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#600 1997 Argentine Grand Prix

2021-04-23 00:00

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#1997, Fulvio Conti, Davide Scotto di Vetta, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#600 1997 Argentine Grand Prix

The day after the Brazilian Grand Prix, president Montezemolo organises a meeting in Maranello to evaluate the unhappy outcome of the race. In Ferrari

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The day after the Brazilian Grand Prix, president Montezemolo organises a meeting in Maranello to evaluate the unhappy outcome of the race. In Ferrari, nobody declares to be satisfied with the result, but at the same time nobody is alarmed since it seems like the problems have been identified in the set-up of the cars. A diagnosis that primarily looks to be in contrast with Schumacher's excellent performance in qualifying. However, there is an explanation and that is the tires, as explained by the Maranello engineers:

 

"From Saturday to Sunday, the temperature dropped, and the hard tires no longer performed as well as we expected. But performance can also vary from Grand Prix to Grand Prix. These two types of tires are not very different from each other, so evaluations are difficult. We discover these tires by arriving at the circuits, and we have a day and a half to evaluate and choose. In hindsight, at the end of the day, this was a crumb of comfort. Williams also made a mistake by choosing hard tires: Benetton was better on Sunday on soft tires. This is the proof of what we knew and that is that Williams is a step ahead, since even with a mistake they managed to keep the distance. All the others, including Ferrari, are compressed into tiny gaps and all it takes is a seemingly minor mistake to slip back".

 

The surprise in Brazil was Bridgestone, which can provide dry tires that require one pit-stop less, which is a considerable advantage that no engine could give. So the most pressing problem faced by Ferrari now is this: which tires should they use in Argentina? In the meantime, no comforting news came from Mugello. On April 1st, Ferrari was on track with Gianni Morbidelli to continue a series of important tests to study the performance of the Step 2 engine. The Italian test driver had just left the pits when the new engine - which continues to be experimental - broke down again. The next day, April 2nd, it is Schumacher's turn. The German driver does forty-five laps (over 200 km) just to try out the new hydraulic differential and look for alternative aerodynamic solutions, as well as fine-tune the set-up. Both in the morning and in the afternoon, the German driver runs with the old engine; after the first checks in the morning (the start was delayed because the track was still wet) in the afternoon Schumi forces a little bit turning in 1'26"363 at about eight tenths from the track record. The disappointing performance at Interlagos forced both drivers and mechanics to review the plans for the three days at Mugello. Under control especially in the long distance are the differential (to mount the new one took about three hours), suspension, tires, and some solutions for the trim.

 

"To achieve good results, you need time, and we are working on that. Already 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 facing the same problems we had in Brazil. My goal is Imola, there we can get on the podium".

 

Declared Michael Schumacher, at the end of the second day of testing in Tuscany. Finally, a little optimism comes at the end of the third day of testing: the 046/2 engine shows some progress. Eighty-seven laps were completed at an average speed of 221 km/h with a performance that brought peace to Maranello as well as to Schumacher, who commented on the outcome of the tests as follows:

 

"The engine is reliable, and today it even had something extra. I am very happy with these tests and with how the car responded. This was a very important test for us, and the Step 2 engine showed good handling and power. A good step forward".

 

The last day of testing at the Tuscan circuit starts very early for the Ferrari mechanics: at 8:30 a.m. they are already at work fine-tuning the set-up and eliminating small defects that emerged in Brazil. At 10:00 a.m. Schumacher goes out on track with the 046/2 engine and the new hydraulic differential to do a warm-up of thirty-one laps (over 150 km) during which he sets a new track record of 1'25"252. In the afternoon, however, the German driver simulates a Grand Prix by completing fifty-six laps. 

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The faces inside the Ferrari box finally relaxed despite a few trivial inconveniences such as the breakage of a bar on the chassis - that forced Schumacher to stop half an hour after the first eighteen laps - and a drop in pressure in the hydraulic circuit that interrupted the tests five laps from the end. The results speak for themselves: the engine and the hydraulic differential are working and on soft tires the single-seater has been running consistently, averaging 1'26"0.

 

"The problems are there, but I'm ready to bet on Ferrari. Today's tests show that we are on the right track".

 

Schumacher confessed to the press present at the circuit. The only one who won't comment on the test results is Jean Todt, who merely asks how the tests went without saying anything. But Schumacher's face when he gets into the car that takes him back to Florence speaks clearly. Michael leaves Mugello with the conviction of having taken a considerable step forward. Even if he does not go into detail:

 

"My goal is to get Ferrari on the podium at Imola and after today I am convinced I can do it. The performance of the Step 2 engine and its reliability are really encouraging".

 

After a few too many hiccups, at least the good mood is back at Ferrari. And there is also time for an unexpected little joke with Fiorentina footballers Batistuta and Rui Costa, who arrive at Mugello with their respective ladies around midday to meet Schumacher and give him a present:

 

"Will you give us a ride?"

 

The two footballers asked. The German satisfied them: two laps each in an Alfa Romeo at over 200 kilometres per hour.

 

"An unforgettable experience".

 

Batistuta commented.

 

"Fear? Only on the first lap".

 

Rui Costa confessed. Then, the two players gave their shirts to the German driver, number 9 and number 10 respectively, he returns the gesture by giving them two signed Ferrari caps. On the eve of the Argentine Grand Prix, the 600th Grand Prix in the history of Formula 1, the two winners of the first two races are tied on ten points, Coulthard and Villeneuve. On Thursday, Damon Hill let himself go to a prediction on who will win the race in Buenos Aires:

 

"On Sunday Michael will win, it's my hunch. Even if the World Champion will be Villeneuve's, he is very strong and has the best car".

 

Even though the track seems to be suitable for Ferrari (last year Schumacher’s F310 started from the front row) this is a rather optimistic prediction, especially after the disappointing performance at Interlagos, where Schumacher tried to make up for it as much as he could. Moreover, Ferrari decided at the last minute that the Step 2 engine and the new hydraulic differential on which they had been working during the test sessions would have to wait at least until Imola to be introduced. 

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The Argentinean president Carlos Menem is also convinced that Ferrari can do well, so much so that he decides to receive Schumacher, Irvine and Todt at his residence in Quinta de Olivos wishing them a resounding victory. President Montezemolo also hopes for a triumph in Argentina but after having promised so much, he is not present in Buenos Aires having won the Business and Culture Award in New York. But apart from the technical issues, Ferrari is also forced to respond to the critics about Eddie Irvine accused by the international press of not being up to the challenge given that both in Australia and Brazil he was involved in accidents at the start. So, in the usual conference that the Maranello drivers give on the eve of each Grand Prix it is Irvine, who usually remains silent, politely waiting for everyone to finish asking Schumacher questions, who does most of the talking. The Irvine case, bounced from European to Argentinean newspapers, has led the press to ask when he would leave Ferrari. But the Northern Irish driver defends himself by explaining that the disappointing results in Melbourne and São Paulo were not due to his mistakes but rather to a set of circumstances for which he is not responsible. And at his side, Jean Todt smiles making it clear that an ‘Irvine case’ does not exist. For the moment the Irish driver can count on the utmost trust from Ferrari.

 

"We think that if the cars perform as we believe, Irvine will start from the second, at most third, row".

 

At the end of this brief show, Schumacher explains to the press the reasons that led Ferrari to leave the Step 2 engine in Maranello, after it had performed well in the last tests:

 

"At Mugello the Step 2 engine went really well, and this gives us great satisfaction, it's a remarkable result for us. But since the old one is still going well and, on this track, it will be even better than in Brazil, we decided to test it for a long time next week in Barcelona, and then we will be ready for the debut".

 

Then the German driver launches into a prediction that will turn out to be more well-founded than one might think on the eve of this World Championship:

 

"You can never know a priori if you will win but the important thing, especially for us, is to fight. To be there with the others until the end of the championship fighting for a few points because I'm convinced of this and in the end, we will all still be there, one next to the other, chasing the title. Will we win? Will we lose? I don't know, but I feel that we'll be there to do our part and that no matter what, it will be a significant result. Now we have everything or almost everything we need, but we also have an extra variable which is the tires. We will have to dedicate ourselves carefully to studying this problem and try to solve it as best we can".

 

In particular, the choice of tires will be difficult in Argentina. In contrast to the two Grands Prix already held, this time Ferrari starts with the intention of using the softer of the two compounds of tires available. But the choice may not be made until Saturday also for another reason, namely that Ferrari wants to run this race - in which it has a good chance of winning - with soft tires, but making only two pit stops and not the three made last year. So, it will have to be seen after Friday's practice and Saturday morning if this option will be feasible or not. McLaren, too, through the words of Coulthard make it clear that the structure of the Argentinean track full of bumps does not suit the characteristics of the Mp4/12 at all, so another difficult weekend is expected. With these premises, one wonders who could possibly create some headaches for Williams and Villeneuve: the most accredited antagonist after the lively performance at Interlagos would be Benetton which, however, is still rather erratic and the Argentinean race will be a demonstration of that. In the meantime, at Arrows' house, the rumours are increasing of both John Barnard's hiring (recently released by Ferrari) and a supply of engines by Honda starting from the 1998 season. Hill could therefore look to the future with a touch of optimism. 

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During the first Friday practice, Jacques tried out different set-ups until, in the end, he managed to take the liberty of restarting with a mixture of new and old tires, setting an unbeatable time for anyone. It was so good that Schumacher - when he read it on the -  lost himself in a little gesture of annoyance:

 

"Very good, very good, I didn't expect something like this".

 

Schumacher and Irvine also try out hard and soft tires, as well as their relative set-ups to try and work out which ones to choose today on the eve of qualifying, but in the end the gap separating the German from the Canadian driver is one second and three tenths. In Ferrari, a four-degree warm-up of the asphalt was enough to dispel the good results obtained in the morning with the cooler track. Schumacher is fifth while Irvine, who has just received the solidarity from Ferrari, is eleventh. On the contrary, Gerhard Berger shows to be going very well demonstrating that Benetton has come back to be competitive while Alesi does less well, facing continuous problems with brakes. Disappointing is Frentzen, seventh, perhaps badly disturbed by the sudden appearance on the track of Corinna Schumacher, his passionate ex-boyfriend. But what surprised insiders and the public most were the results of the teams using Bridgestone tires, leading the managers of those supplied by Goodyear to grumble:

 

"If this keeps up, the Japanese are going to give us a real thrashing, and the American company will have to do something about it, otherwise it's no use spending a lot of money on technical gimmicks when a tyre will knock you out".

 

With these premises, the pole position is almost a formality for Villeneuve, who however manages to make it special by setting the new circuit record of 1'24"473. This, by the way, is the hundredth pole position for Williams. At the same time, after a difficult Friday, Frentzen sets the second time but the gap of 7 tenths of a second from his teammate is too big. The Ferraris, as expected, struggle to take off and Schumacher - already after a frustrating free practice - shows some nervousness and raises a small alarm:

 

"I knew that coming to Maranello I would have some difficulties to overcome. But now it seems to me that we are a couple of months behind what I expected at the start of the season. However, I have to say that after two races I am two points behind the leaders and, in perspective, if the changes to our car arrive, I can fight for the title right until the end".

 

Michael qualified fourth behind the increasingly surprising Panis, while Irvine was seventh. But Jean Todt is confident for the race:

 

"In the race is going to be better, the gap is smaller but surely to exploit it we should have started ahead, yet instead like this, from the fourth position, with two Williams in front, I don't know what we can do, let's hope for a podium".

 

But it will not be easy, as Panis may be an insurmountable obstacle as the Ferraris continue to have a lower top speed. On a track where overtaking is a pipe dream, barring exaggerated performance differences, one may be able to defend against attacks from behind, but it is also arduous to try to make up positions. This will probably happen more in the pit stops than in the actual race. 

 

"We are largely ahead of the Benettons and McLarens and that is already an advantage. There is the imponderable of tire usage, though, which also depends on the ambient temperature. It only takes a cloud to cool the asphalt and change a car's performance. Williams on paper is uncatchable. Once again, they have demonstrated their superiority, and we have to work to improve. Right now, we must be content to scrape together useful results. Although at the start of every race each of us hopes to win. When races are as difficult as this one, anything can happen".

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Also vying for the top six spots are the increasingly aggressive Stewart rookie (Barrichello, fifth time), Jordan with Ralf Schumacher and Fisichella, and Sauber especially with Herbert. The disaster pre-announced for the McLarens by Coulthard comes true: the Scot is tenth, at two seconds, Häkkinen even seventeenth, at three and a half seconds. Among the difficulties of the top teams and the isolated important performances of the less famous ones, such as the Prost of Panis or the other debuting team Stewart that places Barrichello in fifth position, the only constant remains the supremacy of Williams; in fact, also Benetton with Alesi and Berger bogs down in the middle of the classification and misses the first rows. The team chose hard tires that have not worked out.

 

"It is disheartening to be so far behind in the grid, but we will do everything to redeem ourselves in the race".
 

It is worth noting the time set by the driver who classified last, Pedro Diniz in Arrows, 1'28"696, 1'30"346 is instead the time with which Damon Hill, in the previous season, got the pole position. The slowest car of the weekend in 1996 would have made the dominant Williams eat the dust, a fact that makes us understand how much the cars have progressed in one year. The sun is shining in Buenos Aires on Sunday, April 13th. During the morning, Villeneuve goes to the hospital for a visit to be given a treatment against the intestinal problem that has been annoying him for two days now. A bit of a surprise or maybe just to deceive all the competitors, during the warm-up there are nine drivers within 8 tenths of each other. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether Williams is hiding or not, meaning if we will see a hard-fought race or a standard one. In the pre-race, on the starting grid, a funny exchange of jokes takes place between a journalist and Jackie Stewart, who is asked what is the goal of the day for his driver Barrichello, in fifth position. Sir Jackie replies:

 

"We haven't finished a race yet, so it would be great if at least one of the two cars made it all the way to the finish line. If it ends up in the top ten, even better".

 

Just as in Australia and Brazil, the start is just as eventful. Already on the reconnaissance lap there Frentzen experienced a little shiver down his spine, stationery on his spot while being overtaken by the others; the German then managed to restart and get back into second position. However, there was something wrong with his Williams. After two (three considering the double start in São Paulo) unhappy starts, this time Villeneuve starts perfectly and keeps himself away from trouble; on the contrary, Olivier Panis has a very bad start, thus losing positions and going beyond the track limit in the straight to avoid the contact with Schumacher who, on his part, touches the Stewart driven by Barrichello at the exit of the first corner. The Brazilian is unable to keep his car on track and spins, finding himself nose to nose with the Ferrari. The two collide. Barrichello, although with a visibly damaged nose, manages to restart, Schumacher - on the other hand - has to get out of the cockpit. The contact between the two also involves Coulthard, who ends up hitting a Jordan that in turn tries to avoid the damaged Ferrari. The Scot is also forced to return to the pits. The race direction decides not to interrupt the action on track as it did in Brazil and opts to deploy the Safety Car. However, a marshal remains at Turn 1 waving a red flag, which makes Schumacher believe that the race has been suspended. Consequently, the German starts to run as fast as he can to get back to the pits and get on the forklift only to later realise that the Safety Car is on track, which makes him slow down the pace and consequently convinces him that his race is officially over.

 

In all this, Villeneuve - as previously mentioned - kept himself out of trouble. Frentzen followed him right behind, along with Panis, followed by Eddie Irvine and Damon Hill who moved up to sixth position. When the Safety Car returned to the pits, Panis put his wheels in front of Frentzen's, who immediately after having been overtaken slowed down considerably, until he had to sadly park his car in the first escape route. The German driver, already criticised for the poor results obtained in the first two races, certainly hoped to have an opportunity for redemption in Argentina but instead, as in Australia, luck turned on him. 

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Panis was not satisfied with having overtaken only one Williams and tried to get closer to the other one, but Jacques was able to keep him at a safe distance. Villeneuve's main concern, however, lays in the strategy since the French driver at the wheel of the ex-Ligier should opt for a single stop as in Interlagos. Moreover, given his more than decent race pace, he could become a serious contender for victory. If it was not for the eighteenth lap, during which an electronic problem forced Panis to abandon the race. With Schumacher, Frentzen and the outsider Panis out of the race, for Villeneuve the victory seemed a mere formality. In total tranquillity, the Canadian even allowed himself the luxury of delaying his first stop by a few laps. Alain Prost, after the race, does not hide his disappointment:

 

"I am furious because it is a race we could have won. But even from the negatives results we can learn something. We must not let such opportunities slip away again".

 

In the meantime, there was no lack of battles: the only Schumacher who remained in the race, the young Ralf, stood out above all, firstly overtaking Damon Hill to gain the fifth place and a few laps later trying a manoeuvre - risky to say the least - on his teammate Fisichella, who was violently rammed and ended up in the gravel, unable to go on. The Jordan disaster did not end there, as the 21-year-old German managed to continue and was provisionally second, Irvine having made his first stop. On his part, Jean Alesi tried to make his way as far as he could, but the Italian-French driver was a bit too harsh in attacking Damon Hill from the outside: the two touched, Alesi spun and Hill went off. When they return to the track, both have lost several positions. The controversial contact with his box mate did not seem to bother Ralf at all since he even began to reduce the gap from Villeneuve, dropping from nine to three seconds even, if unlike the Canadian, he had not entered the pits for his stop -  which was going to be the only one - made instead on lap 35. In the meantime, Irvine also reduced the gap to Villeneuve to eleven seconds and when the leader of the world championship went for his second pit-stop he could also enjoy a few laps in the lead. The Ferrari driver pushes like crazy even setting the fastest lap on lap 43, aware that with the maximum effort he could also succeed in challenging Villeneuve's easy victory, as well as secure the second place to the disadvantage of Ralf Schumacher. With an aggressive spin at the entrance of the pit lane and a stop of 9.4 seconds, Irvine manages to keep the second place on Ralf Schumacher for a matter of few seconds, even if Villeneuve is about fifteen seconds away. On lap 55 of the 72 foreseen, Williams' mechanics prepared to go to the pits and Villeneuve returned to make another pit-stop, the third of his race: 7.2 seconds to mount soft tires and refuel.

 

The advantage on Irvine was oscillating around twenty seconds so Williams is not sure to stay in the lead once out of the pits. However, at the exit of the pit-lane, only for a handful of seconds Villeneuve managed to keep the leadership, but Irvine - also inspired by the dozens of Ferrari red flags on the stands - constantly reduced the gap until he rejoined Villeneuve exactly when there were only ten laps left to the chequered flag. Irvine was clearly faster than Jacques, something almost nonsensical considering the values seen so far on the field both in terms of cars and drivers, in fact, Eddie had few significant performances since his arrival at Ferrari, especially given this horrible start to the season. For ten laps Villeneuve managed to keep a cool head and did not make any errors except for a slight mistake three laps before the end, thus allowing Irvine to increase the pressure and get even closer, taking advantage of the slipstream on the straight without overtaking his opponent. Under the chequered flag, Jacques could finally breathe in relief and celebrate his sixth win of his career, which seemed to be already filed after only twenty laps. Six victories, just like his father Gilles. Even if the victory had been no more than a mere suggestion except in the very last stages of the race, Irvine can be in any case satisfied with the result, which also corresponds to his career best; the same can be said for Ralf Schumacher, third, who drew the attention of the paddock after an excellent performance, stained by a single contact with his teammate Fisichella. Herbert, Häkkinen and Berger closed the points zone, close to each other in a fierce battle, though without succeeding. The performance of Briatore's team was disappointing. 

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They had chosen hard tires to make just one stop but were penalised both on Saturday in qualifying and on Sunday in the race, so much so that despite a single tyre change, Berger was unable to bother the leading drivers.

 

"It was a very difficult race. Panis was very fast at the start, and I think he was on a different strategy, with fewer stops. I don't know what happened to him, but it would have certainly been hard to beat him. The team did a great job as usual, the car was also fantastic, but I think we chose the wrong tires this weekend. In the end I had a lot of understeer, blistering on the tires, and a lack of fuel. It wasn't easy to keep Irvine behind. A three-stop strategy was planned. Initially, we didn't expect anyone to make a single stop. Needless to say, it surprised us. We seriously risked losing the race. During the second stint, I pushed hard to create a gap that would allow me to stay in front. I knew that once back on track, Irvine would be faster than us".

 

Villeneuve declared at the end of the race. The Canadian does not want to hint at the World Championship:

 

"The only important thing is that the car is competitive, and I feel up to the task. The rest matters little, we are still a long way from the finish line. Better to work hard with the team than to dream".

 

On the podium, Irvine looked up to the sky and was distracted by a small inconvenience caused by the organisers, displaying the flag of Ireland instead of the British flag normally used for Northern Irish drivers. Although holding a British passport, Eddie identifies himself as an Irishman, this misdemeanour leads Ulster loyalists (who are pushing for Northern Ireland to remain in the UK on reunification with Ireland) to target both the Ferrari driver and his parents' home in County Down:

 

"I don't want to argue with anyone, and I don't want controversy because there's already too much of it: I feel Irish, so I want the four-leaf clover, which is a symbol of all Irish people, north and south. Enough of these wars, enough. Long live the four-leaf clover".

 

Irvine later asked the Federation to allow him to use the white flag with the shamrock in any other podium finish, but the FIA decided to allow only the Union Jack, thus rejecting his request. Leaving aside this little mishap, after months of merciless criticism due to his less-than-stellar results (made even more evident by the performance of his more aristocratic team-mate), Eddie was finally able to answer to all the accusations and bad judgments that had rained down on him since his arrival at Ferrari:

 

“I will remember this day for a long time, and I hope there will be more. A race like this was much needed, more for Ferrari than for me. With all the things that have been written about me... I've never been depressed about it. I knew that Ferrari had a high consideration of me and loved me, but for one reason or the other, I always missed the opportunity. I knew I had to get a good start, it was the only chance to get out of that distant position I was on the grid. After that, I would have been able to climb back up. And I started well, so well that at one point I even overtook Michael. I'm told that when you saw the accident scene on TV you immediately shouted: there he is, the usual Irvine. But I was in front. Sometimes a chance like that is enough to change everything. The strategy we chose turned out to be the right one. I was confident I would get a good start and I did. I would like things to continue like this. Victory was very close, but I couldn't and didn't want to risk it. Anyway, the result was good not only thanks to me but also because of the car, which was balanced and was working really well. Let's hope so. Now we must prepare for Imola".

 

Alan Prost, sombre in expression:

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"I am furious, because this is a race we could have won. But even from the negative times, we can take the opportunity to learn something. However, we should not let such opportunities slip away any more. Panis could have finished first. We have to create new chances as soon as possible".

 

So many convincing performances at the wheel of the Jordan had earned him the call from Maranello, which in its reconstruction process decided to include him, yes, as the two-time world champion's squire, but it was still an investment on someone who considered himself a valid and solid driver. He who, on his debut in Formula 1 at Suzuka in 1993, had overshadowed his good race by getting punched by Senna in the motorhome after he had made reckless manoeuvres when he simply had to step aside to be lapped (and even refused to admit his faults when Ayrton went looking for him to give him an earful). At thirty-one years of age, no longer a young man, Irvine achieved his best career result, hoping that this would be a decisive turning point in his career in red. In an interview with La Stampa, Eddie talked about his relationship with Schumacher and the final laps of the Buenos Aires race:

 

"I learnt many things from Schumacher, and I love him. We are different. He's the best, he's very self-controlled, maybe sometimes he'd like to party, but he holds back, he thinks about work and family. I'm single, I like girls, and sometimes I like a glass of beer or wine. But I'm not a playboy or a wild drinker as they would like to portray me. I'm a normal guy, aware of my responsibilities. Ambitions are always there if the opportunity arises. Even on Sunday I could have perhaps pushed harder to beat Villeneuve, either trying to do it or possibly dying. But if I had gone off the track on the last lap, they would have called me an asshole. And I think everyone in the pits was happy with second place".

 

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo also commented on Irvine's performance, but above all on how the stewards managed the race start:

 

"I am very happy for the team and for Irvine, but I am angry about the decision of the race direction not to repeat the start: you cannot use double standards. In São Paulo we were leading, and they stopped us. In any case, we are now close to the best".

 

While making peace with the great disappointment of the Argentine weekend, Michael Schumacher retraces the first phase of the race that was fatal to him and confesses:

 

"They used a completely different yardstick compared to that of the previous two races. It’s something difficult for me to accept. As for me and the accident, I was the one who touched the rear wheels of Barrichello's car, he spun, and I ran straight into him. I had a dirty visor from the oil lost from Frentzen's Williams and I didn't have a very clear view. We were facing each other, he managed to restart, but unfortunately, I didn't. I saw the red flag and ran back to the pits to get the forklift and get ready for the second start. While I was running, I saw the Safety Car and realised that I was out of the race. Now we are thinking about the next race. After Eddie's beautiful performance, Ferrari showed that it has made progress, I think we will show even more progress in Imola".

 

Then, a few words about his brother Ralf:

 

"I'm also happy for my brother Ralf, for his third place. It's a shame he took Fisichella out like that. There was no room to overtake, and he's still young, he doesn't have the experience, but I'm sure he won't do things like that again".

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The poor handling of the accident, in this case the red flag shown which created avoidable misunderstandings and controversy, cost the Grand Prix organisers a $10.000 fine. The decision came after reading reports about the unauthorized use of the red flag during the first lap at the 'exit of the first corner and in place #2'. But there is insufficient explanation to the reasons why the red flag, which indicates the interruption of the race, was shown without the authorization of the race direction, which had instead decided to neutralize the Grand Prix by deploying the Safety Car. This conduct was not exemplary and was also highlighted by the lack of penalties for Panis, who had overtaken Irvine under the regime of safety car.

 

"It's scandalous what they did".

 

Jean Todt thunders, then he goes on saying:

 

"In Brazil, for much less than what happened here, they stopped the race immediately with the red flag. At least in two places on the circuit the red flags were shown, I think you can confirm this by watching the television recording. But while the red flags were being shown, I repeat in at least two points, the Safety Car came in another point. Long story short, the race was stopped on one side and continued on the other, which seems to me a quite bad handling of the situation".

 

While talking about Eddie Irvine's performance - after having always defended him even in the days of the worst disasters - the French manager told the journalists present at the circuit:

 

"Irvine did a very wise race. It's easy to say: couldn't he have tried to overtake Villeneuve? Oh! Yes! Just imagine what you would have written against him. No, he did everything very well. He couldn't overtake the Williams, maybe even Schumacher couldn't have done it, the conditions weren't right to do such a thing. And anyway, these are all questions that cannot be answered because they don't belong to reality. If Eddie had been ahead of Villeneuve after the pit-stop, I don't think Jacques would have overtaken him either, because the conditions weren't right for him to do it either. And Williams is definitely better than us".

 

Two more weeks of rest and then Formula 1 is ready to go to Imola; before going to the Republic of San Marino, however, the teams stop in Barcelona for a test session. Ferrari continues to work non-stop to improve the F310B, the new 046/2 engine which gives Schumacher excellent sensations on the Montmelò track, so much so that the German - in need of recovering points after the zero in Buenos Aires - asks to use it already in Imola. At the end of the three days of testing, Villeneuve and Häkkinen did better than everyone else, ending up in front of everyone, just ahead of Schumacher (although the first two used soft compound tires and the lap times recorded in these circumstances are usually an end in themselves). The values of the field seen up to now, especially in Argentina, have shown that Williams - although unbeatable on a dry lap in the race - sees its technical advantage over the others shrinking. Ferrari is therefore preparing for its home Grand Prix, where the cheering crowds of fans are waiting - through the team manager Jean Todt - for the announcement about the use of the new engine. Nevertheless, it might only be employed in qualifying, where there is a greater deficit in comparison with Williams, also because the team does not want to exaggerate in the race and face problems due to excessive consumption. In addition, Shell brings a new type of fuel explicitly wanted by Schumacher, who chose it after evaluating twenty-six different types. McLaren too is not standing idly by and has announced that it reached an agreement with Adrian Newey, who will act as the Anglo-German team's new technical director from August 1st. An added value of no small importance for Ron Dennis' team, given the great successes achieved by Newey in his time with Williams, which continues to benefit from his genius. An agreement was reached at the end of a long and difficult dispute with Williams itself (which had even taken the case to court), to the point that Newey could not even go to the McLaren headquarters for simple courtesy visits before the matter had been resolved.


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