Michael Schumacher is evaluating his retirement from racing: the shocking rumor is published on the German daily paper Bild, few days after the Austrian Grand Prix, surprisingly won by Eddie Irvine. It is the Northern Irish driver himself to fuel this rumour, via an interview released to the magazine Auto Motor und Sport, in which he reflects on the situation of his teammate:
"I wonder if Michael will come back. All in all, it is the first incident in which he was severely injured. Honestly, I could not say if, if I were him, with a wife and two children, I would come back to racing".
Without wasting time, Bild publishes the day after an article on the topic, with the title: Schumi to retire? In which even a dialogue between the German champion and his wife Corinna is mentioned, with Michael's future as a driver as the main topic. The hypothesis of the retirement, anyway, according to Schumacher's spokesmen, may become reality only if the Ferrarista realizes that he is no longer the same driver than before the incident. The voices of an unexpected retirement are clearly refuted, in few hours, by Ferrari's president Luca di Montezemolo, who, after paying a brief visit to Schumacher's house, together with Jean Todt, labels the rumors of Michael's retirement as rubbish, and in addition to this, he wishes that his return occurred as soon as possible:
"I spent two hours with Schumacher, I wanted to look him in the eye. He has an immense will to come back. We hope that he will start again already in Monza, on 12th September".
While waiting to come back to racing, Schumacher will gift a small joy to his fans by conceding some statement on live TV few minutes before the German Grand Prix, scheduled on 1st August, 1999, on the Hockenheim circuit. Many broadcasts will be there, and the images will be showed on the jumbo screens present along the circuit. In the few days between the Austrian and the German Grand Prix, in a very important back-to-back for Ferrari in order to understand how Irvine could be a serious threat to Mika Hakkinen's run to the title, the Finn himself sends a letter to his great rival to wish him a speedy recovery. The World Championship leader writes:
"I hope for your return, I make my best wishes to you: I feel your absence, without you, things are not the same anymore".
Before leaving for Germany, Ferrari will make some speed tests on the circuit of Vairano with Luca Badoer. Twenty-three laps completed for a total of forty-two kilometers run by Minardi's driver, in order to test a new rear wing that is specific for the type of circuit on which they are going to race, and new suspensions that should help Irvine have a better grip on the kerbs. The aerodynamic tests gave a positive result, since the tested parts are sent to Germany in order to be used during the weekend. On Thursday, 29th July 1999, reached by journalists, Eddie Irvine, first of all, has to deny the statements attributed to him by Bild in regard to Schumacher's retirement:
"I hope that Michael comes back soon to race, and I have no doubt that he will come back, because in order to fight for the world title, we need him. On my behalf, I can only hope for an unforgettable day like the one at Zeltweg, which has been the best once since I am in Formula 1. I had won in Australia too, but the success in Austria had a different taste and importance. The track is not one of my favorites, but this championship, by this time, is becoming a lottery. Fighting against Hakkinen and Coulthard, believe me, is not easy. But I will do my best".
It was interesting to trace back, together with the protagonist of that day, the celebrations after the extraordinary win in Austria, which allowed him to reduce the gap from Hakkinen to 2 points:
"How did I celebrate? Very simple, in my airplane, flying to London. We were four friends, surrounded by champagne. When we went down by the stairs, we were so drunk that we all fell to the ground. Laughing, we told each other: let's go eating something. And here starts the adventure. On Sunday evening in London, everything was closed, so we ended up in a Chinese restaurant. I order some chicken and other tasty things and then I ask the waiter: a beer as well. He looks at me with such eyes, and tells me that the time for selling alcohol is out. What kind of country is this? So, I had to drink Coca Cola with chicken, my God, what a horrible thing".
Someone asks him if he was in contact with Schumacher, and he answers:
"No, why? When he wins, I don't even call him. And when I win, I don't expect a call from him. Well, it's also true that on Sunday I was going mad about my phone ringing continuously, so I turned it off and goodnight. However, not even my father called me".
And, predicting a return of Michael as wingman, Eddie comments:
"I don't even know if he'll help me. If the newspapers say so, I don't think that it's true. It's always like this with you, you write things that not even we inside Ferrari know. The press usually needs to invent something. Like the story that Schumacher will retire: funny, isn't it? So, I read and watch TV as rarely as possible, I only need to think about focusing on the upcoming races and try to win them".
Irvine gets the chance to definitely close another controversy opened by media themselves, that is the absence of Jean Todt on the Austrian podium:
"We have been aware for long that Ross Brawn would have come. And now we know that, if on Sunday I will win again, Luca Baldisserri, my head engineer, will rise on the podium. They take turns. Maybe Todt wasn't in the mood because after Michael's incident he was worried for the title win, and it's understandable".
The future of the Northern Irish driver, though, is on the edge, despite the excellent performances:
"At this moment I need to think about other things, so my manager, Enrico Zanarini, is taking care of it. He knows what I want and tries to obtain it. There are many options, we'll see. There will be an announcement as soon as possible".
As the new leader of the team, Irvine seems to drive like he never did before in his career, or at least this is the impression that the insiders had. He would like to point out that nothing has changed in his driving style, though:
"Now I have everything at my disposal. In Austria I had a spectacular engine, I had the best strategies. I find myself in a more advantageous situation and I can do better than before. The absence of Schumacher helps me, because everyone is focused on me. In Germany I want to repeat myself, but on this circuit, McLaren should be out of reach in qualifying, starting from third place would be good enough for me. It's impossible to do better. We could use an additional gear to come closer to them. But in race, everything is very different. Recently, we made enormous progress. I tried these new features in Monza and I was really surprised".
So, Irvine is confident about the supremacy of the Silver Arrows, clearly superior as of competitivity, but a bit less as of capitalizing that superiority. The wheel lost at Silverstone and the ramming by his teammate at Zeltweg at the start of the race costed Mika Hakkinen two potential easy victories. Out of 20 potential points, the Finn got only 4, thanks to the third place in the comeback in Austria. These missed opportunities could have a weight in the future, especially with such an Irvine in shape. Many thought, states Hakkinen, that he will have already been World Champion after Schumacher's injury, and instead, with 16 points in two races, Eddie made things clear. The World Championship is still very open. Meanwhile, despite the mistake made in the second breaking point of the Austrian Gran Prix, then culminated, as if it wasn't enough, with the defeat suffered in the duel for the victory with Irvine, David Coulthard gets confirmed in McLaren even for the 2000 season, with a wage of 5.000.000 dollars, but with a contract that does not include the half million prize for each victory. Irvine, in the meantime, takes advantage of Schumacher's absence in order to build better synergies in the team. So, in Waldorf's hotel, with luxury tableware for the summer dinner that Ferrari organizes every year in Germany, Jean Todt surprises him and gets upset since, at the table, the Norther Irish driver and his mechanics are already there drinking champagne.
"Who planned this?"
Asks the French manager.
"You know, we were already here so I offered some champagne".
Answers Irvine, laughing. Then, Todt too calms down, Salo's mechanics sit down, the ones of the forklift that no one knows where they belong to, the telemetrists, the heads, the first level and the second level managers. They joke, they have a toast again, they celebrate and then the jumps in the pool start. Still in their clothes and pushed by stealth. Among Irvine's men there are Luca Baldisserri, Mattia Binotto, then the mechanics Gianluca Sociali, Casu, Galletti, Casaloni, Bertazzo, Faccioli, Genoni, Ravazzini, Preti, Piettorri, Trebbi and Corradini.
"They're my men and I keep them close".
While his men answer:
"He understands a lot about the technology, he has a fantastic intuition and finds the solution in a wink. And it works. Now he wants the extra gear. He told so, didn't he? And now we are trting to give it to him".
On Friday, 30th July, 1999, an insane heat welcomes the drivers for the first two sessions of free practice on Hockenheim's circuit. The air temperature reaches peaks of 35 degrees, and the teams express some worries about the reliability of their engines, which are already particularly stressed on a track made of long straights divided by some chicanes. Somewhat surprisingly, at the end of the day, Jarno Trulli is in front of everyone in the timetable. The Prost driver is followed by Irvine, who has been leading for almost two hours of practice, before stepping down for Trulli. An unusual situation for the driver from Pescara, who explains his result simply by saying:
"The others were slower than me".
A statement that is absolutely not far from reality, since it can be noticed that, by looking at the lap times, these are race pace performances. This is the reason why the not so brilliant performances of McLaren Mercedes should not be trusted, with Coulthard fourth and Hakkinen tenth. The Finn is also the protagonist of a harmless spin, but Irvine does even better than him, with a spectacular double pirouette, ended, as for Mika, without consequences. Norbert Haug, however, guarantees huge improvements in the qualifying, so much that on the straights, the two Silver Arrows could reach 360 km/h. The reason for this is the debut of a new engine, the FO11Plus. This is not an evolution of the previous one but a completely new engine, which at the moment will be used only in qualifying. A new engine is also ready for Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who uses its Mugen-Honda supplied by the Japanese house at its best at the wheel of his Jordan by placing second at the end of the qualifying held on 31st July, 1999. The German driver has to miss pole position for only fifty thousandths, that is the distance between him and the usual Mika Hakkinen, who with a time of 1'42"950 obtains the eighth pole of the season, a result that is made even more special by the fact that it is the 100th pole in McLaren's history. The World Championship leader admits, though, that he could even improve his lap time:
"I could have obtained an even larger advantage, if at the second attempt I had not lost a bit of grip at the second last turn. But these are marginal considerations. What is important is to be in front of everyone else. I hope to take off at full speed and try to run away, imposing a very fast race pace".
His teammate Coulthard is third, three tenths away, who, as usual, is incapable of challenging Hakkinen in the single lap. An excellent Mika Salo completes the second row, who made big improvements after the dull debut weekend behind the wheel of Ferrari in Austria. The former Arrows driver does not hide his happiness, especially if we consider that he starts right in front of his teammate Irvine, who has much more experience on this Ferrari:
"I am happy because I made progress without making mistakes. I have still lot to learn and I think that I will improve. The strategy? We will evaluate what is to be done, I hope that I can do even better in race than in qualifying".
Irvine, in fact, only fifth, eight tenths away from Hakkinen, express a certain discontent for a mistake made at the first attempt, and for the traffic encountered during the fourth attempt. This anger will go out quickly, so that he can look forward with optimism to the race. Eddie, first of all, says some word in a broken Italian:
"Ma sì, tanto io spesso non buono sabato, buono meglio domenica" ("but yes, I am often not so good on Saturday, better on Sunday").
Then, in his native language, he reinforces the concepts and finds the positive side of starting fifth instead of fourth:
"I think that it is better to start fifth instead of fourth becuase the external side of the track is cleaner. Once it is clear that it is impossible to get third place, I would rather be fifth. Anyway, with a good start, I will immediately be close to McLaren. After the first round, where everything went okay until the Motodrom entrance, when I went off in the sand, we changed the setup of the car but we did not take the right direction. And, once we understood that we made soemthing wrong, there was no longer time to go back. I had to do what I could. Even here, as in Austria, we did not manage to take out all the potential of our car, we did not have the time to try to solve those issues that had already emerged a week ago in qualifying. Of course, it is worrying that even Jordan is faster. Anyway, I am still confident because if we look at the partial times, we are able to run in 1'43"0, so we are much closer to McLaren than we were in Austria. We have an insane speed on the straights, really impressive; in the first two sectors we are pretty fast, and we are on the same level of the others, that is Hakkinen and Coulthard. And this gives me a lot of confidence for the race. As of brakes, we were not at our best, the balance is imperfect and we are at the limit in the critical areas: this, though, especially in the qualifying setup, while things go much better with the race setup. And we know that McLaren, as of brakes, is not as effective as our Ferrari".
About him going out of the track in the first attempt, he explains:
"I don't know, maybe it was my mistake, but I don't think that it's all my fault. That lap seemed really fantastic until the entrance into the Motodrom, but the brake balance wasn't correct, so the front wheels locked up and I went into the gravel. I told myself: calm down Eddie, now we go back to the box, we fix everything, then we set the lap. Unfortunately, the setup changes turned out to be wrong. Instead, in my last attempt, I found traffic. First a Sauber, then two more cars: no one made an effort to leave some space. It happens, this time it was me who paid the price. But I don't think that I could improve much, maybe I would have caught fourth place, but as I already said, it's ok like this".
So, the win is a possible result:
"The position is not ideal but I can win, I race for this. Yes, I believe that we can win and there will be a lot of work to do on the strategy to be able to do it".
In Germany, Schumacher's fans clearly don't miss, but in absence of their idol, their support for Irvine is not different:
"Inside my car, more than hearing them, I saw them waving many Ferrari flags, and I think I can give them what they expect".
Behind Irvine there is Rubens Barrichello, who is exactly the one that is the closest to replace the Northern Irish driver on Ferrari in the 2000 season. According the most recent rumors, a Ferrari-Ford trade, with Irvine who would take Barrichello's place in Stewart, is to be defined. Excellent performances for Olivier Panis, seventh, with a Prost that gives noticeable signs of improvement, as even Jarno Trulli's ninth place proves, who obviously does not equal his Friday's best performance, but despite the breaking of as many as two engines, he keeps his nerve and gains the top ten. Much far from the first ten places, Jean Alesi, author of his worst qualifying in his career. The Frenchman is 21st, only in front of Takagi's Arrows. On 1st August, 1999, during the warm up, David Coulthard obtains the best performance in front of Panis, Hakkinen and Trulli, another proof that a Prost can compete for the points. Irvine is only ninth and complains about big traction issues: many changes to the rear wings are made to the F399 in the box. In the early afternoon, thirty minutes before the start, Michael Schumacher appears on the jumbo screen in his TV connection with Hockenheim, for the joy of the tenths of thousands of fans at the stands, despite his absence. With a slightly melancholic smile on his face, the German driver starts to congratulate his teammate Irvine for his victory in Austria:
"Bravo Eddie, congratulations, you did a great job. As of me, by now, the hopes to become champion this year are very low".
Then he focuses on his return:
"I hoped for a miracle, but unfortunately I a mere mortal human being, and I'm not able to tell you when I will come back. At Silverstone, I suffered a heel injury. However, given the circumstances, I'm not unhappy with my convalescence. If you remember in which conditions the car was reduced to, I can be happy about only breaking my leg. Of course, now I only need time. Meanwhile, I take this opportunity for thanking everyone who sent me so many speedy recovery wishes, letters and messages. Thank you, it made me feel good: your wishes charge me with the motivation to go back to sit in a race car as soon as possible".
After the words of the great absent, the attention can move completely on the track. Everything, by now, is ready to give the start to the German Grand Prix. When the lights go out, Mika Hakkinen does a feline sprint, as much as his fellow countryman Mika Salo, who surprises both Coulthard and Frentzen, jumping to second place. In the midfield, meanwhile, Jacques Villeneuve loses the control of his BAR near the first turn and hits the side of an innocent Diniz; the two ends up in the barriers and are forced to retire. For Villeneuve, it is the tenth retirement in ten races. After losing two positions in favor of Salo and Coulthard, Frentzen is followed by a daring Rubens Barrichello, who in the first few meters overtook Irvine, only sixth at the end of the first lap. In the same way, David Coulthard is hooked on the exhausts of Salo's Ferrari, without anyway finding a gap, who Barrichello instead opens with the force, who overtakes Frentzen at the Agip turn, at the entrace of the Motodrom. The Brazilian driver probably started with a car with less fuel, so he has to go into attack mode in the first phase of the race. On sixth lap, anyway, a hydraulic issue forces him to sadly enter the pits and determine the fifth seasonal retirement. So, Frentzen rises back to fourth place, Irvine to fifth, followed by Ralf Schumacher, few seconds away. While Coulthard keeps putting pressure on Salo without a break, who on his side resists without making any type of mistakes, and Hakkinen keeps the distance between him and the two chasers of a couple of seconds, Herbert, Hill and Panis put on a show in the midfield, fighting for eighth place. Stewart's Englishman overtakes Hill but ends too long and allows Hill to cross the racing line and go back in front, with Panis who almost makes a disaster, risking to ram him.
After a bit more of ten out of forty-five scheduled laps, Eddie Irvine manages to reduce the gap from Frentzen of three seconds. Coulthard, meanwhile, gets mad behind Salo, reaches the second chicane and attempts an improbable overtake on the Ferrarista. The result is that in the contact between the two cars, the rear wing of the McLaren ends up damaged, while Salo manages to keep control of his car without any inconvenience. Another rushed move by Coulthard, seven days after the crazy braking in which he rammed Hakkinen. The Scot is forced to enter the pits in order to change the wing and come back on track after a 14.8-second pit stop, in eleventh place, behind a crowded group of drivers fighting each other. Thanks to a mistake by Hill, who made a slight excursion after a lockup, Coulthard gains immediately one position and gets into Panis's slipstream. Hill, then, comes back to the box for an unplanned stop, so much that as he comes to his spot, the mechanics have not taken neither the wheels nor the nozzle for the refuel yet. A frustrating situation for the former World Champion, who, however, retires on lap 13 for a brakes issue. A retirement that he asked himself for, going against the directions of Eddie Jordan and of the team, who instead invited him to go back on track. Hill states subsequently:
"I had big issues on the brakes and at the third excursion I told myself that it did not make sense to go on, despite the team wanted me to continue. But I am in the car and I decided that it was not safe".
After twenty completed laps, Hakkinen continues to set the pace with six seconds of advantage from Salo, who on his turn is in front of the duo made of Frentzen and Irvine; Ralf Schumacher and Johnny Herbert close the points zone, with the latter conquering sixth place with a nice overtake on Alex Wurz. He is also overtaken by Coulthard, who now finds himself near the points. Right in this phase, the game of pit stops starts: among the drivers ahead, the first to stop is Frentzen, followed by Irvine in the lap after. The pit stop of the Ferrarista lasts 9.4 seconds, one second faster than Frentzen's, and also thanks to a fast lap before entering the pits, the overcut on Jordan's driver is successfyl: the virtual third place is in the hands of Irvine. Then it is Salo's turn, who for a couple of seconds keeps his teammate behind, and finally Hakkinen's turn, who makes his pit stop with twenty seconds of advantage from his fellow countryman. During the pit stop, anyway, the fuel nozzle has an issue, so the mechanics have to rely on the one used for Coulthard in order to complete the refueling. The stop, in any case, is very long: 24.3 seconds. This is the reason why, at the pit exit, Hakkinen comes back in fourth place, deprived of the race leadership, now surprisingly in the hands of Salo, followed close behind by Irvine. McLaren's disaster will be completed in the following lap, when the race direction hands a 10-second Stop&Go to David Coulthard, who is guilty for overtaking Olivier Panis by clearly cutting the chicane. Another coarse mistake for him, who had provisionally risen back into fifth place. On the grandstands, the Ferrari flags are waved in celebration, so much that it looks like it is Monza, when the race is actually in Hockenheim, Germany, Mercedes's house. Hakkinen, anyway, is not happy, he easily overtakes Frenzen in the second chicane and starts chasing the two Ferrari, who in the meantime, as predicted, swap positions, allowing Irvine to take the lead of the race.
At the entrance of the Motodrom, then, on lap 25, there is a plot twist: Hakkinen's McLaren's rear left tyre explodes, the rear wing gets detached partially and the car becomes ingovernable; double spin in the corner entry, then the McLaren goes into the barriers. Mika raises his arms in order to tell the stewards that he is OK, then, visibly shocked and frustrated at the same time, leaves the car and goes away. For the third time in a row, the reigning champion cannot convert Saturday's pole into a victory, and to make it even worse, the fact that in two out of three occasions, he did not even reach the finish line. Now Irvine is leading, and with ten potential points in his pocket, he would snatch the first position of the drivers' world championship from Hakkinen's hands. The only obstacle towards victory for the Northern Irish driver can be considered Heinz-Harald Frentzen, three seconds behind the Ferrari duo, who however runs undisturbed in first and second place. For the local Jordan driver, challenging the two F399 seems impossible. If the situation in the front looks stabilized, Oliver Panis, one of the few drivers who opted for a two-stop strategy, overtakes Wurz after the second pit stop with a determined manouever on the outside of the first chicane, and reaches seventh place, chasing Herbert for sixth. The Frenchman manages to enter the points zone six laps before the finish, when Coulthard makes another stop since he has not enough fuel to go on until the end. The Scottish driver comes back on track wheel to wheel with Alex Wurz, who tenaciously tries to keep the McLaren behind for half a lap, but eventually he can only fall back. Coulthard manages to immediately regain fifth place, the one that he had before the stop, taking advantage of the retirement of an unlucky Herbert, and easily overtaking Panis. Nothing else happens, and at the end of lap 45, the last lap, Eddie Irvine wins once again, seven days after his triumph in Austria, he repeats himself in an equally surprising way in Germany.
Before the start of the race, Ross Brawn ordered him to preserve his tyres, in order to give it all in the last laps before the pit stop, and the Northern Irish driver perfectly did the job, managing the race and overtaking Frentzen with the pit stop. It is the third championship win for him, the second obtained after he was nominated first drive of the team. This role seems to really have given him an additional motivation. Mika Salo's race deserves a praise, who without team orders would have probably celebrated his maiden career win. Not bad for him, since he can still celebrate his first Formula 1 podium. Frentzen does not deny himself, and with his usual trademark consistency in this championship, he gains four more points in the standings. Ralf Schumacher ends fourth, author of a race on his own but still outstanding on his Williams, which, even if it is improving, it is still far from the best cars, followed by the disastrous Coulthard and Olivier Panis, who gains the second point in the season after the sixth place gained in Brazil at the start of the World Championship. Before the Canadian Grand prix, Irvine had only 25 points in the standings, nine points away from Hakkinen. Then, after the sixth place in France, which could have been a fifth place if he had not to be a wingman, came the second place at Silverstone and two consecutive wins, for a total of 22 points gained on Hakkinen in three races. Therefore, the drivers' standings now see Eddie in first place with 52 points, 12 more than Hakkinen, stuck at 44. In the post-race, the new world championship leader starts talking at the microphones of the press by saying:
"In the end, it was the race that came to us. It hasn't started well, then... maybe the destiny chose us. One certain thing is that I felt that I could win here too. Why? I don't know, there's no reason, these are things that don't have a reason, either you feel it or you don't. And I, despite the poor performances of these days, I felt that it was possible to win again".
An additional proof of his confidence, the fact that during the heated warm-up he came close to his motorist, Andrea Galletti, and told him:
"Andrea, you'll see that I'll win, it's three days that I feel it. It's about sensations, I was serene, relaxed, confident. Despite the warm-up, the qualifying and the practice. Who knows, maybe the memory of my first win in F3000 almost ten years ago: right here, on this circuit. And I started really poorly on the grid. I don't love this circuit: always there with the eyes that look far, at the bottom of those straights. Then also the fact that in these last years I always was behind here. In Austria, one week ago, I felt much more pressure: after Michael's incident we were a bit worried. Maybe all these thoughts together gave me the charge, maybe without noticing I thought: you can do it, Eddie, it's your time".
Even his parents watched his performance, an unusual thing since, normally, Eddie does not want that they come to the races:
"I don't know why, but I have always been accustomed like this, to go to the races alone without mum and dad following me. But they were there when I won my first race here, so this too seemed like a good sign".
On the poor start, he confesses by joking:
"Maybe I was so relaxed that I fell asleep. Yes, I had a really poor start and I lost one more place. Mika, instead, started really well, he had an incredible race, he was very good. Anyway, I knew it: ten years ago, we were in Japan together with many other good drivers who then did not have the luck of coming to Formula 1. I knew that Mika was good, I believed it. Could he win? Of course, he could, but these situations are clear regardless. Before the race we were not destined to win, but it was a hypothesis to consider and the needs were clear: I should have overtaken him. And he let me pass. I took the points for the world championship and I keep it, but he is the moral winner, and I will gift him the trophy that they gave me on the podium".
As new World Championship leader, how will you approach the next races? Eddie responds:
"I don't think and I don't want to think about it. It's good to be ahead, but the only thing that matters is to be there at the end of the championship. Now I have to think race by race. Of course, I'd like to win in Budapest too in two weeks. But we have to keep our feet on the ground. We must win with all our efforts, without expecting gifts, without relying on destiny. This has been a pretty easy win, for half a race I even got bored of driving. Instead, we must try to beat McLaren with our means, by going faster. They keep making a lot of mistakes, but we can't count only on this".
Besides McLaren's mistakes, in his opinion, the crucial moment of his race has been:
"The overtake on Frentzen, who until the pit stop was in front of me; I couldn't even overtake him by being faster than him. This was the secret: in the lap when I entered the pits, I was faster than him and I gained something. Second, Ferrari made a pit stop that made me gain much more. Without these two things, I would have never overtaken him on track. Then I found myself behind Salo and I would have never overtaken him either if he hadn't stepped aside".
Salo, who has been capable of resisting with Coulthard's attacks with cold blood, so much that he forced him to an error, a lightning at the start as he surprises both the Scot than Frentzen, and loyal in giving the position to Irvine, actually giving up the chance of obtaining his first Formula 1 win. He is absolutely the moral winner of the Grand Prix, and the tears of joy of his wife Noriko make him justice.
"Schumacher was right: this is such a strong team that any driver could win a Grand Prix. You just don't have to make mistakes, keep the car on track, the team will think about the rest. It's impressive to acknowledge how fast the Ferrari is in race".
States the Finn radiantly, who then continues by saying:
"I have always been very confident of myself, I have a splendid opportunity of showing my worth, I want to exploit it at the best. I have to help Ferrari, this is my role. Having to cede my position cost me a bit, I have never been ahead. Usually, when the first comers celebrate on the podium, I am already going back home, but I knew that a team order would have arrived via radio. For a moment I thought: I'll turn off the audio. But it was only a moment. Rather, I saw that Eddie, at a certain point, was running really slow and I shouted to the box: tell him to go faster, or Frentzen will get us".
On the podium, Salo has special sensations:
"It's colder up there, we're high. Jokes aside, I was proud of myself. Now I have to improve more and reduce my gap in terms of performance from Irvine. I had a very good start, I almost got to Hakkinen too, and this surprised me because my starts are usually a disaster. Maybe it's Schumacher's car that has a special power. When I had Coulthard behind me, I pushed like mad. Now there are the Hungary tests: I just started to have fun. And I don't want to stop".
He would still receive the winner's trophy, kindly conceded by Irvine:
"Eddie was kind to gift me that. We're friends, I'm having fun with working with him. It's normal that there's team spirit, also because the work of the team deserves this".
Both Jean Todt and Luca di Monezemolo logically express joy for the unexpected one-two in Germany. The French team manager admits that, if McLaren had not had their issues, victory would have been a mirage:
"Someone up there loves us, they helped us. It's a great win, which allows us to keep fighting, both in drivers' and in constructors' championship. But McLaren is not dead. Salo? He's been outstanding".
In the midst of enthusiasm, an important announcement comes as well:
"My career will end in Ferrari, in Formula 1. But not in ten years. Few seasons before".
In Bologna, where he saw the victory at his house, president Montezemolo has his say on the race by starting to talk about the fantastic support of the crowd:
"They were all for Ferrari, even without Schumacher. This is the proof that Ferrari is beyond everything and everyone. They even did the ola on the grandstands".
Then, also both drivers get some praise:
"Salo? You almost killed me with criticism on the newspapers because I got him and now, they're all proud of what he has done. He perfectly managed the situation with Coulthard stuck behind him. Look, if Coulthard had managed to overtake him, McLaren would have gone ahead and goodbye Grand Prix for us".
"He didn't make a single mistake. Then, what I liked the most is the behavior of both after the race. The fact that Irvine recognized Salo's merits for his victory, that both talked in the right way about team work. So, they have been splendid even after the race. Because they know what others often forget: that the drivers race and win for the team. A legit game that they made in a loyal and fair way. In the past, both Ferrari and other teams made bad impressions in this field. Let me say: Mansell and Prost when they were in Ferrari, Prost and Senna in McLaren, yesterday I guess that the two Benetton drivers quarrelled. So: it's a game that exists and has to be done well".
On the mystery of the missing of Jean Todt on the podium, he explains:
"He made the right choice in leaving his place to others and I appreciated that yesterday he sent a man on the podium such as Nigel Stepney, who is the head of all mechanics and represents well all our team who lives and works in the shadows, and who always shows to be fantastic".
According to Montezemolo, Ferrari has never depended on Schumacher:
"Those who thought it and accused us of this should rethink this: Ferrari can win even without Michael. That being said, anyway, I'd like to add that I look forward to his return. Michael's incident and the two previous Grand Prix have really been a dark moment for us. Now we're coming out of that moment, Ferrari had a strong reaction and now we are waiting for Michael".
Heinz-Harald Frentzen, third in the World Championship with 33 points, one more than Schumacher, can celebrate his first career podium at Hockenheim. For the home driver, a great joy comes for him, as he defined it, despite a bad start compromised the race:
"I didn't have a good start, because I was distracted by the light of the water temperature that has turned on few seconds before the start; then, starting from lap 5, I suffered from some vibration to a tyre who allowed Irvine to come close".
The podium looked even more distant after losing the position in favor of Ferrari during the pit stops:
"There haven't been wrong moves in the team, we simply took longer than Ferrari. Then, in the end, i tried to push to come close to Irvine and Salo, but each time that I pushed they did the same, so I just tried to keep the position".
The gap from Irvine is 19 points, which is not impossible to fill. According to the driver from Moenchengladbach, though, the world championship is not a realistic goal:
"In order to win it, I have to win some Gran Prix, and I don't think that's our case. Our main goal is still to keep the third place in the Constructors and to improve our car. Basically, Jordan is good, but as in Zeltweg, we don't use all the potential of our car and we have to find out why.The car is fast on a single lap but we have to work hard so that our performances become consistent and better".
Frentzen recalls Hakkinen's incident, which he could observe closely, since he was right behind the Finnish driver:
"Right after the third chicane, I saw some pieces of rubber falling out from Mika's wheel. I slowed down, because in front of me I could only see the smoke of the tyres and I didn't know where Mika was. Then I saw his car going into the tyre barriers and I was worried that he could have had a severe accident. But few laps later I saw on a jumbo screen that he was doing interviews and I understood that he was OK".
Hakkinen himself tells, still with fear on his face, the accident in which he was involved, luckily without injuries:
"I was terribly scared, I was running at 340 km/h, my car started spinning like mad. I don't know how I saved my life, I guess my lucky pants helped me, which I always wear in race. Incidents like this, anyway, made me reflect a lot on the safety in Formula 1. It takes only a slight issue on your car and it becomes ungovernable. I am physically OK, but the psychologic hit is hard. i thought i had he race on my hands, and instead, I come back home empty-handed".
The Finn does not hide some disappointment for the avoidable mistakes made in the last few Grand Prix:
"It's the third incredible episode that occurred to me this year. Let alone the incident, the real disaster was the pit stop, where we lost a lot of time. They had to take Coulthard's nozzle because mine didn't work anymore. This happened after the tyre lost in Silverstone and the crash with Coulthard in Austria. Now I'm worried about the World Championship: Irvine still collects points, and I only got four in three races".
His manager, also former Formula 1 driver and 1982 World Champion, Keke Rosberg, is a bit more straightforward in the attacks on McLaren:
"We are making too many human errors, in a world championship that Hakkinen could easily win".
On the unfolding of the incident, Hakkinen clearly explains that the explosion of the tyre made the rear wing jump, causing the spin and the impact against the barriers. An incident that in some aspects is similar to the one occurred to Michael Schumacher at Silverstone. The driver from Kerpen chimes in on Hakkinen's incident by saying:
"It was scary. Hakkinen was lucky because he spun before ending up into the barriers. Thank God nothing happened to him, I'm happy for him. The spin really slowed down the impact speed, and the barrier was made of six rows of soft tyres and not three rows against a concrete wall as it occurred to me at Silverstone. Mika can thank Hockenheim's safety".
Meanwhile. Bridgestone tries to discharge the responsibilities of the explosion of McLaren's tyre, explaining in a statement that they found two possible causes that may lead to the incident. The first one is about an excessively low pressure of the tyres, a move wanted by Hakkinen's men in order to remove understeering, but at the end of the day would have caused devastating effects, leading to a puncture. The second one says the exact opposite of Hakkinen's explanation, that is the breakdown of the rear wing may have cut the tyre. Norbert Haug prefers to joke, promising, instead, that the team is alive and ready to react already in Budapest and labeling Ferrari's win as lucky, mainly helped by Hakkinen's inconveniences, in addition to Coulthard's hard day, who defends himself in the post-race accusing Salo of breaking too early, deceiving him, and Panis of closing him to the point that he was forced to cut the chicane. Such justifications, if we look again at the images, are very hard to accept. Coulthard will have two weeks available, before the Hungarian Grand Prix, to rearrange his ideas after such a disastrous back-to-back, and he will have to do it together with his team, who did not look enough bright in such occasions like pit stops. Fast Eddie is the new nickname used for Irvine on the English press: Eddie the Fast or Eddie the Quick. It is the sign of his sudden popularity surge even in his country. To be correct, in one of his two countries. Because it is true, and everyone knew that, in Formula 1's official lists, Irvine is considered British, since he was born in Ulster, but it is also true that because of his character and his passions, everyone considers him as Irish. Now he is the new idol, who already on Sunday afternoon, with his new nickname in his head, he puts on his good show by drifting with an Alfa Romeo at the paddock exit. On the car there is also Anouk, a long-limbed blonde who seems to be her new girlfriend. Eddie cannot wait to take his airplane and switch off with so much sudden popularity and curiosity around him. But this time, he did not make the mistake of coming back on Sunday evening to London, where everything is closed and nobody is ready to have fun with him. Now he chooses St. Tropez. After landing in Nice, the Northern Irish driver takes a helicopter to come at 1 AM at the Caves du Roy, the most glamour local disco. After the party, Eddie already thinks about the Hungarian Grand Prix:
"It's a circuit where I have a lot of fun driving: turn right, turn left and so on; it feels like coming back to childhood when I raced with karts. That circuit makes you feel alive, busy, not like Germany where you always go straight and you can even fall asleep. I always had fun in Budapest but the problem is that my role and my tasks now have changed. I go there to win, not anymore to be a figurehead behind the others. I have a new job that gives me much motivation but also some worries. For examples: if you don't start in front, how can you overtake the others in a track with so many corners? This is the problem and it's exactly in qualifying that we need to try to progress. The race doesn't bother me because we have already seen that Ferrari in the race is something else. It's reliable, it's fast, it has a good handling. Instead, we can never understand why it is never that good in qualifying".
The final act of the German Grand Prix is a dinner held at Luca di Montezemolo's house in Bologna, on 2nd August, 1999, where the president of Ferrari, Mika Salo, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and the engineer Martinelli gather. At the table, they celebrate Irvine's win at Hockenheim, retracing the incredible German race and starting to face the strategy of the next races. Obviously, they talk about Schumacher, since the president of Ferrari cannot wait for his return on track. But in the last two Grand Prix, the tables have been turned and Maranello regained hope. Eddie's role changed and so will even his relationship with Schumacher, if and when they will be back together in the team:
"If I feel good, I'll come back this season, then I'll help Eddie if necessary, as much as he helped me. Why shouldn't I return the favor? It doesn't please me but this is the life. What matters is Ferrari's good".
States Schumacher on 2nd August, 1999. In parallel, Hakkinen only seems to be the victim of mistakes and other people's faults inside the box. A driver usually abandons the circuit a couple of hours after the end of the race: Hakkinen leaves Hockenheim at 9:30 PM, more than five hours spent in McLaren's box in order to vent out the shock of the crash, but also, above all, the anger for the incredible missed opportunity, the anguish for the overtake suffered by Irvine and for a world title that might slide away. So, a World Championship that seemed to be already won by the reigning champion, now sees Eddie Irvine surprisingly advantaged and launched to the win of both titles together with Ferrari, since the Scuderia del Cavallino, with 90 points, has 16 points more than McLaren-Mercedes, who cannot make other mistakes in Hungary.
Davide Scotto di Vetta
Translated by Nicola Carriero