In Germany, in front of his and Ferrari fans, Michael Schumacher would like to make a good impression. But, given the tough times, he declares himself a bit of a pessimist. The disappointing results at Silverstone and Magny-Cours are weighing on him. Those who claim, however, that the Maranello team has given up are wrong. This is demonstrated by the commitment in testing, lavished on trying to improve, to make the F2005 faster. At the turn of the week, the team carried out tests at Le Castellet, Monza, Mugello and Fiorano. Apparently with some progress. Die Michael Schumacher, who wears a large black horn around his neck as a pendant:
"We have no illusions even though we have seen something positive in the new aerodynamic package we will use here and with a type of tyre we developed at Paul Ricard. The problem is that when we take one step forward McLaren and Renault take two. So the gap widens. Unfortunately. But we will keep working, because our goal is to get back to the real thing".
People wonder why Ferrari, after so many years of trumpeting, has declined so much.
"It's not normal in sport to have someone who always wins. It's obvious that others have worked better, even if Ferrari has very good technicians. The real problem is that we can't understand what the problem is. It's not the suspension, as Lauda says, it's not just the tyres. Performance is the compendium of many details. If we knew what it was, we would have solved the equation".
Rivals do not give Michael Schumacher and the Scuderia Ferrari confidence. Fernando Alonso cuts them out of the fight:
"Raikkonen has the best car at the moment. I only have to watch out for him".
And the Finn glides:
"I think about winning. The rest doesn't matter".
Quitting smoking is difficult. Especially for those who get not just the pleasure of a few puffs from cigarettes, but almost 200.000.000 dollars a year in sponsorship. Formula 1 lit its first cigarette with Lotus in 1968, at the time of the youth revolution, and on Sunday evening, at the end of the German Grand Prix, it will have to put out its last. On Sunday, 31 July 2005, the European Union's ban on tobacco advertising will come into force through a law extended to the Old Continent. First among the big teams, Williams-Bmw got sober from 2000 onwards with the help of an anti- nicotine drug, Niquitin. The latest to try is McLaren-Mercedes: on Friday in Budapest it will put its single-seaters on the track with the West brand, from Saturday they will switch to Johnnie Walker. From tobacco to Bacchus in the space of a night, with one team of mechanics busy tuning the engine and another removing and attaching labels on bodies and overalls. Ferrari, Renault, BAR and Jordan are displaced, but the European directive allows for Italian-style enforcement. The strictest legislators are the British, who also continue to keep their distance from the European Union: the ban on advertising on their territory will be extended from 31 July 2005 to televised events, such as Formula 1. The rule applies to the Queen's subjects, i.e. McLaren, Williams and BAR. Not for Ferrari, which maintains excellent relations with Philip Morris (there is an agreement until 2006 and it will be renewed). But what about the European Union? Explains Maranello team spokesman Luca Colajanni:
"Laws change from country to country. We will continue to respect them".
It is a quagmire. Worse, an inextricable jungle of prohibitions and exceptions. Especially exceptions. An extraordinary one is the Italian one, approved on 20 December 2004: the ban on sponsorship does not apply to events that take place exclusively within the territory of the State. Never has there been a Grand Prix that trespasses. Until the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix, the teams coloured the Italian racetracks with their fine brand names and washed their consciences by paying 5.000 euro a day in fines to the Guardia di Finanza. The State, at least, pocketed an obolus. But Spain, Belgium and Hungary have also introduced similar ploys, in Germany advertising is only allowed on single-seaters and on the overalls of drivers, technicians and mechanics, i.e. everything that ends up on television. Turkey, on the other hand, does not give discounts. On the other continents, the same chaos reigns: in Canada, absolute prohibition, the United States only allows tobacconists to sponsor one event a year: at Indy, West chose toappear on McLaren, while Marlboro - which prefers to link its name to Formula IRL, there being seventeen American events - was blacked out on Ferrari. Australia has a similar law to Canada, but concedes a break to Formula 1 within the confines of the racetrack. Reclame free in Brazil, Japan, Monaco and new markets: Malaysia, China and Bahrain. In the off-limits dates the logo must disappear. Ferrari (Marlboro) and Renault (Mild Seven) cover it, Jordan artfully deletes some letters: Benson & Hedges becomes Be on edge. BAR-Honda uses a design that is supposed to be reminiscent of the Lucky Strike logo, but British American Tobacco contemplates giving up its share in the team to Honda. The FIA had tried to put things in order by banning smoking advertising in every Grand Prix. Max Mosley had announced:
"From 2006 total ban".
Then the European Union brought forward the deadline to 31 July 2005 and the FIA, faced with the legal conflict that would have risked being triggered halfway through the championship, gave up. Certainly, Scuderia Ferrari's problems do not stop here. Saturday 23 July 2005, The Maranello team's dreams remain locked in a drawer whose key has been lost. Technical crisis, it can happen after five uninterrupted years of success. It's just that no one expected such a sudden and conspicuous decline. For example, it has already happened that Rubens Barrichello qualified badly, either because of a mistake, a technical problem or rain. But not at Hockenheim, he is simply slow, almost as slow as the Minardi of Christijan Albers, who will join him on the eighth row at the start of the German Grand Prix. The difference between the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers - as Barrichello will start fifteenth and Schumacher fifth - depends partly on strategy: Michael Schumacher has chosen soft tyres and probably has less petrol, Rubens Barrichello has preferred hard tyres which will give him better performance in the race
"We will see at the end if I made the right choice".
Seen from another point of view, if Rubens Barrichello is right, in the distance for his teammate there will be pain. Barring miracles, barring a rainstorm that reshuffles the values on the field, the objective is a placing in the points zone. A fourth place at the most. In Germany the usual ones are in command, McLaren and Renault. McLaren at the moment is the best single-seater, but it has two defects: reliability and Juan Pablo Montoya. Kimi Raikkonen takes his fourth pole position of the season and the seventh of his career. If the engine and suspension hold up, he wins easily. If Juan Pablo Montoya would give him a helping hand by taking points away from his rivals, his comeback would be plausible. Instead, during the qualifying session, the Colombian crashes four hundred metres from the finish line. When he realises this, Fernando Alonso - who will start from third position - barely holds back a smile. They seem to want to help him, especially when he is in trouble. The Spaniard is ahead of Jenson Button, who is not scary, and Kimi Raikkonen, to whom he is willing to give up a couple of his 26-point lead. Giancarlo Fisichella, who will start from fourth position, will protect his back:
"My goal is to help him win the World Championship and bring points for the constructors' championship".
McLaren owner Ron Dennis rails against Juan Pablo Montoya and perhaps the day he decided to hire him. The Colombian admits:
"I lost control of the car".
And to make up for it, he books the podium. Stuttgart is close by, and in the grandstands is the Mercedes general staff. In short, the Hockenheimring is not exactly the right circuit where Juan Pablo can afford such gaffes, unless he wants to drive another car in the future. Incidentally, he had reiterated on the eve of the race that in his opinion Michael Schumacher is finished. The World Champion's retort was gentlemanly:
"I am not interested in taking advantage of other people's mistakes".
Michael Schumacher also finds the strength to push. Perhaps it is a good sign, or a smile may serve to dampen the tension. When the German is asked whether he will have different tyres in the race to those used on Rubens Barrichello's car, he replies:
"I will use Bridgestones".
And the strategy?
"Only to complete the 67 laps of the race".
But when it comes to talking seriously, the Ferrari driver's talk is not funny.
"I did a good lap, getting the most out of my car. And, thanks to Montoya's mistake, I started from fifth position and from the best side of the track. When I saw the Colombian go into a spin, all I thought was that he was one less rival on the front row of the grid".
Michael Schumacher's goal in the race leaves no hope of glory:
"Realistically I can think of gaining one place, i.e. placing fourth. Maybe Button is within my reach. The others are too fast for the moment, barring any surprises. However, we don't want to live on the misfortunes of others, it's us who have to improve, to look ahead. I don't think we have made much progress, we are more or less in the situation we were in the last two races".
The weather forecast leaves room for the possible arrival of bad weather and therefore rain:
"However, I have no illusions. The chances of racing in the wet are less than fifty percent. Of course, I wouldn't mind, because water could reshuffle the cards. But in any case it's better not to talk about victory, maybe we could get to the podium".
A result that would in any case make the fans, always numerous and patient, happy.
"I hope to offer a good show to these people who show me and Ferrari so much affection. They always support us. During qualifying I didn't notice the roar of the crowd. As soon as I finished the lap, however, I realised from the applause that I had at least managed to overtake Webber. Luckily they love us. Also because it wasn't too long ago that we won...".
Good for McLaren that at least there is Kimi Raikkonen to keep up the team's value. The boy has improved, not for nothing he has Ferrari's eyes on him for the post-Schumacher role. Maranello also likes him for his shy attitudes. For example: happy?
Was the car OK?
"It was better in free practice, but fast enough".
Juan Pablo Montoya could have helped: is he angry about his mistake? "He will be angry. Kimi is the antithesis of the Latin Fernando Alonso, who at the end of the day tells of his lap, where he lost half a second, of strategies, of Juan Pablo Montoya's troubles. The dualism is still in embryo. The two have never come into physical contact on the track and therefore do not hold grudges, but it is inevitable that sooner or later they will cross paths in some corner. In the Hockenheim paddock Niki Lauda is seen again in the role of commentator for the German broadcaster Premiere TV. The former World Champion had undergone a second kidney transplant a month earlier (he now has four). The Austrian manager smiles and tells those who ask him about his health:
"Everything is fine".
On Sunday 24 July 2005, at the start of the German Grand Prix, Kimi Räikkönen got off to a good start and held the first position, building a good lead over Jenson Button. Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher follow. Meanwhile, Giancarlo Fisichella lost positions and was forced to chase Nick Heidfeld, David Coulthard and Felipe Massa, while Juan Pablo Montoya, who had started last, managed to make up ground to occupy eleventh place on lap one. The Colombiandriver monopolised the crowd's entertainment by passing Rubens Barrichello and Christian Klien in the following laps, before engaging in a duel with Giancarlo Fisichella for eighth place. Behind, the cars of Rubens Barrichello and Jacques Villeneuve make contact at the hairpin, resulting in the #11 Sauber-Petronas being thrown into the air. Afterwards, the Canadian regained control of the Swiss single-seater, but collided again with the Minardi of rookie Robert Doornbos as he tackled the stadium bends. The race began to calm down over the following laps, with the order proving rather static, until Nick Heidfeld made his first pit stop on lap 15. It would be another five laps before Jenson Button pitted, followed on lap 22 by Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. Kimi Räikkönen pitted on lap 25, without losing his lead. The Finn managed to increase his lead over Fernando Alonso's Renault. The McLaren-Mercedes of Juan Pablo Montoya also continued at an impressive pace, gaining a lot of ground between stops. The Colombian driver thus managed to pass Giancarlo Fisichella, Felipe Massa, David Coulthard and Nick Heidfeld. Everything seemed to presage a possible victory for McLaren-Mercedes in the German Grand Prix: however, during lap 35, Kimi Raikkonen's car stopped due to a hydraulic system failure. The Finn moves quickly away from his car, keeping his helmet fastened to avoid media interviews, while Fernando Alonso increases his lead over Michael Schumacher to an impressive 30 seconds.
With the Spanish Renault driver firmly in the lead, the race for victory is practically over. Interest in the battle for second place increases, however, as tyre wear proves to be a big problem for Michael Schumacher's Ferrari. The result is that both Jenson Button and Juan Pablo Montoya manage to get closer to the #1 Ferrari. Taking advantage of the second series of pit stops, the Colombian McLaren-Mercedes driver manages to pass both Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher. And later, the British BAR-Honda driver also managed to pass the German Ferrari driver. The end-of-race entertainment focuses on Michael Schumacher, busy fending off attacks from Giancarlo Fisichella, who in turn is closely followed by both Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard. At the end of the 67 laps Fernando Alonso celebrates winning the German Grand Prix. The Spaniard leads Juan Pablo Montoya by a margin of 22.5 seconds. Jenson Button manages to get his BAR-Honda back on the podium, while Giancarlo Fisichella manages to pass Michael Schumacher, gaining fourth position. They are closely followed by Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard, while Felipe Massa finishes eighth. Fernando Alonso takes his sixth win and increases his lead over Kimi Raikkonen to 36 points. There were also six mechanical problems that slowed down Kimi Raikkonen this year, from a puncture to engine, suspension, axle shaft and, at Hickenheim, hydraulic system failure. Fernando Alonso wins with the simplicity of the strong and the luck of the bold. At Hockenheim he only had one problem. It happened at the finish: like all self-respecting champions, he has a gesture to celebrate. Formula 1 concedes little to the fantasies of the drivers, who at best are able to raise their forearms to the sky: Alonso shows with his fingers the number of seasonal victories. The sixth one has forced him to give up the wheel, he would go over ten. Behind him the adversaries have crumbled one by one: Ferrari struggling with problems that cannot be solved in the short term, McLaren incurably fragile, the others simply do not exist. Says, and mocks, the young Fernando Alonso:
"The races last 70 laps and we finish the races".
Kimi Raikkonen does not hear because he is already far away. After parking at trackside, the Finn climbed onto a service moped, entered the McLaren motorhome with his helmet still on, avoided uncomfortable interviews, donned civilian clothes and escaped through a back door to evade media ambush. A ritual press release from the Anglo-German team quotes a statement from the Finn beginning as follows:
"What do you want me to say?"
Nothing, the facts speak: pole position, perfect start, pit stop and return to the track still in the lead and record lap. Until lap 35 the German Grand Prix is his thing. But then his McLaren- Mercedes emits a white puff and slows down.
"The hydraulics have broken".
The technicians explain, i.e. the system that makes vital parts of the car work, such as gearbox, clutch, power steering, differential. End of the race. End of the World Championship. The first position passes to Fernando Alonso who, in the meantime, just managing his second place, has nevertheless built up a half-minute lead over Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button. Juan Pablo Montoya in the other McLaren is making a comeback, but still far behind. He finished second,cursing the mistake in qualifying that forced him to start from the back. Jenson Button overtakes Michael Schumacher and takes his first podium of 2005. Then Giancarlo Fisichella, who wins precious points for the Constructors' World Championship classification for Renault. The Italian driver's race is tormented: at the start Takuma Sato touches him, who later apologises, but meanwhile a piece of the rear wing flies off. At the end it is the brake wear that worries him and there is almost another retirement, the Ferraris again do badly.
Halfway through the Grand Prix, while the psycho-drama of Kimi Raikkonen and the apotheosis of Fernando Alonso were taking place, the World Champion was struggling at the wheel of an unrecognisable car, which was trudging down the straight at 320 km/h where others were running at 330 km/h. In these conditions, being able to plug the holes and bring home four points is a small victory. Especially if we take his teammate's weekend as a benchmark: fifteenth at the start, tenth at the finish after Kimi Raikkonen's retirement, Mark Webber's accident delay, Jarno Trulli's six pit stops, Jacques Villeneuve's three crashes and Takuma Sato's two. There are no breaks to make up for it. The Maranello team will do two days of testing at Fiorano with Marc Gene, while the Circus moves to Hungary, where the thirteenth Grand Prix of the season will be run on Sunday 31 July 2005. Fernando Alonso will celebrate his birthday - he is twenty-four years old - on Friday 29 July 2005 in Budapest.Born in Oviedo, to his compatriots he is already the Prince of Asturias, and the day the World Championship is his he will at least be crowned King. On the track he grew up under the protective wing of Flavio Briatore, who gave him experience with Minardi in 2001, and then took him back to Renault to build his winning project.
"I race race by race, without calculation. So far that has proved to be the right attitude. It is the others who have to win, maybe it is the pressure that makes them make mistakes".
Someone else has thought about the calculations: if after the Italian Grand Prix his lead is increased by four points, the World Championship is already his.
"Well, actually it will be difficult for Kimi to catch me up".
When results are lacking, a champion appeals to his feelings. So Michael Schumacher sought the affection of the fans these days. On Saturday, for more than half an hour, he signed autographs at the south curve of the circuit. On Sunday, after the race, instead of disappearing into the pit lodge, the German driver remained on the track for a long time, even a little moved, waving to the red-clad people who had always supported him, from practice to the Grand Prix.
"To see them so enthusiastic is something that touches the heart. More than for me, I feel sorry for them. I would have liked to do something mean for all those people but it was not possible. I hope to repay them for their loyalty and attachment to Ferrari. I will try at Monza or Spa. But it's too early to say now. For sure we will try".
The result of the twelfth championship race removes any illusions of still being able to fight for the Drivers' World Championship victory.
"On a mathematical level there is nothing decided but in practice Alonso now has an almost unbridgeable lead. I don't know if Raikkonen can catch up. In any case, the discourse no longer concerns me. We will continue to fight without thinking about the Drivers' title".
When it comes to the race, once again the finger is pointed at the tyres. It was the round, black things that clipped the German driver's wings:
"Until the first pit stop everything had gone well. I could have aimed for the podium. Then I lost grip completely, I could no longer be fast enough. I just tried to defend myself, not to make any mistakes. But I was attacked by Button, Montoya and Fisichella. And while they were consistent in their performance, I was getting slower and slower".
Is it just a tyre problem?
"It was here in Germany. This is definitely the area where we find the greatest difficulties. But it is clear that work still needs to be done in all areas of the car. But when you don't have grip, the performance drops. It's difficult to fight with blunt weapons. It's not a question of top speed, but you lose on the entry and exit of corners, compromising lap times".
An embarrassing situation.
"You saw it when Button passed me. Easy, on the inside. I could have overtaken the Englishman's BAR in the pit stop, but on the very last lap, before re-entering, I was slowed down by a group of lapped drivers and got stuck in traffic. I didn't even see Montoya, he settled into second place, thanks to performance and strategy. When the last pit stops came he was already in front and stayed there. I still tried to keep Fisichella's Renault behind me, but something unusual happened. I came into the corner and there was a momentary drop in pressure in the petrol supply. The engine lost a few strokes, I was overtaken and Giancarlo gained a position. I had to settle for fifth place, which was the starting position".
Are there no more hopes for this year?
"I'm not backing down. All in all I could have even finished the race on the podium. There are only a few days before we race in Budapest next Sunday. Ferrari will test at Fiorano with Gene, but it will only be about tyres. It is difficult to change the situation in a short time".
For the moment this is a thought that does not touch Barrichello, who is very disappointed with everything:
"A bad race from the very first lap. I think Trulli, who got off to a bad start, lost his head or rather his lucidity. He wanted to catch up and overtake everyone in a few corners. He bumped into me and pushed into Villeneuve's Sauber. In the collision the flat bottom of my F2005 was damaged and all tactics were blown. The car was not balanced and it was impossible for me to push hard".
The Brazilian certainly does not place all the blame on this accident to justify his very modest placing:
"I don't think I would have won, but I'm annoyed that I didn't have proof that I chose the right tyres. Mine were harder than those used by Schumacher, I thought they would give me an advantage. Instead I found myself struggling at the back, with no chance of advancing. Anyway, the problem is not only in the tyres, we have to evaluate a bit everything. The World Championship? It seems clear to me: McLaren is losing it. Raikkonen? I don't know if his is just bad luck. Sometimes trouble also arises from the way he drives".
Meanwhile, Flavio Briatore hugs his second driver, Giancarlo Fisichella, and then explains to the media:
"He was great, you don't know what trouble he went through. When he deserves it I send him to Santa Pod (Renault's cradle circuit in England rehearses the starts, ed), but this time I congratulate him".
What happened to Giancarlo Fisichella is a chronicle of ordinary bad luck: a contact on the first lap with Takuma Sato that blew off a piece of the rear wing and a brake wear problem at the end:
"The track engineer wanted him to retire. But Giancarlo objected and I too ordered him to slow down and stay on the track, because I felt it would be OK".
The driver confirms:
"I was forced to pull off thirty metres earlier than usual. In the final laps I was told that the brakes would hold (wear is checked with telemetry, ed), so I was able to attack and pass Schumacher. I'm happy to have brought good points for the classification and I'm pleased with Fernando's victory. He had a bit of luck, I hope it turns out well for me too".
Briatore is overjoyed. The Italian manager, out of superstition, does not admit it, but he knows that he has the World Championship victory at his disposal:
"There are those who were celebrating in the locker room at 3-0 in the first half and then lost the Champions League. Or who had prepared the caps and then had to eat them (Schumacher in 1997 in Jerez, ed.)".
With the defeated he is not tender:
"We always have to get to the finish line, we just need to score points in the next seven races. It's the others who have to win. Maybe the pressure makes them make mistakes".
Fernando Alonso's words are in the same mould. This championship is reminiscent of 1994, when in the Spaniard's place was a very young Michael Schumacher.
"No, it is not the same. That championship we won, this one not yet. From tomorrow I will ask the team to push to the limit for the last effort".
Only when asked if Michael Schumacher remains a formidable opponent does the Italian manager get angry and say:
"Are you kidding me?"
Satisfied with his pursuit from last to second place, but frustrated at not having won, Juan Pablo Montoya does not mince words in judging his race. He would have had the chance. With a dark face and sunken eyes, the Colombian despairs at having made a mistake on Saturday in qualifying, a mistake that forced him to start at the back.
"I apologised to the team. I am convinced that everyone at McLaren would have wanted to kill me. I would have killed myself too, because I could have taken pole. If it wasn't for those spins I would have finished first. My McLaren was fantastic. It wasn't enough. I could also have given a little help to Raikkonen. Instead I didn't help. However, I didn't think I would finish on the podium at the start. They gave me a big hand the first few laps, when the others were very slow. I think I was up to tenth place in no time. In two or three corners I was flying: pooom, poom, and that was it, at least in part".
The most difficult moment?
"When I found myself behind Ralf Schumacher and Nick Heidfeld. They seemed to be having a personal challenge, regardless of the others. I lost at least a second and a half behind the Toyota and the Williams because of that. Disgusting".
It almost seems as if the exuberant Juan is preparing a nasty joke on his Finnish partner. And he makes no secret of his intentions:
"I am now only 17 points behind Raikkonen, despite my various misfortunes. The races are not over. Remember that at McLaren there are no team orders. Given the way things are going, I don't rule out that the season could end with a spectacular challenge between Kimi and myself for second place in the championship".