Three Formula One teams do secret testing, against all agreements on self-limited testing days. The said report does not come from a spy of some competing team nor from treacherous fans armed with cameras: it’s about the Yorkshire citizens’ protest that raises the case. Accustomed to the silence of the English countryside, on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2005, a group of people denounced the infernal din coming from the racing engines. What is a 900-horsepower car doing in a remote place? In theory, nothing. However, if just right in the area where the single-seaters are built there is a small airport, the perspective changes. Elvington Airfield, near York, is an ideal place for small aircrafts to take off and study the aerodynamics of a Formula 1 racing car away from prying eyes (but not sensitive ears). Moral: Citizens protest, the city administration warns the company that operates the facility, Elvington Park Ltd (registered office in Liechtenstein), which appeals. The affair makes noise and ends up in an online newspaper, Thisisyork.co.uk. Here the secret is out to the world. Any illicit behavior? None to be found, decibels aside. lan Wonnald, Elvington Park executive, admits:
"The teams come in on very short notice. These are very short tests, and I think the rumble of a Formula 1 car is exciting".
Replicate the local residents, not at all excited:
"So much for short tests. Last week they went on for five afternoons in a row".
The paper names McLaren, Jordan and Jaguar - which, however, has sold its Formula 1 team to Red Bull. There would be nothing wrong with this, except that the three teams have signed a pact along with everyone else - Scuderia Ferrari excluded - to reduce costs. The agreement grants a maximum of thirty days to private testing during the racing season: every time a car takes to the track the day is charged, whether 500 kilometers are covered or 50 just because maybe it starts raining or the engine breaks down. After four Grand Prix, the strongest teams have already used about half the bonus. And in a couple of months, the deal is likely to break down: faced with the comeback of Ferrari, which already intends to give home idol Fernando Alonso a hard time in Barcelona, will opponents still agree to compete without testing? The complaint coming from England weakens the bond between the endorsers. Ferrari has always kept out of it, presenting an alternative plan and rejecting a limitation that would harm it, especially when it comes to tire development. Only the single-seaters of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, in fact, test with Bridgestone, competitors Renault, McLaren, Williams, BAR and Toyota, use Michelin instead. And speaking of competing teams to Scuderia Ferrari, on Thursday, May 5th, 2005, on the eve of the Spanish Grand Prix, BAR-Honda is excluded from the San Marino Grand Prix final classification. In addition, the Anglo-Japanese team will be forced to sit out the Spanish Grand Prix and the Monaco Grand Prix, suffer a six-month disqualification, and will have to pay legal fees. But it will still be able to return to racing starting with the European Grand Prix, thanks to the suspended penalty formula. The FIA tribunal could have expelled the team from the Formula One World Championship, as it did to Tyrrell in 1984. It did not, probably, because malice was not proven, but the car, unhappily christened 007, hid a secret in the tank: a second container in which fuel added during the last pit stop of the race would be used to restore the regulatory weight. The ruling overshadows the eve of the fifth Grand Prix, the duel between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher, and Ferrari's desire for redemption, but it reveals the background of the checks that took place at the end of the San Marino Grand Prix: while Jenson Button was celebrating on the podium, his car was taken to scrutineering along with Fernando Alonso's Renault and Michael Schumacher's Ferrari. So dictates the regulations for the top three finishers. The inspection is particularly thorough, because some rumors of alleged irregularities were already circulating. The BAR team men emptied the tank.
"Are you finished?"
The commissioners asked.
At this point a probe was inserted into the tank, which discovered the presence of nine kilos of fuel in the hidden container and 2.5 kilos in the main one. Properly emptied, the car turned out to weigh 594.6 kilos,while the regulatory minimum weight is 600 pounds, including driver. The BAR team defended itself by claiming, telemetry in hand, that it had never raced with an underweight single-seater. The stewards accepted the explanations, but the FIA appealed because gasoline cannot be used as ballast. The disqualification verdict closes the matter with sports justice. Exclaims now CEO, Nick Fry:
"We will urgently appeal to the ordinary court, we want to participate in this Grand Prix. The ruling is contrary to the evidence we provided: the charge of fraud has been dropped, so the penalty we were given is completely disproportionate".
The appeal, however, is a double-edged sword that could really cost the Anglo-Japanese team an disqualification for unsportsmanlike conduct. Especially since - in the opinion of many insiders - the sentence is mild, since guilt has been acknowledged.
"We will file the appeal for 2004. By overtaking us in the Constructors' World Championship standings, BAR-Honda has penalized us from a sporting and economic point of view".
Argues Flavio Briatore, team principal of Renault, ranked third at the end of the 2004 season. The exclusion of Jenson Button and Takuma Sato from the finish order at Imola favors two Italians: Jarno Trulli (Toyota) rises from seventh to fifth place and reaches 20 points in the standings, while Vitantonio Liuzzi earns a point in his debut race. A great satisfaction also for Alexander Wurz: Juan Pablo Montoya's replacement is rewarded with the third step of the podium. Frustrated BAR-Honda mechanics on Friday, May 6th, 2005 perform the tasks that normally keep them busy on Sunday evening. The latter pack up cars, engines, various equipment and aboard their white, red and olive green trucks leave the circuit. The team decides to accept the disqualification imposed by the FIA after its cars were found to be irregular, too lightweight, at the Imola Grand Prix. No Spain and no Monaco. Damage valued at several million euros, in addition to reputational damage. The Anglo-Japanese team's lawyers are evaluating several factors before making the difficult decision to pack up.
"We looked at all viable avenues to try to race in Barcelona. Given the European laws we realized that it would have been impossible to get the Federal Appeals Tribunal's verdict changed immediately. We could have tried to be in the race in Monaco, but a legal dispute with the FIA would have caused further deterioration of Formula 1's image. The matter was too complex. We still believe that the judges were not able to prove concretely that BAR- Honda acted illegally and it is not clear to us why we were given such a harsh penalty".
Dark faces can be seen leaving the circuit, particularly those of Jenson Button and Takuma whom were stripped of the points gained at Imola. Says the British driver:
"To me, the championship is already over. I will no longer be able to compete for the World Championship".
Jenson Button, according to a clause in his contract, could leave BAR at the end of the season if Williams enforces an option against him. Meanwhile, Max Mosley, president from the FIA, says he is sure about the irregularity of the disqualified cars, while for the Benettons, challenged in 1994, there was no certainty about the illegal use of traction control and the automatic start system. Max Mosley also criticizes the Sunday qualifying format. But at the moment there is no change.
"If we don't get to the bottom of it, there's trouble".
Pontificates Michael Schumacher at the end of the first day of practice, after arguing with Chris Dyer, his engineer. The World Champion gesticulates. He is nervous, disappointed. The comeback conducted at Imola becomes a memory. It is another difficult Friday for the Scuderia Ferrari, which shelves dreams of a comeback: the tires last little and work worse, the car breaks down, the drivers don't come to terms with it. Spanish spring is hot: 25 °C air temperature, 35 °C on the tarmac, warmed by a beautiful sun. And the Bridgestones are struggling. Michael Schumacher has no precise diagnosis:
"We need to analyze the data collected. What is certain is that we are slow".
At the end of the day, excluding the test drivers, he set the ninth time, Rubens Barrichello's tenth. The Brazilian had a problem with his hydraulic system and his gearbox was replaced - fourth time this has happened in the last three Grands Prix.
"I don't understand, at Mugello we practiced in similar weather condition and everything was fine".
Two free practice sessions to go on Saturday to make up for it, then the first qualifying session will have to be tackled. However, Scuderia Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn argues:
"The race pace is there. The challenge is to be able to get a good position in qualifying as well."
There is a festive mood in the Renault garage. Fernando Alonso is living in a state of siege. Spain has gone crazy for him, he cannot go out on the streets because buses stop and people come down to ask for his autograph. The World Championship leader concedes sparingly and tries to make himself well liked. To the British reporters he explains that here at the Montmeló circuit the challenge will be limited to Michelin-tyred cars, and in particular Renault and McLaren; to the Spaniards he says he feels no particular pressure, but that he is highly motivated thanks to the cheers, a tide of kids obsessively repeating his name in a chorus; to the Italians he swears he expects a Ferrari battling for pole position; to the Germans he says those gossips at Bild have speculated about a conflict of hearts between Rebecca, a childhood friend, daughter of a kart track manager and now a cellist, and Carolina, his new flame, a descendant of Barcelona's posh neighborhoods.
"If you think you can rattle me on the eve of my race, you won't succeed".
Says Fernando Alonso, perhaps fearing a German media plot against him. For Formula 1, it's a party. Fever is rising and the managers of the Montmeló racetrack are already celebrating a sell-out: 115.000 tickets sold at the usual prices, from 100 to more than 400 euros.
The disqualified BAR-Honda will be missing, but an old star of the Circus, Juan Pablo Montoya, is back. He had broken his shoulder playing tennis. A few seconds before the end of free practice, the Colombian driver causes a bad accident at Turn 9, in which he destroys the car:
"While I was waiting for the impact, I had time to think: here, now I'm going to break my shoulder again. And instead. I didn't injure myself. Fantastic, I was overjoyed".
For the avoidance of doubt, good Juan Pablo undergoes a medical checkup by his trusted orthopedist, who certifies that the bone is intact and gives him permission to continue the race weekend. He'll get over it. Pedro De La Rosa, who was ready to replace him by carving out a small slice of cheer, instead has to settle for the traditional role of test driver. A day well spent, however: the best time in free practice is his. Among the starters, the fastest is instead Nick Heidfeld, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Jarno Trulli. The Italian driver invokes the heat; Ferrari could use the cooler weather. Weather conditions are also involved in the Italian fates in Formula 1. The good news is that someone will be fine with it. The forecast says Jarno Trulli, who on Saturday, May 7th, 2005, gives Toyota its first pole position - albeit a provisional one - while Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello struggle due to tires and engine. Sunday will be sunny at the Montmeló circuit, all colored blue instead of red as is the case at almost all Formula 1 racetracks, from Australia to the United States. However, the World Championship leader for now scores only the second fastest time. 0.016 seconds separate him from his former teammate. On Sunday morning he can close the gap in Q2, but he will have to watch out for Kimi Raikkonen, who is a few thousandths relegated to third position and has several alibis, including a mistake that caused him to lose 0.5 seconds and the dirty track.
"I would rather have Trulli in front than a McLaren or a Ferrari, which are Renault's main opponents".
Nothing personal against Jarno Trulli, only the consideration that Toyota does not yet have a world title pace and needs high temperatures to make Michelin tires work at their best. The men of the Maranello team are also rooting with interest for Jarno:
"If he starts in the lead, the race pace will be slower and in the distance we might be able to catch up".
But what happened to the former invincibles, who also seemed reborn in Imola? Surely there is a tire problem both on the fast lap and in hot weather.
"Whatever happens in the second practice session, I will not have an ideal position in the starting lineup. We have to rely on our race performance, which I am much more satisfied with".
In the meantime, however, Rubens Barrichello breaks his engine and will be demoted ten positions, while on Friday it was again the gearbox that broke. Says Scuderia Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn:
"The problem with Rubens' propeller has never occurred before and we will have to ascertain the cause".
The gearbox one, however, is too frequent a failure to be accidental. Problems that do not interest Fernando Alonso:
"Schumacher in crisis? Better not be a joke. We are all professionals here. Sometimes he drove it hard, like his Ferrari at Imola, other times less so. He will be dangerous again".
The current threat for Nano is another one: Kimi Raikkonen. The McLaren is a mysterious object. Extremely competitive, the McLaren would have gotten the pole position, if it were not for a driving error of the Finnish driver. Even at Imola, the car was very competitive, but not much reliable. On the other hand, four drivers have already finished in the points: the two starters plus Alexander Wurz and Pedro De La Rosa. Back here in Spain is Juan Pablo Montoya, who was not very fast in qualifying. The Colombian is 12th and the public invokes the name of De La Rosa, who until the advent of Alonso was the best that Spanish motor racing could offer. In short, when the engineers work well, the drivers get all wrong, and viceversa. Overall, the potential is great, it's all about exploiting it. Giancarlo Fisichella, who disappeared among the best after the Australian triumph, seems to be on the upswing.
"I did my little task without overdoing it. If I recover a couple of grid positions, I'm okay. Insulted by Alonso? There is no favoritism in the team. I want to beat everyone and leave behind the bad luck of the last three races".
Feet on the ground and head clear. Jarno Trulli has no illusions, but at the same time he is aware of his and Toyota's potential.
"I didn't expect to be the fastest. But I think especially the others went slow. Alonso and Raikkonen in qualifying made mistakes. For now I still put Renault and McLaren ahead of us".
However, the Italian Toyota driver does not write himself off from the challenge to win the World Championship:
"Should the Spaniard win again today, he will not become uncatchable. The championship is still very long, open to different candidates. There's me and Kimi, although as far as I'm concerned, it's not until the middle of the season that I'll understand if we can aim for the title. If Toyota continues to amaze me there will be fun to be had. Last year here in Spain I had snatched third place from Alonso, I hope to at least repeat myself".
What are the virtues of the Japanese single-seater?
"It is fast, it’s driveable, the setup is easy and so far it has been reliable. Qualities that allow for positive thoughts".
What about Ferrari?
"It has obvious tire problems. The car is always among the best. But, if within one race it isn’t brought to be competitive again, it will be hard to recover".
Sunday, May 8th, 2005, Kimi Raikkonen sets the fastest time at the end of the second qualifying session. The Finnish driver is just 0.024 seconds ahead of Mark Webber. Fernando Alonso and Ralf Schumacher follow, while Jarno Trulli, who had set the best performance at the end of Saturday's session, is a full 0.6 seconds off the top.
The sum of the times brings Kimi Räikkönen and Webber to the front row, followed by Fernando Alonso and Ralf Schumacher. Placing themselves at the back of the grid are Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello, who, after changing engines, do not complete their qualifying lap to save tires and fuel, as well as Tiago Monteiro, whose powertrain breaks down during the session. At the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, Kimi Räikkönen gets off to a good start and immediately takes the lead. On the other hand, Mark Webber's sprint is very bad, and he is overtaken by both Fernando Alonso and Ralf Schumacher; at the back of the field, the Minardis of Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher have some difficulty starting as a result of some electronic problems, forcing the race management to send the safety car onto the track. After moving the two Minardis that remained stationary, Juan Pablo Montoya spins out on lap seven without consequences, while Vitantonio Liuzzi spins out at the same spot two laps later, however, getting bogged down in the gravel. The Italian driver is thus forced to retire. The race continued straightforward until lap 44 when Michael Schumacher, while in third position, came into the pits complaining of problems with his left rear tire, which was replaced; two laps later, however, he was forced to retire due to another problem, this time occurring to the left front tire. The series of refueling does not change the leading positions, which stabilize with Kimi Räikkönen ahead of Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli, who manages to overtake his teammate Ralf Schumacher. Kimi Raikkonen wins the Spanish Grand Prix, followed by the Spanish Renault driver, and the two Toyotas. Giancarlo Fisichella finished fifth, followed by Mark Webber, Juan Pablo Montoya, and David Coulthard.
Scuderia Ferrari's dreams deflated just over halfway through the race, along with Michael Schumacher's fragile tires. It was over. The farewell to the dreams of winning the World Championship is certified by the protagonists: the World Champion no longer believes in it, Jean Todt admits the end of a cycle, both nevertheless promise commitment and dedication until the last kilometer. The protagonists of the 2005 World Championship are others, and they are all on the podium. Kimi Raikkonen tomes to being a great driver, Fernando Alonso consolidates his lead in the standings, Jarno Trulli resists him and is even surprised. Behind them, the group is thinning out: only Giancarlo Fisichella could re-enter, if bad luck would leave him alone for some time. The Maranello team is far behind: Michael Schumacher is 34 points away from the top of the standings, while a year ago right here at the Montmeló circuit he celebrated his fifth consecutive victory. Kimi Raikkonen again, then. A driver made of ice that the Maranello team has been keeping an eye on for some time. In the absence of technical problems or distractions, the Finn has shown that he can give lessons when it comes to speed. In Barcelona he was uncatchable, from pole position - the fifth of his career - to the last lap, always leading at a breakneck pace. 115.000 people had come to celebrate Fernando Alonso. They settled for second place, which still makes good rankings and extends the streak of podium appearances of Michael Schumacher's other promised heir. Fernando Alonso raced this time with one eye on the track and one on the lead in the standings. He understood that it was not the case to risk a chase, as the Michelin tires, while exceptional, at a third of the way through the race on his Renault had a drop in performance. So he administered, a sign of maturity as well as insensitivity to outside pressures. He gave up second place to Giancarlo Fisichella for a moment and took it back without a blow when his teammate broke a damn aerodynamic appendage that gained him 0.02 seconds a lap but meanwhile ruined two races for him, in Spain and Malaysia.
"I don't want it anymore, just take it away".
Giancarlo Fisichella asks, consoled in the pits by Fernando Alonso's father, who tells him: You deserved second place. The chief mechanic, Alan Permane, apologizes to the Italian driver because the pit repair took too long, 35 seconds.
Little positives together with the fastest lap in the race, even the last one, a sign of the good form of his Renault, ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix, where finally Giancarlo Fisichella will return to qualify with the leaders and will not be forced to do a consolatory lap in qualifying. At the end of the race, before commenting on the result of his cars, Flavio Briatore inquires about the result of the Milan-Juventus match.
"Well, two pieces of good news".
Says the Renault boss and Juventus fan.
"The first is, with the 12 points gained here in Barcelona, we can start talking about a possible World Championship victory".
The second, of course, concerns the Scudetto sprint. But in the meantime, he pampers his two drivers:
"Well done Fernando, he did his best. Well done Giancarlo, he had a great race and was unlucky".
Yeah, it always happens to him...
"Building two different single-seaters is impossible".
And Giancarlo Fisichella confirms:
"I am ready to bet, there is no favoritism in the team".
Flavio Briatore's last words are about the Ferraris:
"They remain the opponents to beat. It's good to fight against them; I'm sure they have the means to come back strong soon".
Even Alonso is beginning to believe in the title:
"I don't want to get off from the podium anymore. McLaren? No worries, it always goes well in Barcelona".
King Juan Carlos enjoyed himself and complimented him. The Italian of the day is Jarno Trulli. Three podiums in five races, second place in the standings and thoughts already turned to the Monaco Grand Prix, where he won the only race of his career last year. Without deluding himself, he is trying to stay in the upper parts of the standings and hopes Toyota will take another step forward. Hoping costs nothing. The race did not offer the same excitement as Imola. Kimi Raikkonen always in front, Fernando Alonso in the chase. Jarno Trulli poaching Ralf Schumacher until he overtook him and boxed for the second pit stop. Michael Schumacher made the race interesting around lap 30, when he began to lap on record pace until consolidating third place. Then the left tires gave up one by one.
All Michael Schumacher has left of his 14th Spanish Grand Prix is a bad memory and the record in the last sector of the track. Giancarlo Fisichella took away his fastest lap in the race, by 0.007 seconds and on the last pass, almost a mockery. As a mockery was the failure of both tires when the German was in third and perhaps could have fought for second. At this point there is little to salvage. After the brilliant race at Imola, Ferrari plunges into its worst result in years, after the one recorded in Brazil two seasons ago when both Maranello drivers went off the track, sliding on the asphalt, flooded by water due to an intense rainstorm. But back then they both could have won the race. In Spain, however, there was just a great charge by Michael Schumacher, from eighth place at the start to third. Not least because Barrichello (his is the highest speed recorded, 329.1 km/h), with the tank of his F2005 loaded with gasoline in an incredible attempt to catch up, was never in the fight even for eighth place. It was within logic to expect a decline in the Maranello team after so many triumphs, but the alarm remains. It is clear that the tires bear a huge responsibility for Ferrari's negative results at this start of the season. It may be the heat or it may be the type of asphalt, but the race is already compromised when a driver fails to squeeze into at least the front rows. Miracle chases are precisely the result of a miracle, and the race pace cannot always be counted on. The many tests so far have had no effect. Bridgestone, although with great will and considerable effort, has not yet been able to produce a tire that can be competitive on a dry lap and then last for another 300 kilometers on any kind of circuit. But it would be ungenerous to cast all the blame solely on the Japanese suppliers. Even the F2005 has some reliability and set-up problems. It is hard to tell if the difficulties arise only because of the tires, but throughout the weekend the Ferraris appeared too nervous. The only advantage brought back from Spain, comes from the successes of McLaren and Kimi Raikkonen. In Barcelona, the Finnish driver and his car have impressed, however, Renault, partly thanks to Giancarlo Fisichella, has collected the most points. And if Fernando Alonso, with the margin he has gained in the standings, always gets on the podium as he did in the first five races, he will be unlikely to be reached. It is shaping up to be quite a scuffle. And since - as Michel Schumacher claims - the championship is still very long, Ferrari will continue to fight all the way. At least to win a few Grand Prix.
"The World Championship? Farther and farther away".
There is still no official version explaining what happened to the left tires on Schumacher's Ferrari. Hisao Suganuma, Bridgestone's technical manager, speaks of air leakage, but probably everyone knows that when a tire is deflated it means the air is gone. No one dares to talk about a puncture, that is, blaming it on debris. That would be the easy way out, ruling out technical or construction responsibility. So it is likely that the issue is more complex. As Michael Schumacher says:
"On the previous lap I felt that the car had lost balance. Suddenly the tire sagged. Fortunately, I was at the corner before the pits, so I was able to get back in quickly".
The wheel is replaced. The regulations in such cases allow this, but prohibit refueling during the stop. Michael Schumacher restarts, runs a full lap but at the end of the main straight is forced to slam on the brakes because the left front tire is flat. At this point to return to the pits he has to drive for five kilometers.
"I entered the pits and decided to retire, because there was no longer any sense in continuing. I don't know what happened, maybe debris. I don't think it's a general problem with the Bridgestones, because the other two were in good condition. On the other hand, it is strange that the same problem occurs only on the left".
Jean Todt's line of reasoning is more generic:
"Our competitors have interpreted the new rules better than we have. That is why we have not won yet. We are the only team using Bridgestones, and we have won many titles. When it goes wrong, however, we get eight cars ahead of us".
The prospects remain bleak. And in two weeks the Circus moves to Monte-Carlo, where responsive and nippy tires are needed in qualifying, the exact opposite of those in use by Ferrari.
"The World Championship is far away but not far enough to give up. We will continue to work and fight".
What would have been the result without the punctures?
"Third place was a realistic goal. I would have been on the track longer than Alonso before the last stop, but I don't think I would have been able to regain the 11-second lead from him. Although I would have tried anyway".
The World Champion flaunts serenity:
"The pressure decreases because we feel freer and have nothing to lose. There is disappointment, of course. We were in the making of a comeback and the whole team was disappointed: 6 points would have been very important for us. Looking ahead to the Monaco Grand Prix, we just have to get back to work".
Luca Badoer will work overtime: four days of testing at Fiorano from Tuesday, May 10th to Friday, May 13th, 2005. Rubens Barrichello will also be on track on Tuesday, Michael Schumacher on Wednesday and Thursday. Goals set? Jean Todt is not hiding his disappointment:
"After the San Marino Grand Prix, we expected a different race here in Spain. I have always repeated that cycles end sooner or later. Ours was extraordinary but it came to an end. Now we are committed to starting a new one again. I don't know when we will return to winning, I only know that we will".
He has a duty, the Scuderia Ferrari general manager, to keep the tension in the team high. And so he remembers that arithmetic still leaves a chink and that therefore the goal remains unchanged, no matter how distant and difficult it appears. The question is always the same: What has held back the invincible team of the past five years? And what are the solutions?
"The other teams have worked well. We know our problems and will study solutions with Bridgestone, which helped us win 15 races last year. We have to assess the situation well without panicking".
It is not just a matter of tires not working well.
"The opponents have improved in everything. Reliability, for example, is currently a problem. While back in 2004 our car was a hundred percent reliable".
For Monaco, Ferrari announces new aerodynamic solutions and a package of upgrades that will allow the drivers to face qualifying in the best possible conditions, because in the narrows of the Principality comebacks are pure utopia. The negative balance of the Spanish Grand Prix is weighed down by the performance of Rubens Barrichello, who was penalized by engine failure on Saturday and an unlikely strategy: a single mid-race refueling. The result is written in the order of arrival: a useless and frustrating ninth place, seasoned with two overtakes at the start on the Minardis that were stuck with the engine off and nothing more. The Brazilian driver sketches a technical reading of his performance, issues of balancing and tire performance. But in the end he admits:
"Honestly, I didn't have a great pace".
However, Jean Todt acquits Rubens Barrichello:
"After Michael's retirement all our chances were on Rubens. Despite the one-stop strategy, he failed to score points. But it’s not his fault".
The Brazilian takes it philosophically. Ninth place, for him, is also the result of adverse circumstances.
"I admit that the strategy with only one pit stop did not work. But I could have also finished third, fourth or fifth if at the start I had not lost ten seconds behind Webber's Williams, Since then my race became more difficult, always caught in traffic. Due to the fuel load I was losing two seconds a lap. My tires behaved strangely, lacked balance, there were bubbles and I was slipping, but they could also have gone the distance of another Grand Prix".
The Brazilian's analysis of Ferrari's situation is calm and placid:
"So far we have had many problems but always different ones. We will solve them. Maybe we did something wrong in interpreting test results, probably the sudden braking on this track caused the crisis. However, there is no doubt that our biggest problem remains qualifying. When you start behind, everything gets complicated".
Rubinho, however, does not despair:
"The McLaren in Spain looked like last year’s Ferrari, as did the Renault of previous races. But we are Ferrari and we will return to the top".
The winner of the Spanish Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen, is a peculiar character: transgressive in private life, when he enters the track he becomes almost a robot, cold and relentless. His alcohol habit and disco fights with his wife Jenni, former Miss Scandinavia, discovered and amplified by the British and Finnish tabloids, have perhaps somewhat tarnished his public image, exposing the weaknesses of a Nordic kid who on the long, cold winter nights of his Espoo days was perhaps already warming up with vodka and beer.
As a pilot, nothing to say. Fast, brave, determined, professional. And if McLaren had provided him with abetter car, the Finn would not only be on the way of his third victory, after those achieved in the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2003 and the Belgian Grand Prix in 2004. Mika Hakkinen's heir has a chance of becoming a candidate for the World Championship victory and a relentless opponent for the other pretender, Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Ferrari laid their eyes on Kimi Raikkonen, as a possible replacement of the World Champion, if and when he decides to leave the wheel, preferring him to the albeit talented Spanish driver. He had seen right through the Swiss manufacturer Peter Sauber, who had picked him up directly from Formula 3 in 2001 and then resold his tag to McLaren, after one season, for the substantial sum of $25.000.000. In a championship that began in alternating stages, Kimi Raikkonen reaps a reward for his skill.
"We were close to victory several times and finally got there. My car was excellent over the three days: in practice and in the race, and I knew I could aim for first place. If we continue to have the performance we showed in Spain, we will fight for the World Championship. We are strong in all areas. I got off to a good start and pushed hard until the first pit stop, when I had then built up enough of a lead that I could not be overtaken. At the first stop I had a moment of fear because on the restart the engine would not pick up the revs, but then it got back up to full speed and there were no problems. After that everything went well, after all it was even easy to win".
"So much so that after the pit stop I didn't overdrive anymore. I'm not saying I was going fast, but I tried to save tires and engine. I could have been much faster. And it is the margin of advantage I had that gives me a lot of confidence for the future. The only regret I have left is for the Imola race. I could have won there, too, if I hadn't had the broken driveshaft. Now I would be in a much more comfortable position in the overall standings".
The challenge with Alonso may become the dominant motif of the championship.
"Renault so far has had little pressure. From now on they will feel the heat. Our McLaren is very fast. I cannot say how things will go in Monte-Carlo in two weeks, because street circuits are so different and strange that until you are there you cannot predict how you will go. But one thing is certain: on all the other tracks we will be very competitive. I only snatched two points from Alonso, but it's better than nothing. It will take time to recover, however I am convinced that we will succeed".
Where does this belief come from?
"Because by having to run after our competitors we have less to lose. Now we think about winning more races, then we will do the math. Maybe Renault will have negative results and we will have positive ones. You never know, anything can happen in Formula 1. Ferrari? In Imola I could see them being fast even during practice. Here it didn't go well. Let's wait. Meanwhile, I relish this success. Even the king of Spain complimented me. He is a kind king".
Jarno Trulli on the third step of the podium launches two important signals: first cradles the trophy won dedicating it to his son Enzo, born a few weeks ago, then repeatedly points to his left wrist. A hard-won placing, that of the Italian driver.
"I think I had one of the best races of my career. I fought so hard to be in front of Ralf and also thanks to good strategy I managed to do it. It was hard to contain my teammate. He was so fast. He would have deserved to make it to the podium ceremony, too".
Trulli is now being watched as a phenomenon by Toyota's engineers. The second place in the standings behind Alonso and the progress of the car make the entire team dream. But Jarno curbs enthusiasm, cautiously:
"Let's wait a few races, see how far we can go. In the meantime, I'm thinking about Monte-Carlo, where I seized pole position last year. That would be a great stepping stone".
On Monday, May 9th, 2005, Bridgestone tires trial begins:
We have a very competitive car, but this has become a World Championship based on tires. And we don't make the tires".
Says Ferrari chairman Luca Montezemolo.
"I'm worried, because we basically had the fastest lap on Sunday as well. Bridgestone has worked very well in the past years. But now regulations have been made which I don't consider suitable for Formula 1, basically to limit Ferrari's dominance".
It is a harsh accusation from Ferrari's president that surprises the Japanese company's own top management. In the evening comes a reply dense with FairPlay:
"Montezemolo is understandably concerned about the results. Bridgestone understands his frustration. We are working harder than ever to ensure that the single-seater-tire package is as competitive as possible. We are fortunate and pleased that Bridgestone and Ferrari are both engaged in this very close technical partnership. We have won numerous challenges together and we are confident that we will continue to do so".
In Barcelona, Ferrari was expecting the ultimate redemption after finishing second in the San Marino Grand Prix. The fifth defeat came. Perhaps the heaviest one. The tires do not yield in the first laps and the drivers fail to qualify in the first two rows, which according to Jean Todt is a necessary precondition for winning. In the distances the performance improves. Before refueling, Michael Schumacher had climbed up to third place and was aiming for the second position occupied by Fernando Alonso. He might not have caught up with him, but it would have forced him to keep an eye on his rear-view mirrors. Instead, the two left tires, the most stressed by the Montmeló circuit, sagged within a couple of laps. No one dared to attribute the problem to a puncture due to debris, a hypothesis that would have consoled Ferrari and absolved Bridgestone. The failure probably has structural causes and there is no remedy for the next three Grands Prix (Monaco, Canada and the United States). It will be discussed again from the European Grand Prix on, when Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen will be launched in a sprint that after eight years is missing the Maranello team.
"Tires play too much of a role, certainly critical, and I hope the situation improves. I know Bridgestone has always worked well and I know they are working hard. I am confident, but we also need to improve in reliability".
The rule that penalizes Ferrari is the one that prohibits tire changes. In 2004, the change occurred on average every 80 kilometers.
"We are in your shoes".
Luca Montezemolo had said over the winter to Japanese partners. Ferrari is suffering from insufficient testing. It seems a paradox, since its opponents in chorus accuse them of testing too much. Yet, data in hand, the Maranello cars run less than the other single-seaters, all Michelin-tyred. And every kilometer is valuable data for those who must make efficient compounds. Jean Todt promises maximum effort because arithmetic still grants some chances. From a certain point in the season, however, the Maranello team's men may divert energies and resources to the 2006 project, which includes an unprecedented 2400 cc V8 engine. Ferrari's crisis and more hard-fought races appeal less than the so-called boring Formula 1, which in the past years always catalyzed more than 10.000.000 viewers in Italy.