Michael Schumacher is very motivated following the victory in Malaysia, which confirmed Ferrari’s supremacy compared to its rivals. Jean Todt though disguises himself as a fireman and pours water on the enthusiastic fire. According to the Ferrari Gestione Sportiva responsible, it is a necessary yet difficult operation:
"We cannot think that the championship is over. We need to continue working because the season is long. The winner will be the one who will develop the car better. These results are not the fruit of a dream but of the work of all these years. Actually, for us, this the first time, since I have been with Ferrari, that the season starts with our rivals having to catch up. However, it does not mean that we already won. The championship is long and remains open".
Todt does not trust McLaren:
"They now seem at a disadvantage but I am sure that they will still be the rivals to be reckoned with".
He then relaunched his favourite phrase:
"Hard work and commitment. This is always our path. We know that we have a good car at our disposal but we also know that, in order to win, we still need to improve it. All the other teams are also working towards this direction. Let’s say that, this year, our advantage is to have a good base to work on, perhaps the best that we ever had".
Meanwhile, a collective testing session is starting at Barcelona from the 20th of March 2001. In the second day, Badoer takes the fastest time. Todt continues to defend the team from the irregularity accusations:
"The car was weighed and examined, like the others, after the races. It was found to be regular. No more accusations, rumours and suspicions".
During the third day of testing, Schumacher takes Badoer’s place but the result does not change. Ferrari is still on top of the timing sheets. The German also tries to tone down the polemics, which were unleashed after the overtaking pass on Barrichello at Sepang:
"Rubens is Brazilian and thus has, what I would call, a Southern temper: really fiery. However, if you talk to him about it, he will say different things to the ones said at the end of the Sepang race. I do not think that he is still mad at me for that overtake".
Barrichello, for his part, still has some criticism to say. They are not towards his teammate, but for the organization of the imminent Brazilian Grand Prix, the third championship round which is scheduled for the 1st of April 2001 at San Paolo:
"Ninety percent of the drivers come here only to drive. The image of this circuit is terrible: bad asphalt, failing billboards and now a company which stops the works, one week before the race".
Anyway, in the interview given to the Brazilian daily newspaper O Globo, the Ferrari driver warns his teammate that he is not willing to be his sidekick anymore. His goal is to try win this year’ championship.
"I do not want to forever be the second driver. Every day I wake up thinking that I am a winner. Having a driver who is a three-time world champion as a teammate is an enormous challenge. This is why I need to improve. Today, my biggest challenge is to beat Schumacher".
The opportunity could be given to him at the next race in Brazil. Barrichello realizes that just about everyone who is working at the Maranello factory has Schumacher as their priority. This is a fact that he accepts without any problem:
"This is something that I accept quite naturally: he did six years with Ferrari; I am only on my second year with the team. My position is like that of a child in his first school year. In the next one he is already acclimatized; he knows his teammates by name and thus can be able to profit from his own situation".
He then outlines:
"There is always the possibility to become champions. If I do a good job, I could also win the title as well, even I have someone like Schumacher in the team. In life, nothing is impossible. Though I have to say that the German is a champion. I always have something to learn from him".
Reaching Brazil, the media continue to ride the wave. In the press conference, Schumacher is immediately asked on the alleged heated rival with Barrichello:
"When I arrived at Jordan and then at Benetton, I was the second driver at the beginning. Then I pushed like crazy to become the number one driver. At Benetton, I faced someone like Piquet as a teammate and managed to beat him. Barrichello needs to do the same thing: try to be faster than me. No more alibi: what would the point of giving Rubens a different car than mine? I won in Malesia with the spare car. Ferrari does not build two equal cars but three".
Words which are worth gold in the press conference at Barrichello’s country. Michael, would you let Rubens win here? pleads the Brazilian press. Schumacher responds:
"No, do not even think about it. We are all here to win and nothing more. It is too early, maybe towards the end of the season, I could let him win. In the meantime, he is got to beat me".
Then he benevolently says:
"I have nothing against him and I am sure that he does not hold a grudge at me. This case started from an emotional moment. Rubens is fiery, emotional, passionate. In Malaysia, had we spoke to each other about it for even for a minute, all of this would have never happened. From today, we will talk to each other and resolve everything".
In his home country, Barrichello is hailed by everyone. Although, in Interlagos he never managed to achieve significant results. Only a 4th place in 1994 when he was at Jordan. Otherwise, only retirements in his other seven participations. It seems like a true malediction, but Rubens does not believe in witchcraft spells:
"In Formula 1, bad luck does not exist, the negative energies are just nonsense. If you work well and have a good car at your disposal, the results will arrive for sure".
Only the Brazilian press, with which he now seems to have entered irreparable conflict, makes him lose his temper:
"Take a look at today’s newspapers. I said to everyone the same things. Some newspapers report the bad things while others only the good ones. This is not information; those are completely different versions. Then there is always polemics, venoms, gossip. This is Formula 1. It is about speed, overtaking, technique. The constant search for polemics is not a good publicity for our sport and keeps people away from racing".
While waiting for the two teammates to fight on track, there is no shortage of the usual Brazilian gems of the highly efficient São Paulo. A few hours before the start of the week-end, the bulldozers were still working on the circuit. It then started to rain and they had to stop. A violent storm caused a wall near the pits to fall. It even rained inside the circuit buildings. The next morning, the bulldozers start working again. In the meantime, in the Morumbi cemetery, no one is bringing flowers to Ayrton Senna’ grave anymore. There are only children’s letters who have never met him, but they love as if he were a God.
Meanwhile, in São Paulo it is an agitated eve due to the thieves, who went into action on Thursday night at the Interlagos pits. From the Minardi garage, seven rims are missing. The Faenza team states that an official complaint will be presented to the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile to complain about the lack of security at the Brazilian track. In fact, the day before, the thieves visited the Jaguar garage as well.
Friday 30th March 2001. During the first two free practice session of the Brazilian Grand Prix, David Coulthard is the one to set the best time of the day, ahead of Jarno Trulli, Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Mika Hakkinen. The other Ferrari driver, Barrichello, is only 7th fastest, due to a spin at turn 1 during his 23rd lap. Losing control of the backend of his Ferrari, he had to stop on the escape route. Thus, he could not continue on the set-up work of the car. The reason behind the spin was an engine failure due to a loss of oil pressure. The technical regulations say that it is not possible to substitute the car during free practice. Therefore Barrichello, before coming back to the pits, is watch the rest of the session from the side-line, sitting on a wall at the edge of the track. The Ferrari driver declares:
"I am waiting to see the telemetry data to understand what happened. However, there was a noticeable drop of the oil pressure. The engine froze and sent me into a spin. I was not able to keep the engine running and it did not start again".
However, he is not worried about it:
"I am convinced of being able to have a great result. I remain hopeful. I have never been in such great shape, thus is the most beautiful moment of my career. I have a great chance to win here and will do everything to make it happen".
It is something else that makes him restless. The Barrichello-mania, with fans fawning over him, with banners calling for him to be fast, is putting an enormous pressure on his shoulders. He is afraid of postponing that suffocating embrace which he dreams about since he was a child.
"I know the conditions of my country, what it means to be poor. I understand which kind of efforts the fans make in order to buy the tickets. On Sunday, 100.000 fans will be here. I need to win for them. In 1995, after Senna’s death, I used a helmet with the colours of the Brazilian flag here at Interlagos. I wanted to put it back now, as a tribute to my country. At the end of the race, I always give it to someone who works at the circuit. I will do it this year as well. But I would like to please everyone but I do not know if that will be enough. This helmet with these colours is a gift to all fans".
In the first two races, the free-practice sessions were always a Ferrari monologue. This time though, Schumacher is over a second behind Coulthard. Barrichello is almost two seconds behind the McLaren. Looking closely at Friday’s leader board, one thing is immediately clear. Of each team, there is one driver who is very fast and well ahead in the standings while the other is much slower and very far behind. The reason lies in the differentiated programs. Specifically, one is doing the race simulation program while the other is focused on quali work. Not surprisingly, Schumacher is not worried:
"The only reason lies in the fuel: ten kilos are four tenths and this explains everything. Thus, I am not worried. My only problem is to understand the tires well ahead of the race. This is something we do on Fridays without being too worried about the clock. The track is still too dirty and bumpy and this explains the many spins. Everything is fine. McLaren does not surprise me. I had already said that they would have made progress and I now believe that they will much closer in this race".
In qualifying though, the McLarens are not battling it out for the front row with the Ferraris. The battle for pole position was surprisingly joined by the Williams-BMW. Ralf Schumacher tried to take pole but had to surrender to his brother’s speed. Michael takes the third pole position of the season, with a 1'23"780 lap time, beating Ralf by three tenths. Behind them, Hakkinen, Montoya, Coulthard and finally Barrichello, only 6th fastest. The team from Grove slots in between the two main protagonists while hindering the McLarens mainly. The latter’s desire for revenge is yet again postponed, at least looking at qualifying.
Schumacher is always ahead. The world championship laps quicker than everyone else from mid-session and is practically not undermined by anyone. Another demonstration of the progress made by the Williams team is Montoya’s performance. The Colombian, 15 minutes after the beginning of qualifying, spun at the Mergulho corner. The risk was to flip the single-seater however was able to stop it onto the escape route without any damage. Montoya had to then reach the pits to use the spare car. He run through meadows without finding a single marshal, who was able to bring him back to the Williams garage with a motorized vehicle. It was a matter of running about two kilometres but the Colombian was able to do it, with the overalls and helmets, in nine minutes. He then restarted and set a time which was good enough for the second row of the grid.
With a seventh consecutive pole position, Michael Schumacher is one step away from Senna’s record of eight. Meanwhile Ralf fears, for a couple of hours, for a disqualification from the stewards. The regularity of the fuel, on board of the Williams, supplied by Petrobas, is being questioned. The analysis of the sample taken during qualifying does not correspond with the ones presented on the eve of the weekend. After a consultation between the FIA technical delegate, the fuel analyst and Williams, the stewards accept to do a new test on another fuel sample. This time the result of the analysis is satisfying. Thus, Ralf will retain his 2nd place on the grid. Barrichello, mentally confused by the controversy of the last two weeks which he provoked, loses concentration. The dig of the Brazilian journalists is merciless:
"When the team were two, he finished 4th. Now that they are fighting in three, Rubinho is 6th".
No mercy for Rubens, shipwrecked in front of his people:
"I am disappointed, it is my fault. In the morning, I run with old tires. It was a choice that did not work. With the new one, the car was running better, but was not balanced. Through free-practice, I had understeer problems. Thus, I could not run to the maximum”.
The previous fight of the Schumacher brothers on the front row is not encouraging. About ten years ago, in a karting race at Kerpen where their dad was the organizer, Ralf and Michael started both on the front row. Ralf started well and Michael followed him closely. In the first corner, they touched. Ralf is the one to talk about this memory:
"I was in front, the brake pedal of Michael’s kart inserted itself into the exhaust pipe. When I was able to get rid of it, I spun and went off track. In the end Michael won after the race though, he said sorry. He said that he did not do it on purpose and the brake pedal was too small".
Ralf Schumacher is smiling for achieving, for the first time in his Formula 1 career, a front row start. A historic image for the family. Michael, the oldest, is the one who feels the most this moment. He is emotional:
"A day that we will never forget. It is something to tell our grandchildren. Ralf and I ahead and the others behind. Now it is time to think about the race. However, when we will get old, who knows how many times we will talk about it".
Michael thinks about his parents: dad Rolf, who set up the brothers’ karts, and mom Elizabeth:
"I can imagine what they are feeling, they will be so happy. This joy will last until tomorrow, at the first corner. Then, I am convinced, fear will kick in. They will not cheer for anyone, they will only pray that all goes well, that nothing happens and that there will be no incidents".
The two brothers guarantee that they will not be conditioned by the family battle. Ralf admits:
"To be next to Michael or someone else, it makes no difference. I will do everything to start in front. If I realize that, in the first corner, I have not got any chance to overtake then I will not ruin everything and will lift up from the accelerator pedal. Of course, this is only to preserve my race and not to favour my brother".
The Ferrari driver adds:
"Blood is worth more than friendship. This is why I say that it is a special moment in my career, having experienced so many fantastic ones. During the races, you cannot have any qualms. I will have to keep Ralf at bay, as well as Hakkinen and all other rivals".
On the other, the history between them is full of close fights on track. In 1997 at Nürburgring, Ralf caused an incident at the start in which his brother was also involved. Back then, Michael was not understanding and, behind the motorhome’s closed doors, gave a good lecture to his exuberant brother. Then Ralf grew and the 2000’s duels, at Silverstone, Barcelona and Zeltweg, caused only sparks and no damaged. The other side of the coin for Ferrari is represented by Barrichello’s disappointing qualifying result. Michael talks about it:
"I understand his discouragement to start 6th in his home race. He hoped for a better result, he will be angry at himself. I am sorry about it but Ralf is my brother. On a day like it, I cannot be sad".
For Mika Hakkinen, 3rd is not an entirely satisfactory result, but the Finnish driver sees a glass half full since:
"The car has improved a lot. My season can now start".
Beating Schumacher is even more difficult:
"Now there are even two of them. My sister Nina raced in karts in Finland. I will phone her; she must come and give me a hand".
After a positive Friday, Jarno Trulli manages to grab a remarkable 7th place, just behind the top-6, right in front of his teammate Frentzen. A result that came despite various Honda engine issues: the ones who were installed in the morning on both Jordans and BARs, are immediately dismounted after qualifying. It is a disaster for Benetton. This circuit blatantly displays all the car’s shortcomings. Fisichella is 18th while Button is 21st. The driver from Rome is able to retains his position thanks to the traffic that the young rookie Fernando Alonso encountered during his best lap. Without it, the Spanish driver would have probably been able to start ahead of him.
Sunday 1st April 2001. The weather forecast indicates high chances of rain halfway through the race. It is an eventuality which would be well received by Barrichello, who is hoping to turn around his disastrous weekend. Driving on a wet track surface could maybe put the Ferrari driver at ease. Rubens through, already has a heart-breaking moment. The Interlagos jinx returns on the installation lap after encountering some issues on his Ferrari. This is the reason why he should quickly come back to the garage. Under the watchful eye of Ross Brawn, the spare car is quickly prepared and he is able to make the grid just in time.
At the start, Hakkinen stalls at the starting grid for a clutch failure and tests the reactions of the drivers behind him. Luckily, they are able to avoid the Finn. Michael Schumacher gets away well. Unlike his brother, Ralph makes a poor getaway and gets overtaken by Montoya and Coulthard. The race is immediately interrupted. In order to remove Hakkinen’s stricken McLaren, the Safety Car makes its third appearance in three races and freezes the point paying positions. At the end of the first lap, Michael Schumacher leads ahead of Montoya, Coulthard, Trulli, Ralf Schumacher and Frentzen, with Barrichello only 7th.
A lap later, the safety car pulls to the pits. When the race restart, Montoya has no scruples and aggressively attacks Schumacher’s lead. Using the American experience of rolling start, the Colombian breaks deep and brushes the German aside and into the outside line. At this point, Schumacher has to lift in order to not finish on the grass and has to yield the leadership to the rookie. Barrichello overtakes Frentzen. At the Descida do Lago corner, he tries to do the same on Ralf Schumacher who, in the meantime, is looking for a way through Trulli. Rubens breaks in a somewhat careless manner. Hitting the rear wing of the Williams, he destroys the front right-hand side of his Ferrari. Barrichello ends another home grand prix into the gravel trap.
Yet another retirement in front of his fans. In the meantime, Ralf Schumacher comes back to the pits in order to replace the broken rear wing but his race is compromised. He comes back on track three laps down to the leader. After taking the lead of the race, Montoya is able to soak up the pressure exerted by Schumacher. The Williams, powered by a great BMW engine, is even able to create a comfortable gap to the world champion at one point. Three key players such as Hakkinen, Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher are out of the race so far. In the midfield, Olivier Panis is the driver to watch after overtaking Frentzen and Trulli respectively. He is up to 4th place.
On lap 25, Schumacher makes his first of two scheduled stops, which lasts 9.6 seconds. At this point of the race, Montoya tries to lower his lap times in order to avoid an undercut from the Ferrari driver. By doing so, he almost spins out but manages to keep the car under control with a lot of oversteer. There is no way out for him though on lap 39. Coming up to lap the back markers, in a similar dynamic to the Barrichello and Ralf’s incident, he gets hit by Jos Verstappen from behind. A surreal incident since the two were not even fighting against each other. This forces Montoya to retire out of the race. This is the third DNF in as many races. This changes the course of the race. With this plot twist, David Coulthard finds himself in the lead of the Brazilian grand prix. McLaren springs into action. The new leader will soon make his schedules pit stop. On lap 40, Coulthard is about to put his race into the hands of his pit crew: he re-joins in the lead of the race with a few seconds’ lead over Schumacher.
At this point the rain clouds, which until now did not affect the race, turn the race upside down. A heavy downpour hits the track. The drivers are scrambling to come back to the pits to fir the rain tires. BAR and Jordan, with Villeneuve/Panis and Frentzen/Trulli, are double-stacking at the same time. Michael Schumacher pits as for the intermediates. McLaren instead decide to leave Coulthard on track for one lap too many. In fact, after the pitstop for the intermediate tires, the Scotsman hands the lead to Michael Schumacher. Both choose not the inters and not the extreme wets. Regardless of the chosen compound, the Ferrari driver does not seem to have a strong race pace. His setup is not getting the best of the intermediates. After a half spin at the exit of the Descida do Lago corner, Coulthard rapidly closes the gap to the leader. The latter now has a fighting chance.
The duo is now almost together. At this point Coulthard does not waste any time and lines up the Ferrari world champion. The Scots has the inside line going into turn 1. Between the two lies the Minardi of the disoriented Tarso Marques. Coulthard cleverly uses the Minardi to take the lead once again. This brings to mind Hakkinen’s overtaking manoeuvre against Schumacher, in the 2000 Belgium race, with Ricardo Zonta in the role of the lapped driver being passed on both sides. Schumacher is perhaps a little impatient, after being overtaken twice in the course of one hour, a not impeccable race pace and some driving mistakes. He then makes an excursion into the gravel. Fortunately for him, he is able to get out of it without silting up and conserving 2nd. Behind the Ferrari, Frentzen is unfortunately forced to retire on lap 63 out of 71 for electronic issues on his Jordan.
Nick Heidfield takes advantage of it and brings the Sauber into 3rd place, ahead of Panis. The latter, in the final stages, gets the better of Trulli for 4th. Jarno manages 5th place while Jean Alesi and Giancarlo Fisichella are battling for 6th. The Italian is able to beat the Prost French veteran. The rain stops, the track is slowly starting to dry up but nothing else happens. David Coulthard can thus celebrate his tenth career victory, the first of this season. This interrupts Michael Schumacher’s six consecutive victory streak. The world champion finishes 2nd on the line ahead of Nick Heidfield, who celebrates the first ever podium in F1. Giancarlo Fisichella goes back to collecting points, which crowns a comeback from 18th. An amazing performance for the Italian, at the wheel of a modest Benetton.
On parc ferme, the first to congratulate an enthusiastic David Coulthard is Mika Hakkinen, his teammate. On the podium, Schumacher’s champagne finishes entirely on David’s suit. Before leaving, he indulges in a clumsy dance to the samba rhythm. Maybe after this race, he will be nicknamed the rain master. According to him, in fact, this success was due to the rightful choice of fitting the di intermediates tires and the modification of the car set-up. A technical choice helped by a prayer that the rain would come:
"I was betting everything on the rain and prepared the car for this eventuality. Every lap I asked the pit wall: when does the rain downpour arrive? When it started to rain, I knew that I could have won. Then the rain increased but I did not want to come to the pits immediately because I knew that the pit lane was full. I boxed the next lap and my engineers changed the set-up and fitted the inters. When I exited the pits, Schumacher overtook me. With the wet set-up though, I was faster and overtook him. I prayed that it would continue raining".
"We were lucky that Montoya retired. He was going really, really fast".
It was not just luck. One episode confirms this. It was the spectacular overtake at the expense of Schumacher. Here is how he tells about it:
"It was an overtake in really difficult conditions. We had a lapped driver in front. At that point, I could do nothing but hope that Marques would behave well and give way to us. Then I made a lunge from the inside line. Michael was on the outside but I was able to finish the overtake".
The Ferrari driver has 26 points while the Scotsman is second with 20. Someone now is beginning to think that Coulthard, who has become the driver to fight Schumacher’s dominance in the standings, could be promoted to first driver:
"You have to wait until the end of the season to earn consideration as a champion. Let me enjoy this moment of great happiness".
Schumacher? Until now, everyone thought that the rain master was him. This time though, the German admits defeat:
"I am the responsible of the car set-up, I am the one to decide. I did not mind the rain. We opted for a two-stop strategy instead of one like Coulthard. We though that by doing two pit-stops, we could have rebalanced the situation. Unfortunately, this time the car did not go as well in the wet as I would have liked. There was something off. I went off track two times. It is not like me to struggle in these conditions”.
The Ferrari driver is nervous, so much so that he responds angrily to those who ask him for an explanation of the overtaking suffered by Montoya:
"There is nothing strange about it. Here at Interlagos, the straight is very long and the Williams has a great straight-line speed. The safety car took a long time to leave the track and return to the pits. I then had to wait before pushing at the restart. I braked too late and so did Montoya. Being much faster than me, he could keep me on the outside line. We even touched but there is no problem between us. It was a fair fight. My car did not have any damage from the collision. I then tried to fight back but did not have a real chance for a re-overtake. He did not make any mistakes and remained firmly on top".
Montoya impressed him. To the point that the German admits for the first time:
"Now Williams-BMW is also fighting for the championship. My brother and Montoya demonstrated it, respectively in quali and race. We cannot underestimate them. Even without Montoya’s overtake, my race would not have changed. Coulthard today was quicker, it can happen".
It is strange that a driver like Schumacher is overtaken twice in one race:
"David was behind me, when we had to lap Marques. He was on the left, I lunged to the right but the Minardi did the same thing as well, causing me to brake earlier than expected. Thus, Coulthard was able to overtake him on the inside and to immediately run away in the lead. And even if he had not overtaken me at that stage, he would have done it later on".
In short, a bad day. Schumacher tries to not dramatize the situation:
"It is clear that I am disappointed, I would have rather preferred to be on the top step of the podium. However, you cannot always win but sometimes you have to be content with a 2nd place. In the end, I suffered with oversteer. I am still on top of the championship. It is fine like this".
Coulthard is the candidate to become the new direct rival for the current season. Meanwhile Mika Hakkinen, who has been Schumacher’s main rival in the last three years, finds himself with only point and two retirements to his credit. The first in Australia, with a big impact towards the barriers and the second one in Brazil. He says:
"Those were hallucinating moments. I was scared. I was flailing, hoping that all drivers would see me. I stalled in the grid. If someone had collected me, it would have been dramatic".
The terror is over. The bitterness for not taking any point in Brazil still remains for Hakkinen...
"In a Grand Prix where I was convinced of winning. The car, in this weekend, improved so much. I had so much hope for a good result. I do not know what happened, whether it was my mistake or a technical inconvenience. The fact is that the engine died suddenly. It seems strange that it was me who made the mistake, given the practice starts that we made in the couple of months. The only certain thing is that I heard the clutch rip, a dry noise".
Williams leaves Brazil empty-handed and with much to complain about; however, the team can also draw positive aspect from the Grand Prix. Ralf Schumacher and Montoya did not take any point for no fault of their own. They were blameless protagonists of identical incidents. The fact is that the English team is back in the spotlight after three difficult years, thanks to the support of two motivated drivers, a powerful engine, spot-on aerodynamics and performing tires.
Michelin had in part been hidden the real potential of Frank Williams’ team during the opening round in Australia. At Melbourne, the tires of the French company, which returned to Formula 1 after a 17-year absence, had paid a certain delay to Bridgestone. But from the following race, in Malesia, Ralf Schumacher missed the historic feat of a front row with his brother Michael by a whisker. He did it here at San Paolo though. In Brazil, the two Williams-BMW, in practice, quali and race, demonstrated to have become the most dangerous rival for Ferrari. Perhaps with a greater technical potential to the Maranello team’s one, looking at the fast Interlagos circuit. The only problem is that the two drivers seems to be an incident magnet. Three spectacular dangerous collisions in three races: two for Ralf Schumacher, one for Montoya. Is it only by chance that Frank Williams’s white-blue cars turned out to be involved?
At first glance, it would seem so but there is no shortage of justifications. First of all, the eagerness with which Barrichello addressed the first three races and being involved in collisions in the opening laps (at Melbourne with Frentzen, at Sepang and Interlagos with Ralf Schumacher). The Ferrari driver declared multiple time before the start of the season of feeling happy, of wanting to live day by day and that he was not going to tear his clothes off to stay ahead of Schumacher. So far, he behaved in a diametrically opposite way, demonstrating an excessive aggression.
However, he is not the only one who made mistakes for which Williams paid for. Villeneuve, for his part, in Australia could have made a calculation error, exciting too late from the Williams’ slipstream while Verstappen’s fame is well known è ben nota, so much so that the Dutchman is nicknamed Versbatten as well. However, this Williams coincidence has not escaped even the ones who run the English team. During the after-race debrief, the bosses evaluate this argument:
"We probably have a magnet on our exhausts".
Is the ironic conclusion of Patrick Head, after discarding any technical hypothesis. Even Ralf Schumacher is also asked to talk about this argument during a meeting with the fans, organized by a sponsor:
"I braked at the same time as the lap before when I was hit by Barrichello. I can assure that the Michelin tires or the engine have nothing to do with it. I am also inclined towards casualty".
After three races, his first ones in Formula 1, Juan Pablo Montoya is still stuck at zero points. In Colombia though, it is already time for the Montoya-mania. The newspapers celebrate the overtake on Schumacher and the 36 laps in which the 25-year-old was in the lead of the race. All national newspapers emphasize the Williams’ driver feat in his third Formula 1 Grand Prix.
"The Montoya threat".
Is the Bogotà newspaper headline, near a photo of the overtake on the Ferrari driver. The sport newspaper Record is much more emphatic, which writes:
"Montoya shakes Formula 1".
The article adds that despite not being able to finish the race, Juan Pablo Montoya is unequivocally the moral winner of the race. The daily newspaper Il Tempo, using a photo of the duel with the world champion, titles the Formula 1 article in a sarcastic manner:
"Without your permission, Michael".
Juancho, as nicknamed in his hometown, is known for having an insufferable character:
"Only my father, to whom I owe everything since he put me on karts at the age of five, was able to dominate me. He knows me. When he yells, I remain silent. They say that I have the face of a tough guy. When I race, I am fair. It is just that if I have to overtake someone, I have no qualms about it. I attack them. If my rival does not get out of the way I will make my own way".
In Colombia for a couple of years now, Montoya is considered the new Senna. The country where he was born adores and loves him to death, like it happened in Brazil with the legendary Ayrton. When he wins, the fans fill in jubilation the Bogotà streets with flour while parading in the city center. This paralyzes the traffic.
"My country is wonderful but impossible to live: first the Colombian and then the tourists destroyed it in a shameful manner".
The people, when they see him, cry of joy. The children get emotional and do everything to have a signed autograph, cap, gloves. They want a piece of the Montoya who won in the United States and is now aiming to conquer Formula 1. In Brazil, he had 2.000 fans who logically exploded during the overtake on Schumacher. A dream was materializing, a Colombian first victory in Formula 1. A world which in over 50 years, only had another Bogotà kid. The anonymous Guerrero, 29 appearances in Formula 1 without a point between 1981 and 1982. The spell was interrupted but Juan Pablo, proud of being presumptuous, promises that it will be repeated again:
"I have a huge hunger for victories, a necessary condition to break through in F1. Around me, I see many satisfied, who race without any objectives. I do not think like that. I think no one is unbeatable, not even Schumacher. I tried to never forget about it. I have a great car, a great chassis and an exceptionally good BMW engine. I have everything to stay ahead of everyone and it will happen soon".
Coming back to the garage after the forced retirement, he expressed himself in these terms:
"I had the race in my hand and would have surely won. I was living one of the best moments of my career. All of a sudden it transformed into one of my worst ones. I am frustrated for the lost opportunity. On the other hand, I am also happy for the great performance of my car: fantastic, with an awesome engine, which will surely help me win lots of races. I am not angry with Verstappen. It was a racing incident, can happen. I was living a dream and will try to do it again on another track. I can also fight for the victory now. Everyone will have to deal with me from now on".
It is strange that Montoya fully absolves Verstappen, to the point of thinking that the collision was also his fault as well. The Colombian responds:
"I braked in the same point. He braked much later and probably exaggerated".
Those are not poisonous phrases again the Dutch driver. As there are no excuses from the latter:
"They told me that Montoya was going very fast. I do not think that I am at fault. When I let him by, I wanted to use the slipstream. He braked very early and that was it. I could not avoid him anymore. I am sorry for ruining his race because I heard that he was leading the race".
Another young man in the limelight who, unlike Montoya is reaping its first fruits after a frustrating first season with Prost, is Nick Heidfield. He is delighted with the first podium of his career at the wheel of a surprising Sauber, after a precious 4th place in Australia. The German wants to, first of all, thank the team:
"I am happy for them. We worked together to achieve this podium. Obtaining this result is not easy. On Sunday, the car was not quick having a dry set-up and the wet tires. First time on the podium? An incredible feeling, the fulfilment of a dream I almost did not dare to have".
There is a touching aspect related to this great performance: Nick dedicates his 3rd place to his uncle, who passed away a week to the race. Heidfield is now already projected towards the San Marino Grand Prix. Once he leaves Brazil, he will go the Magny-Cours track for the teams’ tests. The Imola track has always brought good resulted to the Ferrari powered Sauber:
"Everyone's mind is already there. Part of the team is in France where there are some tests scheduled in view of the next grand prix. The performance of our car is already good. On Sunday, before the rain period, I was even surprised at how fast the car was in race conditions. I say this because, compared to other teams, we do not try many race simulations. However, despite the few tests, we had some new aerodynamic details, fresh out of the wind tunnel, which worked really well on our car. There is also another aspect that should not be overlooked. The Interlagos circuit is a completely different track than the previous two. This also contributed to Sauber’s strong form. This season truly promises to be fantastic. Being able to be in the points is exciting and helps me to give my best on track".
Even the team owner, Peter Sauber, who celebrates this result with a sober dinner at the hotel, looks ahead:
"This result confirms the premises that our team had planned at the start of the season. We still have surprises in store, due to the fact that we can always count on the excellent performance of the Ferrari engine 049. In the Brazilian Grand Prix, the two drivers drove aggressively. Both Nick and Raikkonen remained on the points paying positions for the entirety of the race without granting anything to the rivals. Shame for that mistake which took Kimi out of the race".
In Ferrari, together with Schumacher’s less-than-stellar performance, there is also to add a weekend to forget for Rubens Barrichello. Once again, he did not manage to give himself and the Brazilian fans a good result at his home race. The Interlagos jinx continues for him. This time the dream was interrupted on lap 3. Rubens crashed and the fans despair. Barrichello cried while slumped over the pit wall. He is distraught. No other words are needed. He then calms himself downs and starts his rant against Ralf Schumacher:
"It is all his fault. He moved to the left while trying to pass Trulli. As he was not able to overtake, he immediately swerved to the right again. He was going very fast when all of a sudden, he braked. Until he realises that there may be someone behind him, things like this will always happen. It already happened in Malaysia. Ralf had put Frentzen at risk there. He did the same even on Friday. I went to find in the Williams garage but I could not talk to him. He was already back on track. He destroyed my race; it is his fault. Hope he realizes how much disappointment he has caused me".
A cursed race. Right from the start when, during the formation lap, the engine on Barrichello’s car dies due to fuel pressure reset. Rubens parks it in the grass and leaves the car there. He then starts to sprint towards the Ferrari garage to take the spare car:
"I was thinking of a sign from God. The engine could have given way on the first racing lap and instead, it shut down before the race start. I was still in the race; I could have still won it. It was a stroke of luck".
Those were blatantly wrong predictions. In fact, the spare car was not prepared for him but for Schumacher. The pedals needed to be changed, because Barrichello breaks with the left foot and also want to have the accelerator there as well. He has a completely different driving style to his teammate. The race against the clock was frantic:
"The mechanics did a miracle, an amazing job. I have never seen a car revolutionised in such a short time. They did everything to allow me to participate in the race but then Ralf Schumacher screwed everything up".
Still, something did not work right:
"The clutch was slightly different. This is why I made such a bad start and dropped down to 7th. But nothing was lost at that point".
The true ending was when car pieces flew in the air. Barrichello has a pale face when remembering that moment:
"I wonder why something always happens to me: what have I done to deserve all this bad luck? When I raced to come back to the pits, I had hearts beats up to 200. Bu then, when I fitted into the spare car, I was again calm and relaxed. The heart beats dropped to 70, 80. I thought I had dodged a bullet, but everything happened to me".
Barrichello refuses to talk about tensions. He is even able to crack a bad joke:
"In Brazil it will always be like this, the people are pushing for my victory. Since Senna left us, no other Brazilian had won at Interlagos. I need to live with this amount of pressure because it will never end. What can I do to stop this curse, why do I always have to be so unlucky? Why does everything always happen to me?"
Neither Emerson Fittipaldi nor Nelson Piquet believe in bad luck. They criticize the Brazilian Ferrari driver:
"Barrichello made a mistake".
Sustains Fittipaldi, while Piquet is more caustic:
"Rubens needs a psychiatrist: he is driving like a maniac. He now has to keep his held high and not give up".
Anyway, Jean Todt bring Ferrari’s beyond this disappointment. According to Ferrari general director, Schumacher’s podium in Brazil is precious. It is not about psychological tactics:
"The six points are still very important for both championships because we know how long and difficult the season will be".
Those are golden points since the fight at the top does not seems to be a question between Ferrari and McLaren. The rivals are now much present and dangerous. First of all, the Williams come back to high levels of performance:
"We need to take into account that the fight at the top is not a two-horse fight anymore but is open to a third contender. Three different engines and two tire manufactures are now in contention".
Another reason to not stop at easy illusions after the Australian and Malaysia races. At Maranello, Ferrari will have to work hard right from the start in order to arrive at Imola with the right credentials to play a protagonist role in the race. For the arrival in Europe, Ferrari will bring upgrades to the F2001, as Todt anticipates:
"There will be no big changes, because the base of the car is good. There will be some fine-tuning upgrades in order to make the most of our chassis and engine. Then we will be fine".
These new upgrades will be tested at Fiorano immediately. The programme is intense: two days with Luca Badoer and then three with Schumacher. While waiting for the upgrades, it is yet to be understood what went wrong at Interlagos for the F2001. The dry set-up, which gave a good result under the Malaysia thunderstorm combined with the intermediates tires, put Schumacher in crisis despite being the rain master. The German had to do miracles in order to keep the car on track and it was a surprise for everyone, including Todt:
"When the rain arrived, we thought the situation would be favourable to us. Instead Michael’s revealed to be difficult to drive".
Michael Schumacher leaves Brazil disappointed but he has an optimistic message for the following race:
"I will win again in Imola".
Davide Scotto di Vetta
Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno