In Barcelona, on April 17th and 18th, 1997, collective tests are held with the participation of Williams, Benetton, Ferrari, McLaren and Prost. At the end of the three test days, Jacques Villeneuve gets the best time but it must be underlined that the Canadian driver, together with Gerhard Berger, is the only one to use a new type of Goodyear tyres. Williams, on this occasion, also tests the car modified according to the 1998 regulations, both with Boullier and Villeneuve. The Ferrari with Michael Schumacher, on the other hand, runs a long test, seventy laps equal to 332 kilometres with the step 1 engine, and ninety-four laps equal to 440 kilometres with the step 2 engine, before a small pipe in the hydraulic system, late in the day, prevented him from testing the new Goodyear tyres. These tests helped Schumacher decide to use the step 2 engine during qualifying for the Imola Grand Prix:
"I am very satisfied with the performance and driveability, I would like to have it at least on Saturday for qualifying".
But regarding a possible real gain in performance, Irvine is extremely sceptical, to the point that he declares:
"Don't expect much from this engine, here at Imola it will give us a small tenth of an advantage, not much but better than nothing".
And even Jean Todt confirms the words of the Northern Irish driver, admitting:
"At Monte-Carlo, step two might not give us anything, but when the fast circuits come, like Hockenheim, then it can give us a lot and we want to arrive at those races with a well-tested engine".
With the officialdom of Ferrari's decision to use the Step 2 engine in qualifying, Todt also responds to the theory that this choice could lead to problems with gasoline consumption:
"Too often people talk about problems that don't exist. I do not know where this theory comes from, but it is not true. After Argentina we tried to improve road holding and aerodynamics. I believe that from June we can fight on a par with Williams. This does not exclude that Ferrari can win sooner".
At Fiorano, Ferrari completes its preparation for the San Marino GP. Eddie Irvine, fit and eager to show even the Italians up close what he can do, tests the three cars for Imola, also taking the opportunity to simulate starts and pit stops for tire changes and refueling. On this occasion Schumacher, who in previous days had been at the center of a controversy sparked by the popular German newspaper Bild over the champion's forwarded request for family allowances for his daughter Gina Maria of about 200.000 lire a month, to be donated to Unesco charities, indulges in optimism:
"I feel the air of home, the approach of the San Marino Grand Prix puts euphoria in me. I want to have a great race: the Ferraristi deserve it".
Michael Schumacher smiles when he thinks about the Imola race. It is one of the big occasions of the year for him, with Monza and the races in Germany. Last year for Schumi there was the first Italian embrace and the pole position came immediately. This time he cares less about the Saturday result and much more about the Sunday result. He knows that getting the best time in practice will be very difficult. Schumacher says:
"The Williams, seems uncatchable in the fight for pole position. But anything can happen in the race".
The German, who had to be a spectator in the Argentine Grand Prix because of the accident with Barrichello at the first corner of the race, realized that under certain conditions the Williams, which has already been showing problems with its brakes for three grands prix, is not unbeatable. Where Ferrari loses in the comparison with Williams is in 'aerodynamics, that is, in the whole design concept made by Barnard. As a result the Ferrari often loses grip and suffers in the very sections where the Williams goes faster. Differences also exist in the brakes of the two cars. Ferrari's brakes are perhaps more efficient and offer more assurance of durability in the race. For reasons of aerodynamics and weight, the Williams has a more fragile system that is likely to fail. And at Imola, the brakes will once again be protagonists. The circuit, which is very fast in some sections, subjects all the organs of the single-seaters to brutal efforts both under acceleration and braking. Meanwhile, the choice of tyres remains an unknown factor, but it seems obvious from the start that Ferrari will use the softer Goodyear tyres at Imola, as they did in Argentina. In the meantime, Maranello's team is concluding negotiations to sell its British facilities to British designer John Barnard. The company will be called B3 Technologies Ltd. and will work autonomously from Ferrari. Important news for Mclaren as well. On the eve of the race, Ron Dennis's stable hired (as of August 1, 1997) as technical director Adrian Newey, who has been the designer, especially for the aerodynamic part, of all the Williams cars that have won in recent years. Newey's hiring comes at the end of a long dispute between the two racing teams that had even ended up in court: the engineer hitherto could not even visit McLaren because he would have been liable to a very large fine. Instead, peace has returned to Jordan. During testing at Silverstone the week before the San Marino Grand Prix, Ralf Schumacher apologized to Fisichella for knocking him off the track in Argentina when the Italian was in third place.
"There are no more problems between our two drivers, because they have explained themselves through an interpreter. They are young and determined, which is good for the team".
Jordan thus closes an unfortunate episode that also provoked an outcry from Fisichella's mechanics, who were furious at losing the rewards expected if the driver entrusted to their care placed. Fisichella is not the only one defending the Italian colors; along with him also Larini with his Sauber Petronas and Trulli with the Minardi. Arriving at Imola, Jacques Villeneuve, who since his arrival in Formula One has proved to be one of those drivers always out of the box and who doesn't mince his words, has something to say about the new regulations for the 1998 season, which provide for narrower cars and sculpted tyres:
"I tried a Williams with this configuration and it is ridiculous, like driving an F3 with the power and ground effect of a Formula 1".
However, if in the past the FIA reacted hardly against those who dared to criticise the Federation (as in 1993 when Alain Prost's participation in the championship was at risk, as he was deemed guilty of having criticised the new regulations during the winter), in this case diplomacy was the way:
"If there is something to change in the tyres, we will do it".
Jacques Villeneuve is not a comfortable character, and when asked on the Thursday before the race weekend what he thinks of the San Marino Grand Prix, he replies:
"The Imola track is useless".
Nevertheless, he remains the big favorite; the man to beat, the benchmark. So the pressure is there, but for the rider it is nevertheless positive:
"Everyone is expecting a good result from me and the team. And we will try to do it, this result. Last year was different for me. I came from the U.S. and there was distrust of me. Many people expected me to collapse, make a bad impression. Now it is easier, I can continue on the momentum of second place in the 1996 championship. After Damon Hill went to Arrows, and after two wins out of three races, the responsibilities at Williams have increased, but I don't see that. I am actually freer to work in my own way with the engineers, and I know that together we can all improve the performance of the car. This pushes me to work even harder".
On teammate Frentzen:
"The two of us get along well even though we don't know each other very well. Everyone knows he is fast. Maybe he hasn't been too consistent so far, in the sense that he has a hard time doing more or less equal laps. But he hasn't been at Williams very long and I think he will only progress. In the beginning he used the adjustments that Hill and his engineers were making. Now I think they are looking at ours. To tell you the truth, it's not like I care too much about it. Basically: I don't care about it. He can do what he wants if I can do the same".
Villeneuve has the knowledge that he has gained good experience and thinks he can win the world title:
"I know that it could happen to me to make some mistakes again, however, I am in the best team and I believe I have a good chance of achieving the goals we have set for ourselves. The championship, however, as they say, is still long. I am sure they will try to make life difficult for me. All in all, I was lucky or maybe I chose well. If I had joined a second-rate team, I probably would have become a second-rate driver. And it would have been problematic to move up a category".
Finally on the duel everyone expects at Imola with Schumacher:
"If there will be a direct challenge, it will be with someone very fast. Michael is. I've already had a few tussles with him and we've measured each other. I must say that he has always been very fair with me. I hope to find myself in a battle with him".
Everything is ready in Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix. Teams, cars and drivers are all already at the autodrome. After the work carried out last year, the circuit has no major new features except for a slightly larger press room and the famous burglar-proof fences on which the final touches have been made with barbed wire with the hope that there will be no field invasions this year that would cost the autodromo its cancellation from the Formula 1 world calendar. Thanks to Ferrari's good moment, organizers hope to make a full house, that is, to beat the record of 187.000 paying spectators that dates back to 1983, the year of Ferrari's second and last victory at the 'racetrack named after Enzo Ferrari himself. It was Frenchman Patrick Tamnbay who crossed the finish line first. After that, for Ferrari nothing. Except for Nicola Larini's second place in the very Grand Prix three years ago in which Ayrton Senna died. And it is Senna himself who will provide Saturday, April 26, 1997, the occasion for a sad but touching ceremony: the unveiling of a three-meter-high bronze monument that will be uncovered near the corner where he died. Strange to say, of this ceremony and the memory of a great champion of driving, surely one of the greatest and most beloved of all time, not much seems to care. Even the family lets it be known that they are a bit fed up with these ceremonies. Father, mother, brothers, and sisters will stay at home. There will perhaps be Bianca, a granddaughter of Ayrton, the ambassador from Brazil and the drivers present at Imola.
News comes that during the day on Thursday, 24, Niki Lauda underwent surgery on a kidney in a Viennese clinic. The three-time Formula 1 World Champion is doing well, the operation lasted two hours during which one of Lauda's kidneys was replaced with a kidney taken from his brother Florian. Doctors are optimistic although it will have to wait for definitive feedback on the 'organ's adaptation. Lauda had been ill with his kidneys for a long time, he knew this and kept the situation under control. He had once confessed to a friend that this dysfunction was almost certainly an after-effect of the terrible accident he had in 1976 at the Nurburgring circuit in Germany where his car had caught fire. From his hospital bed Lauda says he is not worried and promises that in June, at Ferrari's 50th anniversary and celebrations in Rome, he will drive his 20-year-old car. On Friday, April 25, on the Santerno, the Ferrarista people celebrated the liberation from Villeneuve's Williams, at least for one day. Around the circuit are counted on the 40.000 attendance, a figure however not official, against the 25,000 spectators who were present at the first day of the GP in 1996. Tickets for the 31.000 grandstand seats can no longer be found. That leaves the lawn, increasingly limited, by boxes and VIP area. Favorite destinations are the Rivazza and Tosa where Germans and Austrians dominate. The full house on the first day and the holiday bridge sent the 'highway into a tailspin from the early morning hours. Those who can reached the 'racetrack by helicopter, for everyone else long queues. Behind the pits, in the paddock, moving is almost impossible. Each pass corresponds to a small slice of freedom. Forbidden to move from one area to 'other even to go to the bathroom.
"You lose half an hour every time".
Explains Domenico Salcito, who is not a fan-curious, but the manager of the circuit's medical center also struggling with the accreditation drama. The organizers' goal is to reach 200.000 tomorrow night. And to make the record they are going ahead even at night, when there will be dancing on the track. The stands at the autodrome are packed from Friday onwards, to support a Ferrari that absolutely needs important points for the championship, although it is only the fourth round of the seventeen scheduled. Schumacher and Irvine showed to be very fast, with the reinvigorated Eddie who in the free practice snatched the best time putting him seven thousandths behind his team leader. Williams seemed to hide, in qualifying his supremacy didn't seem in danger. As a matter of fact, punctual as a Swiss watch, Villeneuve gets the fourth pole in a row, three tenths ahead of Frentzen, closer to the Canadian in comparison with the previous qualifications. Also for the German ex-Sauber the Imola Grand Prix is already an important crossroads: with zero points in the classification after two retirements and a ninth place, the doubts in the driver's head and in the Williams team about his real skills are constantly increasing. Heinz needs a performance similar to that of Irvine in Argentina. The Northern Irishman did not continue his excellent free practice and on Saturday he was only ninth. To keep the fans' hopes alive there was Schumacher, third and ready to squeeze in between the two Williams in the race.
"From Schumacher I expected what he did, which is what we could realistically expect".
Confessed Jean Todt, who then said a few words for Irvine:
"Well, yes, I expected something more, a sixth place for example. But he had a lot of problems and we couldn't solve them all".
While talking about the new Step 2 engine, finally used on track without any striking results, the French manager warns the press:
"I've always said that you shouldn't expect miracles, I've always said that at most we could gain a tenth of a second, maybe on some circuits we'll gain more and on others less. The fact is that the riders feel better with this engine, they prefer it, but that doesn't mean that step two will perform miracles. It's not with this engine that we will be able to catch up with the competition. The most important thing is that we are still there. There are five teams capable of fighting each other, they are not always the same, I would say that here at Imola of these five there are two new ones at this level. We are there and for now we hope to score points. This means that I hope for a podium finish and another one in the points zone. Hopefully we can overtake one of the two Williams. That's not bad but we need to do more. Right away, though, it's not possible".
And talking about the F310B and what needs to be changed, Ferrari's Sports Director admits:
"We have to change the aerodynamics, change the weight distribution, change the shock absorbers and suspension. Some we have already studied, others we will study now. If all goes well, I hope you'll see the changes in Spain at the end of May".
But not all that glitters for Frank's two cars on Saturday, as both drivers failed to heed the yellow flags' order to slow down during qualifying and overtook other cars on the track. Both drivers promptly received their first reprimands of the season. Reprimands that we will hear about again later this season. On top of that, Williams has shown in the first three rounds that it has problems with its brakes. Precisely at Imola the brakes are once again the protagonists because the circuit, which is very fast in some sections, subjects all the mechanics of a single-seater to brutal strain both under acceleration and braking. Another factor that worried the Williams men, and not a little. There were also some slight skirmishes to be reckoned with for Schumacher, accused at the end of qualifying by Prost of having slowed down Olivier Panis in the very last minutes to keep the third place on the grid safe. The Frenchman stopped in fourth position, followed by the two surprising Jordans of Schumacher and Fisichella, who confessed to the press:
"I made a good time and I'm happy to keep improving my qualifying position race after race. Unfortunately, I encountered a lot of traffic that slowed me down while I was doing a good lap on the second set of tyres. The car is going well and I have a lot of confidence for the race. Of course here in Italy I'd like to finish on the podium, but my main goal is still to score points".
McLaren and Benetton, on the other hand, are scattered in the middle of the standings, and a decent race pace may not be enough to climb back up the ladder. Accompanied by the Imola event, Montezemolo first exalted his team and then let himself go with a little dig at Goodyear, which seems to be struggling in the comparison between tyre suppliers against the debutant Bridgestone:
"With the other Bridgestone tyres, from what we can tell, we could be a second faster. We're staying with Goodyear because we respect our contracts, but we're hoping for progress, also because of our stresses. In Australia we had taken two seconds from Williams, here only six tenths of a second. We got two second places in three races and what is comforting is that in the race the gap between us and Williams is decreasing. So we are confident for the San Marino Grand Prix which will be a difficult race, hard but not only for the brakes. Since I've been at Ferrari there has never been such a compact, united team. We are among the best and I think this is a positive thing even if I can't deny that at the beginning of the year I was hoping for something more, but I am sure that satisfaction will come soon".
The retort of American manufacturer Goodyear was not long in coming after being called a sleeping colossus by Montezemolo. Cai Lint, Goodyear's head of Formula 1 responds:
"I have not spoken to Ferrari but I guarantee that no one is sleeping here and we are following a development program to keep us ahead of the competition. We are no longer a monopoly and we have to speed up the pace of innovations, but this does not scare us. I remind Ferrari that performance does not depend only on tires and that Williams also rides Goodyear".
The story of Jarno Trulli is also curious: after the race at Imola, he will have to go back to the barracks, to the First Special Athletes Department near the Cecchignola in Rome, since the young Italian driver divides his time between Minardi, the team from Romagna with which he races in the Formula One world championship, and his military service:
"I still have a month left of barracks. It was hard at first, but then I got used to it. I have to thank my commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Pietro De Canio, and also Captain Dario Pontillo. They're the ones who sign my licences to go racing. After all, they see me on television, so they have proof that I don't cheat. In the barracks there are well-equipped gyms where I can train. I work mainly on my neck, and my girth has increased by almost four centimetres. The secret? With a special tool I can lift up to 23 kilos, just by moving my neck".
And talking about the competition and his future:
"We're behind, but I don't despair about the race, we've already finished ninth twice in past Grands Prix, a sign that the car is reliable. The fact is that we have little power here. In a straight line we are twenty kilometres slower than the competition. I like the circuit, I have never done the Tamburello in full before the modification, but there are at least two very nice and challenging corners, at Acque and Rivazza. The future? I'm under contract with Benetton, with Minardi I have an option for 1998, it's a team where I feel good".
The following morning it was raining on the circuit, and during the warm-up the drivers drove on a wet track. Rain remains an important unknown factor, even in view of the race, due to the grey clouds that loom over the circuit a few minutes before the start. In addition, the track presents a dry trajectory, but is equally insidious. From here the teams launch different strategies, Hill, for example, with a decision taken at the last minute decides to change aiming at a wet set-up, also in combination with an oil leak found on his car; ergo, the world champion will start from the pit lane, using dry tyres like everyone else, but with a wet track set-up, hoping therefore for the arrival of the rain. The two Prost drivers are also hoping for rain, so they choose the set-up that will ultimately prove to be wrong, as the track will remain dry for the duration of the race. A race, the one in Imola, followed by a good 90.000 spectators, which over the three days will reach a total of 190.000, a record compared to 187.000 in 1983. Precisely for this reason, and to avoid possible invasions at the end of the race, which in past years had led to fines and warnings from the FIA, the Imola fencing was reinforced by adding barbed wire. The race was followed mainly by two guests of honour, Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Cesare Romiti. First the president of Fiat, then Romano Prodi, visit the Ferrari pits, which are always crowded and heavily guarded. The Prime Minister then climbs into the VIP grandstand to watch the start of the race live, while the Fiat President meets Jean Todt in the Prancing Horse van before the start. Prodi, accompanied by his escort, also meets the President of FOCA, Bernie Ecclestone, and in a short time an exchange of words takes place in front of the cameras of half the world on the future of Imola:
"Monza and Imola fit perfectly in the calendar. This is an important race for Italy, the Grand Prix must stay".
In reply, the FOCA president replied that he had never had any problems, and he had no problems this year either.
"And you won't have any next year".
The Italian Prime Minister concluded, before the customary greetings. With one part of the main straight drier than the other, the cars on the side with more grip will inevitably have a better sprint. As a result, the poleman Villeneuve had no problem holding the lead when the lights went out, while Frentzen was immediately overtaken by Schumacher, just as Panis was overtaken by Ralf Schumacher. Frentzen immediately tried a counter-attack at Tosa, but Schumacher closed him down without too much trouble. After three starts characterised by incidents, there was finally the first clean start of the season. In the first phase of the race a compact leading quartet formed by the two Williams and the two Schumacher brothers, with Michael closed between Villeneuve and Frentzen. A quartet that, however, gets thinner as the laps go by. Villeneuve increased his race pace and Schumacher couldn't keep up with him, moreover there was Frentzen behind him who didn't stop tailing him, arriving on one occasion almost to crash into him at the Rivazza, where he was obliged to widen the trajectory to avoid a disaster; also the Jordan driven by Ralf wasn't fast enough to keep in touch with the first ones, and on the contrary he had to watch out for the return of the Sauber driven by Johnny Herbert. Then suddenly a series of retirements excluded first Berger, who went off-track at Acque Minerali, remaining covered with sand and celebrating in the worst way his 200th Grand Prix in Formula 1; then Damon Hill, who was desperately trying to recover after starting from pit-lane, attacked Nakano at Variante Bassa, but both of them ended up in the gravel with cars irreparably damaged. This is Damon's fourth retirement in as many races. Afterwards, in little more than a lap, both Ralf Schumacher and Herbert are forced to retire due to technical problems, the transmission for the former, electronic for the latter. At the same time, close to the twentieth lap, Irvine and Fisichella got rid of Panis, clearly in crisis because of the wrong set-up with which he had to drive, and who before the retirements of Schumacher and Herbert occupied the sixth position. With a good overtaking at Piratella and taking advantage of the others' retirements, Eddie was all of a sudden fourth. When there were only a few laps to go before the first stop, Villeneuve had an advantage of more than four seconds over his two pursuers, but due to a driving error that escaped the international television direction, the gap was practically reduced to zero.
Frentzen tried again to attack Schumacher in vain, taking advantage of the presence of a lapped driver who was a bit reluctant to be overtaken, Pedro Diniz, to whom the Ferrari driver reserved some gestures of frustration on the main straight. The time to make the pit stops came, and the first to stop was Schumacher on lap 24. After that comes Irvine (both of them curiously record the same time of 9.4 seconds when stopping), Villeneuve and finally Frentzen, who sets the fastest lap of 1'25"772 during his attempt to overcut Schumacher. An overcut that succeeded even better than expected, since the German driver, once he came out of the pits after a problematic 11.1-second stop due to a front left tyre that was struggling to be fixed, was even in the lead of the race, ahead of Schumacher and with Villeneuve only third. The situation is therefore reversed for the two Williams, while it is almost identical for Schumacher, who sees one Williams running away and the other attached to his rear end. Between the thirty-eighth and fortieth lap there was another important turning point in the race, coinciding with other retirements, this time of more relevant names in the championship. Having climbed to fourth position just ahead of Irvine thanks to a one-stop strategy, things were looking more than good for David Coulthard, but the sudden bursting of the Mercedes engine took him out of the race, just as the Northern Irishman was trying to regain his lost position. The intense white smoke momentarily disrupted Eddie, who was surprised by an attentive Fisichella, up to that moment an interested spectator of the battle. But it wasn't over yet. With Schumacher strangely already nine seconds behind, it seems clear that there is something abnormal on Villeneuve's car, which returns to the pits on lap 40. A frustrating agony began for the Canadian, who was forced to return to the pit lane having been left with the fifth gear engaged; the mechanics fitted him with a new steering wheel and began to work frantically inside the cockpit. Villeneuve is very agitated, he shakes his head continuously, beats his fists on the steering wheel and tries to restart but the engine stops; the mechanics try to restart it, the minutes pass until it is understood that there is nothing to do. Twenty laps from the end the world leader had to get out of the car and retire. The unpleasant experience in Australia and the problems encountered by his team-mate cannot reassure him, but the fact remains that the first victory in his career, lap after lap, is getting closer for Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
To increase the tension, Schumacher decided to fight until the last metre, the lapping of Hakkinen and Alesi, fighting each other and unwilling to look in the mirrors, as well as a light rain that started to fall in the last laps. Once the second pit-stop had been made, the gap between the two leading drivers remained constant at around three seconds, but on the last lap Frentzen was far too cautious and the gap dropped below a second. Even if with apprehension, the German driver wins his first race in Formula 1 after having run fifty-six. The two Ferraris completed the podium, thanks to the excellent work of the mechanics who, thanks to a quick pit-stop, allowed Irvine to recover his position on Giancarlo Fisichella, who could also celebrate his first placing in the points. It is curious that on the podium at Imola, after the controversy that exploded following the Argentinean Grand Prix, the FIA imposed that the flag of the United Kingdom is raised to accompany Eddie Irvine's third place. At the microphones of the foreign broadcasters, albeit in a rather awkward English, the young Roman driver clearly expressed his state of mind:
"I am very happy. Thanks to Jordan, the car was great, even the podium was possible but the pit stop was not so good. With Ralf we solved it, in Monte-Carlo we hope to repeat".
Those who have seen him race guarantee that the Roman driver will go far: Alain Prost has confessed that he would not mind having him in the stable; Briatore has a contract that he can enforce for Benetton from the end of 1998, when his commitment with Jordan expires; Ferrari hired him last year as a test driver.
"In the meantime, I'm leading the way with Jordan because I think it's competitive with the best. Ferrari is a myth and in a few years, if they call me, I will be happy. However, my first thought is Jordan and for the future Benetton. Currently we are on the level of Ferrari, Irvine overtook me only because he made better use of the pit stop. In Monte Carlo I will start with big ambitions. It is among the circuits I know best and that suit me best: I won there in 1994 in Formula 3".
The fourth place in Imola won by the 24-year-old Italian strengthens him in the role and credits him with his first points in Formula 1:
"I don't feel like the leader of a new school of Italian drivers because there are only three of us and one, Trulli, is living at Minardi the experience I went through last year. He runs in the rear. For me, the horizon has changed. The attention of the Italians for my driving is growing: the greatest satisfaction I had when I returned to the pits feeling that everyone was calling me and I wondered if even the Ferraristi were not happy with the overtaking of Irvine, in the first part of the race".
During the press conference, Frentzen talks about the difficulties encountered in the final part of the race:
"Tomorrow maybe I will be able to tell you my emotions, now I still have too many things on my mind. Winning is a great feeling, but it wasn't easy. When I saw Michael and Jacques come into the pits I knew it was time to push hard and set fast laps before I made my stop. The lapping was a concern, but when I got back into the lead and on soft tyres I was honestly surprised. This track puts the brakes to the test. After the bad experience in Melbourne, I tried to save them at the end, checking Schumacher from a distance every time he approached. Towards the end of the race I was worried about the brakes, I didn't want a repeat of Melbourne. The pits told me that Michael was pushing, so I couldn't manage them too much. There was also a chance of rain towards the end of the race, I saw a few drops falling and thought: this is it. But here I am, I'm speechless. Looking ahead to Monaco I am optimistic, I feel comfortable with the car after some changes made by the team".
With six points gained in combination with Villeneuve's surprise zero, Schumacher also looks visibly satisfied:
"The set-up was great, a mixture of dry and wet, I must say that the car behaved great. Even though I was hoping to get in between the Williams, third place was the most realistic place for us today, so coming in second is more than satisfactory. Of course, the crucial moment was that first pit stop. Frentzen narrowly got out in front of me. Also in the second pit-stop it could have been better. Unfortunately, I was forced to slow down because of the lapped cars, I had Larini in front of me who saw me in the mirrors and reduced the pace but I had to brake so hard that I ended up flattening the front right tyre and had to come into the pits earlier than expected. Unfortunately there are always problems with lapped drivers. The question remains: without this, would the rest of the race have been different? Who knows. The result shows that we are competitive in the race. We are the only team keeping up with the Williams and this fills me with optimism because we have a lot of new things in the pipeline that will help us move forward. I hope that we can fight consistently".
Two podiums in a row, one of them in front of the Italian fans. For Irvine the season seems to be finally taking the right turn:
"I got a good start, my Ferrari was well balanced and there were no problems. Unfortunately, I had a lot of fuel in the tank at the start of the race and I had a hard time overtaking Panis. He was a bit faster than me but I wanted to save the tyres and attack him later. When I saw that he was starting to skid a bit because his tyres were starting to wear out, I took off. I also had a battle with Fisichella but I had more fuel than him and I let him go because I knew I would overtake him at the pits during the stop. At the end I had a little trouble shifting gears, but everything was under control. I also had a good battle with Coulthard until he stayed in the race. I must admit that I had a lot of fun".
Jean Todt is also happy:
"We are second in the Constructors' Championship and second and third in the Drivers' Championship. It's the first time Ferrari has been like this after several years. So the result is good and shows that our work is beginning to bear fruit. And then, let me tell you, as a Frenchman, here at Imola it's a different story. Now we can face our future with serenity. I am convinced that we will achieve what we all want to achieve. We will now spend the week at Fiorano to prepare for the race in Monte Carlo where I believe we can do well. We have confirmation of the great reliability of our cars, we now need to increase the performance a little and we are on the right track to achieve it".
Finally, the French manager also says a few words about Frentzen, one of his favourites, so much so that he wanted to bring him to Ferrari two years earlier, but did not dare to propose for fear of possible friction with Schumacher:
"Frentzen was already almost forgotten after the first three races and instead you have seen what a great driver he is, someone who knows how to do his job well, which is a difficult job that can give joy but also very bad moments".
Frank Williams also pays tribute to the German driver:
"He did great, I'm happy for him. We won where Ferrari always goes strong".
Finally, one cannot miss a thought for Senna:
"I am naturally thinking of Ayrton Senna, this is his circuit".
Jacques Villeneuve's mood was completely different. His race was already over at the fortieth lap, after the mechanics who were checking his gearbox moved him to give space to Frentzen who was arriving for the tyre change, but in doing so they invaded the Ferrari pits waiting for Irvine. Rumours inside the pits said that Villeneuve, away from prying eyes, kicked the equipment around him to vent his anger. But the Canadian driver denies these allegations:
"Angry? No, I am disappointed. After the first pit stop, the gearbox didn't work as well as before, so I stopped again thinking it could be fixed, but it couldn't be. On the straight stretch, when accelerating, the gearbox shifted on its own, I couldn't control it anymore, it would have been impossible to continue. It's a shame, the car was fine all weekend except for the race. Anyway, the championship is still long, even if we have wasted all the advantage we had so far".
And finally he adds:
"The nervous gestures were because of the traffic on the track".
However, the disappointed Jacques, having said this to the press, took refuge in his motorhome before leaving the circuit. Despite his two retirements this season, the two victories obtained in the other races allowed Villeneuve to remain at the top of the general classification with 20 points, but with his 14 points Schumacher kept in close contact with the Canadian and was officially a candidate to be the one who would try to put a spoke in his wheels for the rest of the season. Attention, however, not to exclude definitively those who have so far been sporadic protagonists of this World Championship, in order Frentzen, Coulthard, Hakkinen, Irvine and Berger, all paired at 10 points and without doubt still to be taken into consideration. On the other hand, the two Arrows drivers, Hill and Diniz, received a one-race suspension from the FIA, with a suspended sentence. The world champion was found guilty of crashing into Nakano, while the Brazilian was guilty of not observing the blue flags, a circumstance that brought him close to colliding with Villeneuve's car. Therefore, if in the next race they incur in similar infractions, the two Arrows drivers will be disqualified for one Grand Prix. Williams dominates for now, but the 1997 World Championship is more open than ever. In the aftermath of the race, as thousands of people leave the circuit after the celebrations for the two Ferrari drivers who took the podium, a bang is heard throughout the paddock area. It is 6:00 p.m. and the bomb squad has just detonated a homemade bomb abandoned on the bank of the Santerno River, just behind the pits. The device was described by investigators as having little potential, but still capable of causing damage should it explode in the midst of people. Any political trail has been ruled out. No particular phone calls were received by the race management, neither announcing nor claiming responsibility. It would therefore be a fan affair according to investigators. The day after the GP the Fiorano track is wet, clouds loom but Ferrari is already at work. Schumacher in the 78 laps sets a new track record, 59' 545. Activity began very early in the morning and is proceeding on several fronts. Inevitable the meeting with President Montezemolo who congratulates everyone:
"Finally we are a team but we need to be aware that we are still behind Williams. We need patience, the road is still long but we will reap the fruits of our labor".
Another 'meeting takes place in the workshop to prepare for the twenty-day program in the nearby wind tunnel. F310B models, wings, ailerons, deflectors, diverters. Finally, the Fiorano track with many things to try. One wonders when the four victories announced on January 7, the day of the presentation of the F310B, will come from Todt, who replies:
"That was the 'minimum goal but I am also waiting to see the first of these victories in the meantime. They will come. Now we have no more excuses to lose. Maybe we expected more from this car, however, we are doing well. We are the only ones keeping up with the Williams".
Jean Todt admits that one aspect that has disappointed him about the new car is perhaps the aerodynamic efficiency on which the team has never stopped working.
"The most delicate part is the front of the car which has problems but these three weeks of wind tunnel work will serve to improve. Compared to the first race in Australia we have already made progress and it shows in the performance. Now we need to take that extra step to get ahead of the Williams. Starting with the front end: we need to make the whole car work well in all the conditions we encounter in the championship both from an aerodynamic and mechanical efficiency point of view".
Finally Todt spends some on the races to come:
"In Monte Carlo we should do well but these days in Fiorano one of the objectives is just to prepare the whole 'set on the specifications of this circuit that is very different from the others. Then there will be Barcelona which is not very good for us. Let's say it is a little bit like Brazil where in fact we did not go very well. In Canada we should then do well. At the end of June, that is for the French GP, we will have all the new things ready and usable. But this does not necessarily mean that Ferrari will be winning from that day".