Wednesday 1st September 1999, the Formula 1 teams gather in Monza for a three-day test session, scheduled on the same circuit where the Italian Grand Prix will take place on September 12, 1999. The spotlight, of course, is on Michael Schumacher, who after the successful test at Mugello a couple of weeks before, returns to the wheel of the F399 to test his physical condition and evaluate a definitive return. The first day are almost twenty thousand fans who show up at the circuit with banners (on all stands one with written The King is back) for the German driver, who, in addition to checking the state of the fractured leg in July, will also have to complete a program of aerodynamic innovations and indulge to the press at the end of the day, to finally speak in person and no longer through his spokesmen. On 1st September 1999, however, things do not go as planned. As soon as he arrived at the circuit, Schumacher gave the impression of being more rigid than he was at Mugello, because to walk he almost had to drag the injured leg, and to climb inside the cockpit he needed the help of his mechanics. Managed to get into the car, he just makes a single ride, exactly as happened in Tuscany. So, apparently there is no reason to worry. There follows a long pause, during which Michael sits with his leg stretched on a crate and exchanges a chat with Jean Todt and President Montezemolo, who arrived around 11:00 a.m. Finally back in the car, Schumacher makes two more laps, among the cheers of the fans; then another short stint of five laps, with the lap times gradually lowering, while remaining at a second and a half away from Coulthard, the best so far. During the lunch break, the driver locked himself in the Ferrari motorhome, he doesn’t even have lunch with Montezemolo, who, his face in gloom, exchanged a few words with Irvine before leaving without making a statement. Not a good sign. An eventual return to the track in the afternoon was prevented by an hydraulic problem, which ended Schumacher’s test session. At the end of the day, surrounded by journalists, the sad confirmation of something that was already in the air:
"I have few things to say to you, then you will ask me the questions you want. I have decides to go home, I will not race in Monza for the next Grand Prix and not even the next one. After a few laps I realized that I still have serious problems with my leg. I took a first lap this morning and then I rested and I already felt some pain. I made others in installments and I saw that the pain increased. All this only makes my situation more difficult, and so I decided".
Pains that at Mugello did not manifest themselves with such intensity. According to Schumacher the cause lies in the characteristic of the circuit.
"Here the track is very different. Here there are more strenuous corners, humps on the asphalt, bumps, and the pain increased at once conspicuously from the first laps I did. I said: what am I running for? Because either I come back and I’m fully fit, able to do my job and give Ferrari a valid contribution, or it makes no sense. Sunday I will meet again with my doctors and we will make a program for the future".
The future, in fact, remains an unknown:
"Form the beginning there was talk of a period of twelve to sixteen weeks to get to a full recovery, now at the bottom we are only the seventh week and maybe it is still early, I have to take note. For now I will certainly miss two races, Monza and the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, then we will see. Some days I felt good and I really wanted to go back to running. Then maybe the next day a pain came out and I realized that I was still far form a return to full activity. All this time, I’ve been working really hard to fix myself. Exercises in the neck, arms, legs, bicycle, then finally comes the day you throw away the crutches and think I made it. And then it’s not, because you discover that is not like that. Even today, for example: it took just a few laps on the track to find me in a very different situation. Now the pains is constant and strong: what good for is driving like that?"
In the newspapers there was also talk of heel complications, also confirmed by German:
"Yeah there was that pain too and that’s why I gave up on running at Spa. In total I have four problems, but I don’t want to go into technical details. Let’s say it still takes time".
With or without him, Ferrari must still aim to win the title:
"The situation in the standings does not seem bad, even if the last two races I think have shown some difficulties of our car. It is clear that it takes some improvements to win. It is still possibile to win both the constructors’ and the world championships. McLaren is stronger, but we can intervene to improve our situation".
An eventual return, which at this point should be in Malaysia for the penultimate round of the World Championship, will see him doing unusually as a wingman for Irvine. But he wants to clarify:
"Both he and I have always driven in the interest of Ferrari. Eddie never raced for my interests, so the situation is the same and it doesn't change, we both run for Ferrari’s sake. Eddie can win this title. If I had to give him some advice, I would say: Eddie, go fast but try not to go and crash. Then if Coulthard sill gives him a hand...".
Clear reference to the Belgian Grand Prix, where Coulthard went to win for the second time in the season with the approval of the team, which did not order him to deliver the first position to the teammate, also World Championships leader, Mika Hakkinen. Lastly, Schumacher reveals that he will most likely undergo a further operation, after which he traces the moments he experienced immediately after the Silverstone incident:
"One or two minutes after the bang, I thought I’d retire, stop running. I was trying to move, get out of the car, and I could feel my leg stuck. It is the first time in my life that a part of my body is broken an it is something that makes the world and life appear differently. Then the days pass, the doctors work, you keep thinking and as soon as you feel better you want to come back, give a hand, do something, because I want to run with Ferrari and I will always run for Ferrari".
Schumacher’s resignations is not the only headline news that Ferrari offers at the beginning of September, because just during the test session in Monza, form Brazil is now given for sure the passage of Rubens Barrichello in Ferrari in place of Eddie Irvine, who in turn will replace the Brazilian in the Stewart, form 2000 registered in the championship with the Jaguar Ford brand. Having been with the Maranello team for months now, Rubens had stood out for statements not very welcome by Montezemolo, specifically when he openly stated that he did not want to accept a role as Schumacher’s wingman, but rather to play his cards. Nevertheless, it seems that an agreement has been reached, although nobody has yet given the official status, which will arrive in a few days. Meanwhile, the tests continue undaunted, with Mika Salo taking back the steering wheel that for a single morning had returned to the hands of its rightful owner. Finnish does not hide being happy, but:
"Of course I am sorry for Schumacher, I had seen that he was suffering. He said no and this suits me. It’s a new story, because for the first time since I’ve been in Ferrari I have the chance to try the car on the track where we’re going to race".
Salo completes the beauty of one hundred and thirty laps stopping in third place, not far form the McLaren-Mercedes in terms of race pace; Irvine, on the other hand, in the afternoon ends up long at the Ascari severely damaging the front wing and left front suspension arm. The fastest is Johnny Herbert, in 1’24’’236, two tenths faster than Hakkinen, second. At McLaren, after the lack of team order against Coulthard at Spa that has made Hakkinen mad, the latter confirms that now the hierarchies are well defined, meaning there won’t be any hierarchies untile one between him and Coulthard is mathematically cut off from the title fight:
"With David everything has been clarified: we will fight to the end on equal".
The reigning champion also spends a few words for Schumacher:
"I’m sorry. I learned firsthand what it means to be outside. It takes a lot of patience".
In the last day of testing Irvine resumes itself, after a colorless morning closed in tenth place, in the afternoon he flies to the top of the ranking with te unofficial record of the track since the grooved tires were introduced: 1’23’’927. Surrounded by the media, Eddie promptly speaks about his future:
"The next year is the next year. At this moment I’am thinking only about the Monza Grand Prix, and also I will do with the next race: this season is too important for me".
On what are the chances of graduating World Champion, he answer:
"Thirty-five percent today. After the Hockenheim Grand Prix in Germany, the percentage was even higher, say by forty. But McLaren is still the fastest. In the standings we are still very close and after twelve Grand Prix, four form the end, every point is very important. We must be careful not to leave anything out".
For Irvine a return of Schumacher would perhaps have been more annoying to McLaren, bu even Salo to his say it will be good, because on a similar circuit, namely Hockenheim, the Finn has made the protagonist of an exceptional performance grabbing the podium, and without the team’s order to let Irvine through, it could have been a victory. To beat McLaren, Irvine says the brakes will be the key:
"If we have an advantage here in Monza, it’s that. Because the two McLaren on the straights are stronger, but in braking we can recover them well, and in this circuit there are several points where you have to brake. Well, that might be out best weapon. After all, they still have a bit of an advantage over us, but not like at Spa. Ferrari is more reliable and the team, in my opinion, has a better strategy. It is by playing on this balance that on September 12 we can make it".
Moreover, the fact that there is no top driver and a squire in McLaren will make the difference:
"The fact that Hakkinen and Coulthard are fighting for us is certainly a good thing. After all, if Ron Dennis is okay with his team woking in this way, if he accepts the philosophy of winning the best between his two drivers, we can only please".
After the tests, the long-awaited official status arrives: with the signing of a two-years contract that will tie him to Maranello at least until 2001, Rubens Barrichello is a new Ferrari driver. The Brazilian driver will earn about four and a half million dollars per season and Ferrari announced it on September 4, 1999:
"Ferrari announces that the driver Rubens Barrichello will lend his technical-competitive collaboration to the Ferrari Marlboro team for the next two seasons, alongside Michael Schumacher. Ferrari thanks Eddie Irvine for the constructive and loyal cooperation of these four years. The team and the driver will face together, with the maximum commitment and determination, the last four decisive races of the World Championship".
Logically enthusiastic for the opportunity offered to him after the years spent in the court of Eddie Jordan and Jackie Stewart , never able to provide him a car constantly fast and reliable enough to fight for high ranking positions, Barrichello is really excited for what promises to be his first season in a top team. Indeed, the top team par excellence, being Ferrari the aspiration of every driver:
"God always gives the chance at the right time. This was the best way to get to Ferrari. It’s one of the best moments of my life. I’m very excited, radiant, satisfied for me, for my family, for my wife Silvana, for the fans, for all of Brazil. This transfer to Ferrari is a dream come true. Coming in a great team, with an outstanding reputation. I always thought that sooner or later I too would have a winning car, a car that would allow me to fight for the world title. The opportunity has arrived. My career is at a turning point. Now it’s up to me to take this opportunity. But it doesn't scare me. Contacts with Ferrari had existed for some time, we had been talking of several weeks about a possible future together and I’m glad it was finally written down. Any driver would like to drive a Ferrari, given the solid tradition that this car boats in Formula 1, is the desire of all and one can not worry about what awaits him. I was hired by the most prestigious team that exists in the sport. Ferrari has always had the best cars and there is no doubt that I too will have a very strong car. I have never won a race, I always look forward to this blessed first time. Next year I will be able to fulfill this desire".
Rubens reveals that there will be no unequal treatment within the team. At least as regards the possibility of testing and having the same material as his teammate. To earn an equal status with Schumacher, of course, there will be hard work.
"I will have to follow the instructions of the team, as any driver must, but I certainly do not come to put myself aside. If I’m fast enough, I don’t think there’ll be any team orders to slow me down. If I had to be in the lead with a 20 seconds ahead on the second, I don’t think it’s in Ferrari’s interest to ask me to let Schumacher pass. The problem is another: you have to be humble. Michael is the best and I don’t just say it, form him I have much to learn, it would be too much to pretend to be faster immediately".
The passion for Motorsport in Brazil has suffered a hard blow following the tragic death of Ayrton Senna. Barrichello hopes to rekindle that fire of passion in the hearts of his countrymen:
"I hope to give back to Brazil what it has always achieved in Formula 1: many victories".
The relationship with Schumacher, in his opinion, can be defined friendly:
"We spoke on the phone, he wished me luck with the conquest. I do not know him in depth, we only met on the track, during the briefings, we never hang out outside, but I’m sure we will get along".
Although he has always proved to be a talented driver, it was this season’s performance that convinced the top management of Maranello to focus on him. Not surprisingly, Barrichello talks about his best season in Formula 1 so far:
"I finished twice on the podium, at Imola and Magny Cours, in France on Saturday I hit pole position, I missed only the victory. Now I feel mature, able to compete with the best and for this reason I could not make the wrong choice. I thought about it for months, I had three choices, stay at Stewart, choose Ferrari or McLaren. I opted for the team that offered me more guarantees".
If on the one hand we rejoice in the dream of a life that is realized, on the other there are those who see it slowly reaching its conclusion. Eddie Irvine has little to say about the decision taken by Ferrari, confirming that the separation was caused by the impossibility of remaining in the team as the first driver, or at least with the possibility of playing on equal terms with Schumacher. Eddie, in any case, thanks Ferrari and hopes to leave it in the best way:
"I want to thank Ferrari because I did for them at least as much as they did for me. I started in 1996 with only one podium and today I won seven, with three wins and the chance to win the World Championships. For me this is a great honor, even if sooner o later all the stories end".
Then a warning to Barrichello:
"If he doesn't adapt quickly, the Schumacher rock-crusher will ruin his life. I have resisted; I don’t know if Rubens will succeed".
The rock-crusher in question, as if complicated recovery of the right leg wasn’t enough, has to deal with the publication by the German Bild am Sonntag of a topless photo of his wife Corinna while sunbathing aboard a yacht off Monte Carlo. A photo that enrages Schumacher, as his spokesman Buchinger claims. In any case, Michael does not take legal action to prevent this from further amplifying the matter. Returning to track issues, the native of Kerpen, always though his press agent, updates everyone on his recovery time:
"The doctors who visited me observed a normal course in the healing process and found no complications. This means that I still need four weeks before I can resume my usual training at full speed. And therefore it is impossible for me to partecipate in the race of the 26th at the Nurburgring".
On Barrichello instead:
"He’s definitely a very fast driver, who will bring a new breath of fresh air to the team. He’s made progress and done a great job in the last few years. So, welcome aboard".
Before retiring to Monza for the thirteenth round of the 1999 World Championship, Mika Salo carried out the usual tests in Fiorano to check that the three bodies to be used for the race weekend are in order. The Finn is not used to doing such tasks, and you can see it when he never takes the shortcut that saves at least half of the track to return to the box. Thus, to carry out the routine checks on the three F399, it has reached the limit of the fifty kilometers provided by the FIA for this kind of tests. Loaded for the home Grand Prix for Ferrari, Montezemolo wants to convey his and the fans’ enthusiasm to the team, saying he strongly believes in winning the title:
"I believe in this title, despite everything that has happened to us in recent times. For Irvine this is the occasion of life, he is just one point form Hakkinen and for us it is a great satisfaction to have a second driver like this. I have no doubt that he will try hard to win, he has the reasons that are needed".
Regarding Schumacher’s failed test, he admits:
"That day was very hard for Schumacher and for all of us. He had the impact with the pain after just one test lap and the disappointment was great for everyone when he had to accept that in those conditions it was not possible to face a return in such an important race. The curbs were enough to cause him great suffering. Now, with all respect to Irvine, not having Schumacher in this Grand Prix is an handicap for us that we would have liked to do without but that we must accept".
Barrichello will be a Ferrari driver starting from the 2000 season, so Montezemolo does not want to prolong himself too much on the Brazilian driver, simply saying that he is young, experienced and fast, but in fact right now they have to think about who is still wearing the Ferrari suit, that’s Irvine and Salo. As rarely happened in three and a half years of cohabitation, Jean Todt has kind words for Irvine, perhaps to give him further impetus for a weekend that could be crucial for the championship:
"Eddie has always been underestimated, especially by those who in recent years have tried to convince me and Ferrari to send him away. On the other hand I must also say that Schumacher would not be that great driver he is if he had not had for these three and a half years one like Irvine always ready to challenge him".
At that point they point out the coldness with which he celebrated the success of Irvine, in sharp contrast to the joy expressed whenever the trophy of the winner went to Schumacher:
"It’s ridiculous to say such a thing. I’m one who only ever rejoice at the success of Ferrari, regardless of the driver. It also true, however, that I feel humanly closer to Schumacher. Irvine is a great guy but he’s lonely, with no family, prefers models and a certain kind of life far from what I’m used to. But I really like him, even if he’s so different from me”.
Thursday, September 9 Irvine arrives in Monza and, in spite of the officially of his farewell, does not look different from the usual. On the contrary, he is always smiling and biting, speaks one’s mind, even when he speaks of certain habits:
"Sex before the race? It does not affect concentration. The problem is having the opportunity. Here in Milan it’s simple for me, in Malaysia it might be a bit more complicated".
Or of his relationship with Todt and the words on the French manager of recent days:
"I didn't care what he said before, I don't care what he says now".
For the performance on track, there is a greater optimism that at Spa, where Ferrari found itself slower even than Jordan and Williams:
"Here we can frighten our opponents, because we are stronger that at Spa. I have to win at all costs, and I have fifty chances of doing it. I like Monza. And then I can sleep at my home".
For the weekend in Milan is also made available to Irvine the team of Salo, who will give priority to his muletto, with a transfer of engineers that could damage the Finn. A decision aimed at making the team feel the maximum support towards Irvine, despite the roads of Red and Norther Ireland will separate to the end of the season.
"Now everyone’s talking about Barrichello, but winning the world championships is important. It’s not only for me, it’s for Agnelli, for Ferrari, for all those who work in Maranello. Last week here in Monza the tests were not going very well, then in the last hour we changed everything and we started flying. The fans are all for me, I hope to make them happy".
Rubens Barrichello will face the Italian Grand Prix as a Stewart driver, butt it is inevitable for him to approach it differently, considering the future of Ferrari driver that awaits him. A future that promises to be difficult, because, you know, being a driver of the most famous team in the world is not a joke at all:
"The pressure, I think, is always high in and around Ferrari. If it were not so it would not be Ferrari, the most famous team in the world. But when I signed the contract, my hand was shook".
Four years earlier, Ferrari opted for Irvine, then his teammate at Jordan, a choice Rubens was not bitter about at all. On the contrary, other years of experience in lower-middle teams were fundamental for his growth path:
"I was very young, I had to prove myself, and that also depends on the car you have. Look now: I have a terrific car and I drive well. No it wasn't the right time. For me, the right time to get to Ferrari is now because I’m a more consistent driver. I hat to think about my future, my life, and it’s normal to want Ferrari because today it can give me a chance to win. I’m happy to have been able to give this turn to my life".
The decision to leave Jackie Stewart has been more painful that it seems, however Barrichello points out that he wants to give everything to his current team until the end, and not to have any fear to fight in case he was involved in a fight against a Ferrari. The lawyer Agnelli hopes that he can really be the heir of Ayrton Senna. Rubens replies confidently:
"I hope so too. It would be the best way to pay tribute to Ayrton’s memory. I would like, for Agnelli, for Ferrari, for Brazil".
Friday, September 10, in the first two sessions of free practice McLaren presents with new air vents of the brakes, with a larger inlet and a second in addition in order to promote the cooling of the brakes calipers. In addition, an engine, with increased power and usage is mounted. Perhaps because of this, Hakkinen says that despite the test times of the previous week were not too positive; there is the potential to dominate. Coulthard also supported this argument, which is now fully back in the fight for the title. Ferrari, however, does not bring other innovations apart form those already tested previously on the Lombardy track. Innovations that at the end of the day are not as efficient as hoped. The ranking is clear: Irvine sixteen, Salo Seventeenth.
"The car is no longer the same as the tests of a week ago".
Mumbles Irvine after a depressing result, though he says, the F399 has wide margins of improvement:
"Here it’s always like this, the first two days we go pretty bad, then final the car starts go better. Last week we arrived at the last hour of testing of the last day we decided to change everything of the car. And suddenly I started flying, an incredible car, fantastic. Today we put back on track and it doesn't work anymore. We must understand why and when we have discovered it I am sure that I will fly again, indeed. I can even win if Ferrari on Sunday starts flying like that day".
The two sessions of the cavallino team are characterized by continuous replacements of the wing, and by an Irvine who complains with eloquent gestures of the hands a dangerous tendency of the rear to slide everywhere. Not surprisingly, the Northern Irish turns once, while Salo even six:
"A tremendous oversteer that created a lot of problems especially at the curves of Lesmo and at the Parabolica".
The fastest time is recorded by surprise by Ralf Schumacher, in 1'24"507, to precede the two home drivers, Jarno Trulli and Alex Zanardi, showing a fast and constantly growing Williams. Obviously temporary times, especially if the two McLaren are placed in sixth and eighth position, focusing exclusively on the race pace without attempting fast laps. Jean Todt offers his key:
"As always during Friday practice it’s difficult to get an idea of the performance of cars. However, I think Schumacher’s first half is far from tomorrow's pole".
Ron Dennis, after these free practice that do not present any problems of any kind at McLaren, reiterates his willingness to treat his two drivers on equal terms:
"I want to win the race and then the World Championship. No matter with which driver, it is an absolutely secondary aspect. From Monza I expect 16 points, we have many chances to bring them home. Ferrari as an opposite philosophy to us, they have always favored a driver, but in this way I don't understand how they can maintain high motivation in both drivers. The results reward us and they will do so again this year. Hakkinen at the beginning of the season did not agree, we discussed it at length, but in the end he was convinced and now he also thinks it’s right".
It’s hard to believe that the Finn has willingly accepted the team’s choices, especially if we evaluate his reaction at the end of the Belgian Grand Prix, when he refused even to celebrate with champagne on the podium. As for the free practice, the reigning champion is satisfied, and book what would be the eleventh pole out of thirteen races:
"I only used a set of tires, they were broken at the end. With new tires I can get off at least two seconds. I want to win the title and to do so I have to excel in Monza, going to the run. These ten points are fundamental and to obtain them, in a circuit where it is difficult to overtake, there is only one way: to start in the lead. Coulthard doesn't scare me: he will try to beat me, but on Saturday I was always faster, why should I have to be worried?"
Despite Mika’s coldness on the Belgian podium, Dennis assures that there are good relations between the two drivers:
"Between Mika and David there are no problems, they have a different way of being aggressive, their fight will not give advantage to Ferrari. Here too, the rules apply: when you cross the line, I intervene and harshly. But why should I deprive myself of the joy of a good double?"
In fact, the dispute between Woking’s teammates have already caused a considerable loss of points for Hakkinen, especially considering the incident in Austria and, as already mentioned, the race in Belgium. David Coulthard in any case, especially after the statements of his team principal, strongly believers in the title, but:
"To really think about it, I have to get at least ten points from Hakkinen to really put pressure on him. I expect a boring race, like in ’97, when I won. In qualifying we will all be close, but in the race who starts in front has the success in his pocket".
The eighth place in practice, during which he curiously lost the micro-camera he had on the car, slipped after taking a curb without damaging anything, does not worry him:
"I worked for the race, I saved the tires and I also changed the brakes to check their consumption".
Third in free practice and with excellent aspirations for qualifying, Alex Zanardi receives the unexpected visit of the Italian television program Striscia la notizia, which rewards him with the Tapiro d’oro for the sad record of broken differentials during the season. Alex, with his usual sympathy and kindness, accepts the prize:
"I’m happy because it’s the first trophy I win this year. My case was desolately empty".
The third place however is a good omen, a good starting point to stop this endless negative streak. In addition, there is an extra motivation to push him:
"The car doesn't have the right set-up yet, it’s unstable under braking, we can pull it down at least a second. I promised the first point to my son Nicolò, who has just turned a year".
Saturday, September 11, 1999, Alex is among the protagonist of the day, the only one to give a smile to the fifty thousand fans who came to qualifying. The Bolognese in incredibly fourth, beating also his teammate Ralf Schumacher, fifth, basically faster than him both in qualifying and in the race. This time, in front of the many Italian fans, Zanardi has the better, turning two tenths faster. He is the only one to give a joy to the Italian fans because in the meantime, although not at the disastrous level of Friday, Ferrari is still struggling. Mika Salo is sixth, Irvine is even eighth, behind also the one who will replace him in 2000, Rubens Barrichello. The pole, as predicted, is for Mika Hakkinen, who win and exceptional test of strength finished seven tenths above a relegating Coulthard at least until the morning, when during the last practice session he had finished with a lap time sixty thousandths faster than the Finn. In qualifying the Scotsman was also beaten by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and has to settle for the third position. The German, who in turn had been the fastest in the morning, sees his intentions of pole position vanish after Hakkinen takes off almost half a second. For the race, however, the Jordan driver is a serious contender for the victory, having also shown to have an excellent race pace during free practice. Compared to the lap times of the previous week’s tests, McLaren improved by a second and eight tenths; Jordan by two seconds and a tenth; Williams by a second and Ferrari by just two tenths. What is more, if you consider a track for similar characteristics in Monza as of Hockenheim, Ferrari in qualifying had paid six tenths form the Silver Arrows; this time Salo and Irvine are more than a second apart. The comment of the patron of Formula 1, Bernie Ecclestone, says it all:
"It’s not the Ferrari we all know, the one we have seen. Perhaps they feel the absence of Schumacher. I didn't expect it to be so far behind".
"It’s from a bit of Grand Prix, say three, four of maybe five, that the car has no development".
This number is pronounced not for nothing, since it is the same number of races played since Michael Schumacher's injury. Just a coincidence, or did Ferrari stop pushing on the accelerator after the fractured tibia and fibula of the German phenomenon? Jean Todt explains immediately:
"With Michael things would not have changed, on the contrary, maybe we would have gone back. And there were developments, of course".
No matter whether there were substantial developments on the F399, the fact is that the Red is significantly slower than McLaren, until a few months before, at the same level if not with a slight delay compared to the Italian car. Now, however, Irvine talks about earning on Hakkinen only in case he goes out at the first corner, while trying to instill optimism Mika Salo, who claims not to be so bad for the race. Moods that will also be reflected in the performance on track. The poor performance of the two Ferraris does not prevent the public of Monza to fill the stands throughout the circuit on Sunday, September 12, 1999, in the hope that it can repeat the amazing double of last season, when Michael Schumacher triumphed ahead of Irvine and led the championship on equal points with Hakkinen. This time the Ferrari fans put all their hopes on Irvine, whose success, however, appears utopian. To avoid the problems of Hockenheim, when Hakkinen ended up against the barriers for an exploding tyre - the cause of which has not yet been established either by Bridgestone or McLaren, who have merely passed the blame on each other - the Japanese company brings to Monza hard and extra-hard tires. Almost everyone opts for the first option, as well as in all probability, everyone will chose to make a single stop. The pre-race is rather excited for Irvine, who first changes car, getting on the muletto, and then returns to the starting F399. With various adjustments and car changes, Eddie exits the pit lane just 90 seconds before it closes. At 2:00 p.m., the race starts. Hakkinen starts well and puts himself safe from any attacks, while Alex Zanardi has an exceptional sprint, who exits the first chicane in second position; Frentzen follows him, and at the Variante della Roggia he regains his starting position with determination.
At the same corner, Marc Gené finished the race, badly rammed by Pedro De La Rosa’s Arrows. Troubled first lap for Coulthard, author of a revisable start and only sixth on the first lap after a heated battle with Salo and Ralf Schumacher, with whom he runs along the straight that precedes the Ascari. Under braking the Scotsman gave way to both Williams and Ferrari. At the beginning of the second lap the race of Gianfranco Fisichella ends, which at the braking of the Variante del Rettifilo is glimpsed and ends up against the barriers. A very bitter Grand Prix for him, starting form seventeenth position. What is more, at the end of the race a group of uncivilized wrecks the car, remained unattended for a misunderstanding between commissioners and law enforcement, as stated by Giorgio Beghella Bartoli, who apologizes to team executives and makes sure he pays the damages. In the first part of the race Hakkinen immediately tries to create a good margin on Frentzen, turning on unreachable times for the German; the only one able to turn on his own time is - surprisingly - Rubens Barrichello, in seventh place and glued to the rear of McLaren Coulthard. Frentzen himself managed to break away form his pursuers, led by Alex Zanardi, who kept behind him Schumacher, Salo, Coulthard and Barrichello. Irvine, only eighth, does not have the necessary race pace to engage this group. On lap 10, Barrichello broke the deadlock and with a powerful braking at the first corner surprised David Coulthard on the outside. The McLaren driver cashes in and finds himself incredibly out of the points. Ralf Schumacher, visibly faster than Zanardi but unable to find a way out; the young German seems to being to get impatient, so much so that on a couple of occasions he finishes long at the first corner.
Meanwhile, on lap 11, Benetton’s black weekend ended definitely with the retirement of Alex Wurz, who slowly turns along the track before stopping at the side on the main straight. After about fifteen laps, Hakkinen built a gap of seven seconds over Frentzen. Behind, Salo slightly lost contact with the Williams, and at the same time he saw the bulkier silhouette of Barrichello’s Stewart. On the 18th pass across the finish line, Zanardi let Ralf Schumacher pass following a team order, and the difference in pace of the German is immediately evident: fast lap in 1'26"245. Perfect timing for Ralf, because immediately after Barrichello overtook Mika Salo at the Variante della Roggia, thanks to another braking at the limit. The Brazilian driver is certainly not disappointing in front of his fans from the following season. It passed a couple of laps and Hakkinen lowered by a few hundredths the fast lap made by Ralf Schumacher, all while his two rivals for the title, Coulthard and Irvine, remain sly outside the points. At the twenty-third round, in a tussle in the rear, Toranosuke Takagi misjudged the braking point and hit the Minardi of Luca Badoer, taking off together with his Arrows. The Italian must withdraw, the Japanese continues with the aileron destroyed up to the box. With this bang, it make two Minardi withdrawn due to two accidents, caused by the two Arrows. Takagi’s awkward maneuver, whose seat is now more and more in the balance, with one between Jos Verstappen and Olivier Panis ready to take over in 2000. Barrichello’s comeback shows no sign of stopping: Rubens also passes Zanardi on the way out of Ascari with extreme ease, testifying to yet another problem that is emerging on Alex’s Williams. In fact, with every braking, bluish smoke, which does not look good, comes out form the brake discs. Salo also got the better of Williams gaining the fifth position.
When it was Coulthard’s turn, however, Zanardi tenaciously resisted the Scotsman’s attack at the first corner. As this battle takes place comes the twist that sends the Italian fans into ecstasy in the stands: during the twenty-ninth lap, with a leadership apparently inseparable in the hands, Mika Hakkinen loses control of his McLaren at the Variante della Roggia and ends up off track, in the gravel, turning off his car. In the roar of joy mixed the disbelief of the audience, Mika throws away with frustration the steering wheel, gets out of the cockpit and also hurls a glove on the ground pushed by all the anger in his body. Then he takes off his helmet and quickly walks away escorted by a financier. Mika hides among tall plants that run along the track, but the camera from the helicopter still manages to frame him while he kneels and bursts into a desperate cry, that even the pat on the shoulders of consolation of the financier, of a photographer and a marshall can even calm him. Comfortably at the head of the race, Hakkinen throws away another ten points that would have been fundamental in a world key; an error almost identical to that committed at Imola in May, when he left the track while he was in first position with a wide margin. Thus, Heinz-Harald Frentzen finds himself leading the Italian Grand Prix, ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. In this phase the series of pit-stops begins, inaugurated by Zanardi and Barrichello. With free track and informed of the the withdrawal of his teammate, Coulthard makes the fastest lap in 1'25"832. David approaches Salo, with whom he makes a pit-stop at the same time: at this juncture the work of Ferrari mechanics is excellent, which allow Salo to maintain the position.
When everyone filled up and changed tires, Frentzen made the pace with a few seconds ahead of Ralf Schumacher, who preceded Salo and Barrichello, whose choice to anticipate the stop did not pay, as he allowed the Ferrari driver to return to the front. Coulthard is fifth, while Irvine is sixth, followed by Alex Zanardi, the one who most of all was penalized by the stops, having found himself out of the points. Barrichello could not repeat the first stint of the race, because after the stop he had to defend himself until the end from Coulthard’s pressure. The one between Stewart and McLaren, and between Irvine’s Ferrari and Zanardi’s Williams, are the only battles that could animate the final race. This does not happen, and at the end of the fifty-three laps, Heinz-Harald Frentzen celebrates his third career victory, the second in this season after the one obtained in Magny-Cours. This success allows the former Williams to climb to third place in the drivers’ standings, at 50 points, only 10 less than Hakkinen and Irvine. The Northern Irishman, author of an anonymous and mediocre race when compared to that of Salo, is only sixth at the finish, but considering the withdrawal of Hakkinen can still be satisfied, having regained the leadership of the championship on equal points with the Finn. Ralf Schumacher and Mika Salo complete the podium, ahead of Barrichello and Coulthard. For the Finn of Ferrari it is the second podium in five races held with the Red, and get a result like that in Monza, makes it even more special. Under the podium, in fact, you can easily hear the choirs of the fans who sing repeatedly his surname. Salo makes himself invaluable especially because thanks to his 4 points, and to the single one remedied by Irvine, Ferrai rises to 102 points in the constructors’ championship, only six lengths from McLaren-Mercedes. The Jordan consolidates the third place in the ranking, from his 57 points, against 32 Williams. From the box, Eddie Jordan praises Frentzen:
"We wanted to win a race in the dry, our past two victories came in the rain, at Spa and Magny-Cours. It’s a special success, we started from the front row, we were aggressive, we also had an excellent test session last week, and the car has always shown to be very fast. Heinz was perfect for all the weekend, he is without a doubt one of the stars of this season. Fantastic. Third place in the constructors, however, is not yet assured, Williams continues to grow".
The joy of the winner is no less. Frentzen can even think of the World title, not at all a mirage if you think of the constancy of the German driver during this season:
"I still think it’s a mirage, but now I’m almost forced to believe it. Ten points form Hakkinen and Irvine are few, it would be enough to win another race, hope that they do not go to points. It’s absurd, I know, our car has improved a lot, but it still doesn't count as Ferrari and McLaren. I should say it’s impossible, I love being realistic, I don’t like to fool myself, my fans, but the situation is tantalizing and it would be stupid not to try. Feel free to pinch me if you want to wake me up: but when I see Hakkinen spinning out, with a seven-second lead over me, an absolute safety margin; when I see that Coulthard is off to a bad start, that Ferrari stumble while I fly the straight, how can you not being beaming? It is the best success of my career, it is difficult to summarize with words my mood. A few days ago I know that soon I will become a father for the first time, at the team I announced it right here in Monza, their gift was to push me towards this victory. It’s an incredible season, the most beautiful moment of my life. If Jordan told me I’d win two races at first, I’d call him crazy. He’s great, but so is my chief engineer, Mike Gascoigne. Here’s another dedication: I can't forget him".
Frentzen recognizes that he has had a slight does of good luck, but as they say, luck helps the bold, and the Jordan driver has been able to take advantage of the opportunities that have happened in the best way:
"I had a bit of luck, less than in Magny Cours, on the occasion of the other victory. There had helped me the rain, everything had been distorted, here after Hakkinen I was the strongest. When I realized he was gone, I thought: what a luck. Then I said to myself: relax, don’t fret, just try to bring the baby home".
With this Jordan, moreover, everything is possible:
"Our car is reliable, form seven races we go to points. At the Nurburgring, where there is a need for more downforce, we should be less competitive, but after what happened today, who’s venture a prediction? After all, in Budapest, on a similar circuit, I finished fourth".
Happiness is also painted on the Scandinavian face of Mika Salo, still incredulous of having celebrated a podium in Monza, wearing the prestigious Ferrari suit:
"Who would have thought, after a weekend like this? Before the race I thought that getting in the top ten would be a good result. And instead on the podium with all that crowd below shouting, the flags, the arms waving: a fantastic show, I think things like that can only happen here in Italy. My ride was quite simple. After the start I immediately discovered that on the straight I was very slow and I couldn't get past Zanardi, while Ralf Schumacher succeeded and left. Too bad because I’m convinced I could get Ralf back. Barrichello also passed me easily, but at least we made up for the pit stop because, thanks to that great team that is Ferrari, it was there that we made our miracle".
A North European journalist asks him how he got here in third place with a s**tty car like that. Mika replies in an exemplary way:
"But it’s thanks to this s**tty car that I came in third".
There is no doubt that the F399 should improve:
"About the troubles of his weekend our engineers have already discovered many things, if they can think about it well, in the coming days I am sure we will take a big step forward. We must focus on this and in fact we go to Mugello to put things right".
On the other side of the box, Eddie Irvine has mixed feelings at the end of the race: satisfaction for the first place in the championship on equal points with the opponent, but extreme disappointment for the poor performance of Ferrari, without forgetting that Mika Salo even managed to get on the podium while he struggled in sixth position barely defended by Zanardi’s attacks. At the end of the race, Eddie has to admit:
"Any luck? Yes, I had it. And I needed it. When you find yourself fighting for the title with a very slow car you have to rely on three things: reliability, strategy and even accidents. Other people’s, of course. When I saw Hakkinen outside I looked up at the sky and said: thank you. Only this can happen every now and then that the turtle beats the hare. Life is like that, but today, like Hakkinen, I cried, because our situation was desperate despite the small improvements made form Friday to Sunday. But here we are: I got a point and he got nothing. C’est la vie".
You can look at the glass half full, or half empty, considering the Italian race a wasted opportunity:
"If we has a car as fast as in other races today we would have scored more points. Instead, I’ll just have one, and thanks to Hakkinen who’s retired. But, better because to be honest before the race I was convinced that I would leave Monza four or five points behind Hakkinen. In the morning I was very pessimistic, now I can look forward with confidence".
According to Eddie, they can look forward to the last three races of the season:
"The fast circuits are gone, the ones where we already knew we would be in trouble. Three circuits are waiting for us where things can go much better for Ferrari. For the next race at Nurburgring, for example, we had already prepared a package of innovations, especially aerodynamics, and there in fifteen days I think that McLaren will always be strong in practice, but in the race we will be very good. Then there are two other circuits, that of Malaysia which is new for everyone but which follows the characteristics of the first European circuit where we were strong. And finally Suzuka, where we’ve always done well. The only real problem now is understanding the reasons that made my car slow, because Salo’s car was much better. If we can understand this and focus on the work to be done, we can hope again".
For Mika Hakkinen, differently, the feelings that gripped him after his resounding retirement, are not at all conflicting: frustration, despair and anger. Emotions expressed with that cry in the woods, that no one would never have expected to see form the imperturbable Finnish driver. Back in the box, Mika apologized to Ron Dennis and the team, stating bluntly that he has made a mess. Then, with his face still full of tears, he went to the McLaren motorhome; on the road, the photographer Ercole Colombo offered him a paper tissue. Mika thanks and continues to repeat to himself that he did a mess. To journalists explains:
"I was pushing hard, the team asked me, push probably meant something was going on behind, I don't know. I had just finished the 29th lap, when at the second chicane, shifting the gears too quickly, I grafted the first in place of the second gear. An error: because we use it only at the start. In fact I immediately lost the rear wheel: the car got stuck, I couldn't do anything about it. I lost control of the car. it's very hard to accept, but that's how it went. It’s the first time that something like this happened to me: a small, serious mistake made by me, the car has nothing to do with it".
Ron Dennis confirms that it was a driver’s mistake, and nothing else:
"Trouble talking about technical facts at McLaren. Once it happens to the car, another happens to Mika".
After an hour, Mika returns and talks about the situation in the drivers’ standings:
"I wasted a golden opportunity to go on the run, now in the standings we are all close, Irvine has joined me, now there is also Frentzen that can be a dangerous challenger. It means that from the next race it will be necessary to score points. I am convinced that it will be decisive, as last year, the last race in Suzuka. Of course I am sorry, sad and disappointed. But within a couple of hours these feelings will disappear and everything will return to normal. Talking about the world championship when a race is not concluded is difficult, but we have great chances to finish this championship well, because they are races in our favor. I was doing well, driving brilliantly, pushing safety, I wasn't worried about Irvine, he was far away. If he continues to run like here in Monza, I’m not afraid of him. Then, the nightmare. I dreamed, and then race turned into a nightmare for me".
Hakkinen tries to console himself, arguing that it could be worse, perhaps with a competitive Ferrari and an Irvine on the podium. Moreover, if the Red were to remain at certain levels, it will hardly be a problem in the last three races, regardless of the situation in the standings. Ron Dennis assures that Mika is a driver of character, who does not give up, and is confident of his prompt reaction to the Nurburgring. Who is seriously called to a decisive reaction, however, is Ferrari, which can not accept to have been bypassed by Jordan and Williams in the hierarchies on track for two races in a row. And with Schumacher still in the box, there is nothing to suggest that sudden miracles can occur.