On Tuesday, April 25, 2000, Formula 1 leaves the rain, the mud and the cold of Silverstone to regain the heat: in Barcelona, on the Montmelò circuit, there is a test session in preparation for the fifth round of the season to be held on the same Catalan circuit, where McLaren will try to gain other points in the standings in comparison to Ferrari, which leads both the drivers' standings with Schumacher and the constructors' standings.
"You can win without Schumacher".
According to the German website Formel Eins, President Montezemolo explains:
"Competitiveness is based on several factors and not just on two or three people. Schumacher will write a historical period for Ferrari between now and 2002. Then we will see. Maybe in two and a half years in Ferrari there will already be a driver able to become the new Michael".
For the Maranello team both drivers are on the track at the same time, with Schumacher testing the fifth example of F1-2000, equipped with the new 202 chassis. The German driver is eager to see if this is still a McLaren track:
"We have never run with the new car, but I am convinced that we can achieve a great result".
Words that serve to keep the right optimism within the Maranello team. All this while Todt cares about motivating Barrichello, author of a troubled start to the season due to reliability problems on his Ferrari:
"He must not lose faith, but understand that he has a team that follows him and will give him a good car. At Silverstone he was very good at the start and until the time of retirement, he has no fault. Not even here this year there are hierarchies defined in the team. His time will come".
All teams have new types of Bridgestone tyres available, which brings five different compounds and ten different structures; tyres that will also be used for the Grand Prix. In Barcelona, Michael Schumacher takes the opportunity to talk about his relationship with faith, a few days after the Silverstone Grand Prix, where he had the terrible accident that could have cost him dearly in 1999. The Ferrari driver tells with passion:
"I often seek contact with God, I pray continuously and try to live my religiosity with constancy. With the Lord I speak of the luck of having been able to complete the race safely. I often have doubts about myself. Not letting go of certainties is essential to further personal development".
An indispensable awareness for those accustomed to travelling on the thin border that separates life from danger:
"I am not one who wants to commit harakiri, there are even more dangerous sports that I would never practice. I’m not a daredevil, I know the value of life".
And this is precisely what Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, archbishop emeritus of Ravenna, underlines:
"I think Schumacher is a believer. Moreover, in the current climate, in the midst of so much secularism, he would have no interest in declaring his relationship with God. On the other hand, the way he lives his relationship with his family shows it every day. From the way he says it, I sense that there is an awareness of creation and of the relationship with God. After all, who lives in that way is always between life and death. He risks his life and cannot but think of the meaning of it. He cannot but know that life is at stake and that it is given to him by God. It seems to me that Schumacher’s behaviour is fundamentally serious, a positive life line. And this beyond the fact that he runs for Ferrari".
On the track, Schumacher pushes as he knows, and on the first day of testing he is the fastest of all, with four tenths of an advantage over Fisichella and half a second over Panis' McLaren, driving eighty-five laps against Barrichello’s forty-three, but he does not run race simulations. The number one of Ferrari intends to remain even in the following days:
"We are here to break the McLaren tradition on this circuit. In Barcelona they have won the last two years, a story that has to end. We are looking for the right set-up, we hope to find it as soon as possible".
Michael admits to have comforted Barrichello after his retirement in Britain:
"What happened to him was a real shame. It would have taken away important points at McLaren. I comforted him. He is in his first year in Ferrari, he has already had to retire twice, but he must not give up: he has no fault".
As for Silverstone, an unpublished admission:
"If I hadn’t been behind Villeneuve, who slowed me down for many laps, I would have won. Or at least I would have given McLaren a run for their money. I still think that they are four heavy points: I was eighth, in the end I lost only two points from Hakkinen".
Despite the success achieved by Coulthard, Schumacher does not see it as a serious threat to the world title:
"He is fast, in England he ran a good race. But history teaches that the man to beat is Hakkinen".
On his start the usual criticism rains:
"I was wrong to widen to the left to overtake Hakkinen. But if I hadn’t, someone would have said, why didn’t he even try? We must try as soon as possible to start on pole. Anyway, if I have to choose, I prefer to win races".
Even in the following days, Schumacher does the best performance, setting a lap time of 1'20"866 on Thursday, April 27, and then dropping further by a few hundredths the next day (1'20"823, a new track record that, however, if performed in tests it has no value). Barrichello also does well, who on Friday is third behind his teammate and Ralf Schumacher. Despite the good lap times, Michael does not seem entirely convinced of the test results:
"I am happy with the work done so far, even if the lap time achieved does not fully satisfy me. Ferrari has performed very well, we’ll see what happens next week. I’m optimistic".
Barrichello is also half satisfied, disturbed by the light rain falling for a part of the session:
"The rain did not allow me to carry out the tests as I wanted; Michael in any case did a good development work".
Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren is back, making 43 laps with the best lap time of 1'21"429. After finishing the tests on the Catalan soil, Formula 1 enjoys a few days of rest before returning to Montmelò for the fifth Grand Prix of the 2000 season, scheduled for May 7. These are hard days for David Coulthard, who on May 1 miraculously escapes a plane crash in France, while travelling on a private jet, which, at the time of landing at the airport of Lyon, at about 2:30 p.m., crashes into the airstrip. Aboard the Lear, the Scottish driver, his girlfriend Heidi, his trainer and the two pilots, the latter, David Saunders, 46, and Dan Morley, 30, unfortunately, die on the spot. The three survivors, on the other hand, are transported to the hospital of the French city, but luckily, they are only light wounds and can be healed in a few days, so that they can be discharged the same evening. During the trip from England to the Côte d'Azur, an emergency signal is launched by the pilot of the plane for mechanical problems, with a request to land at the airport of Lyon, and puts in a state of alert for firefighters and ambulances. Landing takes place around 2:30 p.m., when the jet hits the runway with the front of the nacelle, and then ignites. Coulthard and the other two survivors leave the fuselage, safe and sound. Coulthard does not appear frightened after the crash, once he gets out of the rubble, and indeed calls a friend with his mobile phone telling him:
"Can you give me a hand? My plane fell".
In the evening, released from the hospital, his first words are:
"It’s a miracle, we were very lucky to get out alive. I feel relieved because my girlfriend Heidi, my trainer and I are unharmed, but I want to offer my condolences to the families of the two pilots. I prefer not to talk about the details of the accident, but I just repeat that we were lucky".
The first elements of the investigation establish that the accident was not due to a malfunction of the reverse of the only reactor active at the time of landing, but probably the fact that the plane stalled a few metres from the runway. This would cause the Lear Jet to tilt to the left, with wing contact on the asphalt, rearing and falling back to the front of the fuselage. Upon learning of the accident, Michael Schumacher remains incredulous when he sees the images of the destroyed plane. The German wishes Coulthard a speedy recovery:
"I was shocked by the terrible accident that happened to David. I give him, Heidi and the other passenger, all my best wishes so that they can recover as soon as possible".
Given the circumstances, it seems likely that in Barcelona is Olivier Panis to drive the McLaren number four, however Coulthard does not want to know and although McLaren says that he will be there for the weekend of the race, and will be present from the usual press conference on Thursday. Coulthard does not reveal his true state of health until Monday after the race, when it is known that he will run with three cracked ribs. To confirm that the state of mental health of the McLaren driver is good, there is also the testimony of one of the firemen rushed on the runway when it was declared the emergency landing:
"As soon as he left the cockpit, he turned on his cell phone and made two phone calls, telling the facts with great coldness. I was amazed that he was calm and in control of the situation. He helped the other two to get away quickly".
In one of the two phone calls, Coulthard probably told what was published by an English newspaper:
"Everything was going well, then the driver warned us of a sudden drop in engine power. In a minute everything changed. It was a horrible thing, we all thought we were gonna die, but we’re still alive and we can walk. We could not do anything for the other two pilots because the cabin was on fire. I feel sorry for them, I express all my condolences to their families. I took a bad blow to the ribs, but I’m fine. Heidi and Andy have several wounds".
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, May 3, in Fiorano, Luca Badoer encounters difficulties during the test carried out on the car of Schumacher, stopped after a few metres for a failure at the petrol pump. After repeated attempts to recover the situation at the pits, it becomes necessary to transfer the car to the racing department for the necessary interventions. An exploratory work, very accurate, to establish precisely what happened. The problem is then resolved without having to change the engine on the Ferrari with the chassis number 200. The single-seater, completed the analysis, returns to the track to complete the test only at 4:30 p.m., and the telemetric data collected pull a sigh of relief: all in all, the single-seater can be embarked on the car and leave for Spain. In total, Badoer completed sixteen laps and a half, with a best time of 1'02"478. Back in Barcelona, after the tests of the previous week, the media attention is all focused on Coulthard, who will have to resort to a visit by Professor Watkins to get the go-ahead and be able to participate in the race weekend. A visit that seems more like a formality, and in fact the Scotsman overcomes it without too many problems. Watkins, neurosurgeon, for years head of the London Hospital, and later medical director of the FIA in Formula 1, gives his response to the press:
"I visited David, and he’s perfectly fine physically and mentally. And the mind is close to the soul, which is what tells it what to do. I consider him fit to resume driving, I do not feel at all a great responsibility to give him the approval. David had a tremendous experience, but he only suffered a severe abrasion to the right side of the seatbelt of the plane. The drivers have a strong professionalism and a strong mentality".
In a press conference, to express his condolences, at 3:00 p.m. Coulthard chooses to read a written text, begging journalists to understand his desire for concentration and not to ask him questions:
"I am aware that all accidents have a great media impact, but I would like you to understand that I have to concentrate at the maximum for the weekend race. I urge your respect for our intimacy, bearing in mind that we must return to Munich by private plane and all together. If you respect my privacy I can focus on the Grand Prix, try to win it and fight for the world championship".
After briefly recounting those dramatic moments, the technical problem, the emergency landing and the aircraft fire, Coulthard says in the press conference:
"It was the 35 A model we were flying with from England to Nice. A different model from the one that the two pilots, David Saunders and Dan Worley, usually flew: unfortunately it was unavailable and we took another one. We left Farnborough Airport at lunchtime on Tuesday. During the flight, the pilot informed us that we had an engine problem and had to make an emergency landing in Lyon, which would take ten minutes. Before landing, we had time to prepare for an emergency position. At the moment of touching the ground, the plane leaned a bit and touched the runway with the left wing. At the end of the wing was the additional fuel tank that came off and caught fire. And by the way I want to thank all the airport service of Lyon for the speed and efficiency of rescue. When the plane stopped, the front was detached from the main body: the only way out was from the front".
"Andy led us through the wreckage and, as this part of the plane was three or four feet - 90-120 centimetres - off the ground, from the outside we helped Heidi to get off. We went through the twisted sheets that were still burning and found ourselves in the open: me, Heidi and Andy. Then Andy and I went back to see if we could help the pilots but at that moment the rescue team pushed us away and we knew that there was nothing more to do. In less than a minute, help arrived. I would like to thank the emergency service and the airport authorities for their professionalism and readiness. We were taken to Edouard Herriot Hospital in Lyon for a check-up. Fortunately we only suffered minor injuries. We were able to leave in a couple of hours and return home to Munich. Heidi, Andy and I recognize that the accident, like all accidents, is a matter that affects the media and the public. Nevertheless, I would like to ask you to respect our privacy during this weekend, especially that of Heidi and Andy. I will conclude by informing you that we have all travelled together, coming here, aboard a private plane. We are helping the French authorities in the investigation and will continue to do so. For this reason I cannot make other comments on the incident".
Logically calmer teammate Hakkinen, who after the second place obtained at Silverstone just behind Coulthard, looks for the first victory of the season. The Finn was among the first to be heard after the incident in Coulthard, calling him as soon as he heard the news. Mika tells his telephone conversation to Max Biaggi, met by chance in a cell phone shop:
"On Tuesday night I spoke at length with David and found him in shock. But he explained very quickly what happened. Now he’s fine and he’s going to run to Barcelona. Too bad, because I did not hide that I would have liked him to take a little break, so I can pass him in the leaderboard".
Biaggi, for his part, was informed by the Italian television:
"I don’t know Coulthard, but when I learned the fact, I was amazed. I told Hakkinen to send him my best wishes. Now David must face perhaps the most delicate stage: getting back on a plane and resume life as usual. He must not stop; he must not think of the past. What would I have done in its place? I hope I never have to face a situation like this, but I really wish I could react like him".
Eddie Irvine also gives his opinion on the horrible experience of Coulthard, who in turn, the previous year, had a big scare very similar just to reach Barcelona, together with his manager Zanarini:
"It was a terrible thing, I felt some thrills as I learned the news and then saw certain images on television. Luckily it went well for David, his girlfriend and the trainer but I was very impressed with what happened to the two pilots, really terrible. The risks and dangers are everywhere, we all know very well but we can do it. We left Milan, and passing over Nice exploded the outer layer of the left front windshield, probably due to the impact with a fragment of micro meteorite. The bang created a lot of fear but the pilots reassured us; impossible - because risky - to continue the journey, so we reversed the route and immediately returned to Milan. Of course, we reached Barcelona on a scheduled flight late on Thursday afternoon. On Saturday in qualifying, I earned the first row alongside Hakkinen and on Sunday in the race I arrived fourth".
Jo Ramirez, McLaren’s now historical figure for two decades, answers so when asked if in his opinion Coulthard does the right thing in getting into the car immediately after an experience like this:
"I know David well, I know how strong he is, how he reacts to everything. If he feels like it, if the doctors say yes, it’s better that he runs, it can also help him to overcome the bad moment".
Michael Schumacher then admits:
"I don’t know about that. On the track none of us is afraid, because when you have an accident you immediately make up a sense that it could be your mistake or a mechanical failure. But on the plane it’s different, you’re sitting there quiet but you don’t know what’s going on. And if something happens you don’t get over it. I’ve never had an experience like this, but there was a time when I was really afraid. After a scuba dive in Brazil, I emerged and saw that the boat was far away. Then everything ended well, but I was afraid. But a few days later in the race, I did not suffer at all".
Jackie Stewart, on the other hand, says:
"Drivers are strange animals, with brains divided into well-separated sectors. In Coulthard’s on the one hand there is the drama he experienced, on the other there is his activity as a driver who wants to win. He is right to run immediately because, if he stopped, he would always find an excuse to not return. So it will be easier".
On the Thursday before free practice, technicians make modifications to the seatbelts so that they do not touch the point where Coulthard has small abrasions left by the seatbelt of the plane. But the situation of Mika Hakkinen, not happy after the overtaking of his teammate in the standings, is certainly not neglected in the grey motorhome. The Finnish does not talk much, even with his technicians who say:
"He has his dumps, they’ll get over him".
Mika, in addition to relief for the escaped danger of his teammate, says:
"Last week I did little here: only 43 laps and only one day. But I was lucky because last Friday I was able to check in sequence all the different track conditions: wet, intermediate and dry".
Interesting tests, which make the world champion optimistic ahead of the race, on a track where he won the last two editions. It remains to be seen how McLaren-Mercedes will address the third issue that concerns it: the reliability of the MP4/15. The performance is already considered sufficient to beat Ferrari. The McLaren car is fast but fragile, not only when Ferrari forces them to push for more than a few laps. The parts that have been broken so far, among others, even the internal sensors of the gearbox because of the huge vibrations, have always been replaced with more robust details. And yet, there is no minimum reliability yet. The tests, with new factory cars in all the details, will furnish decisive indications on how to face the contest. No alarms at the moment, but the label with the fragile writing remains glued on many pieces of the MP4/15, continuously checked during operation, in both pit stops. But for the Grand Prix, the technicians of the team based in Woking guarantee, on the track there will be something more robust and just as fast. Psychologically, Ferrari lives in a much better atmosphere than that of its rivals, and both Schumacher and Barrichello say they are sure they can take pole. Rubens smiles, answers in English on official occasions, or in Brazilian, Italian and even French depending on the needs:
"I am calm, I know there are those who think that on some occasions, for example in Brazil, I should not have been. But it is not true. I can take stock of what has happened up to now even if four races are few: I have 25 points of distance from the first, but I always feel like a potential winner and above all I do not feel that I am the number two".
"Numbers are always important, but not in this case, I’m not the second driver of the team because I arrived behind. The important thing is that we always did the best we could. There were problems but we analysed them all. A job that I did with the team and that was always exhaustive, there was never anything mysterious or inaccurate. I talked to everyone and they listened and helped me understand. I did a pole position at Silverstone, I could have had a good race at Imola and instead it didn’t go like that, but I think now everyone has understood what it means to drive a Formula 1 with the seat belts untied. For this Grand Prix I am happy and confident for the work we have done: a race simulation, we were able to take a bit of rain and this could be useful given the weather around here. I used to say: I don’t like this circuit. Then I got there and I was wrong. So I changed my system. Now I say that I like them all, even if I prefer Spa and Suzuka. I do not have any trouble to frame my situation in a positive way. I’ve had a bit of bad luck so far. But I still think I’m lucky because I’m where I am".
In Barcelona, however, the image etched in everyone’s eyes remains that of Coulthard’s jet with its bow cut off. Rubens says:
"Scary. We, the paddock people, live off our rivalry but, maybe in our own way, we feel close to each other. That’s why what happened to Coulthard really shook me up. I’m always scared on the plane. They make fun of me when they see me clenched in my fists as I go through turbulence. I’d rather be on a roller coaster. But it is a fear that seems natural to me. My father has always told me: when you go to the sea it is good that you are afraid, you risk less. But I don’t think Coulthard will bring to the track the shock he felt on that plane. These are things that remain separate, different. We, when we drive, are not afraid to die, because if we were, we could not do this job. And then I love putting myself behind that wheel, this job is a passion. And if something happens to us we always know why".
On the other side of the box, Michael Schumacher goes straight to the point, immediately talking about pole and race victory. By now his confidence in this Ferrari is such as to constantly lead him to optimism:
"It’s true, I am so, as in previous races, because the car is very good right now, even in the tests we are always in front of everyone. Obviously during the weekend there are circumstances that can change situations, but we know we are well prepared. Our goal is the victory and we should be able to win it, especially if we are able to exploit all our potential. We can’t afford to make mistakes, we have to work better than we did at Silverstone, and that goes for the whole team, including myself. I’d like to leave Spain with ten more points".
Someone points out to him that those who won in Barcelona in the last three years, then became World Champion, but he promptly replies:
"So, does that mean that if I don’t win on Sunday I won’t win the championship? No, I’m not interested in these statistics. I know that I got my first success here with Ferrari, under the flood in 1996, and since then the growth of the team has begun, which has allowed us already in the past seasons to fight for the World Championship and which has now brought us to the maximum competitiveness, well placed at the top in both charts. If Hakkinen is still the number one opponent? Well, in every qualifying - with the exception of Silverstone - he was ahead of everyone, but Coulthard in England made a great race and you cannot know, the situation could even change, we will see”
Schumacher expresses the desire to be able to talk to David, calmly, as soon as the pressure on him loosens a bit:
"Corinna and I were shocked when they told us what had happened. At that time the news was still fragmentary, I called Norbert Haug and he explained everything to me, that David and his girlfriend were fine. Corinna and I hugged hard and we immediately thought that things like this could happen to anyone. On the track it is different, we know that when an accident occurs or it is our problem or the car; up in the air instead...".
The German, among other things, evidently tired of being quoted even for what he earns, takes it out with the German news agency Sid, complaining of the excessive attention of the press for his bank account:
"Nobody should care about anything, on the contrary, you should sooner or later do the opposite and make public the statements of those who write always and again on the others".
On Friday, May 5, 2000, at 11:00 a.m., the first two free practice sessions of the Spanish Grand Prix take place. In the morning, Ferrari closes with the two best times, with Schumacher stopping the chronometer on 1'21"982, significantly lowering the track record; five tenths of a distance follows Barrichello. It should be noted that the two drivers of Ferrari do only four laps in the final, a few minutes from the end. The reason is that, given the test days of the previous week, there is not much other data to collect, so, the better to save some sets of tyres on a circuit with a very abrasive asphalt. Hakkinen is third, more than a second behind, followed by Jean Alesi (author of a spin) and Giancarlo Fisichella. Coulthard, on the other hand, completes only one lap that is not timed, after which he remains a bit in the pits, greets the fans and entertains with the technical staff of McLaren. In the afternoon the Ferraris confirm to be very fast: Schumacher holds the first position, Barrichello is third, but the McLarens are behind, in fifth position with Coulthard and in seventh with Hakkinen. The number two McLaren does not seem to be very good, it is not appearing in great shape. Also, Coulthard talks to the media via press releases, a bit like he did in the Thursday conference, only this time he is not there to read it:
"The aftermath of the accident did not stop me from feeling fully at ease at the wheel. Today I worked hard to look for a good set-up and I had no technical problems. I am convinced that after all this I will be stronger".
Between him and Hakkinen the conditions in which they have faced the weekend are very different: at least fifty kilos of fuel, a weight that always pays expensive in terms of speed. The two Ferraris, on the other hand, run quite low on fuel, and this largely explains the huge gap inflicted on the Silver Arrows: almost seven tenths for Coulthard and a second and three tenths for Hakkinen, detachments that seemed impossible until recently. Which is why, of course, Schumacher is optimistic:
"We tried so hard; I knew exactly what this car could do. And then we didn’t sit on our hands, we work every day to improve. Here in Barcelona, we did some tests a week ago and we knew we were in place, we had a lot of data that allowed us to go immediately very well. Rather, I wonder if it really makes sense to test on a circuit a week before the race takes place. I personally would prefer not to, a bit of pause would not hurt. Ferrari would agree, but the fact is that others want it that way. Before, there was a well-defined rule, but not everyone agreed and so they abolished it last winter".
For now, the real technical problem is the tyres and the temperatures. It is very hot, the asphalt boils, it consumes the tyres more than in past years. A nice rebus that will have to be solved before qualifying, since, as always, the tyre choice, the number of pit stops, and wear, will be crucial for the outcome of the race. On Saturday, Michael Schumacher keeps to the line of free practice: first pole position of the year, much sought after, and obtained with a final leg in the last minutes of the session that allows him to put behind the two McLarens, that for the second time in a row must leave the first pitch at a Ferrari, after the pole of Barrichello at Silverstone. The fight is tough: after about half an hour of testing it is Hakkinen who stands in first position, ahead of the two Ferraris and Ralf Schumacher. Shortly after, Coulthard arrives and slips between the two, climbing into third place. At the end, on the first attempt of the last run, Michael stays away from Hakkinen, as well as after the second, which stops him just over a tenth from the provisional pole signed by the Finn.
During the last lap, however, the Ferrari driver improves further, turning in 1'20"974, just 79 thousandths faster than the lap of Hakkinen. Happy to be back on pole, Schumacher comments on his performance:
"It’s nice to be at the top, but to move up the ranking you need the points and those are won tomorrow. Other times in this season I could get the pole, but I couldn’t because of some unfortunate episodes. Other times I started in front and I lost, other times I started behind and won".
And it is a great way to continue flying without being distracted by enthusiasm. Not even Michael can digress about one thing: going strong in Barcelona is a sign of great health for the driver, but especially for the car. In recent years, Ferrari has always had to climb the mountains to bridge the gap with opponents on the Montmelò circuit. It is no coincidence that it was eleven years that a Ferrari did not place in front of everyone in practice:
"It’s true, in Barcelona you cannot win the pole if you do not have a good car. In Monte Carlo you can succeed, in Spain it is impossible, and this obviously comforts us. This is yet another demonstration that we have worked very well this year. Once we had to chase, now the others are behind us. Satisfaction is there, pole is always a good thing, it gives the exact measure of what you can do. But why should I do the jumps of joy? What matters is the race, and so we wait, because it can also happen that I jump now and then lose. Sometimes it happens that winning a race is not the best car or the best driver. I’ve been expecting this pole position for a long time, because if we look back on this whole season, we see that after all we have always been able to fight for pole from the beginning. The potential was there, we were all sure of this but we had mishaps and could not do it. So, satisfaction yes, surprise or emotions no".
For Schumacher everything seems natural, obvious, and also easy. Actually, it is not so:
"The car is there; I’ve been saying it for months. And for months we have been working to improve it. We have made progress in all areas, now we are the fastest, we showed it at Silverstone, we show it here with this pole. In these conditions the first position is not a surprise. Before, we always had difficulties here in Barcelona, now no longer. Why? Because we have a car that works on all fronts. In the next race at Nurburgring we can still go well, we no longer have the worries of the past. This is our real conquest. Pole certainly is a good thing, but let’s say that it helps to win races, it is not indispensable and we have already demonstrated it".
Will it be an easy race?
"Not at all. This is a difficult circuit. Then you will have to see other things. The most important thing is the start. If I start well and stay in the lead it is clear that I can then more easily put into practice the strategy I have prepared. If I were to leave badly or fall behind, I would be forced to change everything and then again there are uncertainties, difficulties, unforeseen circumstances that change the cards on the table. Then we will have to see the tyres: they can be the real key to this Grand Prix and their lasting effect will depend on the driving style, because you have to try to wear them as little as possible".
Having said that, Schumacher once again prefers the brake to the accelerator:
"We must not make the mistake of underestimating McLaren. My most dangerous rival remains Hakkinen, both here tomorrow and for the title. As times are very close, it will be decided by an episode, an inch, as always".
The last comment of the German driver is on the tyres:
"I can only say that I will only use one type of tyre”.
According to rumours, Michael would bet on medium tyres, unlike the McLaren that will opt for the softer compound. The only one with a long face at Ferrari is Rubens Barrichello who, however, with the third place in qualifying at the expense of Coulthard, begins to see the end of the nightmare:
"The pressure feels, useless to deny it, every morning I wake up and I think I have to win. These qualifying did not fully satisfy me. And that’s because the car had two faces: a good one on the fastest parts of the track and a bad one on the slowest. Where I had the chance, I exploited more than a hundred percent of the potential. Where I couldn’t do it, mostly because of an excess of oversteer, I had to just drive clean".
Then Rubens also blames the wind, factor that also disturbed other drivers:
"If I pushed harder, I’d go slower. To further complicate things there was also the wind, which in the fastest stretches unbalanced the car. And to think that in the morning practices everything seemed to be more in place, I had reached a good overall harmony that in the afternoon was partly lost. In one sector I was good, in the other not".
His thoughts are already directed to the race:
"I could have started in the front row, a fundamental thing in a track like this where overtaking is always a problem. I’ll try to do it from the start. If I don’t succeed, I think I’ll still be able to stay close to the first. But this race will be challenging especially for the tyres. Here they wear out with great ease and the best chances of victory will be of those who manage them in the most appropriate way. Luckily, we know how to do it because here last week we made a valuable simulation".
Jean Todt is visibly satisfied with the second consecutive pole position. And for the race, more than the tyres, he admits to fear the start, a technical failure, or some accident. It should be noted, among other things, that the head of the team, together with the other colleagues, before qualifying forwards to Ecclestone a letter to find a solution to the boring free Friday:
"Many proposals have emerged; I, for example, would be in favour of limiting the midweek tests. What’s the point of coming here to practice four days before the Grand Prix?"
Moreover, Todt did not like the words of Rubens Barrichello, who a few days before had declared:
"Brawn told me I did more in four months than Irvine did in four years".
Ferrari team principal wants to clarify:
"Brawn shouldn’t have said that sentence, and Rubens better shut up, because Irvine did a good job with the Ferrari. In the early days he did not have a car up to par, but last year he was able to win four races and fight for the World Championship until the last race. Even Barrichello is doing a good job, but it must be considered that it came at a more favourable time for Ferrari. In short, you should never forget the past before evaluating the present".
At McLaren there is the disappointment for David Coulthard that could not dedicate the pole position to the families of the two pilots. The Scotsman admits with bitterness:
"It could have been a small sign throughout all this tragedy. I cared about it, I couldn’t do it".
He had almost promised it, in the morning, when the father of one of the two pilots had phoned Ron Dennis, addressing the following poignant words:
"Tell David to pull himself together and put his car in front of everyone. We want his pole position, for our family it would be a great message".
Request immediately transmitted by the head of the team to the Scotsman. In the post-qualifying, Coulthard cannot find peace:
"Also because I heard another terrible thing: the wife of one of the two pilots is pregnant".
At least there was pole position...
"Instead, I was penalised by a problem with the draft of fuel. We had to load more, the car has become heavier and in these conditions hitting the best time is impossible".
It is not an alibi of the driver who, beaten in qualifying five times out of five this season by teammate Hakkinen, clings to everything to justify his defeats. McLaren supports him with details. Norbert Haug says:
"On Coulthard’s car we had to put an extra ten kilos of fuel, to make sure he could complete a couple of quick laps. A handicap that made him lose two-three tenths".
The lighter car would not have been enough to beat Schumacher, faster than four tenths and a half, and neither would Hakkinen, who at Coulthard scored 370 thousandths of a gap, but at least, according to McLaren, he would have avoided overtaking Barrichello, up by six thousandths, and the fourth position. All that remains for David is to bet on superstition:
"I’m disappointed, but even at Silverstone I started fourth and then I won. I can also do it here, as long as the fuel problem does not recur in the race. This year we have technical problems too often. We must change this situation".
For the moment, however, things are getting worse, if even Hakkinen has to rely on superstition to smile. No pole position for the defending champion, who for the first time this season will start behind Schumacher:
"And who knows that this is not good, since pole position in 2000 has always brought me bad luck".
In fact, curiously, the last to win the race after taking pole on Saturday was Hakkinen, in Hungary in the 1999 season. Then nothing, dreams that vanish the next day, and missed opportunities. The Finn, reached by Schumacher at twenty-four in career pole positions, however, is not happy:
"If I’m not first, it’s my fault. There was something wrong with my driving style. Now I will give everything at the start but I’m on the dirty side of the track. I must be very aggressive, because here the first corner decides everything".
In the third row, following Ferrari and McLaren, there are Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve, ahead of the two Jordans of Trulli and Frentzen. The excellent ninth place of the home driver, Pedro De la Rosa, is cancelled by the FIA following the checks on the Arrows. The commissioners, after careful checks, establish that the fuel used is irregular, which is why De la Rosa is forced to take part in last position. On Sunday, May 7, 2000, under the clear sky of Catalunya, everything is ready to start the sixty-five laps of the Spanish Grand Prix. A few minutes from the start, Schumacher decides to change car, replacing the one with which he took pole and excelled in the warm-up with the forklift. No fault on the car owner but only a choice wanted by the German, who felt he had a better feeling with the reserve car. When the traffic lights goes off, Schumacher immediately closes the trajectory to Hakkinen, who moves on the outside of the Ferrari at the first braking section, but fails to attempt an attack. Barrichello starts badly, passed by an excellent Ralf Schumacher, climbed in third position, and Coulthard, fourth. Behind the Brazilian De La Rosa, at the end of the first lap there is Jacques Villeneuve. The first lap of the race is characterised by three retirements: Pedro Diniz ends up in a spin after a few bends, while in Turn 8 Jean Alesi and Pedro De la Rosa touch each other, with the Frenchman who is rammed by the Arrows driver finishing in the gravel. De la Rosa continues for a few metres before parking the damaged car off-track. Schumacher puts in place an attempt to escape but he is immediately dammed by Hakkinen, who holds his opponent in range with a gap that oscillates between two and three seconds. Behind Coulthard there is Ralf Schumacher, but on the Catalan track overtaking is a real feat. The race has no jolts of any kind, with a stalemate that lasts until the first series of pit-stops.
The drivers in the centre of the group start to stop already from the fifteenth lap, while the first stops only at the twenty-third. With Ferrari mechanics ready to welcome Michael Schumacher, with less than ideal timing, the complicated lapping of Eddie Irvine allows Hakkinen to reduce to zero the gap of three seconds that divided him from Schumacher, who is likely to lose the lead of the race due to a possible overcut by Hakkinen. When the Ferrari driver returns and Hakkinen continues, probably due to the frenzy of the moment, the mechanic responsible for raising the pallet that gives the go-ahead to the driver, Federico Uguzzoni, makes a mistake anticipating the times, while the fuel outlet has not yet been completely released. Schumacher does what he has to do, starts off quickly and in doing so invests the mechanic responsible for topping up the fuel, specifically the chief mechanic Nigel Stepney. He is transported by weight to the pits where he is lying on the ground before the rescue arrives to transport him to the hospital, where according to the first rumours that filter there should be no broken bone. Ferrari must immediately focus on the current race, aware that it still has all the cards to win, but with the small handicap of having another man in charge of the gas refill, Andrea Vaccari, in the following pit stops. Two laps later Hakkinen goes to the pits for his first stop, completed in 7.8 seconds. Schumacher, author of partial records once back on track, manages to hold the lead of the race, with Hakkinen two and a half seconds behind. After the first wave of pit-stops Coulthard is the most penalised driver, as he finds himself in fifth position behind Barrichello, due to a slow pit-stop of eleven seconds. Jenson Button climbs positions, who, following the retirement of Villeneuve and the pit stop that allows him to pass Frentzen, enters the points area, in sixth position.
Having gained a position, now it is Barrichello to press without satisfactory results a solid Ralf Schumacher, who masterfully manages the third place at sixteen seconds from the leading duo, where meanwhile Hakkinen closes the gap that divided him from Schumacher, and is seen several times in the mirrors of the Ferrari driver. Halfway through the race, the two Ferraris live two diametrically opposed situations: Schumacher has to defend himself; Barrichello attacks. Once again, however, we must wait for the pit stops to spice up the race. Coulthard, spectator of the chase of Barrichello to Ralf Schumacher, anticipates the second stop in an attempt to earn the podium. The pit stop takes place on lap 40 and lasts just 7.5 seconds, with Coulthard returning to the track just ahead of Button. The following lap Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher stop at the same time: Williams’ pit-stop lasts 8.6 seconds, while Ferrari’s pit-stop lasts 9.8 seconds. With such long durations compared to Coulthard, the McLaren driver manages to make his third position after a hard wheel at the first corner with Ralf Schumacher, who does not want to leave the third step of the podium. McLaren’s strategy is so successful. There is another lap and here is the highlight of the race: Michael Schumacher and Hakkinen are divided by only four tenths when they return to the pits for the second stop. And in this case, the absence of Nigel Stepney makes itself felt. The four tyres are mounted regularly, but the petrol nozzle is fixed with extreme delay. So, as Hakkinen returns to the track after a pit stop of just 6.4 seconds, Schumacher is there waiting impatiently for the supply to be completed. That is 17.5 seconds altogether. The race leadership goes into the hands of Mika Hakkinen, who can even afford to handle a ten-second lead over Schumacher. At this point it would be legitimate to expect a furious comeback of Schumacher, but it is not so. Indeed, the Ferrari driver never manages to record lap times like those of Hakkinen, and even in a few steps is reached by Coulthard, who on the main straight takes the slipstream of the Ferrari and shows itself on the inside. Schumacher leaves the throttle at the last moment, and at least for another lap holds the second position, since the same dynamic is repeated on the next lap: this time Coulthard goes on the outside and with a determined braking takes the second place to Schumacher.
In a few laps, McLaren goes from a second and a fifth place to an unexpected 1-2. It is clear, however, that there is something wrong with Schumacher’s Ferrari. The German is always slower, and this also favours the reunion of his brother Ralf and Barrichello. The young driver of Williams forgets every kind of relationship, and at turn 10 joins Michael’s Ferrari. The two are wheel to wheel, they even touch each other in the change of direction, where Schumacher, not without a bit of malice, widens the trajectory bringing the Williams outward, and leaving the gap open to Rubens Barrichello who crashes and thanks the work of his teammate, which allows him to earn third place. Overtaken also by Ralf, Michael returns to the pits to change his tyres, a sign that it was a tyre that caused problems on the German F1-2000, specifically an abnormal loss of pressure. When he goes out from the pit lane, Schumacher is fifth, with little to ask at his race a few laps from the end. Three laps from the chequered flag, the race of poor Jenson Button ends, forced to retire due to a problem with the BMW engine of his Williams. The sixth position, therefore, ends up in the hands of Frentzen. After the sixty-five laps, Mika Hakkinen crosses the finish line to celebrate the first victory of this season, ahead of his teammate Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello’s Ferrari, at the second podium as a Ferrari driver. Fourth and fifth comes the Schumacher brothers, with Ralf ahead of a disappointed Michael, who in any case keeps the lead of the championship with 36 points. Hakkinen, with this success, climbs to 22, in second place, with two points more than Coulthard. The 1-2 of the Silver Arrows is especially important for constructors’ championship, where the Woking team drastically reduces the gap from Ferrari, now only seven points away. For Michael, in addition to the faded victory, there is also the displeasure for a long-distance quarrel with his brother Ralf. The youngest of the Schumacher family gets upset because, according to him, Michael risked the accident to avoid giving him way. The Ferrari driver replies as follows:
"Races are races. My brother will be angry with me, but I can’t do anyone any favours on the track. If he’s furious, I can’t help it. I can’t help him if he doesn’t realise that being a brother doesn’t mean anything in racing. In the race there is no favour, especially if you run in different teams. If Ralf does not understand this, I’m sorry".
No doubt, Michael is convinced that he is right in the battle that caused Ralf to lose the third place to Barrichello. The Williams driver, however, is not at all convinced by the words of his brother, and demands clarification, wanting to face Michael hard-nosed. The match between the two takes place in an unbiased motorhome, neither Ferrari, nor Williams, and lasts about seventy minutes, before the two escape from the back on two scooters. In any case, Michael does not want to hear about manoeuvring to favour Barrichello:
"I didn’t even know where he was. I had more on my mind than thinking about Rubens, my right rear tyre had a problem, Ralf pressed and I tried to resist, to defend my line".
Immediately after he went to the pits: why block the way to his brother?
"At that moment I didn’t know I had to go back. I was told immediately after".
Barrichello supports his teammate’s thesis:
"Michael didn’t help me on purpose, it was a coincidence. Ralf missed the overtaking point and I took advantage of it. Don’t blame your brother, he was naive".
Equally tense is the comparison with Coulthard, who has these words for the Ferrari driver:
"To my attempts of overtaking he committed a not too correct manoeuvre: he waited for me, we arrived terribly close and almost touched each other".
Schumacher immediately returns the claims to the sender:
"The rules allow you to zigzag. I have to defend my position and to do so I do what the regulations allow. These polemics are sterile and serve no purpose".
Actually, Coulthard states that the dangerous manoeuvre was a sudden slow-down in the straight:
"We were going to touch each other, I know, but it’s not my fault. With the flat tyre the car was slower. If I didn’t have any problems, he wouldn’t have passed me".
And the title fight?
"Yes, we have lost important points, but there are others that allow me to be in front. The Ferrari is fine, there are no problems for the car or the engine, and this makes me remain confident for the future. Formula 1 is a sport, and so anything can happen. This time it went like this, but the next one will see me on the top step".
The trend of this season, which sees the poleman of Saturday unable to win the race the next day, is confirmed. A trend that actually goes on since the past season, and in total it lasts from nine races. Schumacher hoped to break this curse, but he did not.
"I’m disappointed, but not too disappointed. After all this mess we won two points. I told you we wouldn’t always have lucky races, but this one has happened to us. Problems at the first pit stop, at the second, the puncture of a tyre that forces me to a third stop. An ordeal. I should be angry, but at least there are these two points. We always remain strong".
This time, however, the team was not impeccable. Luckily, Nigel Stepney got away with it, even though he suffered a compound tibia fracture:
"These things happen. Federico (Uguzzoni) pulled up the shovel and when he put it back down it was too late. You can’t react so quickly, I was already gone. I realised that I took something, I saw in the mirrors a mechanic on the ground, I did not know who it was, I asked over the radio, but in the box there was anxiety and they did not answer. Now Nigel has a huge foot. I will try to buy him a pair of bigger shoes".
And whose choice of the hardest tyres is to blame?
"It’s a team decision, there was also my assent, it may have been wrong, but there’s no counter-test. I can’t quantify if we lost tenths and how many. At the beginning, when Hakkinen reduced the gap, much was due to traffic on the track".
The fact remains that the attempts of extending the gap did not go well. And at the time of the second pit stop there was the overtaking of Hakkinen. Is McLaren scarier now?
"I didn’t see it stronger than before, but average. They were good, but let’s get one thing straight: without my pit stop or tyre problems, Hakkinen would never have won. Here you don’t overtake, whoever starts on pole remains there. And I was perfect at the beginning, leaving behind the McLaren at the first corner. The fight for the World Championship is hard, I always knew, but let’s not get down: the next time will be better, at least I hope. Ferrari can win at the Nurburgring. Because we are now strong on every circuit".
Irvine at a certain point, leaving the pits, slowed him down two laps before the pit-stop:
"I wasn’t happy on the track, but maybe he didn’t see me. Because then he moved immediately, unlike other drivers, letting me and Hakkinen through".
Jean Todt also talks about the decisive episodes of the race:
"In Michael Schumacher’s two pit stops there were human mistakes".
In the first one, the one where Chief Mechanic Nigel Stepney was injured, the shovel man lifted it just before Stepney finished pulling out the gas pump. By the time he tried to put it back down, Schumacher had already left. In the second pit-stop, the human error was due to lack of training of the new fuel manager, Andrea Vaccari. According to Todt, it was his difficulty, perhaps also due to tension, that made the entry of fuel difficult. At a closer examination of the car, in fact, there was no damage to the nozzle. The joy on the podium of Mika Hakkinen is composed. A two-time World Champion cannot let himself go for a simple victory, even if the grandstand in front of him is full of Finnish flags. Instead, never like this time the appearance deceives. Inside, the reborn Hakkinen is a volcano of emotions, happy feelings, sweet omens, which when he explodes makes you understand how precious this success is:
"I broke a spell, I lifted a weight, with the car that always had problems, broke or prevented me from finishing first, troubles that risked destroying me psychologically. I felt frustrated, on the ground, with so much strength inside, but unable to react".
He needed to listen to the Finnish anthem, maybe on the day when Schumacher is steeped in his mistakes and the team, in which he blesses the two points won but cannot help but see that Hakkinen is back there, hunter who does not give up. Now, with this first seasonal success, the mood is on very high levels. He remarks it himself:
"I feel over the moon. You have no idea how happy I am, I can’t find the right words. I don’t miss a shot in Barcelona, it’s my third consecutive triumph. There are circuits where you always do well and this is one of my favourites. I knew I could play a lot in this race, if things had gone wrong again I would have started to tremble. Instead I won and the World Championship is open again. Also because this weekend I learned a lot about the new car. Now the reliability is excellent, I understand that we will be very fast until the end of the season. It is a fantastic success, which allows us to really start the chase. My mechanics were wonderful, this success is for them. When I passed Schumacher at the pits, they were very quick to change tyres and put gas in. Quick as if I had changed a t-shirt".
Able was also who chose the tyres:
"A determining factor here. In the tests last week we understood that we had to aim at soft tyres, because the hard ones after several laps lose grip. A good choice, this time it was Schumacher who made a mistake".
Hakkinen does not argue for the defence decided by Schumacher at the start:
"He locked my door, cut me off, and I had to lift my foot. I was a little scared, he could push me on the grass, but I don’t condemn him, because he played his game. At the first corner we were almost side by side and I decided not to take risks. It was better this way".
The day after the race, at Ferrari there is a fairly quiet atmosphere within the walls of Maranello. No one rips their hair off, even if the Spanish Grand Prix has been practically thrown away. Jean Todt sums up the Catalan trip:
"No, we are not happy, but we must also realistically take note that sometimes certain things can happen. It’s not that we were good before and donkeys now. We’re always the same, and we always work with the same commitment. There is no witch hunt, despite everything I do not feel like scolding anyone. Indeed, I must say that the team has worked well. They’re all good, even the ones that set off this chain of things. It is true, the human factor is very important and one realises it perhaps only when mistakes occur, because there were no doubts that there were mistakes, but I would not feel to condemn anyone".
Not even the man who lifted the pallet too early to let Schumacher go?
"Uguzzoni is very good, he always does a good job with a dustpan. He is there and must have eighteen eyes to control everything. Maybe out of the corner of his eye he saw the movement of Stepney’s arm and estimated the operation was over. You know, when the press talks about the skill of the Ferrari team, they talk about these same people, renowned for being able to make precise and fast pit-stops".
And Vaccari, who replaced Stepney, was experienced?
"He takes care of the petrol, of the refuelling part, he knows everything, he knows very well the nozzle, how to be connected and disengaged. So much so that it was he after the accident of Stepney to check whether the nozzle was broken or not. He must have betrayed the emotion due to what had happened. What am I supposed to do: process him and shoot him?”
No, but maybe a little more training would not have hurt:
"We will, of course, but it is not that these men are idle, we already work a lot here. They were the right men in the right place. The fact is, and I am repeating it after every race, that we are close to our opponents and just a little bit to lose. You slip on a peel, sneeze at the wrong time, and you lose. It applies to us and it applies to them".
Even the F1-2000, however, was not as brilliant as other times:
"In the meantime, we are very happy with the reliability, because the cars have held up very well. There was the problem of the tyres, yes. We still don’t know why Schumacher’s car with medium tyres didn’t go as planned. In retrospect it’s easy to say that we were wrong, but a priori there were good reasons to use them. And then that tyre that deflated... We were thinking of a puncture, but actually it deflated slowly because it had been badly mounted on the rim. Out of hundreds of tyres that are mounted every day, a badly mounted one can happen. It was that tyre that made Schumacher fall in the standings, because until then, and despite our mistakes, it was not bad".
Ferrari immediately returns to the track in Fiorano to prepare for the European Grand Prix, scheduled for May 21, 2000, at the Nurburgring circuit. Test driver Luca Badoer will soon be back on track in Fiorano to understand why a very fast car in practice disappointed in the race. On Thursday and Friday it will be Barrichello’s turn at Mugello, while Schumacher will rest in his home in Switzerland. So much work to do with a look of slight concern in the standings, where McLaren-Mercedes has drastically reduced the gap in both rankings.