It is the track that I love. That is not a slogan for the use and consumption of the Tifosi of the Scuderia Ferrari, anxious about the final sprint of the World Championship. Michael Schumacher really likes Suzuka and Japan, the circuit on which there may be a final showdown between him and Fernando Alonso on Sunday, 8 October 2006. A heavy sentence, for someone who does not like comparisons, who never willingly evokes past undertakings, who never dives backwards, fearing that it might distract him from the present. On the other hand, for a driver who has won ninety-one races in every corner of the world, it is not easy to find a track that has something more, that can offer a greater load of emotions. Michael Schumacher is venerated everywhere, he has triumphed everywhere, he has a line outside his hotel everywhere, Tifosi who, like in China, follow him tightly and even know at what time he went to sleep. But regarding Suzuka, it is a different story. Not only for its driving style:
"It's a track that is very demanding, a driver must be committed to making every effort, the possibility of making a mistake is always lurking. But it's also fun, exciting, the ideal place to driver a Formula 1 car".
Suzuka is also special for the atmosphere and especially for the wins. It has often been the crossroads of dreams for Michael Schumacher. In 1998, his ambitions were mortified on the starting grid. He was fighting with Mika Häkkinen but the engine of his car turned off. The follow-up was a scathing race towards the Finnish, unstoppable. But Suzuka, where Michael Schumacher has won six times, could not only be fatal. In 2000, the best day came, the Sunday that the German always mentions, which he recalls most gladly, that of his first World Championship with Ferrari. The Maranello team was waiting for twenty-one years, Michael Schumacher hit Mika Häkkinen and it brought him back on top of the world. It was an unforgettable moment, the German never willingly lets out his emotions, but he even now admits that his heart was bursting on the podium. Happiness and emotion that in 2003, another thing that makes the Ferrari's driver unique, became only long face and contained joy. Still Suzuka, another world title, the fourth in a row with the team from Maranello, but won with a poor eighth place and just two points ahead of Kimi Räikkönen. Michael Schumacher loves winning but, on that day, it was the turn of the other Ferrari, the one of Rubens Barrichello. The German was only forced to defend himself and in the end, to the general amazement, he said that it was not the best way to win a world championship title. Now, Japan is again in his fate and this time Michael Schumacher would not turn up his mouth in the face of a poor lead over Fernando Alonso. The imperative is to manage to stay ahead of the Spaniard, an achievement that the Ferrari driver does not consider easy.
"We are on the same level in everything, points in the standings and car, the details will make the difference, and a small mistake can screw it all up".
A wet track, for example, is a probable thing given that the weather forecast talks about upcoming rain. It would complicate everything, since at this moment the Ferrari seems to have no rivals in the dry, China also showed it. Bridgestone, the company which provides the tyres to the Maranello team, is ready however to answer this threat. Suzuka is their home track, the headquarters of the factory are very close, for the Japanese round a task force has already been set up, tyres (the main key to each win) of every single type, to provide for every eventuality. An effort that puts Michael Schumacher in a good mood and makes the balance tilt in his favor. Besides, Luca Baldisserri, one of Ferrari's most distinguished strategists, was immediately explicit after Shanghai:
"We were concerned about China, it was the Renault joker, at Suzuka our car and Schumacher should make the difference".
With talent and serenity, that calmness - at least apparent - that no longer seems to belong to Alonso, in conflict with his own team, guilty of not helping him enough given his imminent switch to McLaren, but also with himself. On Sunday evening, in Shanghai, he was furious:
"I've wasted a huge opportunity, I should have won, I was ahead, we cannot afford all those mistakes".
Mistakes that bring him into play, since it was also his choice to change the two front tyres during the first stop.
"I was suspicious, the old tyres were worn out, they could have made me go off track".
Fatal doubts are nearly never in Michael Schumacher's mind.
"The greatest driver of all time".
As Jean Todt repeated. Now, there is Suzuka, the track that he loves. Theoretically, he could already stop the count there, with a win and Fernando Alonso out of the first eight driver at the finish line, but he does not delude himself:
"Everything will be decided during the final race, in Brazil".
But Japan could remain the same etched in his memory. 2006, the Sunday of the ultimate escape. Towards the eighth World Championship. On Saturday, 7 October 2006, Ferrari secures the front row at the end of qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix. Felipe Massa takes the pole position, driving in 1'29"599. Michael Schumacher will start at his side. The repetition of what had already happened in Turkey: the front row of the Grand Prix will be all red, but the Brazilian will be the one to start ahead of everyone. The absolute best time of qualifying, and the track record, however, is from Michael Schumacher. In the second part, when the access among the ten drivers that can fight for the pole position is played, the German sets an incredible 1'28"954 which keeps Felipe Massa 0.876 seconds behind. Fernando Alonso, with his Renault, does not go higher than the fifth best time and will start from the third row. He will have his teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella (1'30"599), by his side. Ahead of both Renaults, on the second row, there are the Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher (1'29"989) and Jarno Trulli (1'30"039). Honda secured the fourth row with Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. Eleventh best time and sixth row for the future substitute of Michael Schumacher, the Finnish Kimi Räikkönen in his McLaren, with a time of 1'30"827. Eighth row and fifteenth best time for the Toro Rosso of Vitantonio Liuzzi with a time of 1'31"943. At end of qualifying, Michael Schumacher says:
"So far, it's a great weekend. As Toyota shows it, Bridgestone works very well here".
But over the course of free practice, when drops of rain fell on Suzuka, Michelin reversed the situation.
"On the wet, it is not a surprise. Still, we start from the front row and Renault from the third, and this is a great basis to start. Of course, I would have preferred the pole position. But Felipe did a great job and we don't fight each other between us: we work together".
And Felipe, also happy, adds:
"For me, it was a fantastic result like in Turkey".
And then it is Jean Todt's turn to do an exception to his little talkativeness, expressing great satisfaction for:
"An all-red front row in a crucial moment of the season".
The front row is all red, Alonso remained behind. It can be the right opportunity to seize the title: an eventuality evoked in a low voice to not jinx it. If Michael Schumacher wins and Fernando Alonso does not score points, the World Championship belongs to him. There is therefore great nervousness within the pit of the French team, where Flavio Briatore calls Felipe Massa a child. Probably to avoid sanctions, the sports director of the French team avoids repeating that the world championship title would already be awarded, as denounced at Monza: but he does not resist when he sees the pole position won by Felipe Massa. Because of having impeded him during qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso was penalized. According to Flavio Briatore, this time it was precisely Ferrari's Brazilian driver who unlawfully impeded Fernando Alonso during the official qualifying sessions, in order to favor his teammate, Michael Schumacher, and to relegate the Spaniard, who appears at the top of the standings, as far back as possible.
"Massa is this type of guy. He is a child. A little child. Little in every sense. He was ahead of Fernando, braking with a vengeance and so on. We will talk about it to the race director, Charlie Whiting. It's really perfect. We'll tell Charlie what has happened, but nothing is going to happen. We already know what the answer will be".
Thankfully then, he talks about the race again.
"It's obvious, we are worried. Looking at the times, Ferrari seems to have largely dominated, but then we can see that Toyota has also done it. They were exceptional during qualifying, but we'll see what will happen tomorrow".
Still, Felipe Massa, capable in Japan to take the second pole of his career, a fantastic time, 0.112 seconds faster than Michael Schumacher, almost 0.8 seconds better than Fernando Alonso and a second faster than Giancarlo Fisichella, the two Renault drivers starting from the third row. And he says with confidence:
"Next year, it will be my turn".
The Brazilian driver is not afraid of overreaching.
"In 2007, I aim to win the World Championship, I have a huge opportunity and I don't want to waste it".
An optimism based on his great professional growth, the strength of his car, the absence of Michael Schumacher and his problems of acclimatization that Kimi Räikkönen could meet, but also on the appreciable advantage that Ferrari should have with the abandonment of Michelin and the transfer of all the teams to Bridgestone, already customer for years of the Maranello team and the only tyre brand present from 2007 onwards in the World Championship. It will be the same tyre for all, the FIA has given precise guidelines, it will have to have less grip, a harder compound and will arrive into all the pits at the beginning of January, for the first tests. Theoretically, those who are already supplied by the Japanese company (Ferrari, Toyota, Williams, Spyker and Super Aguri) should not have advantages, but it is hard to think that at least at first the in-depth knowledge of the partner does not constitute an important joker. Many think that Ferrari, already ahead of everyone in competition among the tyre specialists, widely starts out as a favorite and Massa is among them.
"We already know how to adapt the car to the tyres to make them work well, we have to take advantage of that, starting strong in the first races".
According to him, it is a wealth of experience that adds up to another.
"At the beginning, Räikkönen could find himself in difficulty, he has to know well the team, while I personally learned a lot from Schumacher, he has been a fundamental point of reference, I have to put in practice his advice for a step forward. The first Grand Prix can be decisive: if I manage to keep my lead on Räikkönen, I can have the title in my hands".
A clear project that only clashes with some contraindications. First of all, not all Ferrari agrees on the great initial advantage regarding tyres. While Brawn, a strategist who might leave at the end of the season, acknowledges that:
"Even the tyre itself can be a big challenge, because you have to build a car that can make the most of it".
Others are more cautious about Ferrari's big chances, due to the unknown factor of the difficult transition from Schumacher to Räikkönen. No one, inside F1, has a doubt about his speed. But Schumacher is not only fast, he is a driver completely involved in the life of the team. There may be a risk of confusion, of a power vacuum, especially if Jean Todt takes on a more subtle role and Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne (loyalists of Michael Schumacher) really step aside. Renault, which will no longer have Alonso, is clinging to its managerial stability. Giancarlo Fisichella will become the leader and claims:
"Like Massa, I also aim at the World Championship".
But he admits:
"Our secret has always been to arrive at the beginning with the car already all set and to start strong. The transition to Bridgestone can make everything more difficult, can allow Ferrari to use our very own strategy".
Fernando Alonso, however, does not know what to hold on to at the moment, given the situation McLaren is facing. Kimi Räikkönen says:
"I'm eleventh, on the sixth row, with a perfect lap, the maximum that can be done with that car".
For those who fear for Michael Schumacher's legacy, he replies:
"At McLaren I was replacing Mika Häkkinen, why should I be afraid? Having the right car is enough for me to win immediately".
On Sunday, 8 October 2006, at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher get away well, just like Ralf Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, fourth at the end of the first lap after having overtook Jarno Trulli. In the meantime, Jenson Button overtakes Giancarlo Fisichella. Over the course of lap three, Felipe Massa leaves space for his teammate, in the fight for the title, but Fernando Alonso is fully in the race because, thanks to the first series of pit stops, during lap 15, he overtakes both Felipe Massa and Ralf Schumacher (who had stopped into the pits over the course of lap 13), putting himself right behind his rival.
Michael Schumacher, however, does his refuel over the course of lap 17. At this point, it becomes a race of nerves, but Michael Schumacher is perfect and is capable to manage a discreet gap over the Spanish driver, around 5 seconds. Over the course of lap 37, however, at the level of the Degner corners, the engine of the 248 F1 gives up; it was since the 2000 French Grand Prix that the German had not retired due to an engine issue. Back into the pits, Michael Schumacher thanks one by one all the men of the team from Maranello. With Felipe Massa too far away to challenge Fernando Alonso, and Kimi Räikkönen, who is the only one managing to drive at the same pace than the Spanish driver, but he is third and he has not done his second stop yet, the race seems to be done. In fact, after Kimi Räikkönen's stop into the pits to make his refuel, Giancarlo Fisichella takes the third place, ahead of Jenson Button. The only drivers on the track fighting with each other are those of BMW Sauber, who compete for the eighth position. It is all clear for Fernando Alonso who wins the Japanese Grand Prix, ahead of Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella. Jenson Button is fourth, followed by Kimi Räikkönen, Jarno Trulli, Ralf Schumacher and Nick Heidfeld. Who is that man flapping his wings like a phoenix risen from the ashes? Who is that crazy-waving driver, doing improbable dance steps, jumping like a goddamn on the podium? He is wearing blue, not the long-awaited, predicted red. His name is Fernando Alonso, he is the new one who makes progress, who confirms himself as a World Champion, who proves to be ready to fulfill the heavy legacy, while the old one who is going away, the fierce Michael Schumacher, he is all intent into the pits to console his team for the ferocious blow of destiny, the Ferrari engine falling into pieces, the dreams going up in smoke. Fernando Alonso, the man who had never won here, wins at Suzuka while Michael Schumacher, the samurai who, on this beloved track, had triumphed six times, fails to succeed. Renault is the team to be delighted with the most unexpected win of Fernando Alonso's career. All the fault of a cursed lap, the number 37, the car just left the pits after the second stop, the engine that makes a strange gurgling, the smoke that begins to come out from the rear part, Michael Schumacher who understands, wistfully warns the team via radio and then parks at turn ten.
In Italy, it is the morning, it has been 8:00 a.m. for a minute, at that moment the huge hope vanishes, the possibility of a farewell from a World Champion, the German phenomenon who says goodbye with the eighth World Championship title. He was leading the race and nothing foreshadowed an ending other than his triumph. He had well managed his second place at the start, at the beginning of the third lap he had overtaken Felipe Massa, right on the straight, right after the finish line, he had always remained in the lead, getting brilliantly rid of two pit stops, at the end of lap 18 and lap 36. He had not humiliated Fernando Alonso, as one might suppose after the times realized on Saturday, the Spaniard had always remained about five seconds behind, but whatever, there is no need to always destroy all the rivals, just finish with the car in front and the dream can still be crowned. He was the fastest and only an incident could have stopped him. This trouble that materializes immediately after the pond and forces him, before the end of the race, to cheer up all the mechanics, with handshakes, tight smiles, pats on the shoulders. Fernando Alonso is behind, he is not very close, so it is true that he immediately mistakes the Ferrari for a Spyker, he does not understand that instead it is Michael Schumacher, but from that cloud of smoke draws great sap, dribbles it with elegance, abandons it as a triumphant. Nothing can stop him and in fact he leaves undisturbed towards the finish line, zigzagging after the arrival, basking in his achievement, lucky yes, but also offspring of his initial overtakes (he had started fifth), of Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher on the track, of Felipe Massa with the strategy and the help of the pits. The Brazilian driver of Ferrari could have been another rampart, but here it is a puncture that throws away everything. It makes him anticipate his first pit stop by three laps, it makes him rejoin the track behind Nick Heidfeld, it prevents him from avoiding the overtake of Fernando Alonso. Felipe Massa ends second, Giancarlo Fisichella third, Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen, with a spot-on strategy, fourth and fifth. Japan tricked the two Toyotas, brilliant in qualifying, but Jarno Trulli (sixth) and Ralf Schumacher (seventh) were two background actors in the race. There is a gap behind both phenomena. The Ferrari engine, precisely one of his most sharp weapons in these years of domination, has decided to betray Michael Schumacher one day. Bitter tango. But the bow to his career remains.
He laughs, he speaks Italian, he comforts everyone: Michael Schumacher, after his dramatic retirement, proves to be a great sportsman.
"Our team is a great one, here there are the best technicians and mechanics that I know. The races are like this, we win together and we lose together. Today, we've all tried to win but it went like this, this is Formula 1. In any case, I think that we have to be very proud of the work we have done. In Canada, we were 25 points behind compared to Alonso, but no one ever believed that we could have come back into the championship, and yet we have done it. Now, we are 9 points behind in the Constructors' World Championship. For me, the Drivers' Championship is over, but we still want to race for the Constructors' one. Today's is not a big disappointment for me: this is life, this is racing. First, we fight for the Constructors' Championship, then for the Drivers' one. But I don't want to think about a race that I have to win and the other one must not manage to do it. I don't like that way of racing, this is not in my spirit".
Luca di Montezemolo, the chairman of Ferrari, tries to motivate him from Modena.
"Our World Championship will end at the very last meter of the Brazilian Grand Prix. Of course, I am very disappointed about what has happened. I'm particularly sorry for Michael, who was once again doing a perfect race proving to be the best, other than an extraordinary man. I'm also very sorry for the team who had done nothing wrong. At the beginning of the season, I had said that I wanted a leading Ferrari, and the extraordinary comeback of these months that has seen all our men committed in an exemplary way, of which I am proud, and our partners, unfortunately today had a setback, that has severely penalized us".
Like millions of Italians, he was struck in front of the TV. Michael Schumacher was easily leading the race, he was flying towards a great triumph, at a certain point the smoke showed up from the rear part of his Ferrari. Luca di Montezemolo, like many Tifosi, is cursing. Ferrari's chairman tries to get in touch with Japan, he wants to know. Then, he resigns himself, but the huge pain remains. It is hard to stay calm when bad luck goes on like this.
"I'm very disappointed about what has happened at a few laps from the end with Schumacher clearly in the lead, in a race that our champion was dominating. I'm especially sorry for him, as he was disputing a perfect round, proving once again to be the best, other than an extraordinary man. I'm also very sorry for the team who had done nothing wrong. At the beginning of the season, I had said that I wanted a leading Ferrari. Our comeback, of which I'm proud, has been extraordinary, our men have committed themselves in an exemplary way. Unfortunately, all our efforts have been met with a bitter setback in Suzuka which has severely penalized us. Ferrari can accept defeats as a joy for triumphs. A day like this one gives us even more motivation for the future: our World Championship will end at the very last meter of the Brazilian Grand Prix. Now, everything is more difficult, but we will never give up".
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso does not manage to control his happiness after having crossed the finish line of the Japanese Grand Prix first, which for him is worth 99% of the reconquest of the World Championship title.
"At the beginning of the race, we were in need of a bit of heating. I also did some small mistakes, then however we were more competitive, I took some risks, I tried to accelerate and overtake the cars ahead of me. Then, it was difficult to foreshadow what has happened. With this stroke of luck for us, of bad luck for Ferrari. At the beginning, I went off track a bit when I was behind Ralf but I recovered because I was faster than the Toyota. The gap was always the same with Michael, I thought of being able to win the race and from this moment onwards it was desirable to try. It was difficult to think of a mechanical problem for Ferrari. We had problems during the last two-three races. We needed this lucky moment after so much bad luck. It has been a confidence and energy boost for the next race in Brazil".
And Flavio Briatore is also very happy:
"We did a great race, but they also did. Today, there was a great fight between Alonso and Michael. Ferrari did a great race. There's nothing definitive. Today, we've won, it could happen to them in Brazil".
Giancarlo Fisichella, disturbed by the sudden death of his best friend, is sorely tried:
"I dedicate this win to him, a third-place finish for which I've given the maximum. But it's useless, we're here and he's gone. It seems impossible and crazy to me".
Michael Schumacher, how angry are you with your Ferrari's engine?
"I'm disappointed, of course, but I'm not angry with anyone, not even with the engine that has broken down".
But you were in the lead, if you have to say goodbye to your dreams is it because of the team?
"Are you kidding? I work with a fantastic team, we win together, we lose together. I know my mechanics, everyone, my engineers, I know how much they worked to get me to come back on Alonso, to make me arrive in Japan on equal points with him, to reopen this World Championship, to give me the opportunity to fight for the title until the end. I know their efforts, for this reason I wanted to personally thank them all into the pits. I'm happy to have worked in a team like this one. We shouldn't be sad about this retirement, but proud of this great comeback and more in general of the triumphs of all those years".
The fact remains that Alonso takes home another World Championship title.
"This is F1, we were leading, we were going to achieve an extraordinary result and in one moment everything was over, each dream disappeared. But this does not take anything away from our worth. After Canada, no one believed in our comeback and however we've got the Championship going until the penultimate race".
Actually, arithmetic does not condemn you yet. Alonso is leading by ten points, but if you win in Brazil and he retires, Ferrari would be the team to rejoice.
"The Drivers' World Championship is over. I have too much experience to understand that even miracles have a limit. And then, by nature, I never pray for the retirement of a rival, I don't like winning like this. In Brazil, I will dispute my very last race, I'll give the maximum for the Constructors' title. That one is still possible, we're only nine points behind. I don't think of the Drivers' title anymore".
Would you not be happy if the engine of Alonso would also break down?
"I've struggled so much in my career, but I've always relied on my own strengths, not on other drivers' misfortunes. I've never started a race hoping that something would go wrong for a rival. And I don't want to start right now".
Would you rather keep your disappointment?
"There is, I cannot deny it, but it is not so huge. Life and racing are like this. They make you go up and down, and it's these changes that make it all so exciting. Monotonous life is much more boring, it's not for me. Everything must be accepted, such disappointments are mixed with the great emotions. Losing hurts but it's this that makes the win even more beautiful".
You speak like a philosopher. Would you have reacted the same way ten years ago?
"I don't know. I know very well that there is a huge amount of work behind me, that my men have worked so hard this summer, that they have been extraordinary, but I also have enough experience to understand that something like this can happen, that an engine can break down, that you have no defense against destiny, you can't do anything".
But there won't be a next time for you. What wound will this 2006 leave?
"The huge satisfaction of having reopened a World Championship that everyone had assumed was closed mid-season will remain. A championship is made of so many races, of so many things, of small details also that all have to work in the right direction. I cannot blame anyone for the engine failure: we have improved so much this summer, working like hell, that it would be unfair now to get angry. I am delighted that we have achieved this task. We were leading during thirty-seven laps, we were the best, I'm very satisfied of the car and the team".
In 249 races, you have retired only 15 times for an engine failure. Is it the most bitter retirement of your career?
"I had reached Alonso, I put things right again, in a championship that many people no longer believed in. It is not the most bitter retirement. It seemed over, now it's really over".
What did you think when you saw the smoke behind you?
"I immediately understood what was happening. I heard a strange noise, never heard before. I warned the pits via radio, I said that the engine was gone. The consequences were also immediately clear. I was losing the race, ten heavy points, my triumph became Alonso's. I told myself the same things that I think the persons that were in the grandstands or in front of their TV have imagined. Goodbye dreams. It was beautiful, but all of a sudden everything was over. I fought, I believed in it, it didn't happen. We couldn't do anything more".
What did you tell to the mechanics when you were shaking all these hands?
"That life goes on, it doesn't end here. And that I will forever keep the pleasure of having worked with them".
Think about what can happen if he becomes world champion in Brazil.
"It's a utopia. We focus ourselves on the Constructors' title. And we'll try to give the maximum once again".
In pectore, but he is the 2006 champion. Fernando Alonso is on match point, at one only point away from the finish line and from the win. An unexpected goal, given the evolution of the latter part of the season for his Renault. There were times when he doubted everything and everyone, but never himself. That is why he celebrated his fifteenth (and decisive) triumph. Congratulations Fernando Alonso: all bets are now off.
"I think that we deserved that win since a long time. Since the Hungarian Grand Prix, where we were ready to reap the rewards but we hadn't finished the work".
However, the best car did not win at Suzuka.
"Having won is a surprise and the taste of victory is more beautiful. We were the big favorites in China and we ended up losing that race. Here, it happened to Ferrari".
Well, more has happened in Japan.
"Those ten points are for sure a little present that God has given us".
Would you have ever said that before the start?
"No, because I wasn't thinking I was in shape. Instead, with the laps going by, things were getting better".
Let's begin with the start, a kart overtake.
"I had to, it was the only thing to be done. I took a risk and I knew the price. But if I had stayed fifth, I would have remained there during the whole Grand Prix".
What were you aiming for?
"Trulli overtaken, I was thinking of Ralf Schumacher. I thought that, sooner or later, I would have managed to overtake him and I would have climbed on the podium".
"One corner, some smoke".
What did you think?
"Instinctively, I slowed down, it was hard to see. The car seemed reddish, I thought of a Spyker. Slowing down, I realized who was the victim of the crash".
"I exulted: I understood that it was my moment. But there were still many laps to go before the end".
You actually raised your fist.
"No bad thing, it's that I didn't believe my eyes, what I was seeing. You hardly see a Ferrari with mechanical trouble and I thought about mine, about my trouble, see Monza, the last one".
"Not at all. What happened here to Ferrari could happened to us and we could lose everything. You never know what can happen during a race and we need to go to Brazil with the maximum concentration and the maximum professionalism".
Justice is done?
"Justice comes and goes. A good result does not erase certain facts, certain decisions taken during the year".
You have two weeks of long wait.
"Keeping calm is what matters".
What will the approach be like?
"Always the same. Going to São Paulo thinking of beating Ferrari, having the right pressure on you. Not taking anything for granted".
What will you say to the team?
"Obviously, we'll be hearing from you these days. I think it's critical not to make driving mistakes, getting to the finish line".
You have seventy laps left to go.
"It's long. It will be long. But I really think that I'll find the motivations, lap after lap. In general, you need to know, it can happen to get bored, distracted and to lose focus. I'll try to avoid that, to find reasons and motivations at every pit stop, during every lap. Until I reach the number seventy".
What were your thoughts yesterday at the finish line?
"When you win, you're happy. Even more here because it was absolutely unexpected. I would have never thought of winning on the eve. And it had a greater value here. For me, for the Renault team and for the Michelin team. The last four months haven't really been very good".
The watchword between now and October 22?
"Prudence. Well, I think that for once it will be useless to take risks. Surely, it won't happen with my car".
The engine of Michael Schumacher had not broken down during a race since 112 races. The last time was on July 2nd, 2000, at the French Grand Prix, more than six years ago. On that day, a retirement obviously much less bitter than this one, Michael Schumacher had to give up on lap 58, when he was second behind the McLaren of David Coulthard. But the engine on fire is not only a rarity for the German driver, but for the whole Ferrari team. Overall, the last misadventure of this kind was in 2002, at the Malaysian Grand Prix, with Rubens Barrichello, more than four seasons ago. And the mechanical failure is neither frequent, it did not happen since the third race of 2005, on April 3rd, in Bahrain, with Michael Schumacher who stops because of problems with the hydraulic system. What happened in Suzuka is therefore not only sad but also sensational. Seeing a World Championship fade away because of a Ferrari engine falling into pieces. Leaving the whole glory to Fernando Alonso. The post-race is sad for the Ferrari men. From the premises of a win to a DNF. The word disappointment is profusely used, from Ross Brawn to Jean Todt, the General Manager.
"We have been in this world for many years not to know how things will turn out, although we won't stop trying".
For the Ferrari boss, the experience helps to accept the verdict.
"Clearly, we feel a huge disappointment. We paid a high price, too much, in terms of reliability. But we must be good losers: at a Grand Prix from the end this is the reality, and for us the mission is difficult, almost impossible".
It is also difficult to find the reasons of the failure:
"The engine is very damaged. They are looking, they are investigating, but I don't think we'll manage to find out".
Nothing had suggested that.
"Nothing, no warning".
It was Michael Schumacher, a moment before the TV footage, who gave the information via radio to the team:
"The engine is gone".
In fact, mathematics still provides support, but Jean Todt seems to reject it:
"It must come down to us winning, in the sense of winning on our own. It is not enough in our case, we need to wait for our rivals to have problems. It's not up to us. I feel like I've got a bad indigestion. It's going to help us over time, and the idea that we're going to turn around and see the beautiful pages that we have written".
It is also useless to think about the future:
"It's not right for Michael. There's still one race left, then we'll talk about him and about how much we will miss him".
Right, the German driver:
"I thought that I had to comfort him, but instead he was the one to comfort all of us. Incredible".
Michael Schumacher, the very same champion who never gives up, is the first one not to believe in it. And on Monday, 9 October 2006, he repeats:
"It's a utopia".
However, it was clear from the outset:
"The Drivers' World Championship is over".
The German driver now appears dismissed, but his submissive attitude must not deceive: that race in Brazil will be his last one and he has confided to his friends that he wants to win it at all costs. His triumph is the first step, necessary, to then verify what Fernando Alonso will have done. If he were the victim of a sensational retirement, Michael Schumacher would find himself immersed in the most unexpected celebration of his history. Not to mention that Ferrari at least hopes for the victory of the Constructors' World Championship. Even in this case, the achievement is tough, it takes a first and a second place in the hope that Renault will not go beyond the third and the sixth place. But Luca Montezemolo is clear about this, woe to surrender. And woe to talk about the future already, even if the new era (not only at the driver level) has already begun, with the abandonment of Rory Byrne (Aldo Costa and Nicholas Tombazis have taken his place) and Ross Brawn (Luca Baldisserri will be the strategist on track) and perhaps a more delicate role for Jean Todt, with the promotion in the front line of Stefano Domenicali, the current sports director. In all cases, such an ending has not been seen for some time: in 57 years of Formula 1 only two other times there were drivers matched in the standings at the penultimate race of the World Championship. And the nervous tension that characterized this championship final spilled all over the track where lap after lap the two champions studied, controlled and marked each other. Which in the jargon of F1 means racing constantly watching the times of the rival and then fighting back - pushing to the maximum - in order not to leave any advantage to the antagonist. So, rendez-vous in Brazil: the 2006 World Champion will only be known at the end of the last race. Even if there are some ideas, there is that now. Alonso would also only need an eighth place to win his second World Championship, in case Michael Schumacher managed to win the race. While the German driver, to win the World Championship title, should win the race and hope for a retirement by Fernando Alonso. You decide which one will be the big favorite…