On Wednesday, September 1, 2004 Scuderia Ferrari lands in Monza and prepares for the Grand Prix to be run on Sunday, December 12, 2004, a prelude to the celebration of the World Championship already won. The fans are already there. On Wednesday there are 5,000 of them following the tests that will engage all the Formula 1 teams until Friday, September 3, 2004. The first banners appear in the stands:
"Michael Schumacher seventh world wonder".
As well as one with a photo of the champion and indecipherable text displayed by a group of Japanese fans. The Maranello team fields the starting drivers, the proven Schumacher-Barrichello pair. Extraordinary times marked: 1'20"194 made by the German, 0.8 seconds faster than the pole position of a year ago. It is the new unofficial track record. Barrichello is a little slower: 1'20"236. Opponents, from one second gap going up. During lunch break Michael Schumacher calls a press conference. After the second place in Belgium that handed him the seventh world championship of his career, fifth in a row, along with a place among legends, he appears listless. Almost disgruntled. And immediately the suspicion is triggered: he has conquered the impossible and will announce retirement at the end of the season. Not even in your dreams.
“I am so sorry to disappoint those who thought so. I have fun, I win and I continue".
End of discussion. What he doesn't say, but hints at, is that he didn't like the placing he won in Belgium.
"I expected success".
Insatiable, cannibal, he is told everything by opponents, but the meaning is unambiguous. The question is an old one, however, it always comes back relevant at the end of the championship: where does he find the incentive to go on?
"The challenge, the competition, the commitment to beat my opponents are part of my nature. As long as I can do it, I keep going".
Has he ever thought of measuring himself in other disciplines?
"No, I enjoy what I do. I have too much fun".
Yet after the Belgian Grand Prix he did not seem so cheerful.
"Every World Championship leaves different emotions. At the finish line I didn't really know what to think. Then in the motorhome I found a good atmosphere. Inside I was happy".
Is it his best season?
"I think so".
Already archived the extraordinary 2002?
"There is a fundamental difference: in 2002 we realized after the first tests that we had an outstanding single-seater. This year we didn't have the same feeling. The first performances on the track were similar to those of the competition. Only after the Imola tests, for the first time on the track together with our rivals, did we realize that we were much faster than we expected. Often things do not go as expected. At Spa, for example, I was convinced I was going to finish first".
Without the safety car would he have succeeded?
"It is possible. My problem was keeping the tires up to temperature. In a normal race Raikkonen would never have been able to overtake me. Montoya, on the other hand, surprised me with his maneuver".
A German newspaper published photos of your 82 Formula 1 victories: does it make a certain impression on you to see them all together?
"Even in Jean Todt's office there are pictures of all Ferrari's successes hanging there. Since I hang out with him a lot, I have an idea by now. But I like to focus on new challenges. During retirement I will have plenty of time to look back".
Will his approach to upcoming races change?
"I will be free of pressure and drive for pure fun, focused on each race, without tactics".
Will he help Barrichello retain second place?
"Rubens does not need it, but if there is a need and a chance, he can count on my cooperation".
His brother Ralf?
"He called me on Sunday night to congratulate me. He can't wait to get back on the track. Unfortunately, he will have to skip Monza".
Thursday, September 2, 2004, 5:00 p.m., last kilometers of testing for Ferrari at the Monza circuit, the fastest in Formula 1. Michael Schumacher drives down the straight that leads into the parabolic curve. Full throttle, speed around 350 km/h, the engine revving above 18.000 rpm. Suddenly the left rear tire sags and the car goes crazy, swerves to the right, runs over the panel indicating 150 meters, begins a series of spins and ends its race against the protective barriers. In the pits are moments of terror. The driver does not communicate anything by radio. He detaches the steering wheel as is the practice and emerges with his strength from the cockpit, miraculously unharmed though stunned. Rescue men reach him within seconds, convincing him to lie down on the grass for a quick check of vital functions. Michael Schumacher is fine and, the medical formalities having been taken care of, he gets up, climbs into the service car and returns to the pits. There he stays for an hour and a half, spent partly analyzing with Bridgestone technicians the cause of the puncture. Eventually, having taken off his red overalls and put on a peach-colored T-shirt and a pair of jeans, the German goes out with his dog on a leash and lets him play with a ball for a while. He then goes to greet Rubens Barrichello, who is busy signing autographs.
The two shake hands and hug amid the applause of the fans. End of the practice day. Test driver Luca Badoer will take to the track on Friday.
"We had decided this before the accident. The starting drivers have completed their work. The causes of the accident? We are investigating".
But it is a safety alert: Coulthard, Button and Montoya punctured at Spa. The best time of the day was that of Antonio Pizzonia, the Brazilian test driver for Willams, replacing Ralf Schumacher: 1'20"027, the unofficial track record. Injured in Indianapolis, Ralf Schumacher cannot return to Monza because of a problem with insurance: the technical healing time in the case of micro fractures of vertebrae is twelve weeks, while now eleven weeks have passed. The German driver could take the start of the Italian Grand Prix, but not conduct tests. And Frank Williams is adamant:
"No test, no race".
In the day's standings in second place is Kimi Raikkonen, who laps in 1'20"778, followed by Rubens Barrichello with a time of 1'20"862. Michael Schumacher had posted a time of 1'21"055. However, the Maranello team men say they are satisfied:
"Our performance is more consistent".
Meanwhile, the doors of Formula 1 are opening for Vitantonio Liuzzi, fresh winner of the Formula 3000 championship. The Italian driver has been invited by Sauber to conduct a test. The appointment is set for Thursday, September 16, 2004, at the Spanish track of Jerez de la Frontera. Sauber is to replace Giancarlo Fisichella, who will move to Renault in 2005. If Michael Schumacher and Scuderia Ferrari call the fans to Monza for the celebration of winning the World Championship, Williams-Bmw and BAR-Honda continue to vie for Jenson Button. The matter is expected to be settled in late September. The British driver, whose contract with BAR would have expired at the end of this championship, agreed with Williams for 2005, but BAR objected, demanding compliance with a clause that would automatically renew the agreement for one season. The case was brought before Crb, the FIA's Commission on the Validity of Contracts. A Williams spokesman explains:
"It took some time to submit all the files, because first there was an attempt at conciliation between the parties that failed. A hearing at Crb will be held in the next two weeks. If the commission finds the case within its jurisdiction, we will wait for the response and accept it calmly".
On the Ferrari front, Michael Schumacher hopes to replicate in Monza, in front of the Italian public, the show held on Sunday, September 5, 2004, at the Nurburgring circuit, where he performed with the 2003 single-seater, as well as with a Ferrari 575 Gtc and a Maserati Mc 12, just to show that the blow taken in testing has left no trace.
"The fans are always with us, so we want to give them a good reason to celebrate in a big way. Winning in Monza will not be easy, as we saw in testing. The other teams are close, however, it is our home race and we are highly motivated".
By now it is established that Thursday's accident was caused by a tire problem, probably a puncture.
"It is important that the cause be analyzed. In any case, I didn't suffer any injuries, and that's why I'm not sitting there mulling it over too much. I'm fine and I'm in one piece. It was fortunate that there were no consequences. Compared to what happened I did well".
Schumacher's exit from the track did not change Ferrari's approach to the Italian Grand Prix.
"I will keep running as long as I am well and can maintain this performance. Clearly there are some parts of the body that over the years no longer work 100 percent. But it's not that this causes me any limitations whatsoever. Physically I am perhaps imo of the drivers who do the most to maintain themselves, and I think it shows".
Michael Schumacher also reveals that the most poignant and liberating memory of his career is connected to the Monza track itself. In particular, at the end of the weekend of the 2000 edition, when he won the race after special feelings were mixed in him:
"In 2000 winning was a big release, after all the pressure built up. And then there were other things: the death of a track marshal, the memory of Senna… Or bad news that concerned my private life. Yes, if I had to choose maybe I would say 2000".
It will be Ferrari's party, and Monza is preparing for the invasion of fans who, on the occasion of the Italian Grand Prix, will celebrate Sunday, September 12, 2004, the two World Championships won by the Maranello team and Michael Schumacher. As many as 22 special free trains will connect Milan's Central Station with the racetrack, more than a thousand men including Police, Carabinieri and Guardia dì Finanza from Friday, September 10, 2004 (when practice will begin) will watch over public order. Special controls are in place to prevent - as has happened in past arms - squatters from trying to reach the Park's 3,500-site campsite. The medical staff on duty at the facility will consist of 200 people, who will run the 24-hour Medical Center until Sunday night. Stars of this grand announced kermesse will obviously be the cars and drivers of the Maranello team. On Wednesday, September 8, 2004, Scuderia Ferrari announced a three-year licensing agreement with Puma for the production and marketing of the team's collection-replica uniforms and a line of sportswear and footwear. The German company will also become the official supplier of the team and the Ferrari Challenge from January 2005. Says Jean Todt:
"We believe that the two companies will have a promising future as they both work hard in product innovations, new design lines and have a worldwide presence. We have the same values: we are aggressive and innovative".
Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004 Michael Schumacher shows up at Monza with his customary cap. On the visor it says World Champion. There is nothing to object to, since he has been since 2000. But next to it are sewn seven golden stars: seven like the championships he has won, including the 2004 one that is still not official, as Formula 1 patron Bernie Ecclestone warns:
"The title is awarded at the last race".
Replicates Michael Schumacher:
"I don't know what Ecclestone said. Given the points I have and what the newspapers have written, I feel like champion".
And since every driver, when he togs his helmet, is free to put what he wants on his head, the business has begun: the German driver's new cap is on sale for 25 euros on the stalls that populate the racetrack and its surroundings. The organizers of the Italian Grand Prix, the fifteenth round of the season, expect 110.000 paying spectators, to which will be added as tradition several thousand squatters. Is Ferrari already World Champion?
"Well, then come and enjoy the party. You will witness the fastest race in Formula 1 history".
Top speeds close to 380 km/h are expected. The estimate is based on the 2003 record, the 368 km/h set by Michael Schumacher on the grandstands straight. In the current season, performance has improved by a couple of seconds per lap, while from next year new rules will slow down the single-seaters. Ergo, this will be the race of records. It is the evolution of tires that has triggered the performance escalation. Increasingly sophisticated compounds that are soft and adherent to the asphalt, as well as ultra-light carcasses: this is the challenge that Bridgestone and Michelin have taken to the extreme. So far to the extreme that these tires have a far from negligible flaw: they burst with alarming frequency. It happened to three drivers in Belgium, it happened to Michael Schumacher right in Monza during testing. After each crash, carbon debris ends up on the asphalt, puncturing other tires. Argues the German driver, who as a representative of the drivers' association is concerned with safety:
"It's part of the game. We will still discuss it with the Federation, and not in public. I didn't risk my life and I continue to enjoy the work I do. It is difficult for the world to understand, but for me it is very easy".
Some propose abolishing the safety car and reintroducing the suspension of the race to clean the track.
"Deciding one way can bring unforeseen consequences. I know from experience that hasty solutions bring more harm than good. And I will not suggest anything that has not been pondered for a long time".
One last line is about the championship: some people call it the most boring ever.
"There are people who see the positive aspects and people who catch the negative ones".
"I had a good time".
Jarno Trulli, long hair and unkempt beard, also speaks for the drivers' association. And he, too, is fatalistic:
"Monza is like that, very high speeds and risks in proportion. Either you don't race or you accept the danger, there is no alternative. The problem is that we drive prototypes that come from extreme research".
The Renault driver explains the risks of the Italian Grand Prix:
"At extreme speeds, the tire tends to tighten and rise. If it gets too tight, it dechappens".
That is, it tears and comes off the rim.
"Of course at a slow circuit like the Hungaroring it doesn't happen and at Monza or Spa it does".
Then he talks about the new marital menage:
"Barbara waits for me at home because she doesn't like racing. When it goes wrong, like recently, she already knows she has to leave me alone".
Italian he has never felt: he has not learned the language, lives in Switzerland, and spends his vacations in Norway or the United States. But after nine years, even Michael Schumacher, hard-core German, is beginning to feel a small sense of belonging. On Friday, September 10, 2004, at Monza, in the first two free practice sessions, the German driver sports a tricolor helmet: red around the visor, then white and green.
"This is my way of saying thank you to the fans. They have always been there for us throughout my time at Ferrari, in good times and bad. Now we will try to give them victory as well".
Only one other time has Michael Schumacher dedicated his helmet to a nation: in 2002 at Monza, when he had a U.S. flag drawn in memory of the victims of 9/11. Michael Schumacher arrived at Maranello in 1996. After winning two consecutive World Championships with Benetton he had chosen the Italian team, which was going through a difficult period at the time. The rest is history: a season of transition; three championships lost at the last race and five won. Today he is 35 years old and has the same reflexes. He gets excited when he transits at over 350 km/h in front of the grandstands where the flags of the Maranello team are waving
"But a first taste we already experienced last week during testing".
He is unemotional as he recounts for the umpteenth time the terrible accident:
"Can't you see I'm fine? When I transit that spot again I don't feel any particular sensation, because a puncture can happen in any part of the, circuit".
He still thinks about winning:
"It was and always remains our goal".
And to have Rubens Barrichello win:
"We are a team and our fans want a Ferrari win, no matter if it's mine or Rubens'".
He fears McLaren:
"It is strong, it will be close and will make life difficult for us, I foresee a compelling challenge".
He is throwing a dig at Williams:
"Does the Bmw engine really have 950 horsepower? Ours is new and goes faster than theirs".
The day's chronicle is that of a quiet Formula Ferrari weekend. Michael Schumacher takes to the track: the first lap is used to warm up the tires, the second is already faster than the 2003 pole position:1'20"526 versus 1'20"963. In the afternoon, the best time is by Kimi Raikkonen in the McLaren, 1'20"846, still slower than the German. Comparing the two sessions, the third best overall performance is by Rubens Barrichello:
"I am chasing the first success in 2004, but if I really had to choose one I would prefer Brazil. In Interlagos I never won, here I did in 2002. Seeing the fans from the podium was an incredible emotion".
They are followed by the BAR-Hondas of test driver Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button and the Williams-Bmw of Antonio Pizzonia, who for the last time replaces the injured Ralf Schumacher. The Brazilian is the protagonist of a spectacular exit from the track: at first it is feared that another tire has failed. But later the driver explains that he had a mechanical problem. Jarno Trulli is tenth at the wheel of the Renault, with which he is experiencing a difficult end to the season as a home separate; Giancarlo Fisichella is fifteenth, Giorgio Pantano twenty-first, Gianmaria Bruni twenty-fourth. But they are not the guests of honor at the grand celebration of the Italian Grand Prix. Monza will crown Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, who with four races to go are already World Champions. Champagne and giant cakes will bless the most successful season in the history of the Maranello team. Meanwhile, FIA president Max Mosley is not abandoning his ideas: he wants to change the regulations to improve safety, reduce costs and increase the spectacle of Formula 1 by making racing more uncertain and hard-fought. But he finds resistance from the manufacturers. Introducing novelties would require unanimous consent from competitors, but they cannot agree. A deadline had been set for Monday, September 6, 2004, to make counterproposals to the directions fomented by the Federation for months now. On Friday, September 10, 2004, Max Mosley admits that he is forced to wait longer. And he sets the deadline for Thursday, October 21, 2004, leaving another 45 days to find suitable technical solutions. Otherwise he will be forced to impose the previously announced grandmothers. That is, for the 2005 World Championship, reduction of the incidence of aerodynamics on car performance, use of one engine for two races, and three sets of tires available for each single-seater in a race weekend.
"I submitted three proposals. One more rigid, one medium and one elastic. It seems to me that the technical managers of the teams are leaning toward the middle one. They have one and a half more months to find unanimity and possibly ask for corrections. After that it will be too late to change, and I will be forced, in case agreement is not reached, to impose our ideas. And in this case they will certainly not be the softer ones, but the average ones that seem reasonable to us for all concerned".
The president of the federation lets it be known that he has also been forced to revise plans regarding the engines for 2006 (8 cylinders, 2400 cc). According to the intentions they were supposed to be basically all the same in weight, shape and size and made without using special materials. But two car companies, assuming they would have to follow these rules, reportedly threatened to quit Formula 1. With this prospect in two years' time, powertrains with the imposed characteristics regarding displacement and number of cylinders, but with the possibility of choosing different architectures, should be mounted on the cars. However, these are difficult and complicated talks. Better to wait for official decisions to be made. The Federation and the teams, however, must be careful: if they get it wrong, the future of Formula 1 could be inexorably compromised. On Saturday, September 11, 2004, Rubens Barrichello also manages to carve out a little place for himself in Formula 1 history: the fastest pole position is his, at 260.395 km/h average. The record will stick with him for several years, as from 2005 Formula 1 will introduce new rules to reduce performance. Stifled by the triumphs of the bulkiest teammate he could get, poor Rubinho lives on epic, episodic days. Like this one, in Monza. A perfect lap, the goal of every driver in qualifying: 5793 meters pulled to the limit of physical laws.
"It's true, I didn't do anything wrong. I have never in my life tackled the Lesmo corners so hard. And even at Ascari, which is a difficult chicane, I was flawless".
For him it is the eleventh pole of his career (second of the season after Indianapolis), for the Maranello team the seventeenth at Monza, the ninth of the year and number 175 ever. Bravo to Rubens Barrichello, then. This season he has scored many points and few good races. He occupies second place in the overall standings without having won a single race. This is his chance: he can draw on himself the spotlight of the big party that Monza has prepared for the World Champion Ferrari, prove that he is the best number two and bring Michael Schumacher closer, detaching Jenson Button and the other pursuers. His time on the flying lap was extraordinary: 1'20"089, a new record at the autodrome, 0.5 seconds ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher himself. On Friday he claimed that the pole would be played on the edge of thousandths of a second.
"The engine is fine, the car is tuned to perfection, Bridgestone has provided us with great tires. The driver is also in good shape. I like Monza, I can feel the enthusiasm of the fans, which gives me a boost. There will be a lot of them coming, and we certainly can't disappoint them now after all we have done".
There is the unknown of weather conditions.
"It doesn't matter. We have studied a compromise in case of rain".
Happy him, unhappy Michael Schumacher, who has grown so accustomed to winning that he struggles to swallow a third-place finish in qualifying. He speaks of assorted errors, the German, complaining for once about the single-seater set-up:
"I had a problem in the morning free practice and didn't have time to solve it completely. Then I made a mistake in the last corner. I went too wide and the car understeered, so I delayed acceleration. I thought I lost a lot of positions, so in the end I'm satisfied with third place".
Without the mistake would he have been in pole position?
"To be honest, I don't think so".
It is easy to predict a Ferrari victory. Juan Pablo Montoya is second but Williams' starting system is far from flawless. The Renault is lightning fast at the start, however, Fernando Alonso, fourth, starts on the dirty side of the track. The two Maranello cars could take the lead as early as the first corner. And stay there until the finish, playing for success in the family. Rubens Barrichello doesn't trust.
"With one eye I will check the Williams and with the other the Renault. But rest assured: our starting system on this track works perfectly".
Very fast in pre-qualifying (1'19"525, unofficial track record), Juan Pablo Montoya claims Ferrari was hiding. Replicates Michael Schumacher:
"It only matters what happens in qualifying and then in the race".
Badly for the Italians. Only one makes the top ten, Jarno Trulli, who continues to complain about the car and suspect that Renault treats Fernando Alonso better. Giancarlo Fisichella occupies fifteenth place on the grid, which for an ambitious driver and a team like Sauber that uses Ferrari engines and a science fiction wind tunnel is not exactly a result to remember. The other two drivers, in addition to occupying the last rows because they drive jalopies, place behind their respective teammates: Giorgio Pantano sets the 18th fastest time. He gains one position, however, as Nick Heidfeld has replaced his engine and will be relegated to last place, which otherwise would have fallen to Gianmaria Bruni's Minardi.Clear sea, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso play volleyball in the water, do somersaults in the sand, laugh next to Briatore. The photographs hang in Renault's motorhome, taken during a vacation at patron Flavio's villa in Kenya. It is the carefree, young and happy image that Renault has emanated since its return to Formula I in 2002. The love ended. And it ended badly, too. Jarno Trulli tries to restrain himself, but then exclaims:
"Some people would like me to leave, but I am stubborn. You will see how I will drive".
For six or seven races, that is, since the negotiation for the renewal of his contract broke down, he claims that he has always been beaten by .his teammate. Who, combination, up to that time had often taken the pay, as they say in the jargon. But what if Flavio Briatore is right, who sees the Spaniard as Michael Schumacher's first successor?
"Sure, the Renault driver is now him. As long as we drove on a level playing field, we had fun".
Understood: now Jarno Trulli's car is slower than his. As it happened at Spa: great pace until the second pit stop, then suddenly the Italian driver's Renault begins to lose two seconds per lap. Yet in the telemetry there is no trace of technical glitches. Mystery.
"Someone claims that I am no longer there with my head. This is false. I drove very well today, I took huge risks, I put my own spin on it. For seven years now, no teammate has ever managed to stay ahead of me in qualifying on this circuit. I have always been going strong here, and instead I have been taking half a second a lap for two weeks. Briatore claims that I have changed, that I no longer believe in the car. When things are going well it's thanks to the car, when they go wrong it's the driver who doesn't believe in it. The truth is that someone wants to reach a breakup before the end of the season".
Flavio Briatore's salty answer:
"I propose an intelligence test. If our goal is to finish second in the Constructors' World Championship standings, is it easier to achieve this with one or two single-seaters? Jarno is paid to race with us for the whole season. No one wants to send him off prematurely".
Instead, it lives a moment of joy and relaxation for the Maranello team, after a season pulled to the brink. Only from the outside do Ferrari's results seem to be achieved with extreme ease. Instead once again in Maranello there was suffering, there was no certainty in February, when the new single-seater was presented, above all it was difficult to think of repeating again, after so many triumphant seasons. It was another magical year, it is no coincidence that with four races to go before the conclusion of the World Championship Ferrari can already celebrate, face the last commitments with unchanged will to win, but with less pressure. And meanwhile, it looks to the future: not only to 2004, but far beyond. On the one hand the intention to continue on the road taken since 1999 (eleven consecutive titles between Constructors and Drivers), on the other hand the growing concern for a Formula 1 that needs to renew itself, change and redistribute its income. The crisis is there, it cannot be hidden, it must be tackled decisively. Luca Montezemolo has no doubts, the time for action has come. President what are the two sides of the coin?
"Meanwhile the brightest one. We dedicate everything to the fans. The two world titles and also Rubens Barrichello's pole position. An outstanding lap, his. It was not easy, which is why I am very happy. Montoya? He can be dangerous in certain situations. I hope he remembers at the start that the race is long. I like our cars to get off the front, but I have to admit that I like pole positions after crossing the finish line".
Let's take a look at the dark side. What are the problems?
"The knots have come to a head. So Formula 1 can no longer move forward. We have always agreed with the Federation when it comes to talking about safety and changing technical or sporting rules if necessary. But the economic management of the sport is no longer acceptable. There is no way that the protagonists, that is, the teams, should share only 47 percent of the revenue from television rights, shouldering all the expenses. Making 100 the value of the receipts, the teams get just ten percent. The rest ends up in the hands of those who administer the championship, pocketing the proceeds from advertising at the circuits, the huge sums shelled out by the organizers, ticket sales for races, and the various lucrative promotional formulas. This way you don't move forward".
Wasn't there an agreement in principle between the Manufacturers, the banks that hold 75 percent of the management company's shares and Ecclestone's Bambino Trust that has the rest?
"We have been discussing for three years. No acceptable solution has been reached. Everything stalled in the spring and there is no prospect of an agreement. Our contracts will expire in 2007. At that point, if this absurd situation cannot be changed, everyone will have to think about what to do. Ferrari as well. Personally, this is my duty as president of the Maranello company and Fiat".
Does it mean that Ferrari might leave Formula 1?
"I didn't say that. Racing is in our blood. We have always wanted to compete because of the technological innovation that we then transfer to our road models and because Ferrari does not advertise. The name runs with racing. But now we are at the ridiculous. From 2008 onward everyone will be free to make their own choices".
Meanwhile, unanimity is lacking for next year's rules.
"Ferrari is open to considering them. It may be in our interest to decide to change little or nothing, since we are currently winning. Faced with the safety issue, we are willing to change the cars, to accept new rules. But, I repeat, we want to have a re-discussion on the distribution of revenues. Because the Manufacturers engaged in Formula 1 can no longer be unpaid players in a sport they keep up by their own means. If a solution to this vital problem is not reached as soon as possible, some teams will be in danger of disappearing. And then it will be too late".
After the outburst, Montezemolo finds in front of Ferrari's motorhome a yellow and white Mini Cooper with the Maranello team's design, given to him as a surprise gift by the president of Bmw. Embarrassing. And perhaps also in bad taste, since the recipient of the gift is an enthusiastic ambassador of made in Italy. Luca Montezemolo does not like it and retorts with irony:
"For marketing reasons, Bmw gave me a yellow Mini Cooper. When in 100 years they win like us, I will be happy to give them a fantastic Panda. Red".
When rain began to fall on Sunday morning, it seemed that the race would not be as easy as it had previously seemed. Should the drivers start on dry or intermediate tires? The majority of drivers opt for the first choice, but Minardi, Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari decide to start one driver on dry tires and one on intermediates. David Coulthard changes his mind as he runs through the warm-up and pits before the start, while Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa and Gianmaria Bruni decide to start the race on intermediate tires. At the start of the Italian Grand Prix Rubens Barrichello holds the first position, while most of the drivers struggle to keep up on dry tires. Michael Schumacher hits Jenson Button's car at the first corner and spins out, while Oliver Panis hits Antonio Pizzonia's Williams.The Frenchman is forced to retire, while Antonio Pizzonia and Michael Schumacher manage to continue the race at the back of the pack. At the end of the first lap Rubens Barrichello has an incredible 6.9-second lead over Fernando Alonso, who started fourth in his Renault, and Juan Pablo Montoya. They are followed by Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, who takes full advantage of the grip granted by the intermediate tires to recover several positions. Gianmaria Bruni also did well, rising from 19th on the grid to 10th place. But as soon as the intermediate racers show their clear advantage, it begins to diminish as the track dries quickly. At the end of the fifth lap, Fernando Alonso catches up and overtakes Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian therefore decides to stop in the pits to fit dry tires and refuel. On lap 11 Fernando Alonso also refueled, ceding the lead to Jenson Button's BAR-Honda. Kimi Raikkonen retires on lap 13 due to an engine failure. With the first stint and refueling over, Jenson Button finds himself in first position. However, Jenson Button underestimates the speed of the Ferraris. Rubens Barrichello is proceeding with a different strategy and drives his car to the maximum. And even Michael Schumacher himself engaged in his recovery from the back of the pack. Jenson Button proceeds at a pace that is not fast enough to contain the recovery of the Maranello team cars and drivers. By the time the British driver realizes that the Brazilian driver is catching up quickly, it is too late. Jenson Button cedes the first position to Rubens Barrichello at the end of his last stop, and when the Brazilian pits he remains ahead of the British driver.
Adding insult to injury, Michael Schumacher manages to pass the British driver's BAR-Honda on the same lap, putting the Ferraris in first and second. Rubens Barrichello wins the Italian Grand Prix, edging out Michael Schumacher at the finish line. Jenson Button is third, while his teammate, Takuma Sato is fourth. Juan Pablo Montoya, David Coulthard, Antonio Pizzonia and Giancarlo Fisichella followed. Rubens Barrichello is a driver without half measures. He spends months grumbling about mistakes and misfortunes, then wakes up and invents the unbelievable. At Monza, the Brazilian braved bad luck and even risked paying dearly for it: first by making the wrong choice of tires at the start; from wet weather, despite the sun quickly drying the track. Then delaying the pit stop by one lap to make up for it. But, indeed, it was his day. The Italian Grand Prix is his as it was in 2002: first win of the season, the eighth of his career. Eight are also the year's one-two wins, 23 paired with Schumacher, 69 in total for Scuderia Ferrari. Barrichello-day begins with a rocket start. The reason is simple: the asphalt is wet and the rain tires quickly reach the ideal operating temperature. The trick lasts three laps, then the rest of the ranks, equipped with dry tires, catch up. Mandatory stops to make up for it. The pole position effect over, Rubinho restarts from ninth position. Since in the meantime Michael Schumacher also had his own problems and with a spin ended up in fifteenth position, it is obvious that Ferrari for once has to force, instead of just controlling its opponents from above. The feat succeeds with extraordinary ease. Credit to the drivers (who do not lose their heads for a moment), the car and the tires. As in a video game, the two make up position after position. It is no longer a matter of simple strategies.
Past the initial gloom - the first five laps were a disaster, will confess technical director Ross Brawn, usually measured in his words - the men in the pits get the moves and timing right, however, this time an extra gear is needed from those behind the wheel. With the exception of Kimi Raikkonen, who stops before his engine explodes, and Fernando Alonso, who makes a mistake at the second chicane, the other top drivers are all in the race and are being passed one by one, until the parade finish. Rubinho wins the fastest pole position in Formula 1, the fastest lap in the race, 1'21"046, the victory in the Italian Grand Prix. This, in the jargon, is called a hat trick. In his career he had succeeded only at Silverstone in 2003, another famous Barrichello-day. There is also a record for Antonio Pizzonia: 369.9 km/h top speed at the end of the grandstands straight. The previous record belonged to Michael Schumacher, who set it at the same point at 368.8 km/h. The difference was that Pizzonia had to settle for seventh place, because in Formula 1 traction, braking and road holding matter more than pure speed. In the championship of the others, BAR-Honda went strong: Jenson Button and Takuma Sato won 11 points worth overtaking Renault in the Constructors' World Championship standings. Behind Ferrari (234 points, the overall record under the current scoring system), David Richards' team rises to 94, while Renault remains steady on 91 points. Zero points in Italy, zero in Belgium. Tension rises in the French team. Jarno Trulli continues to complain about the performance of his single-seater, but as a professional he says he is sorry for the overtaking suffered by the team:
"Besides Alonso's, my points were missed here in Monza. The problem is that we have big grip problems. I would like to solve them and leave the team with second place among the constructors".
Venomous response from boss Flavio Briatore:
"Alonso had a great race, but it is difficult to race with one car".
A different atmosphere prevails at BAR, where Jenson Button smiles and says:
"I dedicate the podium to my grandfather in the hospital. The Ferraris? And who sees them? They are impregnable. As Rubens was coming out of the pits, they shouted at me on the radio: be careful. I thought they were warning me about Michael coming up behind and I got a little confused. After a second I had them both in front of me. Against them there is nothing you can do".
It is a bad blow for Scuderia Ferrari's rivals. In the race where at first everything seemed to go wrong for Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher, the F2004s and the Maranello team showed their true potential. Huge. Victory aside, without weighing the one-two punch, it is the chronometric data that are impressive: the Brazilian set the new absolute lap record at Monza, at an average of 257.320 km/h, but above all what is surprising are the detachments inflicted even on the fastest drivers. Antonio Pizzonia, third fastest in the Williams, is 1.2 seconds slower, Giancarlo Fisichella in the Sauber at 1.569 seconds, Takuma Sato at 1.614 seconds, David Coulthard and Juan Pablo Montoya at more than 1.8 seconds. On a track as long and fast as the Monza circuit, those are abysmal margins. After winning his seventh World Championship in Belgium, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello had said:
"No longer having to do math, we will now be free to have fun".
They did. Escapes, overtaking, chases, characterized the Italian Grand Prix and the Maranello team's race. Faced with a result that seemed unattainable after the first laps, fans and commentators remain dumbfounded. Even in the press room. A few cheers from the South Americans, with the British, French and Japanese cold as ice. They were hoping for a statement from Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso or Takuma Sato. Disappointed, as has been the case for years, with very rare exceptions. Ferrari is not only is super competitive, but also queen of reliability. As is not the case with McLaren Mercedes, where poor Kimi Raikkonen had to retire in the early stages of the race due to a water leak that challenged the engine. For the Finn it is the eighth abandonment of the season out of fifteen races held. An average of more than 50 percent. Of the opponents only BAR-Honda seems to have retained some competitiveness, thanks mainly to Jenson Button, who, however, has chosen to switch next year to Williams, assuming he succeeds: it will end up in court, unless a commercial agreement is found that satisfies everyone. Honda officials, however, claim that the Englishman will have to drive the car powered by them in 2005 as well. The fact remains that BAR has overtaken Renault in the Constructors' World Championship standings, putting it in second place behind Scuderia Ferrari. McLaren continues to lose competitiveness, Williams is little more than an extra, and the French team headed by Flavio Briatore can no longer get results. Fernando Alonso, forced to push to the limit, makes mistakes. Jarno Trulli complains about a car that does not stay on the road, and after being a major player in the first part of the championship, he now finds himself five races out of the points, for various reasons. Is it a coincidence that this has been happening since he announced that he will leave the team? There are three races to go: China, Japan and Brazil. Ferrari has shown that it will not make concessions. So he will aim for more success. At the same time he is working with Rory Byrne and the other designers on the 2005 single-seater. The rules are not yet fully defined, but as far as aerodynamics and mechanics are concerned we can already proceed. The question of engines remains to be defined; although they will have to last for two race weekends, they will not change much. It is presumable that solutions in the sign of continuity are being studied in Maranello. No revolution. Instead, they will be forced to change a lot more by Williams and McLaren, which have already remade their cars in the middle of the season. In its own small way, thanks to the Ferrari engine and the new wind tunnel, Sauber has broken its own points record and is therefore on the rise. Mysterious objects remain Jaguar and Toyota, especially the Japanese team, which has great assets. Jordan and Minardi are not judged: it is already a miracle that they are still there.
"I waited a long time to return to the top step of the podium. I was rewarded: here, in front of these people, with the warmth of the, fans who turned the N circuit into a piece of Brazil thanks to their enthusiasm, it was even better. I send a kiss to everyone".
If Rubens Barrichello, at the award ceremony and then in the orgy of journalists, cameramen, photographers and fans, did not burst his heart with happiness, it is only because he is a strong guy, used to suffering. He may not have the constancy of Michael Schumacher, but every now and then he finds special days, like a true champion. A race, his as well as Michael Schumacher's, was extraordinary: started uphill, ended in triumph.
"It was tough. Finally a great pole position and a great victory. I worked hard, overcame even difficult moments. I like to see Michael cross the finish line first. This year, though, we were 12-0. With the same car, a Ferrari. I was helped by an outstanding team. And I thank Ross Brawn, who was able to change the race strategy on the fly".
A change dictated by circumstances.
"Yes, because I had chosen intermediate tires. The track at the start was very wet, it would have been a risk to start on dry tires, as most of the competitors did, including Schumacher. I was starting up front, I didn't know in which corner I would find water, I preferred to be cautious. And I was stunned when, after the first lap, I knew I had almost a seven-second lead. At that point, however, we made a small mistake. With the asphalt drying out, I should have stopped earlier, so I would have had a bigger lead. After the pit stop I was ninth, a little discouraged knowing that I would have to pit two more times. I gritted my teeth and pushed hard. My victories always require some expenditure of energy. It's worth it".
Stunning finish to the race:
"When they reported that I was fourth, I thought: having started on the pole position means I'm the fastest. Then I believed I could really win. At a certain ponto however I didn't understand anything about my position anymore. I was yelling on the radio: where am I, where am I? There had been an audio blackout, however as I was facing Ascari I heard a voice saying: you are first! At the same time I noticed the fans celebrating along the circuit. Then I understood everything. Then, with a few laps to go, I saw in the rearview mirrors that Michael was coming, but by then I was sure I was going to make it".
Michael Schumacher, however, was also fulfilled at that moment.
"Apart from the fact that maybe I could have caught up with Rubens but not overtaken him because our cars had similar performance. I was so happy that all I thought about was crossing the finish line. On the first lap I was afraid I was lost. With dry tires on the wet track I felt like I was driving on ice. I went long at the chicane. I let Montoya pass, who was smart, and reduced my speed. In the next chicane I touched Button's BAR with a front wheel, so I spun. It was the worst moment of the day: I could restart, but I was forced to parade many opponents and I ended up 15th".
Lost race altogether?
"The Ferrari was great as soon as everything went back to normal. I was able to force it to the maximum. I had fun: overtaking and recovering. I was in the middle of the pack, involved in a great battle. For me, a second place obtained like that is worth a victory. Also, if Rubens is happy, I am happy for him. He did great, he deserved it".
For Ferrari that is the most beautiful victory of the season. Uncontrollable was the euphoria of President Luca Montezemolo, who as always did not see the race from the pits:
"It's been many years and every time I say this is the most beautiful race. Today was something incredible: amazing drivers, and I'm especially happy for Barrichello's victory. It is resounding the team, like the cars, the tires. I never imagined after the first few laps that we would finish first and second. This is there demonstration of how difficult it is to win in Formula 1".
Adds the sporting director, Stefano Domenicali:
"We never give up, we knew there were conditions to recover, however, it was hard to believe that we would have done it Barrichello, Montez in this way".
He is even enthusiastic about the technical manager, Ross Brawn:
"It couldn't have gone any better. After six laps the race was a disaster. And we got an incredible one-two".
Great enthusiasm also for Gabriele Delli Colli, Rubens Barrichello's car engineer. Thirty-eight years old, passion for motorcycles, experience at Alfa Romeo, in Minardi, Sauber and Jordan:
"I'm from Varese, I consider Monza my home track. A more beautiful thing could not have happened to me. We have been waiting for this joy for a long time. It came at the right time".
As Jean Todt exclaims:
"Did you see the excitement at Monza? Did you see that exciting race? Here is another proof that Formula 1 cannot do without Ferrari".
On the day of the celebration, Scuderia Ferrari's general manager returns to a sensitive topic: the tug-of-war between the manufacturers and the owners of Formula 1 rights, namely a group of banks and Bernie Ecclestone.
"There are ongoing negotiations, I don't want to comment further".
On the eve of the Italian Grand Prix dominated by Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher, Fiat chairman Luca Montezemolo had delivered a strong message:
"An era is over. Either they increase the income of the protagonists or we organize another World Championship".
No, Formula 1 cannot do without the Maranello team: the race was watched on television by 10.600.000 viewers. The two Ferraris put on a show, preparing a handicap race with a series of mistakes in the initial part and making up for them with ima spectacular comeback.
"We witnessed an incredible show, because Ferrari showed all its determination, its ability to never give up. Rubens decided to start on wet tires, Michael preferred dry tires. In the end both choices turned out to be right".
Without the spin, however, Schumacher would have finished first.
"I'm glad Rubens won: thirteen wins to zero sounds worse than twelve to one".
Rubens Barrichello said, however, that it would have been better to pit for dry tires at least one lap earlier.
"In the end it's easy to reason. In the race the pace is intense and decisions have to be very quick. It was nice to celebrate in front of the Italian public and in front of the Ferrari employees who had their grandstand there. Despite the bad weather, people came to the racetrack, they showed us gratitude for what we have achieved this year, they celebrated us for the 701 Grands Prix we have held".
The origins of success, in Jean Todt's opinion, are a mix of technology and men, of work and organization.
"We have two fantastic drivers, an extraordinary team, two reliable cars and, here at Monza, above all tires, Bridgestone, which were the most important factor in the one-two punch. Giancarlo Fisichella's fourth best time in the Sauber confirms the superiority of our tires. In a race that is normally run on two pit stops, the consistency of performance helped us".
The most exhilarating moment?
"Barrichello's exit from the pits after the third stop right at the moment when the cameras were framing Schumacher's overtake of Button. It was an extraordinary sequence. I talked about it with my director friend Luc Besson. He agreed with it as well".
During the race, however, there were moments of terror when three liters of gasoline were enough to develop flames a couple of meters high that enveloped the Minardi with poor Gianmaria Bruni on board. It is the chronicle of a dramatic pit stop that ended with the driver unable to breathe and, panicked, unable to find the button that releases the six seat belts.
"These things happen. With the fire out, for us Gimmi could have restarted".
It was a technical problem that triggered the inferno. According to the team's opinion, Gianmaria Bruni positioned himself too far forward in the lay-by, which complicated refueling. Some gasoline was left in the dispenser hose and ended up on the hot parts of the single-seater, igniting. Mechanic Loris Manucci intervened with a fire extinguisher along with a fire crew member. Gianmaria Bruni, then what happened?
"Gasoline got under the vent, so flames were enveloping me on both sides. The men with the extinguisher were very quick, however, they could not tell where the fire was developing from, so they sprayed everywhere".
Did the flames come at her?
"No, but the fire-fighting liquid did. It's toxic, it got into my helmet, blocking my breath".
Were you scared?
"Not at first, because the suits are made to withstand 20 seconds of flames. But when the smoke entered my lungs along with that liquid, I panicked".
What did you do?
"I tried to get out quickly. I detached the steering wheel and hurled it away, so I tried to free myself. In apnea, it was not easy. When they realized my difficulties, the mechanics helped me".
Did he go to the medical center?
"No, Dr. Ceccarelli from Toyota came to help me. He administered oxygen and after half an hour I recovered. My throat and bronchi continue to bother me because of the burning".
According to the mechanics, it came a little long.
"If a fire broke out every time a driver came long, we could open a pizzeria".
The next round of the World Championship is in Shanghai, on a new circuit. Scuderia Ferrari will continue preparation on two fronts, from Tuesday, September 14 to Friday, September 17, 2004, at Jerez with Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher, at Mugello with test driver Luca Badoer who will be joined by Andrea Bertolini on Friday for half a day. And at this point in the season, with the World Championships already won, it can be assumed that Scuderia Ferrari is already rehearsing for 2005.