With nine podiums and six victories after 10 races, Michael Schumacher has a colossal advantage on his direct rival, David Coulthard, in the drivers’ championship. The Ferrari driver has a 31-points advantage to the McLaren driver. With seven races left to go until the end of the season, someone is already doing the maths in order to understand what could be the race in which Schumacher could win the fourth title. Take a look at this scenario: Schumacher wins the next two Grand Prix whilst Coulthard scores no points. In this case, the German could win the championship at Hockenheim, his home race. It is an overly optimistic prediction.
The more realistic one might be that Ferrari wins the title either at Spa, on 2nd September, or at Monza, on 16th September 2001. Jean Todt, as usual, curbs the enthusiasm. He is hoping to not wait until the last race of the season to win the championship. In the meantime, from Maranello, following the usual briefing after the French Grand Prix, Montezemolo congratulates the team for the win and warns to not let the guard down when it comes to improve the car’s performance, especially in the reliability department. Todt explains the current situation:
"Seven out of 10 poles were ours and we were not able to score the eight one in France for 38 centimetres. Michael retired once, Barrichello thrice. Our rivals did not finish many times".
Bridgestone won the battle of the tires on a track where Michelin should have been the strongest. This statistic is giving everyone the belief that the championship win is not too far away but it may not be enough for Bridgestone to sign the contract’s renewal:
"We never give final judgements on last race’s basis. Michelin is doing extraordinary things".
4th July 2001. Luca Badoer completes an intense day of testing at Fiorano with 84 laps and a best time in 59"891. The Treviso driver is particularly concentrating on the electronics and the starting procedures. Meanwhile, at Monza, the third testing day in preparation for the British (at Silverstone) and German Grand Prix (at Hockenheim), is marked by a bad incident which involves Ricardo Zonta. Ten minutes before 15:00, as the Brazilian was at the breaking zone of Variante Ascari, the left front suspension gives way on his BAR. The car sharply deviates towards the protection barriers.
The front of the car crawls against those, including the right front suspension. Then the car launches in the car without going over the net. Zonta is unharmed. The car is to be entirely reconstructed. David Coulthard set the best lap time. Thanks to the numerous car upgrades on the McLaren, the 1'24"024 lap time is nowhere near the 1'23"770 lap record. It is a difficult day for McLaren, with long stops at the garage in order to fix the electronic innovations, suspensions and aerodynamics. As a demonstration of an unluck season, Mika Hakkinen runs the entire length of the pit lane with the car jerking along after doing a rather slow out-lap.
After this, the Finn is forced to wait at the garage for a long time as the mechanics are working on fixing the car. The next day is even worse. The McLaren driver loses control of the car at 300 km/h, knocks down the signalling panels and crashes into the guard-rail. The incident was caused, according to rumours, by a failure in the brakes or in the transmission. The complexity of the test weight heavily on Coulthard’s humour. Gloomy in the face, the Scots accepts to respond to the journalists’ questions. He first claims to have not tried the larger front Bridgestone tires but the Japanese supplier instead communicates that they only have those to test. David then talks about the French race result from his perspective:
"The situation in the championship is difficult. I obviously flicked off the button too early at the exit of pitlane (this is the reason why he was punished with a 10-seconds Stop&Go penalty) when the race was wide open. I lost 2nd place for that I have to just acknowledge it and move on. I will try to do better".
You have a 31-points gap over Michael. Does it not weight on you?
"No, because I have always the chance to win every single race. As long as I know that I am giving 100%, then I will take the positives out of my situation. There are drivers who do the same even if there are driving the Sauber or the Minardi cars. I feel I am driving well. McLaren does not have the same performance as Ferrari or Williams at the moment. We know we need to improve. The easiest way to win is to have the best car. This is why we are working on the rear suspensions, the aerodynamics, the electronics, the tires and even on the driver. Everything needs to be improved".
What cost you more: your mistakes or the car’s poor reliability?
"You either win or lose, despite the mistakes or the mechanical failures. There is the regret of not finishing the race in Canada and to have started at the back in Spain and Monte Carlo. I do not know if I will win the championship but a season is not lost by having a bad race".
Do you need Mika’s help now?
"He can help me if he is able to start ahead of me".
How do you see your chances of winning at Silverstone?
"I am optimistic that we can win the race. In the previous testing days, Mika and Wurz tested interesting upgrades".
Did you sign the extension of the contract?
"Wait for the press release. I read everything about it and I do not want to say anything".
We have seen black container above the roll bar during testing. What was it?
"It was an experiment that Mercedes conducted on behalf of the FIA. It is a system which detect the cars in front. It is a project for the future. You might not see it again".
While the teams are preparing for Silverstone, Bernie Ecclestone is working behind the scenes to organize a striking night grand prix which could be held in Malaysia in 2002. It all depends on a meeting between Ecclestone and the organizer Philippe Gurdjian in the following days. A night race could be an historical event, which immediately elicits enthusiastic comment from Rahal, Jaguar technical director:
"It would be a big project. It would be fascinating to see glowing brakes in the dark, with sparks coming out of the exhaust pipes".
Before the start of the 11th round of the world championship, Badoer makes the usual testing of the three cars at the Fiorano circuit. In addition to the already known some electronic solutions and the starting procedures, Badoer also laps on an artificially wet track given that the rain is a possibility for the Silverstone race. Michael Schumacher has a troubled history with penalties, incidents and different types of controversies at the British track. For the Ferrari driver, it is inevitable to think about that fateful 11th July 1999, when he was the victim of a horrendous incident which almost ended his season. The frontal impact against the Stowe barriers, at 96 km/h, was devastating: the car was destroyed and Schumacher was immobilized in the cockpit with a broken tibia and fibula of the right leg.
"Did that accident change me? No, I do not think so. Once I got back on my feet, I was physically much stronger than before. This is why I never thought about it. I do not want to talk about those terrible moments such as the operations and the recovery again".
If you think that the 1999 race was the most dramatic British Grand Prix in his career, wait until you hear what happened in 1998, when Michael took his last win there. It was controversial to say the least. During the last stages of the races, Michael supposedly made an inexistent overtake under yellow flags. This was disputed by the other teams. The FIA decided to give the Ferrari driver a 10-seconds Stop&Go penalty for it. This could have handed the lead to Hakkinen. By taking advantage of a rule that allows the driver to serve the penalty within three laps of the notification and a radio malfunction, Schumacher came back into the pits during the last lap. For a moment, nobody understood who won but then the computer gave the win to Michael. This was the first time that a driver won a race by crossing the start/finish line in the pitlane.
Four years prior, Michael had a penalty which had big consequences for the championship, when driving for Benetton. He was guilty of overtaking Hill, who started on pole, during the formation lap. Advised by the team, the German, did not go back to the pits to take the 5-seconds Stop&Go penalty and ignored the black flag for the next seven laps. Despite the late pitstop and the marshals’ admission that there was a defect in the written communication for Benetton, Michael was at first fined 25.000 dollars by the Federals. After being removed from race classification, he then was disqualified for two races (Italy and Portugal). However, this did not end there. Twelve months later, Michael’s behaviour was under the radar of the British stewards once again. With 20 laps to go, Michael retired after beaching the Benetton car into gravel trap as a consequence of defending from Hill’s aggressive overtaking manoeuvres. Michael and Hills were reprimanded with a warning on that occasion but the question is: what exactly happened?
It is fair to say that, by going wide into the Priory corner, Schumacher had left a gap in which the English driver tried to slip into. Despite desperately braking hard, Damon’s Williams collided with Schumacher’s Benetton, causing the two to retire. The next two events were not any better for Michael Schumacher. The latter scored no points in either of them. In 1996, his first English race with Ferrari ended after only three laps. A hydraulic circuit connection came loose which locked the gearbox in sixth gear. In 1997, a bearing deprived the German of a possible success. Overall, the current trend is not favourable. However, having had brilliant season so far, the numbers do not worry the reigning world champion:
"This is the track where the English team usually test at. It could be an advantage for them. I have never rated McLaren to be off the pace, to be honest. When you analyse their performance more deeply, you see they are still very strong. They will have a chance to win and I also think that Hakkinen will come back strong after a streak of bad luck. I am calm about it. Ferrari is doing well everywhere and we never missed a chance to be in the fight for the win. You will see it also on Sunday. I am not worried about the tires: Bridgestone is doing a great job, like in France".
At the eve of the British Grand Prix, Eddie Irvine expresses his opinion on the Schumacher brothers and berates Williams. By doing so, the North-Irish driver lights up Jaguar’s press conference, held in London to announce the deal renewal with the sponsor HSBC. He first talks about the younger of the two Schumacher siblings:
"Michael has an easy life with his brother Ralf because he has a stronger character. Just look at how they behave. The older brother has more determination and you can see it in the pitlane, during the press conference and on track".
The Jaguar driver’s second shot is aimed at the Williams driver:
"I think that Ralf is doing a great job, but the team should have won more races. Williams is doing too many mistakes in their race strategy".
Irvine then accuses his ex-teammate He, like many other Formula 1 drivers, did not like what Michael did at the start of the Nürburgring race:
"Michael puts certain people in that position. Ralf have had chances with him at the start of races and have backed off. The problem is that someone will eventually get hurt. Michael knows what he is doing. He is not reckless, according to the regulations. If there is a collision, he would immediately switch to the wrong side. Charlie Whiting needs to apply the rules fairly. He needs to pre-empt an accident rather than react to it".
Talking about Charlie Whiting, FIA racing director, Eddie reveals that he asked clarifications on Michael’s starts:
"If I back out of a move and Michael hit me, would he not be responsible of causing an inevitable crash? The answer is yes. This is ridiculous. It is as if one was shooting people in the street but he is allowed to continue since he is not hitting anyone".
At this point, Irvine remembers the last time a similar situation happened to him, the one who caused the collision - Hakkinen - then went off track. Eddie’s polemics aside, Coulthard is under the radar of the British press as he is the only driver who can provide some satisfaction to the local fans. David, in particular, is fresh from two consecutive wins at Silverstone. On Sunday, he hopes to do a historic hat-trick. Only Jim Clark was able to do better, winning four times on a row from 1962 to 1965. The McLaren driver declares on the subject:
"I am determined to win again. The best thing would be to kickstart my championship campaign in my home Grand Prix with a hat-trick".
As long as McLaren is able to improve:
"Naturally it is deflating to see the gap increasing. I cannot do anything about other than drive well. I need to rely on the people around me to have a competitive car. Otherwise it is impossible to fight for the title".
Friday 13th July 2001. In FP1, Michael Schumacher is the fastest driver in FP1, with a 1’23’619, followed by his teammate, Hakkinen and Coulthard. The two McLaren dominate the FP2 session. Mika goes fastest with a 1’22’827, 67 thousandth faster than Coulthard. The duo is followed by Barrichello and Schumacher. Ralf Schumacher struggles through the two practice sessions, on a day which is dedicated to the discovery of the new Bridgestone and Michelin tires. If the Japanese tires are going very well so far, as demonstrated by the performances of Ferrari and McLaren, the same cannot be said about the French ones. Both Williams are victims of off-track excursion.
Ferrari reserves the right to use a new evolution of the 050 engine for Saturday’s qualifying, whilst remaining more conservative in the free-practice session and in the race. The engine will undergo durability tests, throughout the post-race test. If they are successful, then the evolution will be used for the Hockenheim long straights. Despite some spits of rain, with one minute and a half to go until the end of the first track day, the teams were able to finish their respective working programs. Ever since the Spanish Grand Prix, McLaren has always been the fastest car on Friday. The reason for it was given 24 hours ago by Coulthard.
The latter explained that McLaren’s weak point, at the moment, is qualifying. This is what the team worked on through the first day of testing. What is more interesting is the public confrontation between Mika Hakkinen and Ron Dennis, regarding the possible contract extension between the Finn and McLaren. When asked about this, during the usual FIA press conference, the two do not clarify what is going on and made the matter even more confusing. Mika, for example, responds to the journalists who asks if he has ever thought about retiring at the end of the season:
"There is no way I am quitting. The team has an option on my services until 2002 and I am currently in discussions with Ron Dennis to find a good solution".
Another topic is whether Hakkinen wants to willingly help Coulthard in the championship fight with Schumacher. The situation in the drivers’ standings speaks clear: Hakkinen has nine points after 11 races, against the 47 of his teammate Coulthard. However, neither the Finn nor McLaren’s team principal want to talk about this in depth. Hakkinen admits:
"There has not been a lot of discussion inside the team at this point in the season, looking at how many points I have. I have an extremely small chance to be in the championship fight. We are going to work as a team towards the end of the season. We will see how the races develop and make some decisions together".
Once again, Dennis repeats this: on Mika and Coulthard’s contracts, it is written that that they have the obligation to follow the instructions given by the team. Furthermore, he emphasises that he gave those orders twice given that the right circumstances. They thus do not give a clear answer, which is what Coulthard is probably impatiently waiting for. Hakkinen expresses the desire to win at least one more Grand Prix before playing second fiddle to his teammate. Could this be the right chance for you to win?
"Without doubt. Last month me and Wurz tested on this track. We have put the things we learnt to good use. The laps times do not matter now. I am satisfied about having a good set-up for the car. This year however we were the fastest on Friday and then having a poor qualifying session on Saturday. That is why it is better to stay quiet and keep focused".
The same goes for Coulthard:
"I feel upbeat about our practice performance. I will do everything in my power to win in front of my people. We will know where we really are until the end of tomorrow’s qualifying. I am reasonably happy with the progress we have made today I will do everything in my power to win in front of my people. Then we will see if it was enough after the race".
In Saturday’s qualifying session, McLaren does not struggle as in previous occasions. However, the team is forced to give away pole position to others. For the eight time this season, pole position is taken by Michael Schumacher. For the statistics, this is also his 40th pole position in Formula 1. The n.1 Ferrari driver beats Hakkinen by just 82 thousand. Meanwhile Coulthard will open up the second front row ahead of a surprising Jarno Trulli, in the Jordan. Barrichello is only 6th fastest, also beaten by Frentzen.
The start of qualifying is not exciting, under the clouded sky. The rain, which poured down in the last minutes of Friday’s second free-practice session, is not upon us. At the moment, Schumacher takes the provisional pole position. On the 45th minute, the track is constantly evolving which means that the session will turn on its head as times will tumble down. Coulthard laps in 1'21"119 and marks the pole; this does not last long. Immediately after, Hakkinen goes quicker with a 1'20"897. At this moment Ferrari is coming back to the pits to make some adjustments. With six minutes to go, Hakkinen improves his time once again; furthermore, Trulli goes 3rd fastest, which is an impressive result if it stays that way. Schumacher though spoils the party for Hakkinen. With a 1'20"447, which is also the new lap record, the German re-gains the pole position.
In an emotion-packed final, the two Williams have a disappointing session: Ralf Schumacher finishes only 8th whilst Montoya will start the start from 11th. On the last attempt, Michael does not improve his time. Hakkinen instead improves but finishes 2nd, just 82 thousand slower than the Ferrari driver. Funny enough, among his 40th career position, this is his first Silverstone pole. Williams did not continue their strong period of form. On the other hand, Mika Hakkinen seems to have re-gained the spirit to fight for the win. Schumacher knows this. By almost warning himself, the pole sitter says:
"I do not underestimate McLaren at all. They are doing great progress; the race will not be easy".
The two main protagonists, for the race, are once again Schumacher and Hakkinen. The Ferrari’s Tifosi can breathe a sigh of relief since Schumacher is ahead of the Finn by a big margin in the drivers’ standings. Qualifying gave the fans a great spectacle to watch and hopefully it can be repeated during the race, even if it does not involve the championship fight. Starting 4th, opening the second row of the grid, Jarno Trulli can be pleased with his own performance. The goal for the Jaguar driver is to finish on podium. The last time he stepped on the podium was over a year ago. If he achieves this, he will be noticed: ultimately, he will have a car that allows him to consistently fight for the top positions.
Unsurprisingly, the question which is often asked to Montezemolo is when an Italian driver will drive for Ferrari. The evasive answers, given by the president, suggest that Trulli’s dream to drive for Ferrari is destined to not become true. Jarno, named after the motorbikes’ Finnish champion Jarno Saarinen, who passed away at Monza under the watchful eyes of dad Trulli, is still waiting for a McLaren call. The chances for it to happen are minimal. In a month, he will know his future which is realistically divided between Jordan and Renault. Regarding the qualifying session, Jarno declares:
"Fourth place hurts. It is a great shame because I was two tenths up on my previous best and I believe I could have finished third ahead of Coulthard, had my suspension not broken on my last outing. I am baffled, hard to digest. Something always happens with this Jordan".
It seems like you are not hopeful for the race:
"We always perform better in qualifying than in the race. The car has not progressed at all since the start of the year. Ask Jordan where all the money goes because they are not investing on the development. I said this since the first Grand Prix: it would be a mistake to not improve the car during the season. The half a second gap, that we had at the start, has now doubled. This is pissing me off. I am tired of doing useless tests. It is my fault that I have a winning mentality. let me assure you that it is a frustrating situation. It is disheartening for me, who has won all the junior categories, to accept that the driver does not make the difference in Formula 1. What is important is to have the right car in order to win. I would like to drive a better car. I do not want to finish my Formula 1 career without having the chance to drive for a top team. Everyone is asking, including me, what I would do against Schumacher or Hakkinen if I had a car like theirs. I would regret not having an answer to this. I only ask for one opportunity to drive a good car. I improve a lot since my debut. I am more constant, fast in qualifying and racing exceptionally. The winning cars are only two or three, considering Williams at times. With those, the driver still makes the difference. In those last few races, I will go on the attack as usual in order to try convince someone. It will be difficult but I am stubborn".
How does it feel to read that Ferrari could hire Raikkonen in 2003?
"No effect. Ferrari does not want to hire an Italian driver. I do not know why, ask them. I would definitely drive for Ferrari if I could".
Even Raikkonen stands out during the course of qualifying, by setting the 7th fastest time and starting ahead of Montoya, his teammate Heidfield and Ralf Schumacher. On the other hand, Minardi is not competitive in the slightest on this difficult Silverstone track. Alonso and Marques are the slowest drivers of the qualifying session: the Brazilian even sets a time that is 6 seconds slower than the pole time. By going over the 107% rule, he does not qualify for the race.
Sunday morning, during the warm-up session, Schumacher and Hakkinen are hiding their true potential and leave the scene to others: Coulthard sets the fastest time. Trulli, in the Jordan, finishes 2nd, just 0.188 slower than the McLaren driver. Hakkinen is 3rd and Schumacher 5th. Barrichello is continuing to struggle, only 9th fastest, finishing behind Panis, Raikkonen and Ralf Schumacher. The lap difference (about one and a half second between Coulthard and Schumacher) suggest that Ferrari has chosen to try a different race strategy compared to McLaren.
Sunday 15th July 2001, at exactly 14:00, everything is ready for the start of British Grand Prix, in the historic circuit of Silverstone. The risk of rain is averted for the time being. The only few clouds in the sky are not threatening. The track is bone track. Lights out, the race is underway. From the front row, Schumacher gets away well and hold his advantage over Hakkinen. Coulthard and Trulli are squabbling for 3rd. The Scotsman sneaks ahead of Trulli around the outside of Copse but Trulli is not yet giving up. Looking at the replay, the Italian driver has an understeer moment and went wide at the first corner.
Given that there was not no more room left, the Jordan crashed into the right sidepod of the McLaren. Trulli is beached into the gravel trap and out of the race, wasting an excellent opportunity to fight for the podium. Coulthard is send into a big spin after the collision, finishing on the pitlane exit. Despite this, he is able to continue the race from last place. In the midfield, the two BAR drivers collided with each other. Jacques Villeneuve run into Olivier Panis, causing the latter to go off track and into the gravel trap. His race is also over and joins Trulli in the list of retirements.
On lap 2, Schumacher and Hakkinen are already in a league of their own and are breaking clear of the pack behind. By the next lap, Coulthard is trying to come back into the pits but has yet another spin, due to a rear right suspension failure suffered from the incident with Trulli. This is now the end of the McLaren driver’s race: with this, his championship chances take yet another blow. As the race situation is stabilized out on track, Michael Schumacher leads ahead of Mika Hakkinen. The latter, having less fuel on board, is much faster than the Ferrari driver at this stage. It seems like Schumacher is struggling to keep Hakkinen at bay. Montoya is 3rd, three-seconds behind the leading duo. Barrichello is 4th, ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen.
By the start of the 5th lap, Hakkinen has a better exit out of Copse and is going for the lead. The Finn is now alongside Schumacher. With a fine move, the McLaren driver dives past the current world championship, without giving the latter any chance to respond. Mika takes the lead of the British Grand Prix. At the Hangar Straight, the leader is already breaking clear of Schumacher at a fast rate of knots. By lap 10, the Flying Finn is already 11 seconds clear of the n.1 Ferrari driver. By the 13th lap, the German is hunted down by Juan Pablo Montoya. Five laps later, the Williams driver imitates Hakkinen and effortlessly overtakes the German with the use of the slipstream at the start/finish straight. By this point of the race, the race leader is 25 seconds ahead of second place Montoya.
Hakkinen makes his first out of two scheduled pit stops on lap 22, rejoining in 2nd position behind Montoya but, more importantly, ahead Schumacher. The German is doing, in contrast, a one-stop race. Montoya, also on a two-stops strategy, pulls into the pits from the lead at the end of the 24th lap. Hakkinen re-takes the lead of the race and, by lap 27, is 11 seconds clear of Schumacher. Montoya, after the first pit-stop, is running in 5th place, behind Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher. The battle between the Brazilian and the German for 3rd ends on lap 37. The Williams driver retires after a BMW engine failure.
By the start of the 40th lap, Hakkinen and Schumacher pit simultaneously for their pit-stops. The Finn exits the pits in first position whilst the Ferrari driver is 4th, behind his teammate and the sole remaining Williams. Lap 45 out of 60. As The top drivers have now completed the scheduled pitstops. Hakkinen is still in 1st position ahead of Schumacher, Barrichello, who is defending well against Montoya, 4th. Raikkonen and Heidfield round up the top 6. Sauber is aiming for a double-points finish. The 60th and final lap comes without a single twist. Hakkinen cruises around in the last sector of the track to say hello to the celebrating crowd before crossing the finish line. As the chequered flag falls, he now can officially celebrate his return to victory in a troubled season characterized by incredible doses of bad luck.
His previous win in Formula 1 was at the Belgium Grand Prix in 2000. Michael Schumacher is 2nd and gains 6 more points on Coulthard. Let’s remember the Scott’s race was over after just a few laps. Barrichello is on the podium as a result of being very competitive throughout the race, despite a disappointing qualifying session. Montoya, Raikkonen and Heidfield round up the top-6. A double-points finish allows the Swiss team to consolidate 4th place in the constructors’ championship, with 19 points. Jordan drops to 5th with 15. Ferrari continues to lead the championship with 118. McLaren is 2nd, at 66 points. Despite Hakkinen’s win, the Woking team is unable to close the gap to Ferrari.
In the drivers’ championship, Schumacher is in the lead with 84 points whilst Coulthard is stuck at 47. With his first win of the season, Hakkinen climbs up to 5th place with 19 points. This stat is useless for the Finn to look at and merely responds to the people who thought that he ready for retirement. The technical problems did not allow the Finn to show his potential. It was an agony but finally he is able to express his impressive speed. On the paddock, The Flying Finn is then shown signing photos and the notes that the fans are giving to him. Finishing ahead of Schumacher, like good old times, the McLaren driver has taken away the first match points from his German rival. The latter has the chance to take home the championship at his home race, Hockenheim.
"It is probably difficult to understand 100 per cent how important it is for me. It feels really good. Obviously after all the trouble that has been going on this year, it feels good to win it. I just wanted to see the crowd. I was slowing down because I was not in any rush. I was not thinking about Spain at all. Well, not quite. On the last lap I was sure that the car would break down. I really wanted to push really hard to make a big gap. Then, when I came down, I would park the car and have a cup of tea whilst waiting for the others and then come back. There was a big gap to these guys, so I decided to take it easy. In the podium, I really struggled to keep hold of my tears: I did not know where to look. Below me, the mechanics were cheering for me. Up above, the Finnish flag was waving. I suppose it is a fear for every Grand Prix driver, who has won a Grand Prix, that you might never going to win again. That is why I kept pushing very hard to win again because you know it's a great feeling. After every loss, I was always frustrated and angry. I tried to then recharge and to think about how nice a victory would feel again. We did it finally. I found myself again, having a car to my liking and adapted to my style of driving. The strategy and the team were perfect. I was really surprised what the mechanics did. In these six Grands Prix I am sure that McLaren will win again".
The fairytale of the rediscovered champion is enriched by another tear-jerking detail:
"I am really happy because it is the first time that I won since becoming a father".
Schumacher immediately extends his hand to give him a high-five after leaving the cockpit. According to someone, he did not resist Hakkinen’s overtake as he does usually. The McLaren driver speaks on his behalf:
"I was surprised: I do not know whether it was a mistake or if he had problem with his car but it gave me the opportunity to overtake him. I even gave him a little bit of room in case he wanted to race for a couple of corners but he lifted. I think he does not have a reason to race with me at the moment".
The announcement of the contract renewal was already in the air but, talking to the sportive director Jo Ramirez, it could already be resolved:
"Not only did he win but he did it with style. We were sure that, as soon as he had the right car, he would have been ahead of everyone once again. It is too late to think about the championship but Mika will come back fighting next year. With McLaren, of course: his win was the best answer to all those rumors about his retirement. This sport has a short memory, people tend to quickly forget what Mika did”.
Regarding the contract extension, the Finnish driver says this:
"As you know, the team has an option for me in the future, so we will see".
Instead, Ron Dennis comments Ferrari’s race and the championship situation like this:
"Ferrari’s race strategy was completely wrong. Despite not understanding their choice, they still finished 2nd and 3rd, good for them. We still believe in winning the championship, even if the driver's championship is quite clearly becoming more difficult. The constructors' is a much greater open issue. It is not over especially given that Schumacher can have some DNFs in the next upcoming race".
Coulthard declares that he is not yet giving up on the championship, despite the situation is becoming even more complicates with this retirement. Regarding his short race, the Scotsman declares:
"I do feel very disappointed and a bit down. As everyone saw, Trulli made contact with me and irreparably damaged the rear right suspension. Jarno made a good start. In the first breaking zone, I was ahead of Jarno and I thought I could hold the inside line. Two into one does not go and that is what happened. It is evident that the races are only lost at the first corner, not won. Trulli should know this. By doing this, he ruined the race for both of us. I am not angry with him because it does not matter anymore. Ferrari were on the wrong strategy so we could have finished 1-2. I would have won without Trulli. Hakkinen would have pulled over, no doubt. I am disappointed because my title hopes are almost tarnished but I refuse to give up. Mika’s victory demonstrates that Ferrari can be beaten".
Dennis is harsher towards Trulli:
"They were both fighting for the same bit of road that just was not there. David was ahead and so we felt that Trulli should have given him the corner".
Jarno defends himself:
"Maybe it was my look. It is not a bad idea to check the mirrors once in a while. I gave him as much space in the inside to then get out of his way. I think that Coulthard should have remained calmer because his championship fight is now over. I will have a word with him later to clear the air".
Down at Ferrari, Schumacher’s only smile is reserved to Hakkinen. The current world champion sincerely congratulates the Finn directly but also through the press:
"I am happy for him. He had a tough time and deserves this win".
Why was Ferrari so slow today?
"For a number of reasons. The car was full with fuel, at least double of what Hakkinen had at the start. It was not balanced well enough. It was just difficult to drive, understeer and oversteer. In hindsight, it should have been better to start with a lower fuel. It is sort of nonsense to talk about this now. Those choices are made beforehand. The truth is that we made few tests with the tires. We did not have a clear idea of how things would go during the race. This morning, after warm-up, we realized that McLaren choose to do a two-stops strategy. We also thought about it with some calculations. We did not reach a clear and precise conclusion. In this case, the two-stops choice would have been easier. In the end, we choose the conservative and less risky solution. At least we brought home some good points. Looking at the standings, you can see that Rubens scored 10 points for the constructors whilst. I gained six points to Coulthard".
It seems like you are happy about it, is it not?
"Settle for 2nd is not great and does bring me happiness. I do not like driving like this. It was a good result, but…I want to continue to win. That is what I am here for. Now I have 37 points in my pocket with six races to go. It is nice to know. We need to improve and do better for the next race".
Did you realize that Coulthard was out of the race?
"No, because my eyes were glued on the mirrors to see that Mika was up to when he was right behind me. I did not see what happened to Coulthard. They told me on the radio and I immediately understood that it was a good thing for me. With a difficult car to drive, why risk everything at that point? Hakkinen was much faster than me and there was no point fighting".
Were you surprised by McLaren?
"No. The situation at McLaren is clear. It is a very fast car, especially in the races. It lacks reliability and they are having. difficulties with the start procedures. We did not fight against them but we know they are quick and that they will improve".
Is the championship already won?
"It is not over and we have to keep continue fighting. The certain thing is that the championship is becoming more difficult for Coulthard. I want to continue winning races".
Could you win the championship title in Hungary, in two races’ time?
"Who knows. Forget about it, let’s think about the next race".
What about equaling Prost’ record of 51 wins?
"I need one win to achieve this. It will come when it is the right time".
On the other side of the garage, Rubens Barrichello is partially satisfied with 3rd place. The Brazilian still has some complaints about his car to make:
"I did not have the balance I would have liked since Friday, to be honest. I was having to drive it quite carefully although I was trying to be quite fast. Luckily, after the pitstop, the car on new tires was a little bit better and I had a chance to relax. I am not extraordinarily happy about this podium but I am okay. I can say that the difficult and negative phase is over. I stayed on track for longer because the two Williams were right behind me. I was lucky that my car was good at the exit of Becketts. It was good to see Montoya coming into the pits and I had the chance to come in and still be in front of them. My problem remains qualifying: 8th in Magny-Cours and today 6th. I do not know why the car was not the same as during testing. We have less experience than McLaren on this track. They were too fast for us today".
Maybe Ron Dennis was not so wrong when saying that Ferrari completely messed up the race strategy. During the usual Monday post-race meeting, the Maranello leaders partly admits this:
"The one-stop did not prove successful since Michael wanted to do an aggressive race. It worked though for Rubens who started behind on a track where it is difficult to overtake".
Jean Todt, then replicates to Dennis’ words:
"Dennis is responsible of his own words. McLaren had a strategy which was better adapted to the race conditions. I think our cars were not set up as well as they might have been. As things stand, we need to mainly concentrate on the championship. We were conservative: it was not worth taking risks for the win. Let’s keep our foot on the ground: a 37-points advantage can be lost in four races".
This is why, on the Tuesday 17th July 2001, two days after the Silverstone race, Schumacher is already on track to do a three-days test at Monza before moving to Fiorano on Friday 20th July. With six races to go, Michael has a 37-points gap over Coulthard. In theory, 13 points might be enough to win the fourth title. If Coulthard does not score points in the next two races, Michael could seal the drivers’ championship by winning the German Grand Prix, at Hockenheim, and to then finish 4th in Hungary.
If the German driver finishes 3rd in all the remaining races, he will still be able to win his fourth world championship. With 24 points in six races, Schumacher would reach 108 points whilst Coulthard, with six consecutive wins, could finish with 107. If two drivers finish with the same amount of points, the regulation says that the one who has taken the most wins is the champion. With the same number of wins, the best race results obtained throughout the season are taken into account. The road to the fourth championship is smooth sailing for the Ferrari driver.
Davide Scotto di Vetta
Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno