After an excellent start of the season, on March 13th, Michael Schumacher is immediately on track at Fiorano with his F310B and the same engine mounted in Melbourne, to conduct private tests. The German sets a new record of 59.54 seconds, snatching the previous record set by Eddie Irvine during winter testing with a time of 59.77 seconds. The Northern Irishman had used the 1996 F310 for the occasion. At the end of the seventy-one laps completed, Schumacher is satisfied with the work done:
"I am very happy with these tests because we are going in the right direction".
Schumacher carries out comparison tests between the two new types of Goodyear tyres that Ferrari has like the other teams, to explore the performance and wear parameters of the two types. One week later on March 19th, 1997, Ferrari moves to Monza for further private tests but during the tests Schumi has an accident. At the Variante della Roggia where the German also experiments with the new type of kerbs introduced, he tries to control the car only to lose himself in a spin and a consequent exit from the track. In the crash, the transmission breaks completely and subsequent repairs in the pits will take a long time. The Grand Prix simulation that Schumacher should have done with the new engine is therefore postponed until the next day. The kerbs tested at Monza are higher than those usually used on circuits and have been installed to prevent drivers from cutting through the chicane too quickly but it turns out through the German's misadventure that they can produce considerable damage to the car. For this reason, as these kerbs are not yet part of the circuit standard at Ferrari's request they are removed for later practice. In the meantime, Eddie Irvine tests different types of tyres at length completing a total of 47 laps on the spec. 1 engine used in Australia. His best time however, is 1'25"17, a rather high time. In the days leading up to the next Grand Prix to be held at the São Paulo circuit in Brazil, Jean Todt admits that Ferrari is carrying out development work on the aerodynamic components of the F310B as well as on the new engine which has not yet reached a good level of power and reliability:
"We are doing a lot of aerodynamic refinements on the car. As soon as we get back from Brazil, we're going to Mugello for three days with Morbidelli and Schumacher to test these improvements which we'll then take to Argentina. Then there is the delicate question of the engine which we are working on but until it gives us clear advantages we will not use it. There is not much difference between the four best engines in this championship. The real problem is next year's engines which will all be very new. And we are working now on the '98 engine. We have to reduce consumption, make it lighter, balance the weights better and make it work at higher temperatures. But giving up all the tests we are doing with the engine now would mean compromising the 1998 engine".
In the meantime, for the Brazilian Grand Prix, Ferrari will not bring any concrete development to the car so much so that Ferrari's own Sports Director admits that a positive result like the one obtained in Melbourne would be considered a success:
"If we could do a second place on Sunday as we did in Melbourne, I would sign my name to it right now".
For his part, Michael Schumacher responds to some of the criticism directed at him relating to the fact that the German driver has expressed his opinion on the difficulties to be faced in São Paulo due to the numerous bumps of the asphalt:
"There has already been too much talk about this circuit and the fact that the asphalt is not good, that there are a lot of depressions, that you jump too much... But I know they have done some work, I haven't seen it yet and I'm not able to say anything. Let me do a few laps and then we'll see".
Having thus closed the most pressing topic, Schumacher, who, as the brazilian press insists, refuses to comment on the process for Senna’s death, prefers to talk about the World Championship and explains better a theory he had already put forward in Australia:
"After Australia we did many tests. The Ferrari F310B has surely made some progress. But honestly I don’t know if they will show on this track. Most importantly, it is difficult to know where we are compared to our rivals. I’m sure of one thing: in a couple of races, we’ll be competitive, or better, we’ll win races. We are working well and at the factory there are some upgrades in the implementation phase that will allow us to be quicker. The 2-second gap that we had from Villeneuve in Melbourne’s qualifying isn’t realistic. In the race, the gap can change from half a second and a second. If this Sunday there will be some progress? This is a very bumpy track. Setting up the cars perfectly won’t be easy. I don’t mind it. At least here there are some places where we can try to overtake. On Sunday, Williams will be almost certainly ahead and we will have to fight with McLaren and Benetton. The important thing will be to score points, as much as we can, because we want to fight for the title. This year it seems to me that there is no longer a single definitely winning car that can go away on its own for the whole championship. Instead, more teams can win, I would say at least four. That means everyone has a chance to win three or four races. So how do you win the World Title? By adding points to the stage wins, so to speak. That's why it's important, especially for me to be among the first ones to be on the podium and to score points. Then we'll win too of course, that's what we're racing for, but you have to put everything you can together. Between Villeneuve and Frentzen until now there has been no real confrontation so we have to wait. But I think that from Imola onwards Ferrari will be very close to Williams and then there could be an interesting fight. For this reason, I repeat it is important for us to score points now, immediately".
On the other teams he says:
"Hill has chosen a difficult path, but he can give good instructions to his new team, even if he will have to wait a lot before he can see the results. The most positive surprise? The Stewarts. However, it was to be expected. It is a rookie team but it has very experienced people. And with the chassis-engine-tyres package that it has, it can be at the top and even win races soon".
Many ask themselves if Schumacher will change after becoming a father.
"I surely won’t change my driving style. My priorities have changed: back then there were only races, not there is the family. The birth of Gina Maria made me feel strong emotions. I finally have the house that I wanted and I live with the people I love the most. At most, I sleep a little less at night".
What will we have to expect? That Schumacher, now that he has become a father, will be more careful on the throttle? Maybe yes, maybe not, it is difficult to say, but Schumacher has his own idea.
"It is true that we have to build safer cars but we have to be very careful: I would not like to see Formula 1 cars being converted into production cars because of safety. Races are races and must remain so".
On the opposite side, Jacques Villeneuve seems to be hyper-motivated on the eve of the second weekend of the season, as the 26-year-old Canadian is aiming straight at success to make up as soon as possible for the unfortunate Australian Sunday for him and Williams:
"Our car is not only the best, but it is also quite easy to set up on all kinds of circuits. São Paulo has a very bumpy tarmac and this could create problems, however I think our rivals will have more than us so I am reasonably optimistic. The result of the first race will have at least one merit: that of having charged us to the maximum to recover".
On the eve of the second race of the Formula 1 championship, two cars out of the twenty-four entered in this championship are missing. The two Lolas, driven by the Brazilian Ricardo Rosset and the Italian Vincenzo Sospiri will not start the Brazilian Grand Prix. The announcement is made on Tuesday, March 25, 1997 by a Lola’s spokesperson that, at first, makes it sound like this withdrawal is just for the Brazilian race, but then he clarifies that it is a definitive withdrawal from this year’s championship.
"Financial and technical reasons imposed this immediate stop".
Two months before, Lola’s founder and owner, the 70-year old British Eric Broadley, presenting the car with which he wanted to race in Formula 1, said:
"We have a lot to learn and we don’t expect great results this year but, within four years, I think we can win the championship".
Some weeks ago, the debut in Melbourne was more than disappointing: the two cars, with Ford engines, did not even qualify and so did not race in the Australian Grand Prix. Financial reasons can surely be attributed to the withdrawal of the main sponsor, which was a famous brand worldwide, a credit card: MasterCard. Maybe it was just the unsuccessful debut in Melbourne to convince the main sponsor to withdraw and without sponsors and money the technical reasons become insurmountable. The problem is not only to develop a car that is several seconds away from the first but also to provide for the huge expenses of travel in Formula 1. Unfortunately, Lola is not new to misadventures of this kind. In 1993 it was this team that made a deal with the Scuderia Italia of Beppe Lucchini but even then the adventure in Formula 1 was disappointing. Ricardo Rosset admits:
"Broadley was almost crying when he called me to say that the adventure was over. It is incredible. Now I will try to find a seat as third driver in another team".
Unfortunately, Lola’s situation is a worrying sign for the other teams. Except for the usual well-known teams who are always on the top of the standings, the news and the television reports, all the others are at risk with their sponsors, who today love very little, or not at all, the olympic idea of participating. They want to win, they want to appear on television, they want newspapers to talk about them. And so there is a lot of money around these single-seaters that risk being cut from today to tomorrow because they are almost always thrown away, useless for any promotion and any relaunch of brands and various images. A reality known for some years to insiders but that now with the example of Lola could push others to stop the appreciable adventures in many ways but not very profitable for those who pay them. Assuming this future scenario, Bernie Ecclestone had well redesigned and redistributed the Formula 1 coffer. With the Concorde Agreement in force from this year the teams, also and above all the minor ones, had been put in condition to receive more money from the great and rich cauldron managed with remarkable skill by Ecclestone. In short, the accountants of the various teams know that this year, at the end of the season, they will collect many more millions than they collected before. A sufficient amount to allow, after the ending of the season, to breathe calmly in view of the next one. Meanwhile, on the eve of the Brazilian Grand Prix, other logistical problems arise. The World Championship will lose a calendar race: the Luxembourg Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, September 28, 1997, a week after that of Austria. The time is not considered sufficient by the organisers to transfer all the television equipment necessary to ensure the broadcasts on pay per view. The Nurburgring could be rescheduled in the end, since Estoril is also at risk for security problems (26 October); but Portugal could alternatively propose Jerez. Speaking of the topics just mentioned, Jackie Stewart, owner of his team, expresses his idea:
"Clearly, this year I don’t think I can win a Grand Prix, but I’m sure I can make good races. In Brazil, Barrichello will want to outdo himself, maybe we will have to hold him back a little, but I am sure that here you will see a different driver than last year. For him, this year a new phase begins. He is a very talented driver: actually, at the moment, he is greater than our team. But we’ll grow together. On Sunday Villeneuve will win: he should not have any rivals, even if Ferrari and McLaren are much improved and Benetton is worth more than it showed at the debut. For our team I’m thinking about a good race, but if it should rain, we could be a big surprise. Barrichello knows this circuit very well. In the wet he is really talented. In short, I’m almost starting to do the rain dance like the Indians: who knows if I can make it rain".
On the advantage given by Bridgestones:
"They certainly give us a big advantage, and I’m counting on it, even if I know that Goodyear is trying to solve the problem and Ferrari has tried many new compounds and designs to make up for this difference. But I hope they haven’t succeeded yet".
And on his drivers:
"If I wasn’t Scottish, and I had a lot of money, Schumacher would be driving my car. However, keeping my feet on the ground, I am very happy to have chosen Barrichello and Magnussen: this is a couple that complements each other and that will grow together with the team".
"Ferrari has not won a championship since 1979, and yet, in every circuit I go to, I find many flags, many tifosi: it is truly a mission that involves everyone. Imagine when they win a championship, especially now that, apparently, in Maranello things have started to turn in the right direction".
Before the Brazilian Grand Prix, there are also more and more insistent rumours that Bernie Ecclestone is dealing with the entry in the stock exchange (New York and London) of one of his companies related to the FOCA, the Formula One Constructor Association. This would be the most attractive part for the stock market, which deals with the sale of television rights and the organisation of many Grand Prix. The operation would be valued, more or less, 4 million dollars. Half of which would go to the undoubtedly skilled English manager. Speaking of money, on the eve of the Brazilian Grand Prix, Flavio Briatore publicly denies that he has fined Alesi 400.000 dollars for running out of fuel in Australia.
"It would be stupid for us to get ourselves in conflict with our driver. At the same time I hope that he will recover the lost points".
On the short track of the Autodromo José Carlos Pace, the two blue and white cars of the reigning champion team confirm the values on the field seen in Australia which see them much faster than the competition since free practice. Frentzen tries to make his teammate Villeneuve understand that he has no intention of starting the season behind him. The German gets the best lap time, ahead of Villeneuve, running in 1'17"506 (average 199.354 km/h) already half a second under the time (1'18"111) that had allowed Hill to take pole position last year. A further demonstration of the fact that the current cars are faster, thanks also to the rivalry between tyre manufacturers (Goodyear and Bridgestone) that have their own direct challenge. As if that is not enough, those who were chasing in Melbourne find themselves having to deal with a few too many difficulties as Villeneuve has predicted. Ferrari scores the seventh best time with Schumacher and even the third last with Irvine, who is also the victim of an off-track excursion that ends sadly in the gravel and that compromises an entire session. It goes worse to McLaren which navigates with both drivers in the middle of the classification. On this regard, Coulthard says:
"Our cars are quite unstable. The rear axle moves a lot. I hope we can solve the problem with some different adjustments. After all, last year on this track was a disaster, so we still made progress. It is a matter of preparing the set-up with method".
Right behind the Williams, there are the two Benettons and the surprising Sauber of Johnny Herbert who, like Villeneuve, is eager to leave the Australian race behind. Despite this, Schumacher does not dramatise, on the contrary:
"Frankly, I'm happy. I expected worse. I was really worried about how the car would behave on a track like this, full of bumps and dips, but I have to say that it's not as bad as I thought it would be before the race. We still have to find the right balance for the F310B, so we will have to work for it. We are in a similar situation to the one we were in Australia. In Melbourne I was ahead of my brother Ralf by one tenth. Now he’s the one leading the family standing. For the race I would be very happy to get on the podium. I think it will be difficult to win because on this circuit you have to maintain a fast pace for three hundred kilometres. But getting on the podium and scoring some good points is important for me at the moment".
During the Friday session unforeseen events are not lacking. Alesi, because of the locked brakes, ends in full speed against a wall in the curve after the straight of the pits. A little fear, bent suspensions and a broken car nose. Larini, who no longer remembers the circuit (which he has not seen since 1990) and Irvine, the victim of his mistake, also leave the track. And finally Damon Hill, who pushes the throttle as hard as he can when it stops. To avoid a ruinous impact, the world champion turns off the engine, performing a masterful spin. Schumacher seems to be able to solve the difficulties encountered by his F310B, since on Saturday at the end of the qualifying session, the ranking puts him in second place only six tenths away from Villeneuve who achieves his fifth pole. Considering the almost two seconds taken in Australia, this gap can still be judged as a considerable step forward. Excluding the unreachable time of the Canadian, we are witnessing a rather tight qualifying since in one second there are thirteen drivers! Gerhard Berger confirms that the Benetton is well suited to the characteristics of the São Paulo circuit, qualifying third at 50 thousandths of a second from the Ferrari. On the contrary, Heinz-Harald Frentzen is disappointed admitting that he finds it difficult to find a decent qualifying set-up and he is only eighth. While Schumacher prints a respectable time to grant himself the first row, Eddie Irvine does not manage to get in tune with his car and to find him on the grid we have to go down to the fourteenth place. Among those who at the end of the day can hardly smile, there is also Damon Hill who after a weekend to forget is able to qualify in ninth place gaining one second from his teammate Pedro Paolo Diniz. For the reigning champion, there is still the doubt of the poor reliability of his Arrows.
"It went better than expected, we were helped a little by the track that gradually warmed up and did not allow anyone to improve. The race is still in Villeneuve's hands. For us, the behaviour of the tyres will be important".
Schumacher's cautious optimism is confirmed by the mood of Jacques himself who jokes at the journalists' microphones and throws a dig at Irvine remembering the crazy braking at the first bend in Melbourne:
"For the start, I'm calm, because this time Irvine is far away".
Giancarlo Fisichella smiles. Despite a dramatic off-track that led to the interruption of the practice with two minutes to go, the Jordan driver seems enthusiastic about his seventh place:
"I feel great when I look at the rankings. I think I can have a great race. I ended up against the tyre safety barrier because I lost control of my car on a jump in the downhill corner. But maybe I was exaggerating because I was going too fast".
If there were not all the doubts regarding the tyres (soft or hard, depending on the choice and then Goodyear and Bridgestone in a challenge between them) you should anticipate a beautiful race of the Maranello team. In Australia Schumacher had blocked 1.7 seconds from Villeneuve. This time the margin in favour of the Canadian is just 0.6 seconds. And generally, during the race, the gaps between Williams and Ferrari become narrower. Much will depend on many circumstances, not least the tactics of the various drivers with pit stops. Both Schumacher and Villeneuve have chosen hard tyres and therefore if some weather parameters do not change, both should make two stops, at least. Everyone else, others who matter at least, chose the soft tyres instead. They will go faster, they will fight, but they will consume more and perhaps they will have to stop more often. The F310B has shown in Melbourne some strategic management limits because of the small fuel tank, if only one pit stop should be made. Otherwise everything remains to be seen, even if we can foresee that it will be difficult to beat the Canadian and that Schumacher will also have to guard himself from the attacks behind. There are some unknowns about the performance of the red car, especially if we look at the placement of Eddie Irvine. The notes, however, for the team led by Jean Todt are positive.
"It went better than expected. We were helped a bit by the track that gradually warmed up and did not allow anyone to improve. The race? It is in the hands of Villeneuve. The tyre behaviour on the jumps will also be important. This will indeed be the dominant theme of the race, at least as far as we are concerned".
Even if it is not at the levels reached when Ayrton Senna was there to stir up the crowd and the Brazilian torcida, on Sunday the grandstands are packed. Thousands and thousands of fans flock to the event which promises to be an exciting one with the two potential title contenders on the front row. Irvine is not there to give him worries but also this time Villeneuve's start is to be forgotten: to tell the truth the Canadian has a discreet sprint but not excellent as it is Schumacher's one, who flanks him at the S of Senna. Villeneuve does not want to give up his position and tries to resist on the outside, but he loses control of his car and is forced to drive straight going on the grass and losing many positions. In the meantime, chaos is created in the middle of the group: Ralf Schumacher is rammed and spins while other cars find the track blocked and prefer to throw themselves into the grass cutting the first chicane. Others instead are unable to avoid contact with other cars: and among the unlucky ones there are above all Frentzen, Hill, Fisichella and Irvine. All this while Barrichello is left stranded at the start without covering a single metre. An immediate red flag is necessary so Schumacher's great start is nullified. Villeneuve will have another chance to keep first place, and those who can not go on because his car is too damaged can restart with the forklift. All to do again then but fortunately one does not have to wait too long for the second start whose dynamics in the battle for the leadership remains almost identical. Once again the sprint seems to favour the Williams but in the metres that separate them from the first braking, Schumacher is again in front and Villeneuve, having learned the previous lesson, decides not to resist the attack. And in doing so he queues up momentarily. It is enough to arrive on the main straight to start the second lap: the Indycar champion takes advantage of all the Ferrari's slipstream and at the first braking he returns the favour against Schumacher who can do nothing against the power of the Renault V10. In the back positions, Berger overtakes Hakkinen taking back the third place he lost at the start and Damon Hill also stands out climbing to seventh place ahead of Coulthard.
The first phase of the race is characterised just by the two Benettons: not at all satisfied by the overtaking on the McLaren, the good old Gerhard launches himself also in pursuit of Schumacher, who is unable to maintain the impressive race pace imposed by Villeneuve. Also Jean Alesi, in duty to make up for the Melbourne incident where he was left without fuel due to a mistake he had made, tries to put pressure on Hakkinen for the fourth place. On the seventh lap the Austrian tries to overtake at the first bend but Schumacher lengthens the braking and manages to counteract the Benetton's attempt. But four laps later, Berger tries again in the same way, successfully overtaking the German. The race is quite eventful at least in the early stages because even in the middle of the group there are interesting battles such as the one between Hill, Coulthard and the two Jordans of Ralf Schumacher and Fisichella with Arrows slowing down all three pursuers. On lap 22, Berger starts the series of pit stops revealing the cards of those on a two-stop strategy. Shortly afterwards Alesi, Villeneuve and Schumacher also change tyres and top up the fuel. The only one who opts for a one-stop strategy is Olivier Panis who has taken on more fuel for the first part of the race and makes the most of the Bridgestone tyres which, unlike the Goodyears, guarantee longer stints. The Prost Frenchman finds himself second and is able to keep Berger at distance. In the waltz of the stops the loser is Schumacher, who loses his position to the advantage of Hakkinen. In addition to Panis, Damon Hill also tries the gamble of the single stop: by doing so, the reigning world champion climbs up to fourth position for a few laps. But being visibly slower, the British driver slows down both Schumacher and Alesi. Both pursuers, after a few laps lost trying to find a gap, finally overtake the Arrows at the S of Senna. Around the 35th lap, Panis and Hill stop: the first returns in third place while the British driver goes out of the points and is in the field up to three laps from the end when he has to go back to the pits for a fire started suddenly from the rear axle of his Arrows.
From this moment, the race does not offer many emotions. Every lap is spent counting the petrol loads and the stops made, all that while Villeneuve is running in complete loneliness and managing quietly his ten-second lead over Berger. Some minimal worries are offered by the back-markers, like David Coulthard, winner in Australia but anonymous in Brazil who shortly before the start declared that to score points it would have been enough to stay on track. The Scotsman is only tenth at the finish line and is only noticed when he does not let Villeneuve lap him for more than a few laps and consequently loses over two seconds on Berger. With the second wave of pit-stops nothing changes, and Berger's unrealistic attempts to catch up with Villeneuve in cruise mode, as well as the trio formed by Hakkinen, Schumacher and Alesi for a possible fight for the fourth place, are useless to spice up a rather flat final of the race. Jacques Villeneuve dominates and wins the Brazilian Grand Prix. On the podium to celebrate with him there are Berger and an excellent Panis who gives the first podium as a constructor to Alain Prost. The start of the race was promising but only illusory for Ferrari: Schumacher is only fifth and far from the podium but limited the damage compared to those who had been protagonists in Melbourne. Frentzen, for example, has been off since qualifying and having to race with a forklift penalises him further. We have already talked about Coulthard while Irvine sinks into mediocrity. The Northern Irishman reaches the finishing line sixteenth and two laps behind the winner. For Schumacher's teammate, this is a start to the season that is nothing short of forgettable. At the press conference, the three drivers who finished on the podium are all logically satisfied. The first to speak, as usual, is the winner:
"Watching the start it looked as if the incident in Australia might happen again, but luckily it didn't. I don't know why the flag was raised. I don't know why there was a red flag but it certainly helped. After that, the car was great: even though I didn't have a lot of downforce in the slow corners, it was balanced out by the great speed on the straights. In the second stint the tyres didn't work so well but I still managed to stay in the lead. At the first corner I didn't want to give up the position to Michael, I stayed on the outside but entered the corner too fast and lost control. As for the second start, we knew from this morning's warm-up data that even if I had been overtaken at the start, I would have been able to easily regain my position by using the slipstream in the early laps".
Besides expressing his joy for the podium, Berger also mentions his attempts to get closer to Villeneuve:
"At a certain point I believed I could catch him but I was aware that it would have been very difficult to overtake him given Williams' great speed on the straight. I had some difficulties with lapping especially with Hill but I think Jacques had the same problem".
This Sunday Benetton seemed to everyone that of the golden age with a Berger who also seemed to be back to his old self. Flavio Briatore explains the rebirth of the Anglo-Italian team:
"We come from a very difficult year for us like 1996. Without Schumacher, without the technicians who left, in short... Maybe we even lost a little faith. We could not stand the competition of those who take away people paying a lot of money and so we returned to our original philosophy: to keep young people going. We did this years ago when we launched Schumacher, we do it now with our young technicians. Here in Brazil. Berger was in great shape, Alesi instead did a constructive race, he knew he had to finish the race. Between Australia and Brazil we put together some good points. Some people thought we were bluffing last winter when we were fast on every circuit we tried. Instead we were already going well and we made serious comparisons with others. Another package of interesting upgrades will arrive for Imola or Monte Carlo: in the race we were not able to pass Villeneuve, but we were very close. But maybe what made me more pleased was to see how the whole team worked: we made perfect pit stops, we looked like those of 1995, a great satisfaction".
Olivier Panis who surprisingly came third at the finish line, declares:
"I am very happy. We took a big risk with the strategy but the Bridgestones were working great. It was honestly easy, I never had any traffic or particular difficulties in maintaining the gap with those who were behind me".
Villeneuve reacted well after his retirement in Melbourne and with his first win of the season, he joins Coulthard on ten points at the top of the World Championship. However, Frank Williams is not satisfied:
"Villeneuve had a great race but we are not completely satisfied because we had problems all weekend with Frentzen’s car. The gap from Berger is very small, but we are still ahead even if others improve. But you should never take too many risks. Villeneuve was in the lead, he didn’t need to force. Unfortunately, it went badly in Australia, but it can happen. We have always tried to work with our eyes on the future. Today we study something, we try it and when it goes well and it will be necessary we will use it in the race. There are many elements that contribute to success: once they were the engine, or the driver, or the chassis. Today there are many other things: we must always be ready with an upgrade, with an improvement".
Jean Todt, instead, answers the questions about the disastrous Ferrari race:
"Unfortunately we don’t have the top speed, but it’s not a fault that depends on the engine. In fact, I have to say it clearly: the engine works well. The fact is that by pressing on the accelerator the car doesn’t go very fast and Schumi can’t overcome the others. In this race, we had to load the aerodynamics a lot to keep the car on track, give it grip and driveability. It basically had the ailerons all tilted. And in doing so, we kind of held it back. The real problem is there. We’re lacking grip, so we’re going to have to study some modifications. Rory Byrne is studying these things. We will see what solutions we can adopt. We have already made some improvements, from today at Mugello we will try some things for Argentina. For the other tracks we will see. Of course the Buenos Aires circuit is not very suitable for us. From the choice of hard tyres we expected to get a greater advantage and instead Berger with the soft tyres went faster and made the same two stops we did. But more than a mistake it was almost a forced choice. With the characteristics of our car I don’t think we would have been better with the soft tyres".
"Poor Eddie, he was almost heroic because he wanted to continue, but that narrow belt that sawed his legs and oppressed his chest made him suffer a lot and in the end he didn’t make it anymore and stopped. If he had not been forced to take the third car for the second start, all this would not have happened. On the grid we had a few minutes to adapt the car to him, and the belts were set for Schumacher".
On Monday, March 31, 1997, a meeting is held in Maranello to evaluate Ferrari’s unfortunate Brazilian Grand Prix. No one is satisfied with the result, but nobody seems alarmed.
"Unfortunately we could not find a good setup in three days. Actually in qualifying it was the others that went badly, except for Villeneuve, more than us going well".
All this set-up misadventure comes from tyres. They must be chosen on Saturday and must be of the same type (soft or hard) both for qualifying and the race the next day.
"From Saturday to Sunday the temperature dropped and the hard tyres have not had the performance we expected".
Thus, the tyre problem complicates even more the life on track, and it is a novelty this year.
"Yes, because these two types of tyres are not very different from each other and therefore the set-up is difficult. But they can also vary from Grand Prix to Grand Prix. Finally, we discover these tyres on track and we have a day and a half to evaluate and choose. After all, if it can be a consolation with hindsight, even Williams made a mistake by choosing hard tyres: Benetton was better on Sunday with softs. Villeneuve’s victory shows what was known and that is that Williams has something more that even a mistake allows them to keep their distance. All the others, Ferrari included, are instead compressed in minimal gaps and then it takes a seemingly minimal mistake to go back".
With this variable of the tyres, the drivers risk to lose or gain a lot of time during a race. The surprise in Brazil was that of Bridgestone, able to provide dry tyres that require less pit stops, which entails a considerable advantage that no engine could give. Panis finished third and even Hill would have done well if his car had not caught fire. The most pressing problem now is that of Argentina where the next Grand Prix will be held in a week. What will happen? What tyres will Ferrari choose?
"This is the positive or the negative side of the situation: we do not know yet. They may be similar to those in Melbourne or Brazil, or a mixture of those two".
Ferrari has started a series of tests at Mugello. And the bad news comes to Maranello, while the post-Grand Prix briefing is underway. Morbidelli has just started when the step 2 engine, which continues to be experimental, breaks down again. Meanwhile, Tuesday, April 1, 1997 Schumacher closes a long day of testing at Mugello after covering forty-five laps (over two hundred kilometres) just to test the new hydraulic differential, seek alternative aerodynamic solutions and look for the right set-up. And in fact, not even after the break of the first day while Morbidelli was running, Ferrari can fit the new step 2 engine, still in the experimental phase. Both in the morning and in the afternoon the German runs with the old step 1, as in Brazil. But more than on the engine, Schumacher must work on everything else. The disappointing performance on the Interlagos circuit forced drivers and mechanics to review the programs of this three-day event at Mugello. Under control, especially in the long distance, the differential (it took about three hours to mount the new one), the suspensions, the tyres and some solutions for the set-up. Michael Schumacher explains:
"Good results take time, and we are working. From the next Grand Prix I will try to do better, but the problems are not completely solved. In Argentina we can do well in qualifying, but in the race we risk having the same problems we had in Brazil. My goal is Imola, where we can get on the podium".
After the first checks of the morning, in the afternoon Schumacher goes faster, turning in 1'26"363, arriving about 0.8 seconds from the track record, 1'25"437 set by Irvine in February.
"These were normal tests".
Comments Schumacher, who has not yet said anything about the new type of differential to be adopted in Argentina. The tests continue: the simulation of a Grand Prix is scheduled. This time Ferrari should be driving with the new step 2 engine. And maybe even with the new differential, the same that they could use in Buenos Aires.