In the week following the Melbourne Grand Prix, Ferrari and Williams move to Monza. The new test driver of the Maranello team, Luca Badoer, and Eddie Irvine, with the F310B test above all a new specification of tyres brought by Goodyear, another great defeat of the Australian trip. Badoer completed sixty-eight laps, stopping the clock at 1'27"322, while Frentzen, also in the Williams '97 version modified for the new regulations, completed forty-four laps, and was two seconds quicker than the Italian's time. In Melbourne, the American tyres worked well in terms of consistency because there was no drop in performance, but Ferrari had to use a soft compound to improve performance. The Bridgestones, however, performed much better. Also, the Australian Grand Prix measurements are that the Maranello cars need rather loaded ailerons, as does the McLaren, with the difference being that the British car probably has better drag, and more affluent penetration doesn't penalise progress through the air. From Monday 9th to Saturday 15th March, Ferrari also tests the new F300 at Mugello, three of them with Schumacher. Under scrutiny are the aerodynamics and the engine, while waiting for the one that arrived from Melbourne to be dismantled to understand what caused it to fail.
"McLaren proved in Australia that they are a cut above the rest. We had already noticed it in winter testing. Hakkinen and Coulthard had arrived in Barcelona and had immediately shaved three seconds off the time within minutes of starting to lap. The British team, with the collaboration of Tag for the electronics and Mercedes, worked well. There is no doubt that they are the team to beat".
Says Jean Alesi, after the conclusion of the first Grand Prix of the season.
"McLaren is therefore to all intents and purposes the team to beat in this first part of the championship, even if in the days leading up to the Brazilian Grand Prix the controversy over the Woking team's double brake pedal continues. The spirit of the regulations rules out any drive-aid. It is up to the FIA to return to the spirit of the rules, otherwise there is uncertainty and it is pointless to have redone all the single-seaters. We believe that you have to stick to the spirit of the regulations, and it's up to the FIA to enforce it, not for us to invent things outside the regulations and then try to get them back in".
Says Ghini, head of Ferrari's press office. Then Max Mosley intervened, lashing out at Ferrari but at the same time leaving the door open for a reassessment of the legality of the system devised by the Woking team:
"What is inconceivable is that they do not protest and then complain to the press. Either they keep quiet or they complain formally. The system fitted to the MP4/13 is controversial in the sense that it is neither in the regulations nor against. Whether it is illegal or not is up for debate. The FIA's technical delegate, Charlie Whiting, has spoken out in favour of the system being legal. That does not mean that a contrary opinion cannot be discussed. But Whiting is not a judge, he is a technician expressing an opinion. The stewards are the judges. Ferrari can lodge a formal protest and we have repeatedly invited them to do so".
The complaint is not long in coming. It is understood that the document expressly requested by president Luca Montezemolo should be presented to the FIA World Council on 18 March in Paris by Jean Todt, who is a member of the assembly. However, on 18 March 1998, the FIA World Council, made up of some twenty people, almost all presidents of national Automobile Clubs, in addition to Todt and Piccinini, met in Paris to discuss three main issues: the holding of the French Grand Prix, which had been put in doubt due to misunderstandings concerning television rights; team orders, became a topic of discussion following the incident in the final laps of the Australian GP, during which David Coulthard slowed down to let Mika Hakkinen win following a request from the team. A decision that displeased first of all the GP organisers, who asked for measures from the FIA, and secondly the bettors; president Van Miert accused Bernie Ecclestone of exercising a monopoly on racing. Although there could have been an opportunity, the thorny subject of the third McLaren pedal is not on the list of topics to be addressed; according to the FIA, if the other teams, above all Ferrari, have something to say, they will have to do so with the Formula One technical commission during the next round in Sao Paulo, through an official protest. In addition, the Federation reiterates that it has already judged the device to be regular. At the end of the meeting, it emerges that the French Grand Prix will be held regularly on the Magny-Cours circuit, but above all, team orders are banned from the next Grand Prix. A position explained in more detail by President Max Mosley:
"It's a delicate and difficult problem, team orders have always existed and not only in Formula One. But what happened in Australia has justifiably raised protests because it was done in a way that was too obvious and a little scandalous. So we have decided to apply from now on Article 151C of the sporting code, which clearly states that racing must be carried out in accordance with sporting ethics".
Mosley's remarks seem more like a piece of advice to the teams to conceal their team games as much as possible, a bit like what happened last season with Irvine and Schumacher at Suzuka, or Frentzen and Villeneuve at Jerez, and to avoid repetition of scenes similar to those in Melbourne. Before saying goodbye, Mosley congratulated McLaren on the excellent work done on the new car, but he didn't want to hear about a closed World Championship:
"They have worked well over the winter. But don't forget that last season Williams seemed to have a big advantage over the others right from the first Grand Prix. We'll see what happens".
Ron Dennis, team manager of the team that created the well-known controversy, also spoke about the new order issued by the FIA:
"I don't want to distort the sporting result of a championship. All I'm saying is that it was legitimate for my drivers not to fight each other right from the first race. Don't forget that McLaren was the last car to put its wheels on the ground in the winter. With only 3.500km behind me, I couldn't send my drivers out on a limb and risk them touching each other and making me look like a fool. I was given precise orders: whoever takes the lead at the first corner must stay there until the end, without the other rider pushing him to give his all, compromising the reliability of the car. So it was. But when Hakkinen returned to the pits because of a mistake on our part and lost the lead, it was then Coulthard who decided to be overtaken, giving Mika the win".
Then a few words about the upcoming race in Brazil, at the Interlagos circuit:
"We triumphed, lapping everyone, on a track as atypical as Melbourne. But I know that our McLaren is strong above all on fast bends, like those of Interlagos".
Dennis doesn't get lost in pretexts or downward games: the Mp4/13 is a spaceship, and in Brazil, it could be even more devastating than it was in Melbourne. Ferrari and Williams are on notice. As soon as the FIA World Council meeting was over, Jean Todt came out and declared:
"The meeting allowed us to have a frank discussion with President Max Mosley and Ecclestone. We confirmed that Ferrari has always been and remains a legalistic team. In other words, loyal to the Automobile Federation. So we have announced that in Brazil we will file a complaint against McLaren because we believe they are using a system with the brakes that is contrary to the spirit of the rules. We know that there are other teams who have the same point of view as us, but we cannot anticipate their intentions. We will do so before the start of the race weekend in Sao Paulo, i.e. on the day of 27 March or the morning of 28 March. We cannot comment on the effects of this action, any initiative will be up to the technical and sporting commissioners. In any case, if it is rejected, we will also appeal to the FIA Tribunal. First of all, we want to have clear rules that are respected by everyone. But we also know that the so-called third pedal is not McLaren's only weapon. They are very advanced, they have first-class material, they are strong. As far as we are concerned, if we want to catch up we have to work hard".
In the meantime, Ferrari has issued strong denials regarding a financial offer of seventy-five million dollars that Schumacher would have received from the lawyer Gianni Agnelli, according to the German newspaper Bild. The same editorial office that, after the end of the Australian Grand Prix, had published an article in which it invited Schumacher to leave Ferrari, choosing Mercedes instead, entitled:
"Schumacher, change car. Ditch the red wreck and get in the silver arrow".
Fake news, or rather an invention, guarantees Ferrari, through the mouth of Antonio Ghini, head of external relations at Maranello:
"It is clear that these are provocations that have no basis whatsoever. We cannot follow all the things that are written and said that have no verification and no basis in truth. To date, there are no negotiations to extend the contract".
Far from thinking about these unfounded rumours, on the Mugello circuit, Michael Schumacher tries out new headers, a brilliant new idea from Rory Byrne, who experiments on the F300 with high exhausts to eliminate from the lower area of the car those pipes that worsen the aerodynamics and consequently the car's driveability. Schumacher at the end of an intense day of testing explains:
"You can feel the difference. What we had before was actually a compromise solution. Especially in slow corners now the car is certainly more stable. Trying to have the exhaust over the extractor profile has been a requirement for all the teams since last year because the gases produced create turbulence underneath the car which worsens the behaviour. The original aerodynamics of the F300 were very good precisely because they had solved this problem, and having now found the solution leads to an improvement that can also be felt in terms of drivability. I also noticed that we were able to get a bit more ground effect".
And while discussing technical matters, thoughts inevitably turn to the much-discussed McLaren third pedal, which apparently was also used in Australia by Frentzen's Williams, which is already ready for use in Jordan, and which Ferrari hopes to make illegal as soon as possible. If it fails to do so, however, the device could be usable on the F300 as early as the Argentine Grand Prix, the third round of the World Championship.
"I agree with Ferrari. The FIA has to clarify once and for all what can and cannot be done on the cars. This is not a manoeuvre against McLaren but against this type of system that goes against the spirit of the regulations. In any case, the Federation must issue clear rules. The effect that the third pedal causes is something similar to four-wheel steering. And this is contrary to the philosophy of the regulations. Let's be clear: McLaren did not win in Australia because they were using this system. They had a little help, but that wasn't the decisive factor. They made a very good car, especially from an aerodynamic point of view. And the Melbourne track, which is slightly favourable to Bridgestone, also helped. What will happen now? I am very relaxed because, compared to last year, the situation is better. The '97 car was a disaster compared to this one. So the distance to the top is much smaller. I think that in three or four races we will be able to close the gap. In the meantime, there's only one imperative: points, points, points".
While Ferrari continued its tests, from 15th March 1998 also McLaren and Benetton took to the track at Silverstone, while most of the other teams were at Barcelona. As if the controversy over the third pedal wasn't enough, other rumours surround the Anglo-German team. It turns out that on the MP4/13s, in addition to the controversial braking system, an advanced system is also used to use less energy on the Mercedes engine: this is a lubrication circuit with a separate pump, powered by a special battery that saves horsepower, around fifteen, which is then reserved for actual use in circumstances such as qualifying. The battery, similar to those fitted to mobile phones, is very thin and about half a metre long, and would be placed under the cars to act as a balanced ballast in the weight distribution. On March 17th, 1998, Hakkinen and Coulthard, separated by a few hundredths, outdistanced the Benetton of Wurz by two seconds and three-tenths, which had the same Bridgestone tyres used by the rival team on its car. This further result alarmed more than one team manager, including one who, like Frank Williams, had declared himself certain of being able to make up the gap in a short time by carefully fine-tuning his single-seaters, also using the control that operates the distribution of braking on the same axle. A device that Jacques Villeneuve does not like:
"I don't know exactly how the device on Hakkinen's and Coulthard's cars works, but I'm against using such a system. So far I have refused to have it available, even though my team is working on something similar. I know that Frentzen has been using it since last season. From what I understand, however, it is something very rudimentary compared to the McLaren system. We don't have this solution. In the single-seater, there is only one brake pedal, which we normally press to slow the car down. On the other hand, there is a control on the steering wheel that allows you to choose which wheel to intervene on to regulate the braking. In effect, it's a device that helps the car stabilise and reduce understeer problems when entering bends. It's designed to stay in line with technical standards. In any case, I repeat, I am against it. Because in this way we're moving towards more and more automated driving. In this way it's not the driver who brings out his skills, but the car that reacts on its own to the problems encountered in the corners. The adjustments are made with the computer".
But Williams continues to test in this direction:
"At the moment we are obliged to do so. In Spain we were involved in tyre tests and also in the setting up of the device that tries to give an effect similar to what you could have with four-wheel steering. It's pointless tearing my hair out, the few I have left. We have to work very, very hard. And don't believe too much in what Ron Dennis says either. He's pulling the wool over our eyes. He's right, he's trying to scare us. We must not let ourselves be frightened. In Brazil we will still have to chase. Williams had already shown serious shortcomings in winter testing. They lack stability and tend to slide under braking. Unfortunately, we had little time to work as the new cars were prepared too late. We won't be able to catch the McLarens in a short space of time, let alone on Sunday. However, I'm curious to know how the complaint announced by Ferrari will end up".
On Tuesday, March 24th, 1998, two days before the start of practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix, during the logistics operations, the McLaren mechanics continued to cover the cars with all possible means so that they could not be photographed, especially in the wheel area. But the most surprising fact comes from a statement by Jo Ramirez, sporting director of the English team, who declares:
"It saddens me to hear that the superiority of our cars is only due to the brakes. These are just one of the many elements that make up the car. The whole thing is strong. On top of everything, we didn't even get to use the new braking system in Australia".
At the same time, Norbert Haug, head of Mercedes, tries to throw water on the fire by stating:
"I'm not afraid, the complaint is aimed at the Federation, it's not against us. The FIA has declared that our brakes comply with the rules and that is enough for us".
"If the other teams have done their homework well, I think the race will be more uncertain at Interlagos. Melbourne was easy for us, but this time we may have to work a little harder. Apart from any discussion about the alleged regularity of the third pedal, Michael Schumacher gives himself very little chance of success in Brazil: "Realistically, I have no chance of winning here. We need another two or three races to close the gap to McLaren. My aspiration, for now, is the third place".
On Thursday, March 26th, 1998, having arrived in Brazil, Ferrari lodges its long-awaited official complaint against McLaren. Jean Todt asked for clarity from the FIA, which did not seem to learn from the controversies of previous years and continued to be too indecisive and negligent. In Australia, the device was declared legal, but Ferrari is now asking for a closer look at the matter with the sporting commissioners at the Brazilian Grand Prix. The aim is not so much to slow down McLaren since even deprived of the third pedal the Silver Arrows would still be unreachable, but to clarify the rules. The official protest was signed by Ferrari against McLaren, Williams and Jordan, but in the meantime, Minardi and Sauber also complained against Jordan, while Arrows and Tyrrell acted against McLaren and Williams. According to Ferrari and the petitioners, these devices work roughly like those on tanks: by reducing the speed of the rear wheels differently, the car behaves as if it can change direction with the rear end when cornering.
"The complaint is not against the teams, but against Charlie Whiting's decision to homologate the systems proposed by the teams mentioned, which in our opinion are contrary to the spirit of the regulations".
Jean Todt explains again, supported on this occasion by lawyer Peter, the company's lawyer. Meanwhile, on Thursday evening, at the request of the commissioners, McLaren, Williams and Jordan are asked not to use the braking system during the next day's two free practice sessions. After an intense half-hour of work, the system was removed from the cars of Hakkinen and Coulthard, Frentzen, Hil and Ralf Schumacher. Third pedal or not, at the end of the day Hakkinen and Coulthard remain comfortably ahead. In the third position, Ralf Schumacher is one second behind. Villeneuve and Schumacher are only tenth and eleventh, with the German complaining of problems with corner entry. The day, grey and quite cold, also showed that Bridgestone tyres are still superior to Goodyear:
"The car is still not well balanced, there is work to be done".
Admits Michael Schumacher, who nevertheless says he is hopeful of being able to get closer to the McLaren duo in qualifying. However, the focus remains on the decision to be taken by the three local commissioners, Indian Nazir Hossein, Slovakian Radovan Novak and Brazilian Elcio de Sao Thiago, regarding the legality of the third pedal. Those who were expecting the response on Friday are disappointed, as the commissioners are still asking for some time to decide. Some speak of an illness on the part of one of the three, while others accuse them of a lack of competence. After the dominant performance of his drivers in free practice, Ron Dennis comments:
"Yes, we are still the fastest. But I'm not surprised: it's rather a confirmation that we are ahead of our rivals at this start of the season. We have responded to words and doubts with deeds. I don't like to cheat, I didn't even do it with the system defined as the third pedal. We have submitted it to the FIA more than once and it has always been found to comply with the rules. So my opinion remains that it is legal and I still hope to be able to use it in this race. In any case, I think that today's performance, albeit within the limits of a free practice session, showed that we can easily do without this famous system. Because we have many other arrows in our bow. And we are working on others".
On Saturday the official announcement came: Ferrari won its battle, and the third pedal was considered non-compliant with the regulations because it configured a three-wheel steering system. Jean Todt's hot comment is as follows:
"We are not talking about a Ferrari victory. Victory is only when you win a Grand Prix. Rather, it is a very important precedent, Ferrari disagreed on a certain interpretation of the regulations, decided to complain and this led to a fair decision. For us there was no doubt. It was difficult to give an opinion without adequate arguments, we examined the devices well, it was clear that they were not in the regulations and we presented the documentation to prove it".
Having taken note of the illegality of the ingenious system devised in Woking, Ron Dennis takes it easy, announcing that his team will not appeal, because, according to him, if you look at previous cases similar to this one, courses and recourses have never led to anything. Once the third pedal has been filed away, we can concentrate exclusively on the action on the track... and the threatening girls in miniskirts who, at the entrance to the circuit, distribute invitations to daring clubs. Nothing illicit apparently, since even the FIA in the official programme has allowed the advertising of a bar that is at least equivocal. Some people in Brazil are protesting, but it is well known that this is false modesty, because in these parts, as in most countries by now, sex is also and above all a business. Speaking of the track, even in qualifying Hakkinen and Coulthard continue to outclass their opponents. In particular, the Finnish driver, who appeared decidedly inspired on the Brazilian track, distanced his teammate by six tenths, turning in 1'17"092 and taking his second pole of the season. Frentzen took third place ahead of Schumacher, who recovered from a disappointing eleventh place in the final stages. If the F300 proves to be more stable and constant in its performance compared to the old F310B, the development of the current car still needs many adjustments: the 047/D engine, which has a more effective distribution and should also guarantee more power by turning higher, is already used in qualifying, but will not be fitted to any of the cars for the race, not yet guaranteeing the right reliability. One problem still unresolved is the exhausts: the original high ones are replaced because they overheat the rear suspension, so they are placed back down. The reigning World Champion Jacques Villeneuve struggled a lot, only tenth and author of a spin at the S do Senna while trying to lower his lap time.
The Canadian was not the only one, as many other drivers, including Schumacher himself, also made mistakes and went off the track. Bridgestone and Goodyear shared the top ten equally, with the big difference that those who ran on Japanese tyres used the harder compound, while those on Goodyear opted for the softer one. A difference that will also lead to different strategies: one-stop for the Bridgestone tyres, and two for the Goodyear tyres. It doesn't matter if the FIA has banned team orders because this certainly doesn't change McLaren's modus operandi, which will remain the same as seen in Australia: whoever is ahead at the first corner stays ahead until the end. And with the rivals unable to worry the Silver Arrows, the start became the crucial moment for the victory of the race. Over the years David Coulthard has been noted for his exceptional starts, but as in Melbourne, this time Hakkinen got the better of him and easily held the first position after the lights went out. Eddie Irvine was also the author of an excellent sprint, surprising his teammate and climbing to the fourth position behind Frentzen and ahead of Wurz, Schumacher - the latter, unlike the Northern Irishman, not very reactive in his sprint - and Villeneuve, who climbed from tenth to the seventh position. At the Descida do Lago, Wurz went slightly wide and allowed Michael Schumacher to gain a position and get behind his teammate; Ralf Schumacher, on the other hand, once again ended the race prematurely. The youngest of the Schumacher brothers is off course on the Descida do Lago, loses control and ends up off the track. At the end of the first lap, the two McLarens are already about to create a gap impossible to close for the opponents, also because Frentzen keeps behind the two Ferraris, while Alex Wurz closes the points zone tailed by Villeneuve. The situation remained unchanged until, as it was easy to foresee, on lap ten Eddie Irvine let Schumacher pass Senna's S, giving him fourth position without having to work too hard.
The German was visibly faster than his wingman, and he proved it by equalling David Coulthard's time on his first lap with a free track. Frentzen, less than two seconds behind, was caught in a few laps. The difficulty in overtaking was also evident on the Interlagos circuit, as both Schumacher and Villeneuve, although faster, were unable to get rid of Frentzen and Wurz respectively; a fact the FIA would have to reflect on. After a little more than twenty laps, Hakkinen was already struggling with the first lapping, to be carried out without too much enthusiasm, given that Coulthard did not seem able to maintain his own race pace, being seven seconds behind. On lap 27 Schumacher came into the pits for the first of the two scheduled stops, and even though the pit stop was not the quickest (8.5 seconds), thanks to some lapping that slowed Frentzen down, the two-time world champion managed to snatch the virtual third position from his compatriot after the refuelling carried out by the latter on the next lap. Virtual because for the moment not everyone had stopped; in front of the two there was also Giancarlo Fisichella, he on just one stop, acting as a stopper. Michael immediately took advantage of his fresh tyres and at the braking of the first bend passed the Roman driver, imitated in the mixed part of the track by Frentzen, who took advantage of a mistake made by the Benetton driver. Between the 36th and 39th lap, the two Silver Arrows also came in for their only stop, first Coulthard and then Hakkinen. Heavier, on harder tyres, yet with a race pace that the others could never approach. An embarrassing superiority. Alex Wurz, third and the only one not to have stopped yet, is fifty seconds behind. The Austrian, however, tenaciously resists the pressure of Schumacher and Frentzen, with whom he is fighting for the third step of the podium. The battle was obviously based on strategies: to mess up the cards Frentzen anticipated his second stop on lap 46, trying to undercut his rivals. Both Benetton and Ferrari reacted immediately, and on the next lap the mechanics of both teams were out to welcome the two drivers; when, however, from the Ferrari pit wall they saw that also Wurz was about to go back, they chose to leave Schumacher on the track to exploit tyres still potentially performing with an empty tank.
The choice turns out to be favourable, since the Ferrari driver starts to run with lap times under the wall of 1'19"0, something that up to that moment has only been achieved by the two McLaren drivers. After seven qualifying laps, Schumacher pitted for his second stop, which took 13.6 seconds due to a sudden engine shutdown. Despite an inconvenience coolly dealt with by the red mechanics, Schumacher returned to the track ahead of Frentzen and Wurz. Just as the Ferrari driver was leaving the pit lane, Wurz surprised Frentzen at the S of Senna with a braking move on the limit. The strategy adopted by the Williams box had worked in part since at least one position had been gained, but it was immediately rendered vain by the Austrian's great manoeuvre. Not much happened in the twenty or so laps separating the end of the race: Hakkinen managed the car up to the chequered flag, favouring in the last bends the rejoining of Coulthard, whose gap from his teammate dropped to only one second. The Scotsman, however, never represented a danger to Hakkinen, who won the second race of the season, the third of his career, but the first one without team orders. Schumacher, third, arrived on the finishing line after even one minute, followed by an excellent Wurz, the last of the drivers who were not lapped by the Anglo-German cars. Frentzen and Fisichella completed the points zone, from which Villeneuve and Irvine were excluded, seventh and eighth on the finishing line. The Canadian, even if he was the protagonist of fine overtaking manoeuvres during the race over Panis, Irvine and Alesi, didn't succeed in gaining points, and he also suffered the shame of being lapped for two races in a row, who last year at this time won in Brazil with the same disarming ease that now belongs to the McLaren Mercedes driven by Hakkinen. What justified the disappointing results of Villeneuve and Irvine, however, was above all the superiority of Bridgestone tyres: four cars of the first six classified benefited from the supply of Japanese tyres, for the moment clearly more performing and durable than Goodyear. In addition, the flu disturbed the Northern Irish driver during the race, so his performance went downhill:
"I'm disappointed, but I couldn't do more in my situation".
After the race, Damon Hill was disqualified by the stewards because his Jordan was found underweight. Reduced from a disappointing year with Arrows, the 1996 World Champion hoped to return to see again positions of high classification at the wheel of a Jordan that in '97 had shown excellent progress obtaining three podiums. In the first two races of the season, however, the 198 powered by Mugen-Honda proved to be decidedly below expectations. In the press conference, Mika Hakkinen showed, in his usual composed manner, his satisfaction with the success just obtained:
"It's a different triumph from the previous one because on this track driving is much more difficult and tiring than in Melbourne. I also consider myself lucky to have got such a good start. This is a very special track, with unique characteristics, you have to tame every jump on the asphalt. To have managed it better than everyone else fills me with joy. Even if I don't underestimate the contribution of a car that proved to be perfect. I wasn't too worried about having David behind me in the early stages of the race, on this circuit it is practically impossible to get too close to the front, you lose too much downforce and the car becomes unmanageable. In terms of strategy, everything went according to plan: we had already planned to come in so late, and it worked very well I must say. Pole, win and fastest lap, I don't think I could have done better".
At this point, Schumacher intervenes, joking that:
"Maybe you could have had a coffee".
Two races in which he had to surrender to the superiority of his teammate, much more evident in Brazil than in Australia. Two-second places are still good results for those who want to fight for the World Championship, but Coulthard knows that in Argentina he cannot afford to succumb again in the confrontation with Hakkinen:
"Two second places are not bad, but obviously I would have preferred to be the first today. At the start I didn't get off as well as I would have liked, it's not fair to make excuses; here you start slightly uphill, with one foot on the brake, I misjudged the accelerator and the wheels skidded just enough for Mika to take the gap that he kept until the end. The fact is that only on these occasions do we use a foot clutch: this partly explains my not so brilliant start. I think it was impossible for me to pass Mika today; we had more or less the same race pace, but I struggled a bit more in the last sector, where I lacked a bit of traction. As a result, without an accident or something, I would never have been able to attack him".
A one-minute gap is certainly a lot to digest for a team, Ferrari, which started with the aim of winning the championship. Schumacher, however, certainly does not want to raise the white flag just yet, he says he is sure that things will go better in the next races; in the meantime he obtains the best possible result, putting the first points of the season in the pot:
"After the retirement in Australia today we got the maximum, we knew it was not possible to do better than this, and I'm happy to have won this third place. It was fun battling with Frentzen, Wurz and also Eddie at the beginning of the race. I'm also very satisfied because the engine showed no signs of failing and worked great, and for that I have to congratulate my team. The modified engine is running better and made it to the end without any problems".
The German then explained the mishap at the second pit stop:
"For some strange reason just the engine died on me, luckily the mechanics were able to restart it immediately and I didn't lose too much time. I could even have lost third place. When I came out of the pits, I had Wurz and Frentzen behind me and it was not pleasant. A single stop could have been an option for us Goodyear tyres, but we opted for two".
Finally a look at the near future:
"In Argentina we hope to be closer to the McLarens, but the real goal is to make an important step in Imola".
Jean Todt, head of sports management, is sincere:
"I would have put my signature on third place. A one minute gap is very serious, but we still have many things in the pot on which we will work tirelessly".
At the end of the Grand Prix, among the insiders, the question was raised as to whether, even though the third pedal was not used by McLaren, there was nevertheless a system to brake the rear wheels. Some attentive observer, looking at the onboard camera footage notes that Hakkinen and Coulthard continuously act on two buttons placed on the steering wheel, in the grip area. What's more, someone else lurking in the vicinity of the MP4/13s noticed that the external computers, which are used to retrieve data from the onboard ECUs, remained installed until thirty seconds from the start, at the maximum limit. Will there be further investigations?
Davide Scotto di Vetta