#638 1999 British Grand Prix

2021-04-20 00:00

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#1999, Fulvio Conti, Davide Scotto di Vetta, Translated by Alessia Bossi,

#638 1999 British Grand Prix

Archived the bizarre French Grand Prix, won by surprise by Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the helm of the Jordan motorised Mugen-Honda, Formula 1 moves to S

Archived the bizarre French Grand Prix, won by surprise by Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the helm of the Jordan motorised Mugen-Honda, Formula 1 moves to Silverstone for one of the many test sessions carried out throughout the year, from Tuesday 29 July to Friday, August 1, 1999. On the historic English circuit, the eighth round of the World Cup will also be played, always led by Mika Hakkinen, who, thanks to the second place in recovery achieved in France, increased eight points ahead of Michael Schumacher. On Tuesday, June 29, on a wet track, the German driver performs some trim tests using chassis number 195 and 190 on the F399, closing at the head with a time of 1'26"956, making the most of the runway only at dry strokes. David Coulthard, second, stops at four tenths. The next day, the ferrarista completed up to fifty-three laps without encountering any problems, testing new Bridgestone tires, while Eddie Irvine, absent the day before, brings the 048B engine to the track, still lacking the necessary reliability to debut in the race. The best time this time is by Rubens Barrichello, at the wheel of Stewart-Ford. The Brazilian is among the main candidates to replace Irvine in Ferrari in the 2000 season, rumours also fuelled by the statements of Lawyer Agnelli, who is said to be uncertain about what the future of the Northern Irish driver will be. Rather than the next driver who will have to act as a squire to Michael Schumacher, however, to keep a bench in that of Maranello it is always the new engine, lightened and with more horsepower, which finally passes unscathed the race simulations carried out during the tests, unlike a propeller of the previous evolution that he gives in during the last day, preventing Irvin No alarmism anyway, not least because the V10 was at the end of mileage. Although the progress made on the 048B is evident, the team led by Jean Todt prefers to wait for the first free practice sessions to decide on its eventual use. Many wonder about the actual advantage that the engine can bring to the race, and Schumacher, after cautiously declaring in the previous days that the advantages will not be huge, suggests that the long-awaited Sunday debut could come to Silverstone. Also, he doesn't make drama for the growing ranking detachment from Hakkinen:


"The new engine is going well, as the many tests done have shown. Silverstone is a McLaren circuit, but we can be optimistic. The disadvantage? The ranking is better than last year".


On July 1, 1999, photographer Oliviero Toscani was convicted by the Court of Milan for an interview given after the incident between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve at the Grand Prix of Europe, held in Jerez De La Frontera on October 26, 1997. Toscani had made sure that the German pilot had executed precise stable orders. The photographer will have to pay a million fine and compensate for 60 million the president of Ferrari, Luca Cordero of Montezemolo and for 30 the head of the team ran Jean Todt. Before returning to England for the race weekend, the Minardi driver and Ferrari test driver, Luca Badoer, tests the three single-seaters that will take part in the English home, shooting in 1'02"858, but is also the protagonist of a harmless track exit at the end of the main straight on the Fiorano track. Ferrari is not the only team to work on an upgraded engine, because Honda is also ready to start a new evolution of the engine (syet used only in test) on the Jordan. The two cars from Frentzen and Hill will also have a smaller gearbox and a modified ejector profile. There will, therefore, also be Damon Hill, whose presence at his home Grand Prix had been questioned at the end of the race at Magny Cours, which ended early due to a car failure: demotivated and already oriented towards retirement at the end of the season, the former World Champion had not ruled out hanging his helmet on the nail right away. After two weeks of reflection, however, the Jordan driver shows up in Silverstone, to the delight of his many fans. Hill's choice is commented on as follows by compatriot Irvine:


"I hope Hill runs because he wants it and not because he is forced. That would be stupid".


The good Eddie, though, has something else to think about, because in the week of approach to the Grand Prix, the News of the World reveals that the Ferrari driver has a daughter in great secrecy in England. The little girl, three years old, lives with her mother in a small English town, but dad Eddie, although absent for most of the time, regularly pays the fees for a very expensive kindergarten, bought a car for her mother, and takes care of all the necessary expenses. The baby, moreover, is often visited by Irvine's sister, her paternal grandparents, as well as her father. A news that makes you smile when you think of the many times when Irvine has mocked his teammate, Michael Schumacher, for his model father lifestyle. Meanwhile, on Thursday, July 8, 1999, on the day before the start of the race weekend, Rubens Barrichello confirms that a negotiation is underway with Ferrari to take Irvine’s place starting from the following season:


"Even after Magny Cours we talked to each other, but there is no decision yet. I'm waiting for them to let me know something, in the meantime I'm free to deal with others and them too. It's not easy to make a decision for me: Ford - which in previous weeks bought Stewart and aims to bring the prestigious Jaguar brand to the circus - is a great automaker, has great programs, has a great chance of becoming World Champion. But even Ferrari has these possibilities and it's not easy. The rest comes later, money is not my priority".


Ferrari and Stewart, however, are not the only options:


"I had also talked to McLaren, we had given ourselves fifteen days, they have passed and so this is the third possibility that seems to me now more remote".


The goal of the Brazilian is only one:


"I just want to win. And I tell you more: I am presumpised to believe I can win and I want to win. If a pilot doesn't have this in his head, he better stop".


In Ferrari, however, he should be content with the role of gregarious, but the current Stewart driver does not seem to agree:


"Second guide by contract, that is, that you can't get over it because you're banned? Here, I would never do that. I want the same car, the same means, the same chances of winning. I had started as a second guide, asserted myself and passed my degree. We'll see what comes out, but I don't sign to be second to none. After all, Michael is very good, he's number one, he's not afraid of anyone, much less of me. That doesn't mean that if I'm in a position to get over it, I just want to do it. I am in a happy situation, disputed by two strong teams, I want to choose the best".


On Friday, July 9, 1999 you get back on track. And McLaren, who has not won the Silverstone circuit since 1989 with Alain Prost, immediately makes things clear: Hakkinen is the only driver able to descend under the wall of the 1'27"0, he is in first position ahead of Ralf Schumacher, driving a Williams on which news continues to be baked. The improvements seem to be there, but for now they are only evident to the young German, since Alex Zanardi is still struggling in the rear. Eddie Irvine is third, and runs a good twenty-seven laps ahead of Coulthard, Barrichello and Michael Schumacher, sixth four tenths from Hakkinen, but strong in a promising race pitch, having completed twenty-four laps with a single set of tires on very interesting times. Big scare for Jarno Trulli, who due to the breakage of a rear suspension on his motorised Prost Peugeot, goes off the track at a speed of 250 km/h. At the end of the free, Hakkinen is satisfied with how the two sessions took place:


"The car is fine, we did a great job of finding an ideal set-up for the race. The qualification will be combatted, it always is, but we will go strong".


Equally optimistic Michael Schumacher, also because finally the new engine will be used in the race as well as in qualifying:


"I can go pole, we're on par with McLaren. If we can guess the structures we will go stronger. There are six cars in three tenths of a second. I would be surprised if, at the end of the qualifications, the ranking was the same. I can attack, the car is fine, we will also use the new engine in the race. After a moment that has not lasted for three races, we can only enter a favourable period. We had wasted a good opportunity in Spain, then I was wrong in Canada, and in France the race was a lottery, without forgetting the problem I had with the car. In any case, the car was ultimately competitive and both made it to the finish line, which it didn't work at all".


Rather bizarre are the scenes that the Ferrari box gives away during free practice. After the disaster in making Eddie Irvine's unplanned pit stop at Magny Cours (even lasted 43 seconds), Ross Brawn reacts with a hard fist to what Ferrari's technical director calls an error caused by Italian emotionality. Twenty chairs are arranged inside the box, on each of which you can read the name of a mechanic. Then, Stefano Domenicali, takes the floor:


"To get you all up in unison and snap, keep your knees together and your hands open on your knees. Those sitting on the right turn left, those on the left turn right".


Once standing, the mechanics head to the tyres, now equipped with liners of different colours to distinguish the various compounds and avoid messes. At the pitch, three are refuelling, two to the fire extinguishers, twelve to the tires, two to the trollies and one with an air gun for any emergency motions. All for a total of twenty men. Try and try these procedures again, so scenes like Magny Cours don't repeat themselves. On Saturday, the paddock welcomes Bernie Ecclestone, a successful heart operation. Celebrated by everyone, the Formula One patron appears in great shape, ready to enjoy the qualification, which begins in the sign of Mika Hakkinen. The defending champion scores a great time already at his first attempt, which allows him to stay ahead of the ranking for the duration of the session, without ever being approachable. A quarter of an hour from the end, to secure the sixth pole of the season, he returns to the track and improves by 134 thousandths, turning in 1'24"804. In the final bars, Michael Schumacher tries everything for everything, but remains four tenths away from the poleman. A troubled qualification for the German, who struggles to complete a clean lap, between burrs and heavy locks. Hakkinen observes the opponent’s last attempt at the pits, in the cockpit, after which, having made sure he could not be beaten, he takes off his steering wheel and gets out of the car, raises his arms to the sky and celebrates a pole that he was missing from two races; too many for a driver who had won five in a row. At the press conference, Mika doesn't hide her joy:


"I'm happy with my McLaren's behaviour. We had several structures to work on, none really very different from the other, and the machine has always shown that it reacts well to every change. In last week's tests and in these two days the team did a great job. We have improved in all sectors, from engine to aerodynamics and now I feel like I can say that we are 2-3 tenths from the maximum exploitation of the machine. Here overtaking is almost impossible, the race will be less exciting than at Magny Cours, and I'm leaving ahead of everyone. Plus the track is dirty. And it is much more so, at the grid level, in the area where the Ferraris are. The dream is Coulthard who surpasses Schumacher at the start, he goes second and I make the void. I don't think, however, that Silverstone can be considered a decisive stage, but of course those who pursue have more and more headaches than those in front. And psychological pressure facilitates mistakes".

During the qualifying session there is a small misunderstanding with Schumacher, when the two leave the respective boxes at the same time; Hakkinen comes out just in front of him, and the ferrarista flanks him and passes him in the box lane. Michael explains what happened like this:


"At the boxes the limit is 80 km/h, if one goes further it means that he has problems. And I had to try the time. That's why I got over it".


For his part, Hakkinen quickly liquidates the matter and talks about the importance for his team to return to winning in front of his fans:


"No problem, it's up to these things to happen. No problem with Michael. History is an important thing for the team, less for me who am used to living the present. But it is clear that I would be immensely pleased to give such a gift to the team, as well as earning valuable points for the World Cup".


Ron Dennis, on the other hand, hopes that the long fast on this track does not condition the performance of drivers and team:


"The nine years of lost victories will have no influence. But we are satisfied with the behaviour of Mika and Coulthard. And, on top of that, in the test we saved two trains of tires that could be decisive in the management of the race".


Dennis concludes by talking about the overall performance of the car:


"M Mika's time in the morning free, when the temperature was cooler, is a very comforting signal because it has confirmed to us that we are in good shape. But not for this and for the advantage recovered at Ferrari in the World Cup we feel relaxed. We would not be if we had 30 or 40 points ahead, because at that moment we would become vulnerable. We don't like to find ourselves with our butts on the ground to lulled on our laurels".


Second and defeated, Michael Schumacher promises battle in race:


"We went to the limit. But in race conditions we go much better and therefore I'm not worried at all, even if starting on pole would have been better. The new engine certainly gives advantages in total driveability, but as far as power is concerned, I didn't realise a big difference. Everything is now being able to find the right arrangements".


In the second row, detached by seven and eight tenths respectively from Hakkinen, David Coulthard and Irvine. The Scot complains about an unstable rear trailer that tends to slip, so a third place is equally to be considered an excellent result for him:


"Compared to last week the car was much more nervous, also because of the wind that upset our adjustments. I tried to go stronger, but with the car not in place a bit of confidence was lacking".


Third row monopolised by Jordan, with Frentzen beating home idol Hill by a tenth. However, sixth place is an injection of confidence for the British, in the midst of a crisis of results.


"I am happy with the position I got in qualifying. I hope to do better in the race also because I run in the house, in front of an audience that loves me and that expects the best from me".


He does not have the compatriot public to push him, but Frentzen, at the expense of a leg still sore from the accident that occurred in Canada a few weeks earlier, is in a dazzling shape and with crazy dreams that pass through his head after the victory in France:


"He was one of my best of the season, on a challenging and extremely fast circuit. I managed to stand behind the McLaren-Ferrari quartet, which for me is already a great achievement. For the moment, even if the car goes from good to better, I don't think more can be done. On one of my fast laps I was braked in the last sector of the track, because I probably hit a stone, otherwise I would have won a little seat in the second row. I am very confident: I believe in the race that I can improve my position. The goal? Earning the most points and getting on the podium, of course".


Despite the novelties tried on the B199, on all a new front wing, the Benetton can't find the right balance. A season made of ups and downs has perhaps the lowest point in Silverstone's qualifying, as Giancarlo Fisichella has to contend with the worst placement in his career: seventeenth, three seconds behind Hakkinen, and ahead only Wurz, the Arrows and the Minardi. A disaster that can be stopped, according to the Roman pilot, only with the help of rain:


"But I no longer hope for anything. The new wing is worse than the old one, we won't use it in the race, my mood is bad. Like our wind tunnel, which helps us very little".


On July 14, 1979, Clay Regazzoni gave Williams the first joy in its glorious history. Since then, the team founded by Sir. Frank and da Patrick Head have forfeited seven world drivers, nine world builders, 108 pole positions and 103 wins in 402 races. Exceptional numbers, although for two years now, following Villeneuve's crown, the Grove-based team is in the midst of a transition phase, made of mediocre performance and very little satisfaction. The price is mainly Alex Zanardi, who after a depressing thirteenth place in qualifying (far away as usual also from comrade Ralf Schumacher, ninth), admits to the microphones of journalists:


"I had accepted Williams' offer on a three-year contract, being sure to compete in a competitive team, equipped with a winning car. The team is always strong, determined, one of the best, but I think I happened in a transition season. Actually the Supertec engine is good but not superlative. But that's not my handicap: the truth is that not my driving style I can't drive the FW21. It's a difficult, nervous car, with which you can't take too many risks. You have to throw it away with strength and hope to keep it. Ralf does better than I do it, but he's very young and adapts better than me to new situations".


On the Saturday of qualifying, President Luca di Montezemolo also attended the boxes, surrounded by the media for some news about the future second Ferrari driver, now a real case. Montezemolo admits that there are so many things to evaluate, then he spends a few words for Irvine:


"First we painted it as useless and then as indispensable. There are reasons to keep him and reasons to let him go: Irvine came to Ferrari to be Schumacher as a second guide or, as I read in the newspapers, to be his waiter. It's not a shame, and he did it well, with efficiency, with great professionalism. Then, thanks also to the fact that we gave him a better machine, he began to make good results and to nurture more consistent ambitions: quite right, of course. It’s nice to have ambitions And then the team: in over three years he has teamed very well with the team, in work, in personal relationships and these are things that weigh, that are worth. On the other hand, we must also see if and to what extent his motivations are still strong, in short, we must evaluate, together with him, many things. There's no hurry, we'll see".


And on the other candidate, Rubens Barrichello:


"He's definitely a good driver, fast they tell me, but there are so many fast. I last spoke to him ten months ago, then I never saw him again. And if I have to be honest, I would have preferred that the things he said to the press - I want to be on par with Schumacher - to have told me in private, but, after all, Irvine also says so many things to you journalists. You have to see, evaluate calmly, in any case I will just make the decision. The announcement will be given before Monza, it's a tradition".


Then the focus shifts to the qualification, ending not exactly as he hoped:


“This is McLaren’s track, it’s its historic base, it’s clear that they go strong here and we knew that. But it is fine for us to start in the front row because this is a difficult track, and the very start could prove decisive. If I have to be honest I would love to leave Sunday afternoon with a win in my pocket, and do you know why? Because we are celebrating the centenary Fiat, but also the thirty-year anniversary of Fiat joining Ferrari, and at the great gala on Sunday night I would like to bring this victory as a gift to Fiat. I've always been keen to have their brand on our racing cars because they are two very related stories, very united and heard".


On Sunday 11 July, at the end of the warm-up dominated by Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher is still second, but not very happy about the budget of his F399. In the early afternoon, a few minutes before the start of the race, Michael makes two laps before standing on the grid, passing through the box lane; the goal is to check the tuning of the car, and see if the sensations are the same as in the morning despite the work of the mechanics at the end of the warm-up. A final adjustment to the centre damper of the suspension, and then straight on the starting system. Getting out of the car, Schumacher has a brief interview with Todt, Brawn and Lunetta. We review the race strategy, which except for surprises should be on two stops for everyone, then a brief interview with the German broadcaster, to which he declares:


"This Grand Prix will decide everything at the start, I must immediately attack Hakkinen, pass it without delay. I have no alternative".


Michael looks serene, jokes a little with the journalist and finally lowers his visor. The race is about to begin. On the grid, meanwhile, Olivier Panis is missing, who nervously watches the mechanics inside the boxes who prepare the mullet set for Jarno Trulli. His Prost, in fact, has some problems, and the French will have to start from the pitlane. At 13:00 local, the traffic lights go out, the race begins. Not for Alex Zanardi and Jacques Villeneuve, who stand still on the grid, and, failing to leave, cause after a slight wait the red flag, which is meaning interrupted race. The other pilots, meanwhile, are in the middle of the first lap. Hakkinen shot very well and flew into his head, while Schumacher is the author of a reviewable shot. Both Coulthard and Irvine pass him to the first corner, but Michael doesn't like it, and at the corners Becketts and Maggots tries to tuck the teammate, also risking contact. On the Hangar Straight the two Redheads are paired. At this juncture the red flag is displayed, but it has not yet been communicated to the pilots. This will only happen after everyone has faced the detachment of the Stowe curve. This is where Schumacher and Irvine arrive wheel to wheel; the North Irish leaves room for his foreman, as logical to expect, but something is wrong with the F399 of Micahel, which first blocks the front right and then the front left, ends up in the escape route and at a disproportionate speed goes violently to crash into the tyre barriers. Not even time to realise what happened that Michael first warns the team saying:


"We have brake problems, warn Irvine".


Then he tries to get out of the car quickly, but then he has to stop abruptly, perhaps because he feels a pang of pain. The commissioners intervene with extreme caution, because Michael is extremely sore. For the dynamics of the impact, you immediately fear for the legs. After a long and heartbreaking wait, as many as seven minutes, German is extracted at 1:10 p.m. by the commissioners, and doctors help him following standard procedures. These are excited moments, in Ferrari boxes they fear the worst, perhaps the most lucid is the German, who has not lost consciousness and asks for a phone to call his wife Corinna at home, in Switzerland. A few words, but with effect:


"Don't worry, I'm still alive".


At 1:16 p.m. Schumacher is put on a stretcher, with his collar and covered on the sides by a tarpaulin to keep him hidden by cameras and cameras, and transported inside an ambulance, which in turn escorts him to the medical centre. As we walk the runway, a wave of applause from the stands accompanies the vehicle. He will say some time later, to the German television network RTL:


"I was dying. I felt my heart stopping. I was sweating, I felt my heartbeats were decreasing, my heart suddenly stopped and everything turned black. I don't know exactly how long the state of unconsciousness lasted and what it was caused by, but that's what I heard".


Meanwhile, the drivers are back on the grid, and are waiting to receive information about Schumacher, and when to resume the race. Some get off the cockpit, including Hakkinen, who talks to Ron Dennis, while others stay inside without even taking off his helmet, such as Irvine, who, will find out at the end of the race, has not been informed of the seriousness of his teammate’s health situation. The race director, Charlie Whiting, heads to the Stowe curve, the place of the accident, talks to the commissioners and watches them work as they carry away the crashed Ferrari, with the front completely destroyed: an image that does not invite optimism. Whiting approaches the completely detached face, analyses it, then goes to the barriers, which need to be rearranged. While waiting, the first news that filters from the medical centre speaks of damage to both legs. At 1:33 p.m., the FIA issued a statement about fractures and withdrawal from the race, and at 1:35 p.m. local time, Maurizio Arrivabene, responsible for Ferrari's main sponsor, returns from the medical centre and confirms that the X-rays are in progress. There is talk of a fracture of the tibia and perone of the right leg, a news confirmed shortly after, a few moments from the second departure. At 1:54 p.m. the helicopter with Schumacher on board rises from Silverstone, in the direction of Northampton General Hospital. Accompanying him are Jean Todt, who holding his hand tries to comfort him minute by minute, the Indian physiotherapist Balbir Singh and the logistics manager Miodrag Kotur. Here, at the end of an hour and a half of work in the operating room, it will be successfully operated. An operation that takes place without complications, as the late-night statement issued by Northampton General Hospital will rect, the Silverstone Red Cross as the hospital where Michael Schumacher will spend his unfortunate afternoon is called:


"Michael Schumacher arrived this afternoon at the General Hospital in Northampton. was put under observation in relation to a fracture of the tibia and perone, reduced fractures during an operation that took place without complications. Schumacher remains hospitalised for the whole night in Northampton, a new statement will be released tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.".


Despite the shock over Schumacher's fearful accident, the race must start again, with the second pitch, there in the front row, desolately empty. He then starts again, and even this time Hakkinen leaves no escape to his pursuers and flies in the lead, followed by Irvine who has the upper hand over Coulthard and Frentzen, who queue. Excellent shot by Ralf Schumacher, eighth to sixth, sandwich between the two Jordans. After just a ride, however, the entry of the Safety Car is needed, as the Arrows of De La Rosa remained stationary along the runway. The single-seater is removed quickly, and after just a ride behind the safety car it restarts immediately. David Coulthard tries to surprise Irvine at the Copse bend, but he turns his shoulders wide and holds the second position. The first phase of the race is quite static, with only Barrichello and Alesi neighbours fighting for seventh position. For the rest, the head drivers are all shelled with each other; Coulthard, in fact, after a few laps of siege loses contact from the only surviving Ferrari. Hakkinen manages a quiet five-second margin over Irvine, a gap that gives him the necessary peace of mind ahead of the first of the two scheduled stops. Around the twentieth round begins the first series of pit-stops, opened by Marc Gené with the Minardi. Coulthard goes to the pits on the twenty-second lap, when he is three seconds behind Irvine. With a 7.6-second pit-stop, the Scot has to push to the fullest in his out lap to make Irvine unthinking. The next step is Hakkinen, whose stop is problematic because of a problem of tightening the left rear tire: 9.2 seconds, decidedly too many, and moreover, the mechanics consult each other worried, because the problem does not seem to have been solved.


In fact, in his exit from the pits, Hakkinen runs very slowly to the point of being easily overtaken by Coulthard and some dubbed drivers. Meanwhile, the new race leader, Irvine, stops at the pits, and even for him the stop is not perfect. Eddie arrives slightly down the pitch, causing a waste of time for his mechanics who have to reposition themselves; in addition, he struggles to insert the nozzle to refuel. Despite the many workouts during the week-end, the pit-stop lasts twelve seconds, and when leaving the pit-lane the position on Coulthard is inexorably lost. Irvine, however, retains second place, because Hakkinen’s problems force the latter to return to the pits again. The trouble with the right rear tire persists, the mechanics can't fix it. It is replaced with another tire, but the time lost is a lot: 27 seconds is the duration of the second pit-stop made in two laps for the championship leader. Coulthard, therefore, finds himself at the head of the race, ahead of Irvine and Ralf Schumacher, who manages to overcome Frentzen after a simultaneous pit-stop during which the Williams men are impeccable unlike those of the Jordan. Frentzen is fourth, ahead of comrade Hill and Barrichello. Hakkinen is only eleventh, he is the fastest driver on the track, but here it is on the twenty-eighth lap, starting from the last corner, the right rear tire detaches, leaving the Finnish's McLaren Mercedes on three wheels. Mika still goes back to the pits, the mechanics mount a new set of tires, but as before, the rear right has problems. Another stop of 24 seconds, then you start again from dubbed, right behind Frentzen. The twists and turns are not over, because the next lap ends Jacques Villeneuve's race, for a half-axis problem.


The Canadian driver, still unable to conclude a race this season, parks the car at the finish line, in a potentially dangerous position, so the race management opts again for the entry of the Safety Car. After three laps of waiting, the run can start again, with the whole group recompensated. Irvine bracks Coulthard, but fails to make himself dangerous, while Hakkinen attacks Frentzen and splits with a nice overtaking at the Stowe curve. Great maneuver also by Barrichello, who surprises Damon Hill at the Club curve and climbs to fifth position. Hakkinen also tries to split from Ralf Schumacher, who nevertheless resists McLaren's attacks. On the thirty-fifth lap then, the McLaren box calls Mika back to the pits, this time to decree his retirement, the third in this championship. With his direct tracker out of the game, not only for this race but also for the subsequent ones, here is a golden opportunity for the two gregarious, those who until recently could hardly have imagined such a scenario. With a win, Irvine would run to become the number one driver to contend the title at Hakkinen; Coulthard, for his part, would earn ten points that would allow him to approach the high areas of the drivers' standings. In the centre stage, Eddie is visibly faster than Coulthard, who defends himself strenuously without ever committing inaccuracies, and thus gives the opponent a chance to overtake. Around the fortieth lap the pilots make the second pit-stop. Irvine attempts the undercut, but Coulthard, before returning to the boxes in turn, records partial records that allow him to firmly maintain the first virtual position after his pit-stop.


Virtual because the two Jordans come back a few laps later, and thanks to this choice, Damon Hill, after Frentzen also stopped, can enjoy a first-position lap in his home Grand Prix. First position that is short-lived, as Damon re-enters and leaves the leadership to Coulthard, but it is still to be highlighted the pomp of the crowd celebrating the Briton during that tour with a more unique than rare enthusiasm. Hill returns to the sixth track, but later climbs to fifth place thanks to the drilling of a tire over Barrichello's Stewart, which must say goodbye to the chance to gain valuable points. He thanks teammate Johnny Herbert, who gains sixth position, at least until the race management gives him a Stop&Go for overtaking Safety Car. Herbert counts the penalty, and leaves the sixth position in the hands of Pedro Diniz. Nothing else happens, and after sixty laps travelled, David Coulthard can finally celebrate his first season win, ending a fast that even lasted from last season’s Imola Grand Prix. So much bad luck hit the Scot during the first half of the championship; bad luck that this time he hit Hakkinen and the rear wheel of his McLaren. Irvine and a sumptuous Ralf Schumacher climb on the podium with him, capable of bringing a Williams to the podium, despite the car's low competitiveness and above all the accident that occurred to his brother Michael. However, the logical concern did not prevent him from making a big race. Frentzen, Hill and Diniz points zone close on the Sauber. In the closed park, just got out of the car, Coulthard is surrounded by Hakkinen and Ron Dennis, who hug him and congratulate him. A scene that gives an idea of how much David needed to win again, and how relaxed and friendly the atmosphere in Woking’s is. At a press conference, Coulthard begins by saying:


"It's great, after the team allowed me to beat Eddie with a very fast pit-stop, I started thinking I could win this race, maybe trying to stay out of trouble. It's been a long time since my last win, and it's nice to be able to celebrate again. I'm sorry for Mika's retirement, but this is undoubtedly the most exciting success of my career".


Coulthard takes the McLaren to the top of the podium in Britain after a very long wait:


"Winning here is special: I would have barted any of my wins for this. It is an indescribable emotion, and I have to thank my mechanics for the excellent work they have done, allowing me to pass in the head. Eddie was faster than me in the first part of the race, while later I had a better race step than his, but in any case our times were very similar, so the stops were critical. World Cup? It's early to say, I don't want to think about it at the moment. In the meantime, I hope Michael is well".


David is in fact at 22 points, at -18 from teammate Hakkinen, who, talking about the inconvenience he had during the race when he lost a tire in full acceleration, says he is upset:


"I had a terrible fear, luckily it happened in a slow curve, when I was going at just over 100 km/k. If it had happened in full straight, now I wouldn't be here to tell it. It's very strange, it never happened to me and I hope it doesn't happen again. The mechanics explained to me that a fixing nut of the left rear wheel broke. A very rare trouble, which could have cost me dearly".


However, the reason for the withdrawal was another:


"The fault lies with the brakes. When I stayed with three wheels, the car had several impacts with the ground. In one of these a disc broke, that of the skipped wheel. I went back to the pits, it was my third pit-stop in a few minutes, they put my tire on, and everything seemed fine, so much so I realised my fastest lap. But the order came from the stable to come back, because they realised that I could no longer brake well, that I would soon have big problems. They stopped me for safety reasons. On such a Sunday, also seen what happened to Schumacher, maybe it's better that way".


Michael’s likely long absence might pave the way for the second World Title, but Mika doesn’t think about this:


"I don't like it, I don't like to speculate about the misfortunes of others. In fact, I'm very worried about what happened to Michael. I prefer to beat opponents on the track. In any case, I wasted a great opportunity to stretch in the lead in the World Cup, to accumulate advantage. The only good thing about this weekend is that I'm still the leader. But now he's approached Irvine. And he is a fearsome opponent too".


Regarding Coulthard, the Finn declares:


"For David it's a great thing, he hasn't won in more than a year, he will give him great morale. And I'm happy for the team, which despite my mishaps managed to recover points on Ferrari. Now, in the builders, we are only two lengths. And in Austria there can be overtaking".


With the second place obtained, Irvine boasts 32 points in the standings, the same as his teammate. At the press conference, when you hear his statements, you realise that Eddie, incredibly, knows absolutely nothing about Schumacher's conditions:


"During the warm-up we tried settings that could allow us to stress less on the tires, but they didn’t work, so we went back to the previous set-up. I don't know what happened to Michael, but I'm sure he will return to occupy his position as early as the next race, as usual. So it's useless to talk about what my role will be for the rest of the season, I don't see the point".


Poorly digested words by Ralf Schumacher, who at the press conference just shakes the boss, but then the German press vents and attacks Irvine:


"Eddie should learn to shut up a bit or think about what she says. In recent months he has done nothing but complain about Michael's privileged position, of how he is not given the opportunity to prove what he is worth. Michael has always been the fastest of the two, but Irvine doesn’t miss an opportunity to cry. Well, I would like to tell him to stop complaining and really prove that he is the fastest. Otherwise he'd better be silent because no one can do more than him by now".


Shortly after comes the official Ferrari release, in which Irvine explains that he was unaware of the severity of Michael's injury. It doesn't matter to Ralf, who immediately went to the Northampton hospital where his brother is. After reviewing the dynamics of the accident, the Williams driver says his:


"It was a bad accident, especially because of the angle and impact speed. And it was a strange accident because, from what I could see on television, Michael didn't even try to change his trajectory. It's not his place to go and bang that way, without even trying anything. That's why I believe the accident was caused by a technical problem".


Getting back in the car was definitely not easy, as he himself admits:


"I was worried about Michael, but with the second departure so close I certainly couldn't go to the hospital to see how he was doing. A few minutes later the team informed me that it had been pulled out of the car, which had greeted the public before being loaded onto the ambulance, which was not serious and that reassured me. And then during the race I was kept informed about his condition. That's why, if I was anxious about him at first, once I knew he was fine I could go back to focussing on the race. Now my only hope is that he can get back to running as soon as possible".


In the after race, Claudio Berro, the team spokesman, is the most sought after by cameras and notebooks, but it is Schumacher's German spokesman, Buchinger, who talks about metal plates applied to the right leg (with the operation doctors insert a metal plate 30 centimetres long to reduce the fracture of the tibia and perone), which would suggest a broken fracture and long recovery times:


"Michael was talking a few moments before entering the hospital, he phoned his wife to reassure her".


In the meantime, doubts are being expressed about the reasons for the accident, but Berro calls for a delay:


"The machine is in the boxes, you have to examine the telemetry, while the FIA will analyse the black box in its possession. We rule out problems behind the wheel. It's the fault of the rear brakes, they are the cause of the accident".


Another delicate topic: when Schumacher went off the track, the commissioners had already displayed the red flag, the race was interrupted. Was the German warned? And why then did he risky that unnecessary overtaking on Irvine? Here confusion reigns supreme. Ferrari's sports director, Stefano Domenicali, says:


"The red flag was for the accident at Schumacher, not for the two cars stuck on the grid. In the morning, during the briefing, it was said that with cars left stationary at the start there would be the safety car. So it happened, I just don't know if Schumacher realised, we had trouble communicating with him via radio".


But Charlie Whiting, race director, talks about the red flag for the two cars stuck on the grid and the mystery remains. Berro says:


"We saw the flag on the monitors, but the race had started fifteen seconds. And it's not easy to communicate with the pilots in such a short time".


The climax of the paradox occurs with Irvine, as he knows very little about Schumacher and continues to hope to see him in the next race, until he understands and declares:


"They hadn't told me anything to make me run quietly".


After such a fearful accident, the speech logically shifts to safety and escape routes. The gravel, in fact, does not seem to have slowed Schumacher's Ferrari enough, which then went against the barriers at high speed. According to Ralf:


"In theory that was a safe curve, with a wide escape route, instead you saw what happened. There has been a lot of debate about whether asphalt can be a safer solution, even if I am not convinced of it. It can be in certain curves, but then it rains and the asphalt doesn't stop you anymore. Gravel is still the best solution, but I would propose to the FIA to study innovations, with perhaps the level of the gravel rising to the outside of the curve. This would cause a safe slowdown of the machine. It is a proposal made a long time ago, perhaps it would be appropriate to adopt it, although in some cases it would impose the remaking of some tribune".


Much more controversial, more experienced pilots like Coulthard and Hill, who point their finger right against the poor effectiveness of gravel. David accuses:


"When you get an accident like the one that happened to Schumacher, with his Ferrari hitting head-on against the guards, there are no front guards on the cars that can completely avoid leg damage. Unfortunately, in these cases the escape routes with sand, although wide as the one outside the Stowe curve, are not useful because in these conditions they cannot slow down the car, which indeed floats over it. We'll talk about it with the Federation: the pilots association exists for that".


Hill puts him on and says:


“With accidents of this type the escape routes should be slightly raised, to function. Also, given what happened to Schumacher, it is clear that the barriers with the piles of old tires placed in front of the embankment at that point, where very high speeds are reached, were decidedly inadequate".


Not least Ruben Barrichello, who sounds the security alarm. According to him, however, the real problem is the four-slot tires:


"These tires on certain tracks and with the wind can become very dangerous. Here in Silverstone, during the race, there was a lot of wind and often the car lost grip. I am sorry for what happened to Schumacher, but he is a leader, his words are always very heavy and I hope his accident can help improve the situation. Because now we are at the limit. He broke his leg, it was a fortune, he could have been worse. So you can't move on anymore. Formula 1 machines have become safer for the body. But they are tighter and the legs always remain at high risk, because the space to cushion the blows has decreased. We pilots have to think together".


The day after the race, the results of the FIA investigation into the accident are made public: the front right tire of the F399 stopped at a speed of 306 km/h, with an initial deceleration of 3.1 G. Then, the locking of both front tires took place at 240 km/h with a G force dropped to 2.1. At the time of impact, the speed of the Ferrari was 107 km/h. FIA President Max Mosley pushes for new steps needed to increase security:


"Despite the progress made by Senna's tragic accident, Schumacher in Sunday's exit hit the steering wheel with his head. The forces are so big that such pulled seat belts are not enough".


Meanwhile, in Maranello we are trying to understand the cause of the malfunction that led to the accident. Some news outlets speak of a driver's mistake (The English newspaper Indipendent), while the German newspaper Bild even hypothesises an attempt at sabotage:


"Loose Bolts: Who unscrewed them at Schumacher's brakes? Was it a mistake, or did they do it on purpose?"


Rehesatious accusations and without any background of truth, on which however the newspaper continues to speculate talking about a Schumacher en route with Ferrari and ready to terminate the contract to go to McLaren in place of Hakkinen, who in turn would marry the Ford project. Leaving aside the inferences of the German media, Ferrari examines more hypotheses for the cause of the accident. We are talking about a failure in the power steering electro-hydraulic system, a brake malfunction, or a simple driver error. Then, however, the real reason is discovered: a very trivial life. Loosened (or badly fixed), this tiny object would have reset the pressure of the rear brake circuit, causing the car, uncontrollable after the nailing of the front brakes, to crash into the barriers. Through an official statement, Ferrari says that a comprehensive and detailed investigation is still being conducted on what has happened, and that the brake problem was caused by a loosening of the purge screw on the left rear calliper. After a few days of convalescence come Schumacher's first highly anticipated words after the surgery he underwent in his leg, through his spokesman Heiner Buchinger:


"I'm lucky to be alive. If I only got out with one broken leg is thanks to the progress made by the cars for a few years. I know I won't be able to compete for two or three months and I no longer have any chance of being World Champion this year, but I'm very confident that I can go back to driving a Ferrari in Formula 1 before the end of the season".


Michael also talks about the incident:


"I got scared, because this is my first time in my career. At first I couldn't get out of the car and that upset me. Then I saw the video recordings of the incident, two or three times, and it wasn't that dramatic".


In the room of the ferrarista, located on the first floor in the orthopaedic pavilion, dozens of messages and bouquets of flowers arrived in a few days, to the point that Michael jokes about it and tells his wife Corinna that you might even think of opening a flower shop. The first bouquet comes from Ferrari, to be precise thirty-five red roses, one for each of his career victories, accompanied by a brief warm message of greetings. Then come those from Hakkinen and Coultahrd, McLaren and many others wishing the German a speedy recovery. On the health condition of the Ferrari driver, the director of the General Hospital of Northampton, David Wilson, spoke on July 12, 1999 in front of a hundred journalists:


"Michael had a comfortable night. He's taking liquids and had a good breakfast. His wounds are healing well and he moves his legs. At present they are changing their clothes and physiotherapy will begin. He will stay in the hospital at least until tomorrow".


And serene are the words of Michael Schumacher, the few filtered from his room on the first floor, protected like a fort and to which only his wife Corinna, the Indian physiotherapist Balbir Singh, the Ferrari men, Ralf Schumacher, Jean Alesi and even Damon Hill have access, who visits the German before leaving for a holiday in Spain:


"Seen on television, the incident doesn't look so horrible. However, I don't want to think about it anymore. It was a very bad time, also because it was the first time something like this had happened to me. I can't wait to leave this hospital, what interests me now is to go back to running as soon as possible. As soon as I braked, I realised something wasn't working".


And in the meantime he studies how to spend time on that bed where he will have to stay until the morning of July 13. After breakfast, Schumacher gets a TV, to review the incident and then get distracted with a few movies in the cassette. Then, at lunchtime he sends Balbir Singh to get Chinese food, and in the afternoon he relaxes playing cards. Meanwhile, Todt returns to Italy as early as the afternoon of July 12, 1999, while logistics manager Kotur remains close to the pilot, and to continue doing his work he turned a room into an office. On July 13 Schumacher will leave, so at least the English doctors and Ferrari executives swear, but secretly, from some secondary exit, away from journalists and cameras, because Todt on this is categorical:


"We don't want pictures of Michael with scrutches".


And on his terms, he declares:


"Schumacher is fine, he's in a great mood and had a great breakfast. She immediately asked for a television, a video recorder and cassettes of the incident. This morning when he woke up he found Corinna in the room and all of us. As a precaution, English doctors want to closely follow the postoperative course, then he will be transferred to another clinic, where he should stay a week, to begin re-education. It is difficult to predict when he will be able to return to the race. It could be in six as in ten weeks. As for the accident, he told me that he lost control of the car, which realised that he no longer had brakes on the rear. Probably all the weight of braking was carried on the front and at that point governing the car became impossible. Only Maranello's analyses will be able to give us the definitive answer, but the problem seems to have been just that. The situation is not favourable. We're sorry because the team is strong and the car was fine. We have managed a lot of money well, we will also succeed with this one. Irvine was never the second, it was just because it always ended up behind Schumacher. Now he has the opportunity to prove his worth. but we are in the middle of the season and leading 2 points in the World Builders' World Cup. We have a good team, a good car and two very good drivers. One is here, for the time being, and the other has 32 points, 8 less than the leader of the standings. We will have to deal with a delicate situation. This is the first time we have been faced with such a problem, we will get out of it".


Finally, the fateful question: who will replace Michael Schumacher?


"We are reflecting: Badoer will test the car in Fiorano and Monza, he needs a good and reserved driver. We cannot entrust the car to those who could then reveal our secrets. But we would like to have it already available this week for the Monza tests".


Some suggest Jean Alesi, but Todt replies:


"At the moment I understand that he is tied to Sauber".


On the day of July 12, 1999, Eddie Irvine calls Schumacher and, after several attempts, manages to find the line in the afternoon. To console the teammate tells him about when, years ago, he broke his leg falling off the skateboard he was playing with in the Irish countryside:


"I found it very high in morale. Michael left me a big burden and now I'll realise how strong the pressure can be with all this responsibility on my shoulders".


On July 13, 1999, the German leaves the General Hospital in Northampton around 10:30 a.m., aboard an ambulance. His wife Corinna is present with him. As announced, the exit does not take place in sunlight, but from an underground street, near the laundry room. A real escape that displaced the many photojournalists who were still stationed in front of the English nursing home. And the escape continued throughout the English territory, so much so that Schumacher's tracks were found only in the early afternoon, when at 2:15 p.m., aboard a medical plane, he arrives in Geneva. Apart from that, the great affection recorded these British days for Schumacher remains. Cobbys, Northampton's florist, will say he hasn't sold as much since Diana's death. And there was also no lack of irony, since on the morning of July 12, 1999 a fan shows up at the hospital with two giant red clown shoes, with the intention of giving them to the German:


"So next time he finds the brake".


While after a few days spent at the Northampton hospital Schumacher is released to go to a specialised clinic in the French Riviera to begin rehabilitation, Ferrari wonders about the replacement. In fact, Michael will stand still for at least eight weeks, which means skipping, at best, four or five races, with an expected return to Monza. There are not many options. From Badoer, Ferrari test driver lent to Minardi, passing through Jean Alesi, whose return would certainly make the Italian fans happy, who never hid their affection for the Sauber driver even after his farewell, until they arrived at Mika Salo. The Finn, former Arrows, participated in three races early in the season driving for the BAR, replacing Ricardo Zonta, who was injured in Interlagos. The thirty-two-year-old is not under contract with any team, and his engagement should therefore not be complicated at all. For Badoer and Alesi, on the contrary, a meeting point with Minardi or Sauber should be reached. However, there is little time available, the tests are looming and the Austrian Grand Prix is not far away. On 12 July 1999, a meeting was held in Maranello between the President and his closest collaborators. This lasts much longer than expected, and in the end every final decision is frozen for a few hours. There were three candidates, but slowly the rose narrowed. The first to disappear later in the day is the most anticipated name, that of Jean Alesi. The French driver steps away with a public statement in which he says he does not want to accept certain conditions, explaining that taking Schumacher's place at a time like this was not part of his programs and wishes:


"I would have liked to run with him at Ferrari, not without him".


Probably, in the Gran Council of Maranello this statement is welcomed with relief because it is precisely the name of Alesi that is discussed the longest, and on which differences are manifested. On the one hand the name is welcome, the driver is considered a good and good connoisseur of Ferrari as well as much loved by fans. On the other hand, however, there is fear of triggering an excessive rivalry between the Frenchman and Irvine, with the risk of being in a short time with a humanly and psychologically unmanageable situation. In Alesi, moreover, it seems to be reprimanded inside the Ferrari for having been very, even too polemical in its time. And on this rock the Avignonese would have been shipwrecked, who is also considered a kind of lifeline. On July 13, 1999, Ferrari announced the engagement of Mika Salo to replace the injured Michael Schumacher. The Finn arrives in Maranello at 15:00, visits the factory, is introduced to technicians and mechanics and then performs the ritual operation of leaving the footprint of the butt and back in a malleable plastic material to make his driver's seat. Meanwhile, at 4:20 p.m. the president Montezemolo, accompanied by CEO Paolo Marinsek and all the technicians, gathers the 450 employees of the Sports Management to give the spur to everyone at such a difficult time. First he calls Michael Schumacher on the phone, unleashing the rumour and applause of all those present to the response of the German driver, a little excited. Then, the president of Ferrari declares:


"Our programs don’t change; we have a competitive machine that allowed us to lead the world builders and have one of our drivers vying for the other world title".


Already in the evening, starting at 7:30 p.m., Salo makes the first laps on the Fiorano track to become familiar with the F399, ringing twenty-six laps and closing the work program at 21:00. Ferrari finds itself thus deprived of its leader, the one who led it to fight for the world title in recent seasons, and who raised it from the mediocrity of previous years. The one who was also rooting the McLarens this year, at this point in the season leading the drivers' standings, but chasing the Red in that builders. With Salo serving as a temporary solution, the Cavallino now puts all his hopes on the gregarious driver, on the driver who until the Australian Grand Prix a few months before had never won a race in Formula 1, on the driver whose future has always been on the balance in his three and a half years of stay at Ferrari.


"The World Cup is not over and is not lost".


He says Montezemolo to his men, on July 13, 1999. To counter the invincible McLaren, Ferrari is now focussing on Eddie Irvine.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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