Did you sleep well, Michael Schumacher, after the race that crowned him for the third time in his career Formula 1 World Champion?
"Practically nothing. I was struggling at first to realize what had happened. I get it now, but it’s always hard to find the right words to describe how I feel. I brought the world championship back to Maranello after twenty-one years, I crowned a dream. It is the most beautiful thing that happened to me in life".
Will he ever forget Suzuka’s victory?
"When I passed the finish line I felt the greatest emotion of my career. I had never exulted so. I lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. Finally world champion, with Ferrari. A liberation. The last lap was the longest of my life. I wasn’t me, I was completely gone, out of my mind. I cried, laughed, I didn’t understand anything anymore".
Five years of Ferrari to become champion. Did you think you had to wait so long?
"I hoped that the wait would be shorter. I was convinced, but for three years we were just close. The bitterness of the last race, the disappointment: Jerez, twice Suzuka with me and then Irvine. But for this reason now the joy is greater. It pays for everything. I had already won two world championships, but it is absurd to approach them to this. Ferrari does not have the history of Benetton, Ferrari in Formula 1 is the myth. Who triumphs on this car becomes a legend".
Three times champion, but Fangio has reached five titles. Do you hope to reach him?
"Forget it. It makes no sense to talk about new goals now, I just want to enjoy this triumph. Indeed, we can talk about a goal: we are one step away from the Constructors title, we are three points short. In Malaysia I will fight like crazy to give the team also this success".
However, there is talk of winning Barrichello, considering a promise made by the German to Rubens after he had given up in overcoming him in Canada:
"I’m happy to help him, but Rubens can do just fine on his own. He’s the team mate who put the most pressure on me, the closest he ever came to my time. On many occasions it has been very fast, with him Ferrari has a great future. In Montreal he was very intelligent in understanding the situation, in Hockenheim he won a crucial race. For himself, for the team and for me too, since he took four points from Hakkinen".
Speaking of Hakkinen, did you see how he accepted defeat?
"I have never known such a loyal person. The way he reacted is splendid. There are pilots who, when they are defeated, complain, spit out poison. He never loses control, and if he does, he recognizes your superiority. Mika doesn’t like to lose, but he is correct and calmly accepts the verdict. He’s the nicest rival I’ve ever had, as well as the best and the hardest. And then how do you call him a loser? There were two of us, we dominated, no one is able to approach us today. I hope it continues for many years, duels with him are very exciting".
Father Schumacher returns home as world champion. What will he say to his children?
"First I have to give Gina Maria back the bell I put in the suit. My daughter is amazing: every time I leave she entrusts me with a lucky charm. I don’t believe in the Cabals, but it seems to work. And then it’s such a tender gesture".
Did you ever think you lost again this year?
"Never. I had signals that made me realize that it would not be easy, but I did not give up. Of course, without the troubles of Monte-Carlo, Magny Cours, Zeltweg and Hockenheim I could have ended the speech in advance. But it wouldn’t have been so exciting".
Everyone talks about Monza as the key Grand Prix of the season:
"An important success. But it was decisive to be very fast and reliable from the beginning".
At the end of 1995, after two world titles, Michael left Benetton to join Ferrari. The first impression was as follows:
"It looked like my friends' go-kart shop".
This is how Schumacher begins, with something that closely resembles an offense, the story that Schumacher tells Bild of his adventure with Ferrari.
"I immediately understood that there was a lot of work. The mechanics were and are fantastic, but the whole organization...well, even the supposed little Benetton was much more developed. However, we must not forget that for Ferrari it is doubly difficult, because it produces both engines and chassis".
All thanks to Schumacher, then, the rebirth? No, the German says that the key name is another:
"Jean Todt. He’s a friend of mine, he’s one of the most upright and honest people I know. With his work, Todt has made Ferrari one of the most modern teams in the world, we have become a fantastic team, and if he hadn’t been there I would never have become World Champion, ever".
And besides Todt, what was the secret to success?
"Unity. We win and lose together, as in a football team".
After the men of Ferrari and rival Hakkinen, the first that Michael embraced was Flavio Briatore, the man who discovered it ten years earlier and made him enter Formula 1. Flavio remembers that moment with pleasure:
"It was the end of 1990, and I was recently at Benetton, a small team, with little money and much need to grow. I couldn’t think of big-name drivers because I didn’t have the money to pay them, nor would they ever accept a team to redo. So I invested the first money in the reorganization and in the technical field. Then I thought to bet on young drivers, but I didn’t know any. I happened to meet a Mercedes man, then engaged in another type of car racing, who gave me three names to follow: Schumacher, Frentzen and Wendlinger. But I had the drivers for the 1991 season and I could not change. At some point in the championship a Jordan driver, Gachot, had to be replaced. I spoke to Eddie Jordan right away and we arranged for him to hire this Schumacher for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. And it was at Spa that I personally met Michael. I immediately liked him for his ability to concentrate, for his preparation. For his way of thinking that was not usual in a 22-year-old boy. He had great confidence and this convinced me definitively. He had his first race at Spa and the next day he came to my house in London. That first experience of Formula 1 had enormously motivated him. Jokingly I told him not to expect much money from me but he overlooked this subject. He wanted to know about the machine, the programs, the men of the team. The money was not his first motivation and perhaps not even the second".
After the Belgian Grand Prix came the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and Briatore fired one of his drivers, the Brazilian Moreno, and took Schumacher:
"All hell broke loose, we ended up in front of the Magistrate of Monza in a case that I won and Michael stayed with me and Benetton. And he gave us a great help in the development of the machine. And I discovered something else: his great ability to motivate the people who work with him. It created an exceptional feeling, one of the causes of the success we had. He knew that if we grew up, more money would come in and we could develop the machine faster. And he came with me on a sponsor hunt. When I went to Japan to bring the biggest cigarette manufacturer in that country to Formula 1 as a sponsor, Michael came with me. The same thing happened when we went to Renault to get the engines. He immediately proved to be a great worker, one who sacrifices himself and makes others sacrifice and in the end the results come and everyone is happy. And that’s what he did to Ferrari. But if Ferrari is back in the world it certainly owes it to Michael, but also to Jean Todt who wanted it and was able to create the right team around him. The same was true of Ross Brawn, the man who rebuilt Benetton and led it to become World Champion".
With the constructors' title won in 1999, and the chance to win both championships this season, Brawn’s goal is clear: Ferrari wants to open a cycle. The technician-strategist, the man whom Barrichello calls master and whose Schumacher, first in Benetton and then in Ferrari, never wanted to do without:
"For four years we have been working together, always the same group of people, thanks to Fiat and President Montezemolo. The critics wanted changes, our summit resisted. And the prize is this world title. I’m very good in Italy, I’m happy to work for Ferrari, I hope my career here is still very long and full of success".
An elegant way to kill the voices that would like it in a perpetual departure, tempted by the British. Now that the best part comes, Ross Brawn doesn’t want to miss it:
"Many people argue that the McLaren is the best car, but it is a colossal injustice to Byrne, who designed our car. This year the Ferrari is at least as competitive as its opponent, if not more. It is well built, easy to balance. We had problems on the rear tires, they were worn and heated too much, but after Magny Cours everything was solved. This Ferrari is fantastic, deserved the world championship".
And above all, Schumacher deserved it, to whom Brawn is tied by double thread:
"I’ve never worked with Senna and Prost, I can’t compare them to Michael, but Schumacher is the best of the new generation. He always takes the car to the max, even when he doesn’t seem to be able to offer it. Other drivers give up, he doesn’t. Schumacher is very committed to the development of the car and this allows him to have a great feeling with the car and the team".
Congratulations in return, as Schumacher often uses the word masterpiece in describing Brawn’s decisions. Suzuka is the last example, with that overtaking on Hakkinen in the pits that meant world title. Strategist Ross, shy, does not like excessive praise:
"The whole team deserves the credit. And the rain helped us a bit".
But above all they worked the calculations on the gasoline to put in the car, and on the laps to cover. Precise calculations, made by a Brawn three times World Champion, like Schumacher. As pointed out by Briatore, another important figure in the success of Ferrari is Jean Todt, who remembers the day of his arrival at Ferrari, specifically when a driver told him that he would never succeed in winning anything. That pilot was certainly not just anyone, given that it was Alain Prost, one that had not remained in good relations with the environment of Maranello. A year earlier, in these times, the sports director of Ferrari was booed at the Festa dell'Unità in Modena by fans and then resigned for the case of the deflectors at Sepang. They were rejected by Montezemolo, and so now he can tell how he became the architect, his definition, of success:
"What happened will remain imprinted on my skin and in my head until the end of my days. In 1994, when Berger won my first Ferrari Grand Prix, I said to myself: now I can get kicked out but I can at least say that I experienced a victory as a Ferrari driver. It was only the first step, Sunday we made the second".
After making three mistakes:
"In 1997 in Jerez we got very close: only fifteen laps from the end. And at the wall of Suzuka when thirteen laps were missing I could not help but tell me: I’ve already lived this. I was terrified. But another important moment at Ferrari, though underestimated by many, was last year’s constructors' championship. Winning that driver is no longer difficult, indeed".
Six seconds will remain in the history of Ferrari: those of the pit stop masterpiece in Suzuka:
"We have a great team, I wanted to put many people on the podium with me. And I would have liked to bring here more mechanics of the seventy present. We had so much to get here".
The dedication to Montezemolo is obvious:
"He took a big risk taking me because for all Italians it would have been better to see an Italian and not a French in my role. I always knew, and it never bothered me. Maybe he had no alternative but it was a gamble: as the fact of defending me also against many external pressures, including those of shareholders who saw a paid so much to win but did not see the results. As for the history of the deflectors, of course I was the target: I am responsible and if there is a mistake I have to pay. Then I was glad that the facts proved not to be a mistake".
His contract expires in 2001:
"I am a man of will. The motivation that drives me to move forward is to win: it is like hunger. At first I thought it would be difficult for me to live in Italy and instead it was the easiest thing. In fact, I don’t know if I will be able to leave Italy. Since I’m in Ferrari we have gone 101 times on the podium. It would be nice to do more. I’m already thinking about Malaysia and the car of 2001. It’s a drug, and if it ends up better to go and do something else".
What did this Frenchman bring to Ferrari and vice versa?
"Inside of me I always refused to think of Ferrari as a different stable: it would have meant not doing things properly. I tried to run it like any other company, always realizing what it represents. For me it was a course of life: I learned to suffer, to take hard hits without taking into account, to never give up thinking even to those six hundred boys in production that Schumacher have never seen. So I managed to keep the team strong, clean, winning. In a passionate environment I brought method, mentality and procedures. I found a stable in crisis, I made sure that the wind always blew in a single direction. That I am a hard man you invented it. Sometimes I just imposed things not easy to understand".
Moving on to defeats, the first day as a former Formula 1 monarch, Mika Hakkinen spent it in Southeast Asia, in Singapore. A short holiday with his wife Erja, before heading to Sepang for the last act of a championship that the Finnish driver will try to close in beauty, hitting the fifth success of the season, almost two months from the last caught in the Belgian Grand Prix. A few days of relaxation will serve to get rid of the tension accumulated during an entire season that for the top driver of McLaren had incredible ups and downs: the false start, the need to recover on Michael, a part of the season colorless, then the summer resurrection that had its best image in the overtaking of Spa, and then ended with the three consecutive defeats in Monza, Indianapolis and Suzuka that forced him to give the world crown to Schumacher and Ferrari.
A sad epilogue that the McLaren driver knew how to live as a great gentleman with gestures of sincere sportsmanship and a serene smile always printed on the face, so much so that before leaving Suzuka joined the festivities of Schumacher. Paradoxically the new situation of deposed sovereign could even be convenient in this period, because almost certainly the promotional commitments will have a moment of fatigue and he will have more time to stay close to Erja, that will soon make him a father for the first time. Meanwhile, Mika can already draw the conclusions:
"On the one hand I’m really sorry for how it ended on Sunday, but on the other I also realize that I certainly could not expect to remain World Champion forever. Sometimes it is logical, indeed right that someone else wins, because otherwise the world of sport would be of an incredible boredom. And I have no intention of spoiling the natural atmosphere of party that you can breathe in these days at Ferrari and in the clan of Michael, saying maybe that Suzuka was not a good race, that the championship was bad, also because I do not think so at all. This has been an exciting and fun season however it ended for me. Michael and I have always fought loyally, often creating great spectacle. Arriving second, therefore, is not a disgrace".
The grade the former world champion gives to his seventh world championship season is therefore high:
"I think I’ve done a great championship anyway. Take for example the race at Suzuka: even after being overtaken by Schumacher I did not give up at all and I tried to chase him, trying to pull to the max. Something I actually recovered, also because I imagined that he ran at a more cautious pace considering that the asphalt was slimy, and so on the last lap I went even beyond my limit to try to catch him".
On the team, it says:
"I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me this year. In short, I only regret that in Formula 1 there is no tie rule because we certainly deserved to get it. I believe that to redeem us we must start from here, from what is positive in this defeat".
The challenge for 2001 is therefore already being re-launched:
"I know what people I work with, so I’m not at all worried about 2001. Ours is a group of experienced people, who know how to handle victories as well as defeats. That’s why there is no excessive disappointment in the stable. For us fighting for the World Championship is never a nightmare but always a pleasure".
With his eyes turned to the upcoming season, on October 13, 2000, Luca Badoer concludes the test session on the circuit of Fiorano. Forty-eight laps, fastest in 1'01"209; two starting simulations. The program developed: development of new mechanical components, brakes and reliability accessories. Badoer, a Ferrari test driver since 1998, laughs at the effects that the conquest of the World Championship has left on the faces of those who returned to Maranello. Her hair is also at risk after some mechanics' hair was cut in Japan. In Malaysia, Luca will be on the runway, an award trip decided by Jean Todt:
"Do not write that I am going to replace someone. I will be there to suffer. We are still a victory for the other title".
Then on holiday:
"We will see. After Malaysia, there are still ten days to test".
The most beautiful memory?
"The test results. Schumacher remembered me in Japan: it was the best award. We work in tune, there is a great exchange of information. And we feel even when you do not have to talk about work".
The worst of it?
"When they chose Mika Salo over Michael who was injured last year. It is not, however, when you break an engine, but if the solutions found with so much effort are not competitive in the race. And I remember the German Grand Prix: when I saw Michael standing off the track and Rubens so far behind I was sick. I turned off the television, I cursed, I sent everything to hell. Then I repented. I turned on and the Grand Prix gave me strong feelings. I was looking forward to filming Rubens' camera car: my fantasy was flying".
It was the Brazilian’s first victory:
"I was very nervous during those last laps, with dry tires and such a tricky track. I concentrated on that risky choice, the only winner: only in those conditions had an advantage. I remembered my fourth place at the Nürburgring, with the Minardi in similar conditions. I missed it for a gear failure. When I saw Rubens at the checkered flag, on the podium, I felt an envy that I cannot describe".
How did F1-2000 grow this year?
"The most important breakthroughs have come since September. But we have wide areas of improvement: working at 360, we found nice news. And something might be ready for the last Grand Prix. In the workshop they are working non-stop. The development also served to identify new areas of intervention for the machine of 2001".
When can you see a Ferrari starting like the McLaren?
"The technical and regulatory limitations imposed by the AIF do not allow for a fully assisted management of the departure procedure. The technology comes up to a certain point. Always count the pilot. You can optimize everything you want, but the driver can not intervene with the tests. That’s why try and try again the departures is essential. We need the maximum harmony with Formula 1 in a moment that is decisive for the race, even if it starts from pole".
When did you realize that the driver’s title was within reach of Schumacher?
"At Spa, despite that result. Monza and the other races confirmed it. But since the beginning of the season I had understood that this F1-2000 would not allow McLaren and Hakkinen to gain the advantage that would put him away from the surprises that Ross Brawn, a magician of strategy, can find. Ross knows perfectly the data of tyre consumption, availability of fuel and the race situation, for laps to determine the exact time of the stop for refueling".
With the third title, thanks to which he reached Ayrton Senna, Schumacher can already set the next goal. The fourth World Cup, in fact, would allow him to engage Alain Prost. The Frenchman is aware of it, but he doesn’t seem to care much. By now his career as a driver is the past, and Alain, forty-five years old, four world titles, fifty-one victories (absolute record: Schumacher has forty-three), now he thinks only to get out of the buckets with his team, which this year has not won even a point.
Is it your fault? A confusing management, some man not in the right place, resignation in the race of the technical director, a collaboration by Peugeot that deserves some psychoanalytic session to be fully deciphered. A long, painful list. Prost realizes it and then willingly speaks of other things, knowing that in the future it will be better for him. Alain, before the arrival of Schumacher, was the last driver in Ferrari to touch the World Championship: if there had been the famous accident in Suzuka with his eternal rival Senna, perhaps it would have been his honor to bring the title back to Maranello:
"Maybe, but at the base there is that today Ferrari has bet everything on Schumacher, while that year I had thirty-five points ahead of my teammate Mansell, yet the team continued not to express hierarchies. Now there was a different philosophy and a different management. Schumacher and Barrichello had stability and clarity, this allowed them to work well and Michael to conquer the World Championship".
How did the Frenchman feel when he saw Ferrari triumph, also in light of the fact that next year he will have Ferrari engines on his cars?
"I was naturally happy, the title was well deserved. Ferrari can boast of not having won for luck, but for merit".
On the driving level, what’s the best part about Schumacher?
"He is an always motivated driver, ready to fight. And with this commitment he pushes those around him to give more. Even in the tests he shoots like crazy. In driving he has no weaknesses".
And what about Hakkinen?
"On Mika weighed the first three empty races. Fault of the lack of reliability of his car. He certainly did not miss it in Suzuka, the World Championship. When you’re World Champion for two years in a row and you throw away the first three races, you’re automatically under pressure and it gets harder. Had he won two out of three races, at the beginning, the appearance of this championship would have changed".
Where to place Schumacher in a ranking of the greatest ever:
"In the area of Seine and the larger ones. I would avoid comparisons between ages. I would also put Hakkinen high, very high. Mika is an amazing pilot".
Will it be possible to avoid, perhaps as early as next year, that any result is undermined by the suspicion of irregularities, traction controls hidden in software, FIA commissioners who, if they want, do not see?
"Very difficult. It is a complex problem. On the one hand, complaints should be avoided to ensure that the regulation is respected. On the other hand, if one has a doubt about a rival car, it is right that he makes a protest. The difficulty is that today there is such a vast technology on Formula 1 that the regulations leave room for suspicion. The way in which the rules are drawn up and the way in which they are checked must be changed. Complaints are always negative: for those who make them and for those who are brought under investigation. It is not beautiful".
Will the future still be Ferrari-McLaren?
"Yes, for at least two more years".
What about next year’s Prost-Ferrari?
"It is being born on the basis of an engine World Champion. It is not a small thing. Finally, for two years, we will have stability and we can work on everything else. The new machine is already outlined. Now I have to take care of the organization. For the second pilot, who will support Alesi, I’m not in a hurry".
"Certainly not to win a Grand Prix next season. Against Ferrari and McLaren, I repeat, there will be little to do. But Prost has found serenity and will certainly work better".
Once in Sepang, you can immediately notice how different the atmosphere is compared to the previous year. In 1999, the season of the first edition of the Malaysian Grand Prix, the championship was characterized by the fight in the drivers' title between Hakkinen and Irvine, the return to Schumacher races more than three months after the dramatic accident at Silverstone, and the curiosity to get to know this futuristic circuit designed by the German architect Hermann Tilke, which the Malays built by wiping out a slice of equatorial forest. Everyone then remembers how it ended on Sunday, with the joy for the double of the Ferrari, extinguished by the disqualification triggered by the alleged irregularity of the deflectors. In 2000, however, thanks to the fact that almost all the protagonists are veterans of a week spent on the most beautiful beaches of South-East Asia, you can breathe the classic air of last day of school, which even the assignment of the title builders manages to cancel. The usual Gerhard Berger jokes saying:
"Of course everyone is so relaxed: don’t you know that they have already agreed? The drivers' title went to Michael and now it’s up to McLaren to take home the constructors' one".
In fact, for Ferrari to hit this second World Championship for the second consecutive year should be easy: at Maranello it would be enough to place a car in fourth place even if McLaren hit a double. But please, Jean Todt warns:
"But we must not forget what happened in Indianapolis: we have overturned the standings, taking home sixteen points while our rivals have won only two. What if it’s our turn on Sunday?"
A catastrophic scenario that, however, hardly fits in with the prudential policy of the leader of Ferrari. Especially since the engines 049C will rest on Sunday in the chests, unless qualifying disastrous. In short, more than the Constructors' World Championship, intrigues the question-Barrichello: it is expected that after having put in his pocket the drivers' title, Schumacher here facilitated the eventual second success in Formula 1 of his team-mate. Rubens admits that:
"I hope I don’t need Michael’s help, but that’s not the point. The two Ferraris must be in front and close in order to implement a possible strategy of this type".
Obviously much will depend on the reaction of McLaren-Mercedes after the Japanese beating. Norbert Haug, on the sad Sunday of Suzuka, had taken care to let it be known that 2001 for the Anglo-German binomial would start immediately in Malaysia. A way to keep up the tension of the stable and provide new stimuli to Hakkinen and Coulthard, because - if things are as the manager of Mercedes said - which of the two should eventually center success in this race, It would benefit the other one in the eyes of the stable ahead of next season. For their part, Hakkinen and Coulthard have sworn that they have not yet given up mentally. Mika claims, albeit with little conviction:
"If I had won my third world title, maybe I would have retired, so instead I have new stimuli".
Coulthard reiterates that he aims to hit the first row on Saturday and win the race on Sunday. But the last Grand Prix of 2000, even if it will be a private affair for Ferrari and McLaren (except for surprises linked perhaps to the sudden, violent thunderstorms that are on the agenda in Malaysia), also presents other topics. First of all, there is the three-way fight for the fourth place among the constructors that sees contained in only three points Benetton (20), BAR (18) and Jordan (17) and involves among other things the two Italian drivers, Fisichella and Trulli. The first is optimistic:
"The BAR has gone very well in these last races but on the slopes with so much aerodynamic load like this we should be a little more advantaged".
Pessimist the Abruzzese:
"This is not a suitable track for our car".
Finally, this Grand Prix also represents the farewell to Formula 1 of Peugeot and Johnny Herbert, who after 161 Grands Prix and three successes (Great Britain and Monza 1995; Europe 1999) aims to move to the United States (later to become Arrows test driver). For him Jaguar organizes a party in the area behind the pits on the eve of free practice.
Still stalled, however, the situation of other drivers such as Pedro Diniz and Alex Wurz, still looking for a seat for the following season. In place of the Brazilian driver, Sauber hired the young Kimi Raikkonen, coming from the British Formula Renault, and protagonist of excellent test sessions at the wheel of the C19. Having landed in Malaysia in the company of his wife Corinna after a holiday in Thailand, Schumacher says he is ready to conquer the World Constructors' Championship. The new World Champion also hopes to enjoy a race weekend without any pressure. The driver’s title obviously lifted a weight from his stomach:
"Weight? It was as if I had tons of weight on me that crushed me. I felt overwhelmed by a mountain of rocks, but I came out of it. And the Ferrari with me. You know, it’s easy to hide it, but the pressure was so, so much".
And how was the holiday?
"Beautiful, different from usual. Holidays are always good, but this was different. When we arrived in Thailand, with my wife we saw a lot of serene people, maybe poor, but serene. People who stood there, doing nothing but their faces relaxed. They looked at life with other eyes. And I said to my wife: why don’t we try to do so too? At least for these vacation days".
In Italy, incredible but true, Michael was much criticized because according to some malpensants he mocked the anthem of Mameli on the podium of Suzuka:
"I know, I know. I was told and I’m very sorry. I apologize to everyone if I offended anyone, but when I’m on the podium and they play the German anthem, I’m alone. I can’t share that joy with anyone. When they play the Italian anthem I am in great and beautiful company: with all my team, which is made for the most part by Italians. Once a month ago I was criticized and I stopped partying on the podium. But the team resented: how? Don’t you sing the anthem with us? It would have seemed an affront and that day in Japan I did it again. For me but also for them. When I saw Pino (D'Agostino) singing at the top of my lungs, I couldn’t resist. That’s all, I didn’t want to mock and offend anyone, I’m sorry I was misinterpreted".
After twenty-one years, finally a world Ferrari. But how will it be next year?
"On the one hand it will be better: we will have less pressure on us and that makes things easier. On the one hand, it’s gonna be worse, because everyone’s gonna expect me to win again. And I can do it, because at this point, the most beautiful thing that the world has brought us is the awareness of being strong. I mean that Ferrari no longer has weak points. In none of the areas that concern the car, a race, a championship. We just have to keep our development programs running smoothly".
On Friday the 20th of October 2000 the first two free practice sessions are held at the Sepang circuit, and Mika Hakkinen immediately demonstrates his intentions to compete for the constructors' title at Ferrari until the end. The Finn scored the best time in total time, but Michael Schumacher was right behind him, just fourteen thousandths away. The duel, in short, continues. And to decide whether Ferrari will do the en plein or if the Silver Arrows will at least be able to win the classification of the constructors, an important role belongs to the squires of the two champions. Coulthard and Barrichello will be the needle of the balance of the last challenge; they will also be their points to decide which of the two teams will go to the cup of the best constructor.
And the two did not find themselves unprepared by placing, respectively, third and fourth and tailing closely the two of the first row. But on the day of free practice, and with the season practically over, he does not mention to stop the Formula 1 of poisons: in a ferocious letter addressed to Ron Dennis, the president of the FIA, Max Mosley, contests McLaren’s number one criticism of Suzuka because an Italian, Roberto Causo, had been included among the sports commissioners. And it extends the discussion to a series of topics that concern not only the actions, but also the hidden intentions of the same English patron. Never seen in Formula 1 such a thing. Mosley mentions several times, in the letter, the image of purity of FIA and Formula 1 that is affected. Without realizing that his letter weighs the poisons of Formula 1 beyond the bearable level. Here are some excerpts from the letter:
"Dear Ron, in the Japanese Grand Prix your criticism of Roberto Causo as race commissioner was reported. You also criticized Charlie Whiting’s briefing to drivers on the possible use of the black and white flag, publicly attacking the FIA. No one has anything against criticism, but you’re doing a disservice by suggesting that the World Cup is not running properly. Such conduct can be considered an infringement of the Sports Code. No one can dispute the experience and capacity of Causo as a Commissioner. Your protests seem to be related to the fact that he is Italian and/or that he is a lawyer who in the past represented, among others, the Italian Automobile Club (not Ferrari) and the Williams team. But the running director, an observer, two software specialists, the fuel controller, the head of the medical service (in addition to the FIA president and the holder of commercial rights) are as British as you and your team. Don’t you see the absurdity of that? What would happen if Italy and Ferrari (or Benetton, Jordan, Minardi, Prost and Sauber) adopted the same attitude towards the British? Apart from that, your criticism is a heavy insult to Mr Causo, who for you is not prepared to be impartial, which is very detrimental to a lawyer who voluntarily offers his time to our sport. I hope that a reflection will lead you to withdraw the claims and write him a letter of apology".
And he continues:
"The black and white flag: in recent years there has been a lot of controversy between drivers, the latter concerning Michael Schumacher (Malaysia 1999) and David Coulthard (USA 2000). Some might say that what Schumacher did at Coulthard in Malaysia was unsportsmanlike, but Michael was struggling with Hakkinen, fighting for the constructors' title and following Fangio’s rule: You have to drive as slow as you can while you’re ahead and the race is ending. Others might say that Coulthard in Indianapolis has moved on. He anticipated the start and could not win, given the inevitable penalty. He could still continue at his own pace until the pit stop, it was up to Michael to overtake him. These considerations are very subjective; it is difficult to prove the difference between a defensible conduct and a deliberate plan to interfere with the race. The gap between Schumacher and Hakkinen in Japan was very small and what should the governing body do? It would have been easy to destroy this fight. There are countless possible scenarios. We have chosen three. Each of these scenarios involves a pilot. The best deterrent is to dissuade a driver who can distort a result with the threat of a disqualification even for the following season; or warn a driver before he can interfere with a result. Although Ferrari, McLaren or other teams have never thought of behaving incorrectly, the FIA, with Whiting, warned the drivers. You should be grateful to an organ that tries to prevent difficulties. Managing motor sport is very complex. If you think you could do better it would be the case, as I have suggested before, to establish your own championship with your technical and sporting rules. As long as you respect the rules, the FIA will be happy to listen to you. Instead, you should not participate in a World Cup with known rules for thirty years and then sabotage it with protests made to the media. Honestly, your Max Mosley".
There’s no one at the Anglo-German stable who wants to laugh about this delicate business. Sewn mouths is the watchword that is circulated: even pilots Hakkinen and Coulthard line up immediately. Ditto for the Mercedes man Norbert Haug, while Dennis prefers to express himself with a letter that in turn sends to the president. In which, in essence, the manager of the stable says he has been misunderstood by journalists and makes his sincere apologies if it has created embarrassment to Causo. And as for the matter of the black and white flag, he reiterates that he sent Whiting a confidential missive with which he obtained significant answers. The letter concludes with an invitation to discuss the subject in private. The other stables avoid the topic. Out of the silent choir only Giancarlo Minardi and Daniele Audetto for the Arrows. The latter says:
"Mosley is right. The letter is hard but appropriate, and after reading it I am even more happy that Ferrari won the title".
The manufacturer from Faenza stresses that:
"The FIA has done well, it was time to stop always making gossip about the regularity of the championship".
On Saturday, in qualifying, Schumacher got the better of Hakkinen and once again took pole position, the fourth consecutive, the ninth of the season and the thirty-fourth in career. For the Maranello team it is the tenth pole of the season, an equal record: only in 1974 Ferrari had done just as well. Behind the Ferrari driver, Hakkinen and Coulthard finished, but only on the last lap. The two McLaren drivers manage to break Barrichello from the front row, only fourth. Of note is the fifth place of a Alex Wurz ready to become the new McLaren test driver (replacing Panis who will go to BAR). Once in a while the Austrian managed to be much faster than his teammate Fisichella, in his turn only thirteenth. To complete the third row is Jacques Villeneuve, determined to give the fourth place in the builders at the BAR. To contend with it is the Benetton of Wurz and Fisichella, as well as the Jordan of Frentzen and Trulli, which will start from the eighth and ninth boxes.
On Sunday 22nd October 2000, at the Sepang circuit, Formula 1 is hoping to close an exciting season. At 14:00, in the heat that hovers over Malaysia, the last race of the year begins. Michael Schumacher confirms his difficulties at the start, as after a few meters he is crossed by both Hakkinen and Coulthard. As for the Finn, however, the commissioners note an early start, and therefore a Stop&go that will most likely be passed in the following laps. At the first corner, after an unhappy sprint, Barrichello resumed the fourth position to the disadvantage of Villeneuve and Wurz, who had overtaken him. In the background the situation becomes chaotic when an accident occurs involving Diniz, the one who triggers the carom, de la Rosa, Heidfeld and Alesi. The first three must retire, Alesi instead manages to continue. The damaged cars and the many debris scattered on the track force the race direction to get the Safety Car on track for the duration of a couple of laps.
When it starts again, Hakkinen makes the pace ahead of Coulthard, Schumacher, Barrichello, Wurz and Villeneuve. Aware of the imminent penalty - which arrives in the next round - Hakkinen lets Coulthard pass to facilitate his eventual escape, but in the guided part of the circuit, due to a power loss, the Finn is also surprised by the two Ferraris, So they move into second and third position. Coulthard tries to make an escape attempt, as the Ferraris do not seem to be able to keep up with his race pace, having started with a greater load of fuel. Hakkinen, meanwhile, returns last after having served the penalty. So, makes his entrance in the points area Eddie Irvine.
On lap seven, with Trulli in the rear for a contact with Irvine and Frentzen retiring for the eleventh time in seventeen races due to a failure in the electrical system, Jordan’s hopes of winning the fourth place in the constructors are now very close to zero. After ten laps, Coulthard and Schumacher are divided into five seconds. The Scotsman does not mention to raise his foot, and on one occasion he becomes the protagonist of a small excursion on the grass. Seven laps later, a little ahead of expectations, the Scotsman returned to the pits for the first stop. The cause lies in that exit of the track that has effectively clogged the radiators with debris. To avoid overheating, Coulthard has to anticipate the belay and have the radiators cleaned by the mechanics.
As soon as Coulthard left him the leadership of the race, Michael Schumacher recorded the fastest lap in 1'39"571. On lap 24 the German makes his stop, lasting 7.1 seconds. Assessing the evolution of the situation (and the excessive and unexpected wear of the tires) the Ferrari wall changes strategy, passing from one to two stops. The move proved successful, as Schumacher returned to the track ahead of Coulthard. The next lap is for Barrichello to stop, but the Brazilian has to join the Scottish, in third position.
At mid-race the remaining points positions are occupied by Herbert, Verstappen and Villeneuve, with Mika Hakkinen rising to seventh position. The Jaguar Briton and the Arrows Dutchman are on a one-stop strategy, as is the McLaren driver. Herbert stopped on lap 29, but his stop was marked by problems with the petrol outlet, so the pit-stop lasted 19.7 seconds. Trouble that compromises your race. Behind it, there was a good fight between Villeneuve and Hakkinen, with the world champion twice trying to get into turn 14. The two go along the straight ahead of the last bend, but when they reach the braking section, Jacques finishes along facilitating the task of Hakkinen, who gains the position.
At the head of the race, meanwhile, Coulthard does not want to resign and gradually reduces the gap of three seconds that divides him from Schumacher. Although the chances of winning the constructors' championship are more than low, David is very keen to win the fourth victory of the year in what is his best season in Formula 1. Team-mate Hakkinen, after having made the only pit-Stop of his race, back sixth, behind Villeneuve and Irvine, who, however, as well as the three leading drivers, will have to stop again. During the second series of pit-stops, Coulthard stops before Schumacher to try an undercut that is unsuccessful. After his stop Michael keeps the leadership with two seconds of advantage over the opponent, but even in this case he does not give up and immediately zeroes the gap. Ten laps from the end, the two are attacked, but Coulthard never manages to be dangerous.
There are eight laps to go before the end of the race, as well as Johnny Herbert’s Formula 1 career. And unfortunately for him, it’s not the most pleasant way to end such an experience: at the braking of turn 4, suddenly the right rear suspension of the Jaguar suddenly jumps. Herbert’s car ends with violence against the tyre barriers, which at least limit the damage. Johnny limps out of the wrecked car, then is taken away in shovel by the commissioners, who then put him on a stretcher. At the end of the fifty-sixth and final lap, Coulthard has to resign and settle for the second place. Michael Schumacher wins again, exactly for the fourth time in a row, the ninth in the season. To complete the podium, in addition to Coulthard, there is Barrichello, who can thus celebrate with his teammate the victory of the tenth Constructors' Championship of Ferrari.
Hakkinen finished fourth, ahead of Jacques Villeneuve, whose result allowed BAR to reach Benetton at 20. However, for the largest number of podium finishes, it is Benetton that ranks fourth in the constructors. The Irvine points area closes, his second point finish in the league after the fourth position obtained in Monte Carlo, in an extremely disappointing season for Jaguar. With the tenth title in its history, Ferrari overtakes Williams, stopping at nine. For the sixth time, however, Ferrari is full of world championships, coupling the constructors' title to that of drivers. It happened in 1961 with Hill, in 1964 with Surtees, in 1977 with Lauda and in 1979 with Scheckter. Another notable result for Ferrari concerns the points positions: in every race of the season, among the top six there has always been one between Schumacher and Barrichello.
A record that concerns only six teams: Cooper (1961), B.R.M. (1962), Lotus (1963), Benetton (1992), Williams (1993) and now Ferrari. Remaining on the subject of records, Schumacher equals Mansell’s 1992 record and himself’s 1995 record of nine wins in a season. In the closed park, before getting on the podium, Michael and Rubens wear red wigs, as well as the entire team, including Todt. The idea, strange but true, comes from the French team manager. Michael is moved. He too, who has often been portrayed as resistant to emotions, this time lets go. He took Ferrari to the highest podium, he took away the urge to win the world championship and now he can give free rein to emotions. He laughs, jokes, gigioneggia. It’s a river in flood. He talks about everything and with everyone:
"I have butterflies in my belly - oh yes, it’s true, you Italians say stomach cramps - for the emotion. Huge. Two titles won, that drivers and that constructors an immense joy. My dream has become reality. And with a perfect final, another victory. This is the strongest team I’ve ever run with. And do not underestimate the world constructors, it is an important recognition, a title that is worth a lot. Everybody laughed when we celebrated it last year. We had a party and someone made fun of us. But behind this success there are hundreds of people who work hard, without ever sparing. This title continues to make me very happy. I don’t see a big difference with that".
Schumacher getting emotional on the podium. Schumacher who attends the German anthem and who during the Italian one shakes only slightly the cap, firmly in the left hand at the height of the belly, avoiding the usual conducting. But above all Schumacher (not during the hymns, but in all the other moments of the intoxicating Malaysian afternoon) with the showy wig. Why the red hair?
"Because we are a red team. Red is my heart, my suit and now also my hair. We are a big family. Winning. And we wanted to show it to everyone. That’s why every member of the team has a wig. I wanted to run with red hair. I tried it this morning before the race, but the spray didn’t work. I was making a mess of it. So we thought wigs. We bought them clear and sprayed them over. I would have cut my hair in Thailand when I was on vacation, but I was advised against it. Here I did not find a hairdresser, he saved me the wig. I have only one problem: my parents were in front of the television. What did they think when they saw me like this?"
He even made the enemy Coulthard wear it:
"He wanted to celebrate with us. And then he’s not my enemy: after the race he apologized to me, for all the disagreements we had this season. His was a loyal gesture, I really appreciate it. I too have made mistakes towards him, I hope that now you can leave aside the animosity and go back to the way before".
Even peace with Coulthard. Truly an unforgettable year.
"My nine wins, the nine pole positions, are figures that speak for themselves, for me and for the team. It’s one of the best results Ferrari has ever had, if not the greatest. It’s wonderful to be part of this team".
In Malaysia he won the number forty-four victory. Prost’s record is at fifty-one. Is there a real possibility of reaching it in 2001?
"If I keep having a car like this and driving like this, I have the chance. But now I don’t want to think about it. And I have a great desire to do it with all the fans: I can’t wait to be at Mugello, Saturday and Sunday we will live a wonderful weekend. I’m in love with Italy. With my mechanics, my engineers, my car, my team. Going on holiday with this mood is very important. In March we will be ready to start again at the same level".
Does that mean Ferrari is favored for 2001?
"When you have two titles in your pocket, you can not be. But there will also be the McLaren. And Williams will start to scare with the BMW engine. For our part we must absolutely improve the departures".
About departures: Hakkinen claims that he also moved before:
"I didn’t notice his maneuver, I heard on the radio about his Stop&go. Even my departure, honestly, was not perfect. They are moments, difficult to evaluate. Of course I once again trembled: I found myself third and I was very worried".
Meanwhile, from Germany, Willi Weber, the powerful manager of the champion, assumes for his protégé an end to his career not in Ferrari. When asked by the journalist from Welt am Sonntag, whether Schumacher would like to continue his career with Ferrari or instead change to try to bring some other stable back to the top, Weber answered sibillinamente:
"I am almost convinced that the answer is the second. There is nothing better than to lift a team from the second row to the top. I can certainly not speculate on the distant future, but I think that this second hypothesis is possible".
Jean Todt also speaks about the future, in the specific case when asked his age. He immediately replies:
"I am fifty-four, but be assured that in ten years I will no longer be here in Formula 1. I don’t think I will be doing this job for so much longer".
Then he talks about the present. And about Ferrari. And I also respond a little grumpy when a journalist dares to tell him that, seen up close, those wigs are not beautiful. Consideration that made him hiss a dry phrase:
"You see we had to make at least one mistake here".
But can we say that after the second consecutive constructors' world championship and after the drivers' world championship conquered in Japan, a Ferrari cycle has opened?
"But we have been competitive since 1997, not today. In 1999 we started to win a title, now we have added two more. And the importance of builders has been rediscovered. The figures speak for themselves: ten wins, ten pole positions, 170 points with eighteen on our strongest competitors. If this is the basis, I have to assume that there is a good chance of doing a good job in 2001".
Two world championships are not a small thing: which has given more joy?
"I would have been disappointed if we had not managed to win the constructors' title here. But the drivers' title had become a nightmare. Twenty years of waiting, then twenty-one...he could no longer. Good thing we stopped at twenty-one".
Last Grand Prix, ninth victory for Schumacher, with Barrichello third on the podium. A perfect race?
"A race is perfect when you win the first and second place. This was a very good Grand Prix. We wanted to close the World Championship in beauty, not just to get those three points that we needed for the constructors' championship. We then ran to the attack, to avoid that someone told us that the title was ours thanks to the points taken from others, with that disqualification (Hakkinen in Austria, ed). We traveled at a pace of ten race points. Perfection would have been 272. But it was still a great season. The dream came with a team dream".
World Champion with Ferrari, world champion, many years ago, as Peugeot manager in rallies: more difficult to run on the beaten ground or on the track?
"Rallies were easier. For two reasons. First: the tension in Formula 1 complicates life. Second, the technical level in Formula 1 is of another planet".
What about Todt in these successes?
"Put the team together and let her work quietly".
What is the key moment of this vintage?
"Hockenheim, where after the first laps we seemed to be dead. Barrichello scored a fantastic victory, taking four points off Hakkinen, moving up from 15th to first. And by making us score points with McLaren in the standings. Then there were moments of tension, more than panic. Overcome. The team was able to resist everything".
The future: what is there to improve?
"The departures, even if we have made progress. We will have to work more".
Luca di Montezemolo arrives in Sepang only at 20:00, in a flowing red wig. He arrives late because:
"I arrived in Malaysia this morning, but I preferred to watch the race on television in my hotel room and let the team celebrate alone. After all, it is their great victory, a victory they deserve, I thought it best to leave them alone. Now we all go to dinner together".
President, did you suffer watching the race?
"I always suffer and in fact I prefer to look at them at home but this time in the hotel I suffered more. I suffer because I know how racing is: you can’t relax until you’ve crossed the finish line. But today I have to say it was a beautiful race, hard, fought".
What do you think of McLaren?
"They were very difficult adversaries, they made us suffer in the whole season and for the truth we also made them suffer not a little. But...do you see these decals? I’m number one in our cars for next year. And you know who came to give them to me? Jo Ramirez, McLaren’s team manager. I’m sorry Ron Dennis didn’t feel the need to come and congratulate and say hello. It was a beautiful championship as we would like to see more often. We fought against a strong team".
Beyond the moral and sporting value, does this double victory have commercial repercussions for Ferrari?
"Ferrari is having a golden year in both respects. Sportingly we won, in the production we are doing well. I am happy for all those who work at Ferrari, shareholders and fans".
Can we say that a Ferrari cycle is opening?
"The Ferrari cycle has already been open for four years. 1996, which was not an easy year, however, saw us rise again with three beautiful victories. In 1997 we lost the title at fifteen laps from the end. In 1998 we lost at the last, in 1999 we won the constructors' title. Now all you could win. Ten pole position, ten wins, a record of points. It may be an unrepeatable year but the Ferrari cycle has already opened and can continue".
Choirs, hugs, toast and the classic group photo with the trophies won. The ritual of fifteen days before in Suzuka is repeated in Sepang, with the only difference of the red wigs. An original way to vary a script already seen. Luca Baldisserri admits that the emotion was stronger in Japan, since after all the constructors' title seemed already at hand:
"We knew three points would be enough. Losing the title would be so resounding that it would overshadow even the joy of Suzuka. Actually, I expected to win more easily after Michael’s great job in qualifying, but maybe he relaxed a bit in the last part of the race, allowing Coulthard to come out ahead. Anyway, you kept him at bay, didn’t you?"
Among the happiest of wearing the wig is Ross Brawn, pinched while he throws kisses to the televisions:
"It was the worthy conclusion of a fantastic year, this is the right reward of a constant growth that allowed us before touching the title 1997 and 1998, then to win the constructors last year and now to do double. Something like this had already happened to me at Benetton, but repeating myself with Ferrari has something special. The pole records and victories? I never imagined in moments of difficulty, mid-season, that we would come to this. But we made it because as we say Never Give Up. It’s our philosophy".
For the coordinator of the technicians Ignazio Lunetta, this Grand Prix was one of the hardest:
"Staying focused after what happened in Suzuka was our problem: this weekend seemed endless. Barrichello? Unfortunately, McLaren did not give up a millimeter and this did not allow us to make any strategy to help him win. But he is young and good, he will have time to win other Grand Prix".
Speaking of the McLaren, Lunetta underlines how the relationship between the two teams has changed:
"They have a different attitude, they treat us on an equal footing, as worthy rivals, before they always stressed that our only strength was Schumacher. It is the best recognition to our work".
Following the festivities in the evening, Jean Todt is unleashed, who does not dispense from dancing and, above all, from tearing off a leg of trousers in Montezemolo. It seems to be a very fashionable joke in Germany when the atmosphere gets a little heated at the holidays. Schumacher, in the party at the Paddock Club of the Sepang circuit, with Norbert Haug’s trousers, at some point he even wraps his head like a bandana. A bandana appeared obviously gigantic considering the size of the great head of Mercedes that very sportily agrees to participate in the world party of the team that has soundly defeated the German House. Of course it is especially with Corinna that Schumacher dances, maybe whispering in her ear:
"Come on, a little longer and then we finally run home to Gina Maria and Mick, I really want to hug them".
And in fact, the next day the two leave immediately to return home. On Sunday evening, before continuing the festivities, thanks to a television link with Germany, Michael was able to greet his father Rolf and other friends, such as the famous German national goalkeeper Toni Schumacher and Niki Lauda himself. The latter, in addition to the title, compliments him for the beautiful red wig, and Michael promptly retorts:
"Do you like it? I have one for you too, I’ll send it to you soon".
Of course, by mocking in a somewhat cruel way the former Austrian World Champion to whom hair has remained a few. And then, in the same television show, also appear all the players of Aubonne and Echichens, the two Swiss teams in which Michael has played recently. You laugh all the time. Just for a moment the face of Schumacher appears a bit puzzled, when the images of the spectacular overtaking of Hakkinen in Spa parade on the screen. At his own expense.
"That’s what you had to show me at a time like this? Honestly, it wasn’t nice to lose a maneuver like that, it almost made me feel like an old man compared to him. However, our duels in these three years in which we fought for the title have always been beautiful and loyal, the rest if one behaves well the other behaves the same way. I always had a wonderful relationship with Mika, this time it was up to me to win and immediately to Suzuka he came to compliment. What a race that of Japan. Undoubtedly the most spectacular of the season".
And before diving into the party with the entire Ferrari team, Schumacher reiterates that even in the worst moments of the year he had never lost the confidence to be able to do it:
"Sometimes I felt deep disappointments, but I never had any doubts about the final success. People believe that the breakthrough that has favored us was the failure of the Hakkinen engine in Indianapolis, but forget that I too was forced to retire four times, for failures or accidents. Is it not said that good and evil in a season are always balanced and that then in the end the accounts return? This time they came back for us, in both championships, and I believe that the Ferrari team as a whole has largely deserved them".
Although he was defeated, Mika Hakkinen does not despair at losing the chance to win what would have been the third consecutive driver title. He gave his all, he climbed the slope in an exceptional way after a complicated start to the championship, to the point of overturning all those predictions that gave him already sure loser. He won races, put in his place a dashing Coulthard, made his rivals tremble in red, but in the end he had to bow to the binomial Schumacher-Ferrari:
"For me it is easier to forget a defeat, because when in two months my child will cry, certainly not for the set up".
From a man who speaks like that, and who is already mentally involved in his next paternity, you can’t expect a fierce rage. But he wants to point out a concept:
"I moved a little before I left, but so did Schumacher. We both moved, maybe even me after him, then we stopped, just when the race really started. Why did I get Stop&go?"
A penalty that destroyed his race:
"Of course I could win, the possibility was real. Unfortunately, this is not golf, a sport that I will dedicate myself to in the coming months. There I can laugh at my mistakes, here I am not. When I realized that they would penalize me, I immediately let Coulthard pass. But at that moment I had a power drop, I missed the acceleration".
Bequeath a heavy promise:
"For the future I have great reasons, I never thought of retiring, I am ready to fight again with Schumacher. During the holidays I will look in the mirror, I will think about where I went wrong. And I will also enjoy the unforgettable moments, like Spa. With that overtaking to Schumacher that will remain in history".
It is a McLaren that is defeated across the board, but that for once wants to show only the good feelings. This is demonstrated by Coulthard, usually the most rancorous, who takes advantage of the Ferrari triumph to apologize to the great German rival. In his words, and also in the powerful embrace at the end of the race, it is true peace:
"With Schumacher I was wrong, when there were disagreements I should have spoken to him face to face rather than vent with the press. Now it’s right to put an end to this story, he’s great, he deserves the world title, it’s right to compliment him. I was looking for the right time to talk to him, and I found him today, at the end of the season. During the races it is normal, even if it may seem bad, to put a barrier between you and your opponent, you can not show your weaknesses. Not cold: I hope I have finally settled with him".
In this atmosphere of sportiness and friendship, Montezemolo also stands out, who writes a letter to Hakkinen precisely for the sportiness of the latter:
"I really liked what he said right after the end of the Japanese Grand Prix. Once again he proved to be a great champion. In the following days I called Keke Rosberg with whom I often feel, and I thanked him for Mika’s words. Then I sent a letter to Hakkinen to thank him in person".
Montezemolo, back in Italy, can immediately become aware of the enthusiasm of fans when he is a guest of the newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport and creates a direct line with readers. Hot phones, clogged lines and a cascade of compliments. Many questions. The first concerns Barrichello and his confirmation for 2001:
"Obviously yes: Rubens in his first season did really well, also because he had to adapt to the team and the environment, moreover he had a strong pressure because it was a season in which, from the first to the last race, Ferrari had to win, absolutely win. This certainly wasn’t a transition season for us. Instead, as for the second question, I was pleased to see the people happy, all those who have been with us in the dark years. Who knew how to wait for us. We have fought a lot in these years, we started from far away and finally we managed to achieve this satisfactory result that we already deserved four years ago, in 1997".
A question that gives life to a nice curtain concerns the absence of Italian drivers in the line-up holder:
"I am a bit nationalist and with all these foreigners the Ferrari does not feel very nostrana".
Montezemolo replied as follows:
"Is that all it is?"
But she doesn’t have time to go on with another thorny question:
"If the FIA executives had not penalized McLaren throughout the championship, would you have been so sure you would have won the World Championship?"
The president of Ferrari replied:
"Yes, even more. Our rivals were not boycotted".
The lady insists, however, that in her opinion without the aforementioned penalties things would have gone differently, and therefore, Ferrari does not have much to be proud of. Montezemolo replied as follows:
"I am very, very proud because we won well and we had already hit the constructors' title last year. In life it is very difficult to win, and I can tell you how much I struggled. But it is even more difficult to know how to lose. Ma'am, you still support Ferrari".
And the lady says,
"But I actually support McLaren and I can’t stand Schu, Schu...".
So Montezemolo comes up jokingly:
"But how, he said before that she was nationalist? And he feels the most Italian McLaren of Ferrari".
The president jokes, closing the conversation. Other questions launch on the car of 2001. Montezemolo specifies:
"It will be an evolution, as this one is an evolution of last season. Obviously we will have to adapt to the new regulatory changes".
Between a phone call and the other the president has time to tell some anecdotes, and incredulous repeats what had happened to him in the morning:
"In Corso Como I was stopped by an old lady who told me that she wanted to give her two-year-old niece a Schumacher jumpsuit. Ma'am, are you a fan of ours? No - he answered candidly - but on Japan Sunday I cried as much as I had for a long time. It’s amazing how the weirdest people, who know nothing about cars, got excited about our success".
And after having interrupted such a long fast, Ferrari aims to excite people even for the following years, aware of the feat accomplished against very strong opponents, aware of its own strength, aware of its own internal stability (a utopia until a few years earlier)Knowing you have the strongest driver in the strongest car. For the Maranello team some very interesting years ahead. To conclude in the best way the triumphant vintage of the 2001 season, in Ferrari there is now only one thing left to do: celebrate. And among the first events organized to celebrate the victory of the World Pilots and Constructors, there is that of 20 October 2001 at La Scala: Michael Schumacher, in the company of Rubens Barrichello and Jean Todt, attends the ballet Giselle, in a gala show entirely in honor of the Maranello team. The public, largely composed of Ferrari customers, applauded Schumacher for minutes, dressed in blue velvet with white stripes, who responded with a wave of his hand and a bow.
The next day we will be back on track, at the Monza circuit, for the final phase of the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli, an opportunity to celebrate the titles won, with Michael who, together with Barrichello and test driver Luca Badoer, runs with the cars that participated in the last Grand Prix, in Japan: 35,000 fans flock to attend the party, with Luca di Montezemolo, Jean Todt and the redhead drivers who hold thousands of hands and act as a public of honor for the Italian finals of the Challenge Ferrari, the single-brand trophy reserved for the Berlinette 360 Modena.
At the end of October, then, Michael takes part in the world karting final, scheduled in Kerpen, his hometown: the four-time world champion is only twenty-second in practice, while the race ends with the car off-track after fifteen laps. The title is in the hands of the Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi. At the beginning of November, on the occasion of the Levante Motor Show, Jarno Trulli was surprised by the welcome of the Bari fans, as he struggled to make room in the crowd to go to pose near the Ferrari World Champion, the F2001. On the latter, but specifically on the Ferrari, Jarno expresses himself as follows:
"I have won in all the categories in which I have raced. Probably if I had a Ferrari I could be faster and win some races. I don’t know why Italian drivers don’t race with the Maranello team. But I would go running".
Autographs, photographs, kisses, an overflowing affection. Trulli does not escape anything. It is allowed to drive in the avenues of the Fair between two wings of crowd and it moves in the pavilions, beginning from that of the motorbikes of epoch. Real jewels, like another world champion who goes unnoticed compared to the Ferrari of Schumacher: the Honda number 46 of Valentino Rossi, new world champion in the 500 class. Meanwhile, if there are those like Ferrari who celebrates, or those like McLaren and Williams who recharge their batteries to renew the challenge to the Maranello team, there are also those like Prost who sail in bad waters. The team owned by the four-time World Championship is in fact on the verge of bankruptcy, overwhelmed by millions and millions of debts accumulated over the last, disastrous seasons. On November 25, 2001, Prost deposited his books in the court of Versailles: the judges immediately appointed a receiver, while the stable will remain in receivership for six months, in the hope of finding in this period a buyer able to cover the enormous losses.
Alain Prost is optimistic, mentioning seven possible buyers. The fact is, in '97, when he bought Ligier, he was hoping for other goals. Instead, in his five years as master, they saw only defeats and divorces. The quarrel with the Peugeot (guilty according to the former driver with his engine of continuous missteps), the cars badly designed by Loic Bigois, the break with the historic sponsor Gauloises, up to the stormy separation with Alesi, able to bring to Prost four points, but returned with coldness and salaries paid late. Alain does not want to give up, he assures that the team will be enrolled in the 2002 championship, and he is convinced not to lose even the Ferrari engines.
But the winter break is not only driven by Prost’s financial crisis. In fact, the great European Formula 1 manufacturers seem to want to move on to the facts, making it clear that the alternative world championship, no longer economically dominated by Ecclestone, will soon be a reality. In the previous spring, under the pretext of the war in Kirch, a German pay-TV magnate, seen as the smoke in the eyes of those who put their large advertising revenues on the 350.000.000 listeners in the world who gather at every Grand Prix in clear, The foundation was laid, with the provocative proposal of a competitive championship.
In November the first official step was taken, with the creation of a company, called GPWC Holding B.V., a consortium chaired by Paolo Cantarella, CEO of the Fiat group and president of ACEA, Association of European car manufacturers, and which brings together, in addition to the Italian company, BMW, Daimler Chrysler (present in Formula 1 with Mercedes), Renault and the American Ford (which presents the British brand Jaguar at the Grand Prix), practically all the houses that win and make audience in the World Championship.
A group with clear ideas and a clear goal: create a new championship, self-managed, starting (but in the note released by the new company is said at the latest) from January 2008. Already the five constructors, alone, would suffice to reach the finish line, but the new company prefers to widen the field of the adhesions, meeting and convincing to the mutiny also the other stables, those with less prestige (there are however the Japanese Honda and Toyota)but equally enticed by more exciting economic prospects. The project, in fact, is no longer limited to television rights, with the war between free-to-air and encrypted transmissions, but absorbs all the revenues that derive from Formula 1, from the promotion of tenders to hospitality, from circuit advertising to merchandising and internet opportunities, a world of many zeros on which Ecclestone has built his multi-billion-dollar fortune. The note issued by the builders reads:
"Through a common organisation, the financial benefits of the participating teams can be substantially improved and absolute economic transparency guaranteed".
What translated means: no more sixty percent at Ecclestone and forty at the stables (through the Pact of Concord that expires in 2007), but all the proceeds to the protagonists, with percentages for each higher. A plan that puts its back to the wall Kirch, which with Em.Tv holds seventy-five percent of the Slec (Slavica Ecclestone Corporation), a company with which Bernie Ecclestone governs Formula 1 and its rich television and commercial rights. It is true that the German tycoon is strengthened by a television contract until 2007, but it is also true that the Formula 1 he bought risks becoming an empty bag, without the presence of cars like Ferrari, Williams or McLaren. That’s why the big builders (in the new company they are all represented in the Board of Directors) go on without fear. In this regard, the message of the president of Ferrari, Luca di Montezemolo, is clear:
"Do not call it alternative or parallel. Ours will be the Formula 1 World Championship. It is not right to talk about splitting, because there is no division. We all agree to go the other way. All the manufacturers are ready. When the current contract ends in 2007, we will be free to do what we want. And we will organize our championship. A world without us and even without our great adversaries, is unthinkable. That’s why I say that we cannot speak of an alternative. It’s just the world. Run by us, in the best possible way. All the stables are in agreement, because they have understood that all can earn".
In the meantime, between 9 and 10 December 2001, the 26th edition of the Motor Show takes place in Bologna, in two days of celebration and emotions in which 200,000 people are touched. Alex Zanardi also attended the event, three months after the Lausitzring accident that cost him the leg amputation. The pilot, who arrived in a wheelchair at the award ceremony of the Caschi d'Oro 2001, received the embrace of Schumacher and Todt and then stood up on the two prosthetics pre-set him from the Inail center of Vigorso. Ten minutes of standing ovation followed, so intense that all the rhetoric linked to the records and the rich display boards exhibited with so much pride was eliminated. All standing, all excited, surprised and upset by the strength of Zanardi, so generous to dedicate, he, the evening to friends, fans, to those who love him:
"I thank everyone, everyone who supported me, who wrote me e-mails and letters to which I could not answer. I can’t walk yet, but this is a first step".
The audience is shaken, Schumacher himself approaches Alex and embraces him. The presenters for once remain silent. Zanardi goes further:
"I’m so excited, my legs are shaking".
He laughs, everybody laughs.
"That’s okay. I broke but I don’t bend. It’s a tough race but I’ll do anything to win".
They gave him between life and death; indeed, at least in the beginning, they gave him up for dead. Then the danger that he might lose his skin moved away, but with that also the hope of being able to save his legs.
"They were gone when I woke up. After a few days, I began to think that the important thing was to be alive. And get used to the idea. I know everyone makes a funny face when they see me optimistic. But to me it seems normal. Or maybe I would have made that face before I had this new experience. The fact is that I have always believed in the taste of challenges, even the most insignificant ones. That’s life. And then I decided to win this challenge. Although I did not choose".
The challenge is soon told: get up, walk, keep his son Niccolò on his shoulders, three years. They also said to go back to running, and he has not yet answered. I mean, he has not yet said no. Meanwhile, he has already got up. First at his home, then in front of thousands of people at the Motorshow. And Autosprint awards him with a special Gold Helmet, called My Champion.
Michael Schumacher also dispenses smiles and more: he also gives the cameras a duet with Alesi house, Jean and daughter, with a telephone exchange of kisses, then goes on stage to embrace Senna’s sister, Viviane (standing ovation for her too), arrived to pick up for Ayrton the Helmet Pilot of the Century: Michael smiles and dispenses only a joke, in German:
"In the course of life, everyone can improve, even I".
Beginning to look forward to the 2002 season, during the Autosport ceremony, with the award of Ferrari as a car in 2001 and Schumacher as a driver of the year, Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn reveals:
"We have a chance to run in the old car if we want. If the new one is not ready, we are not worried about starting the World Championship in Australia with the car of last year".
The new version of the Maranello car will be innovative in engine and gearbox, and from the words of Brawn you could think of a delay in construction and development. But Todt, the manager of sports management, from Genoa denies:
"We are working hard on the engine, everything goes smoothly. On March 3, the day of the debut, we will be ready".
And Toyota will definitely be ready, in the season of its debut in Formula 1, and that, like Ferrari, builds everything at home, from the engine to the chassis; it also has a frightening budget (about two billion euros for five years, 400.000.000 euros per season). A very rich stable, an automobile giant, third world manufacturer with 6.000.000 vehicles produced in 2000, with only one defect: Toyota never raced in Formula 1. The one presented in mid-December (in front of the admired eyes of Ecclestone) Cologne, Germany, is his first car, a car that wants to learn quickly to win, but that will inevitably pay the price of the debut. They are not fooled, the executives of the Japanese company. Swedish Ove Andersson, president of Toyota Motorsport, explains:
"In the first season the goals are realistic: qualify in every race, finish as much as possible and earn respect for the paddock".
A challenge more at Arrows and Minardi than at Ferrari or McLaren. In short, no proclamations, even if Toyota arrives at its debut after having covered almost 21,000 kilometers of testing with its first single-seater laboratory, mainly on the French circuit of Le Castellet (which is the Japanese team’s base of operations)but also on eleven circuits of the next World Championship. How realistic is the choice of drivers, two men of experience, with many years of track on his shoulders, like the former Ferrari driver Mika Salo, the Finn who in 1999 replaced Schumacher after the accident at Silverstone, and the Scottish Allan Mcnish, who made his Formula 1 debut at the age of 32. Two drivers who for a year have run without the hassle of the race, just trying to improve their times and get closer to those of the most experienced teams, which have been grinding for a long time world miles. The feedback must have been good, if Salo admits without fear:
"The car is very fast, it will take a few months to get to the top, because the team has a very high professionalism. To the point that our organization does not make me regret the Ferrari".
The bet is just that, the long game challenge. Learn to win, to be able to beat in the future Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. Meanwhile, with the TF102, designed by the Austrian Brunner (former Ferrari and Minardi) and made powerful by the motorman Kreyer, we will try to limit the damage. Maybe hit a few surprise shots. Shots that have almost never been successful at the BAR, which in the same period presents the car of 2002 in London. The Anglo-American team, among other things, lacks its executive director, Craig Pollock, the man who had convinced Villeneuve to leave Williams to embark on this miserable adventure of satisfactions.
A few days after Christmas, in Ferrari is held the famous dinner with President Montezemolo: curiously, to receive guests in the new plant that manufactures the most famous engines in the world, there is a robot. All yellow, with a Santa hat on his head. He has an implacable and precise hand: under the eyes of the guests, he cuts the panettone into twelve slices all the same, then he grabs it with the whole tray and puts it aside to start with another panettone. Followed by a classic dinner with tortellini, zampone, lentils and mashed potatoes. Then the robotized panettone with hot chocolate on top. Montezemolo takes the floor at the table and holds the microphone for a long time. The president of Ferrari is very keen to talk about the future, when there will no longer be the current Formula 1 but something else managed directly by the teams and not by Ecclestone:
"You understand well that we are all very grateful to Bernie Ecclestone for everything he has done for Formula 1. It was little and he made it great. But then he sinned of greed, greed and then we said enough. Let me give you an example: if all the cake of money entering Formula 1 is 100, we can say that 43% goes to all the teams put together and 57% to Ecclestone. A little too much, don’t you think? A little too much especially if you consider that the protagonists of Formula 1 are us, that is the teams that run. Without us there would be no Formula 1. And so we said: thank you Mr Ecclestone but, since you sold to others, now we handle Formula 1. I don’t know what name the new Formula 1 will take but it will be the same with the same protagonists".
And about the Ferrari:
"What can I say? Last year of these days I said that I would like to win again but frankly I expected everything except to win this way, with so much superiority and so much anticipation of the end of the championship. It is clear that we want to win again next year. We have a strong, united team that works with enthusiasm, in short, we have everything to win again. The regulations have remained stable and therefore there will be no technical revolutions but it is clear that from us, who are the champions, everyone expects a step forward, an improvement. And we’re working on that. In early January we will go on track and then in early February we will present the new Ferrari for the 2002 championship. We have some problems with the new titanium melt gearbox, but with all the evidence in January, we’ll solve that, too. In recent days I saw Schumacher, very loaded, in splendid shape. He kept calling me to ask when he could come here. I told him: the car is not there yet but if you want to come, come, we are all waiting with joy. Well: he came anyway with the excuse that he wanted to do the test for the new seat. From him we expect, everyone still expect the best. And he’ll give it to us".
Waiting for new car, new gearbox and new technical subtleties to work properly, Ferrari is about to take on a new big task. To be Bridgestone’s privileged experimenter. In short, Ferrari will have to test thousands of tires and choose the ones it considers best. A task that will involve a little joke: about 40,000 kilometers of testing just for the tires. To celebrate the victory of the two world titles, from 28 to 30 October 2000 Ferrari celebrates at Mugello between races, fashion shows and conventions of various types. Together with the F1-2000 World Champion, the World Champion Michael Schumacher, the man who brought the driver title back to Maranello after twenty-one years of waiting. And with the German team-mate Rubens Barrichello and test driver Luca Badoer also perform. The name of the event (now in its eighth edition and the year before held in Vallelunga) bears the name of Tutte le Ferrari al Mugello, although in reality there are not all. The most representative cars, however, are not lacking. In the middle of the party, Schumacher admits that he did not expect so much heat from the fans:
"It’s really a great emotion, the fans of Ferrari are just special. Today we could expect a lot of people, but I must be honest: it was even more beautiful than I expected. Only Ferrari can create these emotions".
For Michael first a walk on the pit lane together with Todt, Barrichello and Badoer; a lap of honor standing on a 360 Modena red spider, then a few laps of track together with his teammates on F1-2000, with a single run and a single head-tail. And, in the end, this greeting in Italian to the thousands of people who applaud him:
"To all the fans, to the whole team, only three things: thank you, thank you".
To the journalists instead he repeats later:
"I hope this season is the beginning of a Ferrari era".
Schumacher also wants to underline that the Ferrari success season, which culminated in 2000, began in 1997:
"Ferrari has been fighting for the World Championship for quite some time. Now, finally, we have done it. And given how it went this year, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t keep doing this. I am confident, although I know we will have to work hard".
Michael then expressed his condolences to the family of Ulrich Plattenhardt, the sixty-seven-year-old countryman who died at Mugello during the celebrations:
"I am very sorry. I think of them, who are in this very difficult moment".
And now, as the reigning champion, he is looking forward to a month of vacation that he will spend close to his wife and children and far from the media and Formula 1. An opportunity, among other things, to remove the nail in the leg dating back to the Silverstone accident in 1999. A long-planned intervention, although strictly kept secret to safeguard the privacy of the German. Ferrari and the driver’s entourage decide to announce the operation only after it has taken place. Even Barrichello, celebrated together with Todt and Badoer, uses the same tone:
"Today it was nice to do a lap of the track all together, and it was wonderful to see all these people: I’m very excited. And I’m very happy to be part of this Italian family. But now I’m going to Brazil, I want to unplug for a while. As the last day of the season was beautiful".
After the surgery, Schumacher will have to stay a week completely at rest and only then can begin the rehabilitation that, according to what the same three times iridato, will last five weeks. Michael confirms immediately that he will miss all the tests in December, which will see the Formula 1 teams engaged in Spain and Portugal on the tracks of Jerez, Barcelona and Estoril. It will then be up to Badoer and Barrichello to develop the components that will then be mounted on the new red. Michael, for his part, declares his intention to keep in touch with Todt, Brawn and Byrne and the other key technicians who deal with the car for the 2001 season. A season that, in addition to many well-known faces, will see many young novice drivers at work: the first to convert to politics that focuses on young people was Frank Williams when, on the eve of the season 2000, decided to trust a 19-year-old Englishman, who, however, had only one Formula 3 championship behind him: Jenson Button.
And his discreet debut meant that the desire for renewal soon contaminated other stables. Like the Jaguar, which already in the summer had decided to replace from 2001 the veteran Johnny Herbert with Luciano Burti: the Brazilian, twenty-five years old, of Florentine origin, who since 1998 had been promoted by Jackie Stewart to the role of test driver after a good start in Formula 3, then had the opportunity to debut in Formula 1 in the middle of the championship recently ended, to be precise in Austria, where he replaced an Irvine with stomach problems, finishing 11th.
Even Sauber thinks well of completely renewing the fleet: after hiring Nick Heidfeld (former Prost), the Swiss manufacturer confirms the will to entrust the second car to Kimi Raikkonen. Finnish, born in 1979, a lover of snowboarding and jogging, the new pupil of the Swiss team won the English Formula Renault championship in 2000 thanks to seven partial successes (and six pole positions) in ten races, and when he raced the European series (three races in all) he immediately amazed, thanks to two wins, two poles and as many fast laps in the race. To be able to run, however, Raikkonen will have to obtain the FIA superlicense and then travel at least 2000 kilometers in winter tests, convincing the federal commission to the sound of fast laps.
But Formula 1 will see among the twenty-two protagonists of 2001 also another debutant, although already established: Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian, who returns to Williams where he had already been a test driver, in 1999 surprised the Americans winning the debut Formula Cart, and in 2000 he accomplished a similar feat triumphing in the 500 Miles of Indianapolis. Meanwhile, the World Council of the FIA announces the intention to meet in Monte Carlo on 7 December 2000 to allow a massive return of electronics in Formula 1.
Will then be legal, for example, traction control, while the only limitations will concern the distribution of the driving torque on the rear axle and the electronically controlled differential. According to rumors, the teams have already unanimously approved the change of regulation. The FIA, therefore, which had strenuously defended the bans introduced in 1994, claiming to want to prioritize the ability of drivers in competitions, must surrender to the overwhelming power of the electronics multinationals. Adrian Newey, technical director of McLaren, is among those who support the return of traction control:
"I am not a big supporter of traction control in Formula 1. But the fact that there are all the elements to cheat on single-seaters and that someone in the past has done so, winning, leads me to say that it is right that traction controls are authorized completely".
The long-awaited meeting is then postponed to February 14, 2001, where approval will be a mere formality. In the month of December there are long and intense test sessions with the eyes turned to 2001. It begins in Jerez, where Coulthard is uneasy about the excessive use of electronics:
"I want to control the gears and I don’t want computers to help me control the drive".
Then, starting from 15 December 2000, some teams moved to the Valencia circuit, including Ferrari and McLaren. After dominating the time chart for two days, Coulthard gives way to the new test driver, Alexander Wurz, who left Benetton to make room for Jenson Button. The Scotsman just needs the old FO110J to beat everyone, thus retouching his track record, with 2001 aerodynamics, thanks to the lower temperature and despite the strong wind: 1'14"690 is the new limit. Coulthard leaves the track satisfied, despite the lunch break Juan Carlos Ferrero, Spanish tennis idol, had ignored him: he was visiting Ferrari, of which he is a fan. Speaking of Ferrari, Barrichello stopped testing during the second day due to a spin due to a combination of factors, at least according to the version made known by the team. A problem of electronics according to some rumors; electronics that is also developed in Spain, although officially dealt with only Luca Badoer in Fiorano. Coulthard, before leaving, says:
"So far my tests were focused on tires and electronics, with 2000 engine. New tires are satisfied. What’s new? Little tweaks of parts I’ll find on the 2001 car. I finished this phase, from Monday I will switch to the new V10 of which Wurz said enthusiastic".
McLaren will try a lot in Valencia: perhaps because the many tight corners lend themselves to the tuning of the traction control?
"Other circuits lend themselves. For example the Mugello and Jerez. The truth is that we booked a bit all the available slopes. From time to time the team will decide what to do".
Barrichello, however, rejected this track:
"I disagree with Rubens. It is an interesting track for many reasons: the particular bends, the great work of the brakes, the continuous accelerations that put the engines to the whip, the need for great balance and stability. Going well here will help to win the Australian Grand Prix that will open the season on March 4th. Besides, always try in Barcelona, where we will stay for a long time, it would be boring. It’s nice to be able to choose".
Michelin, who will compete with Bridgestone from the upcoming season, asked Williams and Jaguar to collaborate. Bridgestone did the same with McLaren and Ferrari?
"I don’t believe in alliances between opponents. It’s hard for the engineers at those stables to sit down and talk. They work, we work with the same tyre owner, but everyone wants to win his Grand Prix, his World Championship. We don’t talk to Ferrari. But it is normal for engineers to talk to tyre manufacturers, who make the synthesis of often different needs. Now there are two tires in Formula 1: I think it will be more difficult to understand which will be the fastest driver and the car. The best? The Bridgestones, I think: are the others that must move".
His teammate, Hakkinen, is absent from the tests, and has become a dad:
"We’ll see him again on the track in January. I’m working for him too. That’s right: I’m close to him this way. I’m glad he can be with his little one. It’s a magical moment for him".
During the tests, things happen that were rarely seen during the 2000 championship: above all, the Peugeot engine, far from reliable for the entire year, suddenly seems not to break anymore. The French engine, in fact, knows a new life with the Arrows. The one used by Jos Verstappen, in fact, is the same one that pushed the Prost of Jean Alesi and Nick Heidfeld. Only the name on the magazine will change for 2001: via Peugeot and the lion, on the writing Asiatech. The latter stands for Asia Motor Technology, an acronym that brings together many wealthy Asian financiers.
In Barcelona, meanwhile, it is the young people who shine on the last day of the Michelin tests: the best time is obtained by Button, who takes more and more confidence with Benetton, ahead of the Minardi driver Fernando Alonso, who climbed the B200 (officially due to an agreement between the Enstone team and Minardi, since the performance of the young Spanish rookie belongs to Flavio Briatore) with the aim of putting together the largest number of kilometers to have no problems in obtaining the superlicense.
The mission was perfectly successful, because the pilot of Oviedo, after having traveled 175 kilometers two days earlier, becomes the protagonist of a real simulation of the race (360 kilometers), obtaining also a very good time. Then the Spaniard leaves the single-seater to Giancarlo Fisichella, who continues the program on the brakes in the afternoon, always running with plenty of fuel on board. Both Fisichella and Button work not only on the brakes, but also on the new tires. This task is also the focus of Williams: Montoya remains on track for a long time and does not get a better lap time just because of a red flag.
Meanwhile, in Fiorano, Luca Badoer runs the forty-nine laps programmed to develop aerodynamics, trim and something more electronic in engine management. At each release, Badoer matches a starting simulation. At the end of the day there are nine. The best time remains far from record expectations (1'01"039), also because on board the F1-2000 are mounted equipment to acquire data on the development of new chassis and aerodynamics simulated, as load, to that to be used next year (therefore with the restrictions introduced by the FIA). At the same time, reliability tests for the new 050 engine continue on the engine test bench. After nine intense days of testing, Formula 1 goes into hibernation for the Christmas holidays, and Rubens Barrichello takes the opportunity to draw a balance of the two practice sessions in Spain:
"I only had confirmation. I look forward to touring in Barcelona to check out certain situations. We have all the data there, the comparisons will be immediate. Here I tried many tires, finding tires with neutral behavior in the corners, the best, other overhauling or underhauling. There’s so much to understand".
Try 2001 aerodynamics and different tires: how do you rate?
"You succeed, even if with the new car everything will change: I hope it is easier to drive".
Coulthard improved the record for two days: with traction control?
"You could hear it. Even the Jordan. Not the Ferrari: not to overlap tire tests with those of electronics. Different tests on different tracks".
Maybe there will be a unification in Barcelona. News about electronics?
"We have clear ideas. But it is not yet time for decisions. The FIA has postponed everything until February 14. We drivers drive on the basis of FIA decisions, no need to dress your head now".
Michelin has Jaguar and Williams working together. Do Ferrari and McLaren do it too? He chuckles, Rubens:
"All we do is to beat the opponents. So the McLaren first. Joining to defeat the Michelin is right at this stage, when the exchange of ideas is possible. Then the races will tell who is the best".
Impressed by Wurz and the new Mercedes FO110K?
"No. Here, even if we are all Bridgestone drivers, we never know which tyres use the others. We don’t even need to think too much about the times. I’m quiet. Bridgestone does a good job for us".
Barrichello also thinks about the good intentions for 2001. The Brazilian wants to realize the hard break-in of the first season in Ferrari. He knows that he will have the car in his hand to beat, and that he will have the reigning champion as his partner.
"Michael is strong, I was not surprised, even seen closely. But I was on him, especially in qualifying. If I didn’t win at Hockenheim I wouldn’t feel 100% happy. Instead, my first year in Ferrari ends with joy. For sure I have to improve. This is the sign that left me the first year in Ferrari".
But what about 2001?
"I have to win now. For the first season I had declared a goal between 50 and 60 points. Having put together 62 has already been a success. I fulfilled my mission. Now I would like to turn that 6, make it a 9: I want 92 points. They won the world with many points less".
A few days before Christmas, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo tells nine years of Ferrari at dinner with journalists. Traditional menu that is repeated for years without ever being stale, with the final sparkling wine this time poured into sixty-six glasses personally by Jean Todt. In short, the usual dinner for Christmas wishes that this year, with the two world titles in his pocket, becomes the apotheosis of 2000. All in a gigantic marquee in the middle of the Fiorano track and with the world champion car put right in the middle of the large table of the guests. Montezemolo’s debut is almost sad:
"My friends, we are gathered here for the usual dinner and with the usual menu, but you should know how much I have dreamed in these nine years a dinner like this with two world titles. For the rest I have nothing to say, so let’s enjoy this menu".
Then a torrential chat. First stop of twenty-five minutes, then a short break for a spoonful of broth. Then another 28 minutes of amarcord. Still a break for a bite to the guinea fowl and away with another twenty minutes to review the last decade of the century. Montezemolo had never spoken so much in nine years. On the occasion he makes a comeback. Telling what? To begin with, those early years, 1992 and 1993, when Ferrari was in disarray and the car market was in crisis forcing the factory to the redundancy fund.
"Yet, we made a risky gesture: to invest while everything went to hell. It was a very important strategic choice because since then we have renewed the entire range and we have redone sports management".
The first step was the arrival of Jean Todt at the home of Montezemolo. The president says:
"My son Matteo called me shouting: Dad has arrived in Mercedes. I thought: this is either crazy or masochistic or exhibitionist. Instead it is none of these things and I owe him much for the way he did the Ferrari".
After this step, everyone else.
"Ferrari had become a Grand Hotel: people who came and went, we didn’t even know who had to design the cars. I filmed dear Harvey Postlethwaite then John Barnard, then that technological antenna that we had implanted in England and that brought us so much criticism. But all the good engineers of today formed right up there. Foreigners? We get good people without looking at our passports. Barrichello is also a non-EU driver but never had any first-year driver in Ferrari gone like that, settling in and working so well. We have a great team and it will remain the same again next year. Then Schumacher. Here it is: sometimes someone says: but why didn’t you take it first? Because it wouldn’t do any good, even the Nembo Kid wouldn’t fly those Ferraris. We took it at the right time, because he had matured and we had matured technically. In fact, years of great success have come. We have been close to the title for four years and now we have finally won both. I don’t know what we will do next year, but I think we will continue to do well. Repeating 2000 would be a lot".
Here, 2001: everyone wants to know what it will be like, with which machine.
"I’m told the new machine will be ready by January and will be very different from today. This depends on how the regulations for electronics are still in the air. Ferrari is opposed to an expansion of electronics, but it is also opposed to this climate of suspicion that there is in Formula 1. If you want more electronics is fine as long as it then has a fallout on production. For example: the electronic gearbox we created years ago today is a reality not only on Ferrari series but also on other brands. Until the Federation decides, we move forward with research and experimentation. Next year there will also be the novelty of the two tyre suppliers. We remain faithful to Bridgestone but the competition always brings improvements. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year".
A particularly generous Santa Claus, the one who visits, on behalf of Michael Schumacher, the components of Ferrari’s Sports Management. Under the tree, each of them finds a precious Omega watch (sponsor of the German), worth over three million lire, with engraved on the case a custom dedication, gift of the world champion as a thank you for the hard work last season. Michael personally delivers the gifts to the team members on the occasion of the Christmas party, in Fiorano, but begging everyone not to open the package before Christmas to not spoil the surprise.
"Behind us ended a wonderful year, but also very tiring and not always easy".
This is an excerpt of the dedication that Michael accompanies to the gift. After the Christmas holidays, as usual, Ferrari is in Madonna di Campiglio. Barrichello, after a Christmas spent on the beaches of Brazil, reiterates his intentions to want to start in the best possible way in this new season, so as to renew the contract that binds him to Maranello, expiring at the end of the year. We also see Schumacher, who is skiing for a long time, demonstrating that the right leg, freed from the nail following the operation performed with great success, is perfectly healed. The world title won a few months before did not take away the stimuli, indeed. He still wants many successes, he wants them with Ferrari. He wants them to open a cycle. On the snow of Madonna di Campiglio the German prepares the official route of the new season and tells himself. To remove any possible misunderstanding starts from his incredible motivations:
"I was born to run and until I get in a car this risk will not exist. In training I am also ahead of schedule: before my motivations fall you will have to wait a little longer".
His goals still include races and titles, as if to emulate Prost and Fangio:
"Winning as many Grands Prix as possible would automatically mean winning championships. Even if I beat Prost’s record I wouldn’t feel satisfied: I think I can offer high-level performances up to the age of thirty-six and even beyond. As long as there are times and speeds... We can start an era: the next step is to make sure that Ferrari is at the top for a long time, to be able to say that we have the best package to win".
Opening a cycle means being able to use precise ingredients:
"It is important to maintain or improve the staff. And it takes the constancy, from a human and psychological point of view, of the driver: Ferrari has achieved results for four years, for three times it has been close to success and last year it finally won. I don’t think it will take long to remain the numbers one of the starting grid".
With Barrichello there is a solid relationship:
"We understand each other, there is no conflict. It’s very fast and, contrary to what I did with my comrades in the past, I trust him for the tests. With him there is an excellent partnership, we hope to always stay ahead of him. For the title will always compete in two, Ferrari and McLaren, but there are many teams that can win individual races, such as Williams".
Jean Todt, on the other hand, reveals that the new Ferrari will be unveiled on January 29, 2001. But how will this car be?
"I’ve seen a lot of individual pieces, often just decided by the wind tunnel, but I haven’t seen the car at once. But a race car must win, it must not be beautiful. It must be the fastest".
And will it be?
"I hope so. We come from a few years of growth precisely because we have put together a team capable of working. Schumacher is right: a Ferrari era has opened, a cycle".
At the end of the year his contract with Ferrari expires: what will he do next?
"I would like to stay but it is not just up to me. It is President Montezemolo who must give me an answer. We haven’t had time to talk about it lately. But there are eleven and a half months to the day when I should leave the Ferrari and there is no hurry".
Changes in electronics: will there be or not? Will it be better?
"I think they’ll be there from the Spanish Grand Prix. I would have preferred to leave everything unchanged; then I became convinced of the reasons of others: if it is true that it has become difficult to control the electronics then it is useless to go on with tricks and suspicions. Better open the doors".
After these world victories in France they named it a road: did you expect more?
"I was moved. I was named after the road that passes under my father’s old house in a country in central France. It is the house where my father lived, a Polish Jew who fled to France where he studied, became a doctor and where I was born. I wish they’d named it after my dad, but so am I".
Davide Scotto di Vetta