The new season starts officially on the 15th of January 2001. Ferrari participates in a test session at Jerez, obviously with the F1-2000. Ferrari test driver Luca Badoer needs to immediately deal with a double inconvenience. In the morning, he needs to stop for an electro-hydraulic problem. In the afternoon, with the spare car, the engine blows up. Despite all that, Badoer does 70 laps. His best lap time is a 1'23"923, which is much slower than the two BAR cars, driven by Olivier Panis and test driver Mika Salo. Season debut for Hakkinen as well, who did not drive the McLaren from the 22th October 2000, day of the last race of the season in Malesia. The Finnish driver, who become a father a month ago, is ready:
"In my mind there is only one objective: the reconquest of the world title. I drive to win. I do not think that the birth of my son will make slower than before, no. Being a father is making me stronger, more complete and increase my stimulus. I think that it is going to be a hard yet interesting battle with Schumacher. And I am not backing out of it".
The problems for Badoer continue at Montmelò on the 12th of January 2001. It should have been a peaceful yet unusual testing Sunday in order to test the new Bridgestone products and some small solutions to then use in the new Ferrari in the second half of the season. Instead, the first of four Ferrari testing days in the Catalan track risked to turn into a tragedy. Badoer is the victim of a crash in the most breathtaking sequence in the fastest section of the circuit: the breaking zone at the end of the straight, where normally an Formula 1 car reaches 320-330 km/h.
It is 11:30. The driver from Veneto has put together only a handful of kilometers (11 laps, the best being a 1’22’ 976) when his Ferrari, after driving through the pits, goes wild at 290 km/h and starts a lighting, fast yet impressive carom. The F1-2000 first spins around. Then, rising a little from the asphalt, it begins to spin on itself until it hits the triple row of tires, placed in front of the concrete wall, with violence. At that point, the Ferrari takes off and makes a 360° turn around its own axis before falling heavily to the ground, right on the driveway located between the wall and the protection nets, with the cockpit facing upwards.
What caused that incident? From the footage, filmed by the closed-circuit television system, you can see the left rear wheel coming off its seat which starts a sort of progressive disintegration of the car. But this is not enough to establish the fault. In fact, the suspension could have been broken, maybe the hub carrier, or either the rear wing collapsed. The first investigation, carried out from the pits, is not of much help. The car is reduced to a wreck except for the survival cell. Thanks to that Badoer gets away from the incident without any big physical damages.
The driver, always conscious, is extracted with every precaution from the car. After a first visit to the medical centre, he is transported, by helicopter, to the General de Catalunya hospital at Saint Cugat. There, assisted with the logistic responsible Massimo Balocchi and Ferrari physiotherapist Raniero Giannotti, Badoer undertakes a series of radiographic exams which excluded fractures and lesions. However, the medics prefer to keep the Ferrari driver in observation for the following 24 hours. The Maranello team organizes his return to Italy with a medical flight, exclusively for precaution.
While Badoer is in hospital, the Ferrari mechanics load on the camion what was left of the car. Then they sent it to Maranello for a more throughout analysis, together with a copy of the video of the incident. The next day, the mechanics did not anything, having to wait for the result of the exams in the factory. Also, there was anyone else at their disposal who could drive the spec-car.
Schumacher and Barrichello, in fact, were busy at Losanna for sponsors matters. Thus, they could not anticipate the tests which were scheduled for the following days. The track, after Badoer’s accident, is closed for an hour and half in order to allow the helicopter to come back to the emergency spot, but also to retrieve all the car pieces. The front right tire is not found anywhere: it is outside the protection nets of the track. This delay is obviously slowing McLaren’s work. Coulthard is in charge of the tires until the engine gives up on him. Meanwhile Wurz is putting the differential, thruster and the 2001 gearbox under pressure. Arrows’ test is also delayed by the incident. De La Rosa is left stranded after having issues with the fuel pump and the gearbox electronics.
In the third day of testing in Catalunya, Michael Schumacher does his first outing as the current world champion. 1’21’659 is the best time set by the German drive, on board of the F1-2000 chassis n.201. His time is fractionally slower than Coulthard’s best lap of 1:21:241, who completes 65 laps. Are you excited like the first day of school?
"Not at all, I am too old for school. Although this situation is special. This time I come back on track with the number 1: it is amazing".
Schumacher called Badoer:
"He was a bit stunned but did not lose any of his usual wit. That incident was strange: it reminded me of Imola in 1996 when, after taking pole position, the suspension went bang. And yet I did test and re-test those suspensions at Suzuka and everything was fine. Good thing for Luca that it was nothing serious. Of course, after driving by the straight, I re-imagined that incident. I even thought for a moment about Silverstone. Although I immediately though that I was born to race and when I drive, I only think about driving".
Michael is well trained and on top form:
"I see many new faces at Ferrari, that is a sign that the team is investing a lot: there are all the intentions to open a new era of success. The starts? We had a specific handicap compared to McLaren and it was not electric. This gap will surely decrease now".
On the 24th of January, in occasion of the presentation of the new Sauber, five hundred people, exclusively journalists, are at Hinwil base. Far less compared to the ten thousand fans that were present last year at the Zurich Hallenstadion. The Swiss team decide to use a low profile to present the C20, the car with which to redeem themselves in the new upcoming season. Peter Sauber explains:
“Last year we went big in order to present what we thought it would have been a great season. Instead in the end we only achieved 8th place in the constructors. Therefore, this year we will leave less space to the show hoping to be rewarded with better results on track”.
A simple car, designed by the argentine designer Sergio Rinland, which at the end of the month will leave the team. The car is powered by the Ferrari world championship engine.
"The thruster is a guarantee, we hope that we have built a quick and reliable car underneath it. Obviously, the fact that Ferrari will also give the engine to Prost has not made me happy. However, we need to respect this decision and also Jean Todt has assured me that we will always have good materials".
Instead of Pedro Paulo Diniz, who became Alain Prost and Mika Salo’s associate attracted by Toyota’s yen to become a test driver, Sauber has two new drivers at the wheel. Or maybe it is better to talk about two gambles. The first is the 23 years old German Nick Heidfield who had a difficult year at Prost. The second is the new rookie Kimi Raikkonen. He is 21 years old who has only 23 races under his belt. Ten of those were won with pole position and fastest laps in both Formula Ford and Formula Renault. Sauber admitted that he would have wanted Frentzen’s return, who decided to stay at Jordan. However:
"We, with Heidfield, caught another Monchengladbach talent. He is a very fast driver; his value cannot be discussed despite a difficult year at Prost. For Raikkonen, I am convinced that we were right even he does not have any experience and needs to learn it all. True, having two young drivers is a risk but we are a team who wants to improve. You can by either take driver like Frentzen, Trulli or Barrichello, who are not free, or you doing it by relying on the youngster whom are hungry for victories".
The duo thanks him and promise battle. Heidfield says:
"I found the year at Prost positive even if, in terms of results, it was a disaster. I learned a lot with Alesi as my teammate. Now I feel ready to bring Sauber to the top. It is aifficult to say which result are we aiming for, but the new C20, from the first go, is already going a lot better than the C19".
As for Raikkonen, it is hard to get a whole sentence out of him. Like other great Finns he does not speak much. The Finn shows great confidence when asked on his take on the criticism from the FIA president Max Mosley, on the Formula 1 world of on his arrival and, above all, on the obtained super license:
"Everyone has his opinion and it is fair to say what you think. For me it does not change anything, it does not create any sort of pressure. I will think about driving, let the others talk".
The new C20 promises well. Furthermore, the arrival of the Credit Suisse as a sponsor, one of the most important banks of the world, will give new life to the reinforcement project of the team. Having engaged two young drivers, who are hungry for success, induce Sauber to be optimistic. Talking about them, he talks about an anecdote:
"When Nick and Kimi tried the 2001 car, they immediately were able to lower Salo and Diniz’s 2000 lap times. The Finnish then called our technical director Willy Rammpf to ask what changed on the car. The answer left him speechless: the drivers".
Everyone wants to know more about Kimi to discover who he is. At 21 years of age and with 23 races in junior categories, he is already in Formula 1.
"Peter Sauber called me for a test at Salo's invitation. He obviously liked me because that is when our relationship started. When he told me that the FIA had given me the super-license, I was happy, but I did not jump for joy. I just asked when I would be back behind the wheel".
The Finnish is not worried at all by the transition from the 180 horsepower of a Formula Renault car to the 800 of a Formula 1 car.
"At first, I was impressed by the speed, breaking and grip. After the first day I was already acclimatized. I now need to wait in order to drive for longer and learn more and be ready for the start of the season".
Heidfield does not fear the role of top driver for the team:
"It rather gives me more stimulus. The aim is to gain as many points as possible. We hope to be on the points consistently. Regarding Kimi, he is motivated. To be near him will push me to do the best".
The presentation of the new Sauber C2O is not a big surprise. The single-seater had already debuted on Ferrari’s track at Fiorano. Observing the Swiss car, powered by the Ferrari engine, gives some interesting hints. Many new features although the main inspiration of this single-seater is the maximum simplicity. Lightness and reliability are the requirements that Peter Sauber has asked from Sergio Rinland.
The reduction of weight is interesting: 35 kg less compared to the 2000 qualifying version, used in the last two races of 2000, but more than 45 kg heavier than the base version presented at the start of the season. This result was obtained with the massive work of carbon fibre in the suspension and a weight reduction in all the details, even the smallest ones, of the Swiss car.
The slimming cure is even more interesting if you think that, in the 2001 season, all chassis should be more robust in order to support the severe impact tests imposed by the Federation. Those involve the sides of the car and the roll bar which need to withstand a load equal to that of single-seat wind in the vertical direction.
For aerodynamics purposes, Sauber uses the very fashionable spoon rear wing, created by Minardi in 1995 and then used pretty much by all the other teams. This has a unique interpretation: that of the split suspension attachment so as not to have the central fin. It is usual in every single-seater but, according to the Sauber aerodynamic engineers, disturbs the air flow in the inferior part. It is a flow which has become even more important with the aerodynamic limitations, which are in vigor for this season.
Two days later, on the 26th of January 2001, it is BAR-Honda’s turn. The Anglo-American team puts together a spectacle in order to exorcise the past disasters. Twenty minutes of cabaret. On stage, at 11:30, the 2000 single-seater is revealed with a new livery. This is the consequence of an incident during last week’s testing at Jerez where the only sample of the 003 chassis was severely damaged.
A presentation in which everything seems to be going wrong: apart from the absence of the 2001 car, reflectors are exploding and maxi screens are only showing the snow effect: zero reliability to be brief. And the drivers? Launchers cannot get them as they are fast escaping from the team. Self-irony, wicked English humor to send a precise message: the comic and funny scenes from 1999 and 2000, when BAR somehow finish fifth in the standings, are over. Honda manager, Takefumi Hosaka, seems to be convinced of the team’s potential:
"The goal is to win as soon as possible. We are only interested at the top step of the podium; we aim for lots of pole-positions".
And the double supply to Jordan as well? For Honda it is an advantage:
"A healthy competition will benefit our objectives in the long term. We will do everything to fulfil both BAR’s plans as well as ours".
Honda engineers collaborate with BAR technicians from 1999 for the 003 development which already has a gearbox made by them. The suspensions and aerodynamics are also influenced by the Japanese’s hands. Yet nobody wants to investigate further into it. It is a mystery. Another one is the prevision balance. For sure BAR is the team which spends the most, after McLaren, from the ones who do not pay the engine. Villeneuve seems to be more toned compared to last week at Jerez. Apart from the incident, he firstly judged the 2001 single-seater as really bad. This time though he changes agenda:
"The technicians have understood what went wrong and the work continues in the garage".
Jacques books third place on the constructors’ standings:
"Not only to do battle but also to aim for second: from there on the step to the top will be short. If we continue with the same rate of progress, we can then really fight with Ferrari and McLaren. And if Ferrari sleep on his laurels, then better for us".
In order to win against Ferrari, Schumacher need to be beaten. Villeneuve hurls one of his darts at the world champion:
"If I could, I would prefer to duel with Hakkinen, who is strong but also acts like a human being. With Michael is harder, you never know whether the track is large enough, if he has seen you and what he is planning to do. But if the BAR can able to extrapolate the right energy, I know that I still have the numbers to fight with Michael even after two blank years. I would not be here if I would not be convinced".
Two world championships without a victory should leave a mark. Yet they were not enough for Villeneuve to leave BAR:
"If the team continues to improve, I do not see the reason to change flag for the end of 2001".
The BAR 003 is less affected by Adrian Reynard (one of the partners founders of the team, with Pollock and BAT). Instead it is more influenced by Malcom Oastler, who supervised the development of the car in close contact with Honda.
"The weight has dropped by 30 kilograms and the aerodynamics is already better than the one we had already pre-fixed".
For the competitiveness of the single-seater Oliver Panis, hired after the sabbatical year testing the McLaren-Mercedes, will also give a contribution. The French overflows optimism. He is happy that Villeneuve gave him the number five, the one that he had at Ligier for his only triumph at Monaco in 1996.
"After testing McLaren throughout 2000, I say that BAR is strong enough to beat them".
Behind the two drivers, there is a group of test drivers which has no equals: four. The 22-year-old French driver Patrick LeMarie and 25-year-old English driver Darren Manning are reconfirmed. Two more drivers added are in the group: 20-year-old English driver Anthony Davidson and the 24-year-old Takuma Sato, rising star of the nipponic motorsport for which Honda has invested lots.
On the 29th of January 2001, the new Ferrari is presented. It has the difficult task of defending the two world titles gained a couple of months prior. It is called F2001, as expected: a simple name for a very difficult challenge. No more desperate chases, no more chasing after impregnable opponents, no more promises and hopes. Now it is time for the others to promise and to hope. There is a different atmosphere at Maranello, one of a team who has come back to look down on everyone.
"Today, for the first time since becoming president, I can say that we will win the world titles".
Accentuates Montezemolo. He is like the director which dictates to all actors the script to act. Schumacher follows it like perfection:
"We will open a winning cycle".
Under the great tent put on at the Fiorano track, almost a thousand people are present: at the center, on the platform, lies the single-seater. Behind it, the Maranello club fans are present. This grand gala is symbolically dedicated. A bit after 11:00, Michael Schumacher exits from one of those doors: you can understand it from the welcoming roar. At exactly 11:12 Schumacher, together with Barrichello and Badoer, removes the red veil which covers the single-seater. When the veil slips away, the hearts of a thousand people starts to beat faster. It is raining outside; inside though the red Ferrari sun is shining. Its beauty cannot be discussed. The most evident new feature is the return, after five seasons, of a low nose. Rory Bryne, who designed the car, states:
"Since I starting designing Formula 1 car, from 1992, this is the first time that I choose a similar solution".
The second new feature is the modification of Schumacher’s position at the wheel:
"It did not change much for Barrichello while Michael’s cape will be retreated 20 millimeters compared to last years’ for regulations reasons and will sit with his torso more inclined".
The designer admits that, despite the regulatory imposition, all parts have been lightened up. An added slimming will come with the arrival of a more compact transmission: designed at the end of 2000, it will be on track mid-season. A new feature is also on the suspensions:
"Completely in carbon, especially in the attachment of the chassis which were first in titanium".
The new engine did great help in the slimming:
"We realized in record time since it was born in March".
The 050, derived from the last qualifying version of the 048, was shortened and lowered of about 20 millimetres and weights 8% less thanks to special alloys and a micro fusion basement. The architecture remained the same (the V remains at 90°). The technicians have worked in a reduction of consumptions (diminished by 3.4%) and to the research of performance: it begins by about 850 horsepower but the first increase is due, as tradition, for the Imola race.
Those are all the questions which only a technician can really comprehend. What it is understood is that there are any revolutions. You can modify it, yes, but sensibly. The performance, security and adaptability to the new regulations are the three main guidelines which inspired the creators of the F2001. The rules which will change on the run will surely create more thrills than usual. If there were no question, it would not be Formula 1. Jean Todt is the first to speak and opens the way for the president to later close:
"We are here like the previous years but it is totally different now. The successes have loosened the tensions yet it did not give away our will and determination".
Barrichello chooses a stadium slogan:
"We will never give up".
The Tifosi give the Brazilian an applause as strong as Schumacher’s sermon, in Italian. It does not matter to anyone that the German’s first word is Paroli and not words.
"I want to say only a few Paroli. I wrote the speech, which I read on public, on my own as last year. However, I did not do many steps forward, but after this presentation I will do other lessons to improve my Italian. To see this car with the number 1 is truly an amazing feeling. I don’t know whether you have seen my face when we were taking out the veil. I do not know whether you saw on my face after taking out the veil. You probably saw a particular expression".
The track, within a couple of days, will reveal what the season will be:
"The regulations made the forms change: you will see, they are bigger. The Federation decided for some changes per everyone’s request, including us drivers: I cannot say whether they will be sufficient but it is a step forward. I am confident about that".
At the moment Schumacher is enjoying the F2001 with his eyes:
"I really like certain details, which are different from last year's car. I don't know how this car will go. Although there is no reason to think that the world Championship will start differently than last year's championship end. If Ferrari was strong in 2000, it should be strong this year too, right from the start. Opponents? I think that more or less the balance will remain similar, even as far as the drivers are concerned. However, there will be a few more manufacturers that will join Ferrari and McLaren: especially Williams and Jordan in my view. This means the possibility for more drivers to share the point. I prefer a situation like this with many opponents".
If he is able to win another drivers’ title, he will catch a motorsport legend, Alain Prost, at four championships.
"I do not think about that to be honest. What I am more interested is to win as many grand prix as possible and then we will make the counts. Luckily, I have a character which does not require any extra stimulus in order to do the best job as possible. Then, maybe when my career will be over, I will look back at it and celebrate everything that I have done".
Montezemolo closes the presentation by signing his men’s declarations and thanking the Tifosi, the sponsors and the investors (Fiat mainly) for the patience. Then he gives tribute to Jean Todt, the men who he wanted and defended more than the others.
"Our team is the best and we want to continue to do in the next upcoming seasons".
People are standing up and applauding whilst Todt and his collaborators are sitting down for a while. As the roar continues, they do not resist. They stand up as well. Under the white tent, at top of the classification of the most listened work is the word motivation. The topic also peeps out in the speech that Ross Brawn reads in an always stunted Italian.
"People are wondering if we are relaxing, or if we are still thirsty for success: I have been watching the team during the winter and I have found the same enthusiasm as always. Everyone is trying hard to keep the title in Italy; we are not tired of winning".
Despite the start of the season is more than a month away, there is someone who wants to throw some splashes of poison, which ruined the presentation of the new Ferrari car. Villeneuve started it, a couple of days ago, saying that he would prefer a duel with Hakkinen rather than with a Schumacher painted as a public danger. Twenty-four hours later Patrick Head, Williams technical directors, in order to attack Ferrari, reveals that the Maranello team was the one to stop (or delay to be precise) the return of the electronic control of the traction. The first provocation to Jean Todt has the effect of a water drop, which slides down in a waterproof suit. For the second one, the responsible of the Ferrari sporting sector wants to make a point:
"It is true that Ferrari did not want to have such a radical change to be introduced at the start of the season but if we really did oppose to it, we would have instead said a decisive no, even for the future. In order to have a similar modification of the regulations regulation there should be a positive judgement from all teams".
Pointing that, the French directors goes on a counter-attack when given the occasion. When asked if, in the past, there were any doubt about the complete regularity of the rivals.
"Other than doubts, in 1997 and 1998 I had the certainty that other teams used different doubtful legality systems. We did notice them only at the end of the season. If it can happen again before the complete liberation? No, since before it could happen, from the Barcelona race, the checks will be much more severe".
Todt excludes than the liberation of electronics from the Spanish gran Prix could shift the stabilized teams’ balance, from the first race. He further negates that the war between Bridgestone and Michelin could provoke, according to what Head said, controversy in regard to the tire’s degradation at the end of each grand prix.
"I do not think so, I say that it would only be a technical battle which will make the championship even more stimulating".
Therebefore the responsible of the Gestione Sportiva indicates at length the development stages of the single-seater: from Fiorano to the Catalunya circuit, then straight to Mugello and lastly to Vairano. Schumacher will have the task to debut the new car while Barrichello will be busy testing, from the 1st to the 3rd of February 2000, the old F1-2000 at Barcelona.
Rubens continues to repeat in every single language possible that he does not want to have any sort of expectations, no proclaims. Let Michael say that he aims for the championship; Rubens wants to do whether it is necessary to be as close to the top as possible. Imagine how he takes it when asked to clarify about his situation at Ferrari and whether or not the forklift is available:
"I do not want to answer this question. Michael is the number one driver; I am the second. However, we both have the same cars and materials".
Close argument: it is better to talk about emotions.
"Of course, to see the red car that I would drive was a strong sensation last year as a rookie. Now it is a habit but the emotion remains very high still: to see the car with the n.1 is sensational".
Even if there are already some elements, some things still need to be verified with the new rules:
"I do not know how it will be like to drive this car. On paper it will be a winning car in my opinion. It seems to be very well-made. We still have to see whether we did well to interpret the new rules, which gives an aerodynamic effect loss: whoever losses the least will win".
Then he makes a promise to Ferrari:
"At the start of the development we were in certain position but from then on, big steps were made. And I think we will be doing even more in order to get closer to the 2000 performance. Were the defects eliminated? Difficult to say especially when the rules change like that. We had less traction but now the cars are overall different compared to last year. Thus, at the end of the work, the car will overall have better traction".
It is useless to talk about objectives but he gives something away:
"With a year of experience, I now know the team and their working ethics as well. Last year if I had some issues, I avoided making many changes since I was afraid to get worse. Now I have more familiarity and thus can risk more".
On the same day, in Spain, the new Williams FW23 makes its debut on track with Ralf Schumacher. Juan Pablo Montoya instead, needs to be content driving a new hybrid system, the 2000 chassis with the new BMW engine.
At the end of the test session, Sauber is the fastest car, with Heidfield ahead of Raikkonen. Eddie Irvine’s Jaguar completes many laps but is very slow. Meanwhile, the new super license has arrived for the Finnish Sauber driver. It is valid for the first four grand prix, as revealed by Peter Sauber in an interview with the German newspaper Motorsport Akyuell:
"I had to accept it. I understand Max Mosley’s arguments but I think Kimi is able to surpass them and, from what we have seen until now, race with decent performances".
It needs to be said that young Kimi, from Melbourne to Imola, needs to be careful and not be involved in any incident, otherwise he could already say goodbye to Formula 1. With the test looming and Luca Badoer injured, Ferrari puts faith on Fabrizio Giovanardi, Alfa Romeo driver in the European championship Superturismo. He makes his debut in the first days of February at Vairano. Giovanardi is very emotional, like the first day of school. There are many known faces, friends, Tifosi of the Superturismo series to keep the tension low. Even the advantage to speak in the Modenese dialect is huge. Giovanardi substitutes the injured Badoer on a token basis.
Fabrizio comes back onto a single-seater wheel ever since 1992, when he decides to change from F3000 to Superturismo where, especially with the rear traction, he became the man to beat. He raced with Peugeot Italia cars, managed by Claudio Berro and by Jean Todt in Paris. Those two whom Fabrizio finds at Ferrari now. Coming back to a single-seater cockpit is giving him a claustrophobic feeling, since he is used to an Alfa Romeo 156 space:
"It lasted only for a moment and then I felt a strong feeling. I found the same technical solutions as when I won the world kart championship in 1986. I am talking about steering wheel clutch, left foot brake, steering wheel gearbox. I am not worried about the Vairano tests: I think I can go well on the straight. If I had to test on a real track then maybe I would have been a bit more worried. The call from Ferrari was a surprise, a gift. Three years ago, I asked to test with Ferrari. I was hoping for it but I never thought that it could happen. I was playing with friends at Sassuolo when Stefano Domenicali called me. He asked to go to Maranello to try the suit. I thought it was a joke. For me, as it is for everyone, Ferrari is a dream. I would have been happy to drive any Formula 1 car: instead I got lucky. From nothing to Ferrari: it is extraordinary".
On the 1st of February 2001, all eyes are glued to the F2001 and Michael Schumacher who, at Fiorano, generates a lot of enthusiasm from the present Tifosi. On the first day, in a similar track to Fiorano which requires high downforce, the German puts some record lap times. The best was a 59’505, at the end of a 86 laps stint without having any technical issues. It is 8 tenths faster than the performance of the 2000 car, which gave him the championship last year. It is an exceptional time. It was the second-best lap time ever done in the history of the Ferrari track. It was the first from the introduction of the four-groove tires. The barrier of a less than a minute lap line was never broken until now. A difficult record to redefine. Schumacher tries to not get too carried away.
"Let's keep our feet on the ground".
Says immediately the German at the end of the first work day, worried that the enthusiasm could result in relaxation which needs to be avoided in this delicate first phase of break-in. Yet it is too difficult to stay calm especially when you see a driver completing record-breaking laps and even dares to joke around with the fuel. At the end of the day he was without any fuel.
"It is only because we need to exactly know certain parameters, to understand the effective fuel consumption and to be patient when the car needs to be pushed back to the pits".
Under the watchful happy eyes of Montezemolo, Todt and the entire technical department, everything seems to be going really well. So well in fact that even fireman Schumacher has to say a catchphrase:
"This is the right car to win".
Michael, when analysing the times, does not forget about the tires:
"This year they have improved even more in terms of performance, they are the ones who allow you to lower the times that much".
The next day Schumacher improves even further, pinning the chronometer at a 59’231 lap times, which is 3 tenth quicker than the previous best time set 24 hours ago. It is just whisker away from the absolute record of the circuit, set by the German himself on the 2nd of May 1997, of a 59"007 with the F310B.
Meanwhile, in the Catalan circuit of Montmelò, Barrichello concludes the three-days test, setting a 1’18"605 lap time, which is 382 milliseconds faster than Alesi in the Prost-Ferrari. A record which annoys Bridgestone’s men (the French team uses the Michelin tires). Thus, the Japanese, in the morning of the last day, extract from the truck a new set of special tires, the same given to Arrows and Sauber but not to BAR and Jordan. It should also be noted that Rubens’ time could have been improved even further if Ferrari had used the latest electronic development. Although Barrichello accentuates that only his ability counted in that fantastic lap.
"Bridgestone brought here some fantastic tires and the record came on its own. I do not think that, with this car, that time could have been improved. It was very good. It is clear that with free electronics, I could have driven even faster but that was not the objective".
Rubens, then, denies that his time was a Bridgestone answer to Michelin:
"It was only a test and I am satisfied. I am okay with that. This record does not have any absolute value but it is nice to drive a well-balanced car with the use of good tires".
What is the balance of those tests?
"It well overall very well, we got hold of the electronics. The underlying theme are the tires though. The Melbourne ones are already chosen and now even the ones for Brazil are nearly defined".
Apart from Barrichello’s record, the day is dominated by the tires, in view of the 4th of March 2001 exam at Melbourne. Sauber and Arrow are happy with Bridgestone’s special order of development tires in order to let Heidfield and Bernoldi to be competitive. Raikkonen, instead, was slowed down by a broken suspension. Barrichello made a statement about his compatriot, the new Arrow driver Enrique Bernoldi which replaced De La Rosa.
"I still do not know him very much yet I am sad for De La Rossa. He did an outstanding job: he is good but had to give up the seat for money. In Formula 1 there are also not so good drivers. Of course, for Brazil, having another driver is a good thing".
McLaren Mercedes instead preferred to test at Jerez, where Hakkinen set the best winter lap time of 1’22’136. On the 5th of February 2001, at Mugello, on a humid track and on wet tires, Schumacher had to stop after just 7 laps for an anomaly in the power supply system of the F2001. The damage requires the disassembling of the thruster group. The first day of testing at Toscana is not fortunate for the German drive. The next day he arrives by helicopter at 11:30. 20 minutes later he is already on track with the new car. The German is on his own. Barrichello lost the flight from Berlin. For the first time, after the brilliant times at Fiorano, Schumacher seems to be worried.
"The car is very good and quick straight out of the box however we had some reliability issues which need to be discovered and solved. Thus, the more time to drive the better. After the Fiorano test, some verifications to the car need to be done. Unfortunately, here at Mugello, the weather conditions and the engine damage, did not give us any time to do much. The speed? Yes, it depends by the tires but we will discover the real situation only at Melbourne. I had a good feeling with the car. If there is something wrong, I wish that it is discovered beforehand".
On the 7th of February 2001, it the day for the presentation of the new McLaren at Valencia. Whilst this is going on, Ferrari announce the renewal of the top management until 2004: from Jean Todt to Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne. At Valencia, McLaren are not impressed by Ferrari’s record lap times at Fiorano. Norbert Haug sentences:
"It is the tires’ merit; the new ones take out more than a second".
Ferrari gets pulled in for the shenanigans. Dennis, regarding the electronics which will be free from the Spanish GP at Barcelona on the 29th of April 2000, tells this:
“It would have better to start the world championship with certain rules. The changes midway through are not good. But there is one team, against all, which opposed and thus we had to sled the revolutions. For sure it was convenient for them”.
First approaches in the big battle with Maranello, a war of nerves and lap times. Dennis predicts copious amounts of poisons.
"The story about the tires does not convince me, you could risk disqualification if, by the end of the race, they are too worn out. I await lots of complaints. I wish that the regulations are interpreted the same way".
Hakkinen is much calmer and proud of McLaren’s gift of car seat in order to bring his little son Hugo on his car. The Finnish lets his wife Erja driver whilst he is skating around on ice, in a advertisement which is also shown on the Italian TV. Mika is relaxed, tanned, happy; he seems meek and yielding. Be wary of appearances. The new McLaren, similar to the old one at first glance, in reality is the star of a disguised revolution: a lighter engine, optimized dimensions, a much taller nose and a lower back end: a much slimmer form in order to beat all the rivals with its aerodynamics. The Woking team organizes the presentation at Valencia in order to take out the veil from the new car. Nonetheless the MP4/16 was already seen on track a couple of days prior, with David Coulthard at the wheel of it with 120 laps. The Scottish, another contender for Schumacher’s title, is radiant:
"I never experienced such a fantastic debut".
There it is, the new bellicose McLaren who want to regain the title. Hakkinen, as well, has this aim in mind:
"I would rather prefer being the hunter. To not defend the title is a massive help, it will give me less pressure. My son does not slow me down. I am born to win, I only race for that. I am optimistic. Schumacher should not be eluded. The number 1 does not make you any faster and he is already at the limit. My problem is not my son, it is the reliability. That makes the difference. The first three races are outside Europe; thus, we cannot have any retirements".
Reliability is something that Dennis talks about as well.
"Last year we made four mistakes with each car. Too many. We need to be perfect".
On the 8th of February 2001, on the third day of testing at Mugello, Schumacher should abort his race simulation, after 35 laps, for an engine issue caused by an oil leakage. The next day, Rubens Barrichello finally makes the debut with the new Ferrari. The Brazilian does 45 laps, the best being a 1’32’645, despite some spits of rain. The first impression is good:
"It is a stable car in the high-speed corner and it drives well in the rain".
With less than one month to go until the start of the 52nd Formula 1 season, Max Mosley wants to express himself on two main topics which, in recent times, has been emphasized: the probable cession to the big constructors of a portion of the SEC’s shares, Bernie Ecclestone’ society which control Formula 1, and the concession of the super license to Kimi Raikkonen.
"I think that the arrival of big manufacturers can have a positive impact as to stabilize our sport. They would not have any influence of the sport management, having only 1 vote out of 26 in the Formula1 commission. Still, I believe that their interest is essentially commercial rather than organizational within the sporting activity. Of course, we will need to listen at their proposals, as well as we do with Bernie. This strikes me as very different from saying they would exert massive influence".
Looking at Raikkonen, who was awarded super license for the first four races of 2001, Mosley emphasised his negative opinion:
"I think that the attribution system of the super license needs to be revisited. The rules are clear: in order to obtain the super license, you need to have won the Formula 3 championship or to have some wins in Formula 3000. Exception were made in the past for big calibre drivers, with lots of experience in Formula 1 who decided to come back, such as with Alain Prost. Now this exception is utilized in order to give the super license to Raikkonen".
Towards whom, Mosley specifies that he expresses admiration:
"I think that he is a really good driver and when he will arrive at Melbourne, he will have already done 4000 chilometers. I am sure that he will do a good job and will be successful. I still think that those criteria exist and needs to be respected".
Looking back at Mugello’s test, Ferrari is not able to complete a race simulation. On the 10th of February 2001, Barrichello did a long warm-up of 20 laps before lunch. At 15 o’clock, he did four more preparations laps. When it is time to start the long run, the technicians meet up and decide to postpone for the next day. What happened? The Maranello men categorically exclude further technical issues:
"The reason for the postponement of the simulation is exclusively related to the track conditions. We have repeatedly tried to do it: in some parts of the track the asphalt was damp, but in others it was still quite wet. In addition, it is very cold. A test like this, in these conditions, would have been useless considering the risk of rain at any moment. You cannot run on wet tires because there were dry sections. You also cannot use normal tires because there is still water in some parts of the track. We did the warm-up with the intermediates but, since you cannot go under 1'31", the mechanical parts are not stressed as much as we would like. In short, a Grand Prix simulation in these conditions is no use. Moreover, at the moment, we have only one engine for the long distance, and we cannot start the test with the risk of having to interrupt it. Much better to postpone it for one day".
Twenty-four hours later the race simulation is finally completed, with satisfying results for Rubens Barrichello and the F2001. 330 km completed without any issues and with a best lap time of 1’25’739. Schumacher has other issues, involved in a mysterious case. The Bild am Sonntag talks about a complaint against the German champions at the Aquisgrana proxy, which should have been official throughout that morning. The case involves Franck Saasen, Schumacher’s look-alike, and manager Marc Schroder’s Fame agency which cures his interest. It is having a dispute with the Maranello driver. In this agency, there was a strange steal of certain documents and computer data regarding Shroeder’s professional commitment and his contacts. The agency suspects that Schumacher could have been the sender.
"My client will file a complaint to Michael Schumacher".
Says Shroeder’s lawyer, Alexander Buecken. The answer from Willi Weber, Michael’s manager, is adamant:
"We are not worried, we did not commission anything".
Behind the complaint there would be the finding, within a private investigation agency from the police, of a letter which stated this apparently:
"Attached, as stated accordingly by phone, are all the documents further collected about the look-alike and the Fame agency".
The letter was put through a shredder in order to be destroyed however the police would be able to construct it back. Another report is made by Bell, helmet production company, in which the Ferrari driver violated a signed contract, choosing instead to wear another brand’s helmet. The driver’s entourage knew that Schumacher took for granted, in his decision, that there would be have been no problems.
Meanwhile, talking about good news, after the honorary citizenship of Modena and the street dedicated to Schumacher and given to Kerpen, he is also awarded with another trophy. At the Royal Albert Hall in London, during a beneficiary manifestation for which the money will be donated to the foundation patronized by Formula 1 medic Sid Watkins, Schumacher is being awarded the Bernie, a small gold statue which should be a reminder of the Oscar but instead is similar to Ecclestone. Schumacher cannot be present at the gala evening. The trophy is instead, in his stead, given to Jody Scheckter. From South America, where BAR is doing a test session, Jacques Villeneuve comes back to talk about his ambitions:
"We the third force? It is not enough; we need to aim higher".
The season which is starting shortly is key for Jacques: the Canadian driver is anxious to know whether it was worthy to continue with BAR for a straight consecutive third year, renouncing Briatore’s advances. The Italian manager invited the driver to reunite with Renault. Even if Renault was Williams’ constructors, Villeneuve won the 1997 world championship with them. This is his first review with three weeks to go until the start of the new season. Have you reconsidered the criticism that you had at the start?
"The car has improved yet it is slower than last year. It was born badly but has evolved, even if there are lots of work to do still. The steering, for example, is still really heavy".
What is your opinion about Michelin?
"It seems that only Williams is able to use them correctly".
What are your objectives this year?
"I fought like crazy in the last two seasons. I wish to be better. I would love to finish on the podium frequently and to win again".
What do you think about the new Honda engine?
"It is positive. Yet it is not the best thruster. On the other hand, BAR is not the best car".
Will Ferrari and McLaren be forever ahead?
"In 1997 Williams won and the next was far behind. It could happen again".
What do you think about Raikkonen?
"It will be tough for him. He has to learn to be with the others".
Would you have given him the super license?
"It is not normal to assign it to someone who did not do any races. There are some rules which needs to be respected. Now, only because Button was fast, it has opened the hunt for the youngsters. Those who are satisfied with low salaries and they are ok with being half a second slower. Instead those who have worked many years to get to the top, giving prestige to Formula 1, suddenly are no longer needed".
From the Spanish Grand Prix, the electronic help will be legal:
"I am in favour of it but at the same time against it. Let me explain: traction control undoubtedly diminishes the value of the driver but it is also impossible to control all the cars every weekend. Better to eliminate any suspicion".
Is there something that would change in this Formula 1?
"Yes, the tires. I would gladly return to the smooth tires. They allow for a precise driving. Furthermore, when the track is humid, since the tires are way too hard because of the grooves, you immediately lose grip. It is extremely dangerous".
Does Jacques complaints about tires being too smooth at the end of each grand prix?
"Yes, it would have been better to return to the slicks. Did Ferrari say the same? We cannot fight against the FIA even if we are 100 against 1. They decided, we have to stay put".
Is Michael Schumacher really the number one, the best of all?
"Last year we clinched the third title after subsequent tries and it is obvious that he is the man to beat this year. I, still, feel strong as always".
Is it frustrating to be so far from the top?
"It was in 1999. Last year no, since we were able to improve".
In three weeks, it is time to get serious. What do you expect from the first GP?
"I wish to be the surprise of the race. The Australian track is one that I like. The momentum is favourable since some teams will arrive with undefined yet reliable cars".
While BAR works in South Africa, Ferrari is divided between Mugello and Fiorano respectively with Barrichello and Badoer, who returns on track after the incident of the 12st January 2001. The Brazilian does 65 laps for a total of 340 kilometres, with a best lap time of 1’24’627. Badoer, instead, completes 44 laps, marking the best lap time of 1’01’404.
From the 14th of February 2001, Schumacher alternates with Barrichello in order to complete the last testing session before the Australian race, which will open the 2001 world championship. From a personal perspective, other troubles emerge for the world champion. The Stoccarda appeal Court gives reasons to a gallery owner, guilty of exposing a painting of the Hungarian Peter Dardai, depicting a shirtless Michael in front of his wife Corinna. The court then gives way to Willi Weber’s appeal, blocking the exposition temporarily. Last test sessions for the other teams as well. Benetton ends the long transfer at Estoril with Button, who completes 63 laps and a 1’19’’410 best time. The team will come back on track the following week at Silverstone and will re-find all the other English teams, committed to finishing up, before leaving for Australia.
The only exception is McLaren and Williams, which booked the Montmelò track. The 17th of February 2001 Ferrari almost touches Mugello’s record: Schumacher marks a time of 1’23’780 with the F2001. It becomes the best time ever realized by a Formula 1 car after the introduction of the scaled tires. After a couple of days, specifically the 20th February 2001, testing is interrupted after suffering a gearbox issue: despite that, Schumacher completes 41 laps. With a last brief session at Fiorano, using the old F1-2000, Ferrari’s winter testing is over. It is now to get ready to fly over to Australia and defend the two world titles.
Davide Scotto di Vetta
Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno