Two days after his first career victory in the rain at Hockenheim, Rubens Barrichello is still elated:
"I would have paid any amount for a first time like this. It’s an extraordinary victory, I’m still dreaming".
Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Brazilian performs a test session at the wheel of the F1-2000, however, it is difficult to immediately leave behind his incredible triumph. The images that portray him crying with joy on the podium have been spread around the world, and have had a huge impact on the audience:
"Nothing fake, I was thinking about all the sacrifices made by my family, my efforts, the affection of those who have always believed in me".
Meanwhile, his sponsors gloat: Nokia, his most profitable partner, plans a new advertising campaign based on the images of Sunday, because, as explained by the marketing director, Elisabeth Peart, Barrichello has the ideal profile for this role; Shell, which has been sponsoring Ferrari for five years, launches in Brazil a mega-campaign to distribute forty thousand T-shirts with the photo of Rubinho, and studies a specific sponsorship for the driver. But Rubens is also famous on television (Rede Globo, which has the exclusive on Formula 1 in Brazil, on race day in Germany has tripled the audience, reaching the figures of the times of Senna) and on the Internet. His website, after Hockenheim, has been flooded with visits (200.000) and messages (3.000); the large Brazilian portals offer disproportionate figures. And finally, Viviane Senna, Ayrton’s sister, thanks the Ferrari driver via fax for dedicating the victory to her brother:
"I was touched by your gesture at a time that should have been yours alone. You were barbaric - which in Paulista dialect means wonderful - both as a professional and as a human being".
In Fiorano, on August 2, 2000, Barrichello runs from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, trying some start procedures, aerodynamics and trim for Budapest, for a total of seventy-four laps and a best time of 1'01"682. On August 3, 2000, it is Michael Schumacher’s turn to go on track. The leader of the World Championship was supposed to start his tests on August 4, but Ferrari prefers to anticipate by twenty-four hours to allow him to test set-ups and aerodynamics for Hungary. Michael also engages in some starts practice, which continues to be his Achilles’ heel. Meanwhile, from Germany, the newspaper Bild strongly supports the case of the conspiracy against the Ferrari driver, even going so far as to publish a ranking of the drivers who most hate Schumacher. On the podium of this particular ranking are Villeneuve, Coulthard and Irvine. However, Michael seems to have overcome the accident at the start of the German Grand Prix with Fisichella, with the intention of looking ahead and interrupting a worrying negative streak, where he got just ten points in five races:
"Certainly Hockenheim is not a result that helps from a psychological point of view. It is still a difficult time. I thought that everything could end just last Sunday. I was convinced that I could win, but I’m still optimistic".
Schumacher completes eighty-six laps, the best of which in 1'01"308. The fight for the title has become enormously complicated, and from a comfortable gap that seemed manageable until the end, the German finds himself with only two lengths ahead of Hakkinen and Coulthard:
"Now it’s all more difficult. But it’s good to still be in front of everyone despite so many problems. I see it as positive. There are still a sufficient number of races to change the face of the championship in our favour".
A World Championship that has become balanced with four drivers in ten points:
"Yes, four drivers fighting. What Ferrari has been missing for twenty years. It will be a great effort, thank God that the fourth driver is Rubens. Halfway through the race I decided to leave the track and then things changed and I stopped, but I saw amazing things from Rubens".
Its crucial moment is still at the start:
"I have to make better starts, that’s why I’m working in Fiorano, it is an obligation to answer. In Germany, I got off to a good start in front of Coulthard. The driver who set off in an exemplary way was Hakkinen, who took the lead from the second row. That’s how we should start. Eat 24 metres in a moment".
After the accusations, there are some apologies. Schumacher apologises to Fisichella for having blamed him for the Hockenheim accident:
"At a time like that it is normal to blame everyone who has hit you from behind, but after a self-critical and objective reflection I have to say that it was a racing accident that can always happen".
Then there is Bild’s outburst about his opponents' attacks on his track behaviour:
"I’m a tough driver, I’m not a Rambo. In the last few races I was simply thrown off track by others. However, I am convinced that we will win the world title".
On August 9, 2000, the Fiorano asphalt reaches fifty degrees. Schumacher performs eight starting tests, as well as testing the fourth car for Budapest. Ferrari, in fact, after the vicissitudes of qualifying at Hockenheim where Barrichello had found himself without a car for a good part of the session, because the two main F1-2000 cars were damaged and the forklift was used by Schumacher, decides to show up in Hungary with four cars. An exercise, that of the starts, that for a circuit like Budapest where overtaking is practically impossible, could be very useful. At the end of the test, Schumacher states:
"After the bad series of the last races in Budapest I hope to win again. Already in the past I received similar questions when pole-setters did not win the Grand Prix. I interrupted that streak. Now even this moment will end. The F1-2000 has qualities that make it competitive on all tracks".
This while from his enemies comes another hard attack. It is Jacques Villeneuve - one who never spares declarations of war - to carry it out, in an interview with the German magazine Auto, Motor und Sport:
"Schumacher does not tolerate criticism and takes no account of others' opinions. He entrenched himself behind the hypothesis that we all would only hurt him, but aggression came into play only because he does not listen to us. Things go into one ear and come out the other. It’s not my style to criticise in vain. I don’t think Michael’s starts are very useful for our sport: aggression does not mean attacking the opponent, cutting him off, making him run the risk of an accident. He says that in this way he just tries to defend his position, that the regulations allow him to do it, but it would be better if he reviewed his concepts a bit and started being a champion again. Coulthard in Germany obstructed him in revenge, but things have to change. I hope nothing happens in Hungary. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll try to stay away from my teammate Zonta".
Zonta who in Hockenheim threw him out, and which Jacques seems to no longer endure. An invective against Schumacher, that of the Canadian, rather violent and that goes hand in hand with that launched by Coulthard, another great enemy of the German and with him fighting for the world title, a few days before:
"Michael is never self-critical, always looking for a guilty one, and then he wants others to treat him with respect. I would do what I did in Germany, because the regulations allow me to. The people behind it have to pay attention. Doesn’t Michael always support this?"
War without the exclusion of blows. With Villeneuve adding a touch of irony:
"Let it be clear that my grudge against Schumacher is not due to the Jerez accident in 1997. For that episode I just have to thank him. With that manoeuvre he gave me the world title".
There is also Eddie Irvine, another one who does not hesitate to give him a shot, like his lack of inclination to improve his starts:
"Of course it happens, because Michael feels too strong to try to learn".
In the group of enemies after Hockenheim someone would like to insert Fisichella, but the first to refute this theory is the Ferrari driver himself:
"Ours was a simple race accident, between me and Giancarlo there is nothing. As for the war of others, I do not care. In all fields there are jealousies and dislikes, with some colleagues you get along, with others not. There is nothing unusual. Or worrying".
Better to think of Budapest:
"Where I am very optimistic. Ferrari is working day and night to bring the title back to Maranello. The team has not succeeded for twenty-one years. And you can imagine how many stimuli there are inside the team".
The sports management of the Maranello team had to face and solve enormous difficulties to bring four cars to Budapest, plus a fifth shell reserve because already the day of August, the Tuesday following the Hungarian Grand Prix, testing at Mugello will begin, but the effort had to be made. Of course, to the satisfaction of Barrichello, who interprets it as a sign of great confidence.
"Competition is good for work, it stimulates, it pushes you forward, if my teammate is strong I must be too".
Says Schumacher, not accustomed to such situations if not in some remnants of the previous season with Irvine, although in a particular situation. Rubens adds the following:
"Michael and I will win the title in Ferrari, fighting with two equal cars of McLaren-Mercedes will be a big advantage".
When Ferrari won the last Drivers' World Championship in 1979, two champions such as Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve were necessary to win against the Williams of Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni. They finished first and second.
Since then it has not happened many more times to see a couple of Ferrari drivers fighting for the title. This is also why Maranello’s environment is somewhat unaffected by the favourable situation created by Barrichello’s victory and Schumacher’s crisis of results. In Budapest the two Italians Fisichella and Trulli want to surprise too. Jarno has not yet digested the ten-second Stop&go inflicted for an overtaking, actually never happened, to Rubens Barrichello in Safety Car regime:
"I still think about it, the anger for a possible second place faded this way was huge. But after what happened I feel even stronger than before psychologically".
Fisichella, back from the accident at the start with Schumacher, claims to be optimistic:
"It’s a track I really like and where our car should be fine. The tests carried out in Valencia have shown that we have improved, so we face the trip with positivity".
For Trulli, however, the unknown remains how the car will adapt to the circuit:
"Jordan never got too excited in Hungary in the past. But this year we did well both in Monte Carlo and in Zeltweg, which have similar characteristics. So I am confident. I like the track very much, with difficult corners where it is important to find a good tuning. It is one of the few circuits where the driver can make a difference".
The season has been high and low for both. The most disappointed is definitely Jarno:
"I expected much more. And the team with me after last season. I only got to the bottom a few times, although when I did, I got points. This is partly a consolation, because it shows that when the car goes fast, I fight with the first".
The 2000 season of Giancarlo is rosier:
"We have been through some difficult times, but we are fighting for third place in the constructors’ championship and I’m fighting to finish fifth in the drivers' championship. We want to achieve both goals".
On his future, Trulli is sure to remain at Jordan; Benetton, for its part, is about to announce the renewal of Fisichella’s contract:
"Benetton’s option expires on August 15, but at this point only the signature is missing so that I can stay the next season".
For the world championship, both still see Schumacher as the favourite. Trulli:
"At this point everything is possible. We will see a hard fight. But for me Schumacher is still the favourite. He has paid duty in the last races, and cannot continue to make mistakes".
"We’ll have to wait until the last race to see who gets the chance. But Ferrari has made some progress lately, and Schumacher’s misfortune is bound to end. I think he will win".
On the eve of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Minardi formalises the end of the relationship with Cesare Fiorio. The new sports director will be Gabriele Tredozi. The team of Faenza announces the news with a press release of a few lines:
"Cesare Fiorio no longer serves as sports director, a job he held since January 1999, thus ending his collaboration with the team. This decision was reached by mutual agreement, as the strategic choices of the team were no longer shared".
Florio explains the reasons for this decision:
"When you work, you have to make choices, and ours were no longer reconcilable. Obviously not because of a single party, but reciprocally. I have been in Formula 1 for forty years. When you get older you obviously become more intransigent".
A divorce consummated without rancour:
"It is a decision taken in agreement with Gabriele Rumi, owner of the team".
Then he talks about his experience:
"I arrived in Faenza in 1999. Since then the team has made great steps forward. We have a good structure, a team that works very well. We were always on the grid, we made supplies among the fastest. I mean, I had my satisfactions".
He does not deny that the relationship ended because he no longer shared with Rumi some strategic choices, so he focuses on what the team is missing to obtain more results:
"In Formula 1, the budget is crucial. Without it, a team cannot practice, work on development. Then a better engine and, from today, a Cesare Fiorio".
Once in Budapest, between heat and scorching asphalt, the atmosphere is warm. But President Montezemolo takes care of making the Hungarian Thursday afternoon glowing with a statement about the hierarchies at Ferrari:
"As long as I’m there, in our stable there will never be war between the two drivers".
Ergo, precise hierarchies, with a first and a second driver. Nothing new for what is the recent past of Ferrari, but it is still a statement that even Mika Hakkinen struggles to understand:
"When a boss tells you that, he distracts you and takes away your motivation. Being second a priori creates problems in morale. How can you run, if you already know you can’t win? If McLaren told me something like that, I’d have a hard time getting in the car. I do not think that having a first and a second driver is ideal, it does not happen with us and beating the teammate is a huge stimulus".
Even Barrichello provides a different version of presidential thought:
"To me Montezemolo, when we met after Hockenheim, said different things, he wants Ferrari to win the World Championship at all costs, no matter with whom. Why would they bring a fourth car if I was just here to let Schumacher win? I have won only one race in my life, I do not have the charisma of my three opponents, it would make no sense to stand here and flaunt goals. But my life has changed, now driving is more fun and I will do everything to stay in front".
The goal is yes to help Schumacher, but the hope of becoming a threat to the German is there, too. Schumacher keeps seeing enemies everywhere. The Ferrari driver has no problem talking openly about a real lobby against him:
"I know it exists, a group of drivers has formed it but I am not afraid. I cannot be nice to everyone. The latest accidents, however, have nothing to do with it, because Zonta and Fisichella are not part of my enemies. Nor does it make sense to talk about my crisis. I’m not out of shape, it’s not my fault I haven’t made it past the first corner in the last two races. To prove it I have only one way: to return to win. And I want to do it now. I know that in Austria they take bets on my start: bet on me, this time I get to the bottom".
But Hakkinen also bets on himself:
"Here, winning last year, I came out of a nightmare after Zeltweg and Hockenheim. It’s my favourite circuit".
"Here you cannot pass. You will see that shiver at the start...".
On Friday, August 11, 2000, the Hungarian Grand Prix is immediately lit up during free practice, with a back and forth between Ferrari and McLaren. Ferrari gets on top of the first session thanks to the best time of Schumacher, the second round instead goes to the Silver Arrows, which place Coulthard and Hakkinen ahead of the Maranello pair. The Scottish sets the best time in 1'18'792, beating his teammate by 151 thousandths (1'18"943). Schumacher, for his part, improves on the first hour (1'19"138 his best time) but remains at 346 thousandths from the best time. Further away, in the fourth half, Barrichello: 1'19"896, more than a second behind. Behind the McLaren-Ferrari quartet, the fastest is Trulli, fifth (1'20"104) ahead of Fisichella (1'20"304) and Ralf Schumacher (1'20"307). In the afternoon, the sky clouds and the temperature drops a lot, but in the first half hour Ferrari and McLaren duel to look for the best time in a practice session that is apparently dedicated to the search for performance for Saturday qualifying. Coulthard, with his time, comes about half a second from the pole position achieved in 1999 by Hakkinen (1'18"156). At the end of Friday, Ferrari feels a slight concern. Schumacher explains the main problem:
"Our front tyres wear faster than those of McLaren".
And this cramps Maranello even more than the gap of the German, three tenths away from Coulthard and two from Hakkinen. Because the tyres risk being the balance needle in the race, more than the aerodynamic load or the radiators cooling. On the tyres, Schumacher is behind and this does not leave the technicians quiet, even if Michael for now avoids to stress himself:
"We have not yet found the right set up, we have to improve the car, but the gaps from the two McLarens are contained and for the race I remain optimistic. Of course, we knew which tyres our opponents used...".
Here is one of the focal points of the challenge. Tyre warfare also means hiding your choices. Ferrari should have made Barrichello try the soft (not surprisingly seven tenths slower than his teammate) and the supersoft (better performance, but also more degradation) to Schumacher, while in McLaren the weight of the harder compound should have been on Hakkinen. But tyre warfare is also circumventing the regulation, with a gimmick (already tested when there was the introduction of grooved tyres in 1998) that would cause drivers to consume the tyres to the maximum on Friday, up to zero the four grooves and turn them into forbidden slicks, good for Sunday. Smoother tyres offers great performance, but this is against the rules. The FIA already knows that in 2001 it will intervene with surprise checks on the cars to check the tyre wear, but for this season nothing is expected and on Friday the two McLaren drivers in their twenty laps use only one set of tyres each. Hakkinen talks about having to save the sets of tyres in view of the great heat, but for Schumacher it is also right to be suspicious:
"McLaren strangely always waits a long time before changing the tyres. Is it possible that they never degrade?"
The certainty is that the challenge between the two teams has reached the levels of guard. And among the many battles there is that of nerves. The exchange of blows specifically concerns the two technical directors, Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey. Precise accusations by Brawn:
"Everyone says that we prefer Schumacher, but even at McLaren there is a first and a second driver. In the last two races they brazenly favoured Hakkinen, only they do not have the courage to admit it. While we, in our transparency, we guarantee that we will give the maximum contribution to Barrichello, if he was in the lead of the World Championship".
And Newey, annoyed:
"If Brawn thinks of Zeltweg and Hockenheim, he’s wrong. In Austria we had two cars in the head, it’s normal to freeze positions, you wanted to kick them out? And in Germany with the Safety Car Hakkinen entered the pits only because he was first at that time".
Poison in abundance. But Schumacher does not mind:
"It’s the taste of challenge. Winning with so much tension gives more satisfaction".
At McLaren, unlike the opponents, there is satisfaction after free practice. Hakkinen most of all:
"This is a unique circuit, dirty and with many wedges: traction and balance are essential. Our engineers exceeded my expectations. The change of attitude in the second hour gave me a perfect car".
On Sunday, the Finn and Coulthard will be able to match the record of victories as McLaren drivers (twenty-five, record held by the historic couple Senna-Prost):
"It would be a great time, but I look forward to the end of the race to celebrate it with David. A nice couple Senna and Prost. Great example for me and David. And in the future we will do better, because we will continue to work together".
Smiles and congratulations also for Coulthard:
"Here I noticed a huge progress compared to last year. Already at the tests in Valencia I understood that we would be great here. The car is improving, also in the engine".
Twenty-five wins, like Senna and Prost:
"Yes, I’d like to be at the weekend as the most successful couple of McLaren. But even more to be the World Champion at the end of the season. I have already lost points in Brazil and Canada. I’m not leaving any more. My career is at stake. Here I must win, if I want to continue hoping to conquer the world title".
However, Ferrari remains at the top of the standings:
"Yes, and we will have to do a lot. The Grand Prix presents a great possibility of errors, both on track and in the pit stops. We are close as performance, the fight is restricted. We can not miss anything".
Together with Monaco, this is the most important circuit to start on pole:
"Starting at the front always offers some advantages, here even more. But pole is not enough: it also needs a good start. I did the best time in Hockenheim, but at the first corner I was preceded by Mika".
Schumacher insists that only Hakkinen is his opponent for the World Championship:
"Your business. I disagree".
Controversy continues over the starts. Some say that the start procedure should have been repeated in Hockenheim:
"If the conditions had been met, it should have been decided then. Of course Michael would have liked very much to leave".
Others say that the Scotsman at the start was more focused on Schumacher than on Hakkinen:
"I tried to do the best I could in that situation. I always try to give my best in compliance with the rules".
Will the incident be discussed in the drivers’ meeting?
"It could be a topic of discussion between Fisichella, Schumacher and the others involved".
"That depends on the point of view. The only ones who know exactly what happened are the drivers involved".
When questioned about Schumacher’s statements and the existence of an alleged lobby against him, Jacques Villeneuve replies:
"Me a lobbyist? No, not at all. If he likes to think like that, that’s fine. I don’t care. But there is no lobby, we didn’t agree. I only said that he makes bad starts. And I said it also when, in Hockenheim, the bad start was made by Coulthard, who is my friend".
Jacques rejects the role of head of the anti-schumacher group. But in Ferrari Ross Brawn confirms that someone has made a question of how Schumacher starts, adding:
"I can understand that. But having said that, his starts were accepted by the FIA. So now I think the level of criticism has become so high for revenge. Those who criticise Michael do not do it to prevent him from continuing to make his starts, but for other hidden reasons. And I don’t like it at all. If they want they can discuss it freely and directly with him, not in public".
Then he rules out Michael changing his attitude:
"I think a change of style would be a mistake".
But Villeneuve replies:
"You may think that there is a war going on against Schumacher, but that’s not true. It’s just that certain episodes happen to him often. It is difficult to find a solution. You should work on people, not on laws. And there are not many people who behave in a certain way".
On Saturday, the ongoing controversy does not disturb Schumacher, who gains the pole position with a time of 1'17"514, thanks to which he is ahead of the rival Coulthard by three tenths, and four tenths on the other McLaren of Hakkinen. Ralf Schumacher at the wheel of the Williams-BMW completes the second row, while Barrichello has to settle for the third row, having obtained the fifth time with an eight-tenths gap from his teammate’s pole. The German does not seem to have to struggle more to achieve the pole, the 28th of his career (like Fangio): at the top of the ranking since the beginning of the session, his supremacy is never questioned. Coulthard and Hakkinen’s latest assaults do not bother him: Michael does not even need to force to improve his time on the last useful lap. In full harmony with his F1-2000, he does a great performance before the eyes of an ecstatic Montezemolo. The two McLaren drivers, however, argue with their cars, nervous and unstable. A pole position that represents a solid basis to tie another historical number, in addition to the number of fast laps (forty-one, like Prost), or the forty-first victory, which would allow him to match Senna. The myths make room for him in the art gallery and Schumacher smiles happily. Because this pole position does not give any world points yet, but in a circuit where overtaking is almost impossible, it can be a valid help to return to a success that he has been missing for almost two months. Luca di Montezemolo gives funny faces, smiles, interviews and warnings, without forgetting to celebrate the pole position of Schumacher:
"I’m happy, I hope that now Schumacher has more luck in the race, but we wait for Sunday".
The president alternates convivial moments with secluded meetings, with drivers and collaborators, until the final summit with Ecclestone. With one premise:
"I don’t want to argue, it takes serenity, correctness. And then I am old of Formula 1 and newspapers, and I know well that in August the inventors proliferate. And then I ask not to exaggerate. I assure you that fans and supporters are very baffled by certain interpretations".
Then he attacks:
"Schumacher never spoke of lobbying, a term used by journalists, there was never a controversy between Ross Brown and McLaren. Let’s be serious. We are experiencing the best season in the last twenty-one years, we have two drivers in the fight for the world championship".
And on the situation inside the team, as far as hierarchies are concerned, he says:
"They invented the Irvine myth, a mixture of Fangio, Senna and Nuvolari. Now it’s Barrichello’s turn. Irvine is a good guy, but he has never done a pole in his life. To win the World Championship you have to start on pole and win races. Eddie won, but we also stopped Salo a couple of times".
Barrichello is like Irvine, then?
"Rubens won a very important race, he could also win in England, he made a pole and he is extraordinary, being in his first year in Ferrari. It is a confirmation of the quality of our cars, of the great work that the whole team does. I am very happy with Barrichello, we were all moved by seeing him in tears after the victory at Hockenheim. But let’s not forget the extraordinary work done at the pit wall".
Are we likely to see Schumacher and Barrichello on the same level?
"The strongest will win. But, as I have already said, as long as I am here no Ferrari driver can ever create problems for the other. I want Ferrari to win. Drivers have to run first to let Ferrari win. As Schumacher did in Malaysia. I don’t stop at words. The facts say that five of Ferrari’s six victories are conquered by Schumacher, that he is the driver who has won the most races of all, that is ten points ahead".
Relations with McLaren are certainly not serene:
"No controversy. It’s just time everyone talks about their business. I have the utmost respect for McLaren. Behind it, I’ve seen more serious zigzagging. For the starts, it is perhaps right to establish new rules, that the drivers for a certain stretch maintain the trajectory. But if there are no rules, whoever is in front can do one, two fake moves, like Ronaldo. Today whoever is in front can do whatever he wants. I think it is extravagant that some, especially in Italy, see Schumacher’s faults. There were two episodes: in the first a driver came to apologise, a unique case; in the second if Michael had done what Coulthard did last time, there would have been such a fuss. The reality is that only those who know how Formula 1 works can discuss Schumacher. But the important thing really is to stop the controversy and follow this world championship that is exciting and hard, as this race is going to be".
Although Montezemolo preaches calm and serenity, Coulthard does not:
"At the first corner the door is open and I want to get into it".
Schumacher intends to exercise caution in a precise way:
"Run away. Flee with a flying start, so as not to be rammed by anyone. Because the other remedy, starting last, the security level would be bomb-proof. But then how do I win the race?"
Instead, here, Michael must absolutely triumph:
"And I have good opportunities, because we fixed the car, found the right set-up. In qualifying I was very fast, and I’m sure I can have the same speed in the race".
A state of mind very different to that of Hakkinen, worried about the limits of despair, shaken by a car that just does not want to become balanced:
"During the qualifying hour we made a lot of radical changes on the car, but they didn’t help. I’m not satisfied, I haven’t been satisfied all weekend. We’ve never found the right balance, I’ve never been able to pull out all the speed we have. Schumacher did not make an exceptional time, we were the ones to lose. Every hop was a torment. And here, on this circuit, there are countless jumps".
A real cry of pain. Also due to those extra soft tyres, which he hates:
"In Monte-Carlo and Magny-Cours I was also forced to use them, and qualifying was a disaster. Luckily there is still time for the race, we will have to start again. And we will. Because the current car is too difficult to drive".
"I did not expect to suffer a similar detachment from Schumacher. All the fault is of the set up, they are evidently ahead".
Music for the ears of Schumacher who, instead, sees everything downhill:
"I expected to be competitive, but not this much. The race is something else, but today’s result is a good basis. Being on pole helps a lot. Now let’s see how the two McLaren drivers behave at the start, while I trust my brother Ralf. In fact, it would be wonderful if he could fit behind me, keeping Hakkinen and Coulthard behind".
A icing on the cake. How to turn the race into a triumphant march, although tyres and heat do not leave him in peace. However, Schumacher is not afraid of the heat:
"I will drink a little more during the race".
Different is the tyre talk, real unknown. Not to mention the chimneys, which continue to stay in the corner:
"We’ve never used them before, is it good to do it tomorrow?"
Probably not. And so they will still remain in the pits, despite the predictions announce a hot Sunday. In seventh place, behind Frentzen’s Jordan, Giancarlo Fisichella has elements to recriminate. His anger is with Schumacher, guilty of having slowed him down:
"On my last lap Schumacher hindered me, I could have finished fourth, starting from the second row".
Conscious of his involuntary blockage, three hours after the end of qualifying Schumacher apologises in the Benetton box:
"It was our mistake. I didn’t want to stop Giancarlo, I thought it was Wurz in his launch lap. Ross Brawn tried to warn me, but he hit the wrong button and instead of talking to me he warned Barrichello".
A thesis confirmed by the technical director of Ferrari. Fisichella takes note, but two weeks after the accident with the Ferrari driver in Hockenheim the bitterness remains.
On Sunday morning the warm-up that precedes the race sees Coulthard at the top of the standings, with a time of 1'19"261. The Scotsman precedes Schumacher by a tenth, and Barrichello’s other Ferrari by seven. In fifth place there is Hakkinen, who continues to struggle to find the right set-up. In the early afternoon, a few minutes from the start, the mechanics of the Anglo-German team work particularly on the front of the single-seater, with the hope that these last modifications can give the turning point. At the traffic lights, Coulthard is not the author of an excellent start, unlike Hakkinen who replicates the exceptional start made in Germany. The Finn takes advantage from the first metres of the Schumacher trail, so as to get paired at Ferrari in the first corner, where the German can do nothing but join the McLaren of the defending champion. Coulthard follows in third position, defending himself from the timid attacks of Ralf Schumacher, fourth. Barrichello and Frentzen maintain their respective positions, completing the points zone. During the first lap, Jacques Villeneuve loses the front wing during a battle in the middle of the group, and is forced to return to the pits to replace it. The leading trio of Hakkinen, Schumacher and Coulthard runs away, but the race leader constantly gains on his pursuers lap after lap, and the same happens for Schumacher against Coulthard. Close to the points area, Fisichella ends up spinning at the first corner following an excessively deep break that misleads Jenson Button, who ends up slightly wide but at least manages to avoid contact with Benetton.
All this takes advantage of Eddie Irvine, who passes both and brings his Jaguar in seventh place. The race is very static: Hakkinen continues to push without ever lowering the pace, and doing so the gap on Schumacher increases vertiginously. After about twenty-five of the seventy-seven laps to go, the mechanics of Ferrari are preparing to welcome Schumacher to the pits. The first of the scheduled stops of the German lasts 7.3 seconds, and puts him back on track in fifth place, just behind Barrichello, who in the meantime has never managed to pose a threat to Ralf Schumacher. With the latter going to the pits the next lap, and Barrichello stepping aside, Michael does not waste time and is immediately on the track to be able to push to the maximum, more to be safe from Coulthard's attacks than to worry Hakkinen. Meanwhile, Ralf Schumacher’s belay is prolonged due to problems in fixing a tyre. The pit-stop of the young German lasts 10 seconds, that of Barrichello in the next lap just 6.7. A discrepancy that allows Barrichello to gain the fourth position. After the first stop of Hakkinen and Coulthard, the six leading positions record no change. Compared to the first stint, Schumacher struggles to acquire the right rhythm, so much so that Coulthard, five seconds away, approaches in a short time. On lap 50, Schumacher and Coulthard have been travelling together for a while now, but the Scotsman is never able to attack, on a tortuous circuit and with a few overtaking points.
So we get to the second series of pit-stops: the first to return is Barrichello, then it is up to Schumacher, who precedes Coulthard in the pits to secure himself from an undercut. Michael’s stop lasts 7.7 seconds, while that of the McLaren driver, the lap after, lasts only 6.6 seconds. At the exit of the pit lane, McLaren and Ferrari are practically paired. Schumacher, however, manages to retain the second place for fractions of a second. Coulthard tries to use the moment to bring more pressure on the German, who never lets himself be impressed and does not make any mistake that can favour the opponent. At McLaren they do not take well the conduct of Marc Gené, guilty of having slowed down Coulthard at the crucial moment of the fight with Schumacher, that is close to the second pit-stop. After the race, Ron Dennis openly criticises Minardi’s driver, assuring that without that complicated lapping, David would surely have taken second place. The same Scottish driver will attack:
"Gene’s manoeuvre was decisive, because then overtaking Ferrari was impossible. I don’t understand why Gene let one car through easily and not the other".
For his part, Giancarlo Minardi turns off the controversy remembering that his driver was penalised with a Stop&go for not respecting the blue flags, but not to the detriment of Coulthard, but of Irvine. For Minardi, Coulthard would lose just half a second to overtake Gené, just like Schumacher.
What McLaren must surely complain about is the lap in which they decided to recall Coulthard, because in the tank of the car there was enough fuel to allow the driver to make another six laps. Considering Schumacher’s rather slow race pace, some more laps with an unloaded car would have guaranteed the overtaking on the German. However, fifteen laps from the end, Hakkinen travels to success alone, while behind him Schumacher has to think only to limit the damage and defend himself from Coulthard. The championship leadership, however, slips away. The race does not offer any kind of emotion: only the engine problems of Button allow spectators to witness a couple of overtaking manoeuvres by Trulli and Irvine at the expense of the Williams driver. The Hungarian Grand Prix ended after an hour and forty-five minutes of total domination by Mika Hakkinen, who won for the third time this season, conquering the championship leadership for the first. Schumacher and Coulthard complete the podium, Rubens Barrichello is fourth ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Michael Schumacher gained points after three consecutive retirements and climbed to 62 points, but Hakkinen, thanks to the victory, can boast 64. In addition, even in the constructors, Ferrari is overtaken by McLaren, which completes the comeback on the Maranello team: 112 points to 111. Motivations, those that no longer had to have the twice-reigning World Champion, soon to be dad, resigned to defeat, seated, overconfident. From ten races (out of twelve disputed) he gets into the points zone, and counts three wins and five second places; after the third race he was twenty-four points ahead of Schumacher, after Budapest he is two points ahead. The previous year, winning in Budapest, he emerged from a deep crisis:
"Now this success could give me the decisive impetus. I have many stimuli. Then tell me what they want. I just think about collecting as many points as possible".
At a press conference, about his exceptional start, Mika says:
"In Germany I said that only once a year you can start so well. Well, I have to correct and say that you can do it twice in a year. I had an excellent sprint, which allowed me to overtake Michael and David already at the first corner. The fight with Michael was tough, but that’s how racing is. Above all, it is important to know how to be aggressive but at the same time to leave the fight intact, and that’s what we did today".
Then he is asked how he managed to gain so much in terms of speed between the warm-up and the race. Schumacher comes in jokingly, saying:
"Do you really expect an answer?"
Hakkinen smiles, then comments:
"This is the great work of my team, which made some changes that we thought were the right ones to improve the situation. The car was a whole other thing. Obviously I can’t talk about the changes specifically, but I can assure you it was very fast".
Michael Schumacher cannot say the same, but he does not complain about anything:
"The tyres were fine, even the set up was discreet".
Attacking Hakkinen, however, was never a possibility:
"When the phase is critical, talking is silver and silence is gold. You just have to think about driving. Working and looking ahead".
Some critical voices of the paddock do not miss an opportunity to remember the difficulties of the German at the start. Some shrewd spirits joked that Schumacher would not start well even for the holidays, but President Montezemolo says that Ferrari still cannot give its drivers a good starting system like that of McLaren. It had been supposed for a long time, but to the fury of hearing the technicians of Maranello talking about great works on the clutch, it was thought that there had been progress; instead, the deficit persists. Apart from the starts, we must above all ask ourselves where the Ferrari ended at the beginning of the season, because the mid-season one is struggling and does not seem to be able to keep up with the Anglo-German rivals. Montezemolo does not hide the disappointment for the start, where he understood that winning would be an undertaking. In front of the pit wall monitors, even Jean Todt and Ross Brawn had understood that the race was marked, as well as faded is the idea of being stronger and that only circumstances, accidents and war between the drivers had blocked Ferrari and Schumacher. The president tries to draw a positive balance, rejecting the idea of surrender, trying to send positive messages, but also putting the finger in the wound, where Ferrari has remained behind. But the bitterness is so great:
"Congratulations to them, a beautiful race, a deserved victory. We knew that the start was fundamental here, and McLaren with Hakkinen did better. Really a start to fulmicotone, perfect. They obviously have a better starting system than ours. Congratulations. We will have to work hard, but we are always competitive, the team proved to be competitive. Certainly today we could have done better, but even worse. Let’s not forget that without having practically run two races, Schumacher is second to two points. And that we collected much more than last season. Now it’s a race between us and McLaren, the difference with other teams is crazy. Every point we lose goes to them, and vice versa. It will be a very hard fight. Just win a race and it all starts again. From now on it is important that Barrichello is in front of one McLaren and Schumacher in front of the other. Here those who passed in front would have won. Hakkinen did it. If Schumacher had started in front, we would have won".
A certainty that the German driver himself disassembles:
"We’re back, I tried to be attacked for five laps. Useless. Had I started in the lead, Hakkinen would have passed me".
Michael has the sadness in his heart and a great concern in his words:
"Perhaps it is too early to say that there has been a breakthrough. But we are behind. And if we continue like this, we have no chance, that is clear. But the way the race went, I can declare myself satisfied. I bring home six precious points, having kept Coulthard behind. Hakkinen was impregnable, he pulled something exceptional out of his car, there was no fight".
Now Ferrari must not doze off:
"The championship is not closed, the hunt continues. We have a small gap that by the next race we will definitely try to fill. Being behind by two points doesn’t mean anything. The fight is tight, but if we succeed in winning the title, the pleasure will be even more intense".
Jean Todt, as usual, defends his troops, including the drivers, from every attack. Then, with the coldness of the strategist, he analyses the facts and draws his future and that of the Maranello team:
"No, we can’t talk about a bad blow: we have two cars on the finish line, one in second and the other in fourth position. At the Hungaroring we put in the game nine important points. I consider it a bad blow only when you abandon on the first lap. But it is true that, for the first time of the season, we are no longer in the lead of the two championships: for one point in the constructors' championship and for two in the drivers' championship".
Todt is disappointed, of course, for the missed victory of Schumacher after the splendid pole on Saturday, but he sticks who would like to incriminate the start of his top driver:
"Michael’s start was not a prudent one, but a cautious one. We realised that the first corner was important and we are happy to have passed it. But it’s true we didn’t expect such an aggressive Hakkinen. For three or four laps Schumacher managed to follow him, then defended his position ahead of Coulthard and Barrichello, the one ahead of Ralf. There are five races left at the end of the championship and on the eve of the Hungaroring we said that the World Championship would be played starting from Spa. The real problem is that Schumacher did not have a perfect set-up and that Barrichello started from fifth place".
Todt admits that McLaren-Mercedes has taken a big step forward since the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. But that does not mean he wants to gloss over the delicate terrain of McLaren’s start management systems:
"There is a gap between us and them. A difference that is not immense, but we will have to close it as soon as possible. We will work to do better at the start, to progress quickly both at engine and aerodynamical level".
Then the Frenchman tries to stop those who would like to turn the Hungarian Sunday into another Waterloo. For Todt is not the case to announce that the title they are expecting for twenty-one years and that until a few Sundays ago some had already started sewing on the suit of Schumacher, is now lost for the third time in a row against the same opponent:
"We were ahead in the two standings and now we are behind them, we were ahead in qualifying on Saturday and we stayed behind them in the race, we have to understand why and reduce the small, but very important gap that separates us from our opponents".
And to those who would like to draw hasty conclusions from the great overtaking suffered at the Hungaroring he says:
"The same people who would now like to embroider, with great anticipation, a new title on Hakkinen’s suit, were the same people who just said that the Finn was to retire".
After the success in Germany and the tears of joy for the first victory in Formula 1, in Hungary Rubens Barrichello is driven back into a world that perhaps hoped to have abandoned: relegated back, with the only overtaking that counts in his race made by the mechanics, during the pit stops. At the end of the race, drained by the Hungarian heat, Rubens declares:
"After forty laps I had already drunk all the water, almost two litres. I don’t know how many kilos I lost. Hot, thirsty. For me everything had become difficult after Saturday. Bad in qualifying, necessarily bad in the race. I had to change my strategy; the car wasn’t doing very well. In the end, something must have broken and I had to slow down again. For what we have seen here we just have to say that they are stronger. They start well, but there is no difference. I, when I started running like Schumacher and Coulthard, was already 20 seconds behind. The guys at the pits did a good job and I overtook Ralf Schumacher. I really don’t like this track, it’s narrow, full of curves and you can’t overtake".
A track decidedly different from Budapest that will host at the end of August the thirteenth race of the World Championship. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, where Michael Schumacher made his Formula 1 debut and where he won four times during his career. A statistic that smiles at him, since Hakkinen, among the Ardennes, counts zero successes, while Coulthard has one, obtained in 1999. The 2000 World Championship, thus, enters its final phase.