#655 2000 French Grand Prix

2021-04-18 00:00

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#2000, Fulvio Conti, Davide Scotto di Vetta,

#655 2000 French Grand Prix

From Wednesday, June 21 to Friday, June 23, 2000, the Formula 1 teams meet on the Magny-Cours circuit in preparation for the French Grand Prix, the ni


From Wednesday, June 21 to Friday, June 23, 2000, the Formula 1 teams meet on the Magny-Cours circuit in preparation for the French Grand Prix, the ninth race of the World Championship, to be held in Burgundy. If we exclude the 1999 edition, in which the real protagonist was the bad weather that conditioned the starting grid, and the order of arrival with Frentzen’s surprise victory, the French Grand Prix has always been an ally of Michael Schumacher. After winning with Benetton in 1994 and 1995, the German won his third pole with Ferrari in 1996, and in the following two years, as well as starting in the front row, he also brought home two successes. But as the tradition does not automatically translate itself into good performance, Ferrari brings to the Transalpine track other upgrades coming out of the wind tunnel of Maranello. A meticulous work on the details is far from negligible, considering that the difference with the McLaren in terms of performance has proved very subtle. The two teams fighting for the World Championship are lined up in France in full ranks, although the drivers must recover the time difference with North America after the Canadian trip that saw Schumacher victorious: on the one hand there are the German and Barrichello, on the other hand there are the two drivers and test driver Olivier Panis. Magny-Cours certainly does not lack news for the other teams: Prost tests with Alesi a more powerful Peugeot engine, which could debut in qualifying during the race weekend, while Fisichella examines the shock collar, designed by Mercedes and the FIA, which will be introduced in 2001. Arrows - in the first two days with Verstappen and then with De La Rosa - continues the development of chimney drains that should then debut in Austria: a solution that allows the team to reduce the temperatures in the gearbox area and the size of the rear of the A21. Finally, the BAR, which resumes the experiments on the brakes after the serious accident of Zonta in Monza, and develops its power steering. McLaren-Mercedes keeps the lead of the time standings in all the days of tests: the first day Coulthard is the fastest of all, running in 1'16"779 and beating Michael Schumacher by about four tenths; the Scotsman also confirms to be the fastest the following day, with Schumacher completing seventy-one laps, focusing particularly on the set-up of his F1-2000; finally, the last session sees Mika Hakkinen set the fastest lap in 1'15"553. Behind him Rubens Barrichello, five thousandths away, and the other McLaren of Panis. Michael Schumacher is fourth at three tenths. After the tests, and waiting to return to France for the Grand Prix, the last Ferrari World Champion, Jody Scheckter, is rather controversial with the Maranello team, through statements to poison:


"Enzo Ferrari never thanked me: no phone call, no ticket. Not even a handshake. Ferrari has always thought about his business and so does Montezemolo, who gave me a red horse that lasted only a few days: a cheap gadget that broke immediately".


At Ferrari, however, they have something else to think about on the eve of the French Grand Prix. Luca Badoer tests in Fiorano the new air outlets, already called chimneys, developed to improve the aerodynamic performance of the car without penalising the engine cooling. The data seems encouraging, but whether to use them or not will be decided only after free practice. Moreover, for Jean Todt it is a special weekend, as he celebrates seven years at the head of the sports section of Ferrari: 


"Seven years? Mamma mia, already seven years? If I think of my son Nicholas: he was a boy then, now he is a man. But I stayed as small as I was then, didn’t I?"


Nice allusion to his stature, but on other aspects the French team manager has certainly grown a lot, and Ferrari together with him.


"I felt lost in this giant environment. Everything was new to me, a great challenge that I accepted because I like challenges, and because Ferrari is Ferrari: how do you say no?"


Todt knows very well that since that day they have nicknamed him Napoleon, for his stature, for his determination, for his desire for conquest, for the love of power. He says:


"But what power? When I arrived I felt like I was in a desert, I didn’t know where to go, then slowly...".


Then, speaking of the bad times and the good times, the team principal declares:


"Well, there have been many, but you have to see how one interprets them. It was very bad, for example, the one at the Jerez Grand Prix at the end of 1997, when Schumacher lost the world championship to Villeneuve. The disqualification in Malaysia was really bad last year, but then we came out with our heads held high. That fight at Spa in the rain was also bad. And the accident of Michael last year. Many bad moments, but there are also many good ones. We acquired strength, now we think about this. Better not to mention what we have been chasing for so many years. Everyone knows what it is, but better not to mention it". 


Schumacher seems well on the way to this conquest, with his 22 points ahead of Coulthard:


"Let’s go slow, you never know. Michael needs nine victories to be calm".


Some say that Todt and Ferrari are at the crisis of the seventh year, as in weddings:


"No, that’s not true. There is no crisis and I want to stay here. For now we have a primary goal, but it is not the only one. There is still much to do. I don’t feel in crisis and I don’t think the Ferrari is in crisis".


Is Barrichello complaining so much?


"Rubens is fine and fine. And he also speaks a lot: it is clear proof that Ferrari does not prevent anyone from speaking, as I read in some newspapers from time to time".


With three seasonal podiums, two of which in the last two races, Giancarlo Fisichella hides well his joy, but offers great serenity in return, despite the uncertainties about the future and a Grand Prix coming from the not so rosy prospects. The Roman explains:


"In France we will almost certainly be bad. It is a track that requires great traction and excellent grip. In both aspects, we’re almost at zero, even last week’s tests proved that. Even if in Formula 1 the last word is never said, I think the goal will be to limit the damage, waiting for future races that will also see the arrival of the Supertec engine for qualifying".


The future, a sensitive subject. Fisichella brings together extraordinary results and his current employer, but Flavio Briatore does not miss an opportunity to sting him subtly: stimulating tactics, pure theatre or real misunderstandings?


"No problem, with Flavio we get along and there is great esteem. After a positive race he is always the first to congratulate me. And, anyway, I really have nothing to blame: I think this year Fisichella is better than his car. And the results prove it".


But, for now, they do not seem sufficient to ensure the confirmation in Benetton in 2001.


"There is an option in favour of the team to exercise by August 15. I think we will know something specific at the beginning of that month. And I also believe that there is a very good chance that the relationship will continue. I would be happy. If not, then I will become a free driver to run with some other team. There is no shortage of offers: Jaguar, Jordan and so on".


Even McLaren, as a British newspaper claimed a few days ago?


"I find it out now".


On Friday, June 30, 2000, the French Grand Prix begins with the two free practice sessions, which end with David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen leading the total time count. In the morning the Scotsman runs in 1'15"965, then, after forty-five minutes, here is the unexpected: a large cloud of smoke comes out of the rear of the Mp4/15, due to the breakdown of the Mercedes engine. Coulthard just has to close the session early, but no one is able to improve his time. As for Ferrari, Rubens Barrichello, in difficulty in the first session that attests him in ninth position, improves in the afternoon placing third, at seven tenths from Coulthard’s time. Schumacher is only eighth in the second session, with a time of 1'17"060, preceded by the two Jordan-Mugen Hondas of Trulli and Frentzen, as well as the Jaguar of former teammate Eddie Irvine. A not exciting result for the German driver, who in any case has no reason to dramatise, having used only one set of tyres. After the afternoon session, the team meets by satellite with Maranello to address the much-discussed issue of fireplaces, innovation for which they took inspiration from McLaren, and that according to some, it should have been the decisive technological weapon to beat their rivals. However, Schumacher, backed by Todt and Brawn, raises doubts. After free practice, in fact, the aforementioned chimneys were not convincing. Hence the long satellite briefing with the wind tunnel, with the administration, and with Montezemolo. All this to reach a simple conclusion: the chimneys would be fine if it was very hot. But on Fridays, the famous great heat of the French plains is not there. These elements work best only with the heat, when the radiators struggle to cool the engines. At that point, the chimneys suck the air out and ensure a more effective cooling. The decision whether or not to mount them on the F1-2000, therefore, depends exclusively on the French climate, which continues to be mild on Saturday for qualifying. This does not prevent Ferrari from overturning the free practice results during the qualifying session on Saturday, and to take pole position for the third time in a row after Monte Carlo and Montréal. To succeed, as in previous occasions, is Michael Schumacher who, thanks to the time of 1'15"632, beats Coulthard by just a tenth. The McLaren driver lives a troubled day to say the least, starting from the third session of free practice, when he breaks another engine. In qualifying, then, a failure at the petrol pump forces him to use the forklift for two runs, waiting for the holder to be repaired. Then, there is a spin and an adventurous exit from the pits of Ralf Schumacher, with which he risks the accident:


"It made me angry, but I also understand that the pit lane comes out at a difficult point, where the visibility for those who come out is very limited".


In short, a bestial Saturday, of which he is reasonably satisfied:


"It’s a great result, since everything happened to me. The mechanics did an exceptional job, quickly changing the set up of the forklift and allowing me to go anyway very fast. But it’s not like having the race car, and in fact after two attempts I gave up, passing to the car that I will use in the race".


More than half an hour lost before Coulthard put in his own, aggravating the situation:


"I had just started the third attempt when I lost the rear, and I spun. Another opportunity thrown away".


Luckily, the time has arrived at the last attempt, but it does not diminish the regret at McLaren, as admitted by Norbert Haug:


"If he had the race car from the start, Coulthard would definitely have taken pole position".


If at the expense of so many adversities the Scotsman is placed in the front row - highlighting that excellent state of form that allows him once again to be in front of his teammate - Hakkinen is only fourth, overtaken in the final also by Rubens Barrichello; thus he conquers the third position, at three tenths from the poleman Schumacher. Mika appears more and more in crisis: among the technical problems of the beginning of the season, some colourless performances and the explosion of Coulthard, the defence of the title for the Finn is likely to become a utopia. A fourth place caused, apparently, by the poor feeling with his McLaren:


"There is something wrong in the car. I gave it my best, but from a couple of races we are too slow in slow corners".


The problem is that in McLaren it is him who goes slowly, to the point that Haug advances a suspect:


"Maybe Mika got the set up wrong".


The mistake must be somewhere because McLaren is no longer enchanted, the domination in qualifying of the past years seems only a distant memory, and certainly the promise of Hakkinen cannot be enough; he says:


"If there is a mistake, we will find it working all night. Here you can overcome, nothing is lost yet".


A mystery that nobody knows how to understand, not even Michael Schumacher, who cannot explain the bad performance of his rival:


"I honestly don’t understand what’s happening to him; I’m surprised that he’s only fourth, obviously something is changing in the balance of power between him and David".


On the other hand, Schumacher has no problems of this nature. For the 27th time in his career he will start on pole. The German shows tranquillity, and in addition to the usual amulets - the hair brush of his daughter - and the reiterated intention to cheer Italy in the final of Euro 2000, says to worry only about boredom:


"When it is very hot, on this circuit the cars tend to slip and then you have to go much slower".


Then he goes on to say:


"If I thought I’d already won I’d be a fool, although I have to admit that the car is fantastic and we have no worries about the race. At times like this, relaxing is the most dangerous thing. You don’t have to look at the times, it will be a tight battle, with four cars able to win. The two McLarens are not gone and even Barrichello is fearsome. With an attempt I ended qualifying, but the race will be much harder".


It is okay to be cautious, but how can you not be elated after such a performance?


"It must be. Everything is proceeding wonderfully, we can only hope that things will continue like this. We have to push, work, grow again, even if it is difficult to increase the quality, when it is already at super levels. Like my first attempt here: I immediately realised that it was a very fast lap, that for the others there would be nothing to do, also because Coulthard had the forklift and Hakkinen seemed to be in crisis. But we were not satisfied and we tried to do even better. Unfortunately, we could not".


It was enough, enough to throw the McLaren into anguish:


"This pole is a good basis for victory. And the ten points would be a big step towards the title. With a win I would reach Senna at forty-one, it would be a great honour, but at this moment I think of nothing but the World Championship, the most important achievement, the goal that is worth the career".


For the race, the priorities are three:


"The ten points of the victory, the big party that would come soon after and the possibility to go home, to hug Corinna and my two children".


And maybe give Gina Maria back the famous pink hair brush:


"I brought it with me again this time. It made me win at the Nurburgring and in Montreal, I can no longer race without it".


We cannot say the same thing about the chimneys, remained in the pits during qualifying; Schumacher could give up even in the race, everything will depend on the temperature. To mock Hakkinen and climb into third place, Rubens Barrichello had to step back as far as the car’s setup was concerned, after trying modifications that did not work in the second and third attempts:


"In the last run I had the same car I had at the beginning. Unfortunately, I improved little, because the very high temperature had made the track slower. Anyway, I’m satisfied, I start in front of Hakkinen, I can gamble my chances. The tyre choice will be fundamental: here they degrade easily, especially the rear ones. Who loses less performance in the tyres, is the one who has the most chance to win".


Behind Ferrari and McLaren there is Ralf Schumacher, and a revenant Eddie Irvine with the Jaguar; in the fourth row, however, Jacques Villeneuve and Frentzen, ahead of Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button. Fisichella’s pessimism on the eve of the Grand Prix is confirmed by the disappointing fourteenth position of the Roman, and the seventeenth by Alexander Wurz. On Sunday, June 2, 2000, in the morning warm-up on the Magny-Cours track, Hakkinen tries to shake up his weekend with the best overall time, better than two tenths compared to Coulthard, second. The McLarens stand out as on Friday, Schumacher follows them in third position ahead of Trulli, Barrichello and Irvine. The session is characterised by the resounding diatribe within the Prost team: following Jean Alesi’s controversial statements about the questionable efficiency of the new Peugeot engines, the technicians of the French company refuse to start the engines mounted on the single-seaters for the first five minutes of the session, in protest. The situation, for the team managed by the four-time World Champion, continues to worsen season after season, race after race. At 2:00 p.m., everything is ready to kick off the French Grand Prix, where Michael Schumacher chases the forty-first career victory to reach Ayrton Senna, and has a chance to further stretch in the overall standings. 


A victory would be the ideal way to celebrate the seven years of Jean Todt in Ferrari. At the start, David Coulthard starts better than Schumacher, who immediately closes the ideal trajectory to the opponent so abruptly to force Coulthard to raise his foot. This favours Barrichello, who bypasses the McLaren and takes second position. Hakkinen remains to observe, tries a timid attack on Coulthard at the Adelaide corner, but then gives up. Another great start, after the one in Montreal, of Jacques Villeneuve, who started seventh and climbed in fifth position at the end of the first lap, ahead of Frentzen’s Jordan, also author of an excellent shot. Very bad instead Eddie Irvine, slipped in the middle of the group. Coulthard wants to prevent Schumacher from going away, so he immediately clings to the car of Barrichello, visibly slower than his teammate. Behind, Jarno Trulli battles with Ralf Schumacher for seventh place leading an attack at the last corner, but is effectively overtaken by the Williams driver. The two, then, approach Frentzen, form a close-knit trio fighting for the sixth position. After ten laps, the gap between the race leader and the pair of pursuers formed by Barrichello and Coulthard is five seconds. Hakkinen travels slyly a couple of seconds away. The  home Grand Prix does not bring good luck to Prost, nor to Jean Alesi, climbed up in fourteenth position before being rammed at the Adelaide curve by his teammate Nick Heidfeld, who in an attempt to overtake Fisichella, goes after Alesi and makes him spin. The young German gains the position on the Roman driver, but he makes the discreet comeback of Alesi vain. Jenson Button, who got rid of Irvine before and then Mika Salo, moves to ninth position, while Ricardo Zonta is the first retired driver of the race following an off-track that leads him straight into the barriers. After a long phase of study, during the twenty-second lap, Coulthard closes the gap: the Scotsman comes out with great speed from the Estoril curve, takes advantage of all the Ferrari’s slipstream in front of him, widens the trajectory to the Adelaide curve and with a perfect crossing takes the position on Barrichello. The Brazilian has some difficulties with the rear tyres. Meanwhile, there are many drivers heading to the pits for the first stop: Hakkinen anticipates the pit-stop compared to his opponents, trying the undercut on Barrichello who, as said, has tyre problems and runs on high times. There is no problem with David Coulthard, who quickly reduces the gap by seven seconds from Michael Schumacher.


The first move of the Ferrari pit wall is to call to the pits the German driver, who returns to the track after a not impeccable stop of 8.8 seconds. A little later it is Coulthard’s turn, who completes refuelling and tyre change in just 7.3 seconds, and Barrichello. When everyone makes the first stop, the race always sees Michael Schumacher in the lead, with five seconds ahead of Coulthard. Hakkinen manages to overtake Barrichello at the pit stop, and so he climbs to third place ahead of the Brazilian. Villeneuve and Jarno Trulli complete the points zone; Trulli overtakes his teammate Frentzen at the last corner, with a complete rotation. If during the first stint he proved to be fast, in the second Coulthard lowers his lap times even further, gaining a second on Schumacher. In a matter of turns, the gap is zero. Schumacher has to start looking constantly in the mirrors, and be extremely careful when he has to get rid of a bunch of lapping. Even Hakkinen, though less quickly, approaches Ferrari, which appears to be in extreme difficulty. On lap 33, Coulthard tries the overtake: the overtaking point chosen is always the Adelaide curve, David goes on the outside of the Ferrari along the hairpin, and Schumacher, without making too many compliments, slightly widens the trajectory causing a contact between the two cars. Coulthard does not like the manoeuvre, so much so that before returning he makes an unfriendly gesture to the Ferrari driver. Some laps pass unscathed, then, while Alex Wurz ends up in the gravel at the last corner after looking for an improbable overtaking on Alesi (which reacts sending him to hell), Coulthard makes a comeback. This time he tries to exploit the presence of a lapped Sauber, but Schumacher does not break down. Schumacher’s difficulties are so obvious that even Barrichello joins the first three, and then the fight for victory. On lap 40 Coulthard tries to attack, changing strategy: David pretends to go on the outside, then with a violent turn he slips on the inside of Schumacher. Overtaking now completed, Coulthard does not resist in returning the favour to the opponent, giving him a slight spin out of the Adelaide curve. A decisive manoeuvre that of the Scotsman, new leader of the French Grand Prix, while for Schumacher the suffering is not over, because now in his drains there is Hakkinen, who certainly cannot afford to be less than his teammate. Now it is time to make the second stop in the program, Schumacher and Hakkinen go into the pits at the same time: the mechanics of Ferrari are impeccable, those of McLaren a little less. 


That is why, at least for now, Schumacher retains his position. Then it is up to Coulthard and Barrichello, and in the case of the Ferrari driver, a problem with the right front tyre forces him to stay in the pits for 16.8 seconds. The aspirations to fight for the podium are now the ambitions for the Brazilian, who retains at least fourth place thanks to the enormous advantage accumulated on Jacques Villeneuve. The race now seems to be channelling towards the end without too many shocks: Coulthard manages the lead undisturbed, Schumacher defends apparently without too much difficulty from Hakkinen, then a few seconds away there are Barrichello, Villeneuve and Trulli who complete the points area. The second bump suffered by Alesi - this time by Gené during a fight for the penultimate position - and the overtaking of Ralf Schumacher on Trulli, are the first real twists of this last stage of the race. On lap 59, Michael Schumacher goes wide at the Adelaide turn, leaving the door wide open to Hakkinen, who slips in without thinking twice. It seems to be a mere driver error, but it is not so. Schumacher turns slowly along the track, bluish smoke begins to come out of the rear of the Ferrari, and Michael, after noticing, to avoid spilling oil on the track, immediately steps aside parking in a safe place. For him comes the second retirement of the season, like that of Monte-Carlo, caused by a failure on his F1-2000. A retirement that hurts, especially because in the meantime the McLaren flies towards an unexpected 1-2. In addition, the Maranello team finds itself dealing with the poor reliability of the components, in recent years a prerogative of Adrian Newey, rather than Ferrari. Ralf Schumacher timidly tries to take the fourth position of Villeneuve in the last laps, for the rest nothing else happens. David Coulthard wins the French Grand Prix thanks to an exceptional performance, and can thus celebrate his third victory of the season. Hakkinen completes the McLaren-Mercedes triumph with the second place, while Barrichello limits damage to Ferrari, as well as in Monte Carlo, in third position. Jacques Villeneuve returns to points after five races, and does so thanks to a performance worthy of a former World Champion desperate for a competitive car that allows him to fight again for important goals. Fifth is Ralf Schumacher, ahead of Jarno Trulli’s Jordan, who closes the points zone. In the parc fermé Coulthard expresses all his joy for what is perhaps the most beautiful victory of his career. After hugging all his mechanics, he receives the compliments of his friend Villeneuve, then pours a whole bottle of water on the head of Norbert Haug. Never in his career, David had scored more than two victories in a single season; now, with eight more races left, he has already got three victories. But above all, 44 points mean second place in the overall standings, twelve points away from Schumacher, and six points on Hakkinen, once again clearly defeated. For the Finn, it has been a long time since he beat David for nineteen consecutive qualifying.


Coulthard had already surprised at Silverstone, on April 23, but it seemed the classic isolated feat, a get-together for the home race and then back to being a compressor. And instead, Silverstone, his home race, has become the starting point of a great chase: second in Spain, third at the Nurburgring, first in Monte Carlo and now first in Magny-Cours, with the only misstep in Canada caused by the problem on his McLaren just before the start. There are only twelve points of distance from Schumacher, but the Scottish driver remembers that:


"It would be six if I had not been disqualified in Brazil, because of the front wing".


Thanks to these results, you can peacefully express your goals:


"I think about it from the beginning of the season, I have the title in my head, I am convinced I can do it, because I have reached the maximum of my potential, and no one will change my mind. It’s clear that to succeed, I have to win as many races as possible. But do not let me say that I live from day to day, it’s an absurd reasoning. A program that aims at the goal through many stages is necessary. But without ever losing sight of the final goal". 


Having restored the detachment he had a month before in Monte Carlo, returning to Schumacher the ten to zero suffered in Montreal, he can resume the battle vigorously. And maybe, by putting on his helmet, he can think of that recently renewed contract with McLaren, a team that once poked him, and now, through the words of Haug, defines him magical, and no longer has any intention of letting him go away. 


But before you indulge in happiness, you have to take off a few pebbles, starting with your number one rival, Michael Schumacher:


"This is a sport where everyone knows what is right and what is not, and should apply this knowledge on the track. We have to discuss among us drivers, because if we go on like this we risk a big accident. There are rules and you have to stay inside; trying to kick out an opponent, with manoeuvres out of the ordinary, cannot be permitted. At the start Schumacher chooses the trajectory he wants, I know that this is allowed, but it is not pleasant to see that he always cuts. We have already discussed this at length since the Imola Grand Prix. Continuing is risky, also because I want to see what happens if one day a driver does not hold back. My start was very good, better than his, but I want to win the World Championship, I cannot throw everything away with a risky manoeuvre. So I had to lift my foot and Barrichello surpassed me too. If I had nothing to lose, the scene would have been different. And anyway, from now on, if I can start in front of him, I’ll act like him".


Even later, in the fight for the first position, there were problems with Schumacher:


"He is very tough and aggressive when driving. I accept the battle, but be careful not to overdo it. Barrichello is different. He was slower than me, he understood when I passed, he was very correct".


The duel was characterised by the middle finger with which David reacted to the aggressive defence of Schumacher:


"I apologise to the children who watched the race on television. I realise that it was not a nice gesture, I hope that people can forgive me, I will not do it again. But you have to understand: at that moment the tension was skyrocketing, like the emotion, and I was very angry, because Schumacher did not have to close the trajectory like that".


In any case, the Scotsman willingly presses his foot on the accelerator of euphoria:


"This race can change the history of the season. I have great confidence, having overtaken Michael on track further increases my optimism. In Austria I will try to reduce the gap again. Here we have been much stronger. Only at the start, for a moment, I thought I could not win. I was third and the car had understeer problems. But then, all of a sudden, it started going like a missile. It was a crazy weekend: first all those problems on Saturday, then the joy of Sunday. Stressful days, I wasted a lot of energy and now I don’t know if fatigue or happiness is greater. But I’m here, a few points from Schumacher. Don’t be too calm, this may be my year". 


For seven races in a row the two McLarens reached the finish line without problems of reliability. A remarkable improvement compared to the troubled start of the season in Australia and Brazil, which make euphoric Norberg Haug, in which he never stopped believing in the comeback:


"Because we too know how to work very well and build indestructible single-seaters ".


In the constructors' standings, McLaren is still second, but Ferrari is only six points away. Yet, a disastrous Saturday foreshadowed a colossal defeat: Haug was the only one who did not have a funeral look. While he was whipping Hakkinen for the wrong set-up, he threatened Ferrari:


"They rejoice because they think they are going to make a void and win the World Championship well in advance. What if Coulthard is 12 points away from Schumacher tomorrow night?"


A prediction more than ever exact, and at this point the Mercedes man insists:


"The picture turned upside down compared to a year ago. They are stronger in qualifying, we are stronger in the race. Last season Ferrari always invented something on Sunday, now we are the ones to turn the tables. With our cars coming to the finish line for three months".


A good basis to hope for overtaking, to which must be added the amazing moment of Coulthard, for some time aggressive and infallible, to the point of being compared, in the McLaren praises, to Schumacher:


"David has accomplished a feat. It’s the best time of his career, he has matured, he can fight for the title until the last race".


On the other side of the box, McLaren smiles less. The race was an ordeal for Hakkinen, unable to drink due to a failure in the system that allows you to quench your thirst during the race. An immense effort, therefore, that of the Finn, such as to convince Ron Dennis to exempt him from the tests scheduled at Mugello (Ferrari, in fact, rented the track to the Woking team for four days).


"Today I got a great result, which allows me to stay in the fight for the World Championship. The car was very good. I would have passed Schumacher even if he had not broken the engine, because I was much faster than him".


Michael Schumacher, however, is disappointed but not destroyed, sad but not desperate, sorry but not disconsolate. The German driver faces the second stop in three races with philosophy, convinced that for the World Championship there is still much to do:


"Because this is racing and certain inconveniences can happen. When you’re not the one who’s wrong and there’s nothing you can do to change history, you can’t help but accept what fate has in store for you. We missed a great opportunity, but crying is no use. We must immediately react, identify the reason that led to the engine failure. And resume fighting".


Michael Schumacher has a relaxed look despite his defeat. His face is not so relieved; immediately after retiring, with the McLaren flying towards the unexpected 1-2 while he is there to deal with the zero in the standings, anger is great, as is the desire to send bad luck to the country. But then, after the wrath and the long meeting with the technicians, here is a forced smile to calm everyone.


"What can I do?"


But it was not only the engine that made the Ferrari driver suffer. After the first pit stop his pace dropped considerably, because the tyres did not work well.


"I am more concerned about the tyre problem, because we had already had similar problems in Barcelona. I think engine trouble is easy to spot, we’ll be at Mugello this week, in the tests we’ll find the cause. Tyres don’t let me down. The rear ones degraded a lot, slowed me down a lot, they didn’t work like the McLaren ones. I hope that engine is just an episode, I trust the team that has already been able to overcome much worse moments". 


And adds:


"The tyres are a great unknown, because with high temperatures they struggle to maintain grip. I don’t know if this is due to the heat, the wear and tear, but I had to slow down the pace, to try to get to the second pit stop. I wanted to check the situation, but Coulthard was going very fast, he came to get me and then after a few laps he surpassed me".


And speaking of Coulthard’s gesture...


"The middle finger? I didn’t see it. I didn’t notice anything. He tried to pass me twice, they were normal situations. He tried, I tried to close the road. In the first case I succeeded, defending the position. Then he was better. I’m in front and I choose the line to keep, he has to adapt. The same goes for overtaking as for the starts. In Malaysia I passed, he pushed me out of trajectory and I did not complain. These are the races, so you fight. If he doesn’t like it, do another job". 


In Montreal he won, but at the end he was forced to slow down, while in Monte Carlo he did not finish the race, as in France; in short, the reliability of Ferrari does not seem like what it used to be. Does he have to worry?


"Not for reliability. I am concerned about individual problems and I hope they can be resolved. In Montreal I had a completely different problem, we do not make terrorism or speculation, this is a very simple break to understand. In Ferrari so far we have always been very fast in reacting to adversities, and in overcoming them. Reliability will remain our strength".


When did he know the engine was gonna break?


"The moment he failed. There was a drop in oil pressure, that’s why Hakkinen was able to overtake me. I thought a drain had broken, so I tried to keep the car going to the pits".


And speaking of the World Championship...


"The fight for the title is more difficult. I said that the battle was far from over. Magny-Cours is the proof".


Michael had always argued that the real enemy was Hakkinen, but now he has to change his mind:


"Coulthard is more dangerous now. But the points of difference between the two are minimal, you cannot say one is in and the other is out. As I am not yet champion".


Funny is that Barrichello thinks instead of throwing away the chance to finish before the Finn.


"At the second pit-stop we lost ten seconds, because of a nut of the right front tyre that had been filleted. Without that inconvenience I could have overtaken Hakkinen".


The reliability alarm exists, even if Ferrari does everything to reduce it. A broken engine, with the seizure of a piston, can be a case, one of those inconveniences that the Formula 1 technology knows how to solve in a few minutes; but the argument changes if the burst engines become four and the three that Ferrari had lost the week before, also at Magny-Cours, are also included in the test. Jean Todt tries to be serene:


"Four breakdowns in one season may be there, but we must immediately work to recover the reliability, since 12 points of advantage of Schumacher on Coulthard are not many".


The briefing of the technicians in Maranello the day after the race is particularly long. The engine is disassembled and analysed, because the engineers want to understand if they have to deal with a sudden weakness of the engine, or if the continuous breakdowns must be traced to the particular characteristics of the Magny-Cours circuit. Hence the idea of testing at the bench a new engine, with a lot of gearbox installed, again on the data offered by the French circuit, with the possibility of verifying its hold. A move similar to what was done after Monte Carlo, when under examination had run out of drains. From his office in Bologna, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo comments on the results of the French Grand Prix: 


"I got pretty angry when I saw Schumacher stop. But if I’m honest, much less so than in the past. In the past I also happened to throw some ashtrays, so I was pissed. Once the TV exploded and I got a good scare. Not this time. Let’s say that it was the disappointment of seeing a result fade that could have been fine".


The anger is less especially because:


"Ferrari is a highly competitive, strong, united, motivated team. It was before that engine broke down and it remains so now. Do you know why years ago I was angrier? Because I still saw far away the exit from the tunnel and with anger I got anguished. Not today, we got out of that tunnel. The engine break can be fixed, because it was since Imola 1999 that we did not break one. The odds of that happening increased from race to race. No one can expect Schumacher or Ferrari to always win. It would be out of reality. Michael is one who when he has a good car either wins or comes in second. And on Sunday a second place would have been great. First because it means taking six points and being more comfortable at the top of the standings. Second, because showing your opponent that when you don’t win, you’re stuck behind him is important, it means letting him know you’re not giving him a break. It means a lot in the competition. No, Schumacher wouldn’t have won on Sunday, his tyres were too degraded. And it is only because of those degraded tyres that two good overtakings were exceptionally seen, something unfortunately missing in Formula 1. But  Schumacher would have finished in second place". 


What is with the degraded tyres after the many tests the week before on the same circuit?


"We don’t talk about it. With what they cost, these tests... But, on the other hand, as long as they are allowed it is clear that you have to go if you want to win. You should all have the courage to say enough with this story of going to test on a circuit where the next week there is a Grand Prix. But as long as they’re allowed, we obviously have to go. As for the race, I do not know: they tell me that the environmental conditions have changed, and this already shows how difficult and complex Formula 1 has become: just a small change that does not depend on us and everything gets complicated".


Ferrari is still first, but the advantage is thinner:


"Yes, but I’ve been saying it for a long time: this is a two-team championship, us and McLaren. Look at the scores: 88 points for us, 82 for McLaren. And in third place? It’s Benetton with 18 points. Shall we say it another way? After us and McLaren, everyone else together has 65 points, I think. I mean, there’s an abyss. And then it’s nothing, and we win once and McLaren wins once. We were prepared for this, so now we don’t reinvent the wheel. We knew it would be a two-team championship, difficult and very hard".


And that, as usual, will end at the last race?


"It’s likely, given the difficulties, but you don’t ask me as if it was all a table. But who is so good and powerful as to organise the accident of Schumacher, the breaking of the leg, the recovery, the return to racing and the Ferrari that loses at the last race? It doesn’t exist: the only thing that surely exists is that every year everything is more difficult, the fight more intense. But we are there, we fight for it, we have the strength, the men and the means to do it and this is very positive. I was thinking about it on Sunday evening after the defeat of Italy in Rotterdam in the European Football Championship: it was also lost at the last minute. It would be wrong to say that Italy was great as long as it won and donkey after losing. When a competition is so tight, it can go well and it can go wrong. We have a good car, we have a Schumacher that has never been so fit, also because he is no longer forced to run beyond the limit, we have a very strong and very young team".


What about Barrichello?


"He’s a very good guy. He does what he has to do, which is to stand in front of a McLaren, and he does it well. He’s a serene boy and he’s serene even when you talk to him. He’ll do great things, he’ll be useful, I’m sure. It’s true, that pit-stop mess, ten seconds lost, it’s true, it can happen and it doesn’t just happen to Rubens. Think of Schumacher when Nigel Stepney also broke his leg. In a difficult operation of just eight seconds, like a pit-stop, a mistake can happen".


In short, despite everything there is serenity:


"There’s no red alert. I talked to engineer Martinelli, who’s the head of the engines, and he said: let me take that engine apart and I’ll tell you everything. You’re right. We are at the top of the World Championship, two drivers that are doing very well, a team that everyone envies us, Todt that is very good, a company that is doing well. How do I not look at the glass from the half-full side? Other than a red alert: in the meeting after the race this morning I said to everyone: go ahead, work quietly, tell me what you need and I’ll take care of it. Maybe not money, it’s hard to find them".


For his upcoming wedding, he would undoubtedly have preferred a gift other than Ferrari:


"Maybe a second place, but that’s okay, because I know they all work well. But please don’t talk about marriage because I’m pissed off. I’ve been reading about some of the rumours on my tab. For example, that I would get the annulment of the previous marriage for having invited Cardinal Biffi to Maranello. But it’s crazy. I had the annulment twenty years ago and His Eminence came to Maranello because he wanted to visit a reality like Ferrari. I read that I have four butlers and eighteen cooks: but are we crazy? At my house in the country there is my old and dear Jole and a Filipino. No, let’s drop it".


Leaving aside the gossip about President Montezemolo, Ferrari immediately gets back to work from July 4, 2000, on the Mugello circuit, where it will have special guests, perhaps not appreciated on the competitive level but certainly more for the economic one: McLaren, that, to access the Tuscan circuit, pays out the modest figure of one hundred and fifty million lire. The duel for the World title continues undeterred even during the tests.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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