On January 3rd, 2000, Ferrari gets back to work with Luca Baoder, who puts together the first laps in Fiorano of the new millennium, surprisingly using the F300, the car used during the 1998 season. The test driver tested the technical innovations to be introduced on the new single-seater, doing a time of 1'05"424. The next day, Badoer did other thirty-six laps, improving by three seconds the lap time registered twenty-four hours before.
On January 8th, it’s time for Rubens Barrichello to take the reins of the winter work at the Montmelò circuit. He did trim tests and aerodynamic balance on the F399, for a total of forty-six laps, the best of them in 1'22"244, a lap time that during last season’s Gran Prix qualifying would have been worth the front row. It’s January the 10th when fans can admire the first car that will take part of the 2000 Formula 1 championship. It is William-Bmw the German constructor, that comes back to the circus after 12 years.
During the car presentation is missing Alex Zanardi, that after months during which his seat was always a doubt, formalizes his divorce with Williams. This is because of the will of Frank Williams and Bmw, since they were determinate to replace the Italian after the disastrous last season of the driver, who at his second experience as a Formula 1 driver, has never been as good as his teammate, and has never concurred in the project, not managing to score a single point through the whole season. To replace him, there is a run-off between the Englishman Jenson Button and the Brazilian Junqueira, with first clearly being the favourite. The goal of the team based in Grove is to return at the top after two difficult seasons, even if they know it will be a long and complicated journey.
Meanwhile, as it’s now a habit, during the winter break Ferrari finds itself in the small tourist resort of Madonna di Campiglio. It’s a new experience for Rubens Barrichello, who on January the 12th of 2000 says that he is excited, happy and relaxed. Rubens gets along with the Ferrari team, and with an always present smile admits:
"It’s a heartfelt joy. It tells me that this year I can win a lot. After seven years in which I had or a good car or a good engine, now I have both. It’s the chance I was asking to God".
Just to begin, he could beat Schumacher on skis:
"Impossible, maybe at bowling. I put on skis for the first time on Tuesday, there were thirty people who were watching me, I felt observed. In Brazil, if you want to ski, you have to go to Fortaleza, on sand dunes. It will be funnier to beat him on track".
Hard thing if you are the second driver:
"it’s not written anywhere, at first I will be free to race as I like, it depends only on me. If I will be in front, Ferrari will make me win. It’s clear that if I had 20 points less in the middle of the season, I’d have to race for him. But at the beginning we’ll have the same car, all the same. When we’ll confront, we’ll see who is faster".
Rubens never won a race, but he sees himself as one of the contenders for the title:
"I know how much I’m worth, the problems that I’ve never had a car like the Ferrari. Between December and January, I already did more than three thousand kilometres, the car doesn’t have secrets anymore, it’s good everywhere, on a fast track like Barcelona, on a slow track like Jerez. Here it’s possible to win. And the more points you score, the greater your chances of winning the title are. It’s important not being stressed, otherwise you are devoured by the pressure. If I will not be first in Melbourne, I will try the next race. On the Ferrari you have to stay calm, drive more with your head than with your arms. If you get crushed by anxiety, it’s over".
Nelson Piquet gives him up for dead in the comparison with Schumacher, Jackie Stewart predicts hard times because he says that the Brazilian must be pampered, and in Maranello this is not possible:
"This is a family, at Stewart were colder. Mechanics are happy to have the chance to talk in Italian with me, I feel like at home. I have eight days of tests on the shoulders. They are like two years. It’s so exciting to drive the Ferrari, that one day in Jerez I forgot to eat. Mazzola forced me, the head of the test team, at 2:00 pm".
Ralf Schumacher, during the Williams-Bmw presentation, said that his brother Michael won’t have rivals this year:
"I would have been surprised. It’s normal that Michael is the favourite, especially if the new Ferrari will be immediately competitive. But I want to make his life difficult. For the new car I have a lot of confidence: in Barcelona there were also BAR, Jaguar and Sauber. Good cars. But there will be no chances against us".
The surgery on the ribs?
"Already forgotten. I’m perfectly fit".
The day after, on January 13th 2000, is Michael Schumacher that answers to all the questions from the journalists. They start by talking about the bad injury, now just a bad memory:
"Yes, the leg is solid, takes well the effort. I have to limit football games, I have some difficulties if I have to run fast, but otherwise I feel in shape. I’m at 95%. On Monday and Tuesday, I will return driving in Barcelona, then I’ll go in Dubai for two weeks. To give me the last physical touch-up. I tell the fans to have patience for another year, this can be the good one. On the new car, both as an engine and aerodynamics I am optimistic, even if the truth will be known only on the day of the tests of the first race. It would be nice for once not to be forced to chase the McLaren".
Another season of fasting would be intolerable for him and Ferrari:
"Winning the title with Ferrari is my dream, being the first ones to win in the new millennium would be amazing, I’m very stimulated. On the mechanical side we are more prepared than in the past and during the last three years we went close to the finish line. Ferrari was my challenge; I don’t regret the choice. When I first came, we were at zero, in four years, with highs and lows, we reached the top. For me it’s not important how many titles I win, but how I achieve them. If you win with the best car, for a while it’s interesting, but the it becomes boring. For me Ferrari is special, I still get emotional once I get into the car. One championship here is like many more for another team".
After the Silverstone incident, the relationship with the team didn’t get worse, it got even better:
“There was never a moment of tension, with Todt I kept in touch every day. If the opposite appeared on the outside, the fault was the war between the Italian and the German press. The way Ferrari stood by my side has been amazing, it got me even closer to the team".
On the date of his return, however, confusion reigned:
"Yes, we are guilty too. When Montezemolo and Todt came to visit me in Switzerland, at my house, we did not make any predictions. Monza was only an assumption. Then the president said that this could be the right race, Todt and I denied. Of course, two different opinions in the same team create a mess".
Sure, the relationship between him and Eddie Irvine was more complicated:
"Only for a couple of weeks. Eddie won two races, he believed that I wasn’t necessary. When he realized that I was useful, we returned being friends. About the crash he is not guilty, and so am I. It was a mechanical failure, the breaks. It’s part of the risk. In fact, I helped him in Malaysia".
For Schumacher, the hardest moment in his career has not been Silverstone:
"No. Jerez ’97, the crash with Villeneuve, the critics".
How will the relationship with Barrichello be?
"I drink beer, he drinks caipirinha. Ferrari made a good choice; we’ll make steps forward with him. We’ll become good friends, also because we have a lot of common interests: football, gym, family".
In the afternoon, Schumacher competes in a kart race on the ice and gathers more than two thousand people, and he speaks in Italian with some of them. Michael doesn’t win, hits on the third lap after a spin, is passed by Barrichello and Badoer, and closes fifth with two laps of gap. While his drivers are having fun, Jean Todt is already focused on the upcoming season: The goal is clear:
"In ’99 we won the constructors championship, in 2000 we want to duplicate, bringing home also the drivers’ one. Every day we train on tire changes, I cannot guarantee the infallibility, but scenes like the Nürburgring will not be repeated".
Todt announces that the presentation of the car has slipped to 7 February 2000, slightly later than expected:
"Melbourne’s debut will be four weeks away, that’s enough. We chose to complete the car to the maximum before going to the track. We want to target immediately on the big".
This is a season during which you can’t make mistakes, which follows a year in which Todt, after disqualification in Malaysia, has even resigned:
"Everybody wanted a perp, and it had to be me, because I’m the boss. In Ferrari there was never an easy situation, in the early years I had to rebuild a team that did not exist, in '97, in Jerez, we lost the World Championship twenty minutes from the end of the championship, in '98 there was the collision at Spa between Coulthard and Schumacher, then the car that remained on the grid in the last race in Japan; but in my career, and I started in '66 by being a co-pilot in rallies, I had never experienced a hard time like in Malaysia. I’m not talking about the resignation, I’m talking about the cold shower with the disqualification, an hour after a splendid triumph. I received many criticisms, some deserved, others unjust. I come out reinforced. We are very happy with Barrichello, he has already integrated well, with Schumacher will form a very close-knit couple, because they have many common interests. They play late at night; I hope they don’t do it during the Grand Prix. Barrichello is very strong in the wet, driving calmly and accurately, but I don’t feel like unloading Irvine. In his four years he was able to resist the pressure very well, he touched the drivers' title, he helped us in that constructor. He gave and received much".
Just Eddie Irvine has fun at the wheel of the Jaguar at Jerez de la Frontera, where the former Ferrari driver is in front of everyone on the time list during the second day of the test session in which also the old McLaren and the new Sauber and BAR-Honda, already on track but not yet officially presented. Eddie is satisfied with the car:
"Finally, I was able to work with a certain continuity and so I was able to refine the settings of the single-seater".
The team-mate Johnny Herbert was less satisfied, slowed down in the morning for the wet track, and by a gas failure in the afternoon caused by a loss of oil.
David Coulthard succeeds to complete a gran prix simulation, using the engine, the gear and the rear suspension made for the new car. On the other hand, Oliver Panis, says that the transmission is blocked and then the damage on the hydraulic pump. Pedro Diniz on the Sauber manages to score the second fastest time of the day, made with a new set of tyres; the Brazilian seems to be quite happy with the car. At BAR, after an horrendous last season, they keep having problems: on the slimy track the new single-seater shows worrying road holding deficiencies, that much that Ricardo Zonta spins. Williams is even worse, that interrupts the testing session with Junquieira in the early afternoon due to a problem with the bad interaction between the exhaust and BMW engine.
On January 17, 2000, Michael Schumacher returns to the track at Montmelò, after seventy-one days after his last appearance on an Formula 1 car (Ferrari Day performance in Vallelunga). The two times world champion pushes hard from the beginning, doing record times, even if, at the end of the day, his best time (1’21’’036) is 48 thousand slower than the one scored by Barrichello one week before, which Montezemolo called a ‘number one bis’. Schumacher also went wide at turn 10 because of the wind. A little scare without consequences, as he explains himself:
"I was trying the brakes. I was very fast, because I had the wind behind me, when, after a turn, suddenly I found it in front of me".
In the following tests, Ferrari is flanked by the new Benetton of Fisichella and Wurz, presented in the modern art museum of Catalonia. Ambitious car, light, with a more powerful engine, completely redone on the aerodynamic plane after the disasters of the previous season, thanks to a budget of about 150.000.000 dollars. A revolutionized single-seater that gives Fisichella hope:
"In 2000 I want to win my first race, get on the podium and close the World Championship in the top five. Last year I had a little contact with Ferrari and more intensive talks with Jordan and Stewart, I could have left but I didn’t, because I have confidence in the Benetton project".
A well-paid confidence (ten million dollars net per year until 2002), but which Fisichella hopes will also confirm on track:
"Because when I cannot emerge, I feel a stomach cramp and another year like last year I would not hold".
Even less is Rocco Benetton willing to bear it. The economic accounts return, never had advertising revenues so high, but the crisis on the track must be contained:
"Formula 1 is made of cycles and we have been struggling for four years. It’s time to get back to the top. We must be there Behind Ferrari and McLaren".
On the second day of testing, which takes place on 18 January 2000, Schumacher improved by 22 thousandths the record set by Barrichello, turning in 1'21"010. In the morning, a transmission problem forced the German to run only thirteen laps, but in the afternoon, with new tires can push to the maximum, completing the beauty of fifty-three laps. Schumacher dreams of a winning 2000:
"With a more powerful machine, better aerodynamics, with a lower centre of gravity, lighter".
The new Ferrari is not ready yet, it will be presented only at the beginning of February, the risk is to lag behind the competition:
"If we do not have problems on the car, it is not too late. Otherwise, it would be a problem. But I am not a fortune teller, I do not foresee the future, creating nagging now is useless".
In the title fight, Michael predicts a duel with McLaren as in previous seasons, however, does not exclude outsiders like Jordan or Jaguar.
"It will be a more balanced season, big motor manufacturers have taken to the field, even if at the beginning, this is the case of my brother’s BMW, there will be problems".
Problems that already afflict the new Benetton, given that Alex Wurz runs just three laps before seeing his car towed back to the pits due to an electronic problem. For Fisichella, in the same way, only nine laps completed with very high times. On Saturday, January 25th, the new Jaguar was unveiled, in an English-style ceremony, under a giant tent next to a lawn for cricket. Car strictly green, similar to McLaren in some respects, and that will be driven by the vice world champion 1999, which, begins to make proclamations talking about the different mentality of the British, for whom winning the title is easier because in England you live in Formula 1.
Eddie, however, realistically speaking does not expect to triumph right away:
"Although the car looks fabulous, the most beautiful design I’ve ever seen. I am excited to start from scratch and proud to work for a brand as famous as Ferrari".
The after Maranello fascinates him.
"Being the second driver is frustrating. Herbert and I are on par, our job is to grind points. Two first guides Schumacher and Barrichello? I don’t know how long this joke will last, but it’s not my problem. I love to have fun and, on the circuits, when I’m happy I run better. If someone prefers to make the slipper, his business".
Then, another shot at Schumacher:
"He is the driver to beat, but in four seasons Ferrari has never won and it could happen again this year because Hakkinen has shown to know how to do it".
On January 31, 2000 it’s the turn of Jordan, who after dreaming of fighting for the title with Frentzen in the '99, hopes to repeat those fantastic performances this season. With the farewell of Damon Hill and the engagement of the promising Trulli, expectations are high for a line-up of the highest level. Jarno is a methodical, stubborn and remarkably fast driver, who is facing the consecration season; Frentzen has shown an exceptional solidity, constantly staying in the top positions in almost every race of last season. The new car, tested at Silverstone, seems to have satisfied both.
Twenty-four hours later, on the Montmelò circuit, Alain Prost presents his new car, the AP03, designed by John Barnard with the support of Alan Jenkins, his friend of the first hour at Mclaren who dominated in the 80s with the French and Niki Lauda. After losing Trulli, the four-time world champion relies on the experience of Jean Alesi and the unscrupulous talent of Nick Heidfeld, after numerous successes in the minor categories.
On 4 February 2000 the new McLaren-Mercedes Mp4/15 was unveiled in Jerez. For the occasion, the marriage between the two car manufacturers becomes more solid, given that Ron Dennis announces the purchase by Daimler-Chrysler of 40% of the TAG McLaren Group’s stake, in exchange for a fee of 400 million dollars. After almost three months of vacation, the two-time World Champion Mika Hakkinen returns to be seen, who is not afraid to expose himself in the eyes and especially in the words:
"I had to pull the plug, so I didn’t drive for three months. But I just need two laps to get back to the way I always was. And three curves to see if the car is competitive. It has to be, because I want to make tris. Schumacher is strong, but the legend awaits me. I have the same stimuli of '98, when I had not yet won anything. I want to enter history, to conquer the third consecutive world championship".
The new McLaren has been optimized in aerodynamics, perfect in weight distribution, with a lighter four-kilo engine, a higher and shorter nose, designed as in previous years by Adrian Newey. Hakkinen defines it as unbeatable, allowing reliability, but above all, for the Finnish, to be fundamental will be the determination, the same that allowed him to win the first two titles. In spite of the various vicissitudes experienced in the '99, the relationship with the comrade David Coulthard has not changed:
"My relationship with David is always the same, I do not expect favours from him, we start on an equal footing, my only thought is to push to the maximum".
However, he does discuss the appointment as test driver of Olivier Panis, strongly wanted by Mika, and perhaps to be interpreted as a warning to Coulthard, that this year will not be able to afford mistakes as in Austria in '99. Now, there’s someone on the team who can safely replace him.
Three days after the presentation of the new McLaren, it’s the turn of Ferrari. On February 7, 2000, there is great expectation around F1-2000 (and not F320 as it was claimed in previous weeks). In the factory of the team in Maranello, between the foundry department and that of mechanical processing, there is the usual atmosphere of impatience in wanting to admire the car that hopefully will allow Schumacher or Barrichello to win the drivers' championship. For the occasion, in addition to President Montezemolo, there is also the lawyer Gianni Agnelli.
The F1-2000 has numerous novelties compared to the F399, on all a lowered centre of gravity, higher nose, smaller front and rear wings, aerodynamic refinement, reduced weight to improve balance and reliability. New also the lubricants and the fuel, while the sponsors remain more or less the same. The engine, the 049, is a ten-cylinder V-shaped aluminium micro fused for forty valves. To increase performance, the horses have been increased and reduced weight; the new engine will be able to run two hundred and fifty laps per minute more than the last qualifying of 1999 in Suzuka. In the construction of the engine there was a close collaboration with the chassis department, to facilitate a perfect amalgam between the components.
Agnelli does not want to go out on a limb, and does not make proclamations:
"To be beautiful, the new Ferrari is beautiful, but it is better to wait for the test results. I hope it won immediately, not to repeat the error of last year and centre the drivers' world".
Also, prudent Montezemolo:
"We are ready to face this great challenge: the car is beautiful and the technicians assure me that it has made a big step forward compared to the previous one, which was still very competitive. Schumacher? He’s in great shape. Barrichello? He’s ready for the big jump. The future? We have done a lot, but we see what others have been able to do. Better to talk little, now".
A car developed totally in the wind tunnel of the Red, which seems to enthuse the technicians, as can be seen from the words of Ross Brawn:
"We have made more progress with this car than with all the other new Ferraris put together".
For the time being only one car has been completed, which is tested two days later for the first time by Michael Schumacher, inaugurating a five-day test session. Not before attending a TV commercial for the Fiat Seicento, in which the Ferrari driver arrives with a Formula 1 Ferrari, he leaves it parked badly in front of the dealership and is taken away by the tow truck, then he enters and chooses a Six hundred, obviously red. The German driver has in front of him a fundamental point of his career: 2000 must necessarily be the season of drivers' title won with Ferrari. He certainly doesn’t hide it:
"I can’t promise it, but I will do everything to bring the drivers' title to Ferrari. I want the World Championship in Maranello. I look forward to this season with enthusiasm, we must from the beginning be able to win the races. The car has beautiful lines, I can’t wait to drive it, but it’s not the visual impact that matters. I am aware of the data of the Wind Tunnel. They make me very optimistic".
The delay in completing the new car seemed to worry him, but then:
"Todt made a good point and reassured me: we have the same time last year to prepare Melbourne. And this time there is the development in the Wind Tunnel. We are further ahead".
Hakkinen called the McLaren fabulous:
"He always says so. I wait to see what we can do before we talk".
Everyone sees in him the favourite for the championship victory, and surprisingly, not Hakkinen:
"You see that they consider me the strongest. I hope that the track does not deny them".
Even Irvine with the Jaguar dreams of fighting for the title:
"I know him very well, in four years with the same car he has never been near me. I don’t think he has a better car now than ours. Yours sounds like a dream to me".
What about Barrichello?
"I have a very good relationship with him, professionally we row in the same direction and we will help the team. It’s only fair that it’s ambitious, we won’t have any problems. We won’t go to war".
And speaking of the 2002 contract, he says:
"With Todt and Montezemolo we talked about extending it. But first I want to understand how long I can hold. Or if after the Ferrari it is better to stop".
On 8 February 2000 Schumacher was in Rome for a commercial television with a Fiat Seicento, but from the following day he was in Maranello to shoot with the new car, until Friday, while Barrichello tried for two days on the track of Fiorano with the F399. For the performance of the Red and her number one is a crowd bath, with many fans who try - needlessly - to approach him. In the spot, Schumacher arrives with a Ferrari from Formula 1, which leaves parked badly in front of the dealership and is taken away by the tow truck, then enters and chooses a seventeenth century, obviously red. The last shots (with the German is Luca Badoer and a stand-in) are shot in via dei Fori Imperiali and at Eur.
On 9 February 2000, Schumacher took to the track only at 6:07 pm, when the darkness had already fallen on the track. The headlights are switched on to illuminate the track, however in these conditions only four laps are completed for a control of the assembly of the details, which occupied the mechanics for the whole day. Schumacher stops the clock on 1'08"518, nothing exceptional, then declares:
"The only thing that bothered me was the strong wind, the helmet was shifting. I waited all afternoon, I felt like I was expecting a child. I could not push more, too risky, totally lacked light".
The wind is the same that the next day causes an annoying harshness to Schumacher, to the point of forcing the German to abandon the tests on the new Ferrari. In his place, Barrichello takes over the F1-2000, which in turn is stopped by an order received from the pits, where all of a sudden telemetric information arrives with completely out of whack data, perhaps due to electrical boredom. However, there were good impressions: in the morning, until he managed to turn, Schumacher completed only six laps, turning in 1'01"260; in the afternoon, Barrichello was slower than a tenth, but completed twenty-four laps. Both drivers show a certain satisfaction, for Barrichello in particular, Ferrari is increasingly a surprise:
"I was training when they told me to prepare to replace Michael who could no longer work. An early debut. I immediately had a wonderful impression of the single-seater. The times confirmed these beautiful feelings. I was as fast as Schumacher even though the driving position was certainly not the optimal one and the pedalboard should have been adjusted differently, especially with regard to the brake. Perfecting the position, I can push more and understand how the car reacts".
On February 11, 2000, a cold Barrichello completed only six laps for an abnormal behaviour of the petrol pressure, while Badoer set the best time with F1-2000 in these first kilometres of tests: 1'00"310, half a second better than Barrichello. Two hundred and sixty-two laps and almost eight hundred kilometres completed in five days, at a very high pace and with the record of the circuit by Badoer. What is more, the new Ferrari seems to be just as reliable as the F399. The only problem, in fact, was Michael Schumacher, hit by the stiff neck. Nothing serious, as Badoer explains:
"Nothing to worry about. Michael is almost restored, you will see him even more charged at Mugello where, perhaps, I will go for a visit too. To me a similar inconvenience happened twice, the last one last year in Montmelò just during the tests with the Ferrari: a crazy pain. When you drive or you stop, keeping your helmet on, it is normal to sweat a lot and you risk air blows. The same movement of removing the headgear, tilting the head and pulling, can favour muscular stretching".
On the evening of Sunday, February 13, after an extremely fruitful day with thirteen laps ringed by Badoer, Ferrari decides not to continue the tests further. While the first revision of the first F1-2000 is under way, the second one is being assembled and will also start for Mugello.
Everything seems to be going well for the Maranello team, except that, in the championship that has not yet begun, it is already necessary to reckon with the first controversies, fueled by the German newspaper Bild, not new in moving criticism to Ferrari. This time, there is a heavy suspicion regarding the alleged irregularities of the car, as the cockpit would not meet the new safety standards of the FIA. Hypothesis based on another ongoing investigation on the Jordan car, which according to Bild is dangerous, but above all is extremely similar to that of Ferrari, which at this point could be illegal. The paper runs its theory by talking about the Federation’s intention to close the investigation as soon as possible, well in advance of the opening race in Melbourne, and adds that among the experts there is indeed Jo Bauer, the same protagonist in Malaysia a few months before in the case of the deflectors. At Ferrari, however, they are calm. Claudio Berro declares:
"Some groundless news does not even deserve a reply. Now we are at the drip, with shootings that always know of scandal and are never verified, that appear on Internet sites and are filmed without hesitation by certain newspapers".
Moreover, Berro says that there has already been the green light from the FIA on all the components of F1-2000. On February 16th, Schumacher and Barrichello arrived at Mugello for a strictly closed test session. In the same days, on the South African circuit of Kyalami, work continues on approaching the Melbourne race of other teams, including Williams and BAR, in search of recovery after a complicated year. Jenson Button, Alex Zanardi’s replacement, has some problems getting the super license.
It’s Max Mosley reminding Williams that to start the new season and get the superlicense, the British 20-year-old must travel 300 kilometers in two consecutive days of testing, and receive the ok from eighteen of the twenty-six members that make up the Formula 1 committee. In response, Button makes sixty laps on the penultimate day of testing, turning in 1'23"936, three tenths slower than the best time recorded by Ricardo Zonta, and two tenths slower than teammate Ralf Schumacher.
At Mugello, Schumacher also amazed in the wet, where he crumbled the old record obtained the year before in identical conditions, lowering the limit by two seconds, 1'35"08, a time improved in the late afternoon with the drying of the asphalt. Michael is very satisfied:
"The car has proven to hold well even in the rain. The season started for me much better than last year because we had problems in the wet. Problems that now seem definitively resolved".
Schumacher, free from neck problems, runs until 18:00, when the visibility on the track is at the limit. At Mugello, Ferrari technicians are looking for other checks on the effectiveness of the shapes and the general behaviour of the single-seater at speeds above three hundred kilometers per hour that are close to Fiorano, and also the first indications on the operation of the F1-2000 on bends. And the thirty-five laps of Schumacher on the technical and selective track of Scarperia give comforting answers on the development of the car.
"We are working well; in the next few days we will make other checks. I am satisfied with these first results".
The German driver will also be on track on 18 and 19 February 2000 before leaving the field free to Barrichello, who will have at his disposal his F1-2000. Meanwhile, the Brazilian had to be content to run with the F399 laboratory. Barrichello gets on track at 9:30 am:
"The last time I drove here was eight years ago with a Formula 3000, I was able to regain confidence with the track. I’m happy but I can’t wait to have the new F1-2000".
The latter, however, convinces by the reliability and ease of driving. The problems, says Michael, are behind:
"There will probably still be some small things to fix but we have time. What matters is that the machine is giving positive answers. We are working well; in the next few days we will make other checks. I am satisfied with these first results. The F1-2000 drives better than the F399, it is very reliable and goes very well in the corners. Aerodynamics and engine are the best things. So far, we have had no problems, I hope to continue this way. I am optimistic because the car is more competitive, even if we have to take into account our opponents. And we will meet them in Australia".
Among the many who are running to fight with him, there is also Alesi with Prost:
"I spoke to him a few times on the phone, but I don’t know what his real potential is. But I hope for him that he can really create some problems for me, also because we are very friends".
Someone reminds him of his old promise to learn Italian:
"I am studying, but I have a lot of difficulties especially in conjugating verbs. I understand quite well, but I still don’t feel like doing interviews in Italian".
The President of Ferrari, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, on February 20, 2000, responding to the interview of the German weekly Welt am Sonntag, confesses that Michael Schumacher is very good, but Niki Lauda was much nicer:
"The relationship with Schumacher is very good but less intense than that with other drivers of the past, especially with the Austrian champion".
From February 22, eight out of eleven teams, except for Ferrari - which alternates between Mugello and Fiorano -, Minardi and Arrows, which instead records record time at Montmelò, they meet in Jerez to take advantage of the latest opportunities to evaluate the improvements introduced on the cars after the presentations, without neglecting fundamental aspects such as reliability. Not surprisingly, all the teams bring two cars, with the exception of the Prost that provides only one, driven by Alesi in the first two days. Good news for Minardi, which with Marc Gené marks encouraging times in another race simulation. The new M02 runs in its first week of tests well 1,700 kilometers, without encountering major problems.
On February 25, 2000 Schumacher performed other tests in Fiorano: in particular, the German made a lot of starting tests and continued to run on good times, completing twenty laps and scoring as best time 1'01'991, while at Mugello Barrichello went on forty-two laps, the best of which in 1'24"997. Then Michael joins his teammate in Tuscany, for the last races with his eyes already turned-on March 12, for the Australian Grand Prix. Another 71 laps completed, time limit further lowered (1'24'705), and optimism constantly increasing.
"The F1-2000 is the best Ferrari I have ever driven. Excellent for aerodynamics, engine and drivability".
A small exit of the track does not dampen the enthusiasm of Schumacher, who can look with confidence at the times: compared to the F399, on the Mugello circuit the new F1-2000 gained two seconds. Ferrari tests at Mugello ended on February 28th 2000: Schumacher completed sixty-seven laps, a whole Grand Prix simulated without problems, before moving on to the Fiorano circuit:
"We want to win from the first race".
Schumacher declares, but Montezemolo warns the German driver:
"Too much enthusiasm".
Maybe so. The fact is that on the 1st of March 2000, in Maranello, Schumacher is so enthusiastic that he wants to speak Italian:
"No questions in English, please".
He says to reporters before he confesses:
"I can’t wait to be in Melbourne, I haven’t played a Grand Prix since July, apart from the break in Malaysia and Japan, where I didn’t compete for myself, but for Irvine. I want to win in Australia, taboo place, where I have never won, nor have I ever snatched a pole. Then, I haven’t been able to win the opening test since '95, in Brazil with Benetton. I want to bring the world title to Maranello, because this is my fifth attempt with Ferrari and I don’t want fans to have to wait any longer".
Schumacher is polished, ten days from the start. Slim down, no more pain in the leg, perhaps even more sympathetic, or at least more human, but certainly less cautious:
"Even last year I dreamed of winning the first race, after Melbourne I was not satisfied, it bothered me to death to have broken the engine. But those were hopes. Our goal was to be competitive from the start, not to be forced to chase Mclaren. We hit it".
Where does all this trust come from?
"From the data I have in my possession. I believe in this Ferrari, it grew as an engine, improved in aerodynamics. The times at Mugello are two seconds shorter than twelve months ago. Much of the credit is the new tires, but at least eight tenths are car".
The worst would be to lose reliability:
"Impossible. Last year before Australia we had travelled 2,000 kilometers, now between me and Barrichello we are already more than twice and the inconveniences are minimal, details that we will put in place in ten days. We have already tried four Grand Prix simulations; we never had any problems. Compared to last season is a whole different story".
Montezemolo speaks of too much euphoria:
"It is clear that only on the eve you can understand everything. We have no comparison with the other stables. It is not essential to hit the pole, the important thing is that the gap with Mclaren is minimal, so you can play the race. Last year was more than a second: in those conditions there is no history".
Schumacher always quotes Mclaren, don’t you see other opponents?
"The fight will be with them, with a Hakkinen more motivated than ever. Jordan, Jaguar and Arrows can be the outsiders, certainly not the real rivals".
What does Cinderella Arrows have to do with it?
"It’s the team that most impressed me in the winter tests, with exceptional chronometric results. You can’t go that fast if you don’t have a good car".
What about your brother Ralf’s Williams?
"It has a new engine. To be competitive takes two or three years. Even if it is BMW".
The car gives guarantees, and the athlete Schumacher?
"I’ve never felt so fit. My new coach, Xavier, has transformed me, I’m physically stronger, at least thirty-five percent more. Even the leg is in place, today for the first time I could run without pain. I’m almost ready to return to play football. I certainly don’t miss my breath: I train every day. For at least an hour and a half".
On 1 March at Fiorano debuts the third Ferrari 2000, chassis 200. At the wheel of course Schumacher. The bookmakers give him World Champion:
"A great responsibility. In line with my dreams".
Mclaren is warned, Ferrari and Schumacher are ready to give the assault to the world title.