because they have low fuel loads. During the second session, the F2004M did not seem to be very fast, but the German driver was not worried.
"Friday is there to choose which tyres to use during the race. I put on new tyres in the first session, with the dirty asphalt, and used ones in the second session. It's logical that I don't manage to improve".
The others did the contrary, driving with new tyres when the track was in better condition. Another strength of the Maranello team is their reliability. The 2005 regulations state that the engines have to last for two weekends, thus they all went out on track with the same power unit used in Melbourne. Everyone except those who did not finish the first race: Nick Heidfeld (Williams-Bmw), Jenson Button and Takuma Satō (BAR-Honda) proceeded to change it. Michael Schumacher, who could have also taken advantage of it, did not do it. It's partly a reason of opportunity and a matter of strength: Schumacher did more kilometres than all of the other drivers. The reliability of the engines from Maranello could become an advantage, a sign that their car is not afraid of the heat of Sepang, neither the 40 °C of the air nor the 57 °C of the track.
"The F2004M is an old lady but it still seems rather in shape".
Claims the World Champion, optimistic as during the days in which he was one second ahead of everyone.
"Why do I argue that we're in good shape? Because I've seen Rubens' lap times".
In short, in this World Championship full of subverted values, of the unexpected, and of uncertainty, emerges a Rubens Barrichello leader in Ferrari, and not only for the eight points in the standings.
"This is my best opportunity to claim the title. Michael is at the top of his career, and I improve year after year. The team has the utmost confidence in me".
Barrichello includes McLaren-Mercedes among his rivals:
"Until now, they haven't fully shown their potential".
But also Jenson Button with his BAR-Honda:
"I've seen him improved after the race in Melbourne".
The rest of the grid is further back, but it is already interesting to see at least six drivers in a position to compete for the win. Williams-BMW scores points without the illusion of finishing on the podium, Red Bull Racing seeks a win after the pleasant surprise of Melbourne, Jarno Trulli's Toyota is even further behind, Sauber relies on Felipe Massa, in an embarrassing lead over Jacques Villeneuve, who is a former World Champion. Once again, Minardi distinguishes itself by an anti-Ferrari controversy. At Sepang, the Italian team distributes a statement, on paper without heading, on behalf of all the other teams. The accusation is that the team from Maranello does too many tests, they do testing in Mugello even during the week of the Grand Prix, and they do not even respect the old pacts that limit the development tests. Jean Todt's reply does not take long to arrive:
"Ferrari is the only team which brings forward the development of the Bridgestone tyres, also to the benefit of Jordan and Minardi. In 2005, the teams supplied by Bridgestone accounted for a fourth of the mileage done by the teams supplied by Michelin".
A Roman driver who switched to a winning team, where there is a Spaniard who is pushing hard. A driver from Abruzzo who left the same team and, almost on a bet, as well as for a good paycheck, moved to a team with great means and poor results with the aim of dragging it to success. The main drivers are Giancarlo Fisichella, Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli, full of dreams and hopes. They are the new men of 2005, in a Formula 1 that is less dependent on Scuderia Ferrari but more and more Latin, protagonists of an exciting provisional pole, on Saturday, March 19, 2005, at Sepang, with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello in the unprecedented role of chasers and the debut of Anthony Davidson with BAR-Honda in place of Takuma Satō, hit by an attack of gastroenteritis.
"Dedicated to my friend Stefano. I've just learned that he's passed away".
Like that, Jarno Trulli, after claiming the provisional front row with Alonso (on pole) in the Malaysian Grand Prix, pays tribute to Stefano Bandinì, the Canadair pilot who crashed in Versilia, best man of his wife Barbara.
"Yesterday evening, I logged on to the Internet and saw that Barbara was connected. I wrote a message to her, but Stefano's wife Anna, who works with her, replied: I'm sorry, I'm not your lover. We said goodbye and I told her to hug Stefano and their son Riccardo, who is two years old. A few hours later Stefano crashed with his plane".
Toyota did not report the news to the driver until the end of the first qualifying session when Jarno Trulli wanted to log on to the Internet to read the news from Italy. It is only the second Grand Prix, and yet all the certainties of 2004 have fallen. At Maranello, they realised that the F2004M is in serious difficulty on the single lap pace, so in qualifying it can compete with Sauber, only beating Jordan and Minardi. The Bridgestone tyres end up under fire as already in 2003, although the men of the Maranello team repeat with dignity that you win together and you lose together. The compounds used on the F2004M give a good pace in the race, but a lot of work will have to be done to allow the drivers to qualify themselves in a decent way, without forcing them to have fierce comebacks each time. The new single-seater was weaned with quick manners by development drivers Marc Gené and Luca Badoer, who have ground hundreds of kilometres in Mugello. The latest results are comforting, the reliability is good, the lap times are close to the record set by Rubens Barrichello a year ago when the F2004 took its first and encouraging steps. The difference is of about one second, that is the average performance loss suffered by other teams following the introduction of new restrictive rules on tyres, engines and aerodynamics. The F2005 seems able to bring Ferrari back to the levels of the best rivals, McLaren and Renault, all the more so since the drivers are expected to do better performances than the development drivers. Yet, at Maranello, they keep a low profile:
"The new car is faster, we'll see if it will be enough to catch up the gap on track, especially over a single lap".
If there actually is a problem with the Bridgestone tyres, a new chassis or a more powerful engine will not solve it. A tyre can make the drivers gain or lose a second per lap, more than any of the other components put together. But a more advanced car makes better use of the tyres and allows the team to use softer tyres. As for the timing of the debut of the new car, the performance of Maranello's cars over the Malaysian weekend pushes to risk an early debut. The date of April 3 becomes almost certain, while the use of two different single-seaters, as it happened in 2002 when at the third race in Brazil Michael Schumacher showed up with the new car and Rubens Barrichello still had the old one, is excluded. There are two reasons for that: the engines of one car do not fit the other, so bringing two different chassis would involve an exaggerated organizational effort. And then the choice would also weigh on the next race in Imola because otherwise the change of single-seater would entail a ten-place grid penalty at the start. Some people among the rivals fear that the F2005 will make Ferrari dominant again, others do not care. Giancarlo Fisichella says:
"An early debut? Then it breaks down, perhaps".
The protagonists, the World Champion and the Vice-World Champion, will have the final word. When they are back in Europe, it will be their turn to try the new car for the first time, always in Mugello. Two days for Michael Schumacher, and two days for Rubens Barrichello. Then, the material will be sent to Bahrain. And for Ferrari, the season will really start. On Sunday, March 20, 2005, the second qualifying session confirmed the values expressed by the two same protagonists, Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli, even if this time the gap is bigger, reaching 0.15 seconds. Giancarlo Fisichella sets the third best time, although ending up slower by 0.5 seconds compared to his teammate, while Mark Webber takes the place next to him. Both Ferraris do not achieve considerable improvements and stay in the lower part of the grid, off by more than two seconds from Fernando Alonso. The sum of the two lap times of both sessions records the pole position of Fernando Alonso, followed by Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella, Mark Webber, Ralf Schumacher and Kimi Räikkönen. Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello start thirteenth and twelfth respectively. At the start of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli are both authors of a perfect start and keep their respective starting grid positions, followed by Giancarlo Fisichella and Mark Webber. Further back, Nick Heidfeld, author of a perfect start, overtakes the two Red Bull Racing cars of David Coulthard and Christian Klien and brings himself behind Kimi Räikkönen. At the beginning of the second lap, Jenson Button attacks Kimi Räikkönen on the start and finish straight and overtakes him, but he goes wide because of an engine failure: he is the first DNF of the race.
Simultaneously, at turn 1, the Austrian Patrick Friesacher, behind the wheel of the Minardi, goes off track and retires; similar fate for the other Honda engine, the one of Anthony Davidson, which causes a small fire. Over the course of lap 23, Kimi Räikkönen, in sixth position, has a puncture and has to give up any winning ambition. Over the course of lap 26, Jacques Villeneuve goes off track at turn 1 and retires. Six laps later, on the main straight, Ralf Schumacher and Mark Webber make contact without however causing consequences to the cars. Nineteen laps from the end, at the last corner, Mark Webber tries to overtake Giancarlo Fisichella on the outside, but he pushes too much on the entry and both cars make contact: the Italian driver ends up over the Australian driver and both drivers are forced to retire. Nick Heidfeld takes advantage of that as he climbs up into third position. The Spanish driver Fernando Alonso wins the Malaysian Grand Prix: to complete an unexpected podium on the eve of the season are the Italian Jarno Trulli, who gives Toyota their first podium in Formula 1, and Nick Heidfeld. Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, David Coulthard, Michael Schumacher and Christian Klien follow the podium places. Fernando Alonso and the Scuderia Ferrari both cross the finish line in bits and pieces: dehydrated the first and defeated as they had not been in years the latter. Alonso had only one technical issue: the drinks system was not working.
He almost fainted on the podium, but he is happy, he won, he is leading the World Championship and he received a call from his King. Nothing has worked in the cars from Maranello: bad aerodynamics, tyres that do not perform either in qualifying - as admitted on the eve - or in the race, as ascertained at the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix, even the misfortune of rubber debris on the wing that has disrupted Rubens Barrichello's comeback and forced him to retire. Italy also had to digest the defeat of Giancarlo Fisichella due to a mix of mistakes and bad luck. But there is the great achievement of Jarno Trulli. Does anyone remember Toyota's performance up to the Australian Grand Prix? Good, now at Sepang the tenth place has become the second one, claimed in qualifying and kept in the race by the Italian driver. An engineering miracle? Also, maybe. But the other car, in the hands of Ralf Schumacher, started and arrived in fifth position, moreover facilitated by the collision between Giancarlo Fisichella and Mark Webber. After two races, the new values of Formula 1 are outlined. Renault has a great lead over everyone. In the cool Australia, only Rubens Barrichello had timidly resisted, while with the 35 °C of Sepang only Jarno Trulli's Toyota was competitive. No one has ever been able to cause trouble to the winner of the round, be it Giancarlo Fisichella or Fernando Alonso. Flavio Briatore enjoys the double success with his usual jokes:
"A Formula Renault? No, a troublemaker Formula. I'm honoured to always beat Ferrari".
Bernie Ecclestone also throws jabs:
"It's beautiful to see two drivers of the same team taking turns at winning. A shame that it did not happen at Ferrari".
The McLaren-Mercedes cars are back. Juan Pablo Montoya climbed up to fourth place as the rivals retired, Kimi Räikkönen gave us the lost emotion of a wheel change during the pit stop – because of a puncture – and the fastest lap, which in perspective is an indicator of great performances, but nothing is added to the only point he has in the standings. The Williams-BMW cars seem slightly more competitive with the good-position finish of Nick Heidfeld on the podium, apart from Mark Webber's retirement. Then the cars of Red Bull Racing which are giving David Coulthard a second youth. Then the Ferraris. The cars from Maranello suddenly became the sixth quickest team of the World Championship and in Malaysia they have disputed their most disastrous race in five years, excluding the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix. Only the cars of BAR-Honda are doing worse, as in two races they have never crossed the finish line, in addition to Sauber, Jordan and Minardi, who are not car manufacturers. At Maranello, they are beginning to think that it was a misjudgment to adapt the F2004 to the new regulation and postpone the debut of the F2005. The unbeatable single-seater lost its right balance between tyres, chassis and engine when it was modified. And, as Jean Todt admits:
"During the winter, our rivals worked better. After a race like this one, there are no excuses".
Michael Schumacher confirms:
"There is no need to celebrate a seventh place, but I think that I gave my all. There is not a single factor to blame when the performance falls short".
And Rubens Barrichello adds:
"I would have fought for the sixth place without that piece of rubber on the wing that messed up the balance of the car and caused me to completely wear out the rear tyres".
A Ferrari that fights for the sixth place. And loses as well. Are there solutions?
"No miracle in sight".
Admits Jean Todt. The early debut of the F2005 is not as obvious as it seemed in recent days. The new single-seater will get out on track on Monday, March 21, 2005, in Mugello with Luca Badoer, on Tuesday it will be tested for the first time by Rubens Barrichello and on Wednesday by Michael Schumacher.
"Careful not to panic. We'll decide on the basis of the technical data. The F2005 is between 5 tenths and a second faster, so for now it is not enough to get back to winning ways, because we were missing a second and a half in qualifying".
Another problem: eight teams - all except Sauber - sent a letter to the Chairman of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo, asking Maranello's team to reduce testing days and respect an old agreement signed in Suzuka, which prohibits doing tests during the race weeks. Otherwise - they write - the costs increase and the loyalty of the sports is not respected. From this point of view, Ferrari is not afraid of its rivals. The team from Maranello reiterated that they have introduced a plan that reduces the costs of 2.000.000 euros per year that other teams have refused to discuss, claimed that Suzuka's agreement has expired, and said that the teams supplied by Michelin collectively do tests three times more than Ferrari. At Sepang, Jean Todt's answer is more concise:
"I don't feel like answering the nonsense of these graphomaniacs anymore".
On one of the worst days of the last eight years, Ferrari can even consider itself lucky. The seventh place claimed by Michael Schumacher is a gift granted by their rivals: by Honda which saw its engines explode, by Giancarlo Fisichella who resisted a little too much to the attack of Mark Webber, eliminating himself and the Australian from the race, by the innocent Kimi Räikkönen, who had to change a punctured tyre when he was in fourth position. If there had not been so many retirements, the German driver would have been very unlikely to finish in the points. It is the figures and the stopwatch that condemn the team from Maranello. In short: about 1.5 seconds of gap in the first qualifying session with low fuel loaded in the tanks, more than 2 seconds in the second qualifying session, with enough fuel loaded for the first stint of a race. Then, 1.5 seconds during the race. Rubens Barrichello was lapped before retiring, and Michael Schumacher was saved in extremis from humiliation.
The team, Jean Todt and the two drivers are not making any drama or even offering the media a scapegoat: it is the whole package - they argue - that did not work and that does not work. That is to say, the modified aerodynamics according to the new regulations, probably other technical choices and the tyres. It should be noted, among other things, that Michael Schumacher reached the highest top speed. This means that to try to recover positions the wings were unloaded to try some overtakes, where possible. A solution, however, which could have sent tyres into crisis, even more so than they are because of their current inferiority compared to the rivals. Ferrari does not shift the blame, rather they cover it, taking on their own responsibilities, as it has always been done since Jean Todt has been in charge. However, this time, Bridgestone admits that they are in trouble and that they have problems:
"We are obviously disappointed that the performance of our tyres has not been up to our standards in Malaysia, but we will leave with positive indications that will be needed for the future. We repeat: the performance was not good enough, but we are nevertheless happy to have provided safe tyres under extreme environmental conditions".
These statements confirm more than any other explanation that the tyre problem exists and is serious. It is also worth mentioning, however, that Ferrari has won eleven consecutive world titles with Bridgestone, which in times of crisis has always been able to react quickly, with very positive results. The second round of the World Championship also highlighted other important reasons of interest. The internal fight between Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella is one of the most interesting ones. The Renault Italian driver temporarily puts aside his dreams of glory, as he is overtaken in the standings by his teammate, Fernando Alonso, and takes a reprimand from the race stewards. That reprimand comes from the fact that, on lap 30, the Italian driver was in difficulty. Having passed over a kerb with too much power, the Renault driver broke a flap of the front wing and a deflector, thus he was forced to slow down. Mark Webber got closer and attacked him a first time but was blocked. Webber tries again on lap 37, and attacks on the outside at the end of the straight but Fisichella delays the braking point, goes out of the trajectory and ends up oversteering in his rival. A dangerous collision, with the Renault taking off and falling on the Williams, half a metre from the Australian driver's head. And above all unnecessary, because Giancarlo Fisichella knew, in those conditions, that he could not resist until the finish line. It would have been better to give in and take home a few points. The two are summoned by the stewards, who decide not to adopt sanctions, but Giancarlo Fisichella is officially reprimanded. With the next incident, he will receive a penalty.
"It was a normal race crash. The car had become uncontrollable, I had lost a lot of downforce. Mark didn't leave me any margin of error".
However, Mark Webber is totally angry:
"Fisichella was slower than me. I gave him space but he braked late and on the dirty part of the track".
The Williams team ironically comments:
"In Australia, Schumacher put Heidfeld off track. We don't remember if he was also reprimanded…".
The second interesting thing concerns Toyota: after having finally chosen two valid, fast and experienced drivers, they immediately made a step forward. On the podium, Jarno Trulli dedicates his second place to his friend Stefano Bandini, the pilot of the Canadair who passed away during a firefighting operation in Versilia. Bandini lived at Teramo and was a family friend. A shadow in the satisfaction of the Italian driver, author of one of his most beautiful races.
"I brought Toyota on the podium for the first time but the credit is to the whole team".
His face is drawn to the effort, to the displeasure, to an intestinal problem that struck him during the holidays in the Maldives, treated with drips by the team doctor, Riccardo Ceccarelli. In two races, he went from the ninth place to second. How much does the driver matter in these steps forward?
"It's not correct to say that this is my second race with Toyota. I also raced with them during the last two races of last year".
Well, you cannot say they were unforgettable...
"They were useful for me to give the team the right indications for the new single-seater. At Toyota, I dictated the law, but there's still a lot of work to do on every part of the car, from aerodynamics to the tyres and to the engine".
A judgement on the race: in Melbourne, he had also started from the second position.
"It was a completely different thing. This time I fought for it all, without any stroke of luck like rain in qualifying, or bad luck like bad tyres".
At some point, it seemed that you were getting closer to Alonso: did you want to try to attack?
"I would have pushed more but the pit wall advised me to slow down to take care of the tyres and the engine. Honestly, I don't think I would have managed to overtake him. Renault has a superior pace".
Were you afraid of the reliability?
"No, I was calm. Our engineer Marmorini did an excellent job with the engine".
What are your predictions for the next Grand Prix in Bahrain?
"Well... In Malaysia, like we say, the car worked pretty well. We'll see. I chose a project in which I believe. In Moto GP, however, the role of the driver is major, as in karting. In Formula 1, the car has a major role and the one who drives it has the responsibility to improve it, to make it grow".
Today, it is Jarno Trulli's turn to comfort the Italian fans.
"Yes, Fisichella and I, we've elbowed our way through, we're in Formula 1 on merit, not because someone pulled some strings. We were already showing it in go-karting days. Italy has two very strong drivers".
About Giancarlo Fisichella: he complained about problems similar to those you spoke about last year at Renault.
"I've moved on".
And about Ferrari: what impression did overtaking Barrichello make you?
"Only one: he made me angry because he didn't respect the blue flags that required him to let me pass. He preaches well what he does not practice. I'm going to mention this to him in Bahrain".
But we need to also pay attention to Nick Heidfeld. At Williams, they were betting everything on Mark Webber, but it seems that the little German driver is quite competitive. Kimi Räikkönen's misfortune resurfaced. He could have been on the podium, the only macroscopic problem he got with a tyre prevented him from doing that, but he is getting there and seems to have no problem in comparison with Juan Pablo Montoya. Finally, Ferrari again. There are already those who speculate a retirement of Michael Schumacher. Of course, if things were to go forward like that for the whole season, the German driver could also think about it. But let's wait for the remedies of the team from Maranello, of Bridgestone and of the F2005. The team has not changed: during the weekend, other than the top speed, the cars of Maranello set one more record, during the pit stops. The ones of Michael Schumacher were the best of all by far. At Sepang, the new regulations only made three victims, all distinguished. And a joke turns against BAR-Honda: it seems that the Anglo-Japanese team misinterpreted the new norms and made engines that last two laps, instead of two Grand Prix. So it was in Malaysia: Jenson Button, third in the World Championship last year, and the rookie Anthony Davidson only did 2 laps out of 56 and during the third, almost simultaneously, they parked the car between smoke and flames.
The problem is even more serious if one considers that the two engines had only been used for free practice and qualifying sessions, while all their main rivals - excluding Nick Heidfeld - were equipped with the power units used in Australia. The BAR exploited a loophole in the regulation to replace them, but the choice was of little use. The cars showed up at the start with a wide opening behind the radiators which, however, failed to dispose of the heat. Instead, the puncture that forced Kimi Räikkönen to return to the pits has comic aspects. The Finnish driver had just rejoined the track after his pit stop: his mechanics had added fuel and adjusted the tyre pressure. A shame that the rear left inflated too much and exploded after a kilometre. At that moment, Räikkönen was fighting for a place on the podium and had done the fastest lap. When he found out the cause of the problem, he merely expressed a swear word in Finnish with his usual synthesis. On Tuesday, March 22, 2005, Luca Montezemolo will also be in Maranello. In the top team meeting following each Grand Prix, the Chairman of Fiat and Ferrari will be next to Jean Todt and his men. With a double purpose: to be present during this difficult time and to invite everyone, as he has already done in the past, not to become demoralised and to meet the challenge with their usual commitment. It will also be a decisive day to see if it will be possible to make the F2005 debut in Bahrain. Everything will depend on the results of the tests that will take place on the circuit of Mugello with Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher. The F2005 is faster than the F2004M. The differences measured during the tests are about 0.5 seconds. They are not yet winning performances, but at least the humiliation they suffered in Malaysia, on the Sepang circuit, would be avoided.
"We'll know if the new single-seater will be able to dispute the Bahrain Grand Prix on Thursday, in the morning, at the latest".
Jean Todt calls for rationality:
"We must not panic. We are accelerating the schedule, but the car will make its debut when it is ready. It will help us out of the crisis, even if we do not expect it to perform a miracle".
But Renault is extremely competitive: Giancarlo Fisichella, at Melbourne, and Fernando Alonso, at Sepang, have led from the start to the checkered flag, while confirmation of Jarno Trulli's exploit is awaited.
On Wednesday, Michael Schumacher, and the final decision will depend on his opinion, will be present on the track at the Mugello.
"Driving a car for the first time is always a special feeling".
After two races, Michael Schumacher has 2 points in the standings. Only Kimi Räikkönen did worse: one point in Australia, and zero in Malaysia, but McLaren’s performance allowed him to set the fastest lap. For the German driver, it is his worst start to a championship in fifteen years of his career. If it were for him, the F2005 would race straight away. The problem is reliability: a new car has technical problems that are solved test after test. And, in the meantime, Bridgestone Motorsport's technical director, Hisao Suganuma, apologises:
"The tyre performance did not live up to our standards. We will try to draw positive conclusions from the defeat and react quickly to this situation".
Behind those fair-play statements, the tone of the post-race meetings is severe. The feeling remains that the binge of triumphs over the last six years has taken away the hunger for victory. In this golden age, there were two other difficult times. The first was in 2000: in Hungary, Mika Häkkinen won with McLaren and took the lead in the championship. Two weeks later, in Belgium, the Finnish driver won again, giving the audience an exceptional overtake; Michael Schumacher overtook Ricardo Zonta on the left, he slipped to the right and overtook both. For Maranello's team, it was a very strong blow, which gave them the feeling that the World Championship was destined to slip away in the final race for the fourth consecutive time. That time, there was a pride reaction. On that occasion, Luca Montezemolo wrote to all the employees urging them to give their best. It is hoped that the Chairman's intervention will solve the problem this time too. Michael Schumacher finished first at Monza and, in the press conference, he let himself go to a liberating cry. Then, he won again in the United States, in Japan and in Malaysia, claiming the first title of the series. In 2003, the Hungarian Grand Prix also reached its lowest point of the season, with Michael Schumacher lapped by Fernando Alonso. But the Italian Grand Prix marked the rescue. Ferrari today needs the same anger, and the same desire to lead in order to compete again with the top teams. The Italian Grand Prix is far away, but after the Bahrain Grand Prix, Formula 1 will come back to Europe and make the first stop in Imola. And Michael Schumacher promises:
"You'll see a great step forward there".
Jean Todt is right when he says, analysing Ferrari's results, in short:
"It's no use looking for who is guilty. It's us. It was the team in Maranello deciding to start the season with the F2004M, taking time to be able to work in greater detail on the project of the F2005. And all the winter tests were carried out in perfect symbiosis with the partners, in particular with Bridgestone regarding the tyres".
During the tests, all the limitations were already evident, but certainly no one thought of such a difficult beginning of the season. It has always been established that tyres are a determining factor in motorsport. You can win 0.3-0.4 seconds with perfect aerodynamics, as much as with the best engine and with a perfect balance of the car. With the right or the wrong tyres, you can also gain or lose two or more seconds per lap. This year's regulation changes have led to a radical change in the use of tyres. Last year, it was possible to also change tyres four times during the race. Now, with the tyres that have to last for two qualifying sessions and for the whole race, having tyres able to be fast from the first lap and consistent for the whole race is decisive.
Since Ferrari is the leading team of Bridgestone - which also supplies Minardi and Jordan - they are in this situation: if they have tyres more or less with the same performance as the rivals, they can also aim for first and second place. If they use them poorly or if they are not competitive, they risk being overtaken by many rivals, as has happened. What are the solutions to catch up? Obviously, trying to get the F2005 on track as quickly as possible, because it was designed to wear the tyres down less and make the most of them. With suitable aerodynamics, with suspensions working differently, with a balance of the car that allows to have road-holding and traction at best. The only way to achieve this goal is to test the available package in depth, to develop the car and tyres together. That is what they have been doing for a few weeks now and they are doing at the Mugello circuit now. On Thursday, March 24, 2005, Scuderia Ferrari will announce if they are ready to make the F2005 debut in Bahrain, two races ahead of what had been scheduled before the start of the season. The situation also recalls the controversy that has been going on for months on the need to reduce the tests during the season, echoed by Ferrari's rivals, despite the fact that during the winter tests, the seven teams supplied by Michelin tyres did about 200.000 kilometres, compared to the 30.000 of the Italian team, plus Jordan and Minardi. And there are also those who criticise the choice of the team of Maranello to stay with the Japanese company. It is not a matter of money: Ferrari has an agreement with Bridgestone for the development of tyres that also provides for a payment for the return of image. But above all, there is a partnership that has led to six years of victories. Successes that both will try to revive, even if the challenge has become very tough.