The lawyer Agnelli talks in these terms, the day after the sentence of Paris that cancels the decision taken by the race directors of the Malaysian Grand Prix of disqualifying the two Ferraris of Schumacher and Irvine:
"It was a good satisfaction, but it was a due sentence. We never doubted about it. There was never an intention on Ferrari’s side, maybe a bit of negligence, but in the accepted limits".
With this win obtained far from the track, now the Team of Maranello can exclusively think of the last race to be disputed in Suzuka, where the Italians will fight for the two titles up for grabs against McLaren. Agnelli explains his ideal scenario:
"Schumacher first and Irvine second. It would be deserved. For what concerns Eddie, I am really sorry that he is going to leave us, but the decision was already taken. Anyways we found a good substitute, Barrichello is an exceptional driver".
Other than McLaren, that through a press release communicated its unsatisfaction with the sentence of Paris, voices of dissent also come from the press, especially the German one, with the Berliner Morgenpost targeting the FIA, defining as a clamorous own goal the admission of the gross measurement error of the offending deflectors; or even the British press, who talks about a sport exposed to ridiculousness and uncapable to enforce the regulations. From Tokyo, Eddie Irvine, after being informed from Jean Todt and having celebrated the his victory and the annexes 10 points in the drivers rankings, talks about his unexpected presence at the trial:
"A blitz to which I submitted with pleasure. That trip was a bit of a surprise and in fact I think a lot of people in Ferrari didn’t know about it. The truth is that Todt called me begging to go back to Europe, because the lawyers thought it was appropriate for me to show up in front of the Court of Appeal. The judges addressed me a few questions, and even if I can’t reveal the content of them, I think I made an excellent impression. Yes, I believe that my deposition was surprisingly satisfactory for them".
After the court hearing, the return trip to Japan, where he landed around 12:00 a.m., and only around 6:00 p.m. he received the much-awaited call from his team principal:
"I was impatiently waiting for a call from Todt and instead my friends kept calling me, convinced that I already knew how it would have ended. You can imagine how I treated them, I am sorry if I was unpolite, but I think it is understandable in moments like these. Then the CNN went live from Paris, so other than receiving the news on the call with Todt I also assisted to the live press conference of the President Mosley. The first feeling was of big relief, the tension suddenly disappeared. But already after the trip to Paris I was optimistic. There I had the occasion to get some explanations from Todt, Brawn and Byrne about our defensive thesis and I was convinced that it was based on strong elements. During the return trip I reflected on what I had been told and inside of me the sensation that it would have ended well started increasing. As it then happened. It was impossible for Ferrari to fail with the appeal because from the papers it emerged the fact that we didn’t commit any infringement".
After that, Eddie thought of celebrating the regained leadership in the championship at the Hard Rock Cafè of Tokyo with some friends. But now it is time to focus again on matters exclusively regarding the track, to try to keep the advantage of four points on Hakkinen. The Irish driver is the first to underline that nothing yet has been decided:
"All this euphoria, justified by the occurrence, should not let us forget that the championship is not won yet, and that in Suzuka it is necessary to finish in front of Hakkinen. To achieve this goal I don’t only need the support of the Scuderia, that has done and is doing a big effort, but also the help of Schumacher as it happened in Sepang. Michael is in great shape and most of all he doesn’t feel the same pressure that me and Hakkinen are experiencing, and it is for this reason that in my opinion he is the first candidate for the success in this last race of the season. Our duty is to elaborate a winning strategy to bring back the title to Maranello after twenty years".
Irvine has a great relationship with the circuit of Suzuka, to the point that he defines it as a homeland Grand Prix, where he made his first debut in Formula 1 in 1993, surprising both in positive, for his excellent performance as a rookie, and in negative, for his inappropriate behaviour in the moment the fast Ayrton Senna arrived behind his shoulders and he hesitated to move and let him pass to get lapped; the shamelessness with which he faced the Brazilian champion in the post-race, insisting that he didn’t do anything wrong, costed him a punch in the face from Ayrton, who didn’t like his behaviour at all. His beautiful performance of 1997 is also to underline, when as a perfect number two he was fundamental for Schumacher to achieve 10 heavy points in the championship fight with Jacques Villeneuve. In conclusion, there is no better track for Eddie to fight for his chances of winning the World Championship. Chances of winning that Niki Lauda didn’t believe in after the injury of Michael Schumacher in Silverstone, when the ex-World Champion with Ferrari and McLaren clearly said that for McLaren it would have been easy to win the championship. Three and a half month later, Niki has to change his mind:
"There have been a lot of unexpected events from which Irvine was able to take advantage. For this he conquered three important successes, two of the which were gifted by his companions. He is now in the lead in the rankings with an advantage not only made of points, but also of psychological strength. In fact, Hakkinen lost too many occasions, while Eddie not even one. Ferrari offered him an excellent car with which he often placed well. Now it is time for Mika to fear the worst, because in addition Ferrari can now count on a recovered Schumacher".
Like the media, Lauda doesn’t spare the Federation from criticism after the deflectors-case:
"It seems to me that the judges have appealed to everything the regulations were conceding. And they did well. If the measurements were wrong, nothing else could have been done. In this chaos it was the FIA to lose its face. How can they declare that the Ferrari is illegal, automatically assigning the championship to Hakkinen and to McLaren in Malaysia and then, six days later, returning to the real classification of the Grand Prix. It didn’t look like a good thing to me".
In any case, testifying he changed his mind, Lauda now sees Ferrari as the favoured number one for the victory, but caution with thinking that Mika Hakkinen will easily give up:
"In the last races he was slow. I think that the missed team order from Dennis, who made it possible for Coulthard to win in Belgium, put him ko. From then Mika wasn’t himself anymore, except in the first laps in Monza: the incident in the Italian Grand Prix was yet another tile on his head. Unlucky but extremely fast".
In the days that approach Formula 1 to the last Grand Prix of the millennium, Ferrari makes its last efforts in the developments of the F399, planning a last test with Luca Badoer in Fiorano. Despite the latter set the new record on the circuit of Modena in the previous week, demonstrating the big steps ahead made by the car, Todt asks the Minardi driver to delay his trip to Japan for a last session of tests, without exceeding the fifty kilometres required by the regulations for tests held during a race week. Badoer tries a laboratory F399 with a series of new details, for some insiders aiming to get indications for 2000, even if, in the case of a positive outcome, the use of these components is not excluded in Suzuka. The day before the classic press conference that opens the weekend in Tokyo, the duellists for the drivers title, Irvine and Hakkinen, are awaited for a conference elbow to elbow. Surprisingly the seat next to the one of the Ferrari driver remains free. Initially a delay is expected, then comes a letter of excuses from Ron Dennis, in which he explains:
"I am sorry for our absence, but in a moment like this we prefer to stay focused on the race rather than taking part in something like this".
A moment of embarrassment comes next, with Irvine saying he is sorry for the absence of the rival, underlining that after all he is also fighting for the title and still he is present. The absence appears a bit controversial considering the manifested discontent of the Woking Team after the sentence emitted in Paris; but the confrontation with the press is only delayed, because in the conference organized by the FIA for the next day the two duellists for the title, Michael Schumacher, Jean Todt and Norbert Haug appear. The latter is replacing Dennis, who prefers to keep playing his game of silence. The air in the McLaren environment is heavy: there’s a not-well-hidden frustration for a Championship that had to be won without too many difficulties, and that now risks slipping from their hands because of a driver who is contractually a number two, mostly due to the many mistakes made during the whole year. The temporary disqualification of Ferrari in Sepang was a breath of fresh air, promptly gone a few days later. The unusual aggressive tones of the sports director Jo Ramirez are another sign of nervousness:
"Well, from what has been established by the Appellate Tribunal, now we know that we can build larger pistons without any problem. The political force that Ferrari holds is really incredible, even if in reality we already knew that. Do you know what joke is being told around in the paddock? That FIA actually means Ferrari Interior Affairs. That little game about measures is incredible. They claim that the cars were the same used at the Nürburgring, but there, since Irvine arrived seventh, no one had obviously checked them. Maybe it had to end like this to make this last Grand Prix of the season more interesting".
The accusations of Ramirez are answered with a series of compromising pictures portraying Ron Dennis in the company of some technical delegates of the FIA, Herbie Blash and Jo Bauer, in front of a Ferrari covered by a red cloth, right after the Malaysian race. Someone attacks stating that it is not normal that a manager of a team enters in the parc fermé at the end of a race and entertains himself with men charged to verify the various cars. For sure problems aren’t missing even for Eddie, since in the mess of the trip to Paris both the driver and his manager Zanarini forgot to rent a phone in Japan since the European ones don’t work. So for some hours of the day they were untraceable even for Ferrari, that in the end organises a connection in this way: the usual numbers of Maranello are called and the line, with a small deviation, is bounced to the Japanese hotel where the driver is being hosted. It is an intern line for exclusive use of Ferrari, and not for the fans. Even in Suzuka, Ferrari will do the same with its satellite antennae: they will be able to call any intern number of Maranello composing it on a Japanese phone without passing through international prefixes. So it is a huge help in Japan in case some inconvenience happens, as it did in Sepang; everyone in the factory will be reachable in every moment of the day and of the night. The day after, the 28th of October 1999, Eddie Irvine and Mika Hakkinen appear together at the classic press conference on Thursday. Eddie makes a short resume of his incredible season:
"Everything happened in these months, I found myself alternatively inside and outside the fight at the top, a non- stopping emotion. My strength was my ability of staying calm, of not making any mistake that could throw everything away. Then my luck, we can say that, was the decision of Schumacher of coming back on track only in the last two races. Without his help I wouldn’t be here with four points of advantage on Hakkinen, this is sure".
The one of the next Jaguar driver was a consistent growth in the years: after the tenth place with 11 points conquered in 1996, Irvine went to a seventh place with 24 points in 1997, followed by a fourth place with 47 points in 1998. These improvements went hand in hand with the ones of his car, that from 1999 allowed him to celebrate his first career victory in Melbourne, and then in other three races, two of the which conquered thanks to the help of his teammates (Salo in Hockenheim, Schumacher in Sepang). Even in Suzuka, Michael’s support is something that can’t be lacking. Irvine prefers not to make any prediction:
"I need to exclusively focus on Sunday’s race, I must try to finish in front of Hakkinen or right behind him. Schumacher will once more have an extremely important role for me and for Ferrari; his abilities were seen in Malaysia, and I said it that his presence would be enough to scare McLaren. He came back stronger than ever. This time he can also win, indeed, his victory would give me a huge help, everyone knows that".
In Maranello the fans quiver for Sunday’s race: in front of the maxi-screens set up by the municipality around 20000 people are attended, like in 1998, when the situation was nearly the same. Back then it was Schumacher versus Hakkinen, but this time it is Irvine’s turn fighting the Finnish for the Championship title. The bookmakers of William Hill give the Ferrari driver as the favourite for the win, while Ladbroke counts on Hakkinen’s victory in the Grand Prix but suspends the bets for the victory in the World Championship. After the sentence of Paris that took from his hands the second title of his career, Hakkinen admits he felt like a child who waits for a Christmas gift and in the end has to accept that the package didn’t come. He received the news while playing golf in Indonesia, and Mika took it so badly that he couldn’t even hit the ball anymore. The press asks him to make some comment on the unfolding of the events, but he refuses to do so. He frowns when he hears the name of Schumacher, given from many as the undoubted winner of the race, considering his proof of strength in Malaysia; Hakkinen nearly blurts out and invites to wait for the race to start before being so sure about that. An unnerving season, the one of the Finnish, characterized by a lot of misfortune that costed him a lot of precious points, from the beginning of the season with reliability problems on his new McLaren, to the clamorous mistakes in Imola and in Monza while he was comfortably at the lead, without forgetting the messes created by the team, that often didn’t protect him in the best way, between missed team orders in Belgium, badly fixed tires in Great Britain and Germany, and the incident with his teammate in Austria. A series of events that brought him to the last race of the season with four points of disadvantage from Irvine, the last person Hakkinen would have expected to be fighting against for the title at the beginning of the year. Mika admits he needs to unplug for a while:
"After Malaysia I was literally destroyed".
However, fighting for the title for two consecutive years in the last race is a debilitating experience on a psychological level. At least, the consolation is in the previous 1998, when driving his silver arrow he dominated the race and won the title. A performance he hopes to repeat on Sunday. It is also to be reminded that always in Suzuka he gained his first career podium in 1993, driving a McLaren with a Ford engine. After the little talkativeness of Hakkinen, the press conference goes on with a series of questions addressed to both the contenders. First of all, they are asked where they spent the days approaching the Japanese Grand Prix.
Irvine: "I was doing a tour of my sponsors in the East when I was called from Paris for the appeal process. I went there willingly, even if it was a long blitz. Hong Kong-Paris-Tokyo in one day and a half, with different time zones. Luckily I slept a lot on the airplane".
Hakkinen: "I have been training by the seaside in Malaysia, and there I was informed about what was happening in Paris".
What does it mean to finish the championship in a track like the one of Suzuka?
Irvine: "Right here I run my first race in Formula 1, and I gained my first points. It is like racing at home, because it is here in Japan that I became a real driver. On the circuit of Suzuka I finished every race, except three years ago when Berger pushed me out".
Hakkinen: "I also gained my first points in Suzuka, other than the world title, last year. In the past I had some sponsors from here. So I am emotionally linked to Japan".
Is there tension approaching this grand finale?
Irvine: "Absolutely no, but I am not relaxed either. If I lose it will be a big chance missed. If I become World Champion in Suzuka I will be even happier, because I love this place. And I can even finish last, if Hakkinen doesn’t score any point".
Hakkinen: "Theoretically I have an advantage, unlike Irvine, because I already fought for the title last year. But in the end it is like this is my first time".
The best performance this season?
Irvine: "The win in Zeltweg, in the Austrian Grand Prix, after Schumacher’s incident in Silverstone. Ferrari’s moral was low and that success convinced everyone that we could still fight for the title. I believed it and I wasn’t wrong".
Hakkinen: "I could mention the Canadian Grand Prix, but then the French Grand Prix in Magny-Cours comes to my mind, with all the overtakes I made, even if I didn’t win. I think I had a lot of good races on my side, those who leave a lot of satisfaction inside".
A mistake that got stuck in your mind?
Irvine: "The fact that I went long for tire change and refuelling in Silverstone. I lost four points that today would make me more comfortable. But my rival also lost some occasions and made mistakes. Like Ferrari and McLaren. Now it is useless to incriminate: we are here and we should enjoy this sprint".
Hakkinen: "Monza. It is an obsession. It is the mistake that marked me more, because it happened in the most delicate moment of the Championship. Imola was at the beginning, so it was easier to forget".
Expectations for Sunday’s race?
Irvine: "I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be a Grand Prix with a not so obvious outcome".
Hakkinen: "I have only a few possibilities: I must attack and win. I have a lot of trust in myself and in the car".
Will it be a fair fight?
Irvine: "I’ve known Mika for a long time, I have also been his fan, I know he is a fair driver".
Hakkinen: "I hope yes, I am sure it will be".
Opinions on the rival?
Irvine: "Mika is a great driver, he has always been fast in his career. But it surprised me to see him physically destroyed after the Malaysian Grand Prix".
Hakkinen: "He is good, a great opponent. He had some good races, but Ferrari also made an excellent job".
What to do after the Grand Prix?
Irvine: "If I win the title I will celebrate with the team on Sunday night. Then I will disappear from the screen to enjoy the satisfaction and to rest. I will be reachable again in Vallelunga for the Ferrari Day".
Hakkinen: "I have a program with different options. First I have to win the title, then I will see".
Hakkinen gains strength thinking of Suzuka and of the big support that the Japanese always give him, a hug so suffocating that on Friday night to leave the circuit he will have to ask for the help of a policeman.
"Mika, gift us with this dream".
They were showing him on a newspapers with English words; he didn’t sign any autograph and he ran away, but he promises a big feat.
"It is my favourite circuit, it has a lot of fast turns, I never failed here".
And it is not to be forgotten that the Constructors World Championship is also yet up for grabs, now seeing Ferrari on the lead with four points of advantage on McLaren, an identical situation to the one of the drivers standing. Under this aspect it is important to move the focus to the words of the respective team principals of the teams, whose relationship became more and more stormy in these two years of heated rivalry. For Ferrari there’s Jean Todt, while McLaren-Mercedes is represented by Norbert Haug, and not by Ron Dennis, unjustified absent. Todt doesn’t hide his nervousness for the last race of the year, during which, for the third consecutive year, his team will fight for the title. In the first two occasions it didn’t end well, with Schumacher retiring in both races. Todt hopes this time is the right one. Haug underlines that in a state of nervousness it is easier to make mistakes, so it is better not to lose control and to remain focused on the goal. Something definitely not easy, especially in a scenario like this; however, being the ones chasing rather than the ones being chased could take some pressure away from the shoulders of the Woking team, whose only goal is to try to fight until the end to win the race. There are only few calculations to make for them. It is inevitable to go back to the mess created in Malaysia that brought everyone to court, and if that has embittered the relationship between the two teams. Todt answers:
"I only say that when someone has some suspects it is better to say it immediately than later. Anyways, calling Maranello to explain the problem to our experts on Sunday night, we immediately understood that the deflectors were regular. Two experts that we have consulted, John Harvey and Peter Whrite - ex Lotus engineer - have then confirmed our first impressions. There still have been a manufacturing problem and it is for this that we changed the deflectors".
For Haug nothing has changed:
"We will fight on track, no holds barred, but on Sunday night, no matter who won, we will shake hands. After all I believe that one or two complaints in one year are normal. I clinch that our mechanics have noticed the irregularity after the Malaysian Grand Prix, amazed by the performance of the two Ferraris, and not before at the Nürburgring".
If, especially after the sentence of Paris, the atmosphere in Ferrari is much more relaxed, the same can’t be said for
"There’s a great atmosphere, even if of course the situation is delicate. We are aware that we could have scored more points, but definitely not because of the team orders; our problems were others. Even in Malaysia a failure stopped Coulthard when he could have put pressure on Irvine. But if we look at the roll of honour, aiming two consecutive Championships is not easy".
Time for compliments and talking about the strengths of the opponents. For Todt McLaren:
"Is an excellent car and with good drivers: we know it is going to be difficult to beat them, but we also are hard bones".
Haug clinches that the big difference this year was made by the mistakes of the team, but he recognizes the merits of Ferrari:
"We made a lot of mistakes, but this doesn’t change that Ferrari has worked very well. They could already have won the championship in ’97 or ’98, maybe they will make it this year, even if I hope not. You know, I am not a good loser".
In conclusion, Todt returns on the chapter of the resignation presented to Montezemolo the day after the disqualification in Sepang. The French jokes, saying that in the worst scenario he would have enjoyed some holidays, then he specifies that even if the title would go to Woking he wouldn’t leave Ferrari, since the resignation has been rejected. The Grand Prix of Suzuka, as last stage of the Championship, includes various themes other than the fight for the title: overall, the goodbye of some drivers, or the last kilometres at the wheel of a car before changing team. It is the case of Damon Hill, who will hang his helmet on the nail after a delusional season, that made him understand he is not enough fast and motivated anymore to stay in Formula 1. Or of Toranosuke Takagi, who hopes to make a good impression in his last appearance right in front of his compatriots. It is also a goodbye for the Stewart, that will change its name to Jaguar, and the last goal of Sir Jackie is to keep the fourth place in the constructors standings in front of Williams. Jarno Trulli, who will take Hill’s seat with Jordan, wants to greet Prost properly; and the same for Olivier Panis, who will be a tester for McLaren in the season of 2000. There are many other drivers' movements from one team to another, above all Rubens Barrichello, next Ferrari driver, while there are those like Alex Zanardi, who for the moment seems confident of being able to keep his place in Williams alongside Ralf Schumacher. For the two-time champion of the Formula CART, the return to Formula 1 has been a real disaster: continuous technical problems and weak confidence with the car have limited him. The Italian driver only obtained a good result in Monza, where another problem impeded him to finish with points. Alex doesn’t spare Williams from some criticism, but also takes the opportunity to assign his very personal report cards approaching the final fight for the World Championship:
"Premised that I never assign any ten, I must say that Irvine did better than Hakkinen. Eddie did much more than everyone was expecting from him, Mika much less. Schumacher, anyways, is the strongest, he is the only one who could go fast both with smooth and grooved tires. He is really excellent. On the other hand, I would give a full eight to his brother Ralf, my teammate. He grew a lot".
Instead, for himself (and here comes the indirect criticism to the team):
"I would give myself a not-classified. I could never start a race with the car I wanted. What did I miss? Some mechanisms. I wasn’t obstinate when I should have been. Formula 1 is a fact of experience and the technicians who had it have been removed from the team. Moreover, in America my car only broke once in three years".
Alex still isn’t aware, but the one disputed in Suzuka will be his last weekend as a Formula 1 driver. For the Grand Prix of Suzuka, Ferrari shows up with a larger troop than usual, because of the second T-Car, with a total of four cars. Sixty-one men who will have a lot to do, especially with assembling and disassembling the numerous engines brought to Japan from the Team of Maranello. The strategy is clear: Schumacher and Irvine will face the first two hours of free practice with the 048B; then, in the afternoon, they will be replaced by the 048C for the remaining practice session of Friday, Saturday morning and qualifying. For the race that will decide the outcome of the season, instead, two new 048C will be assembled. On Friday, 29th of October 1999, the drivers get on track for free practice, and McLaren immediately suggests that it won’t allow a repetition of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Hakkinen and Coulthard place in first and second position, preceding Schumacher, four tenths behind the Finnish. Irvine struggles more, only tenth, one second and six tenths from the Silver Arrows. For Eddie some difficulty in finding the most adapt asset; on the opposite, Schumacher looks at ease and appears optimistic, with a probability of winning the race. The fastest time set gives Hakkinen a good mood, necessary after the delusion in Sepang and - not to be underestimated - the one of Paris. Coulthard’s day is characterized by a scary incident at around 180 km/h, with the car turning out completely destroyed. The Scottish admits his fault, precising that the crash wasn’t caused by a failure on the car. Right after Coulthard’s incident, Ramirez, sports director of McLaren, gets on the track to retrieve all the pieces lost by his car.
But he couldn’t have done it, they say at Ferrari, and the gossip reveals the mystery: McLaren is desperate because the electronic control unit is lost. The third time on the day, in reality, was set by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, whose lap has been deleted for a cut on the chicane. Consequently, the tenth final position doesn’t mirror his real potential in qualifying and in the race. Jordan’s driver, one of the surprises of the season for his great consistency of results, that unfortunately was broken at the Nürburgring, where he retired while he was leading the race - a victory that would have permitted him to jump at the lead of the Championship - with a total of zero points in the rankings after seven consecutive placements in the first four positions. The German must defend his third place in the rankings from Coulthard, so we must pay attention to him in the role of third wheel. Barrichello and Herbert’s Stewarts will also try to enter the battle, extremely competitive in this final part of the season and right behind Michael Schumacher in Friday’s timesheet. Suzuka is also the last chance for BAR-Supertec to gain the first points in a troubled season for the new team born from the ashes of Tyrrell and that had started with a wide budget and important goals. Moreover, for Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta, it was a nightmare that is finally coming to an end. Reliability on the components that was never found, and a pinch of competitivity only shown in Barcelona, when Villeneuve made it to keep Schumacher behind him for a whole race stint. The World Champion of 1997, with his head already towards next season, hoping to be able to compete again for high positions, explains his thoughts about the championship situation, confessing that he wouldn’t like to be in Hakkinen shoes, who in his opinion:
"Has an enormous pressure on his shoulders, while his rival can smile. Mika is champion in charge, he has been running from the beginning of the championship with the goal of reaffirming his superiority, and instead is now the one chasing in the conclusive race. Irvine didn’t think he could win the title until half of the season, his mind was free. And now He is still the one who has less to lose".
Despite a hard day, in Jacques’ opinion, Irvine is still the favourite:
"However, I was a bit surprised, I imagined he would be faster".
In conclusion, he bluntly criticizes the case of the deflectors and its outcomes:
"I dreamt that races were a sport, then unfortunately I woke up with a different feeling. Formula 1 is only a big business, if it were a little less it could be more loyal. I am sorry, now I don’t believe it anymore".
At the end of a Friday of practices, the last as a Stewart’s driver, Rubens Barrichello receives as a goodbye gift a giant deflector with the signs of all the mechanics, a funny reference to Ferrari, the near future of the twenty-seven years old Brazilian, that meanwhile wants to close in beauty his adventure with Stewart and the one of the team in Formula 1, before becoming Jaguar. Anyways, Rubens is pawing. He can’t wait to wear the well-known red suit:
"I am crowning the dream of my life. I am not scared of missing the chance, the pleasure clearly exceeds the fear. And about pressure, you don’t know what it means for a Brazilian to be considered Senna’s heir. I have had enough already, I always went over it".
Before starting his new adventure, he will face surgery on his ribs:
"It will be decided on the 3rd of November, when I will be visited. But it is not something serious, it is an outpatient surgery, maximum ten days of convalescence. It is a memory of Imola’s incident in 1994, the bone callus that has formed causes me pain when it touches the cartilage. I could live with it, but maybe it is better to remove it. Ferrari knew everything. And then it is not said that I could drive for them before December 31st, maybe they prefer to benefit from Irvine’s image a bit more".
Rubens doesn’t talk about any favoured for the Championship, but about who would have really deserved to win it:
"Schumacher would have deserved it. But Irvine surprised me: he had a chance, he took advantage of it. In Schumacher’s absence he proved that he knows how to win".
There’s a voice going around that a psychic had predicted his arrival in Ferrari:
"No, she only told me: if you wear something red, it will bring you luck. From then I always wear underwear of that colour. I bought a lot, even if I am not superstitious. Now my car will also be red. Let’s see what is waiting for me".
Meanwhile, his last qualification as a Stewart driver is pretty delusional, concluded only at the 13th place. On Saturday, 30th of October 1999, not only the two duellists for the title are putting on a show, but those who are favoured for the win of the race: Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher. At the first try Michael takes the first position, but right after Hakkinen gets to the finish line and equals his time on the millisecond. At the second try the German improves of one tenth and a half, going down to 1'37"879. Mika reacts firmly, improving the provisory pole of 59 milliseconds. All of this while Irvine tries to look at them from a closer perspective in the time rankings, trying to reach the third position in front of Coulthard, but the North-Irish exaggerates and before the hairpin he destroys his Ferrari, going off track and hitting the barriers. He finished the session with the forklift, driving in 1'38"975, placing himself in the fifth position. Schumacher, on the other side, after being moved from the first position, goes back on track and runs in 1'37"470. Hakkinen’s lap is demolished. The Finnish tries to react again, but he can’t, and at the end of the qualifying session he is 350 milliseconds slower than the poleman of the day, who earns his twenty-third career pole, the third of the current season. The second row is occupied by Coulthard and Frentzen, while Irvine, in third row, is attacked by a surprising Oliver Panis on Prost, who does an excellent job in exploiting an evolute version of the qualifying engine given by Peugeot, whose efficiency is also demonstrated by Trulli’s seventh place. Thanks to this pole, Schumacher has everything in the right place to bring home the victory and take some fundamental points from Hakkinen, with Irvine that at that point would only need to finish fourth in order to win the title. At the end of the session, Michael declares:
"If the car is fast in qualifying, it will also be in the race. Repeating the pole in Malaysia I confirmed that the famous deflectors weren’t giving us any advantage. Why is Eddie behind? I don’t know, he didn’t have the right rhythm, for him it is a particular situation, it is the first time he is fighting for the title. I don’t know if it is for this or if it is his limit. After all I can’t divide myself in two. He has everything he needs, all the opportunities he should have. I repeat, there’s only one tactic to help him, and that would be my victory. This way I would be helping Ferrari for the two World Championships".
Eddie explains what didn’t work out in this chaotic qualifying:
"I crashed because braking while entering the turn the rear wheels locked and I lost the rear. A failure? No, I made a mistake. While I was getting close to the wall I thought: I will get hurt. Fortunately, I only have some pain in my neck. I ruined the chassis - three holes on the left - but the forklift is really good. I wanted the second row, so Michael in the race could stay ahead of Hakkinen and I could stay ahead of Frentzen. Starting from the fifth position on the grid the track is good, it is better to be on the exterior at turn one. All the team is with me because we all want to win the World Championship".
Hakkinen has something to recriminate, since approaching his last lap, he is obstacled by Jean Alesi, because of a misunderstanding between the two:
"I was approaching my last fast lap, the track was getting faster and faster, I could have attacked for the pole. I was going slow, I wanted to drive well through the last chicane and then accelerate on the straight: Alesi was trying a fast lap. To avoid me he cut the chicane and stopped in front of me, so I had to get off the track. I am surprised that a driver with his experience did a move like that. The fault must be split in two. The tactic? I am focused on the lights- out and we must understand with how much fuel our rivals will start. Irvine starting behind? It doesn’t make me any calmer, the race is long. And the first turn could be a lottery".
Alesi explains his point of view:
"Hakkinen was accelerating and braking, and to avoid hitting him at the chicane I had to cut the turn doing a three- sixty, stopping in front of him who had finished in the gravel. I have been called from Charlie Withing without knowing why. I told him: you are like a football fan, blinded by passion. I don’t like you".
It is difficult to say if Hakkinen would have been able or not to improve Schumacher’s lap, but the Finnish must be satisfied with a second place that forces him to adapt an offensive approach in the race right from the first turn, needing the first position to win the World Championship. At that point he won’t need to think about Irvine, who at the same time won’t be able to manage the situation: Eddie must hope that Michael defends the first position, but also needs to work hard reaching the fourth position at least, not an easy job considering the opponents ahead of him. On Sunday, 31st of October 1999, in Maranello, everyone can feel the twenty years of abstinence since the last Drivers’ Title achieved. Some maxi-screens are assembled for the occasion, and more than 20000 people from the first hours of the morning meet up to cheer for Irvine and Schumacher close to the Galleria Ferrari, in the municipality area. Even the Enzo Ferrari auditorium, with 350 available places, is opened to the public. The traffic is closed and the company executives that didn’t travel to Japan also meet up in the Maranello Industry. But Montezemolo is not between them, because he prefers to follow the race from his home in Bologna. During the usual warm-up in the morning Hakkinen is the fastest, ahead of Schumacher and Frentzen, while Irvine is again author of a track excursion and is only sixth. The weak feeling with Ferrari remains constant during the weekend. For the last race of the millennium, Bridgestone offers to the teams medium and soft tires, the seconds preferred by all the teams, that, surprises excluded, will opt for a two-stop strategy. The race that will assign the Drivers’ and World Championship of 1999 will start at 2:00 p.m.
When the lights turn off, Schumacher has a bad start and doesn’t even have the time to close the trajectory, because Hakkinen is already abundantly ahead. Coulthard and Frentzen also have a bad start from the second row, differently from Irvine and Panis, who exiting turn one is third in front of the North-Irish, who did exactly what he had to do, which is, earning the fourth position. But Michael didn’t do the same, and Hakkinen is in the lead. At the end of the first lap Hakkinen and Schumacher are already on the run, Panis is third and keeps exploiting a low-fuelled Prost, with Irvine that for the moment can’t even try to pass him. Alex Zanardi can’t even finish his first lap and is forced to stop his Williams before the checkered line because of an electrical problem. An image that perfectly sums up the season of the Italian. Only three laps for Jarno Trulli, also forced to retire for an engine problem, in his last race with Prost before moving to Jordan. From the beginning Hakkinen sets an exceptional race pace, unreachable for Schumacher, who is constantly losing tenths but it still fast enough to have an empty path behind his back, where Panis is calm in third position. Irvine, more than thinking about an attack on the French, must check his rear mirrors because Coulthard is getting closer. After about ten laps the first two drivers are divided by 5 seconds, while Panis is 20 seconds behind. The future tester for McLaren is between the firsts to stop at the box, at lap number 17, demonstrating that he had started with a lower amount of fuel. Irvine reaches the third position, a placement yet not sufficient because Hakkinen is still in the lead. With this momentaneous result, Hakkinen would be champion with two points of advantage on the Ferrari driver.
A team order letting Irvine pass Schumacher and get to the second position wouldn’t be useful, since Hakkinen conquered a higher number of successes. Eddie can only hope in a miracle from Michael, who is getting always farer from the McLaren Mercedes. At lap 19 Hakkinen stops at the box for the first programmed stop: the pit-stop is not so fast, around 8.8 seconds, and the Finnish gets back on track in the second position, behind the lapped Luca Badoer, with Schumacher momentarily in the lead. In the same lap Frentzen also enters the box, while the only Prost left in the race also retires with Panis, valid opponent in the fight for the podium until a problem with an alternator that concludes his race earlier than predicted. As future McLaren tester, Olivier won’t race in the 2000 season as a starting player, a shame considering that between 1996 and 1997 – until his injury in Canada – he had demonstrated a great talent. With the forced exclusion of Panis, Irvine had an opponent less in the fight for the third place, but he must now pay attention to Frentzen and Ralf Schumacher, who have already stopped and are trying an undercut on him. Eddie, at the end of lap 21, is one of the drivers that still haven’t stopped, with Schumacher and Coulthard. The first of the three to be called back to the boxes is the German, who, after a pit-stop of 6.3 seconds, 2.5 seconds faster than Hakkinen, gives back the lead to the Finnish, now 7 seconds far. Then it is Coulthard’s turn, who manages to keep the position on Frentzen.
A crucial moment then comes for Irvine’s race, who must push to the maximum in his lap before entering to the pit to keep the third position. Eddie enters the pit-lane one lap after Coulthard’s pit-stop, and the mechanics change his tires and refuel his car in 7.1 seconds. Returning to the track he is wheel-to-wheel with Coulthard but only for a few seconds: the fast Scottish earns the third position in front of the North-Irish. A hard blow for Ferrari, since with Hakkinen first and Coulthard third, McLaren would also win the Constructors’ Championship. Things are getting bad for the team of Maranello. Meanwhile the Formula 1 career on Damon Hill comes to a sadly end, with the driver who, after an excursion in the first phase of the race that had thrown him in the back, decides to enter the boxes and end his race with an early retirement, even though his Jordan didn’t show any problem. Ferrari needs to react and does it with Michael Schumacher, who tries to reduce the gap with Hakkinen with a series of fast laps. Mika doesn’t reply to the super-fast laps of the German but keeps pushing without taking any risk. The advantage he has allows him to lose a pair of tenths each lap. Irvine also tries to sound the charge, now more for the team’s title than for the driver’s, seen the calm with which Hakkinen is managing the race. Eddie gets closer to Coulthard, or better, the Scottish makes it possible for Eddie to get closer. McLaren demonstrates not to have accepted Schumacher’s move in Malaysia, when the German clearly slowed down Hakkinen to facilitate Irvine’s race. So, as soon as there’s an opportunity, the British team orders Coulthard to slow Irvine down. Behind the Ferrari driver also come Frentzen and Ralf Schumacher, creating a group of four drivers in a fight for the third place.
"Fuck you, those two always do it as soon as they can. We knew they would play some game to trick us".
Eddie screams through the radio, while Coulthard is losing three seconds from Hakkinen each lap. The role of Schumacher as a stopper in Malaysia is returned with interests. The situation remains pretty much the same until the second series of pit-stops, inaugurated by Frentzen around lap 30. The Jordan driver is then copied by Irvine and Ralf Schumacher, in a contemporary stop during which the Ferrari mechanics don’t make any mistake and allow Eddie to stay in front of the German. Coulthard stays out but must be faster in order to not get passed by the same three that are following him. But the Scottish at lap 33 is author of a banal mistake, when in proximity of the Spoon turn touches the grass and loses control of his car, crashing the front against the guard-rail. Coulthard can restart, but the front of his McLaren is destroyed. The necessary pit-stop lasts 15.7 seconds: David gets back in the race, but is now at the back and lapped, after a stupid and bad mistake that gives the Constructors’ Title back to Ferrari’s hands. But he can still help, in the case he gets back on track ahead of Michael Schumacher, who in his desperate chasing of Hakkinen is now 4 seconds behind the leader. Coulthard doesn’t want to let Schumacher by easily, so he closes the trajectory and only slows down where Michael can’t make any move to lap him. When he steps back, finally, Schumacher is 7.5 seconds from Hakkinen; around three seconds have been lost in only half a lap. A move that Michael will admit not to have liked after the end of the race. Even the two drivers at the lead stop for the second time at the pits, but now the distance between them makes it improbable to have a real fight. Ten laps from the end, Hakkinen is undisputed leader of the Suzuka Grand Prix with eleven seconds of advantage on Schumacher. Irvine is third, ahead of Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher and Jean Alesi, entered in the points zone after Coulthard’s mistake, who in the meantime, after having done his job impeding Schumacher, retires from the race.
A hard season comes to its end for the Scottish, with some satisfactions considering the two wins, but also full of delusions and mistakes, so he is not in the top three drivers in the rankings of the Championship. For the second consecutive year, David demonstrates he is not at the same level of his teammate who, at the same time, is driving undisturbed towards his second World title. A title that officially comes at the end of the 55th and last lap. Hakkinen drives through the last chicane at very low speed, gets to the finish line and can finally take a long sigh of relief. A victory conquered thanks to a superb drive, dominating the race from the first to the last lap without committing a single imprecision, which is worth his fifth affirmation in the season, the fourteenth in total. Mika Hakkinen is Champion of the World of 1999, champion for the second time in his career. Michael Schumacher is second, and with Irvine coming third, inexorably defeated, one minute and a half from his rival, Ferrari can celebrate the win in the Constructors’ Championship, a title that had been missing since the far 1983. In parc fermé Schumacher comes before everyone else, leaving his seat and shrugging, as if he wanted to say: I tried, but he was too fast. Ron Dennis goes to greet him and exchanges a few words while waiting for the other two drivers that will have access to the podium. Ron smiles and pats the German’s back, who on the contrary has a serious and tense expression on his face. Irvine comes, immediately consoled by his teammate with a hug, and then Hakkinen, welcomes with a warm and joyful hug from Ron Dennis. On the podium, after having received his trophy, Hakkinen jokingly threatens Dennis, assuring him a champagne shower that the team principal would kindly refuse, but to which he can’t escape even running to the back of the podium, where he is joined by the new World Champion. After doing what he wanted to do, Mika goes back to the front and completes his champagne party with the two Ferrari drivers. Hakkinen and Irvine, the two big rivals of this gran finale, leave the podium side-by-side, hugging and talking. At the press conference, the first questions are obviously for Hakkinen:
"I knew I could do well, I was confident from the beginning. When the red lights turned off, I immediately understood that I had started well, to the point that when I shifted to the second gear I was already in the lead. From that moment it was only about managing the position and maintaining the gap on Schumacher that I had built during the first part of the race. Obviously at some point passing the lapped drivers was a problem, but fortunately I brilliantly passed all of them. This title is different from the one of last year. The feeling is different, this year it was more difficult and we had a lot of problems at the beginning of the season, losing a lot of point due to reliability problems. I must admit that fighting for the title until the last race is really unnerving, it psychologically destroys you. An experience that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Last year I fought with Michael, now with Eddie, and I think now it should be enough".
Michael intervenes, and joking he asks him:
"So, are you retiring?"
Mika replies with a laugh, then gives the word to the German, who, after the exceptional pole conquered on the previous day, seemed to be advantaged for the victory. But that didn’t happen, especially because of an imperfect start, that many, even his compatriots of the Bild journal, will judge as premeditated to open the way for Hakkinen to win the race and the title. For many workers Michael in his heart wanted to be the one bringing back the Constructors’ title to Maranello after twenty years and didn’t want to leave the feat to Irvine. But Schumacher says otherwise, talking about his start in these words:
"I don’t know what happened exactly, I had a similar problem in the past, but we will have to analyze everything in detail with the team, I had already understood something was wrong during the recognition lap".
Then, when he is asked about the difficult overtake of the lapped Coulthard, come the hard critics to McLaren:
"Mika deserved to win the race and the title, and no one can put this in discussion, but his team, McLaren, must wonder why Coulthard was asked to do what he did. It is a different behaviour from the one I had in Malaysia. I was fighting for my position, while David was lapped, he should have left space and instead he started waving from one side to the other of the track to slow me down. At this point, I am starting to think that even in Spa, last year, everything was programmed. I wasn’t expecting he could behave like this. At that point, after a hard first part of the race, I was reducing the gap with Mika, I was four seconds behind, but the whole situation costed me around ten seconds".
The two successively meet to clear things up, but in reality it appears they don’t find any agreement, as Coulthard’s
"I will bring him to court. He said I am dishonest, he doubted my integrity. I am sick of his behaviour. He should stop speaking in public about my driving style. He thinks he is a God, but he should get back on Earth. In his opinion in Formula One there are two regulations: one for Schumacher and one for the rest of us. What Schumacher is saying is simply ridiculous, he is accusing me of blocking him from chasing Hakkinen. He should go and take a look at the lap times, the gaps. He only lost two seconds and a half because of me, not more, absolutely not a decisive episode for the race. I respect him as a man, as a driver, as a past champion, but sometimes I hate his behaviour. He should stop complaining all the time".
McLaren and Ferrari look for an agreement between the two drivers, even if Todt - "They did a good job, but they are too arrogant" - and Ramirez - "Arrogant? Us? They should think about themselves" - aren’t shy with accusations either. Schumacher and Coulthard meet a few hours after the race, in a McLaren private room, for around 45 minutes. But they can’t find peace:
"Yes, everything has been cleared. Meaning that first it was my turn to speak, then his, and in the end we didn’t change our opinion. He insists, he wants me to admit that he didn’t win because of me. I will never do it, because it is absolutely not true".
David also speaks of his retirement, that costed McLaren the Constructors’ title:
"For us it was more important than the Drivers’ title. About my excursion off-track, the tires touched the grass and I lost control of my McLaren, but I had already finished my job for the Team: after the first pit-stop I tried to break Irvine’s pace, who was so slow and surprised me for that. Not that I liked doing it, because I always prefer to adapt a sportsman-like behaviour, but it the end they did the same with us in Malaysia. The retirement? It was not linked to the incident. I had to stop because of the gearbox".
Despite the fourth place in the final drivers ranking behind Frentzen, Coulthard remains optimist for 2000. In the end, a last dig at Michael:
"This year it went like this, but let’s see if next year I will also have my chance. I am younger than Mika and I am maturing now. I also felt the rumours saying that Michael was hoping for Irvine’s defeat since he wants to be the one to bring back the title to Maranello. He helped Eddie to save his public image, and after what he did in Malaysia, I think he will be going home with a smile. He wants to be the World Champion with Ferrari".
The only real loser of this day is Eddie Irvine, who speaks with a half-smile about his race weekend:
"It was a really hard day, a difficult weekend, during which we never were as fast as in Malaysia. Yesterday, trying to earn the position on Coulthard, I crashed, and today I had a really bad pain in the neck that got worse lap after lap. It was a boring race for me, I was going around the track wondering what Mika was doing, hoping he could have a problem. We won the Constructors’ title, which is important, but of course I would have preferred to win the other title, so it is like a consolation prize for us".
Eddie, do you have any regret for this season?
"A lot or none. In the end it was the best year in my career. I can’t be completely happy, but it wasn’t bad at all. At the beginning of the season I could have never imagined finding myself in this situation: the third place would have been good, the second would have been incredible. I finished as vice-champion like Schumacher did last year. Of course, if I think I missed the title for only one point... here in Japan, always for one point, I also lost the F.3000 Championship".
But there were some missed chances. An example is the French Grand Prix, when following a team order he had to stay behind Schumacher, clearly slower than him due to some problems on his car:
"Yes, maybe I lost the title in France, in the end Ferrari always manages the team like that. But it is true that Michael gave me back those point in Malaysia, when he moved out of the way. Evidently Ferrari had a hard life earning this title but looking back if we changed something the situation would have been different. The team orders influenced us in France and also influenced McLaren in Belgium, so it is useless to recriminate, we must accept things are like this".
But there are also some more evident episodes:
"Of course. Without those messes during the pit-stop in Silverstone, Magny-Cours and Nürburgring now I would definitely be champion. But Hakkinen and McLaren also made some mistakes, and they helped me with those, so it is stupid and useless to think about how things are and how things could have been. Unfortunately it went like this. The Constructors’ title is good, not excellent, but always better than nothing, at least we won it after a long time. It is a good gift I leave to Ferrari, the first garage in the pit-lane is always a good thing".
And Irvine leaves Ferrari with what?
"With a lot of points, a lot of podiums, a lot of beautiful races and a lot of friends that have worked with me with enthusiasm and passion for four years. Good moments, fantastic days. I will change my team and I am happy because it is really difficult to drive with Schumacher, he is always so fast and it will never be easy to be his teammate. It will be good to go back to an English team, but I also want to stay in Milan as long as possible to get the best of both worlds".
Eddie looks like he has been freed from some heavy burden, at least judging from what he has wrote in his correspondence to the British journal Express:
"The balance? Michael is incredibly good, but he works so much he brakes your back, he sucks your energy".
And after the warning to his heir Barrichello, who in is opinion risks being crushed, the North-Irish driver gives his interpretation of the last months:
"It was good for Michael to break his leg: since he came back he drives like he is from another planet. He is unreachable, he is back to who he was in the past. Maybe I should also break a leg, keep it lifted for three or four months and hope for the same improvement".
McLaren is celebrating: the evening party, in a Japanese restaurant close to the circuit, with locked doors to protect from hundreds of fans with their nose pressed against the windows, is a never seen chaos. Even in the afternoon the situation is everything but controlled: Haug, Mercedes’ sports director, nearly ends up without his pants, and balloons filled with wine don’t get wasted. Hakkinen participates, but he is inside a vortex of emotions. Erja, his wife, talks about his next goal:
"A son. It wouldn’t be a bad idea".
Mika nods, but the race, the track, those for now remain his biggest emotions. Also, he doesn’t leave any compliment for the opponent team. It is Norbert Haug to recognize the great work of Ferrari:
"They did a great job and they deserved the title, but Mika won again without the need of any external help: we knew that to target the Championship Hakkinen needed to start at the front, and when I saw him starting so well I shouted: bingo. I knew it, and I had been saying it from Thursday without being believed that Mika under pressure always gives his best, and in this race he was amazing. One title to us and one to them, it is the right conclusion for a Championship battled between us and them, with them being more reliable but slower in the first part, and then losing Schumacher. In Silverstone I was really worried and sad for him. But Eddie did great, able to win the title in the last race. What happened to him today? Maybe he felt too much pressure".
Haugh also shares what he thinks about the diatribe between Schumacher and Coulthard:
"Actually, there has been a team play, and I don’t agree with these methods, but when you are fighting for the title in the last race...".
Definitely less calm is Ron Dennis, who doesn’t accept the accusations of the German of Ferrari:
"Michael is crazy. If he lost a lot, he only wasted a pair of seconds, not more, being stuck for a few corners. Before speaking he should think again of what happened in Malaysia and in other races in the past. We didn’t do anything but adopt the same strategy they used in Sepang. The truth is that Mika dominated the race, while Eddie was only hoping that our driver wouldn’t win. This is how I like to win a Championship. Now we must roll up our sleeves to take back the Constructors’ title next year and get rid of the many reliability problems that blocked David".
Meanwhile, in Maranello more than 20000 people are let down when the two Ferraris cross the checkered line as losers. The crowd in front of the maxi-screens plays the trumpets and waves the flags, and then lowers them with melancholy, but still greeting their team. Then, dazed and sad, they get stuck in traffic to go back to their home, dissolving the «Red Sea» in thousands of rivulets: Palermo, Belgium, Slovakia, Germany, Puglia… In this circumstance, differently from the past years, there aren’t rage and shock, tears and desperation, but only resignation and silence, because this time there is no one to give the fault to. After a night of screams, beer, joints, roasted chestnuts, firecrackers, warm wine and smoke bombs, the silence comes already after the start. Hakkinen is too far; the only moment of pride comes when Schumacher stops for the first pit-stop. But a refuelling, even if that fast, can’t shake a delirious crowd. The day after the title defeat, around 10 a.m. in Italy, Montezemolo arrives at the Ferrari headquarters after having seen the race with his son. Digesting the third consecutive defeat at the photo- finish is not easy, but this time the Constructors’ title makes it less bitter, even if the same Irvine defined it as a consolation prize. But he reveals that he is not seraphic when he suddenly releases the tension of a sleepless night with a jerk of nerves towards an overly intrusive photographer:
"Stop annoying me, this is my house, if you are not fine with it you can leave".
Montezemolo, without any regard, is sure that with Schumacher available on track for the whole year the Drivers’ title would also have come, but anyways he wants to give credits to what has been conquered:
"This Constructors’ Championship is worth a lot, because being World Champions after such a difficult, delicate and suffered year is very important. In Silverstone no one imagined that we would win it, especially while also fighting until the last race for the Drivers’ Championship".
The Grand Prix was delusional:
"Hakkinen had a great race and deserved the title. Irvine would have never imagined arriving until here fighting for the championship. He gave his best and Ferrari also did its maximum to put him in the condition to win, first putting Salo and then Schumacher by his side. It was a defeat against a super strong driver, while we managed to keep being competitive even without our first driver for seven races on a total of fourteen. How important Schumacher is was seen in these last two races".
So a positive balance?
"Absolutely. Consider that on thirty-two starts only twice we didn’t get to the end because of technical problems and we won again the Constructors’ Championship after sixteen years. It is a victory that comes from far. When I came back to Maranello in 1993 we scored 28 points and today we scored 128, a sign that the renovation has worked. We are back on the maximum levels. In the last three years we have always been fighting until the last race and it is not case, nor luck. We strongly wanted to win something, we made it. It is a prize to reliability, to organization and to capability. We had a debt with our fans and they demonstrated affection even in the most delicate moments, when the team risked falling apart".
Montezemolo admits he understood that the defeat was behind the corner after the start:
"We knew how decisive the start would be for the final victory. We had to avoid letting Hakkinen get the lead. After the warm-up I didn’t sleep, I was always in contact with Todd and even at the end I called to congratulate him. Irvine did his best season with us. Already during qualifying he had a lot of difficulties, the pressure on him was very high. He tried, he gave it all, I thank him. The important was to not get back with empty hands: Ferrari has been fighting and winning in the past fifty years. I remember in his last years how Enzo Ferrari was embittered towards the difficult situation, when I came back to Maranello. The appointment is for next year. Without Schumacher’s incident we would be here saying different things. Some people say that with him the title would have been ours, they are right. It was a suffered but beautiful season. There’s not much regret admitting that Hakkinen was faster. While I didn’t like some unsportsmen-like behaviors of Coulthard, they are part of the game. We won amazing moments: in Monte Carlo, in Germany and in Malaysia we got many satisfactions that demonstrated a huge team spirit. A lot of unpleasant things have been said: that we were doing everything to keep Irvine from winning, that Schumacher wouldn’t have helped him. All fake news shut by facts".
An hypothesis, the one of Schumacher wanting Hakkinen to win, that is amplified by the journalists with the help of the German, who, during the evening of celebrations of Hakkinen’s title, decides to take part in the McLaren’s party, with his wife Corinna and his brother Ralf. One of the sponsors gets close to Mika and tells him:
"Try some Finnish vodka, since you’re sponsoring us".
But there’s no need, the Finnish drinks everything, from whisky to red wine, from champagne to beer. His euphoria influences all the mechanics, forced to cheer with a bottle of Finland Cranberry, a mixture of vodka and red cherry. A party that lasts the whole night, during which Michael laughs, sings and cheers happily with his rivals, Haug and Hakkinen, and also dances for a while with Erja Hakkinen, all scenes filmed by a cameraman. When someone sees the intruder Michael disappears behind a door, maybe realizing that he overcame the limit. Not good scenes to see, especially if thinking about his teammate, who in the Ferrari Motorhome a few hundreds metres from there is trying to digest a burning defeat, and about the team, who once again has to delay the party for the Drivers’ title, that has now been missing for too long. What had been a doubt in the afternoon, is now a certainty for the press: Michael favored Hakkinen’s victory. The suspect rises from the same German newspapers. The Bild doesn’t find any compromise to comment the final act of the Championship:
"Schumacher loses and laughs".
It is the first page title, accompanied by a picture of a laughing Michael and by the consideration:
"Schumacher, did you really give everything?"
The famous German daily newspaper first remembers the sentences of the eve - "I don’t care about what Irvine does, I am here to win" - then adding:
"Schumacher had one of his worse starts. Mistake or premeditation? I suspect that Irvine’s win would have hurt him".
Some suspect is also advanced by the Berliner Morgenpost, next to a picture of Hakkinen:
"Maybe Schumacher let him win?"
But on Tuesday, 2nd of November 1999, Weber, Schumacher’s manager, runs in his defense, explaining that:
"The party was at Williams, not at Mercedes. It’s a tradition of all German drivers".
Words defending Schumacher also come from Ecclestone, but about the war against Coulthard:
"The German is perfectly right, Coulthard made a mistake. He didn’t follow the rules, he deserved a black flag, a disqualification. If he wants he can try a legal action against Schumacher, but I think he will have to prove that Michael’s declarations about him are wrong. And I think it will be hard for him to do so".
Hakkinen isn’t bothered by all this venoms, and in Woking, at the McLaren industry, he meets the four hundreds employees to thank them. A private party, since the public one will be held in December, while on the 3rd of November 1999 the World Champion comes back to Monte-Carlo. Always on Wednesday, 3rd of December 1999, Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari’s president, speaks for two hours. He congratulates with Hakkinen, because he was able to win on track rather than in a court, and with McLaren, that demonstrated to be a great team. He then comments Irvine’s defeat comparing it to the one of a team that plays the Champions League’s final and hits the goal post shooting a penalty, but doesn’t hang to the alibi of Schumacher’s injured leg:
"I am not like those managers who say: I lost because Maradona couldn’t play".
But the substance of his intervention is that everything returns back to Ferrari’s hands, starting from the management of the drivers. Everything will be concentrated in Maranello. Jean Todt remains general director of the Scuderia Ferrari:
"I am grateful for him, he did a great job in these last years, maybe he has zero sympathy for the press and gutted love for Schumacher. In this he is wrong, I always tell him. The drivers, whoever they are, are the first employees of Ferrari: they must remember that it’s not only a team, but a company. They should thank God for being the chosen by Ferrari, they must love it, respect it. If we also made it possible for Schumacher to be considered a god on earth, then we made a mistake. Schumacher is the best driver in the World, but Barrichello won’t be his servant. Number one and number two are dictated by the chronometer".
For the third consecutive year Ferrari lost the Drivers’ title, but president Montezemolo wants to underline:
"I am not let down. I am satisfyied. Even if we lost the Drivers’ title. We must be realists and I am. The numbers speak for themselves: we won six times, did three 1-2, gave everything until the end, finished with 128 points. About the team, my judgement and my analysis are substantially positive. It was a complex and contradictory season, but wonderful: that’s how sport it. The triumph in Monte Carlo and Irvine’s win in Austria, that came as a gift from heaven after Schumacher’s crash in Silverstone. Right in Silverstone I thought it was over. But we managed to win again, even in the enemy’s house, in Germany. Then the delusional fall in Spa: a disastrous race. There I got extremely worried: I had the feeling of a lack of motivation, that something more from the team, of the whole team, was missing, and reflecting on the car and on the performances. The drivers had a dull race. In Monza it didn’t go well for us, but Salo had a decent race and brought important points. Then the feat in Malaysia. Schumacher’s victory… ops, it was a Freudian lapsus. In Malaysia Schumacher was great, as well as McLaren’s incorrectness".
Then, speaking about McLaren, Montezemolo says:
"No, I didn’t like their attitude, first with our tires, something absurd because tires are the same for everyone and the supplier is one only, Bridgestone. Then, for a presumed and fake irregularity, from which we weren’t fully absolved. It wasn’t a sportsmen-like gesture, from people who don’t know how to lose. Anyways, we arrived in Suzuka as the ones to be beaten. We were unlucky with the Drivers’ title, we were lucky with the Constructors’ one. Under this aspect, I am happy. Irvine did his job. Two years ago I wasn’t convinced of keeping him. Then he had some seasons of growth. This year he started well. After Silverstone we had to talk, with his Manager Zanarini and Todt. I wanted to look at him in the eyes, understand his motivations. I told him: you will have the whole team at your disposal. He answered sincerely: I will leave at the end of the year, I got an offer from Jaguar, I don’t feel like continuing. Working next to Schumacher was really hard for him, Michael was like a hammer, and he was faster. We were in his hands. Irvine understood. He said he didn’t need anything. He was good with his engineers and mechanics. And he didn’t create any problem, he always followed the directives of the contract that he had freely signed and that was guaranteeing him a wide wage".
About Schumacher, which consequences will he face after he got drunk in Suzuka while celebrating with McLaren?
"Come on, it’s a ridiculous case. We can discuss about opportunities, about the moment, but not about the gravity. Getting drunk is not a sin. In Formula 1 it is a tradition to celebrate all together, friends and rivals. And then, if Schumacher sometimes makes some mess, he is welcome to do so. I can only say that with us he always behaved correctly. He never gave the fault to the car when he had an incident, and whenever he had one it was always a problem with the car, he never made a mistake. He only makes mistakes at the race start. And I never heard him saying bad things about Irvine. On the other hand, Irvine suffered from Schumacher’s absence. Once Schumacher told me: I never had a teammate as fast as Eddie".
An idyllic picture that doesn’t match with the one that has been talked about this year, between the alleged sabotage of Irvine and the delayed comeback of Schumacher:
"I consider all of this pathetic, provincial and strongly offensive towards Ferrari. How could someone think that a team that has as main goal winning the Drivers’ Championship sabotage Irvine? I don’t care who wins, if Eddie or Michael, what matters is that Ferrari wins. There has also been someone defining Irvine as a mix between Senna, Nuvolari and Fangio, and Ferrari as a missile, a satellite. Come on, let’s be realistic, Irvine is Irvine and to win in Formula One it is a must to rely on the capabilities of each driver, not on the ones of others. I hope that the big automotive industries will create some order, the after-Ecclestone is near. And the listing on the stock exchange of Formula One would bring more order".
So, everything is solved, until on Friday 5th of November 1999 the press agencies report some sibylline words of Michael Schumacher:
"If Irvine wanted to win the World title he should have been the one winning in Suzuka, not me. In Japan I did as much as I could, but my car wasn’t strong enough".
The polemics for his bad start at the Japanese Grand Prix weren’t enough, and neither were the disagreements for the toast with the other German drivers at their party for the end of the Championship after Hakkinen’s victory, about which it is said:
"Even next year he will be the most dangerous driver to beat".
But he adds:
"In the new millennium, I want to become World Champion at the wheel of a Ferrari. And to reach this goal that I set for myself, I would have wanted with all of my heart to win the Suzuka Grand Prix. It would have been a great motivation, a big push for me and for all the team to work better during the winter preparatory season, from there to the start of the 2000 Championship. For this reason, I think the wave of strong critics by the Italian press is unfair and wrong. Now I have decided not to take as serious any Italian media, with their campaign against me they destroyed their own credibility. Until now I always gave everything for Ferrari and I will continue like this. My great goal remains the one of bringing a Championship to Ferrari".
On Friday night, the Italian press agencies increase the dose, and scandalized, they publish these affirmations. But becoming aware of it the German driver answers:
"The Italian press is unreliable, I never said those things, I only repeated what I had already said in Malaysia and in Japan. It is a game of slaughter and I don’t understand why. Todt called me and I explained everything. I am a driver, I go straight, I don’t play on two tables".
Ferrari’s President, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, consulted in this delicate case, answers:
"I don’t know what his problem is. We will talk, I will try to understand. But, even if I think that his words were misinterpreted, I believe that Schumacher needs to attend a communication course".
Controversy resolved, on the 7th of November 1999, it is party time for Ferrari in Vallelunga, with Schumacher and the F399. The German runs some laps and makes a pit-stop for tire substitution, then his mechanics stage an auto-ironic gag during the second box call: Schumacher stops and a mechanic dressed as a thief - with a prisoner chain on his foot - comes to steal one of the four tires. A way to laugh about the episode of the lost tire, that happened with Irvine at the Nürburgring. The crowd appreciates, but there are still a few whistles and some negative banners addressed to Schumacher, so Montezemolo repeats:
"I must learn to communicate".
On 8th of November 1999, Michael Schumacher falls again into chaos when the British weekly magazine News of the World gives some uncomfortable anticipations of the book Life on the fast lane by Eddie Irvine, that will be published on the 18th of November, in which the Irish driver tells:
"Schumacher costed me the title, because Ferrari gave priority to him rather than to my assault on the World Championship. Ferrari is an orchestra with one musician only, everything revolves around Schumacher and the whole team is structured so that him, the number one, can win. But if the number two driver wins, the equilibrium is broken".
And then again, about the incident in Silverstone:
"Schumacher tried to pass me retarding the braking, but the locked the brakes and something on the rear didn’t work. Maybe he thought that he would have made it to get back on track, when he finished in the grass, while I was saying between myself: he is not passing until they order me to let him by on the radio. But of course, it wasn’t my intention to push him out".
And about Todt:
"Schumacher hits the wall in Canada and Todt comments: these things happen. I make a mistake of half a metre stopping at the box and I am scolded without qualms".
Finally, about the relationship with the management:
"After Silverstone nothing has changed, I thought that Schumacher would have only missed a pair of races. Two days after the Grand Prix I met Montezemolo and Todt in Bologna: they told me that they wouldn’t have renewed my contract. A weird timing, I was their only hope for the title".
But Ferrari doesn’t reply, and Enrico Zanarini, manager of the driver, intervenes speaking of clear manipulation:
"Eddie absolutely didn’t want to throw venom at Ferrari, team to which he gave a lot and from which he received back equally. I give advice to the fans to buy a copy of the book, so they can create their own opinion".
All these polemics are starting to bore the President Montezemolo, who affirms:
"I am done. We want two strong drivers that work for the team, that don’t create problems between each other, that respect roles, always remembering that the faster is not always the number one".
And about Barrichello:
"If Schumacher is the number one, he will be the number one bis".
Schumacher doesn’t waste time answering and with another dig to the Italian press declares:
"In Malaysia I was a king, after Suzuka an idiot".
There is a question that Eddie will always hide inside himself and won’t ever let go, and that maybe has been tormenting him from that 31st of October 1999. Was there someone who didn’t want him to be World Champion? Another doubt will also be permanent: if Michael really would have preferred Hakkinen to be crowned World Champion of that season rather than him. Questions that Michael could only make disappear in one way: winning. The season of 2000 must be the good one, waiting another year is not contemplated. On November 10th, 1999, ten days after the defeat in Suzuka against Mika Hakkinen in the Drivers Championship, made less bitter by the victory in the Constructors’ Championship, Ferrari looks ahead to the future welcoming in Maranello Rubens Barrichello, the Brazilian driver arrived from Stewart and replacing Eddie Irvine, who risked winning with Ferrari a title that has been missing since the far 1979. The North-Irish driver, in this fair exchange, goes to the British team that from 2000 will race as Jaguar. Barrichello arrives in Bologna at 11:45 a.m.; to welcome him a few curious fans and some journalists, to whose he affirms briefly:
"I wasn’t waiting for a welcome like this, I am pleasantly surprised. Last time I arrived here in Bologna was for the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola; no one considered me. But now it is different".
In the early afternoon, after having a fast Italian meal with fettuccine al ragù, Barrichello meets President Montezemolo, who arrives at the office at 3:00 p.m. and rapidly dismisses the questions coming from the journalists:
"Truce, guys, truce".
After that, the twenty-seven years old from São Paolo begins with the operations for the realization of his seat, and then meets one by one the components of the racing team and the ones of the test team. In the late afternoon he leaves the Ferrari headquarters in the company of Jean Todt, and in between the chaos of photographers and journalists, he lifts his thumb up and declares:
"It was a really nice day, very emotional. Am I tense? Absolutely. Happy to finally have arrived in this big team".
With some compatriot journalists he is more verbose:
"Racing with Ferrari will be emotional, I hope I won’t have too much pressure on my back, and to be able to work in peace, even if I know it is going to be hard. I desire to remain the same person that I am now. The Ferrari myth is real, but the thing I care about the most is the car competitivity. When I will sit in the cockpit I will feel the strongest emotion of my life. I am a bit nervous, but I also know I have never been as strong and prepared as I am now".
Curiously, while Barrichello begins his new adventure in red, one of Irvine’s managers wanders around the headquarters of the team of Modena to take the last objects left by his assisted, among which suit and helmet, and the trophy won in Malaysia. The first kilometres at the wheel of a Ferrari for Rubens Barrichello are programmed for the 1st of December, with the first tests in Fiorano, thanks to an agreement reached with Stewart, that grants permission to the Brazilian. Rubens will in fact be a member of the British Team until the end of the year. In the same period in Jerez there will also be the debut of Williams, with a BMW engine, as well as the one of Jarno Trulli at the wheel of a Jordan and of Jean Alesi with a Prost. There are insisting voices around Williams about the departure of Alex Zanardi in favour of a clamorous return of Jacques Villeneuve, last World Champion with the British Team in 1997, and veteran of a disastrous year with BAR. Voices that for now don’t find foundation. On the 1st of December 1999, in Maranello people are at work to apport some changes on the F399 that will be driven by Barrichello: the Brazilian driver only uses his right foot to drive, so the Ferrari technicians intervene on the pedal board and on the front part of the cockpit. From Germany, on holiday after the two last races of ’99 that marked his return on track after the brutal injury at his right leg suffered in Silverstone, Michael Schumacher intervenes through his term press officer (with expiring contract not about to be renewed) Heiner Buchinger about Barrichello’s arrival in Ferrari:
"Rubens is not a threat to me: he will win some races, he will be important to win the Constructors Championship".
Before the start of the first test session for Barrichello a press conference is about to be held for the presentation of the new driver, but before 12:30 p.m. Paul Stewart interrupts everything with a phone call directed to Jean Todt, asking him not to let Barrichello talk. This because, on a contractual level, Rubens still isn’t a Ferrari driver, but a Jaguar driver, and consequently holding an official press conference would be equal to making a promotional activity, violating the contractual obligations. Everything is resolved through a call between the two press officers of the teams, Cameron Kelleher for Jaguar and Claudio Berro for Ferrari. The latter explains:
"We just talked and solved it. Cameron agrees that a back and forth between Barrichello and the journalists in front of a screen with the Ferrari colours wouldn’t be a problem".
The jurisdictional problem is solved, but meanwhile Barrichello could only appear with a short monologue repeated in Italian, Portuguese and English, at the end of the first day of tests. The official press conference is postponed.
"I am sorry for this inconvenient, I wasn’t expecting it. Stewart was comprehensive in letting me free for this three days of test, I thank them again but I don’t understand what could have happened. I hope I will be able to release some interviews with everyone soon, before tomorrow. Anyways, after these first laps, I am really happy and emotional. I was immediately fine, to the point it didn’t feel like my first time on board of a Ferrari. I have to know the track first, and the team, in this moment I can’t aim to set a good time, after I only did three laps with a Maserati on Monday and now a few more with a Formula 1 car. The welcome was warm, I like the driving position, everything looks like a dream. It makes me emotional to read my name written on a Ferrari".
Then the officiality for a rib surgery:
"The surgery is programmed for the 18th of December, it is something faint, I am not worried at all. The convalescence won’t last more than twenty days. I will be in Jerez from the 13th to the 16th of December, then to the clinic. And in January I will be back on track".
About the problem with the pedal board, he explains:
"Today I braked with the left foot, they didn’t make it in time to apport changes. But in the new car, the one of 2000, they will change the pedal board and I will only use the right foot".
Rubens starts driving around 10:15 a.m. on the humid asphalt with tires that struggle to reach the right temperature; in the afternoon the conditions improve and the Brazilian manages to put together fifty-eight laps, ending the session at 5:00 p.m. with a time of 1'02"148 as best lap, one second and three tenths slower than the track record. The time is improved in the second day of tests, after eighty-nine laps characterized by two off-the-track and a discrete 1'01"235, and a confidence that grows lap after lap:
"I already feel like I have been driving a Ferrari for a lifetime: with a car like this we can only win".
Meanwhile, on December 8th, 1999, at the Motorshow of Bologna the golden helmets of Autosprint and Motosprint are assigned for the motorsport season that has just come to an end. Montezemolo takes the prize for the Constructors Championship, calling on stage with him the tester Luca Badoer, but not Eddie Irvine, who avoids Montezemolo for the whole ceremony, demonstrating a not so idyllic relationship after the separation. Eddie at least finds some time to answer to the questions of fans:
"In Suzuka Mika had a perfect car, while on my F399 a part of the chassis that we had used at the Nurburgring and in Malaysia wasn’t assembled. When I saw that that detail, extremely important for stability in turns, wasn’t present on my car, I immediately understood that I didn’t stand any chance".
Irvine states that the Drivers’ Championship wasn’t lost in Japan:
"No, we lost it in Silverstone, at the Nurburgring, in Monza and in France. But still, after Hockenheim I thought that I could make it because McLaren was in trouble".
Ferrari won, Irvine didn’t. He specifies:
"Indeed, we won together. And I like to leave with a success. It is been four long years, full of important things. Schumacher? He is the number one, but McLaren has a better car. Todt? Sometimes he is good, sometimes no".
In the same days in Montmelò is held a test session dominated by Coulthard’s McLaren, who carries out some reliability tests on electronics, differential and gearbox, facing some inconvenience. The new tester, Olivier Panis, focuses on engine and gearbox in view of 2000, carrying a short race pace simulation of twenty laps. The French sets good laps and doesn’t face any particular problem, that on the contrary appear in Prost, ex-team of Panis: on Jean Alesi’s car the rear suspension attachment yields and the damages is irreparable, so their testing day ends sooner. Ralf Schumacher only completes a few laps, forced to stop by a fire caused by a leak of oil from the gearbox, which then fails. Before the problem, anyways, his times were high. His teammate, Alex Zanardi, for the moment is subscribed in the list of the driver for the next Championship, that the teams will be allowed to change until March 9th. His permanence in the category is reinforced when BAR announces Darren Manning as new tester; the twenty- four years old British, in fact, was the favoured to take the place of the Italian driver in Williams, next to Ralf Schumacher, who admits preferring Zanardi rather than other driver:
"When I heard the names of the possible candidates to his substitution I came to the conclusion that the confirmation of Zanardi would be the best solution".
At the moment Luca Badoer, driver for Minardi next to Marc Gené in ’99, is missing from the list. If the Spanish has been confirmed, it looks like the same won’t happen for Badoer, since high are the probabilities of the arrival of Max Wilson or Norberto Fontana. Anyways, in the end the Team of Faenza will choose the Argentinian Gastòn Mazzacane. On 13th of December 1999, Ferrari, absent in Montmelò, runs on the wet track of Jerez de la Frontera, where Barrichello completes 105 laps, stopping the chronometer at 1’39’’182, even going off track without reporting any serious consequence. Only during the fourth day rain finally gives a break to the teams. At the end of the last session of test on the Spanish circuit, Johnny Herbert takes away from Barrichello the fastest lap overall. The Ferrari driver runs 86 laps (for a total of 388 in four days) trying assets, brakes and tires. In third position there’s Coulthard, while Panis is fifth. In Jerez, all eyes are pointed at the two drivers protagonists of the exchange between Ferrari and Jaguar. We are, of course, referring to Irvine and Barrichello. The first has sweet words for his past in Ferrari:
"I don’t have any regret. I have been in a great Ferrari, four years full of satisfactions, but I am convinced that my future will be even more radiant".
Barrichello resulted seven tenths faster than the North-Irish, but since it is only a test, Rubens does not get too excited:
"The real confrontation will be next year, there you can call it an emotion. Here I have some problem of understeer in slow turns, and I don’t feel as ease with the adapted pedal board, I brake with the right foot, but sometimes I get confused and I touch the accelerator, but it is only a small inconvenience. The car looks extremely strong, it is well balanced, easy to drive even on the wet. The first time I drove it I talked about a special day. I understood that every day is special: driving it is always more exciting".
Irvine is not the type to get depressed:
"It was my debut and I couldn’t expect to immediately go to the limit. The car pleasantly surprised me, I thought it would be less competitive, I think that in the long run it could be better than Ferrari. Not this one, destined to retirement, but the new one, the Jaguar that we will introduce in January. From Stewart we took excellent basics of aerodynamics and engine. On the new car these will be winning cards. And then the steering is less heavy than the Ferrari one. I noticed it from the first turn, with this steering I can push to the maximum. We will have to work hard, the competitors are ruthless, but this car is capable of making incredible progress. Winning the Championship is everyone’s dream, of Schumacher, of Max Biaggi in moto GP. They have been aiming at it for years and didn’t make it yet. It is difficult, but why wouldn’t I also think about it?"
Jackie Stewart, three times World Champion, until yesterday the godfather of Barrichello, shows scepticism about the Brazilian’s future:
"Rubens needs to be pampered and in Ferrari he will have a hard time. That is the team of Schumacher, I don’t think they will give the same means to Barrichello. In the last years whoever went to Maranello didn’t have fun, I hope the same doesn’t happen to him".
Barrichello on his side doesn’t appear worried:
"I have talked to Schumacher, I know which difficulties are waiting for me, but the one who comes to Ferrari can’t be scared. He can only be happy".
After the end of the tests, on December 18th, 1999, Barrichello undergoes a minor chest surgery in Brazil, with the removal of a calcified tissue formed in the rib cage, following injuries sustained in an accident that occurred during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The surgery is successful. During Christmas break, important news for the future of Formula One are decided: the Teams agree on the absolute prohibition of the production of engines with more than ten cylinders. A rule that will be respected until 2007, took by the Formula 1 commission after a meeting in London, during which it was also decided, with a near unanimity, to forbid any test session in the months of November and December starting from 2000. The only abstained is Williams, that with the introduction of the new BMW engine and the new Michelin tires starting from 2001, with a contract already signed with the team of Grove, will need to run some intense tests from the beginning. Moreover, the subscription of Toyota in the Formula One Championship of 2001, as twelfth team, is to be registered. In the days approaching Christmas of 1999 Ferrari freezes every test program and organizes a dinner for a last celebration for the conquered Constructors’ title. President Montezemolo opens his speech talking about the expectations for the new millennium:
"In the last five years we always grew, with victories and points in the rankings. In 1999 we conquered the Constructors’ Championship, that for us, real constructors, is a very important title. Now we only have to win the Drivers’ Championship. It is not easy, but only in that case we can talk of an improvement".
Naturally, to reach the goal, he relies on Schumacher:
"I saw him last Saturday, physically he is fine. Already in Malaysia he had shown that he was back to being the Champion of always, I am happy to have him in my team, I would be worried if he was our opponent. But I also have great trust in Barrichello. He wasn’t called to be Schumacher’s waiter. He is young, he can represent our future. If during practice he is half a second faster than Schumacher, we will take note. It would mean that we bought a driver faster than the best in the world".
But Barrichello, contractually, is the second driver:
"Absolutely. In his contract there is only one sentence, also present in Schumacher’s: the driver is committed to following the orders and instructions of the team. It is not about being first or second driver, but the important is that the team comes before the driver".
But a lot of people think that Ferrari is Schumacher’s team only:
"I really appreciated Michael’s behaviour after Silverstone, where he had an accident not for his fault but for the team’s. He is a fair and winning guy. But to think that we didn’t want the title victory with Irvine is an enormous nonsense. If Eddie could beat Hakkinen, I would have been more than happy. Even because his triumph would have been a great demonstration of Ferrari’s power. Since Schumacher is definitely faster than Irvine".
Anyways, Eddie and Ferrari have divorced:
"The first and only time I talked about the future with him was in July, the Tuesday after Silverstone. If he told me let’s talk about money, we would have done it, because I was willing to have him for another year. But he said he was leaving not for an economic reason, but for a problem of motivation. He didn’t want to be a second driver anymore, he preferred to be the first driver of a smaller team. But let’s stop with the story of the inequality with Schumacher: the only disadvantage he had was in the first year, when he did less tests at the beginning. Then the cars were the same. But the first driver is the one who is faster on Saturdays. And Irvine only beat Schumacher four times in four years during practices".
Irvine claims that having a teammate like Schumacher grinds the brain. But Barrichello says he is not scared.
"Rubens made a great impression on me. I can rely on him; he is in the best moment of his career. He speaks Italian and this makes it easy for him to fit him. We have a great couple of drivers. I hope it will be stronger than the one of last year".
Jean Todt is still at his place:
"We won the constructors title thanks to the good choices of the pit-wall. Should I have fired Todt when a driver in difficult conditions entered the box at the Nurburging after changing his mind ten times? More equilibrium is needed in critics. I wonder what I should have done if we had to deal with the same chaos that happened at McLaren. Our year was hard, after Silverstone I would have never believed that we could win the constructors title and get so close to also winning the driver’s one, in the end there was also the story of the irregular deflector. If we went through all these troubles it is thanks to the strength of the team".
When will the new car be presented?
"By the end of January. There won’t be any revolution, it is not a new project, but an evolution of the past car, with improvements on aerodynamics, engine and reliability. The presentation will be held at Gestione Industriale, close to the Fonderia area".