#665 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix

2021-04-12 00:00

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#665 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix

Reduce dalla vittoriosa trasferta australiana, la Ferrari sfrutta i giorni che la separano dal secondo appuntamento del Mondiale 2001 in Malesia, sul


Fresh from the victorious Australian trip, Ferrari makes the most of the days, until the second round of the 2001 world championship in Malaysia at the Sepang circuit, to carry out a testing session at Fiorano, from the 6th to the 9th March 2001. The first two days are spent on the track by Badoer, who uses the time to further develop the electronic development.  In the following days, it is Rubens Barrichello’s turn who, in addition to following the same programme as Badoer, carries out numerous start simulations.


If on one hand, the two Ferrari drivers work hard on track, there is also someone who, like Eddie Irvine, makes headlines for another kind of activity. The Jaguar driver, in fact, is discovered having sex in an airport with a top model. The German tabloids gather up the confidences of Alan Nee, pilot of the 35-year-old Northern Irishman’s personal jet.


"We were at an altitude of 10000, when all of all of sudden I heard rumours, squeaks and jolts coming from the cabin. I thought: We are in the middle of a turbulence; it would better to go to the cabin and calm Eddie down. I inserted automatic pilot and went to the cabin. And I Immediately realized that it was not a turbulence".


Back to purely sporting matters. The moods are pretty bad at McLaren, following the first race of the season. For Mika Hakkinen, the aim is to start shaking up the standings:


"I am sure we will do well in Sepang, Ferrari is not uncatchable".


To Ron Dennis, hearing about Malaysia probably brings to mind bad memories. In the previous two editions, the English team has only collected bitterness. In 1999 the defeat was even double. First, the Silver Arrows were beaten on track by the Ferraris of Irvine and Schumacher; then the team receives a snub of the Parigi sentence in which, the FIA court appeal re-admitted the two Ferraris in the race classification after the disqualification regarding the flow deflectors, which were found (mistakenly) irregular. A shock which, however, did not prevent Hakkinen from gaining the world title at Suzuka.


In 2000, the outcome was not very different. After losing the championship in favour of Schumacher with one race to go, the Woking team presented itself in Malaysia in a demobilisation atmosphere. The constructors’ championship was still within reach. But it quickly became clear that there was no contest. Schumacher won, vainly followed by Coulthard and Barrichello. Hakkinen was not on podium and this sealed Ferrari’s triumphant season.


Therefore, looking at the tradition, there is nothing to be happy about. Even because, in Australia, the new Ferrari was going quick in all three days and Schumacher dominated the race. Despite that, at McLaren there is caution optimism. The reasons are multiple. Before Melbourne, for example, there were strong doubts of the engine and gearbox sealing of the MP4/16. Instead, from that point of view, everything went smooth, with Coulthard able to push until the end, finishing one second behind Michael. From a reliability viewpoint, McLaren is undoubtedly placed better than the two previous seasons.


But the terrifying crash of Hakkinen remains, caused by the breakage of the right front suspension. Such a failure is considered an isolate case but, at Woking, the team took immediate action to reinforce the detail. David Coulthard, after the race, explicitly asked the team to work in the Magny-Cours test, alongside Wurz and Paffett, to improve the overall balance of the car. Hakkinen, despite the retirement, had expressed himself with enthusiastic tones regarding the performances of the MP4/16:


"Before the incident, I was able to follow Schumacher without too many problems. I knew that I had more fuel on board then him, thus I tried to only maintain the gap unaltered. My plan was to go on the attack, after his pitstop, and then winning would have been a concrete possibility".


For this reason, after going for a couple of days to Europe to be near his wife and son Hugo, before departing to South-East Asia, he claims:


"I am sure that in Malaysia I will bring the first World Championship points. On Sunday, I will probably leave Sepang with a result to remember. I like this track; it is a good mix of corners and straights. My only true handicap is the humidity but drinking enough to not have problems".


To get around the heat problem, Coulthard has chosen to stay in Australia, by going to hot and humid areas just to acclimatize in advance to Malesia. The Scottish driver predicts:


"I am convinced that we will be able to do better than in Australia".


Optimistic words are also expressed by Ron Dennis:


"Coulthard in Australia showed the potential of our new car and the whole team is striving to express it to the fullest. We tried in Magny-Cours in the previous days and I think that we will present ourselves in good form".


The eve of the Malaysian Grand Prix is slightly enlivened by some accusatory statements from Heinz-Harald Frentzen against Ferrari:


"Ferrari and his satellite teams have a traction control system".


The first to raise a suspect was Jarno Trulli during the Motor Show event last December. The driver from Abruzzo sustained:


"We looked at the replays like at Hockenheim. In the wet, exciting from a chicane, the Ferrari drifted but the tires did not continue to slide as if there was s system which blocked the skidding...".


Now it is his teammate Frentzen’s turn who claims, in his own Internet website, that the Ferrari and the teams which use the ten-cylinder engine have strange behaviors on track:   


"In the last 18 races, I had many opportunities to follow the Ferraris, or the other cars powered by his engines. And one thing needs to be emphasized: outside the tight corners, these cars have quite a harmonious acceleration, combined with a cut of the engine power. For me, it is beyond doubt that Ferrari developed an electronic programme which reduces the power of the engine so that the

wheels do not slide".


The German driver is not done yet:


"It cannot be ignored that something like this exists, but simply there is not space for discussion. On the other hand, one could at least know if this solution is legal or not. I think that Formula 1, thanks to his brilliant engineers, has made progress in that area, so much so that it is difficult for the FIA to establish some limits. And this is why the Federation has decided to change the rules, legalizing the traction control".


Frentzen even denies of having wanted to directly attack Heidfield, explaining that the Bild Zeitung, which reported his outburst, ignored most points of his original comment:


"In the laps, during which I followed him, Nick did not make any mistake. His performance was good and rightly awarded by his first ever point in Formula 1. But I hope that our very own personal championship - both are from Monchengladbach - ends in a very different way".


At Sepang though, the attention is concentrated first and foremost on the security factor, after the dramatic events of the race in Melbourne, where a marshal tragically lost his life after a track collision between Ralf Schumacher e Jacques Villeneuve. The organizers of the GP approve a plan to fine-tune the protections, which are already of an excellent security level, in detail, especially the nets which avert the danger of car fragments ending up in the middle of the public. About 10 days after the incident occurred in Australia, Jacques Villeneuve’s memory of that incident is still alive:


"I want to talk with Ralf. Those episodes should be clarified between us, without accusing anyone, I will explain to him exactly what he knows very well. That you cannot drive in the middle of the racetrack at such a low speed, you have to step aside. The telemetries? You can get whatever you want there, everyone will find his own share of reasoning. Yet this is not how it should be done. We are Formula 1 drivers, we are adults".


The days after the incident were not easy for Jacques. He does not want to talk about it. He did not immediately leave Australia in order to undergo medical examinations and physiotherapy to eliminate the severe pain caused by the inflammations of the back muscles. The BAR responsible, Craig Pollock, claims that he has never seen his driver so dejected as he was after the incident in Melbourne:


"In general, after big impacts like the one at Spa, Jacques was the first one to play down the situation by saying: I had not yet managed to be hit so well. Last time no, he was gloomy and did not want to talk. He remained silent and on the side-lines. Then, for the first time, without being solicitated by anyone, he talked about the tragic incident which cost the life of his father, Gilles. He described them as very similar crashes".


The ex World Champion however reiterates:


"Yes, but now the cars are much safer than before".


Without never talking about fear, Jacques reconstructs those dramatic moments after re-seeing them on television:


"My car took off. I tried to look, even with the mirrors, where the car would end up, but everything rotated around so fast. I was not able to have any reference point. I did not understand where I would land".


Jacques does not accept any type of accusation:


"The races are like this; the aggression is out of the question especially when overtaking. I repeat: who is slower cannot stay in the middle of the track. I do not accuse anyone but I intend to clarify the matter, once and for all, with Ralf. Even because in Australia he threw unmotivated accusations at me".


In terms of his physical form, Villeneuve does not have any doubts:


"Everything is fine, no problem: I will be able to compete at the highest level. I did all the necessary checks with positive results".


However, Jacques admits that the Melbourne incident will leave some traces:


"There is no doubt that this will be the case, although there is no reason why it should affect my work in the future. This incident marked me. Usually, when I overcame a similar event, I immediately feel well. In this case no, this was not the case".


Meanwhile at BAR, the mechanics are forced in a race against the clock in order to prepare the forklift, since the damaged car is still seized in Australia. An incident which will not probably happen in the Malaysian circuit which, regardless of the Melbourne events, sees a marked improvement of the curbs, criticized in 2000 by the drivers.  The discussions between the team leaders though, address in particular the possible additional remedies that the FIA could introduce for security purposes. As it did in 1994, after the tragedies which led to the death of Senna e Ratzenberger in Imola, and the successive Wendlinger incident at Monte Carlo.

The competitive atmosphere created between Bridgestone and Michelin exasperated the Formula 1 performances. What appeared to be important aerodynamic restrictions, launched this season by the FIA, turned out instead to be insufficient because of the speed increase in the corners generated by the major grip of the tires.


In this sense, the tire dealers immediately say no to the Federation’s proposal to add another scaling to the tires. According to the technical directors of Michelin and Bridgestone, Pierre Dupasquier and Hiroshi Yasukawa, this could lead to further confusion. Both express their own preference for the current rules. In particular Yasukawa, while Dupasquier is more open to a dialogue:


"It is up to the FIA decide how to reduce the speed. We would rather prefer to have a technical directive than an order to add a scaling. There are other ways to solve the problem: we already made suggestions on how to reduce the tread, which would keep the tires competitive anyway".


The second race of the year is expected with interest because it could give important answers to the work done by the teams during the winter break. More concrete answers compared to the first impressions in Melbourne. The Australian Grand Prix was raced from most teams with less than optimal level of preparation, so confirmations or reversals are awaited. The Sepang circuit is a medium-high downforce track. The aim from the teams is to further improve the technical solutions seen in Australia.


Ferrari tried at Fiorano a new front wing with a significantly different shape. One gets the impression that this solution could be surprisingly deployed in the afternoon Friday session, or even on Saturday. Even McLaren tried in secret new aerodynamic solutions with regard to the front wing. Both team in fact noted a lack of aerodynamic load on the Melbourne circuit. In the Sepang circuit, it is even more important to have a car which gives good ground support. This is the reason why the mechanics have taken action.


However, all teams have solutions in an attempt to improve the evacuation of hot air and thus optimize the cooling of the engines. The most popular are the cooling chimneys, introduced by McLaren-Mercedes in 2000 and already used in thus circuit even by Ferrari and Williams. Talking about the latter, it needs to be said that there is an interesting solution in the FW23. Combined to the traditional chimney, there are some small wings which have the function to guarantee a major aerodynamic load on the car.


Michael Schumacher presents himself in Malesia as the current World Champion and winner of the first race of the year. There are rumours circulating about him regarding a resounding purchase of 63% of the Sauber team, which is the shareholding held by Red Bull. The latter has long since announced his disengagement from the Swiss team because of Bernoldi’s non-recruitment. Peter Sauber preferred Kimi Raikkonen to him. The cost of the operation should be around lire, which is less than what the German driver perceived per year. On this news, Peter Sauber responds that Schumacher would be welcomed. He then says there has not been negotiations at the moment:


"I would like to work again with Schumacher in the future. As a driver, I cannot afford him. As a stakeholder, who knows".


Peter would be happy to have Michael as a stakeholder. The Ferrari driver makes it clear that he only wants to drive at the moment.


"Buying a team is not something I think about now".


Being called upon to talk about the rumors, the comment from Willi Weber, Michael’s manager, is completely different:


"I, for the future, see myself as a team owner. I had the chance with Minardi but did not accept. Other solutions could also be practical. Schumacher no: when he will stop racing, can become a technical advisor. A team owner not so much".


Schumacher, concentrating on the Malaysian race, agrees with the opinions of his colleagues when affirming that will the most tough and gruelling race in the entire calendar. The hotness and the humidity are exhausting. Either in the Ferrari motorhome or in hotel lounges, Michael still manages to express his confidence of having a good result. The fact that both scarlet cars were able to finish the race, two weeks prior at Melbourne, is comforting to him. Without any issues, unlike the others:


"For the first time since joining Ferrari, we have dominated for the entire weekend in Melbourne. During the winter at Maranello we have worked like crazy and the results show that. This a true race car, feels like being in a go-Kart. Instead it is a Formula 1 car".


Then the German talks about how he spent the last couple of days:


"I rested and had fun with Corinna while undergoing a hard-physical training. The race here is going to be quite exhausting. No recklessness, hang-gliding or rock-climbing this time. I only did some walking, some running, lots of cycling. I also played some football matched with the island guys and other tourists".


Schumacher reiterates that he likes this track very much, where he practically won two times considering that, in 1999, he clearly let Irvine, in contention for the championship, by. On that very occasion he restarted his career, going back to racing after the serious incident in Silverstone four months prior.


"Even for that reason, I am an authentic fan of this circuit. It is a track where it is easy to overtake. There, the driving itself is not as easy as it seems and this is something that stimulates me particularly. Needless to say, with temperatures like this reliability will be important. I know that the competition does not sleep, they certainly must have worked hard in past week to improve. We, of course, worked as well at Maranello. If we will still have the same advantage to McLaren as in Melbourne? We cannot know it. We hope so since in Australia the advantage was quite good. I think that we should have some more here. Thus, we have good reasons to be hopeful".


Schumacher then replicates at Frentzen, guilty of supporting the fact that Ferrari uses a sort of traction control system:


"Heinz-Harald first says and then pulls backs doubtfully; it is not right to be doubtful, there is no such thing as having suspects on Sauber’s work and thus Ferrari’s one. They are very committed. He should instead focus on his problems rather than making precise complaints to the FIA. Our car is continuously, as the others, controlled and is deemed legal. I do not think that the capacities of the technical delegates are inferior to Frentzen’s".


The FIA president, Max Mosley, talks about this subject from London:


"I completely disagree with Frentzen. I think that the Federation knows more about what the teams are doing than he does".


Speaking of the Melbourne incident between his brother Ralf and Jacques Villeneuve, Schumacher adds:


"I saw on TV two different replays of that incident but I cannot express on it. I did not manage to get a good look at the overtaking approach. I talked with Ralf. He said that he had braked quite late. How will Villeneuve feel about going back on track? Difficult to say how his mental approach to the race will be like. He often criticized me in the past but I will take the opportunity to not replicate. The accident would have undoubtedly talked less if that tragic accident did not happen. We, the drivers and the FIA, are accurately analyzing the situation of the racetracks. Then we will act; I do not think that the solution to this problem will be to only heighten the protection nets, we   will see if we can find more".


As the driver with the most experience on track, Jean Alesi relies on shock therapy to deal with the torrid impact with Malaysia. The French driver, after the Australian race, decided to go to Tokyo, where there are extremely low temperatures, from zero to six degrees. In order to acclimatize himself with Sepang’s sun, Jean found nothing than put on his gym shoes and do a run of the track. Both on Tuesday and Wednesday at 11:30, when the temperature is high:


"At Melbourne, I did a couple of laps of the track and do some training. One was enough here. No performance, only the battle with the sun in order to get used to it".


Talking about the track and its security, the Prost driver affirms:


"This is a fairly safe track. It is large and with big escape roads. The only unsafe part is the first breaking point at the end of the start/finish straight. There, the wall beyond the sand is a bit too close. Furthermore, at the exit, before the start, it could create confusion, with possible incidents. For the rest, the only problem could come from snakes o lynxes, as the one which, two years ago, crossed the track and caused a red flag during free-practice".


Apart from the animals, the judgement on the track is positive:


"It is important to have a good rhythm. It is not like Monte Carlo, with constant breaking and acceleration. There are a lot of curves and you have to fit them all in. Critical points? The Esse that follows and above all, the fast left-right corner which comes after. You do it in fifth gear and you suddenly change direction. This is why you need to have a perfect aerodynamic balance otherwise the car will tend to stray from the ideal line".


Large track, so many different lines to take. Is overtaking on sight? Not really:


"From this point of view, it is not a favorable track. The speed is fairly constant and it is difficult to overtake, but there is a trick. The characteristics of the race, both in terms of track design and weather conditions, are challenging. So, if you have a rival in your sights and you put pressure on him, he is going to make a mistake sooner or later. The trajectories are very rubbered up but, for the width of the asphalt, it is very easy to stay out of the ideal racing line. And at that point, you can make the overtake. The best point is at the end of the start/finish straight: if you are fast coming out of the last corner, which is done in third gear, you are then able to use the slipstream and pass at the end of the breaking point".


It is a fast track however you need a very competitive engine:


"We do have it. But above all, progression is important. Under breaking, the aerodynamic load must not shift from the front to the rear. You need flexibility and we are in a good position".


Flexibility, which rhythms with traction control, something which Frentzen accused the Ferrari engine of. Jean is not having any of it:


"He should have not made those statements; he was not right to speak ill of someone who has worked properly. Probably he, who has Honda behind him, thought he could do better and was disappointed to see what we can do".


Meanwhile, on Friday 16th March 2001, Jarno Trulli beats everyone in first free practice of the Malaysian GP. He beats the unsustainable hotness. He also beat the Ferraris and the McLarens. After two sessions, the fastest man is the Italian Jordan driver who, with the Honda engines, did a 1'38"846 lap time. Behind him, there are the two Ferrari. David Coulthard is only fourth fastest, with a 1'39"300. Following the Scotsman: Eddie Irvine’s Jaguar, his teammate Hakkinen and the other Honda of Frentzen.


Those are fast times but are nowhere near the pole record time set by Schumacher in 2000, a 1'37"397. Still they are closer compared to the previous year. And, taking into accounts the conditions under the drivers are forced to run, it is almost a miracle. Some teams suffered technical issues. Irvine’s Jaguar is forced to stop during the first free practice session; both Arrows had inconveniences with the gearbox after five laps; then Giancarlo Fisichella’s Benetton went off track without any major consequences and finished the session in 13th place.


The heat, in fact, is extraordinary: 46° degrees is the asphalt, while the air temperature is around 35° and the humidity is around 50%. Most of the drivers use different accessories to protect themselves from the heat: special self-cooling bodices (able to take in and hold fresh air), or helmets (like it is the case for the McLaren drivers) adapted for the occasion which are able to isolate as much as possible the driver from the external temperature. The McLaren, in order to fight the Malaysian mugginess, puts a hydraulic cooling system inside the car, a mechanism which enables to lower the cockpit temperature and bringing fresh air to the helmet with the aid of tubes. This update was tried in the laboratory on some cyclists. It improved their performances. But Hakkinen asserts:


"It is different in the car. It can help me, but not the McLaren, which is not working. It is not only a reliability question about, the car is not fast as well. I am pessimistic".


Coulthard is also pessimistic as well:


"We are not fast enough. Why? Ask this question to the engineers".


There is an air of crisis with the McLaren box. A discouragement equal to Jarno Trulli’s euphoria. It may be a useless performance but finishing the free practice sessions ahead of Ferrari and McLaren is an exploit to remember:


"Mainly because it makes me realize that I finally have a great car, reactive, capable of adapting to every single circuit. Now I need the bad luck to leave me. At Melbourne, during the race, I broke a coil. From the start, I was running on nine cylinders. The Honda engineers said: it happens one time in a thousand. Naturally it happened to me".


The damn reliability does not torment Barrichello:


"I am like a child who goes to school, bonds with the teachers and with friends. They are happy with me; I am happy with them. They understood my worth, there will not be any difficulties".


Williams is also hopeful as well, after Ralf Schumacher’s collision with Villeneuve at Melbourne. In this regard, technical director Patrick Head reveals:


"Ralf was going slow because he had problems with the understeer".


Then Michael Schumacher arrives, with a conspicuous surprise. The t-shirt is drenched in sweat.  He, who never sweats, always dry, muscular like a model, smiling with his unpunished face. What is going on? We have never seen you in these conditions:


"This is maybe the first time that I am reduced in this way. Have you seen how hot it is? Last year, it was less hot, probably ten degrees less. How many are today? 38°? So, say the instruments, but the asphalt was over 50° degrees. When you are in the car, it seems like an inferno".


What do you do in such cases?


"How do you do it? I come directly from the box where I controlled all the data regarding the engine, olio and cooling temperatures: everything is perfect. Mechanically, I would say that there are no worries, everything is working well. The technicians are really good".


How do the drivers cope with the heat?


"This is not an easy problem to resolve. In fact, I do not see how it can be resolved. Two years ago, right here in Malaysia, Eddie Irvine experiments some special clothes, conceived to defend themselves against the heat. The first approach was positive. But then in practice wearing it or not did not make any substantial difference".


Barrichello says that he is struggling with the warm air that he is breathing:


"The problem is not the same for per everyone. He has that, I do not. For me, the real problem is my body. Something should be invented to keep the body cool, but I do not know what can be done".


At McLaren, they have special caps, do you know something about it?


"No, you can see that they are hot in the head. I do not, thus I do not have this problem. My helmet is fine like this".


Will the Malaysian Grand Prix be a physical suffering race?


"Oh yeah, I think so, with this heat. We expected this because we are completely in a different season to the one that we run last year in October. For this reason, I, after the Australian round, decided to stay here: to slowly acclimatize myself to this heat, sweating, resistance and drinking more adequately. I should not be here, in this air conditioning room, because it is not good for me".


Are there other risks for this race? Is it still the engine?


"No, I would say no. You see, this engine debuted in Melbourne. It was right to have some fears. Here we are at the second round and we feel more relaxed thanks to the work done at Maranello".


The tires?


"The tires will always be a problem. Somewhat because, with two tire suppliers, you never know what upgrades they might bring in the races. The tires that we have here, for example, are different from the Australian ones. The issue is to understand which ones to choose. I think that we will not know the tire situation until the fourth or fifth race".


Does McLaren worry you?


"Of course. Let's not delude ourselves that it will be like Melbourne. They work hard. Here, they will be very close to us. Perhaps their discomfort was more psychological than technical. I have to say that they were not used to being like this at the start of the season. They know how to react, they know how to handle these situations".


What is magical about this Ferrari?


"The base of this car is good. It is a neutral car, without oversteer and understeer. Where you send it, it goes. Every time that we tried to change something, the car reacts. It makes you realise that the thing may not work. When you go back to the previous solution, it goes the same way as before. The car redoes the same times. It is like the car is talking to you. I immediately noticed it from the first time that I raced it".


Saturday the 17th March 2001. The qualifying session features a spectacular battle between the Schumacher brothers. In the end though, Michael has the upper hand and takes the 34th career pole position, with a 1'35"220 lap time. Behind him is Barrichello, only a tenth behind. Meanwhile Ralf Schumacher, in provisionary pole position for most of the session, has to eventually settle down for 3rd, three tenths behind his brother.


Ralf was really quick at the start of the session. He could have taken pole position for the Williams team, which has been in the shadows for a couple of years. He did a good time, one of those which was hard to beat. Michael stormed out of the pits and took away pole from his little brother. Ralf was not discouraged and snatched pole from Michael. In the end, it the latter who does the real pole position, the definitive one. Even Barrichello is able to improve, allowing Ferrari to start from the front row with both cars, for the second time on a row after Melbourne.


Both McLaren are in clear trouble: Hakkinen is only 4th, eight tenths behind Michael Schumacher. While Coulthard can only get the 8th fastest time, over a second behind the pole sitter. It is his worst qualifying session since the 1998 Australian Grand Prix. An excellent 5th time for Trulli, who confirms Friday’s good performance. On the other hand, Giancarlo Fisichella is so far behind, only 16th fastest, after a disastrous day in the Benetton-Renault. Enrique Bernoldi is having an even worst day. The Brazilian Arrows driver is relegated to the last row of the grid by the stewards for a technical irregularity. During qualifying, his car had an irregular front wing.


It is been a long time since we have seen an entertaining and hard-fought qualifying session. Michael is, for the sixth time in succession, on pole position. This time though he suffered quite a lot. In what seemed to be his best attempt, he made a mistake. The German thus had lost seven tenths, that he already had, in one sector alone. Anyhow, he is able to keep his teammate Barrichello and his brother Ralf behind. A protective shield against Hakkinen and Coulthard’s McLarens, who were not able to trouble the two Ferraris on the front row. Ron Dennis was aware that McLaren would have had some difficulties:


"On this track, we saw that our highest performance, during the free practice sessions, were not encouraging. This is the reason what we mainly concentrated on the car preparation for the race".


The new front wing prepared by the Woking team is finalized to search some aerodynamic load at the rear of the car. It was tested during this morning’s free practice session but failed to pass the test on Coulthard’s car. The Scottish driver tries to still radiate positivity:


"We are not dead, we will react. For three years, we had the best car. This one will also become competitive, because we have realized how much trouble we are in".


Hakkinen, however, is merciless:


"The car, in the corners goes where it wants. I have never felt so uncomfortable. And this is not only because of the heat. On Friday, there was no grip at the front, on Sunday at the rear. You cannot keep a racing line".


There is a very different atmosphere in the Ferrari garage. Schumacher, in this qualifying session, surprisingly changed strategy: instead of doing the last attempt almost at the end, he took pole with a couple of minutes to go. He then watched, in front of the screens, the others’ last attempt. And even rejoiced when Barrichello knocked his brother Ralf from the front row:


"Many people still had the opportunity to do their final qualifying attempts. In order to not hit traffic, I preferred to anticipate. The car went well and proved not to suffer too much from the heat. I enjoyed battling with my brother Ralf. Better to have him, who I know very well, behind me than someone else".


Furthermore, Schumacher, with a laugh, denies the rumor of a possible purchase of Sauber by him:


"I am Peter’s friend and I have often congratulated him on his work, having regard to the means at his disposal. It is to my intention to do such a thing".


Barrichello is also satisfied after trying, in the morning, the long-awaited front wing. He tested it only for a couple of minutes of free practice. He did not use it during qualifying. A new test will be done during the warm-up session, before the race:


"I am happy. The car is fine. I am much closer to Michael compared to last year. In the first two attempts, I did not have a perfect set-up o. When it was fixed to my liking, everything fell into place".


After being the main character, at Melbourne, of the collision with Ralf Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve is once again in the eye of the storm. This time he is being accused by Eddie Irvine:


"He was in front of me on the straights opposite to the pits, he did the corner normally and then come back to the pits. He intentionally held me back".


Villeneuve apologizes, saying that he did not notice the Northern Irish driver. Irvine is not having any of it:


"I do not accept his excuses. For these things there is only one thing that works: spite".


Sunday 18th March 2001, the weather forecast indicates a high probability of rain during the race. When the lights are about to go, the sky is grey but the track is bone dry. Michael Schumacher needs to start with the spare car, due to an oil leak in the first-choice Ferrari car. Everything seems to be ready but the start is immediately aborted. Fisichella, in his Benetton, mistakes his grid position. In trying to reposition itself, Fisichella switches off the engine. The procedure is suspended and delayed by 10 minutes. During the second formation lap, problems also arise for Frentzen and Juan Pablo Montoya. The latter is forced to start from the pits with the spare car.


Finally, the race begins. Beautiful start by Michael Schumacher. Not a good getaway from Barrichello and is already defending against Ralf Schumacher and Trulli. In the first corner, the Brazilian nerfs Ralf’s Williams out the way. The German is inevitably spun around and is now in the middle of the race track. Luckily, nobody hits his car. He spins the car around and is now in last position. At the end of the first lap, the two Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello are line astern in the lead, followed by Trulli, Coulthard, Frentzen and Jos Verstappen. Thanks to the chaos at turn 1, the latter manages to climb up from 18th to 6th position. Hakkinen is only 8th, behind Villeneuve.


Kimi Raikkonen’s race is short-lived, stopping after a few hundred meters by a transmission failure. Olivier Panis, during the second lap, is out of the race. His BAR is on the gravel trap after a Honda engine failure. At turn 6, there is some oil on track. It proves almost fatal when the two leaders arrive. Both Schumacher and Barrichello are off track, losing control of their cars after going on the oil from Panis’s blown up BAR Honda. Rubens manages to limit the damages from the excursion and e returns to the track ahead of his teammate.


Jarno Trulli is thus the new leader, but at this moment the rain is starting to fall relentlessly on track. A veritable downpour breaks out over Sepang. The Jordan driver is spinning out in the last corner. Shortly afterwards Coulthard, who was following him closely, also makes the same mistake. The Scotsman's McLaren becomes a pirouette. The victims caused by the wet asphalt are not a few: among them, there are Mazzacane, Heidfield, Alonso and Montoya. Therefore, the race director is forced to bring the Safety Car out on track, waiting for the rain intensity to diminish and for the track to be practicable again.


The great crowding in the pits is inevitable. Among the many cars in the pit lane are also the two Ferraris. The team is executing a double pit stop with both drivers, who are coming to the pits at the same time. At this point, the mechanics are confused. Barrichello’s stop turns into a disaster. It lasts a minute and a half while Schumacher, stacked up behind the Brazilian, is giving away signs of impatience. In the haste and confusion different types of tires have been mixed up. The mechanics cannot find Barrichello's right front tire. Finally, after two infinite stops, the duo can get on with their race. Barrichello is now 10th, with Schumacher 11th. What a disaster. This is not a cause of despair. Unlike the cars ahead of them who are on the extreme wet tires (excluding Verstappen), Rubens and Michael have chosen the intermediates.


When, after six laps under the Safety Car, the rain is decreasing and the track has improved sensibly, Ferrari’s choice proves successful. At the restart, Coulthard leads, despite the fact that he almost retired with the previous spin, ahead of Verstappen, Frentzen, Hakkinen, Ralf Schumacher and Trulli. Ross Brawn communicates to his two drivers to be careful. Schumacher though has different intentions. The current world champion starts the recovery drive by firstly overtaking Barrichello, then overtaking all the drivers ahead of him. With the rain having stopped, the track is drying quickly and Schumacher takes great advantage of the intermediates. With Coulthard’s overtake on lap 16, the German is once again the race leader.


On lap 18, Hakkinen and Ralf Schumacher pit to fit the dry tires. A while later, it is Barrichello’s turn to stop. Until that moment, the Brazilian was 3rd, behind Coulthard. The latter makes the pit stop only on lap 25, a choice which gives 2nd position to Barrichello. Despite the excursions, the arrival of the rain and the disastrous pit-stop, the two Ferraris are once again in the lead of the race and are running comfortably towards a 1-2 finish.


Schumacher constantly gains ground on his rivals and can afford to delay the pit stop until lap 30, having gained almost a 50-second advantage over Coulthard. The stop lasts 12 seconds, since the mechanics need to clean the sidepods and radiators of the F2001. Behind the top 3, Ralf Schumacher and Frentzen become protagonists of a great battle, for what was initially 6th position.


Then the Williams driver gets rid of Hakkinen and Verstappen. The battle between the latter also fires up as well. The Arrows driver overtakes the McLaren at the last corner. He though brakes too late and goes wide, bringing Hakkinen with him as well. Frentzen takes advantage of the battle and overtakes both of them. Michael Schumacher only needs to manage his car until the 55th and last lap of the race. In the end, the German can celebrate his second win, out of two, of the season. Barrichello completes a Ferrari’s 1-2. This the 50th 1-2 in the history of the Maranello team, while Coulthard limits the damages for McLaren, by finishing 3rd.


Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher (Michelin’s best runner) and Hakkinen complete the top 6 classification. Jos Verstappen is not including in it. He was running so close to 3rd place for most of the race and was hoping to give the first points of the season to the Arrows team. A pit-stop in the latter stages of the race, though, enables Hakkinen to snatch one point from a particularly difficult for him. An undisputed dominance from Ferrari. The only drawback was the overtake by Schumacher on Barrichello, not appreciated by the latter. In his own word, the indications from the pit wall were to not obstruct and not fight each other. The team tries to throw water on the fire by saying that there a miscommunication in the communications. Ross Brawn claims:


"In was actually Rubens who told us that the track was slippery and that it was better to be careful. From our answers, he must have realized that there were some particular obligations for him.  In reality, there were not".


On the podium, the two drivers do not look at each other in the face. They are not shaking hands and do not indulge in the usual wild celebrations. Barrichello gloomy listens to the German/Italian anthems and to the awards. The thought of being overtaken by Schumacher is fixed in his head. The Brazilians explains to the journalists:


"I am very sad for what happened. I had just talked with Ross Brawn. He told me to be careful since there were still many dangerous points on track. In that moment, the car was undrivable. I felt it was right that both Michael and I should not take any risk and hold our positions. We agreed on it. Then I found myself in front of a car, perhaps a Jordan, and I slowed down. At that moment, Schumacher overtook me".


The German retorts:


"It is irrelevant that I knew the dialogue between him and Brawn. I exited well from turn 8, I was very fast at turn 9. There was no reason why I should not have overtaken him. I could not lose time; I did not know what tires Coulthard had. I was behind and had to recover as many places as possible".


Barrichello is not okay with this. His words are sharp:


"I understand that it is difficult to live with the best, but there was the order to not overtake and Michael did not respect it. Still, I would not have won. I had some damages on the car and should have made another stop... At that moment, I understood that it was better to freeze the positions".


Jean Todt, who is responsible of the Gestione Sportiva, first ironizes:


"It rained a lot here; I did not see any shadows".


Then he specifies:


"In the heat of the moment, a driver can have a moment of emotion. I can understand Barrichello: he did not expect that Schumacher would pass him like this, it is hard to accept. But if we declare that our drivers start on the same level, it means that team orders do not exist. And we can expect Michael doing an overtaking attempt. The only recommendation is to be cautious. Rubens was disappointed, but he knew that he should have pitted again. Schumacher had more chances than him".


Nothing or no one can console the Brazilian driver. All that remains for him is to think about Brazil, where the third round of the championship will take place, in the Interlagos circuit:


"This is my best moment of my life. I can fight for the victory, or at least for the podium, in my home Grand Prix. I do not want to put pressure on myself but I cannot wait to race at San Paolo".


It is too early to say it, since there are 15 races left. But, from what we have seen on the first two races, who are Ferrari’s rivals? Are there any rivals for Ferrari? Schumacher continues to say that it will be McLaren, defeated however in Sepang. The car is wrong, as are the strategies. Furthermore, the drivers seem unmotivated and perhaps a little nervous. A Finnish journalist says laconically:


"I would not be surprised to see Hakkinen overtaken even by Fernando Alonso".


I.e. the youngest rookie of this championship. Such is the disaster that there is already talks of building a new McLaren for the remainder of this world championship, a B-spec car to be presented on the 29th of April 2001 at Barcelona, when the traction control system will become legal. A different car, in order to set aside this one, born badly, incapable to withstand Ferrari’s power and even being beaten, on the standings, by the BMW powered Williams. As Hakkinen sustains, this cannot go on like this:


"This car does not have any grip; it does not hold the line in the corner. It is so slow coming out of the corners and even loses straight-line speed".


In short, everything has to be redone. There is a very good cue coming. In Spain, the traction control will arrive. You have to activate it. This will allow McLaren to camouflage the revolution a little. But the catastrophe is there for all to see. Coulthard uncorks the champagne bottles for a 3rd place, page to Ferrari’s two triumphant drivers, and Hakkinen trudges in order to bring home a miserable point. As if that was not enough, McLaren receives a dangerous call from Stoccarda, where Mercedes is based. The German engine manufacturer does not like being humiliated by Ferrari. Even less so, is to be behind, on Saturday and partly during the race, the rival competitor BMW. They were not used to such defeats in Germany. Even Hakkinen was not used to it. They had been told that his newborn son would have slowed him down. The car did it for him. His outburst is disarming:


"I could have done more. We had a dry set-up. Under water the car was terrible, undrivable. Sure, there was some bad luck involved as well, but there was something wrong in my McLaren. In the end, on drying track, I was the fastest. However, it was too late, I could not overtake anyone. How do I feel? I race to win o at least try to score some points. One is not enough for me".


Ron Dennis tries to at least justify the choice of the wet tires, instead of the intermediates:


"With that amount of water, not using the wets was too risky and dangerous for the drivers".


Coulthard emphasizes the same point:


"The track was flooded; wet tires were need. Of course, had I anticipated that the Safety car would have stayed on track for all those laps, I would have also opted for a different choice".


Down at the Ferrari camp, apart from Barrichello’s discontent, one can perceive a pleasant enthusiastic atmosphere. Schumacher does not have the courage to publicly confirm a phrase said to Ross Brawn on the radio, a couple of laps before the end. There are those who vouch of having heard this:


"Ross, it was a boring race, you could have taken a coffee".


Never exaggerate in pride. At the end of the day, what would be the harm in saying something like that, given the sidereal gaps, the umpteenth beating inflicted on everyone by Schumacher, who seems increasingly invincible. The German though prefers to keep calm, even if he obtained his sixth consecutive win. He does not fail a beat since the 10th of September. He is only three away from Ascari’s incredible record of nine consecutive victories.


"I won with merit by dominating the race. There were some particular track conditions. McLaren will react, we cannot make the mistake of feeling powerful, woe betide to relax, to sleep, to cast off. The key was the tire choice and I decided it. Putting on the inters was courageous but it was the winning strategy. The margin between those compounds and the wet tires was big. In fact, the only overtake in which I struggled was the one on Verstappen. He had the intermediates like me and was running quick on track. It was hard overtaking him. With him out of the way, there was no competition".


It was raining heavily, why did you avoid the rain tires?


"I am not crazy. At certain points, the track was dry and the rain tires were degrading so much faster. With the interns, I struggled for a couple of laps but then everything went smoothly".


What about that off-track moment at the beginning?


"I was afraid. I thought to myself: it’s over. I saw myself against the barriers, they were very close. It worked out well for me, I managed to bring the car back on track without damages. It was starting to rain. I tried to be careful, but there was some oil at turn 6. And I slipped away".


Then there was the pitstop, where you remained stationary for more than a minute behind Barrichello. You were flailing:


"I thought his engine died, so I invited the mechanics to take him forward. If mine had died as well, I would not have had the space to restart. I did not know he was having tire problems. I did not realize that he was missing the front right wheel. It was a big mess, but it was nobody's fault. There was lots of confusion in the pits. everyone was coming back in. The guys were waiting for me but did not realize that it was Barrichello".


In the meantime, the Safety car was out on track:


"Another stroke of luck. We lost so much time on the pits, it would have been very difficult to recover. The Safety car helped us get back to within ten seconds from Coulthard. I was 11th, it was not easy to get back on top. But we had to try".


A feat completed in a few laps, with a series of impressive overtakes. For an increasingly record-breaking Schumacher. How does it feel to be so close to Ascari?


"I never think about the records. I only try to win as much as possible and this win was fantastic.  We went from possibly scoring no points to a 1-2. The records are not my goal. The world titles are. I need to win in order to reward my job and my team’s hard work".


In the end, were you bored?


"It is never possible, when you are pushing to the limit. For me, this was an exciting race, full of surprises. Starting with the race start, when I had to take the spare car. There was an oil leak near the gearbox. It could have been an inanity or something serious, but there was no time to check it and we could not take certain risks. It was better to jump on the spare car".


Coulthard claims that the Safety car remained on track for too long:


"I actually thought the Safety Car was coming in a couple of laps early. But one thing is what you see from the car, another is what the marshals see. It is not easy to judge about others’ security. Also, we were all lined up. Two laps more or less do not mean anything".


With the knowledge of being superiors to the competitors, Ferrari can approach with certain enthusiasm the Brazilian Grand Prix. There will be no lack of motivation either for the Maranello team or his rivals. Schumacher aims at Ascari’s record as well as immediately attempt a breakaway in the championship standings. Barrichello wants to redeem himself. What better place to do it other than in front of his own fans. McLaren is already at a crossroad point since another resounding defeat would already jeopardize Hakkinen e Coulthard’s title hopes. Watch out for Williams-BMW, who is on strong form with Ralf Schumacher and Juan-Pablo Montoya.


Davide Scotto di Vetta


Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno

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