On the eve of the Canadian Grand Prix, Scuderia Ferrari opens the way for a possible renewal of Michele Schumacher's contract. The contract of the German driver, six times World Champion, expires at the end of the season.
"It cannot be ruled out that he could stay even after 2006. There is still plenty of time".
This is what Maranello team general manager Jean Todt said on Saturday 5 June 2004 at the inauguration of the first showroom in China; held in Shanghai. Ferrari signed Michael Schumacher at the end of 1995 after the German had won two World Championships with Benetton in 1994 and 1995. Together they rebuilt an unbeatable team that won four consecutive world championships After fourteen years in motor racing, the German expressed his desire to end his career at Ferrari. In recent days Willi Weber, manager of the German driver, had said:
"It is too early to make a decision. Things are going very well and I would be delighted if he wanted to continue at Ferrari. Until 2006, however, many things can happen. We have to wait and see what will happen".
Beautiful Canada, it reminds me of my Brazil, says Rubens Barrichello as he arrives in Montreal on Thursday 10 June 2004. There is sunshine, a beautiful blue sky, cheerful people and enthusiasm for Formula 1, although local idol Jacques Vìlleneuve was pre-retired at the end of 2003. In addition to the Canadian Grand Prix, the city is preparing to host a big jazz festival and the federal elections die see the Bloc Pot, or marijuana party, on the list: 71 candidates and a fairly intuitive political programme. Restaurants and lap dance clubs sell out. Grand Prix organisers expect 300.000 spectators over the weekend. On Thursday, access to the venue, including the pits, is free and 20.000 turn up. Set on Ile Notre Dame, a long and narrow island, the track is inevitably a succession of very fast straights and tight bends that require light aerodynamics and engage the brakes to the limit. Favoured are the cars with powerful engines: i.e. Ferraris. Michael Schumacher set another record: seven victories in the same Grand Prix. Not bad, considering that Montreal is among his least favourite. Last year he was the protagonist of a masterful race: in the lead but with failing brakes and chased at close quarters by his brother Ralf, he artfully slowed down in the sections where overtaking is most difficult in order to let Montoya and Alonso get closer. And in the end, after leading the group to the finish line, he explained:
"They were able to pass me but couldn't, because when you have an opponent behind you you have to keep an eye on the mirrors and it becomes more difficult to attempt an attack".
On Sunday 13 June 2004 will experience a much quieter day, after six victories in seven races that also allow him to manage a podium finish. Juan Pablo Montoya is resigned:
"Wait for Schumacher to retire? No, Ferrari should retire so that someone else wins".
Rubens Barrichello is on a roll:
"I prefer the second part of the season. From Montreal my races begin".
So far, he has scored 46 points (compared to his partner's 60). Never did so well at the start, though....
"But I miss success. When I finish second (five times this year, ed) I sleep badly. I wouldn't like to become champion by winning one race like Rosberg in 1982. I'm in good shape, my problem is super-Michael".
They accuse him of mis-strategising by choosing to make one less stop at both Barcelona and the Nurburgring.
"Whoever criticises me criticises the whole of Ferrari. Certain choices are made together with the team. At Barcelona they paid, at the Nurburgring maybe they penalised me because I found myself in traffic without being able to overtake. In both cases, however, a one-two came".
Third force is BAR, which will bring an even more powerful Honda engine to the track and already at Imola, the circuit most similar to this one, won pole and then a second place in the race with Jenson Button. Further back are the Williams, lacklustre this year, and the Renaults, excellent on winding circuits like Monte Carlo but penalised by less power on fast ones. Among the curiosities, a survey by the Journal de Montreal among the drivers: what would you have done in life without Formula 1? The majority would have thrown themselves into other sports, such as cycling (Webber, Da Matta, Heidfeld, Bruni, Sato), heat (Michael Schumacher, Alonso, Pantano), hockey (Raikkonen) or downhill skiing (Klien), some would have been airline pilots (Baumgartner and Button). The intellectuals missed out were Rubens Barrichello (mechanical engineer), Juan Pablo Montoya (architect) and Olivier Panis (lawyer), while Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa could not even imagine themselves without a single-seater.
"This is my first trip to Canada, I am excited because everyone tells me the circuit is very nice".
Giorgio Pantano will have to continue to be content with the stories of his colleagues. On Friday 11 June 2004, in the course of the morning, Eddie Jordan dismisses him in his usual dismissive manner:
"No money, no race''.
The Italian driver did not even contest the two free practice sessions. He left the Montreal circuit at around 10:00 a.m. to return to his hotel, thus ending his short season in Formula 1: seven Grands Prix, zero points. His best finish was thirteenth place in Malaysia at the Nurburgring, too little to convince his owner to waive the money agreed at the start of the season. Yes, because Giorgio Pantano was not among the privileged, very rich people of Formula 1. To take his chance in Formula 1 at the age of 25 after a good run in Formula 3000 (a second and a third place) he had promised important guarantees: there is talk of 4.500.000 dollars, which however would not be paid in full. A team spokesman merely explained that Giorgio Pantano had to settle a personal matter. In addition to money, he lacked results. He suffered from inexperience, internal competition from Nick Heidfeld, a slow and difficult car to drive like the Jordan. In his place will be the German Timo Glock, who is sponsored by Deutsche Post. The Italian group, never so numerous at the start since 1999, is reduced to three; Jarno Trulli (Renault), Giancarlo Fisichella (Sauber), Gianmaria Bruni (Minardi). In the top positions of the standings the Friday menu is as repetitive as that of a company canteen: in a couple of laps Michael Schumacher demolishes the track record by lapping in 1'14"013, then continues the day's work on set-up and tyre choice.
Behind him is Takuma Sàto, the fastest of the second session: 1'14"086. Next up is Rubens Barrichello (1'14"291) and Fernando Alonso (1'14"426), The World Champion also makes a mistake, sliding off the chicane wall at Turn 9 with his left front wheel.
"I went off the line because I was driving on the limit. The track was slippery and I kissed the wall. The rim didn't like it, however nothing was broken. We will be competitive as always, without dominating. The Bar is really strong here".
Better Takuma Sato than Jenson Button so far. In addition to speed, rivals are beginning to fear this Japanese driver for a certain recklessness that has earned him the most obvious of nicknames: kamikaze. The name of Jacques Villeneuve always hovers, even if the former World Champion fired last year by BAR does not seem to arouse much nostalgia: the Montreal public plundered the box office, colleagues limit themselves to a few generic affirmations of esteem. Michael Schumacher, who was no friend of his, quickly dismisses the subject:
"I don't regret past opponents. And if I had to name one, I would say Mika Hakkinen".
Surprisingly, on Saturday 12 June 2004 in pole position is the other Schumacher, Ralf. The real one, the one who always wins, is in trouble: sixth time, worst qualifying of the year.
"Something went wrong, I don't know either".
The Canadian Grand Prix offers an unprecedented front row for Formula 1: alongside Ralf Schumacher will start Jenson Button. Both set more than half a second off the track record. The rivals are annihilated. Jarno Trulli, third with Renault, who since the Monte-Carlo celebrations continues to shine but still hasn't recovered his voice:
"They have been running at a frightening pace. I can only explain it in one way: they have less petrol than me. I also went very fast, I am convinced I have a better strategy. You will see in the race".
Fourth on the grid is Juan PAblo Montoya in the other Williams. Two rows without a single Ferrari. It had happened in the Monaco Grand Prix, when the World Champion started in fifth position, suffering the impossibility of overtaking on the narrowest track in the World Championship and ending up rear-ended by Juan Pablo Montoya. The Montreal track, built in the green of the Ile Notre-Dame, offers other spaces and opportunities for comebacks. The Schumachers know this. The youngest is enjoying revenge from the criticism and disappointment of a disastrous season so far. Barring any surprises, he will leave Williams for Toyota at the end of the year. A choice he does not confirm and one he would not regret anyway:
"Apart from Ferrari, no team next year can guarantee a driver to fight for the title. The race? Given the track record, I find it hard to think about success. But I will not back down".
Michael Schumacher approves:
"Good, that was needed".
It would be good for him too if Ralf Schumacher won: there would be a nice family party and no one would come close to him at the top of the standings (Michael Schumacher has 60 points, Ralf Schumacher just 12). But watch out for Jenson Button. If he has finished on the podium five times in seven races, it means he has the numbers and the car.
"The first step to winning is for Schumacher not to be on the front row".
And the World Champion admonishes him:
"Careful, sometimes I came first in a comeback".
Rubens Barrichello, seventh, broke his chassis by driving over a kerb during the morning's free practice and was forced to contest the two qualifying sessions with the reserve Ventura, on which the mechanics transplanted the original engine in three quarters of an hour (otherwise he would have suffered a ten-place penalty).
"I made a mistake but I am confident. In race configuration the Ferrari is very competitive".
That's the point: the Maranello team's men are convinced that the longer life of the Bridgestone tyres will allow them to catch up. Moreover, only two stops may have been planned in the strategy. Schumi smiles serenely, because in his position he can be content with a placing without compromising his race for the World Championship. There would also be Takuma Sato in the top club if he had not ruined everything with a spin at the last corner. The Japanese BAR driver is a very fast driver and yet he is no stranger to gaffes of this kind: if he learnt to drive he would be a champion. German Timo Glock sets an unflattering 16th fastest time. Everyone is waiting to see him in the first race. Sunday 13 June 2004, at the start of the Canadian Grand Prix Ralf Schumacher gets off to a good start and holds the lead. Behind him comes Jarno Trulli, who overtakes Jenson Button, but the Italian driver is forced to retire after a few hundred metres due to a broken driveshaft. Fernando Alonso took advantage of this, gaining two places to third. Further back, Christian Klien crashed into David Coulthard's car: the Austrian's single-seater reared up, then hit that of team-mate Mark Webber. The latter has the worst of it, being forced to retire on lap 6 due to the consequences of the collision (a broken suspension). At the end of the first lap Ralf Schumacher was in the lead ahead of Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen, Rubens Barrichello and Cristiano Da Matta. In the following passages the German Williams-Bmw driver increased his lead over his pursuers, while behind him Kimi Räikkönen and Rubens Barrichello battled for sixth position. The Brazilian driver passed his rival on lap six, after a heated duel. On lap 11 David Coulthard is the first driver to make his first stop. On lap 12 Kimi Raikkonen also returns to the pits to refuel. On his way out of the pits the Finnish driver crosses the white line marking the lane exit, an offence that will cost him a drive-through penalty. Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeoson Button and Ralf Schumacher also pit, leaving the way clear for Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, who started with a two-stop strategy. When these three also make their first pit stop (Alonso losing a lot of time due to a problem with the nozzle), Ralf Schumacher is back in the lead ahead of Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya, Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso. In the meantime, Nick Heidfeld, who also started with a strategy of two pit stops, runs over the pit crewman, fortunately without any consequences other than a loss of time for the German driver and a few bruises for the mechanic.
The last driver to refuel is Giancarlo Fisichella, on lap 25; just four laps later, Juan Pablo Montoya, closely followed by Michael Schumacher, comes into the pits to make his second stop. He is followed by Kimi Räikkönen, Jenson Button and Ralf Schumacher, on lap 30, lap 31 and lap 32 respectively. This puts Michael Schumacher in the lead, followed by his team-mate and his brother. Rubens Barrichello refuels on lap 44, returning to the track in sixth place. At the same time Fernando Alonso retires with a rear suspension problem. One lap later Kimi Räikkönen pits, while Michael Schumacher refuels on lap 46, returning to the track ahead of Jenson Button. Two laps later Ralf Schumacher also pitted, and Michael Schumacher took the lead, while Rubens Barrichello took advantage of Jenson Button and Juan Pablo Montoya's refuelling to move into third. Kimi Räikkönen is sixth, followed by Giancarlo Fisichella, Cristiano Da Matta and David Coulthard. On lap 60 the Finn comes into the pits for the fifth time since the start of the race to replace the steering wheel, in an attempt to resolve some electronic problems that had been occurring throughout the race. The operation results in the loss of one position to Giancarlo Fisichella. On lap 62 his team-mate, Felipe Massa, crashes violently into the barriers due to a broken suspension. The Brazilian driver remains unhurt. In the final laps Juan Pablo Montoya tried to threaten Jenson Button's fourth position, but was unable to overtake the British driver. With 70 laps completed, Michael Schumacher won the Canadian Grand Prix and his seventh triumph of the season. The German driver crossed the finish line ahead of Ralf Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button, Juan Pablo Montoya, Giancarlo Fisichella, Kimi Räikkönen and David Coulthard. At the end of the race, however, the Williams and Toyota were disqualified due to the irregular size of the front brake air intakes. Jenson Button was promoted to third place, while David Coulthard, Timo Glock, in points on his debut, and Nick Heidfeld entered the points zone. After the sad victory on the Nurburgring circuit, with no celebration and no joy for the death of Umberto Agnelli, Michael Schumacher's traditional jump on the podium and the champagne spraying on Ralf Schumacher and his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, without knowing that his brother would be disqualified and that his Brazilian team-mate would contribute to yet another one-two. It would have been the fifteenth time since 1998 that the two German drivers were together at the prize-giving ceremony, although for the second son of the family the joy was only virtual and short-lived. The World Champion, on the other hand, relishes this victory, suffered and uncertain on the eve, after the difficult qualifying sessions on Saturday. Even though Ferrari has never lacked confidence.
"Everything worked out perfectly. We had made plans that turned out to be right. Credit to the team, which prepared perfect cars as usual. The pit stops went off without a hitch because the mechanics were fantastic. We knew on Saturday that it would be almost impossible to aim for pole position. Our tyres are excellent in the race, but they still suffer some difficulties on the dry lap. So Ross Brawn and his men devised a special strategy, which turned out to be a winner".
Not an easy success, however.
"I had to fight from start to finish. Ralf and also Rubens put a lot of pressure on me. Right up to the last lap. I couldn't afford the slightest distraction, even a small mistake would have taken first place away from me. I had to make important decisions in fractions of a second, watch out for lapped cars and also for accidents on the track. I can assure you that it was not easy. Among other things, I also had some difficulties with the second set of tyres, it can happen, for many reasons. The third was perfect. It allowed me to keep the race under control".
However, there was a moment when Juan Pablo Montoya looked like he could be very dangerous.
"He was fast and attacked me several times. But I wasn't worried. By now we were sure that our paths were different, that he would stop once more a few laps later. In any case, he could never get close enough to take the slipstream of my Ferrari at the right moment, at the points where you can risk an overtaking move".
And now the World Championship is over?
"I'm getting tired of repeating it. It will only be when the mathematics officially award me the title. Before then anything will be possible, although I am in a very good position, since last year I won the World Championship after winning six races and now I am up to seven out of eight disputed. The points system, however, does not allow one to sleep soundly. Barrichello is only 18 points behind (obviously before the disqualification ed). It only takes one stop to put everything back in play. And Rubens is doing very well. He was very fast in the race, he really put me through my paces".
In any case, Michael Schumacher achieved other extraordinary numerical achievements. Do you remember all of his 77 victories?
"I actually prefer not to look behind me. I think about today and the future. Maybe already at next Sunday's race in Indianapolis. However, if you really want to know, I don't have in my memory all the first places I have achieved in my career".
Rubens Barrichello certainly remembers his seven wins. But he would have liked to add one more in Canada:
"I tried my hardest and also had fun. After losing a position in the chaos of the start, I immediately overtook Raikkonen who had overtaken me at the start. I could keep a very high pace. When I found myself behind Michael, I knew I had to get ahead of him on the track because after a few laps I would have to stop in the pits and I would no longer have a chance. I tried, it was a good duel, a fair one. Unfortunately I didn't succeed and I also had the misfortune of making a mistake: when I restarted from the pits I was pulling like hell and I put the brakes on. So at turn 8 I ended up going straight and, losing a few seconds, I had to give up the fight for second place. I am happy with my race".
The Brazilian still managed to finish second, due to Ralf Schumacher's disqualification. Reached by phone with the news, Rubens Barrichello is beaming:
"I deserved that second place, now I am even happier".
He left the circuit quite happy, Ralf Schumacher.
"Either way, it is already a success".
Coming second behind Ferrari had a bittersweet taste, but more sweet than bitter.
"Of course, there is always a bit of disappointment about the blown victory and especially because I had started in pole position. I admit, the position at the start had made me think I could even win this race. It turned out differently, Michael won, but we now realise that we are on the right track. We are competitive again. For us it is a big step forward compared to the previous races and we can look forward to the next stages of the championship with optimism".
An illusion. Michael Schumacher's brother learned four hours later, via a phone call, of the punishment inflicted on him by the stewards. The Notre Dame Island track showed once again how competitive Giancarlo Fisichella is when it comes to pushing the foot on the accelerator. The Italian driver once again finished in sixth place with Sauber-Petronas, and won valuable points for the fifth time in Canada: not Michael Schumacher's record, but still a valuable result. Which justifies the happiness of Giancarlo, author of a majestic performance, also with a strategy of only two stops:
"I am very happy because I had to overcome a few problems. One at the start, due precisely, to the systems of my single-seater, which we have to solve. With a lot of petrol in the tank and the heavy car I also had to deal with bubbles on the tyres. But when I was light I was flying. I was able to overtake a Toyota and other cars fighting for points. I am happy about the way the adventure of Felipe Massa, who was involved in an accident, ended. Luckily he was unhurt. I'm afraid it was a mechanical failure, I hope it's not the same one that happened at Monza. In any case, we will have to take action as soon as possible to avoid running any more risks".
If strength is not enough, cunning is. What does not change is the result: Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, with Rubens Barrichello securing the fifth one-two of the season. Ralf Schumacher is second at the finish, but the stewards disqualify him. For once he has a good race, it is his technicians who get it wrong. The Renaults eliminate themselves, due to transmission failure on both cars. Jenson Button is fast, not very fast, and finishes third. The others, all lapped. Michael Schumacher celebrates the number 7: seven wins in the season, seven on the same circuit, 77 victories in the chamber, 70 points, the seventh world title now a mere formality. In the Constructors' World Championship standings Scuderia Ferrari now has 124 points. It is followed in second place by Renault, with 61 points. For Williams-Bmw, suddenly back to the levels of a year ago, the party ends in the course of the afternoon, when technical director Sam Michael is summoned by the race commissioners because the brake air intake does not comply with the regulations: it seems that the imbroglio to the judges came from McLaren. The same fate befell the Toyota. The four cars are excluded from the classification. Juan Pablo Montoya loses fifth place. Cristiano Da Matta the eighth place, Olivier Panis the tenth. The new classification gives second place to Rubens Barrichello. Jenson Button takes the podium; Giancarlo Fisichella is fourth, McLaren places two cars in the points zone (Kimi Raikkonen fifth and David Coulthard sixth). For German rookie Timo Clock, called in to replace Giorgio Pantano in the Jordan, came two unexpected points. Says Sam Michael:
"It was a mistake, we will not appeal. We did not take any advantage, but we accept the verdict".
Toyota also suffers the verdict without complaint. Disappointed Ralf Schumacher:
"I did not expect it, the driver is not at fault in these cases. If we broke the rules it's OK. It's a shame because we were improving. I hope to make up for it on Sunday in Indianapolis, but first I will get drunk and forget about it".
Scuderia Ferrari CEO Jean Todt does not comment. The sporting director, Stefano Domenicali, is laconic:
"These are the regulations".
And Rubens Barrichello adds:
"Well, two extra points don't bother me".
Despite the triumphant finish, Ferrari's race in Montreal was full of obstacles. The Maranello team strategists took risks. On Friday they realised that the excellent Bridgestone tyres lasted so long, but were not as fast as the rivals' Michelin tyres on the first lap, the one that counts for pole position. So they tried a new route: just two stops, one less than their rivals, at the cost of sacrificing qualifying position. Ferrari made the second important decision halfway through the Grand Prix: to keep their positions, even though Rubens Barrichello seemed faster than his teammate. In fact, Michael Schumacher managed to keep pace for victory, while the Brazilian ran into an off-track that cost him a position, later returned to him by the stewards. The Canadian Grand Prix has been the domain of the Schumacher family since 2000: in 2003 the two brothers crossed the finish line in the same order, in 2001 in reverse order. In 2000 and 2002 Michael Schumacher dominated, as well as in 1994, 1997 and 1998. And to think that the German does not like the track because it is too easy. At the start of the race Michael Schumacher got off to a good start, gaining one position: the one lost by Jarno Trulli. The Italian driver's race lasted 400 metres: time to get alongside Jenson Button and consolidate his reputation as the best starter. Ralf Schumacher condoned the race without ever managing to pull away from his brother, who lurked within 7 seconds of him: too little to win by having to make an extra pit stop. Michael Schumacher suffered a first time when Juan Pablo Montoya approached him around lap 29 and a second time (lap 37) when Rubens Barrichello approached and sketched an attack. The Brazilian eventually achieved two exploits: fastest lap (1'13"622) and top speed (347.9 km/h). Takuma Sato always deserves a separate paragraph. If it weren't for him, Formula 1 would be much more boring. Starting from the back of the field due to a spin at the last corner in qualifying (this already says a lot), the Japanese driver attempted the same manoeuvre that had cost him an accident with Rubens Barrichello at the Nurburgring: on new tyres, the BAR driver arrived very fast at the braking at the end of the main straight to overtake Olivier Panis. Unlike Rubens Barrichello, however, Olivier Panis moved out of the way to avoid being rammed. Finding himself without a foothold, Takuma Sato spun again. The show was performed in front of the terrified eyes of Schumacher, who was about to lap the Japanese driver. The nemesis then wanted Sato's Honda engine to break down for the fifth time this year. Monday, 14 June 2004 Michael Schumacher is in the company of Corinna in some wild and secret American resort enjoying triumphs, family, a bit of rest and privacy. The German newspaper Bild nicknamed him a red fox, praising Ferrari's decision to make one less pit stop than its rivals. Ralf Schumacher, on the other hand, has to work off a headache.
"I'm going to empty some bottles to get me through the disappointment. I was in the motorhome when Sam Michael called me. He told me there was a problem. Oh my God, I thought. And I spent many anxious minutes. Then came the confirmation. It was a bad blow. I felt devastated. I wondered if I deserved something like that. Then Frank Williams called me and told me that the technical rules had been broken".
What triggered the disqualification was the width of the brake air intakes: 3 millimetres too wide for the Toyota, 3 centimetres for the Williams.
"I don't want to put myself down. It's also good that I can already try again on Sunday. When I arrived at the hotel, the staff brought me a bottle of champagne to console me. They were very nice, but I think I will drink some more with some friends to forget the disappointment".
In the absence of opponents, we imagine a challenge between the Michael Schumacher of 2004 and the six-time World Champion. In eight races, the latest version of the German driver has already surpassed the number of victories (seven against six) and evened the count of pole positions (five) obtained in the whole of last season. He lacks points: last year he only needed 93 to get ahead of Raikkonen, now he has 70 and has to aim for 110 to be comfortable, as there will be eighteen races, i.e. two more. Nobody is asking if he will reach the target, but when: he might make it on Sunday 25 July 2004 at Hockenheim, in the German Grand Prix and in front of his fans. Let's go back one more season: in 2002, the year of records, in the first eight races the invincible scored three poles and six wins. The opposite was true in 2001, when he went on to win the world title a couple of months early: six poles and three victories. We come to 2000, which marks the return of a Ferrari driver to the world throne after two decades: three poles, five first places. Not even going back to the Benetton days do we get today's records: three poles and six wins in '94, three and four respectively in the following championship. Michael Schumacher's records are the same as those of Ferrari, which already has five one-twos this year (two in 2002, one in 2001, two in 2000). The overwhelming technical superiority is accentuated by the opponents' mistakes. The only credible pursuers are the drivers who have made the fewest mistakes: apart from Rubens Barrichello, who has the same F2004 as Michael Schumacher, they are followed in the standings by Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli. The others have serious mistakes on their consciences: Juan Pablo Montoya has made more controversies than points, Fernando Alonso is in decline, Ralf Schumacher of the elder brother has only the surname, Kimi Raikkonen does not have time to make mistakes because the engine breaks down first. Formula 1, meanwhile, remains overseas. On Sunday 20 June 2004, the race is run at Indianapolis. If there is a challenger for Michael Schumacher, let him step forward. Meanwhile, two Italians are the prized pieces of the drivers' market for 2004. The first is Jarno Trulli, unlucky in Montreal:
"Unbelievable, my suspension broke right after the start, it just gave way".
But he is having his best season since he has been in Formula 1. The second is Giancarlo Fisichella, confirmed among the best with Sauber-Petronas, despite the Swiss team's car not being super-competitive. The Italian's contract with Renault will end at the end of the championship, his compatriot's will expire at the end of 2005. As far as Jarno is concerned, the agreement with Flavio Briatore, who has been his manager up to now with his friend Ludo Gavuto, will also end after the current championship. In the environment they claim that Trulli has already agreed to stay at Renault. But at the moment it would only be a verbal negotiation, to be defined in detail when it goes to put pen to paper. The results obtained by the Italian driver have made his quotations rise, considering that at the moment the choices for an experienced and fast driver at the same time are not wide. Trulli is very clear:
"I have never made it a question of economics, I have always favoured the most convenient situations on a technical level. I like Renault because of their commitment, their means, their mentality. And I also get on well with my team-mate Fernando Alonso. So, if there are no external factors, I should not change".
A decision will be made before the British Grand Prix, to be held on Sunday 11 July 2004 at Silverstone. Trulli also has a couple of other tempting offers, from Williams and Toyota. The British team, in particular, would have lobbied hard to get him, while from the Cologne base the Japanese team's technical director, Mike Gascoyne (ex-Benetton and Renault), is banking on Jarno having all his confidence.
As for Giancarlo Fisichella, Peter Sauber is clear:
"We would like to keep Giancarlo. I have been one of his admirers for years. We have a contract that expires in 2005. Our team has built a new wind tunnel, has Ferrari engines, can give guarantees for future progress. However, if Fisico were to have an offer from one of the top-teams, we would not be the ones to prevent him from trying a new card".
The team that could tempt the Italian driver is Williams, which will lose Juan Pablo Montoya (to McLaren) and almost certainly Ralf Schumacher (Toyota) next year. The British team has been in talks with Jacques Villeneuve - who, however, will only have the opportunity to test at the end of the summer - but is still actively looking for replacements. Also in the mix is Australian Mark Webber, also managed by Flavio Briatore, although in the last few races his brilliance seems to have dimmed. The biggest problem for Giancarlo Fisichella, if there really is an official request, concerns Sauber: when he left Kimi Raikkonen to McLaren, he asked for and obtained 25.000.000 dollars in compensation for the promising Finn's contract. Too high a penalty would block Frank Williams, who has never liked to spend more than he has to on drivers. As for the other two Italians, Giorgio Pantano, barring any sensational surprises, seems to have lost his chance of staying in Formula 1. The Italian driver has found himself embroiled in an economic affair that is damaging to him - so much so that in Canada the German Glock raced in his place - and due to too much eagerness and inexperience he has almost always been beaten by his team-mate Nick Heidfled. Gianmaria Bruni, on the other hand, has shown talent and thoughtfulness at Minardi. A place at Jordan could open up for him. Finally, the current one might not be the last year in Formula 1 for David Coulthard, 33, who has been left free by McLaren. The Scot is considered a serious, determined person and could have chances at both Jaguar and Toyota. For the rest, places are blocked at Ferrari and McLaren. There are no new names for the top teams, at most a few youngsters to settle in the minor teams, such as the Frenchman Frank Montagny, who - as chance would have it - is part of the group of drivers managed by Flavio Briatore.