From Thursday, May 19, 2005 engines will be roaring again in the Principality of Monaco. And, for the first time since the beginning of the Formula 1 World Championship, Prince Rainier III won’t be in the stands, after passing away on Wednesday, April 6, 2005. The Sovereign Prince of Monaco never missed a round. Many enthusiasts of the sport consider it the most prestigious race of the championship, capable of putting F1 in the international spotlight. But it is not the easiest: the street circuit has often surprised with unexpected results. It is certainly a tricky challenge for both cars and drivers, even though engines are not pushed to the limits. Suffice it to say, in the last four years we had four different winners, belonging to four different teams. In 2001, Michael Schumacher prevailed with its Ferrari, followed by David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes), Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams-Bmw) and Jarno Trulli behind the wheel of his Renault. The French team, with Alonso and his teammate Giancarlo Fisichella, are the favourites considering the features of their car. But two more teams are seeking the win: McLaren, after Kimi Raikkonen’s triumph in Spain, and Toyota, that has made significant progress. Ferrari, considering the problems reported until now, will be an outsider. Saturday’s qualifying will be crucial: being out of the first two rows is a strong disadvantage in Monte-Carlo, since overtaking is prohibitive - although anything can happen during the race, especially in case of unbalanced performances. After five days of practicing in Fiorano, Scuderia Ferrari takes its usual technical measures to get ready for Monaco: stiffened suspension, customized brakes, maximum downforce, more torque with low engine speed. However, tyres are the main issue once again. More than elsewhere, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello will have to find the best compromise between being fast in a flying lap and being consistent during the entire 78 laps of the race. Bridgestone has worked hard along with Scuderia Ferrari, also motivated by the fact that the investigations led on the punctures found on the German driver’s F2005 established that one of them was caused by a tyre cut while the other by some debris on track. Michael Schumacher admits:
"We are doing everything we can to bounce back and I’m convinced we will. I can’t say it will happen in the next Grand Prix, but I still believe you will see us back on top, we can win again. Certainly, the new rules have put us in trouble, mostly for the tyre wear, which has completely changed compared to the past. But we are trying to adapt. We have already improved, although the results are not comforting".
Michael Schumacher, who has won five editions of the Monaco Grand Prix, also counts on the F2005 qualities:
"It’s a great car, very fast, and we believe it will well adapt to the street circuit. We will have to put all of our efforts to reach the first places in qualifying. If we manage to be in the front rows, it’ll be a great step forward. That is why we will focus on the flying lap as soon as we find the best setup".
Therefore, the sixth round of the World Championship will be a big deal for Scuderia Ferrari. It could act as a springboard to try climbing the rankings, so far unsatisfactory. Rubens Barrichello thinks positive as well, confident that bad times must come to an end. And why not beginning with Montecarlo, without forgetting that the rivals are strong and that they are looking forward to getting rid of the Maranello team, which is still following them threateningly? Jarno Trulli has won only once in Formula 1. Yet he’s a winner of the most famous race of the sport: the Monaco Grand Prix. It happened one year ago, when he was a Renault driver and a certain Fernando Alonso had to stay behind him in most of the races.
"Don’t ask me why I’m so fast in Montecarlo. I enjoy the track and I’ve always had a good run".
Thirty years old, married to Barbara who gave him a son, Jarno Trulli avoids mentioning bad luck, that played an important role in his 2004 performances and that he left on his old car, now belonging to Fisichella. On the contrary, Toyota has evolved and he has brought it to the podium three times.
"This proves one of my theories: if the car works, I get good results".
You didn’t win though…
"I will. There is still a lot of work to do. I’ve made the most of the car so far".
Your fans expect you to win again in the Principality, but your testers Zonta and Panis have been pessimistic in the last days.
"I am considered one of the favourites and that’s amazing, but last year’s achievement doesn’t make me faster. Toyota has done a great job so far: we will see how the car works on Thursday during practice. In Montecarlo, the driver matters more than elsewhere, but the handling does too. And tyres are crucial of course".
A memory of your triumph?
"It was an awesome moment because the atmosphere is unique and because I dominated both qualifying and race. And mostly because I fulfilled the dream of every driver: winning your first race here".
According to Enzo Ferrari, a driver loses a second each lap when he has a son. Your Enzo is almost one month old: what were the consequences?
"The same as Michael Schumacher’s. It doesn’t seem like his two kids prevented him from winning five Championships in a row".
Speaking of titles: Kimi Raikkonen, third in the standings, believes in his comeback. You are second, 18 points behind Alonso: are you thinking about it?
"It depends on our progress, as well as the others’ performances. At mid-season we’ll understand and whether we’ll be able to say ‘yes, we can do it too’ or postpone this speech to next year".
In case of postponement, who do you think is the favourite?
"Renault and McLaren. And then Ferrari, if they fix the tyres problem. We stay in the first four positions".
Toyota was eighth in 2004, and is now following the front-runner Renault: did you expect such a step forward?
"I knew we would improve a lot. We’re actually farther than I expected".
How much do we owe it to Jarno Trulli?
"Racing with Toyota at the end of 2004 was crucial. It allowed me to give the right directions and to find a competitive car in the springtime".
What are the secrets to winning in Monte-Carlo?
"With the actual rules, the first secret is to do well in the previous race. My third place in Spain will enable me to face the first qualifying among the last, when the track is well rubbered in. A good placement on the starting grid is the key, since overtaking is impossible".
The most peculiar corners?
"The Loews hairpin is unique in Formula 1. We face it in first gear at 50 km/h. The steering wheel has to undergo changes, otherwise we can’t go through".
As a viewer, the tunnel is impressive.
"Impressive, but not that hard, although we reach 305 km/h towards the end. The lighting is appropriate. The only warning is to keep the racing line or you end up in the slippery asphalt and take a big risk".
What is your favourite section, where you manage to gain some tenths on your rivals?
"The Swimming Pool complex. The entrance is fast, around 200 km/h, and it provides a good change of direction from left to right. There’s a speed detector there, so we can see who is seriously fast".
They say noblesse oblige. And that is why motorsport and worldliness mingle every year in the Principality, even though the reigning family is mourning Rainier III. The yachts in and out the harbour get bigger, more impressive and extreme. Cars around the streets are worthy of a museum of wonders and the girls performing on ships and cars are part of the show. This is not enough: on Wednesday, May 18, 2005, Steinmetz, Dutch jewellery company specialised in diamond cutting, introduces - in front of Natasja Vermeer, sexy protagonist of the tv show Emmanuelle - two special helmets designed for McLaren drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya, decorated with small, precious diamonds. On the helmet of the Finnish driver, they form his nickname: Ice man. Value? Undeclared. Unbelievable. Then, in the next few days, we’ll get to meet the movie stars that are now in Cannes. Red Bull Racing will look for the dark side of the Force hosting filmmaker George Lucas and the main characters of his Star Wars - Episode III. Ferrari will host fan, but also customer, Tom Cruise. But sport and Grand Prix are discussed as well. Formula 1 cars grow new wings every race. Not wings to fly, but to stick to the asphalt, mainly in the Principality circuit, where aerodynamics matters a lot. Thus, we can see weird flaps everywhere in the car: on the nosecone, on the hood, behind the wheels. We can also notice that Ferrari added a pair of them to its wheel hubs. Small but important details that prove how every team tries everything to win the most prestigious race of the season. And every driver thinks he can be the winner. Just before the first practice, that will make the entire Monegasque basin tremble with the cars’ roars, optimists are countless. Neither Michael Schumacher keeps himself off the fight to reach his sixth win here.
"Winning? Hard but not impossible. Ferrari has taken care of every detail and we believe we are on the right path. Qualifying will be crucial. Pole position is the best, but even the front rows would be good. We were definitely in a better condition last year after the first five races. But I have never thought I’m unbeatable. Sooner or later, we had to be following our rivals. Anyway, there are still fourteen races left, we have time to recover and 140 points available".
The German thinks they have to worry about McLaren, Renault and Toyota’s drivers. The world champion doesn’t want to talk about the 2004 tunnel accident, when he got rear-ended by Juan Pablo Montoya’s Williams.
"We don’t need to come back to it, let’s face the present".
But when he’s asked who’s at fault, whispering and smiling he answers:
Rubens Barrichello is as confident as Michael Schumacher and he declares without any fear:
"We’re here aiming for third or fourth place".
We must recognize that, despite the results reached so far, Scuderia Ferrari always enjoys great respect and regard from its rivals. Kimi Raikkonen is clear:
"I believe that Ferrari would be ahead of us, if they had Michelin tyres. They may have issues with Bridgestone, but they surely have some innovations ready for this race. They can win, just as much as I can: my triumph in Spain gave me confidence and I’m even hungrier than I was before. Our car is very fast".
Championship leader Fernando Alonso is on the same wavelength. The Spaniard doesn’t hide his ambitions anymore:
"I want to win the World Championship. We have new aerodynamics and we’ll be fast. Besides the usual names, I would add Williams to the favourites: they might be the surprise. Ferrari? Of course, the Italian team is one of the contenders".
Winning ambitions that encourage Italian drivers as well. Jarno Trulli says:
"Last year I finished first with Renault. Beating them at the wheel of a Toyota would be satisfying. I personally consider myself one of the potential winners".
Giancarlo Fisichella takes courage as well, after his fifth place in Spain:
"I really like this track. I’ve always felt good in street circuits".
However, on Thursday, May 19, 2005 Fernando Alonso is lightning-fast, with Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya’s McLarens following, and Scuderia Ferrari struggles. And then we have the sun, and the luxurious boats crowded with rich men and beautiful women, while VIPs will show up on Sunday because they are now busy with the red carpet for Cannes Film Festival. Montecarlo sticks to the script, including gossip about the Grimaldi family: Albert in now the target, after succeeding his father Rainier. In Montecarlo, they start the engines on Thursday. It maintains the Circus one more day, with obvious positive implications for the opulent economy of the Principality. The race result might be the usual roulette, but free practice will be a mirror to the current World Championship.
In order we have Fernando Alonso, unquestionable leader of the World Championship with Renault, followed by Alexander Wurz - a tester - and David Coulthard, giving prestige to an exceptional sponsor: the latest episode of Star Wars. Then we have Giancarlo Fisichella with the other Renault and the two McLarens. Jarno Trulli, second in the World Championship and 2004 winner, is in the back:
"Bad day, no matter what I tried, the result didn’t change".
He finally gets the thirteenth time. The team from Maranello gasps: Michael Schumacher is eleventh, 1.3 seconds behind, and Rubens Barrichello fifteenth, 1.8 seconds behind. The German driver perceives a weird vibration during practice and he loses half a session, right when the track is faster. Schumacher does not understand what the problem is, and neither do the mechanics. His comment is laconic:
"We will analyse the car piece by piece, but I don’t know where we are. We were competitive in the morning".
On the other hand, Rubens Barrichello surrenders:
"If our rivals keep this pace, we’ll end up being lapped".
What if they slowed down?
"Then we might have chances. But not too many, because pole position is not within our reach and overtaking is impossible. We must qualify in the top six to finish in a good position. I unfortunately think it’s hard: results speak".
What’s wrong with this Ferrari after five years of great achievements?
"It’s a complicated situation, we are unable to get out of it. Maybe the track wasn’t rubbered in, maybe we’re just not doing well. Let’s hope we don’t waste another weekend".
And the tyres?
"They improved, even though our rivals’ tyres are still better. It’s more of a general problem. I had trouble with brakes in the morning and with the general setup of the car in the afternoon session. On the other hand, if we’re so late, it can’t be only because of the balance. I have probably lost half a second because of oversteering. Anyway, Renault and McLaren have a different pace and they are uncatchable".
Ferrari was an example of aerodynamics to everybody until last year: why are you struggling on a slow twisty track now?
"This car is the heir of the F2004 but we couldn’t find that something that took us to the next level. Our rivals fly while approaching slow corners, while we don’t have traction".
Did you expect such a hard Grand Prix after Imola and Barcelona?
"The real disappointment was Spain because the car did well but we had tyres issues. Montecarlo has never been favourable to us: in the last three years, despite a clear dominance in the championship, we never won".
Can we find at least one positive aspect?
"I feel really confident towards the team and we have an extra day to work. A good driver can make the difference on this track".
Scuderia Ferrari does not hide anymore. On the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix, the garage is opened up, exposing the hardly hidden flaws of the F2005.
"We are not enough in two areas regarding reliability. We are putting there all of our efforts".
The explanation is left to Luca Colajanni, head of the Ges press office. The gearbox doesn’t work and neither do the tyres: these are the reasons behind the worst start of the season from 1997 until today.
"According to our forecasts, we have twenty points less than we estimated".
There is no magic recipe and nobody from the Maranello team is expecting a miracle in qualifying. On Friday, May 20, 2005 the problem on Michael Schumacher’s car is fixed: after feeling a vibration at the front of his car, the driver decided to interrupt the free practice. The mechanics have got the whole day to examine it piece by piece. The result is positive: no problems with the suspension, but a smooth tyre after braking too hard. At least this is the official version because, at first, the technical director Ross Brawn didn’t blame it on the tyres. Bridgestone keeps being a delicate matter. Ferrari is not good enough in the flying lap. And, since overtaking is impossible in Montecarlo, it means losing the race. Luca Colajanni admits:
"Reaction time and adaptation to the new rules of our Japanese partner have been slower than Michelin. It happened in 2003 as well, but we still have unconditional trust in them".
The team works overall, you want to redeem yourselves.
"Our recipe to get out of this situation is working, not on quantity, but on intensity, compliance with the procedures and care for the details. Ferrari spirit is alive".
Rubens Barrichello usually has self-control but not this time: his reaction surprises. An outburst that makes us think about a transfer of the Brazilian driver at the end of the season, even though the Maranello team denies the rumours:
"We would actually be surprised if he kept quiet. At the beginning of the season, he always thinks his time has come. He started off in Australia taking the second place and then we failed him three times. He has every right to be disappointed".
Ferrari is self-critical on another question as well. Beginning with the old F2004, even modified, is officially considered a mistake. Who did wrong?
"We had our reasons. It’ll be clear in the second half of the championship".
End of self-criticism. Ferrari remembers they deserved the win in Imola and that second place in Barcelona was at hand. In other words, they did something good. Jean Todt who, in quality of San Marino ambassador, meets two charitable organizations, points out:
"We haven’t won in six races only".
Ferrari crisis worries Bernie Ecclestone too.
"Ferrari is Formula 1. It’s boring if they always win, but if they don’t and they’re in the midfield, the interest in the championship decreases. Schumacher is anything but over. On the contrary, he will win again and he might even win the title. If he doesn’t, we will find him even more motivated next year. The show? Overtaking is like scoring in football. You see so many overtakes in MotoGP and you possibly don’t remember any of them".
With the purpose of regaining interest in Formula 1, the fourth qualifying reform in three years has been approved: only one session on Saturday in race setup, one lap per driver, starting from May 29, 2005 at Nürburgring. But, from next year, chief executive Ecclestone wants to go back to the free-for-all: two sessions, 25 minutes each, with all cars on track. Meanwhile, Giancarlo Fisichella talks for quite some time to the Renault technicians, making plans for practice and qualifying. The Italian driver consults Pat Symonds, team director, Denis Chevrier, head of engine operations, and Bob Bell, responsible for chassis. With the latter, he admires the latest version of the R25, the car that will hopefully make him win the Monaco Grand Prix. A valid ambition?
"Why not? I’ve got what it takes to aim for the win. The urge, the experience, and a fast car. We must think about the best possible result".
Could it be a turning point to the season, after the triumph in Australia, the following three races to be forgotten and the retrieval in Spain?
"Championship is still pretty long. But this is certainly an important round, big points to award".
Who are the most dangerous competitors?
"My teammate Alonso and the McLaren duo. Fernando is great, Raikkonen has got the spirits on his side and Montoya is fast here, as he proved in 2003 winning with Williams".
Renault has got some news in terms of aerodynamics…
"It’s a last-minute surprise for our rivals. We didn’t try it on Thursday. It should help us improve even more".
What does it take to be faster in Monte-Carlo?
"Precision and a lot of concentration. If you get distracted, your race can end up very badly. As I said, I love this circuit and I hope it repays my preference”.
Ferrari doesn’t seem to be in good shape…
"I feel sorry for them, but they have won a lot. McLaren and us are doing better than the others. And Ferrari is part of the others. Italian fans will have a chance to support Jarno Trulli and me".
Let’s finish with Alonso…
"I’d be happy if it were a race between him and me. We’ll see…".
On Saturday, May 21, 2005, Alonso himself finds out that winning this World Championship won’t be easy. He’s been worrying about a Ferrari comeback for weeks and he has now understood he has to watch his back from Kimi Raikkonen. They are the new generation of Formula 1 and the implications are significant for them: first of all, winning the championship; and then succeeding Michael Schumacher and a possible Ferrari seat from 2007. Montecarlo is the ideal place to stand out. The Finnish driver gained the first round, securing the pole position: perfect lap, track record, gap of 0.5 seconds from his rival. McLaren is once again the silver arrow that Michael Schumacher was mad about in the late Nineties. Renault is competitive as well but, in Barcelona, they already had to settle for second place. Fernando Alonso tries to defend himself. Being 27 points ahead of the second after five races means he can manage his lead until the Italian Grand Prix at least. Mark Webber is temporarily third on the starting grid, followed by Giancarlo Fisichella in fourth place. Not easy for them to gain positions on Sunday morning because the gap is huge. Scuderia Ferrari crisis is by now declared.
"We didn’t get a gap of 2.5 seconds in qualifying since 1994, with Alesi and Berger".
This is the comment after a day that marks the new lowest moment of the season for the team from Maranello. Barrichello’s ninth place and Schumacher’s tenth may be misleading. More drivers could be ahead of them: Ralf Schumacher, involved in a bad accident, and Juan Pablo Montoya, disqualified for a silly mistake in free practice – he almost stopped on a straight where the average speed is around 280 km/h, provoking a multi-car accident. But even Minardi is close and Patrick Friesacher is thirteenth. Somebody jokes about Ferrari: if Friesacher had Michelin tyres, he would be fighting with the former invincible team. Bridgestone tyres keep struggling. Ferrari took the responsibility for building a fragile car (Rubens Barrichello loses oil), but when engine, gearbox and setups work, drivers don’t make any mistakes and weather conditions are ideal, Red Bull Racing and Sauber-Petronas are faster. The main problem is the flying lap. Rules say that, during the first qualifying session, cars must use new tyres and keep them until the end of the race. With brand-new tyres, Alonso, Raikkonen and the rest of the group gain a second each lap, while Ferrari loses it. The gap narrows during the race, but a track record when you’re almost lapped is pretty useless, even more in Montecarlo because there is no space for overtaking.
"We understood the problem and we’re working on it. It looked like we made a step forward during the tests in Fiorano, until we arrived here and found out we made a step back".
Expectations? Low in the short term. Michael Schumacher looks at the fifth place:
"We can improve in the second qualifying, study a good strategy and take advantage of our good pace. And then, you never know, if it rains, anything can happen".
The World Champion still believes. According to the maths, he still has some chances and he will try everything, hoping F2005 becomes competitive. He gets angry at the track dirt:
"I was the fourth on track and this circuit improves with time".
Engineers would love to say he’s right. 0.7 seconds could really depend on the track conditions, but they lack 2.5 seconds to get closer to Kimi Raikkonen. At the end of qualifying, Michael Schumacher quickly runs away on his scooter after showing some moderate optimism in his declarations. Rubens Barrichello doesn’t hide the problems, but he’s still confident about the future. What are the Ferrari issues?
"I don’t want to repeat the same thing all over again. The gap is huge and there are reasons why. Out tyres don’t work in the flying lap. But there’s no need to cry. We must keep working. We should be better in the race".
It seems like the tyres are not the only difficulty.
"I’ve been saying this since the beginning of the year. We need to maximise the gearbox and seek a general reliability that we haven’t found yet. F2005 is fast, it works well and it can give us great satisfaction. But we currently don’t have a car that makes a better qualifying possible. And of course, it affects the race result".
Is the risk of being lapped realistic?
"Hopefully not. On the other hand, gaining positions in a street circuit, finding the track clear at the right time, is hard. I wish it happens: Ferrari does its best in the second half of the Grand Prix".
Winning the World Championship is a lost challenge.
"It isn’t, we can be back on top. Actually, we’ll do it next week at Nürburgring. We will possibly start winning again in Germany".
Why do you feel like that?
"McLaren is the best at the moment. So that, looking at the standings, we are not that far from the teams aiming to the top positions. We’ll close the gap. It’s a dark time and many people at Ferrari have lost their smiles. I must be optimistic. I’ll put all my efforts and fight: together we have won and together we have lost, we’ll try to go back to the way we were".
Rubens Barrichello talks about gap. Isn’t a 2.5 seconds gap too big?
"It is not accurate. Clearly, our competitors gained five tenths but we also lost as many. That is why we’re now fighting against ourselves".
Which is the right way to recover?
"It is like having AIDS: one medicine is not enough. You need a complete cure. We still need some time, but this team is highly motivated".
On Sunday, May 22, 2005, after the second qualifying session, Fernando Alonso is 0.4 seconds behind Kimi Raikkonen’s McLaren, while Mark Webber and Giancarlo Fisichella are respectively third and fourth. Juan Pablo Montoya doesn’t do his lap, which means he will start at the back of the grid next to Ralf Schumacher. The aggregate times brought Raikkonen on pole position, 0.083 seconds ahead of Alonso. Webber and Fisichella, one second behind, line up in the second row, followed by Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld, over two seconds behind. In the fourth row we have David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher with a gap of more than 3.5 seconds. Patrick Friesacher is thirteenth, achieving the best qualifying result for Minardi since Hungary 1995. Ralf Schumacher gets a penalty of 0.5 seconds for using tyres that weren’t officially meant for him; the penalty was supposed to be added to the aggregate times of qualifying, but an accident occurred during the Saturday session prevents him from making timed laps. Narain Karthikeyan drops ten positions on the starting grid for replacing his engine. The stewards decide to cancel the time set by Juan Pablo Montoya in the first qualifying session since the Colombian driver, during Saturday’s free practice, caused a collision among three drivers behind him (Ralf Schumacher, Coulthard and Villeneuve) because of his excessively low speed. A few hours later, at the start of the Monaco Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen keeps the first position, followed by Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli.
On lap 23, Christijan Albers - already lapped - spins in the middle of the Mirabeau corner; thus, Michael Schumacher rear-ends David Coulthard, who had slowed down to avoid crashing into the Dutch driver, provoking irreparable damage. The track is temporarily blocked and the safety car is called, to let the stewards re-start the Minardi, that is obstructing the passage. Renault takes the opportunity to pit both cars during lap 25, unlike Kimi Raikkonen, considering his heavier fuel load. At the end of the safety car, Raikkonen keeps doing fastest laps and, after pitting only once during lap 42, he manages to keep the lead of the race ahead of Fernando Alonso. Meanwhile, the latter begins struggling with tyres and that is why Williams’ drivers Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber overtake him and get on the podium. The Spaniard finishes fourth, closely followed by Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher (who started from the back), ahead of the two Ferrari drivers Michael Schumacher and Barrichello. If somebody has never seen an overtake in Montecarlo, then he’d better find a video of Monaco 2005. All of a sudden, the narrow streets of the Principality seemed highways: Jarno Trulli overtook Fisichella, Heidfeld and Webber overtook Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher overtook his teammate Barrichello - without getting any team orders, given the angry reaction of the Brazilian. But there were more attempts: Villeneuve on Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher on Ralf. Out of the fray, the uncatchable Kimi Raikkonen: second win of the season, making it two in a row, fourth in his career, preceded by his sixth pole position. Everyone who thought Alonso could win the World Championship easily, must review their predictions. McLarens are once again the silver arrows that disturbed Michael Schumacher’s dreams in the late 90s. And the Renault seen at the Monaco Grand Prix was already less competitive.
"Inexplicable tyre problem".
This is the analysis of Flavio Briatore. Inexplicable because other teams use Michelin tyres as well: McLaren, Williams, reborn after the double podium with Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber, and Toyota, that keeps making points. It’s an issue that must be investigated: for the first time, R25 wore the tyres out too fast and left Alonso and Fisichella at the mercy of other drivers overtakes. Tradition says Montecarlo is unpredictable, or there would be no reason - talking about sports, definitely not economy - to race through the streets of a city that can barely handle the daily traffic. The show begins after 24 of the 78 planned laps, when a common viewer starts being tired. Albers’s Minardi spins and blocks the way to the rest of the group. Michael Schumacher rear-ends Coulthard; safety car comes out. Ferrari pits to change the German’s nosecone, while Renault takes the opportunity to refuel. Fernando Alonso leaves the box ten seconds later, while Giancarlo Fisichella loses three positions, placing at the back of the grid.
It’s a shame for the World Champion: halfway through the race, Bridgestone tyres start working and he’s thirteenth. Optimistic by nature, Michael Schumacher pushes his car to the limits, does the fastest lap and reaches better positions. On the contrary, Rubens Barrichello keeps making mistakes: his engine switches off in the pits. The mechanics quickly turn it on again, but when the Brazilian leaves, he forgets to push the pit speed limiter button. It takes a bit more than a second to exceed the 60 km/h speed limit to a Formula 1 car. The pit lane is jam-packed with detectors. The stewards notice the infringement and give him a drive-through penalty. The Brazilian loses 15 seconds and four positions. Result: after 60 laps, the cars from Maranello are eleventh and twelfth. The show can begin. Nobody reaches Kimi Raikkonen anymore and Renault starts having issues. It’s time to overtake. Everybody tries: Jarno Trulli passes Giancarlo Fisichella jumping on a kerb, which is actually a disguised sidewalk. But Toyota’s suspension breaks and the Italian driver has to pit again to make a check. Jarno Trulli will say afterwards:
"I was faster than Fisichella, at least three seconds each lap. He made a big mistake by trying to resist at the Mirabeau corner. He lost his line and he could have let me through. Instead, he left no space. Then I wanted to pass him at the following corner, the Grand Hotel hairpin. But I unfortunately hit the kerb and the car unbalanced. So that I had to pit to check the car and I ended up out of the points zone. I had a perfect strategy and I lost an almost guaranteed second place".
Giancarlo Fisichella will reply:
"I don’t know what Jarno is saying. If I don’t get out of the way, he’ll crash into me. Both of us would still be stuck in that corner. Trulli has gone too far this time, that was a risky overtake. I was thinking about the podium and it turned into the hardest race of my life. We shouldn’t have pitted to refuel with the safety car on track. My Renault became undriveable: my rear tyres were deteriorated. Hard tyres were not a bad choice, but the car knocked them out".
Fernando Alonso has got the same tyres issues: Nick Heidfeld passes him at the first attempt and Mark Webber at the second, because the Spaniard resists unfairly, by cutting the chicane. The last lap is the most exciting one: Michael Schumacher approaches a group of drivers composed by Rubens Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Fernando Alonso. The World Champion overtakes his teammate and attacks his brother on the finish line, almost touching the Toyota wheel. Both of them complain, but Michael observes:
"I’m a driver".
The standings are now tight: Fernando Alonso has got 49 points, Kimi Raikkonen 27 and Jarno Trulli 26. Ferrari goes back to Maranello with a seventh and eighth position. Raikkonen versus Alonso: it is their fight for the World Championship now. It’s a good battle between two talented young drivers. Twenty-five years old for the driver from Espoo, twenty-four for the driver from Oviedo. It didn’t happen for quite some time. It will surely be one of the main themes of a long championship. The Monaco Grand Prix, other than confirming McLaren as the best team at the moment, to be afraid of, and seeing Williams back to good placements - also due to the internal challenge between Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber (three cars with a German engine on the podium, whether Mercedes or Bmw) - points out a Ferrari in recovery, at least on race day. Apart from Schumacher and Barrichello’s placements, both of them scoring points in the same race for the first time this season, F2005 performance was remarkable, letting the reigning World Champion do the fastest lap and race as if it were the old Ferrari, the one that dominated far and wide. Even though we shouldn’t talk about bad luck, the team from Maranello had to face a couple of problems that have very little to do with competition, but that penalized the final result. Schumacher’s rear-end collision with David Coulthard’s Red Bull Racing, who stopped in the middle of the track, and Barrichello’s additional stop for exceeding the speed limit, possibly prevented Ferrari from fighting for the podium. A positive note comes from Michael Schumacher himself.
Whilst causing controversy and negative reactions, even violent, in his teammate and Ralf Schumacher, he has showed the determination and spirit of competition that defined the first years of his career. And that extra point, brutally scored during the last lap, might be a big deal at the end of the championship. Even in gentle ways, the Brazilian driver doesn’t spare some criticism to his teammate:
"A World Champion does not need to do that stuff. We could have ended up off track".
Then, a few minutes later, he adds:
"The only thing I can say is I wouldn’t overtake like that. We got three points, but we could have gone back home with no points. My conscience is clear. Let’s put feelings aside: I asked him for explanations but he didn’t reply. Anyway, we will certainly keep talking, but we’ll start working like robots. Do you want to know if he gives me a birthday present? I don’t know. I’ve already got my gift. My wife carries it in her belly: she’s pregnant with our second child".
Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher’s complaints don’t upset Micheal Schumacher. His answer doesn’t delay in coming:
"This is racing in Formula 1. It’s not like taking a break in a café. I was 0.06 seconds behind them. I thought I could attack Rubens. I saw some space and I did it. I don’t think we took a big risk, we didn’t even touch. Then I tried to do the same with Ralf but I couldn’t, unfortunately. I’m a driver and these situations are part of my job".
Leaving aside these discussions, can Michael Schumacher be satisfied with a seventh place?
"I would usually be disappointed. It was a weird race; I also lost a lap behind the safety car. Given the circumstances, I’m quite happy with this position. But we shouldn’t be talking about bad luck, it can happen. In the past, I never had this kind of problems because I normally was in the top positions. I have to deal with a different situation now".
Do you think the accident with David Coulthard could be avoided?
"I braked as much as I could when I saw the Red Bull stuck in the middle of the track, but I couldn’t change the direction. It’s nobody’s fault. People claim I was the worst German driver, with Heidfeld and my brother ahead of me on the finish line. It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry I lost points, it’s never nice. But I had fun because I love racing. And I did the fastest lap as well".
Sunday, May 29, 2005 the European Grand Prix takes place at Nürburgring, with fans from all over Germany awaiting.
"I don’t want to make predictions. I’m always wrong. The data we collected are positive. In Monaco, as in Bahrein and Imola, we had the chance to stay in the top positions, and then of winning. Qualifying is our weakness. But the rules change at Nürburgring: one timed lap on Saturday and with a full tank for the first part of the race. I think we can limit the damage, which is good for us. We bring home positive feelings. Not only the fastest lap, but the pace we managed to keep. When I was behind Raikkonen, I noticed I had the same pace of his McLaren".
Putting anger aside, Rubens Barrichello is satisfied with the F2005 performances as well:
"Unfortunately pitting took ages after the engine switched off. Soon after, I restarted but the speed limiter didn’t work and I got the drive-through penalty. This car hasn’t won yet but I’m sure it will. Our championship is not over yet".
The fight between the two Ferrari drivers doesn’t bother Jean Todt, who is dealing with a different kind of problems.
"I’m not worried at all. Schumacher doesn’t like staying in the back. He wanted to gain a position and he did it. People are asking if Ferrari has seen the light at the end of the tunnel in Montecarlo: I answer we don’t need light, but points. We must resolve the difficulties we have in qualifying and I hope we can do it quickly. There are still thirteen races left, we will try to find last year’s pace".
Brother against brother, here we go again. Involved in various disputes since they race in Formula 1 as rivals, Michael and Ralf have often found themselves battling on track. There has been strong controversy: when he was driving for Jordan and Williams, the younger of the Schumacher brothers used to be scolded by his team for not attacking the Ferrari driver seriously or for being overtaken too easily. But the Toyota driver fought back when the World Champion tried to overtake him on the finish line in Monaco. The two cars barely touched thanks to Ralf. But, as soon as he gets out of his car, Ralf Schumacher explodes, throwing heavy accusations at Michael:
"I don’t understand what he had in mind but he clearly turns off his brain from time to time. He was too aggressive and dangerous. We narrowly avoided a big impact. Thankfully it ended well. Three points are my prize".
Fernando Alonso wanted to be at least on the podium to go on with his positive streak. But he finishes fourth, his worst result of this brilliant season.
"I experienced different emotions in the last laps. I was hoping to place in the top three but I was also afraid of not crossing the line, especially when I lapped Fisichella and saw his car’s conditions. Under these circumstances, I’m okay with five points".
The Renault driver, apart from Kimi Raikkonen, has found other competitors such as the Williams duo.
"I was not surprised. I know we can have different rivals every race. Worried? We’ll see. I only want to win the World Championship and I’ll give my all to do it".
Flavio Briatore gets philosophical:
"The others were better than us. We chose the wrong tyres".
Kimi Raikkonen expressing his feelings is as unusual as overtaking in Montecarlo. But for once Formula 1 gets it all: show on track, controversy off track, a winner that doesn’t simply say:
"Great day, car was okay, good job from the mechanics, it was hard, the rivals were challenging".
He actually has more to say:
"I had Monaco 2003 in my head. I finished second behind Montoya (the Colombian was a Williams driver at the time, editor’s note). That day I swore I’d win in Monaco as well".
At the Monaco Grand Prix, he obtains the same result as in Spain: pole position and leader of the race the whole time. He misses the fastest lap both times, or it could have been a hat-trick. But a driver is mostly interested in points. He’s got 27, while the first in the standings has got 49.
"The only critical moment has been the safety car deployment. I was told to pit and I answered: too late. There was no problem anyway. I needed a gap of 20 seconds from the driver behind to stop and get back on track as a leader. At first, I was pushing as hard as I could, then I understood I didn’t have to give it all. So, I slowed down, but not too much or the tyres would cool down and driving would be hard".
From his story, it looks like he’s raced The Dakar in a day. But since television footage exists, we know it is not like that. The driver himself admits it:
"It’s been an easy race overall, despite some minor issues. I think we have the best package right now, considering car and tyres. It was a good stage in our fight for the World Championship".
His optimism is justified:
"We were fast this weekend. Same in Barcelona, that is a fast circuit, and Imola, that has got different features. I see no reason why we shouldn’t be fast in every race from now on. McLaren is the best team in my opinion, but I prefer thinking race by race. Of course, I aim for the World Championship, but I focus on one Grand Prix at a time. Winning here is amazing, it was my dream. At the end of the day, I’m bringing home ten points, as it is for every win".
Kimi has got very few flaws: he deeply understands the car, he’s quick and, as a good Finn, he doesn’t make mistakes for being too impulsive. Actually, he has got mistakes on his conscience, caused by the high number of colourful buttons on a Formula 1 steering wheel. What happened in Melbourne was indeed his own fault: he couldn’t start the race. Beyond that, he’s also guilty of some youthful mistakes: countless times he has been seen drunk. Leaving Montecarlo, the Finn says:
"I’ll definitely celebrate tonight".
Meanwhile he’s fighting for the World Championship.
"The fastest car was seventh in Monte-Carlo".
Scuderia Ferrari swears there is no paradox. Timing says Ferrari was two to four seconds faster than Fernando Alonso’s Renault and had at least the same pace as Kimi Raikkonen’s McLaren. Michael Schumacher did the fastest lap, although he got lapped after pitting because of an accident and he finished thirty seconds behind the winner - his rivals were slower than him and he was stuck in traffic.
"On a track like Nürburgring, where overtaking is easy, Michael would have finished fourth".
On Sunday, May 29, 2005 we’ll be racing at Nürburgring. In Germany, Ferrari wants to finally express its potential, which has not been possible so far because of qualifying or for reliability problems. The team from Maranello is aiming to win. The European Grand Prix, held about thirty kilometres away from Kerpen, hometown of the Schumacher family, is their last chance. Otherwise, they will not be fighting for the World Championship after five years in a row. Ferrari does well in the race; they know their problem is qualifying. Tyres is the main issue: worse than Michelin in the first kilometres but working fine during the race.
"If we struggle on Saturday, it’s because of Bridgestone tyres. But our supplier is also behind us when we gain positions on Sunday. Their human and professional value are high and they played an important role in our achievements. Forgetting it would be bad".
Ferrari President, Luca Montezemolo, confirms their intention to be back on top:
"Having problems with the tyres won’t stop us from winning".
The new qualifying format seems to be appreciated. On Monday, May 23, 2005 the Federation officialises the fourth change in three years: a single qualifying session on Saturday, one flying lap with the fuel needed to start the race. The other session, with low fuel load, is eliminated. Jean Todt observes:
"It won’t be a disadvantage".
The technical director, Ross Brawn, and his co-workers have already planned everything:
"We qualify with a lower fuel load to make up some positions. During the race, we will pit before the others, so that the tyres improve meanwhile".
The quarrel between Barrichello and Schumacher has been put aside.
"Giving up is not my thing. This is no cliché, it’s just my way of being. I’m a fighter and I give my all until the end. It’s like a football match: it lasts 90 minutes but the result often changes in the last minutes or in the extra time".
The message he sends to his teammate sounds like:
"I don’t regret a thing".
One more observation: Fernando Alonso and his Renault were considered unbeatable until the San Marino Grand Prix. Now, it’s the turn of Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren.
"The balance changes quickly, and soon it could be our moment".
On Tuesday, May 24, 2005 the tests begin again. Luca Badoer will be working on the tyres for two days in Fiorano, to get prepared for the extra-European appointments, in Canada and in the US. TV ratings are in decline: in Italy, the Monaco Grand Prix commentary was followed by 7.698.000 (47.08% audience share) against the over 10.000.000 in 2004.