Thanks to two consecutive wins in Austria and Germany, Eddie Irvine is the new leader of the 1999 World Championship with six races to go, with an eight-point lead over Mika Hakkinen, Meanwhile, between team mistakes or ramming suffered by his teammate does not win a race for about two months, when he won in Canada for the third and for now last time in the season. The explosion of Irvine has given Ferrari hope for a title that Maranello has missed for twenty years, and that seemed impossible to win after Michael Schumacher’s injury at Silverstone. Now, the Maranello team finds itself leading both the world rankings with a good gap on Hakkinen and McLaren. Nevertheless, the atmosphere inside the team after the double in Hockenheim is not so pleasant: doubts about Irvine’s contract, and especially about the role he will have in the team after Schumacher’s return, are more and more the focus of attention, as well as the return date of the German driver, who after the extraordinary performance of Eddie seems to want to force his recovery to restore the hierarchies immediately. At the same time, the renewal of the contract of Irvine is slow to arrive, and the president Luca di Montezemolo begins to be tired of the continuous questions of journalists on this topic:
"I’m a little tired of hearing this question about Irvine’s future all the time. I already said on Saturday at Silverstone that we will tell before Monza what the situation is. At this moment it seems to me that we must be focused on the present: there is something important and urgent for Irvine and for Ferrari. We have calmly assessed the best future for him and for us. Today it is too early to say. I think Irvine has done four years, especially the last two, very well with Ferrari. It seems to me that in order to evaluate the future it is necessary to understand what are the motivations of a boy who already last year was undecided whether to continue with Ferrari; the motivations, and also the expectations".
Words that suggest that the main issue is precisely the role that must have Irvine in the coming seasons: the Northern Irish driver has shown with recent results that he can be leader of a top team, He therefore calls for at least equal treatment with Schumacher. The World Championship leader, however, says he is calm, but shows a little bitterness when he talks with disappointment about the renewals signed by Hakkinen and Coulthard with McLaren, as this prevents him from joining the British team, That has the most competitive car of the lot. As also stated by Montezemolo, however, the former Jordan assures that at this time his main thought is the world and the fight with Hakkinen. Excited to return to the wheel of his F399 in place of Mika Salo, Michael Schumacher is preparing to carry out a test in Switzerland that will assess the physical condition, specifically the calcification of the fractures to the tibia and fibula and the heel cut. This exam will be attended by Swiss orthopaedics (doctors of confidence of the Kerpen driver), the French specialist Saillant, recommended by Ferrari itself from the friendship that binds it with Jean Todt, and, in fact, the team manager of Ferrari. The team’s head of press office, Claudio Berro, said:
"Only then, knowing the outcome of the visit on Friday, Ferrari will officially talk about the recovery time and a return that could take place after a few days or in several weeks or months".
Pending the exams, scheduled Friday, August 6, 1999, the weekly Autosprint publishes an article, complete with photographs, depicting Schumacher driving a Mercedes off-road vehicle in the streets adjacent to his villa in Vufflens, in the company of his wife Corinna and his daughter Gina Maria. Michael then resumed driving, increasing optimism in view of an early return to the Hungarian Grand Prix, the eleventh round of the World Championship to be held on 15 August. Montezemolo, however, invites everyone to keep their feet on the ground:
"On certain topics, it would take a little realism and seriousness. Instead I read ridiculous things about the story: one day it seems that Schumacher does not come back anymore, in another you discover that he could run on Saturday. It’s weird he’s not here yet. The truth is what I said and what Todt said these days: the doctors will evaluate the calcification of the bone on Friday. Then you can say if you can practice and then run. It is clear that before any race you have to test. The doctors will say when this is possible. The hope, and I repeat hope, is that it can be ready for Monza. I am not a doctor and we will wait for what the experts will say, as we have always done. Schumacher is the most important driver reference we have, both for the present and for the future. With great clarity I want to say that it is a firm point, also because it is the strongest in the world. This is a beautiful and important moment for Ferrari, but I am amazed by the evaluations I have read about Schumacher. He is a key driver for us, he won sixteen races fighting and even in difficult times. He has contributed a lot to the development of the machine, which if it has reached these levels of competitiveness it also owes to the work of Michael. He won with us the one that won no other driver in the long legend of Ferrari’s fifty years. I can’t wait to get back on track, to give us important help at a decisive moment: in the next six races the World Championship will be decided. And we can triumph both at the level of drivers and manufacturers".
The President’s latest statements stem from the heated controversy that ensued after the German Grand Prix, due to the alleged irrelevance of Italy, and the press more specifically, against Michael Schumacher. This according to the major German newspapers, and also according to the team manager of the twice-world champion, Willi Weber, who two days after the Hockenheimring race thunders:
"The Italian press is disrespectful, it seems that Schumacher in recent years with Ferrari has done nothing: he has brought it up, and now we read that he can do without it".
The German newspaper Bild, which dedicates its opening to the front page, is much more exposed, attacking Italy harshly:
"Italy spits on Schumi".
Is the title in large letters. Shame for going after a defenseless and suffering man, described as incapable, while at the same time exalting Irvine for just two races won, forgetting what Michael has done for the team since his arrival in the stable in 1996. Some articles in the Italian press that label Schumacher as 'obnoxious, presumptuous and super-paid, or someone you can do without at this point', did not like the Germans, much less Schumacher’s entourage, always according to the media, furious and disappointed. To the journalists G. Selch, W. Schmid and M. Bruegelmann, authors of the opening piece, is added Hans-Joachim Stuck, who stresses that all the victories won by Irvine are nothing more than the work of Schumacher:
"Have you forgotten how much Schumacher has done for you? Let’s go back to 1996. Back then, Ferrari was nothing more than a mid-level team, a bit chaotic and prey to the darkest frustrations. Patience, we have no hope, they said, and they returned to traffic and mess on the engines. Then he came: and with him the desire to win, motivation, and finally success. I know how things work out there: as long as you win you are a God, but as soon as you begin to take defeats or face serious difficulties, you become in the eyes of everyone a perfect idiot".
This is obviously supported by the German newspaper Bild, which recalls how it was Schumacher to put order in a team in disarray, and how the landing at Maranello in Brawn or Rory Byrne is due solely to the mediation work done by Michael. Controversy that does not interest in the least the driver, who thinks only of the possibility of being able to make the first tests in Fiorano. However, Michael ensures that he does not want to take risks:
"I will not force. I just want to try, sit in the Ferrari and see how far I can get. My wish would be to run in Hungary".
However, the biggest obstacle to getting back on track is not the approval of doctors, but the two safety tests provided by the FIA for injured drivers. The first is the so-called hip test, which consists of making a jump from a standstill of about one meter high, and then landing on two feet (test failed by Zonta following his accident in Brazil, and that forced him to stand still for the next three races, also replaced by Mika Salo); the second is the cockpit test, during which the driver has five seconds to disconnect the steering wheel and seat belts, exit the cockpit and put the steering wheel back in place. Waiting for Schumacher to have the pass at least to get back in a Formula 1 car, August 4, 1999 is Mika Salo to get on track at Fiorano, where the Finn completes a hundred and twelve laps at the wheel of the F399, achieving a time of 1'02"272 for best personal performance. Two days after the fateful visit, both a former driver that surprising returns to the track knows something, namely Niki Lauda, that one who is still a driver and remembers with nostalgia the years not so far away in which he fought for the title with Schumacher, especially considering its currently disastrous situation with the BAR, namely Jacques Villeneuve, they express themselves on the situation of the Ferrari driver, through different points of track. The former Austrian Ferrari recalls his case:
"After my accident I was in danger of two days, but after five weeks, even though I was almost burned, I showed up again at the start of a race. The reasons? First because we know our work and its dangers and then because we have a responsibility to the team. It makes sense that Michael would try them all to see if it works again. As a highly paid driver, he absolutely cannot afford to stay home a second longer than necessary. As soon as he can, he must run".
He is not a supporter of a premature return Villeneuve, which also glimpses only negative scenarios in the immediate future for his old rival:
"Whatever Michael does, he can only lose: if he comes back, he must help Irvine win the title and so he can no longer be the only driver with whom Ferrari can conquer the world championship. And then if Eddie wins, it shows that you can hit the world finish line with a driver who’s only paid $6 million, and not just someone who gets $35 million or something. And this will have a catastrophic effect for everyone: our engagements would precipitate".
On August 5, 1999, among the thousand rumors that continue to give it for sure to Ford, which will run in 2000 with the Jaguar brand after taking over Stewart, with a salary of twelve million dollars, Eddie Irvine takes the place of Salo in the tests at Fiorano in preparation for the Hungarian Grand Prix; tests made complicated by a spin and an engine failure. Eddie is indifferent to journalists who ask him how it feels to be the leader of the World Cup, because what matters to him is to be in the lead in Japan at the last race. Moreover, he is not interested in the market, and the only thought is in Budapest, where he points to the third success in a row. And on the various questions about Schumacher’s return and the hierarchies in the team, he dribbles everything with answers of ritual, like I don’t know what the situation is, it doesn’t concern me, or it’s the decision of the team, but if we talk about the Hungarian Grand Prix, Irvine suddenly becomes more talkative. In the tests the Ferrari theta a new nose and aerodynamics retouched, being the Hungarian one a high load track.
"In Hungary it is very difficult to overtake, so Saturday’s qualifying, the start, the strategy will be very important. But it’s a circuit that I like, with many curves, where you have to drive, work a lot on the car. It’s a time when I’m very lucky, the car is going strong, I think it can be done well again, I have faith. This season has been great for me, until now. At first I knew I couldn’t win, but I could finish second. I have triumphed in three Grands Prix, I have a great chance and I want to play it all the way".
Eddie spends fine words also for Mika Salo, key factor in the victory in Germany, and rewarded with the trophy and the winner’s hat:
"He deserved it. He did a fantastic job. He was leading the race, faster than me, he let me pass. He knew what I had been feeling for the last three years, he didn’t hesitate for a moment. I’m very happy with him. Mika’s strength is tranquility. He will continue to give us a big hand".
Friday, August 6, 1999 is the day of truth. From his home in Vufflens, Schumacher left at 4:30 p.m. with a black Mercedes off-road vehicle, with manager Willy Weber at the wheel, and his wife Corinna sitting next to the German, in the back seat. To reach the approximately forty kilometers away from the Genevan clinic La Tour, prestigious medical center owned by the American group Columbia, the group takes more than an hour, due to a huge traffic jam, partly caused by the start of the holiday bridge and a Geneva half closed to traffic and partly due to an accident on the motorway. After three hours of consultation, the response is a cold shower for Michael Schumacher and his fans: the doctors do not give the ok for a return to Hungary, and indeed they consider a participation in the next round in Belgium highly unlikely. Claudio Berro, head of the Maranello press office, told the journalists:
"Schumacher will not take any tests, it is too early to think about his return. There’s no way I’m driving a Formula One car in the next few days".
That’s not gonna happen. Then comes an official statement from Ferrari, which announces a further operation on the leg:
"Orthopedic surgeons have decided that to improve bone calcification will be partially modified part of the fixator applied on the distal portion of the tibia".
News confirmed Heiner Buchinger, spokesman for Schumacher, explaining that the plaque in the leg will be replaced with a shorter one in order to facilitate movements and accelerate rehabilitation. After the disappointing visit, Schumacher refuses to make statements, and dark in face is limited to a simple but eloquent no comment. However, Schumacher did not waste any time, and the next day, around 9:30 a.m., he went again to the clinic La Tour to undergo the surgery desired by the specialists. With him is present Jean Todt, who in the afternoon leaves Switzerland, and his wife Corinna. The intervention on the right leg of the German, perfectly successful according to a note released by Ferrari, lasts just over an hour. The orthopedists of the Geneva medical center partially modify the fixator applied on the distal portion of the tibia, shortening it by a few centimeters and removing two screws. This measure, in addition to promoting the calcification of the fracture, should facilitate rehabilitation and help recovery times. Schumacher, who at the end of this new operation is serene and calm, immediately returns to his villa in Vufflens without a statement. Through Buchinger, Michael makes it known that he is scrambling, and that the goal is to get back in front of the many Ferrari fans who populate every year with a passion more unique than rare, the Monza circuit:
"The realistic goal for a return is September 12, the date of the Monza Grand Prix. From 1 to 4 September there will be tests for that race and Schumacher does not want to miss this chance".
If the day before he had appeared taciturn and unwilling to expose himself, on August 6, just as Schumacher was denied the chance to return to driving Ferrari, Irvine is still engaged in testing in Fiorano, and this time he speaks with freewheeling of what may be the imminent future of his and Ferrari to the newspaper Famiglia cristiana:
"If I will stay in Maranello? It depends. If Schumacher will continue to be the number one of the team, it is obvious that I will leave. But if Michael, once he gets back, he doesn’t look the same as before, then I might as well stay. But I haven’t decided anything yet, at this moment you just have to wait, and see if Michael will still be the fastest: unfortunately, Formula 1 is like that, the times and the points you make at the end of each Grand Prix count. For goodness sake, Micahel is the best and the fastest, with the same car does not beat anyone, but the speed is not enough: you must also avoid mistakes and he has made many, too many. This year we have made fewer mistakes, we take advantage of those of others, we are lucky, the car is reliable and we are ahead of others. That’s it".
Eddie does not deny that his victories are perceived differently within the team, especially by Jean Todt:
"Yes, it’s true, but on the other hand Todt is visibly happier when Schumacher wins, you read it in his face. But I’m okay with that, what matters is points. The fact is, I just have a professional relationship with Jean Todt, there’s no feeling. He is different from me as well as Ross Brawn: they love Michael. I work well with everyone. Inside Ferrari I have few friends, with others I just work. And between one thing and another there is a big difference".
Nevertheless, he expects the maximum support of the team in his run-up to the title:
"And I would also like to see, with all the investments they have made. They would not give up the world championship because there is no Schumacher. One thing is clear to everyone: and that is that the chances of winning the title are much more concrete now, after the accident of Michael, than before. So everyone expects Maranello to make the maximum effort even without him".
The test day in Irvine begins at 9:30 a.m., and goes on until 5:30 p.m.; eight hours of practice during which the leader of the World Championship completes seventy-one laps, testing set-ups and suspensions with two of the three cars that will leave for Budapest. Schumacher’s manager, Willi Weber, after a few days of silence returns to the charge against the Italians and the alleged lack of gratitude towards his client. Weber points out through the newspaper Die Welt that even in the event of a world victory for Irvine, for Michael would not be a disaster, because we know that the reason why Ferrari has this chance is only the result of the sowing made by Michael; It is he who has brought the team to the point where it is, with his capacity for organization and analysis, his will, his team spirit that has dragged all the men of Ferrari. Not to mention his inimitable talent as a pilot. Then he expresses a personal opinion on Italians:
"Italians are very emotional, one day they cry as if someone had died and the next day they jump for joy. Only a short time ago for them Michael was a racing god. And this also applies to journalists, who know that the success of Ferrari is largely due to the work done by Michael".
On the eve of the Hungarian Grand Prix in Ferrari there continues to be the same bizarre uncertainty in the team after Schumacher’s injury, and Irvine’s unexpected rise. It is once again Montezemolo to make clear what to do after the delay of the return of his top driver, if it can still be defined in this way:
"Forward with Eddie, or wait and trust in Michael? Forward with Ferrari. Because, with all due respect to Schumacher and Irvine, it is Ferrari’s victory that counts. Drivers must follow the guidelines. Schumacher has said it, he will do it, he will serve Ferrari, hopefully as soon as possible. Michael is a driver who could win the World Championship. Now we are very happy that at this moment Irvine has great chances, the day when Schumacher will return will be to help Ferrari, no doubt. I said that I hope to have it as soon as possible because its contribution is crucial. Let’s not forget, no offense to Eddie, that out of fifty-four qualifying Schumacher started in front fifty-one times. We need a driver like him, but when the time comes he will race for Ferrari".
Even Mika Hakkinen is not missing the headaches caused by the frightful bang in Hockenheim caused by the explosion of a tyre, while he was in the midst of a comeback following a problematic pit-stop that had deprived him of leadership. The Finn says anyway lucky, because on the other hand to get out unharmed from an accident occurred at over 300 km/h is not at all obvious, but it is in fact that as for the championship, is the misfortune that seems to have targeted the reigning champion, Which confirms that you feel calm. However, it reveals signs of uncertainty, stating that it no longer wants to make predictions after the events of the last three races. Irvine is driving at his best, and is making very little mistake unlike his team; to stop this haemorrhage of results, there is only one solution: win the race. A joy that has been missing at McLaren for too long, as Hakkinen himself recalls:
"It’s amazing that a car as strong as ours has to stay for so long watching other people’s parties. I still have faith, I believe in the title, but we must get out of this crisis as soon as possible. Budapest is a very tiring circuit. Here the key is balancing, you have to find the right set-up. Last year we arrived in Hungary with the label of invincible and it was a disaster. Now we are not invincible. Who knows if there will be a turnaround".
On Friday 13th August 1999, the first two free practice sessions of the Hungarian Grand Prix will be held at the winding Budapest circuit. On the day, among other things, a bronze bust depicting Ayrton Senna is presented at the entrance of the circuit, a work valued at $ 4.000, donated by a local club supporters of the late three-time World Champion. Modified suspension and further revised and sophisticated aerodynamics seem to benefit Eddie Irvine, who at the end of the two sessions is at the top of the ranking with three tenths of an advantage over Hakkinen, who in turn precedes Coulthard, Barrichello, Salo, Frentzen and surprise Alex Zanardi. The Ferrari driver stays in the pits for about fifty minutes, chatting around a bit, listens to some radio, after which he returns to the track and prints the best performance ever. Still, the day didn’t go so smoothly:
"I immediately realized that we had taken the wrong path for the arrangements and then I said: stop, we start over. And in fact, starting from the beginning, based on simple concepts, we got better and better. Because the important thing is always this: progress and continuous improvement. Then it means that you are on the right path. I made a first attempt, with a good time. A few more small changes and then the absolute best. I would love the pole position. Starting only in the front row might seem like a failure, but actually that’s the best position on the track so I’d like that too. It seems to me that we are, I mean competitive, and that’s a good thing. Then on Saturday Hakkinen who knows what lap he will do and I forget the pole. But it is not important. What matters is knowing that we are competitive".
Jean Todt is also joined by journalists, to whom the same questions have been asked for some time now. The first concerns the future of Irvine and the relationship that binds him to the Northern Irish driver, who in previous days had defined him strictly professional, unlike the one that binds the French manager with Schumacher. Todt thinks about it a bit, then replies:
"I’ve had no more than two, maybe three friends in my life. Irvine is a smart guy, nice, professionally good, loved by everyone, especially by you journalists who for three years have denigrated him. I admire him very much. Thanks to his successes, his market position has now grown a lot and he owes this to Ferrari. His future? It doesn’t depend on the results of the next Grand Prix. It depends on the long-term strategy that Ferrari must have".
Statements that certainly do not suggest an extension of the relationship with the leader of the championship. The second question is obviously about Schumacher and his recovery times:
"It was decided to have a physical every fortnight, so next week should be next week. But I don’t know what day. We’ll get some x-rays and then we’ll see. Michael will not undergo other operations, were removed last Saturday the two lower screws that hold the plaque, the upper ones will remain in place for a long time".
However, there is talk of abolishing crutches from the Monday following the Hungarian Grand Prix, with excellent chances to return to Spa. Todt then opens his mouth and says:
"Who said? The newspapers? Then it’s all right, you decide when he comes back".
Friday to forget - as indeed the whole season - for Jacques Villeneuve, who at the wheel of the BAR leaves the track three times, two of which remaining covered up. Mika Hakkinen is also the protagonist of a couple of excursions, which in any case minimizes the mistakes by labeling them as nothing serious. In addition, the set-up of the car seems to satisfy him:
"As long as I was on the track my car was stable and fast, the perfect balance, the choice of the right tyres, and all this makes me very optimistic for the race. Then came the usual bad luck, perhaps accentuated by the fact that it is Friday the 13th, a chilling day for a superstitious like me. In the face of bad luck, I can’t help it, it’s a bad time, but I’m not worried. Twice the car got out of hand, it can happen".
The negative moment that seems to persist at McLaren certainly does not spare David Coulthard, that after the various mishaps combined in Austria and Germany begins the race weekend with a small disagreement with a British journalist, He asked whether or not he had run over a mechanic on his way back to the pits. In fact, the Scottish driver arrived long in the pits, hit the cart damaging the nose, and then grazed a Swiss television cameraman. So, to the journalist’s question, he replied annoyed:
"I didn’t invest any mechanic in the pits, look better before making certain considerations. Otherwise I will always be forced to correct you".
Saturday 14 August, the morning of free practice is bitter for Jean Alesi and Giancarlo Fisichella. The Frenchman ends up against the guard-rails destroying the Sauber, a heavy bang that forces him to a visit to the hospital for further examination. For the former Ferrari driver, fortunately, it is only a strong bruise to the right leg, so participation in qualifying and the race is not in question. Fisichella, in the middle of a fast turn, suddenly feels a throbbing pain in his right eye, caused by a piece of ceramic that ends up in his eye. The Roman is transported by helicopter to the hospital, where the fragment is removed with surgery. As for Alesi, even for Fisichella the rest of the weekend is not at risk. It will not have been for both the best preparation ahead of the session that decides the deployment in the early afternoon, fact is that Giancarlo, making the most of the soft tires, with an excellent lap is placed in fourth place, An unexpected result for a Benetton rarely so performing this season. As for pole position, as usual Mika Hakkinen puts everyone in agreement since the first attempt, what at the end of the qualifying is the fastest of all, 1'18"156, a tenth faster than the time recorded by Irvine, second, and ninth pole in the season conquered. Coulthard, third, completes the second row together with Fisichella, and then, in the third row, there are the Jordan of Frentzen and Hill, who undoubtedly has a special relationship on this track, having obtained two wins, three second places and finally a fourth in the 1998 season. Without a doubt the extraordinary performance of 1997, when he almost succeeded with a modest Arrows, stopped only by a technical problem a few laps from the end that relegated him to second place, to the delight of Jacques Villeneuve. Logically satisfied for pole position, Hakkinen enjoys his McLaren impeccable:
"The car is perfect, they are on pole, which is very advantageous on this kind of track. We have very good chances to win. The race will be very interesting".
Irvine scored his best performance on the third attempt; then, in the next one he is about to improve, but he has to lift his foot to avoid a piece of the front wing of Johnny Herbert’s Stewart left in the middle of the track. I wonder if this attempt was fast enough to snatch the pole from the opponent. The race, however, looks very open, as Irvine himself claims:
"The car can win, and so can I. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. It is clear, however, that we won’t have to make a single mistake. Yes, I’m on the dirty side of the track, but it doesn’t matter, here I’ve always made fantastic starts. And then the dirty asphalt counts at most twenty percent, the eighty must put the pilot with his technique at the start. In the race we are always faster than in practice. Here in Budapest I think I have more chances than I had on the eve of the three races this year where I came first, especially in Hockenheim. So I don’t see why I shouldn’t be optimistic".
On the controversy between McLaren and Bridgestone, who still have not agreed on what was the cause of the accident in Germany that forced Hakkinen to retire, the Finn comments jokingly:
"We hope that this time the good tires will give us".
Then Irvine intervenes, at his side during the press conference, which says:
"Let’s hope then that what happened to you doesn’t happen to me".
The curtain between the two continues, with Hakkinen talking about the exodus of Finnish fans to Hungary, ready to support their idol:
"Do you know that there are 23 charter flights arriving from Finland with my fans?"
"But there are so many people in your country?"
Hakkinen glissa but then replies:
"Like in Ireland".
Mika Salo, who with the other Ferrari leaves behind the majestic performance in Germany to crash on the Hungarian track in an indecorous way, has little desire to joke. Red’s number two is only 18th, more than two seconds from Hakkinen, just ahead of the Arrows and the Minardi.
"I don’t understand. Maybe something didn’t work on the car, I was quick in practice. However I want to try to score points".
An undertaking that seems impossible considering the type of track, which certainly does not favor overtaking and comebacks from the rear, and a performance that certainly brings out the urgency of getting Schumacher back in his place. The German, right at the Hungaroring, a year before won one of his most beautiful victories, in a weekend during which it seemed impossible to counter the excessive power of McLaren. Thanks to one of Brawn’s strategic genius and a series of qualifying laps ringed at the right time, Schumacher went to win a race that reopened the world games. To cheer himself up, Salo can look at Nigel Mansell’s monstrous comeback during the 1989 Hungarian Grand Prix. The Lion of England snapped only twelfth, but with an aggressive and at the same time effective guide, he climbed up the hill to grab first place, and a legendary victory. Sunday, August 15, 1999 is the same Bridgestone to indicate as potential contenders for the podium those drivers who have bet on the softest compound, namely the Benetton of Fisichella and Wurz, and the Jordan of Frentzen and Hill. All the others go on hard tires, and according to the Japanese company, paradoxically with the passing of the laps it will be the soft rubber to improve its performance. Therefore, when the traffic lights turn off a special attention goes to Giancarlo Fisichella, who among those with soft tires is the one that starts further forward. While Hakkinen and Irvine start strong and hold their positions, Coulthard has a late reaction that allows the Benetton driver and Frentzen to overtake him. Fisichella lets himself be greedy and at the first corner he joins Irvine on the outside, even if he has to give up and follow him. The group parades away without accidents, while in the rear Salo does not believe, at least for the moment, his recovery intentions, because at the end of the first lap is twentieth.
Hakkinen immediately tries to escape, with Irvine unable to match the race pace of McLaren Mercedes; the other Silver Arrow, instead, stalks Frentzen for the fourth position, but the German is not impressed by the pressure exerted by the opponent, not making any mistakes. The first phase of the race is rather static: Hakkinen after ten laps has a six second advantage over Irvine, who in turn has eight on Fisichella, third. Mika keeps pushing, and on the twelfth pass he goes under the wall of 1'21"0, scoring a new fast lap in 1'20"992. During the tenth round, Alex Zanardi’s race ends, starting fifteenth, one of the few times in which he manages to get the better in qualifying on teammate Ralf Schumacher, Only sixteenth, which after a slight exit of the track is sadly back in the pits for differential problems, which decree the eighth withdrawal in eleven races. A season that is turning into an endless nightmare for the two-time Formula CART World Champion. Despite a considerable advantage of around ten seconds, McLaren mechanics told Hakkinen to push through the pit board with a simple but direct message saying push. The reigning champion carries out the order, gaining steadily over Irvine. The concern is perhaps that the Ferrari driver can lengthen his stint before returning to the pits, and put pressure on Hakkinen with an overcut. After just twenty laps, Hakkinen doubled the compatriot Salo, meanwhile remained nailed in twentieth position behind De La Rosa. The race comes alive only at the time of the pit-stops: the first to return is Fisichella, after which it’s up to Irvine, followed by most of his colleagues. Hakkinen, for his part, continues undisturbed. On lap 30, Frentzen returned to the pits, leaving Coulthard free, who had the only chance to gain the position on the Jordan driver. While the team-mate stops and maintains the leadership, Coulthard completes some qualifying laps, so much so that after his pit-stop, the Scotsman not only gained the position on Frentzen, but also on Fisichella, who after his stop, struggled to find rhythm, Wasting the good advantage he had managed to gain during the first part of the race.
When everyone, with the exception of Rubens Barrichello who is on a one-stop strategy, has stopped, Hakkinen continues undisturbed towards victory, followed by far from Irvine. Third place for Barrichello, who later, on lap forty, will leave the third step of the podium to Coulthard. With Stewart’s Brazilian back on track in eighth place, the points were completed by Fisichellla, Frentzen and Hill. Thirty laps from the end nothing seems to upset the order of the first positions, but David Coulthard begins to quickly reduce the gap that divides him from Irvine. In a few steps, the two are reunited, with Irvine showing clear signs of difficulty in keeping his F399 on track. Around the fiftieth lap of the seventy-seven scheduled, there is the second wave of pit-stops, and this time the eyes are all on Irvine and Coulthard, who make the stop simultaneously. Ferrari’s mechanics are impeccable, and the Northern Irish can, for now, keep second place. The second stop is bitter for Giancarlo Fisichella: at first the stop is longer than expected, because Benetton can not start again, perhaps due to some engine failure; it is a fact that the fasting of points, which seemed about to end, It also continues in Hungary for the unfortunate Roman driver, who has to get out of the cockpit and retire. Something similar happens to Jean Alesi’s Sauber, whose Ferrari engine goes out when it starts again. Then, unlike what happened to Fisichella, Alesi starts again and exits the pit-lane, although his hopes of scoring are now zero. The apparent excessive enthusiasm in resuming his race also cost him a stop&go of ten seconds for exceeding the speed limit in pit-lane. The disaster comes to a climax three laps from the end, when because of what the team indicates as a problem with the pressure of gasoline, the transalpine has to park his Sauber at the side of the track. In the post-race Alesi blurts out and attacks the team, revealing the real reason for his retirement:
"Enough, I’m not with these anymore, I’m broken. Rather I go cycling, but not with this car. You can not continue like this. I am paid according to the results and these for three times in a race are wrong to calculate the gasoline. Other than pressure in the fuel circuit. Already in the first pit-stop I arrived hopping, I would have stopped after a few meters. In the second stop I entered the pits with the engine off: this made it jump the speed limiter, so I left at 81 km/h instead of 80 km/h, and I took the stop&go. Finally, on the third last lap, I parked because the fuel was out again. It was the first time: in Brazil I came back from the seventeenth to the fourth place and then my gearbox broke, the same thing in Spain where I was fifth. It’s the only car that has never been developed, it’s identical to Melbourne, the first Grand Prix of the season. I give advice, they never listen to me".
After such statements, the passage of the transalpine to the Prost seems now only a formality. Meanwhile, the race gives during its final phase a twist that could weigh for the championship: after several laps during which he exerts great pressure to Irvine, still good at juggling between the voice-overs without giving him opportunities to overtake, Coulthard capitalizes on the Ferrari driver’s mistake at the entrance to Turn 5 to earn second place. Eddie loses by a fraction of a second the rear of the car, skids and ends wide on the grass, leaving the paved road to the Scotsman, who thanks and runs away. Irvine frustrated the mechanics' work and his excellent defense up to that moment, then tried to keep up with McLaren number two, but eventually raised his foot, settling for the third position. In the following days, however, it will be discovered that it was a differential problem that slowed him down. After the seventy-seven laps of a very long race, lasting an hour and forty-six minutes, Hakkinen won for the fourth time in the season, interrupting a fast that lasted from the Canadian Grand Prix held two months before, To the delight of the five thousand Finnish fans who came for the occasion and who almost monopolized the central stand, filling it with flags of Finland. A solo race, dominated from start to finish, and thanks to Coulthard’s second-place comeback allows him to reduce Irvine’s two-point disadvantage, finishing third to almost thirty seconds, on a track where he had predicted he could stand up to the Silver Arrows. Fourth place for Frentzen, who as usual capitalizes on the competitiveness of his Jordan, to precede an excellent Barrichello, whose strategy with a single stop pays off, and Damon Hill. On the podium, to celebrate the second double McLaren, along with the two drivers there is the team manager Ron Dennis. Woking’s team put in the farm 16 points, unlike Ferrari who earns just 4, due to the error of Irvine, and the disastrous performance of Mika Salo, at the end of the race only twelfth. In the Constructors' Championship, Rossa leads the standings with 94 points, 4 more than McLaren Mercedes. Beaming for the return to success, Hakkinen admits that this is a result of some value for the championship:
"I was worried. If Irvine had won again, it would have been the end. Not closing another race would have been tremendous. It needed a breakthrough, to break this spell, to stop all those Ferrari gifts. I played a lot here in Hungary. I had not been able to relax on vacation, in Sardinia and Corsica, when you are fighting for the title you never pull the plug, you are a volcano of sensations, you can not give up, throw you down, but you know you’re behind and your head explodes. I had to return to winning and not in a banal way, but dominating. It was a fantastic, perfect race. We showed that McLaren is the strongest team. In this circuit it’s easy to make mistakes; after three races full of mistakes, this time we didn’t make any mistakes. We passed the exam. And I feel much more relieved. You work hard every day, but if something happens in your car all the time and you don’t get blamed, then you feel powerless. That’s why I’m talking about the end of a nightmare, not by chance in the last ten laps I kept looking at every point of the car. I said: now what will break? Psychologically this success has a huge importance. It gives me a great feeling with mechanics".
On the podium, Mika repeatedly thanks his mechanics, pointing them from the highest step, and as rarely done in his previous twelve victories, sings his anthem while being performed:
"In my life it has only happened a couple of times, but this was a special occasion. Twenty-three fan charters are huge and now in Belgium I expect even more, maybe double. Rest assured, Irvine: Finland will not empty because of me. It is not small like your Ireland".
A return to success that is a considerable boost of confidence for both him and the team, because now, as Jo Ramirez, team coordinator says:
"Now we can see the World Cup. Indeed, almost touch it".
After the praise received for all the previous weeks thanks to the accomplishments that had not made Schumacher regret, here is that at the first inaccuracy Eddie Irvine is thrown off that pedestal on which he had been raised. Norbert Haug is the first to take a shot at him:
"The boy Irvine has shrunk. It takes more to beat us".
Or Hakkinen himself, who sees an opportunity to inflict psychological damage on his rival:
"I’m not surprised that the Ferraris were so slow. If anything, I was surprised by their proximity on Saturday. But that of Irvine was not true glory: I without traffic could have turned with a second less".
Neither is his team-mate and far from recovery, Michael Schumacher, who admits from Germany that he would have expected much more from Eddie on this kind of track. Imagine if, after the releases of the previous days, Wili Weber does not take advantage to ride the wave during an interview with a German newspaper:
"As I predicted Irvine was unable to beat McLaren. In previous races he had exploited the misfortunes of others, but now the situation seems back to normal".
But Eddie is not there, admits his mistake, cost him the second place, but does not want to act as a scapegoat:
"The car was very slow, there are two or three things we will have to talk about clearly among ourselves. I had just made the second pit stop and in the mirrors I saw Coulthard stuck in my wake. I was worried for two reasons. First because I knew he would try to overtake me. Second because I wasn’t comfortable with my tires. Already after the first pit-stop I noticed that they degraded in a few laps and I feared it could happen again, and exactly as I feared, after three laps the rear tires were already gone. The car was all jumping because even the front began to degrade. I was pushing as hard as I could, trying to push Coulthard back a little, and when I got to turn five, I skidded. I recovered immediately, but meanwhile McLaren had overtaken me. I was pushing so much that I had just done my fastest lap in the race. Unfortunately, when you’re on the edge, it’s easy to make a mistake. At that moment they called me on the radio telling me to change some things inside the car, and I was just doing this operation on the dashboard when I got into a skid".
The start was a moment on which Eddie bet strongly, but Hakkinen did not offer a chance:
"I started very well despite being on the dirty side of the track. I was surprised to see Fisichella alongside me, but he had very soft tyres. I wasn’t helped by the tyres. I had problems with all three sets used. A few laps were fine, then they dropped to make the car unworkable. But it wasn’t just because of the tyres that we were so slow: the car was just wrong. Perhaps we have not worked as we are used to doing: we will have to analyze among ourselves what did not work. The result itself is not serious. I only lost two points from second to third. And, all in all, considering I’ve never done any here, it went well. What worries me is that this time Ferrari was slow throughout the race. Maybe we did two or three things wrong, and what I’m worried about right now is talking to the techs. If we don’t focus well, it’s hard to improve. We have a difficult Belgian Grand Prix ahead of us, and I know we will have some aerodynamic news there. But we need to better prepare the car".
It is sad Mika Salo, whose exceptional race in Germany already seems a distant memory:
"A nightmare race. I felt a sense of shame. I was embarrassed as I passed under the checkered flag. I wanted to become invisible because it’s really disheartening to arrive with a Ferrari. Of course, a little is my fault because since Friday I have never been able to find the good set-up, but the fact remains that the car was very slow, incurable. It was a great effort to keep her in the street. Now you have to understand why it was like this".
Meanwhile, Willi Weber’s statements give a strong hand to the German newspaper Bild, that the day after the race headlines 'Without Schumacher Ferrari is zero', with a lot of articles about an Irvine who blames the tires, Salo who complains without combining anything, and a Schumacher referred to as the only person capable of truly changing things. It is above all the words of Schumacher’s manager to force Ferrari to replicate, labeling Weber as a business agent, claiming its exclusive expertise on how to judge a driver’s performance. The controversy seems far from ending, and the Ferrari fan is increasingly suffering a split in two factions, between supporter of Irvine and supporter of Schumacher, which, despite the magic on track over the years, We have never forgiven some macroscopic mistakes that both in '97 and '98 proved crucial for the race for the title. To silence the criticism Michael will have to wait a little longer. Eddie, however, has to wait only a fortnight, before he can look for the ransom in the Ardennes, on the historic track of Spa-Francorchamps. Between him and success, however, are the bulky McLaren-Mercedes of Hakkinen and Coulthard.