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#750 2005 Chinese Grand Prix

2022-12-28 23:00

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#2005, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Livia Alegi,

#750 2005 Chinese Grand Prix

Kimi Raikkonen, Valentino Rossi, Jenson Button: it seemed like they were the only golden ones in Formula 1, being pulled at their suits, courted, invi

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Kimi Raikkonen, Valentino Rossi, Jenson Button: it seemed like they were the only golden ones in Formula 1, being pulled at their suits, courted, invited, contended. Is it possible that still no one is thinking about Fernando Alonso, whose references include a world title and is the youngest among them? No, of course it’s impossible. Market rumors report a great offer coming from the East: Toyota is ready to stick $20.000.000 into the Spanish driver's wallet to have him in 2007. This year Fernando Alonso has taken $5.000.000 plus performance bonuses from Renault, roughly equal to Michael Schumacher's monthly salary. Now he is asking for a small tweak: multiply the figure by eight, to reach $40.000.000 - a figure that would guarantee him a standard of living similar to the illustrious German Scuderia Ferrari driver. At Renault, they joke about it: 

 

"In ancient Rome, the best charioteer came to win 35.000.000 sesterces, which in our time would be 20.000.000 euros. His name was Diocles, he was a slave and became a free man thanks to his chariot victories". 

 

Alonso’s future depends on the negotiation. His contract expires at the end of 2006. It seems that the agents of the most talented drivers - including Valentino Rossi of MotoGP - have agreed to create the effect of the millennium bug at the end of next season, when Formula 1's stars will be free to settle wherever they like, with everything being reshuffled. Toyota has the money to afford a World Champion, since it pays Ralf Schumacher just as much (without great results, by the way). His brother remains the richest, credited by Fortune with $60.000.000 annually in income. Michael Schumacher is intent on postponing retirement. This is revealed by his manager Willi Weber, who reveals in an interview with German newspaper Stuttgarter Nachrichten: 

 

"Michael will never leave Ferrari. His image goes better with red sports cars than with the gray luxury of Mercedes (market rumors which have always been denied alleged he was ready to betray Ferrari for McLaren-Mercedes, ed.)".

 

Most importantly, Weber announces:

 

"Michael plans to extend his contract by two years".

 

So if he finds an agreement with the Maranello team, we will find him on track until the end of 2008. And on January 3, 2009, he will quietly celebrate his 40th birthday with his family. 

 

"I have known Michael for many years. He is always motivated. A bad season will certainly not make him lose the taste for the challenge. 2005 was such a year: he remains much stronger than both Alonso and Raikkonen".

 

Other market rumors concern the usual Valentino Rossi. Voices from Spain swear that his approach to Ferrari will go through Fiat. Next year, Vale will alternate with Iberian champion Dani Sordo behind the wheel of the debutant Grande Punto Super 2000.

 

"Rossi will run a few special tests that will not interfere with MotoGP".

 

Meanwhile, he is expected to participate in a World Championship Rally with Subaru already this year. Changing the subject, Ferrari's negative results in Formula 1 this year have not caused Ferrari President Luca Montezemolo to lose confidence. 

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On Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2005, speaking to students at Luiss, a Roman university which he is president of, he reiterated that the team is making every effort to return to winning. Responding to a question from a student regarding what the most bitter moment had been since he became the Maranello factory’s number one, Montezemolo cited the World Championship lost in 1998:

 

"We were in Japan, and Schumacher, who was starting on pole position, needed a win or a high enough placement to snatch five points from Hakkinen to take the title. But at the start the car stood still. I felt like the world collapsed on me. But then we won six years in a row. And, after the current break, we will start again in 2006".

 

The best way, however, to gain momentum would be to have a good race in Shanghai, where the championship will end on Sunday. Though the race in Japan was still a disappointment, there is some hope for improvement. Bridgestone has prepared two types of new tires, one completely different from previous ones, another with a medium compound. All to be verified, however, from Friday, October 14, 2005, in the first free practice. In 2004 Michael Schumacher himself was not brilliant, but it was Rubens Barrichello who inaugurated the Chinese circuit with a splendid and unforgettable victory. For the Brazilian, these will be last three days, after six seasons in red, in the company of the German champion and driving a car from Maranello. Rubens subsequently will have a long rest because he will not be able to get into the Honda, which he will race in, until the beginning of the year. All the focus at the moment, however, is on Renault and McLaren, who are contending for the Manufacturers' World Championship. If the Suzuka race was filled with anticipation, one can expect an even more spectacular finale. Once upon a time he would have been moved. Maybe it will happen to him Sunday afternoon, stepping out of the cockpit with eyes glazed over behind his helmet visor. A six-year success story is coming to an end between Rubens Barrichello and Ferrari. 

 

"I don't feel any particular emotion at the moment, although I think it will be different after the Grand Prix. Winning here last year and celebrating with President Montezemolo was one of the best moments of my career. The president doesn't come to the track very often, but in the important moments he was almost always there, like for my first pole position at Silverstone and my wins at Monza and here in China".

 

Rubens Barrichello swears he is not sad. And that he has learned to deal with emotions: 

 

"I remember exactly as if it were yesterday the first day at the Fiorano circuit, when I saw my name on the single-seater. It was snowing and I had to wait for a long time before I could go out on the track. It is an image that I will always keep in my mind, as well as the one related to the warmth of the public that I will miss a lot, especially at Imola and Monza, or the smile of the mechanics after a good performance".

 

It is a tale of the longest period of success for a team. Upon his arrival in 2000, there were several problems. 

 

"I'm proud to have helped solve them and help the team grow".

 

Worst moment? 

 

"When I ran out of gas during the Brazilian Grand Prix, while I was clearly in the lead".

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That was 2003.

 

"I am still left with a lump in my throat over the missed opportunity. That's my race and I never won it".

 

The saudade is flowing: once the Chinese Grand Prix is over, the name Jordan will disappear from Formula 1. The new team will be called Midland. Both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello had debuted in the former. 

 

"I remember Eddie Jordan for all the laughs we had together. Gary Anderson (technical director of the team at the time, ed.) was instrumental in my growth as a driver, as were the mechanics who were all truly very good. It is sad to see this name disappear, but unfortunately it is part of the current rules: of the game, and not in Formula 1 alone".

 

Rubens Barrichello's last official outing with Ferrari will be a performance at Mugello during the Ferrari Finali Mondiali. Then a special farewell tour in Maranello. 

 

"I will bring my whole family to the Fiorano track to let them experience the thrill of a lap on the three-seater, this will be my farewell to Ferrari".

 

How will Michael Schumacher experience the separation from Rubens?

 

"I don't know if it is accurate to say that I will miss him, because he is not leaving the sport. He will no longer be the teammate with whom I spent happy moments, which I hope can continue with Felipe Massa".

 

The German swears he had a good time this year: 

 

"Excluding the results, there have been many good times. Monte-Carlo, for example, is a race that I enjoyed".

 

The debate over new qualifying? 

 

"I think there have been seven different formats in the last five years. This shows that before making a final decision one has to think things through".

 

After eight months, nineteen races, countless tests, duels that happened and that didn’t, joys and sorrows, the Formula 1 World Championship will come to a close on Sunday, October 16, 2005. The most important title has already been awarded to young Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard beat his rival Kimi Raikkonen thanks to an impressive start to the season. The points won in the first four races then allowed him to administer the lead with strength and cunning, but also with some brave maneuvers as a talented driver. The Finn has been betrayed too many times by his McLaren-Mercedes, a car that is both fast and fragile at the same time. The Iceman – as they call him – with yet another win, after the seven already achieved this year, risks becoming the driver who has won the most in a championship without obtaining the title. It also allowed Fernando Alonso to say: 

 

"I beat him with a slower car than his".

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It is precisely Kimi Raikkonen, however, along with his restless teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, who will have a chance to take home the Constructors’ trophy. Ahead of the last round, the standings see Renault in the lead with a 2-point margin over the Anglo-German team. The team led by Flavio Briatore can count not only on the prowess of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella, who is intent on making up for the overtake suffered on the final lap of the Japanese Grand Prix, but also on a super V10 engine, more powerful, mounted Fernando and Giancarlo’s cars. It will be another of the goodbyes planned for this year: starting next year, small V8s of 2.4-liter displacement will be on the scene. A reduction desired by the FIA in order to decrease the speeds of the single-seaters, which are considered too high. Needless to say, the farewell that Rubens Barrichello will give to Scuderia Ferrari is also expected. How can we forget Rubinho, sometimes a whiner, at other times a bore, but a sincere and fast driver who was able to save the Scuderia Ferrari's balance sheet when Michael Schumacher was not in shape? That is why a great race is expected from the Brazilian, who in matters of heart, when the car allows it, is second to none, not even the German champion. On Friday, October 14, 2005 the F2005s give some positive signs. If the impressions are confirmed in the race, who knows, maybe some surprises will come, maybe a podium, just to sweeten that bitter pill into which this championship has turned. You can't win all the time, but there are also other ways to lose. Of course, when the tires don't work, in Formula 1 as in all other motor sports, you run slower. That is why Michael Schumacher remains cautious: 

 

"The last few races have been back-to-back. There has been no time to make progress, although a lot of work has been done on the tires. However, I think I noticed a small improvement from last Sunday's race in Suzuka. Maybe we are at the same level we were in Brazil when I placed fourth. If everything goes well, in fact very well, we can fight for a third place".

 

China will also be Scuderia Minardi's last race: its name will change to Scuderia Toro Rosso from next year - a literal translation of its new owner, Red Bull - and will have Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi and American Scott Speed as drivers. This is the last time for Eddie Jordan's Jordan: it will be Midland from 2006. Fernando Alonso, the World Champion, debuted with Minardi in 2001; Michael Schumacher, the former world champion, debuted with Jordan in 1991. It is also the last time for Peter Sauber, who has passed the team over to BMW, and for Pierre Dupasquier, director of Michelin Motorsport, who hands the baton to Nick Shorrock after hitting pole number 100 with Giancarlo Fisichella. A requiem, finally, for the 10-cylinder 3000 cc engines: too powerful and fast. For safety reasons, starting next year, Formula 1 adopts 8-cylinder 2400 cc powerplants, a displacement that many production cars already reach, but in the racing version they will exceed 700 horsepower (roughly the power of a decade ago). The rules will also change. Impossible to understand how: on Monday, October 24, the World Federation Council will meet in Paris. A majority of 18 out of 26 votes is needed to change a rule, practically science fiction for Formula 1, where there are as many different opinions as there are protagonists in the debate. Michelin would like to abolish the stops altogether (which is impossible in the immediate term: the single-seaters are already designed with insufficient tanks to cover the entire race distance), other teams (the Bridgestone ones plus Renault) would, on the contrary, like to return to the tire change. The current qualifying format is cumbersome, but Michael Schumacher is right when he warns: 

 

"We have changed five times in three years, let's think about it".

 

Flavio Briatore's proposal garners support: everyone on the track in the first quarter-hour with free fuel and elimination of the last five drivers, or six should there be twenty-two participants. Then another quarter of an hour, and away another five. In the last half hour, race gasoline, everyone on track and the ten fastest fight for pole. Meanwhile, in this last qualifying of the season Fernando Alonso takes pole position. The Spanish driver will start from the front row with his teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella. Kimi Raikkonen is third, ahead of Jenson Button and Juan Pablo Montoya.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005 Michael Schumacher and Christijan Albers collide during the formation lap and, because of this, both are forced to start from the pit lane. At the start of the Chinese Grand Prix Fernando Alonso holds the first position, followed by Giancarlo Fisichella and Kimi Räikkönen. On Lap 17 Juan Pablo Montoya punctures a tire by touching a drain cover that has come off its place at Turn 10, and the safety car is brought in to allow for the necessary repairs to be made: the drivers take the opportunity to make their first pit stop, after which Michael Schumacher spins out, retiring, while Juan Pablo Montoya stops for an engine failure. On lap 29, when the race has already resumed for a few laps, Narain Karthikeyan is involved in an accident at turn 13, which causes a second neutralization: most of the drivers then make their second pit stop, during which Kimi Räikkönen manages to overtake Giancarlo Fisichella, while Ralf Schumacher, Felipe Massa and Christian Klien continue, moving up to second, third and fourth position respectively behind Fernando Alonso. Between laps 44 and 47, Ralf Schumacher, Felipe Massa and Christian Klien stop to make their second stop, and Kimi Räikkönen moves up to second, while Giancarlo Fisichella is given a drive-through penalty for slowing down the drivers behind him during the second safety car period, and drops from third to fourth place. In the final laps, Kimi Räikkönen reduces the lead previously accumulated by Fernando Alonso, but fails to catch up with the Spaniard, who wins the Chinese Grand Prix. Along with the two of them, Ralf Schumacher also climbs the podium, finishing ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, Christian Klien, Felipe Massa, Mark Webber and Jenson Button.

 

"We are the champions".

 

We are the champions, sings Fernando Alonso on his on-board radio as he crosses the finish line of the Chinese Grand Prix. It's a good thing he didn't become a singer: Formula 1 would have lost a star and the music world would have kicked him out. Fernando Alonso is singing because he achieved the en plein: he won the last race, joined Kimi Raikkonen at seven wins and, most importantly, handed Renault the World Constructors' Championship as well. For the French company, it is the first triumph with its own chassis and engines. McLaren is beaten on track. Bad luck this time strikes with Solomonic wisdom: a faulty kerb excludes Juan Pablo Montoya from the race, the safety car ruins Fernando Alonso's strategy and induces Giancarlo Fisichella to make a mistake. But the Spanish driver wins, and Flavio Briatore says:

 

"The losers must be quiet. We overcame them, what more could we do? They had created such cinematography that it seemed like if we didn't win the constructors' title we would’ve been the losers. Fernando proved that he is the best driver in the world. He had the best race of his career, an extraordinary race. We showed that we have speed and reliability, and the whole team worked to make this happen".

 

World Champion Fernando Alonso shares the following: 

 

"It was a fantastic thing, I don't think there is anything as electrifying as winning the World Championship and seeing our fans celebrating".

 

The first to congratulate him is King Juan Carlos. Renault had retired from Formula 1 in 1985 and rejoined in 2001 (the first season was under the Benetton name). It made its debut in 1977 in the British Grand Prix. It won 25 races out of the 193 official races it took part in, the first in France in 1979. There were 43 pole positions and 22 fastest laps. Between 1986 and 1997 Renault supplied engines to other top teams and celebrated the triumph of Williams and Benetton six times. 

 

"Now I’m only missing the drivers' title. Next year I will give it my all".

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Giancarlo Fisichella abandons the big celebration in the Renault box for winning the Constructors' World Championship for a few seconds and thinks about the 2006 World Championship by setting his goals on the ultimate goal: 

 

"The team will help me, we are very united". 

 

The Italian driver finished fourth despite a drive-through penalty (with the safety car on track, he blatantly slowed down before returning to the pits so the mechanics could refuel Alonso’s car). 

 

"Raikkonen did the same thing in Belgium but they didn't penalize him. I could have won, but I had to defend the positions behind me so I let Fernando go".

 

This year McLaren has won two additional Grands Prix, but has been stopped by reliability issues too many times. In Shanghai, Juan Pablo Montoya's single-seater was stopped by a drain cover that came off a curb and clipped the Colombian's right front tire. A disturbing episode, as was the marshals’ slowness in rescuing Indian Narain Karthikeyan who – good for him – emerged on his own two feet from a wrecked and burning Jordan. It ends badly for Scuderia Ferrari, despite finishing third overall. Michael Schumacher gets rear-ended by Christijan Albers on the installation lap, during which the drivers leave the pits and go join the grid. The race officials hand him an official warning. Not good for a seven-time World Champion. The worst comes on lap 23: the German driver spins out while proceeding alongside the safety car. 

 

"A decidedly bizarre end to the season. The incidents? The first one I have to review before I speak. The second one was caused by the tires: they were worn out and went cold".

 

See you in 2006. And Rubens Barrichello? At one point he finds himself in fourth position. He bravely resists Mark Webber's attacks until he goes off track. Three cars pass him immediately, five others pass him as he stops in the pits to replace a destroyed wheel. 

 

"It was a sad race. I thank the whole team: we will remain friends forever".

 

Scuderia Ferrari, after a bad year - worse than expected - does not need to rebuild the team. At most, reflecting is necessary: both on the mistakes made and how to solve the problems that made 2005 a bitter year as soon as possible. After the race in China, Jean Todt says: 

 

"A very disappointing season ended badly. In the last race we didn't bring cars into the points zone. And it was not the first time that, together with Bridgestone, we found ourselves empty-handed after a difficult weekend. Given the situation, one can say that third place in the Constructors' standings and Michael's identical finish in the Drivers' standings represent a kind of miracle. I hope to be able to file this championship away as soon as possible and return to the start of the next one in a position to aspire to the highest goals. To do so, we have a great job ahead of us with the support of our Japanese friends, in whom we have great confidence. Finally, I want to say a special goodbye to Rubens: he gave his heart and soul to try to close in the best way his era at Ferrari, which will remain unforgettable".

 

The most important question concerns how Scuderia Ferrari will be able to rise again. Unfortunately, there are still too many uncertainties on the horizon about the regulations that will reign in Formula 1. Something more will be known after Monday, October 26, 2005, when the FIA World Motor Sport Council will meet in Rome to decide on the technical and sporting regulations to be adopted in 2006.

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The only sure thing at the moment is that everyone will have to use 2.4-liter V8 engines, although in theory those who with problems will be able to mount the current depowered V10s, which still causes some confusion. Many parameters will also change in the design of the cars due to the smaller and lighter powertrain. Because among other things, tires with lower powers will have to be exploited differently. It seems, after the first tests also on the track, that the Ferrari V8 is competitive, though any reference with the competition is lacking. But the biggest challenge will still and always concern the tires. Fortunately, next year Scuderia Ferrari will no longer be virtually alone in developing Bridgestone tires, as the supplier has also included Toyota and Williams in its group. And this will perhaps be the key to solving those grip issues that Schumacher and Barrichello have so far struggled with, facing great discomfort. Another certainty, for Ferrari, is the presence of an increasingly motivated Schumacher. The German has not given up, he does not consider himself to be sunsetting. In fact, he is looking forward to the opportunity of battling with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. And that is a good sign. Waiting to see what young Felipe Massa will be able to do, he will be the first to test for next year, starting Monday, Oct. 24, 2005, in Vallelunga. 

 

"I think we will return to winning in 2006. I hope also in 2007. And I hope that Schumacher, who is free to decide, will want to be with us. If he says yes, I will be the happiest person in the world. If he says no, I will be less so, but I will understand him. He is number 1, I say this with respect for the up-and-coming young people, number 1 in the history of Ferrari, who I will stay with as long as I have the strength. The only thing I will never do with Michael is to get in the car with him again. I did that at Nurburgring in a 550 Maranello. He will never see me again, even drugged".

 

In shirtsleeves and with a very combative attitude. Luca Montezemolo celebrates alongside Ferrari fans, customers, technicians, mechanics and drivers the end of the racing season. On Sunday, October 23, 2005, 30,000 fans were present at the Mugello racetrack for the Finali Mondiali organized by the Maranello team. Everyone is attending for a series of spectacular races reserved for the various Challenge cars that bring dozens of F360s, the usual and always incredible vintage cars from Ferrari and Maserati to the track. Enthusiasts can also admire the new F430, which will race in various championships in 2006, and the incredible FXX, the 800-hp prototype that will allow the 29 lucky and wealthy owners of this car to boast the title of Ferrari drivers. If the Formula 1 season has been a great disappointment, there is no shortage of reasons for satisfaction this year, and especially resolutions to return to the top in the next. Says Luca Montezemolo, joined by John Elkann, Piero Ferrari, Jean Todt, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello.

 

"We have to have a big celebration of economic and business results. We will have an all-time sales record and growth in so many markets, such as the Far East. And we have never sold so many cars in the United States too".

 

Then a fond farewell and thanks to the Brazilian driver who will move to Honda: 

 

"Since Barrichello has been at Ferrari, up until 2004, the Scuderia has always won the Constructors' World Championship, which is particularly important for those who manufacture the whole Formula 1 single-seater, as we do. Rubens also contributed to Schumacher's successes. I remember three of his victories: the beautiful comeback in 2000 in the German Grand Prix, the one at Monza in 2002, and the one last year in the first Chinese Grand Prix".

 

The Ferrari president does not forget, along with the driver from São Paulo, the German champion’s dedication: 

 

"Both drivers, in a season of very modest results, struggled to pull off the impossible. We knew that we might start losing after six years, but I confess that I did not expect such a bad year. However, I see Todt as committed and calm as if he had never won before. This is the right philosophy".

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Few and clear explanations of the reasons for taking only a third place in the championship: 

 

"It is not easy, as some people claim, to win in Formula 1. It's not easy when the regulations change every year and we don't like them. We don't like the tire regulations, which are also dangerous. Now a decision will be made for 2006, hopefully we will come up with a solution in line with the racing spirit".

 

Finally, congratulations to Renault on its triumphs in Formula 1: 

 

"To the president, to Briatore, to Alonso, to the whole team. They have been very good".


After the onerous commitments of a crooked season, some relaxing begins. On Tuesday, October 24, 2005, Rubens Barrichello will take to the track at Fiorano. But not to test a single-seater. The Brazilian driver will drive a special Ferrari, a modified F2003 GA, which is still a Formula 1 car but has three seats. He will be behind the wheel with two passengers at a time. He will bring eleven in total: his grandfather Rubens, dad Rubens, then mom, sister and some trusted friends. Nor will it be Rubinho's final act with the Scuderia Ferrari. On Saturday, December 10, 2005, he will attend the traditional Christmas party. 

 

"I will interrupt two months of vacation, the first one of this length since I started racing. It will be another exciting moment. Otherwise Ferrari will always be in my heart. I have experienced many wonderful moments, some less so, but I will only remember the best ones. Now a new challenge awaits me with Honda. Button? We are friends and I am not afraid of him. After racing for so many years with Schumacher, you can't fear any teammate anymore".

 

Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher, in all likelihood (and if weather conditions permit) will fulfill one of his wishes: riding a Ducati Desmosedici, completely identical to those used in the World Championship by Capirossi and Checa. The bike is already at Mugello, made available by the Borgo Panigale factory for some filming related to a tobacco sponsor's commercial. If Michael Schumacher feels up to it, it is there, ready, at his disposal: all he has to do is put on a suit and try his hand at driving with handlebars instead of a steering wheel. Meanwhile, the German is waiting to begin his relationship with Felipe Massa, who will already be on track on Wednesday, October 26 and Thursday, October 27, 2005, at Vallelunga for a series of tests with the new V8 engine. 

 

"After a difficult year we just want to show that we are still capable of winning. However, we don't have to look to the past but to the future. We are very motivated. We want to still have a chance to aim for world titles".

 

Michael Schumacher reveals that he noticed that things were not going well as early as February: 

 

"After the first rehearsals I had called the president to tell him that we were doing badly. I must admit that the results were even worse than expected. I don't think I've lost my abilities and still I feel very young, young just like the kids I'm fighting against now".

 

Probably, Michael Schumacher will not be the only German, apart from his brother and Nick Heidfeld, racing in Formula 1 in 2006. According to Bild, young Nico Rosberg will be racing in Formula 1 next year with Williams, alongside Australian driver Mark Webber. The popular German newspaper often exaggerates and gets things completely wrong, but sometimes it does get the news right. And it is more than likely that this one is true, also because the son of Keke, World Champion in 1982 with the same team, already has already appeared as the British team’s test driver. And these days, most likely, he has put his signature on a five-year contract. 

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The motorsport circus is always looking for characters who will put on a show and raise fans’ interest. Rosberg is certainly one of them: he is 20 years old, following in his father’s footsteps, a fast and courageous driver, and last month won the GP2 Series title, the category that kicked off this year replacing Formula 3000, required to enter Formula 1. An exhilarating two-in-a-row in the last two races – no one had achieved it yet– in Bahrain, with which he beat his direct rival, Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen, Flavio Briatore's protégé, who had dominated the first part of the season. In Nico's immediate future, then, there is Williams. And who knows, if he is good and the circumstances favor him, he might even get to drive a Ferrari. In recent weeks Rosberg had been driving around Silverstone as a test driver and apprentice with one of the Grove team's single-seaters, which, among other things, he had already made his debut on at the age of 17. A big surprise was ready for him. He could have made his debut already in the Formula 1 World Championship by contesting the last two races, in Japan and China. But the British team, which had effectively ruled out Nick Heidfeld, injured and headed for a rival team (BMW) in 2006, had been forced to race the Brazilian Pizzonia to convince its sponsor Petrobras to pay extra. The opportunity was only postponed, because the driver was already in the sights of several motorsports talent scouts. But Rosberg's arrival in the most important championship also opens other hypotheses, such as seeing him - within a few years - wearing a red suit, namely that of Scuderia Ferrari. Nico drove in GP2 for the ART team, which has Nicolas Todt among its managers, son of Ferrari's general manager and manager of Felipe Massa. The situation allowed for a very good relationship with his father, Keke, who is his manager. 

 

In recent times there has been much discussion about the possibility of Michael Schumacher retiring at the end of 2006. Assuming and not conceding that the Kerpen champion quits, several names have been put forward for his replacement, among which Raikkonen and Valentino Rossi. An unconfirmed piece of information originating in Spain stating that there is also interest in Fernando Alonso. In this potential round of drivers, if Nico Rosberg is able to prove his talents in a couple of seasons, his arrival at Maranello could not be ruled out either. The young man has shown in GP2 that he is a driver who is at once aggressive, able to run a race with his brain and, above all, able to fine-tune his car’s set-up. After chasing Heikki Kovalainen in the standings all year, Nico Rosberg arrived at the conclusion of the championship at the UAE track with a three-point lead over his opponent. He could’ve have lost it, but instead he raced with the flair of a champion. Suffice it to say that after winning the opening (long) race, he managed to repeat himself in the second, shorter race, starting from P8, which he was relegated to, since the regulations provide for the inverted grid for the first race’s top 8. Finnish by origin but German by birth, 20-year-old Nico Rosberg, with many wins under his belt even in the minor formulas, has all the makings of a champion. Those who have had a chance to put him to the test speak of a driver who can learn the tracks with no problem and set impressive times immediately. In addition, the young man is fluent in four languages (German, English, French, and Italian, very well) and has an appealing, characterful appearance. Standing at 1.78 meters tall, with long blond hair and blue-green eyes, he has the perfect look to charm fans and supporters, even in Italy. Among the sons of famous drivers, he is certainly the best at the moment. Nelsinho Piquet has yet to mature, while Mathias Lauda does not seem to have much class, as he is always among the last. Even his father Niki has called him a wimp. 

 

Michael Schumacher's winter vacation will be different than usual this year. A relaxing sojourn with his family in the chalet he owns in Norway, a performance on karts in Kerpen during a major race, Christmas greetings with the Ferrari people on Dec. 10 in Maranello. But, unlike in recent seasons, in all likelihood the German driver will also be engaged in a series of tests, in November, with his new teammate, Felipe Massa, as well as Luca Badoer and Marc Gené. The objective: testing the tires and the new V8 engine with a view to better preparing the car for the 2006 World Championship. Track debut will be in the first weeks of January. The reason for this major commitment is simple: Michael Schumacher wants a rematch. Before thinking about retiring, he wishes to aim for at least his eighth world title. And if things go well, he could continue the activity until the end of 2007, when he will be close to turning thirty-nine and will have celebrated his first five-years behind the wheel of racing cars. This intention shines through in his words, which also come at the end of a particularly bad year. Michael Schumacher, some say they knew beforehand that you would not be competitive in 2005. 

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"We had started with the old car, so I didn't expect to win. We knew that the new single-seater should help us take a big step forward. However, in testing we understood that there were problems, but we took a risk with the F2005 because it was the only chance to make progress. Unfortunately, that was not the case".

 

Was it the most difficult championship ever? 

 

"If we look only at the results it was the worst, compared to the forecast. The one in which I won the least with Ferrari. But some of the previous seasons were tougher, before I got to win the World Championship. Psychologically they had also were more tiring".

 

Yet at Imola you had had a great race. 

 

"First of all, Alonso had a great race. Which he then proved throughout the season, a very strong driver, also mentally. To overtake him I could only hope for a mistake on his part. He didn't make one. But we had fun, me too, as he did: in any case, Imola was the best race of the year for me".

 

And after that result, a second-place finish, did that give you more hope? 

 

"Of course. We were convinced, with so many races still to go, that we would solve the grip issues. An inconvenience, however, that does not depend on a single cause, not only on the tires. Maybe we were a little too conservative. And it turned out differently. The only positive fact: we will treasure this experience for the future, that is, for next year".

 

In fact, after that you had to watch the fight between Alonso and Raikkonen, between Renault and McLaren, as spectators. What do you think about what happened? 

 

"There is no doubt that Fernando and Kimi are two very strong drivers. I have said this before. They are talented, they are focused, they both did a very good job. Developments in the championship then took different directions for them. Alonso won and he deserved it.  Partly because he was skillful in taking advantage of all the opportunities that came his way. He never made any mistakes. Congratulations".

 

What were the most frustrating moments of 2005? 

 

"Several. In Turkey, in Sepang, in Monza".

 

After being seasoned by successes for a long time and now being at the end of a suffered championship, what do you expect? 

 

"I had great times in Formula 1 and I think I will have more. I really don't think it's all over. Also because I'm in a strong team that will be able to bounce back".

 

There are many changes on the horizon for next season: the V8 engine, different tire rules, a new teammate. What do you foresee? 

 

“What I have already said. Getting back to fighting for world titles. It is clear that we have to show that we are capable of taking back our place at the top. And it is clear that it will not be easy, that no one will want to make room for us. But this is the challenge. Complete.”

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Sixty-five years old and behind the wheel of the FIA since 1991, Max Mosley was re-elected president for the fourth consecutive time on Friday, October 28, 2005. Practically unanimously, partly because there were no other candidates. Anyone who stood against him would have lost the challenge. A life dedicated to automobiles, born into an aristocratic family, the son – among other things – of Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British right-wing before World War II, and Lady Diana Mitford: he made his debut as a driver in club racing, then at Williams in Formula 2. In 1969 he gave up racing and founded the March team. Later, making the best use of his law degree, he became the lawyer for the Formula One Constructors Association, that is, Bernie Ecclestone’s right-hand man, with whom he always remained on close terms, swinging between great friendship and violent quarrels, though always remedied. In fourteen years of power, Max had a great merit, that of focusing extensively on safety, especially after the tragedy of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. And this admirable willingness brought him his first problem as renewed president. Michelin has openly criticized the decision to change tire rules for 2006, returning to the possibility of replacing them in races. The French company, whose president Edouard Michelin had held a fiery press conference last September in Belgium precisely to protest any changes in tire rules ("the decision to return to the past is inconsistent and lacks transparency because it nullifies the research done this season and will produce a 15 percent increase in costs") and the FIA - that is, Mosley - did not wait long to reply

 

"Michelin is confused. The decision to change the tire rules was made not by the Federation but by the Formula 1 Commission, which is composed of representatives of the teams (10), GP promoters (8), engine suppliers (1), tire manufacturers (1), and sponsors (2) with only one member from the sports and commercial rights authority. We would like to mention that now it does not like the same rules that were in place in 2004, when its tires faced the Indianapolis race without any problems".

 

Just another way of recalling the U.S. Grand Prix’s farce, due to the fact that the French tires had proved unsuitable for the track. A controversy that will certainly have a sequel and lead to a single tire supplier for 2007. Meanwhile, in other news, Romania is bidding to host a World Championship race. A circuit would be prepared in downtown Bucharest, around the giant People's Palace built by Ceaușescu. Michael Schumacher’s last engagements will take place toward the end of November, before the vacations. Sponsor-related, mostly. Then, the seven-time World Champion will for, all intents and purposes, enjoy his winter break and calmly ponder redemption. 

 

"I am happy to spend a few days of vacation. I would have liked to have been in Munich, for the presentation of the exhibition The Face of Peace: I would have gladly seen the photos that Michel Comte took of the Scuderia Ferrari, but unfortunately I had to give it up". 

 

The approaching vacations, however, have not distracted Michael Schumacher much: what happened in recent days certainly did not go unnoticed. 


"It is no surprise that I was pleased with Mosley's re-election to the presidency of the FIA. Max has always been, even more so in the last period, attentive to the requests of us drivers to increase the safety of our sport. He is always willing to listen to our needs and works to ensure that everything runs smoothly and that calm reigns in Formula 1. Speaking of calm, I have a feeling that my latest statements have been misinterpreted. I have already very often reiterated that I do not consider it advantageous to constantly change the rules, and that is why I would not advocate changing the system every year. However, this does not mean that I criticize the new rules; on the contrary, I think they are generally very positive. For example, allowing tire changes again is a significant step forward, especially from a safety standpoint, just as the introduction of 2400 cc V8 engines was a sensible choice. As for the new qualifying format, on the other hand, I think we will have to wait until the first races to see if the expected improvements have been achieved".

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Earlier, on Wednesday, October 26, 2005, at Vallelunga, Felipe Massa made his official debut as a Ferrari driver. A three-day test allows him to reacquaint himself with the team, the car and the Bridgestone tires. And, at the same time, he can test the latest evolution of the V8 engine he will use next year running alongside Michael Schumacher, replacing Rubens Barrichello. The two South American drivers, despite having different ages (Rubens is 33, Felipe 24) have a story in common: both are Brazilians from São Paulo and of Italian descent. Barrichello's family came from the Treviso area, Massa's family had emigrated from Cerignola, in Apulia. Both competed in Italy for Adriano Mortai's team Draco. They also celebrated their Formula 1 debuts at the same age, 21: Rubens Barrichello in a Jordan, Felipe Massa driving for Sauber. Some may wonder what Felipe will have done to deserve Ferrari. As far as results go, at best, he has so far achieved two fourth places. After all, when Rubens Barrichello arrived in Maranello he had not yet won a race. It is clear that the Scuderia Ferrari technicians and Jean Todt have collected important data on the young South American driver: today, with telemetry, one knows everything about a driver, and it is likely that Peter Sauber, who has been using Ferrari engines for a long time, has been able to emphasize Massa's performance. Certainly he is very fast. He lacked experience, perhaps he was a little too impulsive (but at his age they all were, including Schumacher and Senna), he gained experience by racing alongside Jacques Villeneuve, who may no longer be the lightning bolt of the past, however, he is still a great reference point for anyone. Massa is not rich from a family, unlike other drivers. 

 

"In my career I was greatly helped by my father, making many sacrifices, and some sponsors who believed in me. The most important of these was São Luiz Hospital, which financed me. I also owe a lot to my first manager, Ricardo Tedeschi, and my second, Nicolas Todt. I started racing when I was 8 years old, in karts. In 1999 I won the Chevrolet championship. Then I came to Italy and won the national and European Formula Renault titles. In 2001 I won the Euro F3000 with Draco, which opened the door to Formula 1 for me".

 

Felipe Massa respects Michael Schumacher and considers him an idol: 

 

"As a child I was rooting for Piquet and Senna. Then I saw Michael and he seemed like a phenomenon. It is an honor to be on his team. It is clear, however, that someone who comes to Ferrari wants to win. I think I have the necessary skills: I know I am an aggressive driver, yet I am also consistent. And I also know how to work on the set-up of the car. But I think my best quality is to always try to push hard". 

 

But in the meantime, Christian Homer, Red Bull Racing Team Principal, vows that, when in doubt, he would rather have the design wizard, Adrian Newey, on the team than Michael Schumacher:

 

"Between Schumacher and Newey, I choose Newey".

 

Less than a week has elapsed between saying and doing: the McLaren’s technical director, father of the single-seaters who were World Champions with Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999, and vice World Champions with Kimi Raikkonen in 2003 and 2005, will have to design a chassis around the Ferrari engine that Red Bull had already won for 2006. Christian Horner is building a top team, one piece at a time. Next step, the drivers: beginning with the experienced David Coulthard, who will turn 35 in March, and the young Christian Klien. At least one of the top names is expected in 2007, while young talent will gain experience with Scuderia Toro Rosso.

 

"I was impressed with their plans and commitment".

 

Says Adrian Newey, who will join his new employer only in February. 

 

"In the meantime, I will continue to work on Raikkonen and Montoya's MP4/21".

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There is no shortage of resources at Red Bull Racing; Dietrich Mateschitz has built an empire on his energy drink, and with Formula 1 plans to expand into new markets by buying excellence and putting it together wisely. Red Bull landed in Formula 1 in 2005 by taking over Jaguar in extremis. It immediately won the record for the most opulent motorhome, a three-story building that outclasses McLaren's pagoda, and populated it with beautiful girls selected at each Grand Prix venue. First it took over a second team (Minardi). Now, with the Ferrari-Newey pairing, it is giving both form and content. In its debut season, with a Cosworth engine which isn’t exactly powerful, Red Bull Racing was the best independent team (i.e. untethered from the big manufacturers of production cars), scored 34 points (compared to the 10 that Jaguar scored in 2004), occasionally even dueled with the Maranello cars. On Saturday, December 10, 2005, the new wind tunnel will be inaugurated. Christian Horner states:

 

"We are aiming for fifth place. And in 2007 Newey's influence will begin to be felt...".

 

2007 is a year of great turning points for many. Valentino Rossi and Ferrari, for example. On Sunday, November 6, 2005, in Valencia, Valentino ended a triumphant championship, returned to his hometown of Tavullia, changed suitcase, put his motorcycle suit down and took his Formula 1 suit from the closet, then left for Fiorano. On Wednesday, November 9, 2005, he drove the F2004 on the Maranello team's private track, then the following day he tested at the Mugello circuit. A real test, the third since Valentino Rossi and Scuderia Ferrari fell in love. On a track he knows like the back of his hand, Valentino lapped with long breaks from late morning to 5:00 p.m.: 44 laps, about 250 km, the fastest was a 1'23"4, many on the edge of 1'24"5. The track record set by Rubens Barrichello is 1'18"7. Can the gap be closed? Scuderia Ferrari says the times are satisfactory, while the driver is happy and will return to the track on Friday, November 11, 2005. Valentino Rossi is not looking for top performance. He wants to learn the braking technique, which in Formula 1 happens just a few meters from the corner. The course is still long, but the student has decided to give it his all. In the following days, while waiting for the presentation of the new Toyota which will race in the 2006 World Championship, Flavio Briatore has a joke for everything and everyone. He debunks myths and mocks opponents. He invites the Italian press to dinner and talks freely, to the point that sometimes you wonder whether braking would be more appropriate. 

 

"Renault is the only team that won and immediately agreed to change the rules: for the show’s sake, tire changing in the race will be allowed again".

 

Didn't the tire change favor McLaren, which took better advantage of Michelin's soft tires? 

 

"Let's say that this way we got rid of a big pain in the ass".

 

Valentino Rossi would also increase interest in Formula 1... 

 

"Granted that he is special, both in results and likability, Formula 1 could use him if he was competitive. I saw so many fast drivers in testing before I found Alonso. It's like the casino: the first night you win, then there's the second, the third.... He'd better be patient and settle for a year as a test driver". 

 

Your return to success after Michael Schumacher's titles with Benetton: what was the greatest satisfaction? 

 

"Having kept my promise: I announced in 2001 that we would win the World Championship in 2005. I succeeded by spending half as much as those who won nothing. And I am not referring to Ferrari, but to a British team (McLaren, ed.)".

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Anything else? 

 

"Ah yes, the face of Ron Dennis (McLaren team owner, ed.) during the last Grand Prix. He kept leaning toward our pit box to see when Alonso would stop to refuel. He was convinced there was a trick, that we were going fast because we were low on fuel. We actually had a new engine, which I had decided to use only in the last race. On the eve of the race, Ron was sure he was going to take home the World Constructors' Championship. He was too disappointed".

 

Now Red Bull Racing has even taken away his designer, Adrian Newey. 

 

"Who cares. Who's Newey?"

 

Someone who has designed several winning cars. 

 

"The last one was in 1999. When I meet a person, I ask him how are you?, not how you were. Maradona Newey will do damage, because other engineers will be envious of his earnings".

 

But at least Red Bull will be stronger, don't you think? 

 

"No, I don't think so. They even bought Minardi: I’ve never seen two lame people go faster than a healthy one. Had they gotten a good driver instead of Newey, they would have immediately gained a second a lap. With the two they have (Coulthard and Klien, ed.) they’ll win the World Championship in 2018. If they want to waste money, good for them. In 1990 at Benetton I too had taken Barnard on as a technician. He was a big name and I needed him to attract sponsors: once the advertising contracts were signed, I fired him".

 

In 2006 Toyota will also fit Bridgestone tires: an advantage for Ferrari? 

 

"I rule it out, since they don't talk to each other. Ferrari has sued Toyota for industrial espionage".

 

Is the Italian Grand Prix at risk after the ruling banning noisy competitions? 

 

"It's worse for Monza. If they don't want us we'll leave. They say the Grand Prix is not a socially important event. It seems to me that there are 12.000.000 Italians who watch it. And then there is the waiting list of countries that want Formula 1: from India to Mexico to Argentina". 

 

Monday, November 28, 2005, Japanese culture and German punctuality mix in the new Toyota, the first 8-cylinder single-seater ready to hit the track. Three and a half months ahead of the beginning of the championship. 

 

"So we will have more time for tuning. We have been working on the TF106 project since late 2004".

 

The rear end has undergone a drastic slimming because the engine is smaller. Two cylinders are gone, sacrificed in the name of safety, nearly two hundred horsepower suppressed by a pen stroke on the regulations. The following day will be the circuit christening in Montmeló, a suburb of Barcelona. No launch party, zero hype. 

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This is how the Japanese-Germans - the parent company is in Hiroshima, the Formula 1 base is in Cologne - think; you celebrate when you win. In 2005 the first long-awaited success did not come, so the champagne remains in the fridge. Italy participates in the project with two key men: driver Jarno Trulli and engineer Luca Marmorini, who designed the new powertrain. Jarno Trulli ventures:

 

"For now we are first, we hope to keep the position".

 

Any predictions?

 

"Let's talk about it again in Bahrain. There are a lot of changes this year: we're back to changing tires in the race and the engines are smaller. And making predictions is impossible, although there will be the usual Ferrari, Renault and McLaren in front. And us too, I hope". 

 

Is the team’s first victory in Formula 1 the goal? 

 

"If the first one comes, many more can follow".

 

The Italian driver will be on track for four days of testing. He calls it roughing-out work. The aerodynamics are provisional and will be updated in February. In contrast, the engine has already been broken in: the first example was put on the test bench back on March 21, 2005, while the 2005 car was taking the podium in Malaysia. In late July it was mounted on an old chassis. Since then it has run 291 laps in eight days, covering 2143 kilometers. Technical features: the TF106 has a completely redesigned rear end, designed to accommodate the brand new 2400 cc V8 engine (estimated power 720 HP), has a new version of the monocoque and the suspension system already successfully used on the TF105B in the last two races of the 2005 season. The tires are also new: away with Michelin, here come the Japanese Bridgestone. The Indianapolis case, when Michelin itself ordered its customers not to race for safety reasons, weighed on the decision. Trulli's comment: 

 

"The possibility of changing tires during the Grand Prix will come back to favor Bridgestone. For us it could prove to be a decisive weapon".

 

And chassis designer Mike Gascoyne assures:

 

"We have continuous improvements planned before the championship debut. We have taken a similar approach to last season, debuting on the track earlier than the competition. This strategy helped us be competitive early in 2005. We hope that will be the case again". 

 

Driver and test driver confirmed: Ralf Schumacher alongside Jarno Trulli, with Ricardo Zonta as test driver. 2005 ended with fourth place in the Constructors' World Championship standings (88 points, behind Renault, McLaren and Ferrari); Jarno Trulli finished sixth, Ralf Schumacher seventh. The only stated goal is to improve. As previously announced, on Wednesday, December 7, 2005, Pierre Dupasquier is leaving Formula 1, MotoGP, Rally and all the motorsports which he has dedicated himself to in his 28 years at the helm of Michelin's competition department. He is retiring because it is time to after 1.300 victories and 180 world titles, which in comparison the seven of Valentino Rossi and Michael Schumacher seem like minor feats. He is leaving at the right time, in the season of triumphs: Alonso and Renault, Valentino Rossi and Yamaha, Sebastien Loeb and Citroën, plus the Dakar and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Yet he had been tempted to quit in late 2004, defeated by the lethal Ferrari-Bridgestone pairing. 

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"I remember the first day of the first free practice session of the first Grand Prix, in Melbourne. Schumacher was chatting quietly with his technicians. Then he jumped into the car and on the first lap he broke the track record. So I put down my notes and went to the bar for a beer. The season was already over".

 

2005 marks a rematch. New rules prohibit tire changes during the race. Over distances of more than 300 kilometers (versus 80 in the past) Michelin compounds work much better. 

 

"It's a matter of testing. Ferrari was the only team to test Bridgestone tires. And a mistake, because you never understand if the results you get depend on the tires or the car. We, on the other hand, were comparing data from Renault, McLaren, Williams, Toyota, Bar and Red Bull".

 

2006 will be a throwback to the tire change ritual during the pit stop. A decision Dupasquier would not accept even as a retiree: 

 

"We don't agree on anything. Mosley (the Federation president, ed.) had said he wanted to work on reducing costs and speed. We proposed the use of a single tire for the whole race. The result in 2005 was great: fun races, lower expenses and more safety, because the cars were going slower".

 

“Apart from Indianapolis, the U.S. Grand Prix is a case in point, we made mistakes, but we found a hostile attitude from the FIA in the face of our proposals. When I realized we were not going to race and there were 120.000 people at the circuit, I suffered. Then, we refunded the ticket and many people understood that our choice was the right one".

 

However, the truly difficult moments of your career were others, the accidents that cost the lives of drivers like Gilles Villeneuve. Better Alonso or Raikkonen? 

 

"Formula 1 has the best technology and the best men. They are all good and smart, albeit with different personalities".

 

Dupasquier recalls Arnoux and Jabouille, 1970s, Renault. 

 

"René used to say: the A tires are better than the B tires. I would ask him why and he would say: I don’t know, I like them better. Jean Pierre was the opposite, he would ask to change one detail, fix another - how stressful. They were getting the same times on the track".

 

Professionalism is identical in MotoGP: 

 

"Rossi analyzes the circuit turn by turn with the engineers. And Piaggi remembers the specifications from three years earlier and is able to ask why we didn't bring that tire that worked so well then".

 

And to Valentino Rossi, Pierre can afford to give one piece of advice: 

 

"Stay on the bike".

 

He does not speak as a doctor, Dupasquier points out, but as someone who has seen it all. 

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"When 19 drivers give 100%, Valentino's 99% is not enough. His cerebral cortex is shaped by motorcycle technique and cannot change anymore. No one has ever been able to switch from two wheels to four wheels or vice versa. Surtees? No, neither has he. He won a title, but he was going slow". 

 

Petite physique, 68 years worn with the energy of a young manager and the style of a man from another era, sober in his blue and yellow overalls that he always wore and was so much a mechanic. Edouard Michelin said about him: 

 

"I got to know his team spirit, his ethics, his honesty and respect for our customers".

 

The French manufacturer's palmares under his management were extraordinary, including, among others, 7 world titles in Formula 1 (4 for drivers and 3 for constructors), 29 in rallies, 47 in MotoGP, 11 in Superbike, 13 24 Hours of Le Mans. Before leaving the world of Formula 1, engineer Pierre Dupasquier will make one more visit to Maranello. 

 

"Todt invited me to talk a little bit".

 

After losing Pierre Dupasquier, there will be no Michelin from 2007 onwards, as the brand is withdrawing in opposition with the new rules and those who make them, namely the FIA. 

 

"This world does not interest us because it rejects competition".

 

Proclaims Monsieur Edouard Michelin. 

 

"Goodbye and thank you for warning us. At least in the future we will avoid unpleasant situations like the last U.S. Grand Prix".

 

The FIA replies. Et voila, the contents of the divorce are summed up in two lines. To cut costs, the FIA wants a single tire supplier. To cut costs, Michelin would have liked to continue with the 2005 rules, the ones that forbade changing tires during the race (and which had made the fortunes of Renault and McLaren, suddenly plunging Ferrari into a supporting role). The FIA won: the classic pit stop is back and a tire monopoly is approaching. The French manufacturer leaves the game before the defeat becomes heavy. Had it not withdrawn voluntarily, it would have been kicked out at the end of 2007. The pretext is already ready: the Indianapolis affair that the federal leadership still hasn’t accepted. In June 2005, Michelin banned its customers from running the U.S. Grand Prix for safety reasons because the tires had a manufacturing defect. The worldwide debacle - only the three Bridgestone-supplied teams, namely Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi, showed up at the track - ended without sanctions, because the sports judges had to surrender to the evidence: the teams were innocent, while the tire suppliers were not within their jurisdiction. President Max Mosley read the acquittal, but wouldn’t forget this matter. The showdown would come. 

 

"We consider Formula 1 to be a very high-tech sport where tires strongly influence performance. Competition between at least two manufacturers stimulates progress, in the interest of the public. We will return if the conditions are right again".

 

Michelin had debuted in Formula 1 in 1978, retired a first time at the end of the 1984 season, and returned in 2001 with mixed results. After a season where it settled in, in 2002 it suffered from the overwhelming power of Ferrari and Bridgestone.

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In 2003 the title slips from their hands right at the last race, but a regulatory controversy erupts during the championship: the FIA forces Michelin to reduce the tread width, and this is probably where the relationship between Michelin and the Federation begins to sour. 2004 still sees Ferrari-Bridgestone dominate, while 2005 is an 18-win triumph, out of 19 races: the only defeat is at Indianapolis. Bibendum, the plump little man symbolic of the French company, nevertheless promises maximum commitment in 2006 to its partners (Renault, McLaren, BMW-Sauber, Honda, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso). Only Honda, however, shows solidarity. Nick Fry says:

 

"We are sorry. In these three years we have worked together and experienced important moments for our team".

 

From a technical point of view, this is a victory for Ferrari (and from 2006 for Toyota and Williams too), which has a long experience with Bridgestones. Although disappointed with the 2005 results, the Maranello team has always stated its confidence in the Japanese tire makers. Confidence which has been rewarded. Thursday, December 15, 2005 Michael Schumacher returns to the track after a minimized vacation and is immediately the fastest. Lap times don't mean much during winter testing, at least at this stage, but Michael Schumacher nonetheless shows that he is driven by a strong fighting spirit. On his first day of testing in Jerez, the German drives a modified Ferrari F2004 with the new V8 engine and sets the fastest time (1'18"958) ahead of his new teammate, Felipe Massa, and many others including some test drivers, but also Juan Pablo Montoya in the McLaren, Nick Heidfeld in the BMW-Sauber and Mark Webber at the wheel of the Williams-Cosworth. In his eagerness Michael Schumacher also ends up off the road, on lap 10, parking the car in the gravel, but with no damage. At the end of the work, Michael Schumacher expresses a positive opinion of the new 2.4-liter-only powertrain: 

 

"It is obviously less powerful than the 3000 cc V10, however, the feelings are pleasant. The roar is completely different and it feels very interesting to me, nice to drive".

 

The seven-time World Champion explains his early return frankly: 

 

"There were many reasons to return to the track, partly because the situation is quite different from what we had faced in other years. I felt like racing. I know there will be a lot of work to do. Ferrari has put a lot of effort into these last few weeks and, in general, the first results obtained seem to me to be quite positive".

 

As for the new regulations, Michael Schumacher is adamant: 

 

"This year we were slower than the best by a second, a second and a half a lap. And it was not just a matter of tires. Tires alone do not make you lose or win a championship. However, in a few race finishes we had some problems that, I think, will not be repeated in 2006. In any case, compared to last season we can only improve".


The Scuderia Ferrari driver will also be on track on Friday, December 16, 2005 at the Spanish circuit. Meanwhile, the new Red Bull RB2, with the Ferrari engine that will power it in 2006, debuts at Silverstone with David Coulthard. Ron Dennis' equation is simple: add up the best and the result is victory. On Monday, December 19, 2005, the McLaren owner announces: 

 

"Fernando Alonso is ours".

 

As of 2007, that is. Five days earlier, Dennis himself had said: 

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"Vodafone is our main sponsor".

 

This will also be from 2007. 

 

"It's becoming clearer and clearer. We want to be the best, and the only way to achieve that is to attract the best people, the best drivers, the best sponsors".

 

One result Dennis has achieved: unnerving opponents, taking away their human and financial capital. Vodafone will guarantee the forty million needed to complete the Fernando Alonso operation. The contract - according to rumors - will last three years. The driver, thanks to personal ads, will earn 50.000.000 a year. On the future of the two current drivers, the Woking team is stalling: 

 

"We are talking with them. Both Montoya and Raikkonen are talented and professional, and they are very competitive. Now they will focus on our challenge at the next World Championship. We want to start 2007 with two World Champions behind the wheel of McLaren-Mercedes".

 

Fernando Alonso smiles: 

 

"I fulfilled my life's ambition with Renault this year and for my career, I thought it was time for new challenges, which is to try to win with another team".

 

His thoughts are entrusted to Renault's official website, naturally with reference to the season that will begin on Sunday, March 12, 2006, in Bahrain: 

 

"I will work to repeat the success of 2005. So far the signs are very positive. I am convinced that the chassis will be fast. The engine team is doing a fantastic job on the new V8 (but Renault is the only top team that has not yet put the 8-cylinder on track, ed.)". 

 

He follows by thanking his former employer:

 

"I will be sad to leave Renault, but certain opportunities should be seized".

 

And to the new one:

 

"I am very pleased that the transfer could be announced well in advance, because this allows me to concentrate 100% on the upcoming championship".

 

Head of Mercedes motorsport, Norbert Haug, is very pleased with the deal: 

 

"We are delighted to welcome Fernando to our team. Having a world champion on the team is a great responsibility and I am sure he will bring incredible stimulation to everyone. That said, our goal for 2006 is to stay focused on the upcoming Grands Prix".

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The other characters in the story are silent. Kimi Raikkonen is silent. Will he stay in the same team as his rival? Or will he implement the Ferrari idea? The latter is better. The doors of Maranello are wide open for him. Juan Pablo Montoya is silent. To make up for the gaffes of 2005 he should win the next two World Championships. In what spirit will the two run, knowing that one will have to pack his bags? Giancarlo Fisichella is silent, but he actually doesn't mind: if his teammate runs as if he were separated from his wife, there will be more attention for him. The affair does leave some questions unanswered. If McLaren is looking for the best, why not renew the contract with Kimi Raikkonen? The Finn is considered at least as talented as his rival, and twice as unlucky. The suspicion is that Kimi Raikkonen is no longer happy with his team after the misadventures that lost him the title in 2005. Or perhaps it is Fernando Alonso who is no longer very convinced about Renault's future in Formula 1. We will find out in the coming months, when Michael Schumacher chooses between work and retirement. And at that instant the domino effect will revolutionize the Formula 1 lineup. The ideal sidekick for Fernando Alonso could be Juan Pablo Montoya, if not Lewis Hamilton, an eighteen-year-old kid whom Ron Dennis follows with particular attention. Kimi Raikkonen's future is therefore tinged with red. From Ferrari, and Jean Todt in particular, the Finnish driver received much praise during the past season. But obstacles exist. At Maranello they repeat:

 

"Michael Schumacher will decide in the spring whether to continue his relationship with Ferrari or leave Formula 1". 

 

If he feels good and finds a competitive car at the beginning of the season, he is likely to decide to renew. Living alongside with Kimi Raikkonen? 

 

"Nothing against racing with him".

 

Valentino Rossi also says roughly the same thing: 

 

"Kimi and I would make a good pair".

 

Two steering wheels for three drivers: who will be the outcast? There is a fourth suitor, if you will: Felipe Massa. Called to replace Rubens Barrichello, the Brazilian is driving a competitive single-seater for the first time. 

 

"We may already have the new Schumi in house. It is not yet the time for choices".


But it is time for hypotheses. Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher right now, for example, while waiting for Valentino Rossi to learn the trade and pick up the German's baton. With the blessing of cellphones: with Vodafone gone, there is room for Tim’s return, which already sponsors Valentino Rossi.

 

"I had nothing to do with it, I did nothing".

 

Swears Flavio Briatore. In 2007 Fernando Alonso will move from Renault to McLaren. Could it be that the French team's top manager, who is also the driver's manager, knew nothing? Pointless objection. Briatore-thought is freeze-dried in a three-and-a-half-line note: 

 

"I was never, either directly or indirectly, involved in the negotiations. Fernando made a personal decision causing him to leave Renault at the end of 2006 and negotiated on his own".

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A betrayal? 

 

"I have nothing more to add".

 

How do you manage a team in this situation? 

 

"Come on, it's happened before. Ask Ron Dennis, since one of his two drivers is also leaving at the end of the season".

 

The Italian manager withdraws from the affair, as he is involved in a dangerous conflict of interest. But if he had no vested interest, then they took the champion away from him. Unless, as others suspect, Renault intends to disengage from Formula 1 in 2007, and then the early sale of the family jewel would turn out to be a clever market move: McLaren would pay now what it would get for free a year from now. Assuming that Flavio Briatore has been ripped off is like arguing that a fish can drown. For him, the results will speak. Renault is investing in the talents of Heikki Kovalainen, also from Flavio Briatore's team. Giancarlo Fisichella will race more serenely. Fernando Alonso for a year will still be in his place. But nothing will be the same as before. A Formula 1 team is a treasure chest of trade secrets to which drivers have free access. Having a departing employee is the equivalent of keeping a spy in the house. Inevitably, a driver's potential cannot be fully exploited. Fernando Alonso will have the best of Renault engineering on the single-seater, but he will not contribute to the research and development of new parts or innovative technical solutions. Another issue: how will the Spaniard deal with his future team? He is a serious and fair professional. But there are borderline situations: sometimes a maneuver on the edge of the regulations decides a World Championship (see Senna and Prost). How will the pilot behave? Whatever the case, be prepared to be criticized after a season in which everything goes smoothly. He is also right, Flavio Briatore, when he says: 

 

"Separated from my wife? Why don't you talk to Dennis (McLaren owner, ed.) about it?"

 

No one believes that Kimi Raikkonen will stay at McLaren with Alonso. Indeed, it is conceivable that the Finn himself has already decided to leave at the end of the 2006 World Championship and McLaren has run for cover by hiring the only other certified talent around. So even Kimi Raikkonen is worth half as much, excluded from the Woking team's secrets. That's why stability has become a dogma in Maranello: Scuderia Ferrari has dominated for five years with the same pair of drivers and is about to line up Michael Schumacher at the start for the 11th time. The German champion will end his career in Maranello and will carry no secrets around. It was he, in 1996, who was the protagonist of one of the most sensational transfers. Discovered by the usual Flavio Briatore who snatched him from Eddie Jordan, after two wins with Benetton he accepted Ferrari's flattery and espoused its re-foundation project that made him the most successful driver in history. His scepter will therefore pass to Kimi Raikkonen. Then, if the conditions are right, will come Valentino Rossi. And stability will be guaranteed for another five years.


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