Rubens Barrichello is still chasing his first win of the season after scoring three podiums and two retirements. The Brazilian continues to remark that he will stay at Ferrari for a very long time. His certainties are suddenly flying out of the window, given that his contract runs until the end of the year. Barrichello’s contract runs out at the end of the 2001 season. Ferrari has not yet decided what to do next. The Maranello team has until the end of August to make a final decision. This silence can be interpreted as Ferrari’s will to oust Barrichello. According to speculations, the Brazilian has let the team down during the start of the season and Ferrari wants to replace him. 21-year-old Kimi is among the favourites to take Barrichello’s place at Ferrari. The young Finn has only done five Formula 1 races but has already scored a point in Australia. He is an impressive, young, aggressive yet measured rookie. He has this philosophy of life - taking is not bad but doing it without reflecting is – that is motivating the Sauber team to do well. Todt is also impressed with Räikkönen, who is gloating. In the meantime, the Sauber driver is waiting in the side-lines for a chance to drive for a top team. For the time being, Räikkönen has other goals in mind. The young Finn already obtained the super licence. The FIA gave him four races to pass this test. After the first race in Australia, the Federation decided that Räikkönen had proven himself worthy of the super license. There was thus no need to insist. The Finn scored one championship point and the educational inspectors decided to close this matter. Räikkönen wants to round up his salary and to gain more championship points. Those are goals that march together. There is in fact a specific clause in his contract with Sauber that provides an increase of his salary, depending on the number of points that he will able to claim throughout the season. Barrichello’s destiny could be already written, since Ferrari has other drivers in mind. Heidfield is among one of them. The German driver is valued by his compatriot Schumacher, who likes Räikkönen as well. The second is Button. According to the English tabloids, he has a maxi-offer from Ferrari: a three-year contract for a total of 72-billion of lire. However, there is one detail that should not be overlooked. Button has a contract with Williams until the end of the 2004 season and will probably stay with Benetton for another two years. Frank Williams is urged to talk about Button’s contact:
"We do not want to let him go".
Jean Todt wants to shut down the Barrichello rumors. The French director tells the Brazilian newspapers that Ferrari is fully satisfied with Barrichello’s performance. In other words, his contract will be extended. A couple of days later, the teams are doing some private tests. Hakkinen and Coulthard are testing at Valencia. The Scotsman takes advantage of this test to explain what happened at Barcelona. He stalled on the grid before the formation lap:
"There was a software problem than switched the engine off when I tried to initiate the system to select first gear. It's been re-written so it won't happen again. That's the only time we have a problem with the software. It was just something we had not prepared for and it will never happen".
Barrichello is setting excellent lap times at Fiorano. In the meantime, Räikkönen ends the Silverstone testing session with a high-speed crash against the wall. The Finnish driver is unscathed whilst the sidepods of the car are completely smashed. There is some news regarding the disappointing Jaguar team, who is still stuck at zero points in the constructors’ championship. It is not about the ongoing testing. The British team dismisses test driver Tomas Scheckter, son of 1979 Ferrari world champion Jody. The team announces the immediate termination of his contract, following a court appearance at the Northampton court. He was given a sentence for soliciting a prostitute on Wednesday 25 April 2001. It is the perfect excuse to fire the South-African driver. In reality, it seems that the team was unsatisfied with his performance. The Formula 1 circus is at Zeltweg, Austria, for the sixth round of the 2001 World Championship.
Luca Badoer is testing the F2001 car on Wednesday 9 May 2001 at the Fiorano track. According to the FIA regulations, this additional test cannot go over the 50 km/h limit. It is also an argument for speculations. The Treviso driver is working on fine-tuning the electronic systems in order to optimize the fuel consumption, the management of the tyres and the braking system. He is also testing a new front wing, which should give more grip on corner entry, new deflectors and a different software which will improve the starts. Furthermore, the 050 engine should have an increased rotation speed. This news surfaces in between embarrassing silences and half-words. The goal is to contrast Mercedes and Bmw’s offensives. On the subject of tyres, it cannot be ruled out that the pit-stop area could be artificially wetted by the mechanics. The Ferrari technicians do not rule out that Schumacher had an issue with wheel spinning on the rim. It could have been caused by a sort of glue effect in between the rubber that was laid down by Michael’s breaking and the new compounds. The water should avoid this phenomenon. Thanks to the use of traction control and the speed limiter, there should not be any danger of sliding. There is one team who suffered from the lack of traction control during the Spanish weekend: Williams-Bmw. Do not forget that Juan Pablo Montoya finished 2nd place at the end of the Spanish Grand Prix. The Grove team did not have this electronic system yet, due to some delays on its realization. Williams is equipped with the traction control system during the Valencia test, which takes place a couple of days after the Spanish race. At the end of the four-day test, Ralf Schumacher sets the fastest time while Juan Pablo Montoya finishes 3rd fastest. The white and blue cars are involved in a politically important novelty. The Williams car has a different diffuser profile that is perfectly interpreting the FIA technical regulations. The FW23 had another type of profile beforehand. The Federation initially approved it. However, it was banned when Ralf Schumacher won the Imola race. The FIA cited the usual interpretative reasons. The oldest vice of the FIA used this case to create suspects and to discredit the unfortunate technical director on duty. On one hand, the Federation did not want to admit that the system used by Williams was irregular. On the other hand, the FIA asked Williams to change the incriminated diffusor. One of the most important members of the FIA remarks:
"If Williams did a mistake, it was done in full honesty".
BMW responsible Gerhard Berger explains how things went:
"There were some grey areas within the rules. Williams asked clarifications to the Federation before the start of the season and then worked accordingly. However, after the win in Imola, at Ferrari’s urging, the FIA clarified the rule regarding it, which forced us to change the diffuser. But let us clarify one thing. Williams has always been legal and considered to be so by the scrutineers. There was never a protest on it, neither did the Federation discuss this eventuality".
Anyways, the very fast Williams had the new diffuser during the Valencia test. It will be used during the Austrian Grand Prix. Moreover, the cars will be equipped with the new traction control system. The Zeltweg circuit should privilege the BMW engine power. Apart from Williams’ new technical innovations, there are other things that need to be said. Ralf Schumacher’s mood is one example. The British Tabloids, as well as the German newspaper Bild, publish private pictures of Ralf and his girlfriend Cora. The tabloids think that these pictures might infuriate Ralf. Instead, the opposite happened:
"My intention was to buy the negatives, but we did not agree on the price and thus had to let it go. I saw the photos and they were not vulgar at all".
In the end, the Williams driver and the photographer came to an agreement. The photographer will delete the pictures. In exchange, Ralph will pay him 50.000 German Marks. The lawyers are writing it all down on paper. However, the photographer’s lawyer asks for a price that Ralf considers to be too exaggerated. This matter comes down to nothing. The younger Schumacher is pessimistic about the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix:
"In Valencia, which has an asphalt similar to the Austria one, we unfortunately had some issues with the tyres. We are not as bad as we were in Barcelona, but not as good as it was in Imola. Montoya and I will use traction control in free-practice and in qualifying. Then we will see".
Ralf shuts down the rumour that he will leave Williams at the end of the season. He emphasizes that that he wants to respect the contract that runs until the end of the 2002 season:
"In the last couple of months, I received some offers".
Juan Pablo Montoya is still gassed by the 2nd place finish at the Spanish Grand Prix:
"It was comforting to be able to finally finish my first race and to be on the podium. Now it can only get better. If anything, I have to try to do better in qualifying than Barcelona (where he stated 11th) Looking back at the previous race, my balance is positive. I retired in Malaysia which was my mistake. For the rest, mechanical failures or incidents stopped me from getting good results. We have had a positive test in Valencia and I hope we can see the results here in Austria. On paper, it doesn’t look like a good track for the team as our results over the last couple of years have not been very good. In reality, we have definitely improved our entire package and we are looking forward to demonstrating that on the circuit".
The spotlight is mainly on the two top teams. Schumacher and Ferrari lead the drivers’ and the constructors’ championships, while McLaren was the unlucky protagonist of the Spanish Grand Prix. Michael Schumacher is revived by the feedbacks from the Fiorano circuit. He calmly conveys his thoughts:
"I do not expect many problems at Zeltweg. I like this track because it gives the landscape that I prefer: nature and mountains".
Mika Hakkinen is still a threat for the win:
"He won two times in Austria in the last three years. The Valencia tests demonstrated that Ferrari and McLaren will be competitive".
On Friday 11 May 2001, the cars head out on track. The first free-practice session is underway. The McLaren team seems to be quite competitive so far. Mika Hakkinen is the fastest driver in FP1 ahead of David Coulthard. Rubens Barrichello is 3rd while Räikkönen is 4th. Ralf and Michael Schumacher are 5th and 6th respectively. The Austrian week-end does not get off to a great start for Michael Schumacher. He goes off-track twice in free-practice. The Ferrari mechanics need to find the right set-up in order to tackle a fast and spectacular circuit, which is also favourable for overtaking. It is a difficult track to master.
The two F2001 cars have a good straight-line speed in sector 1. However, both cars are losing a lot of lap time in the slow sections of the circuit. Schumacher and Barrichello are really struggling with the tyres in sector 2 and 3. Jarno Trulli, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jos Verstappen, Enrique Bernoldi, Olivier Panis and Coulthard go off track at least once. The margins for improvement are massive. The two Ferrari drivers try the two tyre compounds that are available this weekend. Schumacher believes that it is the right choice, since the Maranello team has now clear ideas on how to approach qualifying and the race. Barrichello echoes his teammate’s words. In reality, there is little to choose. The Bridgestone teams, Ferrari included, know that the better choice is the softest compound. Unfortunately, Benetton is seriously struggling out there. Fisichella and Button are the two slowest drivers. Flavio Briatore is not surprised though:
"We knew that we would be doing badly during the first half of the season. We have no engine and aerodynamics; the drivers are a bit depressed".
Let’s look at McLaren. Coulthard has 28 points whilst Hakkinen is stuck at 4 in the drivers’ standings. The Woking team should give the status of the n.1 driver to Coulthard. The Scottish driver will thus be able to fight Schumacher for the drivers’ championship. He was the n.2 driver in the last three seasons. David is proudly hopeful:
"I firmly believe in it. The last races have demonstrated that Ferrari is by no means unbeatable".
David is so far the only driver to score points in each race of the 2001 season. The Scottish driver is determined to continue this trend. He leaps to the top of the timing sheets at the end of FP2, pipping Hakkinen by just 27 thousand. Ferrari and Williams are not too far behind. A situation of great equilibrium is emerging. McLaren seems to be slightly ahead in the race preparation, compared to Ferrari. On a side note, technical director Gustav Brunner left the Minardi team a week before the Austrian Grand Prix. Toyota hires the Austrian technician as the new technical director. The Japanese team is expected to debut in 2002. Honda will give Jordan and BAR a new engine version. Panis will use it during the race. Something funny occurs in free practice. Hakkinen has a sneezing attack while communicating via radio with the McLaren technicians. It is a rather curious and funny situation. Hakkinen’s trainer Mark Arnall tries everything to cure the sneezing: traditional medicine, homeopathic and beverages. Nothing works. The flu is not giving Hakkinen a break. A bit before 4:00 p.m., the Hakkinen couple takes refuge in a hotel. The sickness is not influencing Mika’s performance though:
"The two sessions went quite well. It was my plan to get my championship started here but I have got really bad flu at the moment. I am not felling very good and this is not a good way to start this weekend. I will just have to try and do my maximum and get 10 points hopefully, but it is going to be difficult - really, really hard".
The Finn is not annoyed by the flu. However, he is bothered by a story that occurred yesterday. A Keke Rosberg quote was published in the last number of the weekly newspaper Autosport. The Finnish manager urges his client to take this season philosophically:
"I am a realistic person and the pressure is off Mika now, because the championship is gone. I probably wouldn’t say it bluntly to Mika, well actually I did. But I don’t think a driver sees it that bluntly. Let’s put it this way: at least for the next six races, he doesn’t need to count points, does he? He can just get on with it, drive as fast as he can and take it from weekend to weekend. All this championship talk can pass him by".
It seems like an innocent quote. However, it seems like an invitation to give up when translated in many other languages. At this point, Hakkinen is a bit angry. The McLaren driver prefers to clarify the quote while sending a message to his rivals:
"Keke only said to enjoy this season since I am not under pressure like the previous years, when I was either the championship leader or in the top positions. That is all. I still think that I still have good chances to be back in the fight and I continue to believe in it".
The vice-president of Mercedes motorsport activity, Norbert Haug, supports Hakkinen:
"I think differently to Keke. It is difficult to make up 32 points, but with 12 races to go nothing is impossible. We have seen several things in Formula 1. At the beginning of the season, everyone said that Ferrari is quicker than everyone else, but that has turned around. People then said Michelin will not perform, but they won a race. Remember last year, Michael had won three races when Mika had only scored two points, so let Mika win three times soon and Michael not score a lot of points and he will be there. In theory, Mika can win 120 points. It is not likely that he will win all the races, but it is not impossible. That just shows you how much 34 points are worth. It is not the end of the world and Mika will certainly try and turn it around. He is fully motivated so we should wait and see what happens. If we can give him the package, he will win races for sure".
Haug confirms that the clutch pedal was modified in order to avoid another complicated start like the one in Spain. He also ended the bickering between Coulthard and Dennis:
"We have to realise that Ron is sometimes criticized for not being direct enough. In that case he just spoke his mind. They shook hands and sorted it out there and then. It doesn’t mean that David does not get the same support as Mika. He has the same equipment and is treated the same way. We have our full confidence in both our drivers".
The two McLaren drivers had a good Friday in terms of performance. Nonetheless, Mika and David struggle in qualifying. Michael Schumacher takes pole position on Saturday 12 May 2001. A strong wind is lashing the circuit at the start of the quali session. The temperature is mild. The spectators enjoy a mix of sun and racing cars. The first drivers to exit the pits are Bernoldi, Burti, Button and Villeneuve. Soon after, Montoya establishes a new speed record and is provisionally on pole position. Trulli goes fastest in sector 1 and 2. It is now Michael Schumacher’s turn to set a lap time. Michael does not do three laps - out-lap, fast one and in-lap – as per usual. The German driver does four laps instead. He sets pole position on his third lap, with used front tyres and new rear tyres. The time is below a 1:10. Schumacher is on pole position for the time being, with a 1'09"562. Behind him are Montoya and Ralf Schumacher. Rubens Barrichello is 4th fastest. The Brazilian can go even faster, since he made a mistake in the last corner. Jarno Trulli and Heidfield will line up 5th and 6th on the grid. The McLaren drivers are behind. Coulthard is 7th fastest while his teammate Hakkinen is only 8th. The qualifying session will end in 5 minutes. Michael Schumacher goes back on track with a brand-new set of tyres. The. Ferrari driver experiences a thrilling out-lap to say the least. Verstappen spins and is in the middle of the race track. The German avoids the spinning Arrows car by going off track and into the gravel. He does not improve his best time as a result. Coulthard and Hakkinen obtain the 4th row of the grid. This is McLaren’s worst qualifying session since the 1997 French Grand Prix. At the time, the duo started 9th and 10th respectively. Their lack of competitiveness in qualifying suggests that the two Silver Arrows have maybe opted for the hard tyres; however, it is highly unlikely. Hakkinen is really disappointed:
"It is a big disaster. We are seven or eight tenths of a second away from pole, which is quite a big gap. We have to really improve for Sunday because in this race anything can happen. The car more or less felt the same, but we have definitely lost performance since the morning session. We have to understand what really happened. For the last run I had a problem with the engine. There was a problem with the balance of the car. I couldn't improve much in the session. In the race anything can happen. It is going to be an exciting race, particularly as I have a young Finnish lad behind me. I better keep him behind! It is going to be very difficult but I have been there before so I know how to handle being low on the grid and battling back".
Schumacher gives his point of view:
"I was unlucky not to finish my final lap because of Jos spinning in front of me. I quite wanted to because it would probably have been quicker. I didn’t know what was going on with everyone else. It is so strange to see Mika and David so far behind. It was surprising. You can see that even the McLarens can make mistakes on the set-up. This time we did the right set-up, compared to Imola. I am happy. I am always ahead, while Williams and McLaren alternate positions and steal points from each other. It is much easier to find the right balance with this Ferrari. Every track is different, you are always on the limit and it is easy to do a mistake. There are bound to be overtaking opportunities, for those who are behind".
The McLaren team does not want to reveal anything about the engine issue that Hakkinen had during the last lap:
"I do not know, maybe it was an old engine. Still, I would not have improved much. We need to understand the reasons behind it as to why we could not adapt the car to the track and the wind. The gap was so big but anything can happen in the race".
"Tears are not going to help me improve my qualifying performance. What we have got to do is sit down and sort out what went wrong. We had too much oversteer in comparison to the morning session. In the time we had, we were not able to sort the problem out. We also did not have the confidence to attack the lap. We are actually slower this afternoon than we were this morning, so you can clearly see the car is capable of going quicker. I am very disappointed, but we have got to work as a team to sort this out for the race. I hope to still get on the podium but I think from seventh on the grid on this track, with all those cars in front, it is going to be very difficult. If we can come out of the race with a point or at least a couple, then that is probably the best we can hope for. Many things happen in Grand Prix racing and cars do drop out. It is not impossible to win from there, but it will be very hard".
During the press conference, the two Schumacher brothers are talking and joking with each other. Juan Pablo Montoya is not laughing and is instead looking straight ahead. Michael is not so fond of the young and bold Colombian, especially after the hard-overtaking maneuver in Brazil. Everyone still thinks that Montoya is the new wonder. The Ferrari driver says in the post-race press conference:
"One overtake is not enough to make a champion".
The current world championship states:
"In Brazil I was sleeping. Montoya cannot always hope that I will sleep".
Juan Pablo Montoya will start alongside the reigning world champion. The 25-year-old Williams driver raced twice in Austria in F3000. He won the 1997 race and finished 2nd in 1998. Schumacher never won here. The Ferrari driver thinks that Montoya is not the real threat for the race win:
"I mostly fear my brother. Ralf is the first driver at Williams and is always the fastest in the race".
Montoya reiterates in another interview:
“Did he say that? Of course, he is his brother and it is seen that and you can see that he wants to keep Ralf up. There is no first driver at Williams. I am happy because, for a second time on a row, I will start ahead of a Ferrari and Ralf. I do not care why Michael does not like me but I do not care at all- I think of doing my thing. If he does not like me, then whatever. I have a couple of friends here, Barrichello and Villeneuve".
He also told the journalists in no uncertain terms:
"Senna was a God, Schumacher is a very good driver only. Nobody is unbeatable and neither does he. I tend to not forget it. I will try to be ahead of him immediately. I am not afraid of starting side-by-side with him".
The two McLaren drivers bounce back from the difficult qualifying session. The two Silver Arrows are the fastest cars at the end of the warm-up session. Mika Hakkinen leads the way ahead of David Coulthard, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher. The Flying Finn sets the fastest time in 1'11"647. He is a tenth quicker than Coulthard. Michael Schumacher is forced to use the spare car after the installation lap. The T-car then shuts down at the exit of the pitlane. The Ferrari driver runs back to the pits to use the official F2001 car. The world champion reverts to the spare car later on. During the warm-up, many drivers are struggling to keep the cars on track. Frentzen goes onto the grass whilst other drivers do several spins. The Honda engine blows up at the back of Jacques Villeneuve’s BAR. A couple of hours later, it is time for the Austrian Grand Prix to get underway. At exactly 2:00 p.m., Michael Schumacher is called to defend pole position against the two fierce Williams-Bmw drivers. At lights out, the two Williams car have a lighting start. A surprised Michael Schumacher is relegated to 3rd. Montoya is ahead of the two Schumacher brothers, going into turn 1. Coulthard and Barrichello are battling for 4th. At the Remus curve, Barrichello is able to win the early fight again the McLaren. Some cars are stalling and failing to get off the line, causing chaos behind. The two Jordan cars, as well as Heidfeld’s Sauber and Hakkinen’s McLaren, are stationary on the grid. Frentzen has a gearbox failure while the others are struggling to use the launch control systems. By the end of the 1st lap, Mika is still stationary on the start/finish straight and the marshals cannot clear his McLaren out of the way. The race direction brings out the Safety Car, in order to allow the marshals to bring Hakkinen into the pits. As the safety car tours around the track for one more lap, let’s look at the standings. It is a 1-2 for Williams, followed by Michael Schumacher, Barrichello, David Coulthard, Irvine and Verstappen. Trulli is able to get going whilst it is touch and go for Heidfield. The Jordan and the Sauber drivers will start from the pit-lane. Frentzen is instead forced to retire. As the safety car is coming into the pits, it is time to get back up to speed. It could take little for the race to change.
Hakkinen is able to start the race with the help of his engineers, albeit a lap down. On lap 4, Hakkinen tours into the McLaren garage to retire. This is his 4th retirement in 6 races. He still has 4 points to his credit. The hopes of fighting for the title are completely gone down the drain. The race goes on. So far, Jos Verstappen is doing a great race for the Arrows team. The Dutch driver started the race with a lighter fuel load. He firstly manages to overtake Irvine and Coulthard to climb up to 5th. At the start of the 6th lap, he chases Barrichello for 4th. A couple of laps later, Irvine is defending 9th place against Villeneuve. The latter tries to overtake the Jaguar driver and makes a trip across the grass. The Canadian spins at turn 1. On lap 10, Ralf Schumacher is struggling massively with the brakes and goes off track at the Schlossgold corner. His brother Michael goes through to take 2nd place and starts to chase Montoya. Ralph is not able to continue as the brake issue continues to worsen. The Williams driver is thus forced to retire. Kimi Räikkönen is now in a point-scoring position. During the 14th lap, Trulli has a not-so insignificant complication. The black flag is waved at him by race control. The Jordan driver is disqualified, since he left the pit-lane while the red lights were still on. Montoya’s worn tyres are starting to experience a massive drop in performance, as Michelin feared. The Colombian is slowing down and a train of cars is forming behind the race leader. Schumacher is much faster and is hassling the race leader. The Ferrari driver unsuccessfully tries to overtake the Williams at every turn. On lap 16, Michael tries the outside line going into the Remus corner, with a late-breaking move. Montoya does not allow it and further lengthens his braking point. The Colombian overexaggerates, loses control of his car for a fraction of a second and goes off track, bringing Michael Schumacher with him. Whilst this is going on, Schumacher wants to try a switchback but has to straighten out the steering wheel, in order to avoid contact with his rival. The Ferrari driver goes off track as well. The excursion is unavoidable. Michael partly avoids the gravel trap, unlike Montoya. At this point, Michael drops to 6th. Barrichello takes the lead ahead of Verstappen, Coulthard, Räikkönen and Panis.
The Brazilian is pushing hard to take his second win in Formula 1. Despite being in 2nd, the Dutchman needs to pit early. The Arrow driver is in fact on a two-stop strategy. Starting a comeback drive from 6th is not easy. However, Schumacher does not give up. By lap 24, he fights back. He overtakes Oliver Panis for a provisionary 4th place at the Gösser corner, given that Verstappen has pitted on the same lap. On lap 31, it is Kimi Räikkönen turn to pit. Before doing so, the Finn is lined up by Michael and overtaken, at the same corner where the world champion had the better of Panis. The world championship appears to have no damage from the come-together with Montoya and is quickly gaining on Coulthard for 2nd. Despite the earlier trip in the gravel, Pablo Montoya has moved up to 5th after overtaking Panis at the start of 37th lap. Four laps later, the Colombian has the same fate as his teammate. His race comes to a disappointing end, thanks to a hydraulic system failure. He is out of the race. It is a heavy yet unexpected double zero for Williams given that, Montoya and Ralf Schumacher were 1st and 2nd at the end of the 1st lap. On lap 46, Schumacher makes his only pit stop. Barrichello does the same on the following lap and drops to 2nd, handing the lead to Coulthard. The McLaren driver started the race with a heavy fuel load and is aiming to stretch his first stint. With this in mind, he does some very quick laps to overcut the Ferrari driver. This attempt is successful, thanks to an efficient McLaren pit crew. David’s stop lasts 8-seconds. He jumps Barrichello, who had to deal with traffic on his out-lap. The Scotsman is effectively the new race leader. He has a 7 seconds’ lead over the Ferrari duo. Kimi Räikkönen is 4th, despite having a problematic 18-second pit stop. There was an issue with the left rear tyre. Panis and Verstappen are closing the point-paying positions. The race seems to be over. The race continues in a static manner, with no sign of a battle. The gap between 1st and 3rd is around 3 seconds. The only doubt is the finishing order from the two Ferrari drivers. The Ferrari pit-wall will ask Barrichello to step aside to favor Michael Schumacher, since his direct championship rival is about to win. The inevitable happens with 3 laps to go. Jean Todt orders on the radio:
"Rubens, let Michael pass for the championship".
The doubt is only dispelled at the finish line. David Coulthard pulls off an unlikely win at the Austrian Grand Prix. The McLaren driver enjoys his second win of the season and his 11th career one. In the meantime, Rubens Barrichello does what he was told to do. He lifts his foot off the gas a few meters before the chequered flag, allowing Michael to finish the race in 2nd place. Rubens is classified 3rd. Räikkönen crosses the line in 4th, finishing 40 seconds behind the winner. The Sauber driver is the absolute revelation of the year, having finished two races in the points. BAR appeals Kimi’s final result. According to BAR, Kimi lapped Luciano Burti under yellows flags. However, the appeal will not be upheld. Olivier Panis is 5th and last of the non-lapped drivers and scores points for the second and last time. Verstappen pulls off a two-stop strategy to finish 6th, scoring a single point for the Arrows team. On Parc Ferme, Jean Todt is talking to Barrichello. Rubens reacts with an imperceptible nod before storming off. The podium ceremony is awkward. There is a nervous atmosphere down at Ferrari. At the same time, a sad atmosphere engulfs the McLaren team. Paul Morgan, a team member and partner of Mario Illien in Illmor, has tragically passed away. It is the society that builds the Mercedes engines. David also avoids the classic champagne spraying. During the post-race press conference, his first words are unsurprisingly dedicated to Paul Morgan:
"The reason I didn't spray the champagne on the podium was because we lost a very important member of team in Paul".
The Scott is asked to talk about the very long first stint:
"I tried to stay out on track as long as possible after having a bad start from 7th position".
Coulthard has 38 points in the drivers’ championship. The McLaren driver is only four points behind Schumacher and is now the number 1 driver at McLaren. Hakkinen had yet another retirement. Norbert Haug hoped that Montoya would cause problems for Ferrari. It is exactly how it played out and Coulthard took advantage of it:
"I thought that If I would win, it would only be because of a tangle at the first corner and in my dream, I came out first. It happened because the Williams cars held up Ferrari. If there was a situation between Michael and Juan Pablo, it was a question of when and where and luckily, we were able to take advantage of that. We had a very good race strategy. I qualified 7th so it was important to start with a heavy fuel load and keep options open for the race and see what happened. The goal was to save fuel after the first couple of laps. The Safety car period after the start definitely helped us. I was able to stay out of on track, with the first set of tyres, as long as possible, before the pit stop. When Barrichello pitted, I remained on track and pushed quite a lot to gain an advantage. Barrichello tried to pressurize me in the end but despite that, I knew that the victory was in my grasp".
Hakkinen has to say goodbye to the drivers’ championship. Someone points this out to him, as soon as he comes out of the car. The Finnish driver makes a frustration gesture, turns his back and leaves the McLaren garage. A couple of hours later, he calmly utters:
"I am not going to start giving up anything yet or giving anyway anything yet. I’m going to charge flat out until there is no possibility mathematically to be in a winning position at the end of the season. I’m going to fight all the way. I don’t know how else to handle it. It is what is it, my manager Rosberg is right. I have to take it one day at a time, race by race. I do not know what happened yet. As everyone can see, the car stopped on the grid. I thought that I had made a mistake on the start procedure. Then we investigated and it turned out that my procedure was right. There is something in the programme that we need to investigate".
Schumacher talks about the race and how it went from his point of view, starting from the start:
"We had some sort of problem. It didn’t start in the way it should and basically, I had to do a manual start. These systems are still very new and I’m sure that others will get surprises too".
There was a moment when you and Montoya went off track:
"I was a little bit upset obviously because there is no way he could have made that corner. He just went off and took me with him. I did not know what he wanted to do. He had lost it anyway and all he could do was do something to me. I had to go onto the grass, I could not turn in and I nearly hit him. It was not ideal but that is the way it had gone. I shall have a word with him. I lost a lot of positions and had to work my way through traffic. Sooner or later, I would have passed him anyway since he had the Michelin tyres yet it was not easy to overtake the guys on the Bridgestone".
The Williams rookie does not care what Schumacher thinks. He widens his olive-black eyes, hunches his shoulders, puffs and runs the back of his hand under his chin. The Colombian asserts:
"If he wants to talk, I am here. I defended as best as I could but we both went wide. It was a racing incident. I am racing to win and not to let people by. It is not a case of him saying, I am Michael, let me by. This is the attitude with which he races. Why does he make such a big deal?"
Gerhard Berger believes that it was Schumacher’s move that did not make any sense. According to the BMW director, he should have tried the overtake on the inside and not on the outside. The Ferrari driver responds:
"I did not want to overtake Montoya on the outside. I was trying to force him to take a much tighter line into the corner to then pass him. He tried to avoid that and I had to follow him onto the grass".
Everyone believe that you should have been more patient in the Montoya overtake:
"I only tried to put him under pressure and wanted to do it as soon as possible. Coulthard was pushing me from behind. In this sport, the opportunities must be exploited and you cannot wait for them to come".
Rubens Barrichello shuts downs the controversy regarding the Ferrari team order:
"The team asked me to do that. I’m mostly unhappy because I was leading for almost the whole Grand prix before David went longer on the first stint and won the race".
Rubens Barrichello is disgruntled and does not appreciate this result at all. The Ferrari driver waited until the last moment to pull over and let Michael take 2nd on the line. His kind and obedient gesture causes controversy.
The pit-wall asked the Brazilian to give up 2nd place several times. Rubens continued to push on the accelerator and even set his fastest laps of the race at that point. He did not want to hear it. In addition, Barrichello wanted the world to know that Michael was not faster than him and that he was obligated to give up 2nd place. It was an obnoxious tax to pay. This move was not liked by McLaren one bit. Adrian Newey affirms:
"One of the problems always if that you can argue if it’s the right thing for the championship perhaps, but I think it should be a human sport and simply sacrificing one driver for the other, I think you can argue about the ethics of that".
Ron Dennis bluntly declares:
"If people sleep comfortably using those sorts of strategies at this time of the year, then by all means, that's their business and that's their values, but it's not ours, and never will be. I don't think it's a question of want to - it wouldn't happen in our team that way".
Jo Ramirez thinks the same:
"It was wrong, with so much time left until the end, to let Barrichello and Schumacher fight one against the other".
This is the point. The working relationship between the two Ferrari drivers was already strained after the Malaysian Grand Prix. After a chaotic double-stack in a flooded pitlane, Schumacher came back on track and forced an overtake on his teammate. The Brazilian openly and ferociously criticized the world championship after the race. Ferrari painstakingly put an end to the controversy. However, the truce between the two was short-lived. Rubens recalls Montezemolo’s wrath on that occasion and uses less noisy tones. At the same time, though, the Brazilian cannot hide the frustration and the bitterness:
"I cannot answer that, it is something that it is very much inside the team. I put myself in a situation in Malaysia and unfortunately, I cannot open my heart right now. I still have to go down and talk to the team to clarify things. I did it for the team. The order, to let Michael by, was given many times. I am not happy about this situation and I am sorry for not winning the race. It was one of those days where I knew that the victory was possible. I did not get it in the end. I was running with my heart and soul. I lost the race because David left his pit stop longer. That’s why I’m unhappy".
Schumacher thanks him. At the same time, he asks Barrichello to get over it:
"The team told me that if I had gone faster, they would have asked Rubens to let me pass. Indeed, I went much faster. Rubens did an amazing race but his problem is that he was not fast enough to win. I did not ask him to let me pass. Let’s look at the standings. He was very generous. Someone else, in his place, would not have done the same. Someone will say that we did not do the right things while other will instead claim it was a reasonable choice. This is the Ferrari philosophy which led to this decision, while McLaren operates in a different way. I do not know whether it was the right one or not but it is what it is. We do what we think is best, not what suits others. I behaved the same with Irvine, when he was the one who was fighting for the championship".
Jean Todt defends himself and the team:
"Each team has its own way of handling things. The ethics? Everyone has its own idea. For Ferrari, it was important to give Schumacher two more points. We will see in the future who was right. We left Barrichello in front as long as he was fighting for the win. We simply told him what needed to be done and he did it. It is never easy to give a team order to a driver but I never doubted that he would execute it: he is a professional. He doesn't come out minimized because he did a great race and we do not feel in debt with him: he has a great Ferrari underneath him to drive".
The Austrian Grand Prix emphasize the beautiful electronic systems that should have revolutionized the Formula 1 world. Four cars either stalled on the grid or started later. There was a high risk of having a big incident at Austria. It was the reason why launch control became legal in the first place. In theory, everyone should start together in order to avoid dangerous differences between the cars. Instead, Jarno Trulli stopped on the grid. The Italian driver was then disqualified for ignoring the red light at the end of the pitlane. He is angry with the Jaguar team:
"I saw all the lights! But they sent me out, and just told me to ignore it. Probably they didn't see it or they didn't realise. There were red lights and flashing blue lights, so you have to wait. But the team said, 'Go, go go'. I also told the team that I wanted to start with the manual system. You just have to set up the manual system - it’s very easy They told me to not worry about it and to stay calm. How could I stay calm…I did not even move. I lost points thanks to them".
Trulli’s wrath is understandable. He expected a lot from this race, after doing well in free-practice and in qualifying. Jean Todt saw how his drivers started on slow motion. The Ferrari director explains:
"The problem was that the software reacted differently than what we expected. At first glance, it seems, since the tyre grip on the asphalt was very strong, the electronic programme did not interpret well the data and thus reacted sluggishly".
It looks like Schumacher expected to have a bad start:
"The launch control systems are still very new. we need to understand what happened to then improve upon it. We have seen it with David in Barcelona, this time it happened to me. Hakkinen, as well, did not even start. It means that things are not easy for them as well".
Niki Lauda is not at all surprised:
"The whole thing is stupid. You cannot pretend to let the drivers start as if they were robots".
On Monday morning, Luca di Montezemolo has the usual schedule. The president does the regular briefing with the technicians before having lunch with Jean Todt. In the afternoon, he makes phone calls from his office. He praises Schumacher and Todt, rejects McLaren’s accusations and talks about Barrichello, who is set to have a new contract:
"I am at all satisfied with the race, which I followed on television with trepidation because the fastest car on track was the Ferrari, but given the way things had turned out, it could have also gone worse. However, we had a problem at the start and then there was the Schumacher overtake on Montoya which compromised the chances for our driver to win. We were doing the race in the lead but has technical issues in the laps before the stop. Tire degradations and other things are issues that will be discussed together with the technicians".
Montezemolo absolves Schumacher, who should have perhaps avoided that gravel excursion with Montoya:
"In hindsight you can say lots of things. Had he not tried the overtake, you would have talked of a timid Schumacher, someone would have surely said that Schumi is not him anymore and so on. The reality is that, behind Michael, there was a group of cars who were pushing him from behind and there was no another solution".
The president talks about the topic of the day: Barrichello’s team order to let Michael by for 2nd place. Barrichello did not like that at all. McLaren defined it as unfair and against sporting ethics:
"I do not judge other teams’ decisions. I would like nobody to come and watch in my garden. Forget it: I am old, very old of Formula 1. I saw many things from 1973 onwards. In every sport, there is a thing called the team game. In cycling, a sport which I am very passionate of, there are very similar episodes, like this one. If Barrichello had won, we would have been very happy: it would have taken points out of McLaren and nobody would have asked to pull over and nobody would have said anything. It does not matter for him whether is a 2nd or a 3rd place".
Something will probably change for Barrichello after this race. The Brazilian was in fact reluctant to pull over, despite the pressuring requests via radio and the post-race reaction. He abruptly dodged Todt before expressing his disappointment in the press. Montezemolo ends the interview with a remainder:
"I would like to remind everyone that the last four championships went down the wire in the last races, on the edge of points and cents. Irvine lost it by one point. It should be clear to everyone that Ferrari’s interest comes first and foremost. Nothing changes in our relationship with Barrichello. I hope that the night brings him advice. If Rubens is disappointed for not winning the race, despite doing really well, we are as much as he is. If he is disappointed of having played the team game then, as we say in Rome, he will need to get angry and then to calm himself down".
Beyond the reference to the discipline, Barrichello’s loyalty at Zeltweg episode might be awarded with a new Ferrari contract. Barrichello’s renewal seemed under discussion up until Saturday. Todt remarks:
"Tell me a better second driver other than Barrichello. There is no one like him in my opinion and even if there are, all Formula 1 drivers are now under contract".
The renewal option needs to be exercised by August 2001, unless the Brazilian wants to go somewhere else. Lauda says that whoever goes to Ferrari will play second fiddle to Schumacher. To wrap things up, let’s talk about Ilmor Engineering. The co-founder and owner of the English company, Paul Morgan, passes away after a bad landing with the vintage airplane Sea Fury. He was not far away from home. This news will probably have a chain effect on the future of Ilmor Engineering.