A few days after the Spanish Grand Prix, on 3rd June 1999 Ferrari begins a series of tests at Fiorano circuit ahead of the sixth round of the Championship in Montreal, on the track entitled to Gilles Villeneuve. With Michael Schumacher having some rest in New York, Eddie Irvine has to take on most of the job regarding the tires:
"I’m here practicing, Schumacher is on vacation and I don’t mind having all the responsibilities on my shoulders during these days. Also because this gives me the opportunity to know better the F399, to be faster".
The future of the north Irish keeps being poised, since the renewal with Ferrari hasn’t come yet, and the rumors that put him in Jordan replacing Damon Hill haven’t been denied yet from both sides:
"I like to be ahead of the other drivers, I don’t want to fall down. This in the reason why it’s okay to be Ferrari’s second driver, but it’s their choice. I’m sorry for Barcelona. I always start well I found myself there, almost stopped. We don’t know what happened".
Talking about the Catalan Grand Prix, Eddie is again asked about the boredom that has characterized the race, and the enormous difficulty to overtake even the slower cars
"Just the race in Barcelona has been boring. The previous ones have been less boring, but we have to say that it depended by the track characteristics that doesn’t allow to exalt the possibilities of the cars".
In Montmeló, McLaren dominated with a one -two put in discussion for a short phase of the race by Schumacher; for the Canadian Grand Prix, however, Irvine is optimistic.
"The brakes are very stressed in Montreal, but ours are already good and have always worked well. The Canadian one is a strange circuit, it partly looks like Barcelona and always happen something important during the race".
On the 3td of June 1999, in Fiorano, Irvine set a lap time of 1’01’’219, running three hundreds faster than Schumacher, registered during the session of test at the end of March. They also work busily in Sauber, with Jean Alesi who in Monza tested the Bridgestone tires and looks for the right way to go to bring some improvement to a car that at the moment has finished just one race, in Imola, the French driver finished sixth indeed. His teammate Diniz, on the contrary, haven’t finished any race yet. The rumors that want Irvine far from Maranello overlap on the ones that hope for a romantic return of the French in red, next to Schumacher. Maybe annoyed from all this, interviewed by Autosprint, Irvine dismisses the matter by saying that Ferrari shouldn’t even considering taking back home Alesi. In the meantime, through the pages of the Times newspaper, FIA president, Max Mosley, tired of the constant attacks to the rules by the drivers, takes it out:
"It’s not a matter relevant to the drivers. They want cars that make overtakes easy, but this could not be the best thing. Given that the drivers are paid so much, they have no titles no judge well or wrong the rules".
Drivers like Schumacher and Hill are pushing to go back to slick tires to have better grip, and are opposing to Mosley’s desire to have just one type of tires that can be used in every weather condition, an eventuality that will make overtakes ever harder. Niki Lauda is a lone voice, who doesn’t point fingers to the rules, ribbed tires on the little grip:
"The few overtakes don’t depend by the cars, but by the tracks, that should be changed to permit to enter the straight faster".
In a quite tense atmosphere, the Formula 1 approaches to the Canadian Grand Prix with the hope to give an exciting race, full of twists and wheel to wheel, exactly what the circus needs to scale back, at least for a week, the lots of polemics post-Barcelona. Ferrari arrives in North-America with a lot of news on F399: a new wing with a length of the profile such as to give more downforce bur less resistance; a new engine whose reliability will be tested during the free practices but that will hardly debut in the race and, in the end, improvements to brake disc and calipers, because on the Canadian track these are particularly under pressure. Arrived at the track where he got his first and only win in his career in ’95, driving exactly a Ferrari, Jean Alesi celebrates his thirty-fifth birthday after a little vacation in New York, and speaks about Irvine’s unflattering statements, that judged him not very suitable to be the second driver of the team from Maranello:
"I absolutely don’t want to respond, I don’t want to comment such things. I don’t understand why Eddie expressed in that way, I’ve never behaved like that with my colleagues, when I have something to say I tell them to their faces".
Again asked about that topic, Irvine himself reiterate the concept expressed a few days before:
"I simply said that for me he would not be the right choice, always considering that I could be the right choice for Ferrari".
In ’95, while Alesi rejoiced for his first time on the highest step of the podium, Irvine was with him celebrating a fantastic podium as a Jordan driver. A performance that repeated in 1998 also, with Ferrari:
"This is a very strange track, where a lot of strange things happen. My goal is to repeat myself on Sunday. Here we should be closer to the McLarens than in Barcelona, I really believe that we have the possibility for a great result".
Montreal is the land of conquest for Michael Schumacher, three-time winner of the Canadian Grand Prix, I ’94 with Benetton, and in the last two editions with Ferrari. Michael is due consideration optimistic for the weekend, where he hopes to go back to McLaren’s competitiveness, which once again lead in Barcelona:
"This track is quite congenial for me and Ferrari, and I really like to repeat the successes of the last few years. It’s like a not very regular street circuit, with a lot of turns and chicanes, we have to drive always braking and accelerating. Ferrari is not irresistible in the acceleration, but goes better in the braking and in the chicanes; for this reason we will be competitive and we can achieve a good result. Especially if right in the first day of free practices we can find the ideal set up".
Mika Hakkinen has a little different score than his direct rival, having never won on this track, nor conquering podiums:
"I’m impressed every time by the difficulties that this track has. That’s why in the last two years I’ve never been to the finish line, and in my career here I’ve never been on the podium. Ferrari favored? Well, no. in ’97 and last year also we have always been on the conditions to win. In the last season, Coulthard almost did it. Personally I’ve not had so much luck here. But I’ve arrived in Canada with the intention to prepare well the car, do the pole and then win the race".
The battle with Schumacher started at the beginning of the season, and obviously the comparisons with the driver from Kerpen never miss:
"I often read that Schumacher is better and faster than me. I don’t want to respond, victories and titles count. We will see when it’s time to do the accounting. A driver also drives for the pleasure to give the maximum with the means that he has, and not to beat the others. It’s better the challenge with themselves".
Mika also talks about Irvine, who in the past days was protagonist of comparison with some of his colleagues. Ferrari driver, in fact, beyond saying that he has not so much respect for Alesi skills, he also said that he’s sure to have nothing to envy to the two McLaren drivers. The current champions reply saying:
"We have to recognize that Eddie has improved a lot. But it’s difficult to judge. I never do it. I think it’s very strange that someone who doesn’t have benchmarks allows himself to judge the others. In any case I don’t’ think I have particular weaknesses. I can just say that I viscerally hate critics".
On Friday 11th June, Irvine decides to be a talking point not only for his declarations to the media, but also for the performances on track. Best time both in the first and second session of free practices for the North-Irish driver, that detached himself 88 thousandths from the second David Coulthard. Michael Schumacher pays seven tenths to his teammate, but there is no need to panic in Ferrari, because the lead driver of the team from Maranello spends most of his working day concentrating on race pace and on the new engine 048B, that, seeing the great results, will be used in qualifying, but, as already said, not in the race.
"Well, let’s wait tomorrow because generally you journalists always say that the Friday practices are useless and that just counts the ones on Saturday. By the way Schumacher and Irvine didn’t run in the same conditions and so we could expect difference in the performances. They had different conditions of fuel and they wanted to test different things. The track was slippery, but here in Montreal it’s always like that on Friday and this explains why times are so far from last year’s. I think pole position will be on 1'19"2, maybe 1'19"5. However Ferrari goes well and will defend its leadership in the World Championship".
Jean Todt declares, Ferrari team principal, and then proceeds talking about the new engine:
"Yes, there is a new engine, but it’s an evolution of the 048 used by now, in fact, it’s called 048B. Both drivers will use it for the qualifying, not yet for the race. Its use depends on some other tests that we have to complete and will be our goal for next week on the Magny Cours circuit. The decision to use this engine in the race depends on many things among which, precisely, the results of the tests. It’s clear that when we do a race with a new engine we must be sure, we can’t risk our reliability in a very delicate moment of the World Championship. Clearly I can’t stay here talking about details, it’s our business and we’re trying, legitimaly, to keep them for ourselves. But it’s clear that the goal was to do a lighter engine with a superior maximum power. We did that. But this is the first step in the evolution of the engine, there will be others".
Almost same situation in McLaren: Coulthard is looking for the performance in the lap, Hakkinen concentrates on Sunday’s race (at the end of the day, in fact, he is only seventh), but he doesn’t seem to be happy about the set-up of his car. Eager to demonstrate to the world that the thirty-five years are not felt, Jean Alesi finds an optimal set-up on his Sauber powered by Ferrari, and conquer the fourth position, decided to keep it also for the quali session of the Saturday. His teammate Pedro Diniz doesn’t have the same aspirations, author of an incredible accident at turn one. The Brazilian driver, after he lost the control of his car, crashed violently on the barriers; the car is destroyed but Diniz, luckily, is unharmed. Saturday, the qualifying session begins with a Schumacher eager to interrupt Hakkinen’s five consecutive poles, who needs other two start from the pole to equal Alain Prost’s record of seven consecutive poles. At the first attempt, Schumacher makes the things clear, doing a lap time of 1'19"298. An incredible time that the German, like anybody else, will improve. Hakkinen also suffers during free practices of the morning, in which bangs and damages the front wing, and struggle during the qualifying, before the flash of the last five minutes that allows him to gain the second place, just 0.029 seconds to Schumacher’s time. Michael took the pole back after a wait of seven months- he gained the last one in the unfortunate Japanese Grand Prix of the previous season- and, during the media pen, the German driver externalizes all his satisfaction for, data in hand, is the onehundredtwentyfifth pole in Ferrari history:
"I knew I would have done it, and not just because of the new engine, but because since Friday morning we did great, we had a competitive car, better than McLaren. I immediately noticed that they had a lot of problems. So, let’s say we could gain advantage from a lot of things. Ferrari is really doing great now and I have to thank Eddie because he shouldered on himself this job of development, while I was on vacation in the United States. It’s a shame that Eddie is not in first row with me, but it’s not his fault".
Irvine, in fact, during his last attempt had to lift off because of the yellow flags for Alesi’s Sauber, which stopped on track for a long time. Eddie’s regret emerges from his words:
"I could have easily gained the first row, but as you all have seen in my last attempt I got caged in the yellow flags caused by Alesi and I had to lift off. It’s a shame, because the car was going so well that with a bit of luck I could have done the pole. The most important thing is to see how great the balance in this Ferrari is, and to know that with full of gas we are going much better than the McLarens".
The comeback of Schumacher’s pole corresponds to the debut of the new engine on F399. For this reason, the German driver said:
"All right, let’s call it the new engine since you are all saying this, but in reality it’s just an evolution of the old one and in every race, every test there is always something new to try. By now we go on with little and continuous evolutions. By the way this engine is great: I’m satisfied, we can feel that it gives something more, but I don’t think that the pole comes from just this. It’s the whole car that goes well, it’s more balanced, more stable and in these conditions it permits to exploit the potential of the new engine, but I’m sure that I could have done the pole with the old one as well".
Michael ends his interview like this:
"Here to go fast you have to use the curbs and work it over well, but this means that if the suspensions and the tie rods are not well calculated we risk to break everything because sixty-nine laps in these conditions put in hard testing the whole chassis. If I can finish the race, relax that I’ll finish it well".
The possibility to reach Prost vanished, but Hakkinen admits that he has something else to think about. His McLaren keeps being difficult to drive, and it’s even more if there is a Ferrari this fast to beat. During the driver’s post-quali press conference, Mika sustains that the improvements compared to the first day of free practice have been evident:
"I’m not disappointed for the supremacy, I’m not here for the record, but for the race, to gain something on race that has always been bewitched for me. If I ended in second row it would have been a disaster, not like this, because here the one who starts in second place has the advantage to have the second turn on the inside. And I Schumacher and myself are paired, at that point I can overtake him. On Friday I was really worried, now I’m not. I was slower than Coulthard, I lost one second to Ferrari, now we are almost equal, because 0.029 seconds are nothing and I could have ended in front, if I had not found the yellow flags on a try, traffic in the last one, and I hadn’t got a chicane wrong in my best attempt. The car has improved constantly, we are finding the right set-up. It will be a very stressful race because this is a very difficult track, it puts brakes under pressure, fill the drivers with fatigue and force you to a mistake".
Like it happened during free practices, when in the McLaren of the Finnish one exploded, making him to crash. He wea afraid, but with a cold mind this inconvenience got rid with a smile:
"It happens when you’re always looking for the limit. I’ve lost the control of the car, but I’m unharmed".
Then, when it’s time to release some statements in mother tongue, begins an exhilarating water balloon battle with Irvine, while Schumacher watches them in silence hoping to not be involved. Eddie starts with throwing the towel to the face of Hakkinen, then is about to throw a glass of water, but it seems like he desists after Mika said to him I would not do it if I were you. However, as soon as the Finnish lets down his guard, here comes the water balloon with annex escape. Hakkinen responds with the same coin, but misses the target, and since he doesn’t want to lose any battle in any context, the takes the whole jug and starts following Eddie, saying sorry to the present journalists. The press conference ends like this with a little early, with just Schumacher remained looking at the scene amused. Going back to quali results, Coulthard is fourth and completes the second row with Irvine, followed by the usual Barrichello and Frentzen, who monopolize the third row. Great performance for Fisichella, seventh and dealing with an inconstant car, and Alesi, eighth. It sinks again in the back the BAR Supertec, with the home driver Villeneuve and the go back Zonta just in fifteenth and sixteenth place. Craig Pollock’s team cannot explain the vacillating performance during qualifying, nor can understand the problems of the car. Alex Zanardi qualifies in twelfth place, and for the first time in the season he is quicker than his teammate Ralf Schumacher, thirteenth a few thousandth from the Italian driver. The two-time Formula CART hopes this is a sign that his confidence with a Williams, poor by the way, is increasing:
"I’ve done thirty races in Formula 1, and my best result was a sixth place, with the Lotus. Now the car is not competitive and nor very adapt to my driving style. Ralf can bring home some results, I got followed by bad luck. But I have to admit that I’m not still adapted: you stop for a few years and everything change. I had to start again from the abc of driving, you cannot stop learning, day by day: you think you’ve had understood everything, that you realize it’s not like that. It’s simple to arrive at the minimum level, it’s difficult to do the last few steps to the top. I can’t go on like this. It’s true that I’m a rookie again, but my age is asking me to be quick. I hope to finish in the points this race".
Zanardi can hope to the fact that in Canada, very often, there are chaotic races, during which everything can happen. In 1998 the Safety Car was deployed three times, and just nine the drivers who arrived at the finish line. So, there could be ideal occasions for some outsiders. On Sunday 13th June, there are over 100.000 passionate present on the benches to assist to the sixth race of the 1999 championship. At 1:00 p.m. the stoplights turn off. Away we go. Schumacher immediately closes the door on Hakkinen, and at first turn is leading followed by the Finnish and Irvine. In the middle field, Trulli did a traverse to avoid the collision with Frentzen, but like this he becomes a loose cannon at the beginning of the first turn and fully centers the unfortunate Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello. The Prost stays in the gravel, irremediably damaged, and Alesi also does not go much away. As luck would have it these two drivers were involved in an accident at the start also in the last season, at the same track. The other accident up, Barrichello, goes back to the box with Alex Wurz, which is not involved in the accident but has to retire because of a problem to the transmission. Barrichello, instead, goes back on track but he will subsequently goes back to retire definitely. Such a pity for the Brazilian driver, who firm the fifth position could have aspired to a great placement. While the race direction deploys the Safety Car, Alesi goes back to the box raging with Trulli, and booms to the journalists’ microphones:
"Frentzen started in a bad way an went on the inside; to avoid him I had to discard in my turn. Of course he didn’t touch me, but he affected me anyway. What happened it’s not my fault, and I’m sorry that I’ve ruined Alesi’s race, but I didn’t like his declarations. Jean should be calmer and more thoughtful when talking. Also last year he accused me of the accident at the start, and it wasn’t my fault. Unluckily these things can happen in races, especially at the start. I’m not a dangerous driver, and this time I started calm just to avoid what happened last year".
The stewards in fact agree with Jarno, given that in the post-race, analyzed the accident, they decide to not take further actions. Just a lap under Safety Car is enough to remove the damaged cars, then the race starts again. Schumacher is leading, followed by Hakkinen, Irvine, Fisichella, author of an incredible twitch, Coulthard and Frentzen closing the point zone. McLaren Scottish driver is clearly faster than Fisichella and, taking advantage of the tow in the long straight that precedes the last chicane before the finish line, he takes the fourth place back. If the chaotic start didn’t suggest that we will assist to anything but a boring race, a further clue is suggested by Ricardo Zonta, that at is return on track after the accident at Interlagos a few months prior, he crushed on the wall at the exit of the last chicane. The Brazilian destroys the back right suspension, so he has to retire, but leaves his BAR in a position reputed potentially dangerous, and so, the Safety Car comes back again on track. After three laps, the race counts two Safety Cars and four retired already. Restarted the race, Coulthard makes Irvine under pressure, while the duo leading composed by Schumacher and Hakkinen goes away undisturbed, with the Ferrari driver maintaining a gap of one and a half seconds on the rival. Starting from the tenth lap, then, the two establish an apart battle at the sound of fastest laps: Schumacher is going around in 1'22"235, after three laps Hakkinen goes under the 1’22"0, but in no time, Michael lower the time. At the eighteenth passage on the finish line, Hakkinen goes on 1'21"480, trying to patch things up improving other two tenths in the following lap, but promptly the Ferrari German driver begins to run in high 1'20"0. In the meantime Damon Hill’s race ends, in an identical dynamic as Zonta’s, crushing on the wall at the exit of the last turn. It’s the second victim of the day in the last variant. We arrive at the thirtieth of the sixty-ninth of the provided laps: Schumacher and Hakkinen keep pushing to the limit, one to keep the gap over two seconds, the other to reset it. The Ferrari driver has to deal with the first few lapped cars, and maybe he gets a little distracted after the overtake on Panis. The fact is, the same way as Zonta and Hill, the German driver loses the control of the F399 and goes on the wall. A big crush, even more than the previous two, that destroys the right side of the Ferrari. Michael is desperate with himself, conscious that he did a big mistake, throwing away a possible victory.
In addition, he left the leadership of the race in the hands of his first rival. Hakkinen, in fact, is now leading the race undisturbed, and almost incredulous, thanks for the courtesy. Ferrari now puts all its hope on Eddie Irvine, in second place six seconds away from Hakkinen, and to Coulthard that after a first part on attack has lost contact a bit. Schumacher goes back to the box, while Jean Todt gets down form the pit wall and goes back with the German in the dim light of the garage. The two talks, then watch together the rest of the race. Just five laps after, and the then renamed Wall of the Champions reaps the umpteenth victim of the day. First Zonta, then two World Champions Hill and Schumacher, and, at the thirty-fifth lap, the home idol Jacques Villeneuve also. The other world champion, in 1997, unlike the others that have crushed with the back and then with the side, crushes on the wall with the front of his BAR. A big crush, similar to the one he did two years before when, driving a Williams, he did the same mistake while he was in second place, chasing Schumacher. That time he got uninjured, this time he exits the car limping, and for the sixth time on as many attempts on this season, he is not able to finish the race. Villeneuve’s accident provokes the enter of the Safety Car for the third time: perfect timing for most of the teams, that immediately call the drivers to the box to do the only scheduled stop. At the thirty-eighth lap, under Safety Car, Hakkinen is leading the race, Irvine is second but between him and the leader there are two cars to lap- Badoer and Panis- that impede to Eddie to think about any overtake maneuver. Coulthard is third, followed by Fisichella, Frentzen and Diniz. We go again. Irvine cannot attack Hakkinen, but not only, because the only Ferrari remained on track is surprised by Coulthard at the first turn, that tries a maneuver from the outside, that will be the inside in turn two. Irvine has a better traction at the exit of turn one, and entering turn two closes the door on Coulthard, who tries to put the front of his McLaren anyway. The contact is inevitable. The two go out of the track, with Irvine spinning and Coulthard that went straight on the grass and with his hand does a sign of evident frustration to Irvine, busy in the meantime to go back on track as soon as possible. Lucky for him, his Ferrari is not damaged. Coulthard, however, goes back to the box to check if everything is okay on his McLaren, and after a stop of 13.9 seconds he goes back on track, in ninth position but far from the group of drivers battling for points.
Irvine is eighth, but goes in seventh position after easily overtake Alex Zanardi. The accident between the Ferrari driver and Coulthard leaves Mika Hakkinen in complete solitude, since Fisichella, in second place, is running almost one and a half second slower than the leader. The Roman, by the way, is struggling with lapping Panis and Badoer’s cars, engaged between them and unwilling to put themselves on the side despite the numerous blue flags. This inevitably slows the Benetton driver that is reached by Frentzen. At the last chicane before the finish line, Panis tries to overtake Badoer, but without success. Right behind, Fisichella has to sharply lift his foot to avoid the contact, and so Frentzen takes advantage of it to take the second position to the Italian. Just now Panis decides to finally slow down, but the goose is cooked. A few laps after the race direction punishes both Panis and Badoer, because they didn’t respect blue flags, giving them a ten seconds Stop&Go. Same sort for Alex Zanardi, and especially to David Coulthard, found to be guilty for the accident with Irvine. After the overtake on Zanardi, in the meantime, the North Irish driver puts in his sights Pedro Diniz and Johnny Herbert, immediately in front of him and respectively in sixth and fifth position. With a great braking section at the first turn, Eddie gets rid of Diniz and the lapping of Badoer at the same time, enters in the points zone and point Johnny Herbert’s Stewart, which overtake will be more complicated given the great maximum speed of the Ford motorized car. The track is full of battles, unlike the boredom that has characterized the previous Spanish Grand Prix; the only one who didn’t get involved in these battles is Hakkinen, who continues is lonely trip to the victory. Irvine takes measurements on Herbert just by studying him for a few laps, risking to rear end at the braking of turn one. Then, at the fifty-third lap, Eddie forced the braking section at the last chicane and goes on the inside. Herbert is surprised by the enter of the rival, in fact this last goes long cutting the chicane passing on the grass. Herbert did the same, but luckily none of the two lose the control of the car. Irvine, in any case, even though taking a great risk takes the fifth position, and now, four seconds ahead there is Ralf Schumacher. Williams’ young German is immediately reached and overtook on the long straight without any difficulty, since the Supertec engine is less performing than the Ferrari’s. at more or less ten laps from the end, Irvine has come back from the eighth to fourth position; Fisichella, third, is twelve seconds far, so, even though he is faster than the Roman, a reunion appears improbable.
Eddie tries it anyway, also doing the fastest lap, 1'20"674, but the Benetton is too far. Fisichella as well is pushing to the limit, since he hopes he’ll be able to take back the second place from Frentzen, who keeps him at proper distance. The race seems to come to a conclusion without any other plot twists, but four laps to the end, the brake of a front brake disc of Frentzen’s Jordan causes a violent crash at turn 3, who goes on the barrier at high speed. The German driver is conscious but cannot get out of the car. Many see in the scene the accident happened to Panis two years before, with the French that had both legs fractured after a bad runway excursion. This time, luckily, after a few minutes of fear, Frentzen exits the car on his legs, but helped from the marshals that take him to the medical center. After he will be brought to the hospital, where they found little injures on his shoulder and left knee. It looks like nothing that can impede him to go back driving in the next weeks (just after they will discover than from the head of the tibula, under the connection of the right knee, a splinter of bone got detached). The accident, at any case, makes it necessary the fourth enter of the Safety Car on track driven by Oliver Gavin, that will take the driver to the checkered flag: for the first time in history the race ends under Safety Car. Gavin steps aside just on the last turn, going back in pit-lane, and leaving the track free for Mika Hakkinen, that celebrates undisturbed the third victory of the season, the first on the track entitled to Gilles Villeneuve. Giancarlo Fisichella and Eddie Irvine, author of an enthusiastic come back, go with him on the podium. Ends the points zone Ralf Schumacher, Johnny Herbert and Pedro Diniz. For the Stewart’s British and Sauber’s Brazilian these are the first points of the season. David Coulthard finishes just seventh; his already weak hopes to fight for the title, seem to be definitely vanish. With this success, simultaneously to Schumacher’s retirement, Hakkinen is the new leader of the championship, with 34 points, four more than the German driver. Irvine keeps his third place thanks to his 25 points, going further away form Frentzen, stayed at 13 points and reached by Fisichella. Coulthard, ran out of points, has to share the sixth place with Ralf Schumacher, with 12 points. During the press conference, Mika talks about the importance of this victory:
"I used to hate Canada, now I love it, it’s a fantastic place. I took back the mockery of Imola. There I was dominating, I’ve made a mistake and give the success to Schumacher. Here happened the exact contrary. And it’s a very important victory, because it can mark a turning point, turn things around. Here we were playing away, this is a Ferrari track. The ten points I bring home are extremely heavy. The battle for the title is open, maybe everything will be decided at the last race again, but now I am the favorite again. Because McLaren has a big development plan for the car. Now we feel like equals to Ferrari, Saturday qualifying demonstrated it, a gap between us and them of just twenty-nine thousandths, next weeks will be decisive. We have to focus on power of the engine and reliability. Our car will be much quicker. And if Schumacher can’t stay behind our progresses, then the battle is won. Free practices were a disaster, and I was very worried even because here in the past I haven’t done nothing positive, even though I promised myself to always be concentrated to try to do better. Then, thanks to the great work of my engineers, the car changed, becoming much more drivable to the limit".
A victory without any doubts favored by an early exit from the scene of Schumacher:
"At the start Michael closed me, and seen the accidents that happen here at the start I decided to have a more prudent tactic. It was useless to attack him, because here if you exit from the trajectory you easily find marbles and it doesn’t take much to crash. At that point I’ve decided to wait and see if something would have happened: it went like this, like I hoped".
The Finnish justifies Michael’s mistake:
"Here we used softer tires, that pick up a lot of dirt form the track, and so the grip is never ideal. At that point, then, like in all the chicanes, it’s enough to exit from the usual trajectory to end on the wall. We have to pay a lot of attention, especially after the stops at the box or when we restarted with the tires not on temperature, after the exit of the Safety Car. The only thing to do was keep the ideal trajectory and keep down the foot. For real, I don’t know if I would have had the possibility to overtake Michael, we both were very fast. But the first ten or fifteen laps are never indicative of what the race will be".
After the retire of the German, the race was all downhill, and Mika could easily manage his car:
"This is a very demanding track for the mechanic, in particular for the brakes, and so I didn’t go always to the limit. But the most comforting thing is that now the McLaren doesn’t break anymore. So far in the tests we had to try to resolve so many issues that we had during the Grand Prix weekends, but now we can finally concentrate on the development of the car. This race has clearly demonstrated that we are at the same level as Ferrari, and this equilibrium probably will last until the end. So will triumph the one that will develop the car and the chassis in a better way".
With the third podium conquered in the last three races did in Montreal, Giancarlo Fisichella demonstrated to have a special relationship with this track:
"Yes, this is a special place for me, I can always conquer good results, I’m very happy. My first goal was to get some points, so being even on the podium makes me enthusiast. The strategy has been perfect, I’ve struggled a bit at the beginning of the race because the fuel tank was full so the car had a bit of understeer. Then, with a lighter car, everything went better".
A second place that, before Frentzen’s retirement, lost because of the lapped cars:
"When I lost the position because of Panis and Badoer, I got really angry. They were a lap behind but didn’t step aside. Then Heinz-Harald retired and I got back the second place. A fantastic result for me and the team, I dedicate it to my girl Carlotta".
Eddie Irvine is satisfied as well of his performance, happy to have had an eventful race, especially if compared to the one did in Barcelona, where, he said to the media, he really would have had a stereo in the car:
"A podium torn with teeth. I’m happy with this third place but not completely, because I got some events that without the ones I could have annoyed even Hakkinen for the first place, and in the end also Fisichella for the second place. I got ruined by the Safety Car that entered after Villeneuve’s accident, at that point the race could have taken another physiognomy, obviously in my favor. From the box they told me that the Safety Car was coming in right after I passed the pit entry: if I was two seconds behind I could have taken advantage to do the stop, and I even could have been on top, considering that Hakkinen and Fisichella had yet to stop".
And especially there wouldn’t have been the crash with Coulthard:
"When the Safety Car came in, a lapped car took soil in the trajectory. To avoid it I was going on the wall and so I had to lift my foot. David came under, he entered a little wide in the turn, we were side by side but I was in front because I felt touched behind, and I spoon. I felt the car was strange for a little while, but luckily it was just because of the dirt I had on the tires. Once I eliminated that, the fun began".
This is Coulthard’s version:
"I tried to overtake hi on the right, he responded on the left. He closed the trajectory before I expected, but I understand his aggressiveness, we were battling for a second place. Unluckily I damaged the front, I got it changed, but from that moment the car wasn’t stable. And I couldn’t do anything".
Then, for Eddie, the great comeback:
"It has been fantastic with all those overtakes. Touched with Diniz? I don’t know, if he talks about the first overtake, we were three in that turn: fun. I don’t know if he touched me, I didn’t feel anything. I was immersed in an exciting game, I was always talking on the radio, and asking: who do I have in front? How many seconds do I have of disadvantage? And then, after an overtake: and now who is the next? A sight. With Herbert I tries the overtake at that point because it was my only chance; he didn’t want to let me pass, it’s normal, so we both went outside. I knew it would have been a problem to overtake the Stewart that was faster on the straight, and so I couldn’t try there. We both went on the grass, cutting the chicane, we took our risks, bur Herbert knows that the Formula One is not for babies".
With Ralf Schumacher, instead, the overtake for Irvine has been much more simple:
"Yes, because he didn’t have the speed of the Stewart on the straight. In that moment I was really pushing hard trying to catch Fisichella, maybe I could have done it in the last lap if the Safety Car wasn’t there, and if I didn’t lose so much time behind Herbert. My Ferrary was incredible, the best racing car I’ve ever driven. It’s a shame for Michael, but with a car like this we can go to Magny Cours sure that we can perform very well. I think it has great chances. In France we have always been strong and I think it will like this also this year. Unlike in Montreal the circuit of Magny Cours it’s very smooth, adapt for our cars. Last season we did a one-two, repeat it would be awesome. And could put the McLaren in crisis again".
In the meantime, Irvine’s manager, Enrico Zanarini, clarifies that:
"We are waiting for an offer from Ferrari. If they don’t come forward, we will do it. Within when? We have never set a limit of time, we don’t miss is offers".
But in Maranello they have something else to think about. Even though Ferrari is in first place in the Constructor’s Championship with 11 points advantage from McLaren, there is the great regret for Schumacher’s retirement, cause by one of the rare mistakes from the German driver, who, in front of microphones, doesn’t hide his faults:
"Substantially the thing is very simple: I got in too fast, I lost control of the car and crushed. My mistake, I always do one every year, and this is the one of 1999. It’s a shame, on a day like this, on a track like this. I was doing great, the car was magnifique, the track was for us. What a shame. I almost was halfway through the race, I know that chicane extremely well and I always do it with extreme caution because other drivers went out right there and went on the wall. In the previous laps, I saw that point was dirtier. All way through the wall it was full of dust that was moving with the wind of the exits from the track that there have been. I realized it, I knew it, and so I don’t have excuses: it was all my fault. I had to be careful, but instead I messed up everything. In those laps I was pushing hard because I had I little margin from Hakkinen, and so by and by I had to do the pit stop, I was trying to distance him. That is a terrible point: if you go out of the trajectory you have two possibilities: if you’re slow you can take back the control of the car, but if you’re going fast like I was you can’t take it anymore. A little because of the dust, a little maybe because of the curbs that upset the trajectory. The fact remains that after I did that turn right for a lot of laps, I crushed. It’s life, it happens. It could have been a great victory, very important for my championship, but it went like this instead. But I’m sure we can win thanks to our cars. Ferrari is going well, very well, it’s in great progress, we have the possibility of win somewhere else like we had it today. Of course, now I’m three points behind but it’s not a dramatic situation".
Schumacher ends confident, optimistic for the next races like the Ferrari team manager, Jean Todt:
"Unlikely we could not make the most from our potential, but it seems to me that ours have been the best cars on track today, in fact Eddie’s fastest lap demonstrated it. We don’t get demoralized and we think about the future, so to the next Grand Prix, where we could do great things".
Like it happened in the past, right after Michael Schumacher did an inaccuracy on track, the media starts with surgical precision its discussion regarding the German and his inclination to make mistakes on clue moments. We start from the two lost Championship in ’97 and ’98 for the accidents with Villeneuve in Jerez and the divisive in Spa with Coulthard, and to go even more back in time, taking back to the passionates’ minds the contact with Damon Hill in ’94 in Australia, form which Schumacher came out victorious because he conquered the title, or the mistake in the first turns in Monte Carlo, in 1996. Without forget about always in Canada, during the ’98 season, Michael went on the eye of the storm because he pushed out of the track Frentzen, and so, accused of dangerous driving. Flavio Briatore, one who can say to know well Michael, label the accident with Hill in ’94 like a race episode, but doesn’t exonerate the Ferrari driver for what happened with Coulthard at Spa:
"That one was an incomprehensible mistake: he must have had a blind mind to dab on someone who didn’t bother him on the run for the title. And Jerez and Villeneuve? Even though today I know Michael very well I don’t know what was in his mind. When Hakkinen did the same mistake in Imola, everyone step on him, now Schumacher does the same thing but I’m sure you will absolve him of charity of his birthplace".
With memory we end up talking about races like Argentina ’97, with Schumacher touching Rubens Barrichello’s car at turn one, or Austria ’98, when he goes out of track while trying to get closer to Hakkinen. A lot of occasions thrown away, says Briatore, who keeps talking about the two-time champion affirms:
"Michael is not the calculating painted by the newspaper in these years. He is anything but a robot. In contrast, he is very latin, Agnelli lawyer in right, he feels enormously the pressure form the outside. And he cannot always control the anxiety, the irritation. And he loses it. In Canada maybe he got excited by the pole position. He got upset, we could see it from how he was driving. He was pushing so hard but conclude a little or nothing because Hakkinen was always there two or three seconds far. Too little to do the pit stop safely, without the danger of being overtaken when stopped. This time a mistake like this will weight a lot, more than in the past. Losing ten points like this is hard to digest. It will be an enormous psychological weight, it will be difficult for him to shake it off. He is now thirty, he is no more that fresh boy with a clear mind that I had five years ago. And some thoughts are difficult to cancel. And he is like elephants: he never forgets. I hope he is right when he talks about a mistake per year, but sometimes, unluckily, he did more than one. And it would be a problem. But I’m also sorry for Ferrari that is working really well".
In ’96, after the retirement in Monte Carlo, he won the next race in Barcelona, for one who is remembered as one of the best performances of his entire career; in ’97, after the collision in Argentina, he won three out of five races held right after, reopening a championship that already seemed in the hands of Williams and Villeneuve; in ’98, after the unlucky performance in Monte Carlo, race ended in last place and lapped, he dominated the three next races, and always in the same season, after the retirement in Spa caused by the collision with Coulthard, he swoon the crown in Monza with a landslide victory. Now, with a mistake that costed him the victory, or in the worst of hypothesis a podium, everyone is expecting a reaction from Michael Schumacher, already in Magny-Cours, France, where will be held the seventh race of the 1999 World Championship.