In the days leading up to the next Grand Prix, scheduled on 29th July 2001 on the Hockenheim circuit, there is a rumour spreading in Germany of a Jaguar offer to hire Mika Hakkinen for the 2002 season. Furthermore, the drivers’ market is also shaking up in Italy, so much so that there is news of the promotion of 20-years old Felipe Massa to the Alfa Romeo team for the Superturismo, the N Technology. On 18th July 2001, Massa is testing at Varano, under Giovanardi’s supervision di. The Brazilian seems to be on its way to great achievements, at the point where he is being consider as Ferrari test driver for 2002, with Badoer destined to driver for Minardi who could be Ferrari-powered, according to some rumours. There is mystery regarding the second driver for Toyota, who will drive alongside Mika Salo in the season debut of the nipponic team in 2002. Test driver Allan McNish is hoping to get that seat.
Meanwhile at Monza, the ongoing test session is characterized by a scary incident involving Michael Schumacher. According to the insiders, after returning to the Ferrari garage from the medical centre of the race track, Schumacher is pale as a rag, shocked, unharmed and without a single scratch after a horrendous crash at the Variante della Roggia. It was a heavy hit, maybe cruder that the one that happened at the Stowe corner, in Silverstone, on 11th July 1999. In that case, Schumacher broke the tibia and fibula of the right leg.
The brake failed on him at Silverstone. This time though, according to a press release from the Maranello team, the cause of the incident was a sudden loss of grip from the rear wheels. As a result, Schumacher’s car first hit against the guard-rail. Crawling all the way into the escape route, the car then went against the tire barrier after losing the right front tire. A scary hit, at the point where the F2001 folded a pole which supports the protection nets, spreading panic between the mechanics and the fans.
In the search for the causes of the incident, it is known that the Maranello team prefers that the images of the shunt are not spread and rules out mechanical failures on the car. (At the time of the incident, someone talked about a broken suspension). Obviously, the main concern is to check the German’s health conditions. He is brought to the medical centre via the ambulance and visited for half an hour by professor Emilio Rovelli. Afterwards, Schumacher releases his first speech:
"I am okay, everything is fine".
With the medical car, Schumacher is then brought back to the pits amidst applause from the teams’ mechanics. Reassuring words of his good health condition are confirmed by a bulletin issued by the health centre. The scare still remains though for Schumacher. After seeing the replay of the incident and the telemetry, he eats a quick lunch with his brother. Then Michael says goodbye to Ralf, preferring to interrupt the test and go back home to his wife Corinna and to his two children. The German champion should have done another two days of testing but, due to what happened, Barrichello will finish the test for Ferrari. Gianfranco Giletti, who was in the Croce Rossa which presided the area during the incident, declares:
"He was really lucky: the dynamic of the incident was really violent. We were immediately reassured when we saw him coming out of the car on his own".
Michael had just got into the ambulance when he was joined by his brother: Ralf, observing the state of the F2001, did not hesitate to park down his Williams car. Immediately, he climbed out of it to check on his brother’s conditions. Riccardo Tombini, working for the Croce Rossa of Lecco, provided first aid to the Ferrari driver, tells:
"They reunited here, on board of the ambulance. Michael, looking at the way he was waving his movements, was explaining the dynamics of the incident to Ralf. He was not particularly scared; we immediately tested his blood pressure and the values were within the norm. He only asked to nap for five minutes before returning to the pits. The doctors then came to check on him and was advised to follow them to the medical centre".
It was not a lucky day for the Schumacher brothers. During the test, Ralf suffered an engine failure. Furthermore, he had a rear puncture which further slowed down William’s work programme. Talking about Michael’s incident, he declares:
"It is clear that I was a bit scared. That is why I got out of my car to know how he was doing. I think that he will now have a headache and I believe that he will test tomorrow. However, he could be here in the next following days".
The Williams driver then takes the opportunity to emphasize how the Variante della Roggia was already under investigation:
"We put forward some criticisms about the second chicane. I expect that there will be some alterations after Charlie Whiting’s inspection".
Giancarlo Fisichella did not see the incident. A couple of second later, the Italian went through Variante della Roggia:
"I feared the worst, the car was stuck under the tyre barriers. I was really scared. I feared Michael could be hurt. Fortunately, he was not. It was a very scary hit because his Ferrari was completely destroyed. I remember what happened to me last year on the same point of the track. Mine was insane but his was really bad".
Giancarlo runs towards the Ferrari garage:
"I was distressed. Strange thoughts were going through my mind. I saw a car against the wall. It was inevitable to be worried. Completing the lap, I asked news about Schumacher’s incident. Someone then told that he was walking and I calmed down".
Were you able to see Schumacher?
"Yes, when he came back from the medical centre. It seemed to me that he was limping. I think that he was in shock given that he decided to go back home and to not continue the test. I did talk to him but when you have a high-speed crash, something remains inside you. Monza is a very quick track and it is terrifying when you go off track at 330 km/h".
The day following the incident, Michael Schumacher undergoes new exams, which exclude any physical damage. The German only complains about some bruises and various aches. This is the reason why he is forced to resort to his Indian physiotherapist’s care, Balbir. Despite this, the Ferrari driver asks to be to be fully exempted from this week’s test. Thus, his next public appearance is scheduled on Wednesday 25th at Mannheim, in Germany, for a charity football match. His track return will be on Friday for the start of his home race weekend.
The trip to Lombardy is becoming increasingly more difficult for Ferrari. On the day after Schumacher’s incident, destiny then mocks Barrichello. The latter is only able to do four or five laps on the dry before a violent downpour falls on the circuit. Rubens is then forced to lap on the wet asphalt. This could be blessing in disguise (given that it could either rain in Germany or in Monza on the 11th September) On the other side of the coin, Ferrari already lost a day and a half of the four testing days and the forecast does not predict rain showers for the following days. During the second testing day, there is a near dramatic incident, during the morning session, involving Jarno Trulli. The rear wing of his Jordan, which was purposely designed for this test, is completely destroyed. The driver from Abruzzo comments the incident:
"It was really bad: 50 metres before Ascari, I heard the car suddenly accelerating. I braked but the rear was wagging. I then lifted off the pedal without losing control of the car despite continuing to zig-zag. I then went onto the escape route, by cutting the chicane. The car started to fly before landing back on track. At that point, I looked in the mirrors and I noticed that the rear wing was gone".
Trulli’s incident refreshes the drivers’ criticism on the dangers of Monza. Ralf Schumacher reiterates:
"The escape route at the Seconda Variante is not long enough. I know that it would be a problem. Trees needs to be cut and the environmentalists would be against this. The FIA know about this and it will be up to them to make proposals".
Eddie Irvine is on the same wave length, with a premise:
"I do not like Monza, it is a boring track with long straights where it is impossible to overtake. it is one of the most dangerous tracks due to the high speeds, together with Hockenheim".
The North-Irish driver has the highest top-speed during qualifying, going at 336 km/h. Trulli’s opinion is much blander:
"Mine and Michael’s incident can happen when you run on track where high aerodynamic load is needed. The cars thus need to be lightened up in order to go faster in the straights".
The same goes for Barrichello:
"The track has maybe become too narrow but Monza is always Monza. The Tifosi will watch us. Driving with Ferrari at Monza is something special".
Among the protagonists, David Coulthard is not here. A stomach infection forces the McLaren driver to forfeit. Test driver Alexander Wurz substitutes him, alongside fresh winner of the British Grand Prix, Mika Hakkinen. On Sunday evening, the Scotsman was able to talk with Trulli about the first-corner collision which took them out of the race. Regarding this, Jarno says:
"I appreciated it because it was a pleasant and peaceful conversation".
The tests are continuing at Monza. Eddie Irvine laps faster than everyone with a 1'24"530, at the wheel of his Jaguar. He is followed by Montoya, Hakkinen. Rubens Barrichello is 5th fastest and suffering an engine failure after 81 laps. Luca Badoer executes further tests for Ferrari on the Fiorano circuit. The Treviso drivers completes 73 laps and 16 start simulations, with a best lap time of 1'00"412. there is still an aura of mystery around Schumacher’s incident. Ferrari, after embargoing the footage from the internal circuit cameras, denies the rumours, according to which that there are disagreements between Schumacher and the team regarding the continuation of the test:
"If I were Schumacher, I would come back immediately but the shunt was serious. It is only fair that Michael recovers with the assistance of his personal trainer in order to be fully prepared for the German Grand Prix. He will be there for sure".
The press release does not end the German newspapers’ speculations. Bild in particular uses this title:
"What is Ferrari hiding?"
"The official version talks about a stone that damaged the car’s underfloor. It was not a driver’s mistake. The experts doubt this explanation. Schumacher is not talking and Ferrari is trying to hide this horrendous incident".
Anyway, a couple of days before departing for Germany, Badoer completes the 5-days test at Fiorano by doing 70 laps characterized by 4 start simulations. Whilst this is going on, there are already some news regarding the immediate drivers’ market. Heinz-Harald Frentzen is fired from Jordan and will not drive his home race in Germany. Ricardo Zonta will replace Frentzen for the next upcoming race. is communicated through an official press release:
"It has been a disappointing season for both of us. We had an exchange of views with Heinz Harald after the British Grand Prix and this is the outcome. The contract between Jordan and Heinz-Harald Frentzen has been cancelled with immediate effect".
It was not a particularly enjoyable season for Frentzen. The latter is only 10th in the drivers’ standing, having only scored 6 points after 11 races. Teammate Jarno Trulli is only three points ahead of him but has been superior in qualifying and in race trim. Jordan is going through a difficult period. At the start of the season, the team was indicated as the third-best team, behind Ferrari and McLaren. However, having had huge reliability issues, they did not live up to their expectations and are now behind Williams and Sauber. Eddie Jordan is trying to find a quick fix to their problem. The first concrete measure is sacking Frentzen due to poor performances. The German does not accept the excuses and attacks his now former team:
"I contest the reasons that I have been given for this termination. My position in this matter is now under legal advice".
The two Schumacher brothers are under the spotlight during Thursday’s press conference, together with Mika Hakkinen. Michael starts by saying:
"It is nice to be here. I relaxed myself playing football. Polster gave me the perfect soccer ball. I was even able to score. This took away what was left of my stress post-Monza incident. I am almost recovered but the hit was quite heavy. I was not afraid. My main concern was checking if I had something broken after the incident. I was only thinking about myself, nothing else. I do think that being here, on a similar fast track as Monza, will not affect me. It was not my mistake. Something damaged the underfloor of the car and the downforce generated by the aerodynamic load was gone. The brakes were not involved this time. It ended well thanks to the great passive security of the car. I am certain of one thing. If I had the 1999 car (from the Silverstone stunt) I would not have fared so well. I would find myself on a forced holiday. I need to forget what happened and focus on this weekend".
This could be one of the most important weekends of the season for Michael. It is also known that he will not admit this:
"It is a very special place. I have a great memory of the 1995 victory, I was the first German to win this race. Crossing the start/finish line, my Benetton stopped and was towed for the rest of the lap: it was a very slow lap. For this reason, it was also a happy one. From then on, I never won again. Winning on Sunday would be very important. It would be great to celebrate my 51st win right here in Hockenheim".
In this joyful German atmosphere, the Frentzen matter represents a sour note. It is not every day that you get sacked from one race to another, in front of his home crowd. Regarding this, Schumacher tells this:
"It is not nice what is happening to him. Those who know the Jordan team will not be at all surprised by this decision, Frentzen will now have to deal with a rather unpleasant situation, I feel very sorry for him. He might get a better opportunity now. Similar things happened with Jordan. He has two faces: the pleasant one, of the bright and witty character, and the businessman one. When Ralf drove for Eddie Jordan, I lived such events closely. You would argue with him but he would only look at gaining a personal advantage. Everyone is free to see it as they like".
Todt claims that it will not necessary to win at all costs from now on, do you agree?
"I will always try to finish ahead of everyone. If I would find myself lapping half a second slower, then I would need to control the situation since I am not a magician. I will always try find the limit, that is for certain. Schumacher could win here in Hockenheim or at least one of us".
For the first time this season, Jordan’s yellow motorhome is stormed by a big group of people, who are trying to understand the reason behind the decision to sack Frentzen before his home race. In the middle of the crowd, Jarno Trulli is wandering around and is easily noticeable thanks to a showy orange shirt. The one who looking perplexed and lost is Ricardo Zonta, promoted main driver for this race. Eddie already has an agreement with Jean Alesi for the rest of the reason. The official reason for the sacking derives by the fact that Frentzen refused to do a medical visit before the start of the season. The Italian driver admits:
"It is a bad situation and has not helped anybody in the team. I just now want to concentrate on my race weekend. I want to finish this season on a high. I can help the team finish 4th in the constructors with my point. It would be a very prestigious result. Next few weeks we will probably understand what happened".
Failing the objective to finish the race in Silverstone, which is only a few hundred meters from Jordan’s headquarters, Jarno is aiming for the top-6 on a track which he knows very well:
"This is my true home race, not Monza or Imola".
It is hard to blame him, given that he won 6 races in Formula 3, back in 1996. The Pescara driver was wearing the suit of the Benetton junior team:
"100.000 people were watching those races; it seems like a F1 Grand Prix".
It was different when he arrived in Formula 1: Jarno finished in the points only once in four races, back in 1997 when substituting the injured Panis in the Prost-Mugen. In the following years, the Italian had mechanical failures, retirement and overall disappointing results. In 2000, he was penalized for no reason. Could this be the one to score points?
"The Monza test went well. I have got a bit of a cranky car. When you think that things would go bad, the car is surprisingly good. When you expect a great result, then it has a disappointing performance".
Jordan made a leap forward in recent races thanks to Bridgestone, admits Jarno. One of the biggest issues of the EJ11 car is the excessive wear of the tires. The new Bridgestone compounds, prepared for Magny-Cours and Silverstone, seems to have resolved this problem.
"We know that Ferrari, McLaren and Williams are still ahead of us. Let’s hope we can catch them".
Are there any car’s upgrades? There is only one, which is quite worrying:
"I will use the version of the rear wing that broke at Monza. The team brought it here is because they found the reason of its failure".
The long straights of Hockenheim could enhance the BMW engine. The Monaco technicians are proud of it, even Patrick Head and Frank Williams. People say that it is the most powerful engine in Formula 1. The horse powers do the talking and seems to have passed the mythical threshold of 850. Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya are gambling on this powertrain. The Colombian declares:
"The Monza test confirmed that the engine is our tramp card in high-speed tracks. We are the favourites here for sure".
Finishing 4th in Silverstone, without being able to step on the podium, Montoya wants to take revenge at teammate-rival Ralf Schumacher’s home track:
"Let’s be clear: our fight is fair competition. Ralf should have let me through at Silverstone but ignored the team order. This is now over. We push each other. This is a good thing for the team. It is clear that each one of us wants to win".
After racing in F.3000 at Hockenheim, Montoya will race here for the third consecutive time:
"I want to win in Formula 1. Michael Schumacher is the man to beat, no doubt about it. He is the fastest and wisest driver, with a great car and a very strong team".
There is probably going to be another battle between the two Schumacher brothers. Ralf does not hide the fact that he is one of the favorites to win this race:
"This track suits us. The engine counts a lot here, the aerodynamics are not crucial. The tires, on a dry asphalt with high temperatures, should not hold any surprises".
Ralf finished 4th place at the Nürburgring after being penalized with Stop&Go penalty by the stewards. Ralf is determined to exchange his fans’ passion at Hockenheim:
"I will be looking forward to the unique atmosphere in the motodrom. Hockenheim is not particularly exciting from a driver's point of view, but there are some good overtaking opportunities. The most difficult thing is to achieve the right car set-up, as you have to find enough downforce for the twisty motodrom section and high speed for the long. The track characteristics will suit our engine".
Ralf certainly does not forget the other side of the coin in his and Williams-BMW’s positive season: the remarkable non-finishes due to mechanical failures. He, despite winning two races, has reached the chequered flag 5 times whilst Montoya only 3. Despite Ralf overall considering the circumstance as normal:
"After the first year in Formula 1, we wanted to understand where we stand. It was necessary to take more risks and mistakes can happen. It is better to do one step back and two steps forward rather than doing just step backwards".
Friday 27th July 2001. It is time for the first two free practice sessions. In FP1, Barrichello sets the fastest time with a 1"41"953, followed by de La Rosa, Coulthard and Michael Schumacher. In FP2, Eddie Irvine tops the timing sheets by lapping in 1'41"424, ahead of Montoya. Barrichello and Michael Schumacher are 4th and 5th respectively. The other Williams of Ralf Schumacher is only 10th fastest after losing the first half of the practice session. Making a mistake at the chicane, the German was forced to park his William onto the gravel trap. Mika Hakkinen ends up 3rd fastest, confirming his and McLaren’s good momentum after winning at Silverstone. Barrichello and Schumacher are over half a second slower than Irvine. However, Ferrari is primarily working on the car set-up for the race. The duo did most of the running with a lot of fuel on board, without searching for the fastest lap. At the end of the day, technical director Ross Brawn declares:
"It is just a question of choosing the downforce level to get the balance at Hockenheim You've got seventy-five percent of the circuit where you want the lowest downforce level possible and then twenty-five percent of the circuit where you want the highest downforce level possible. We tried all the compounds available and there is a clear different: I think that our ideas for tomorrow and Sunday are quite clear: with more grip from the tires, you can have less aerodynamic load to have more top speed".
The Ferrari men are not worried about the hydraulic high-press system failure which slowed down Barrichello in the last eight minutes of FP2. The Brazilian driver comments the two practice sessions:
"I was not able to get that much running today, especially in the afternoon. In the morning, the car was definitely in good shape. Then I had a hydraulic problem in the second hour which cost me the last ten minutes of the session. We still have a bit of work to do on defining the ideal set-up, but I am confident for tomorrow".
The Bridgestone tires do not seem to be perfectly competitive: on the other hand, Michelin seems to have a great advantage on this track thanks to a radical change which foresees much softer tire compounds. The nipponic guys were a lot more conservative coming into this race, bringing the same compounds as in the Nürburgring race. There is a simple reason for this little innovation: don’t risk anything. Schumacher, on top of the drivers’ standing by a large margin, cannot take risks. The goal is drive safety to the chequered flag.
Second or third on the podium? It could be fine either way. This suggests that the true protagonists might be Ralf, Montoya and maybe Hakkinen who has nothing to lose. Those situations will be brilliantly good for Ferrari and Schumacher, since the aim is to keep Coulthard behind. It could also mean that Michael could skip an important appointment with Formula 1 history: the 51st win, equaling Alain Prost’s record.
All teams brought specifically designed front wings. Hockenheim and Monza are tracks with very long straights. Ferrari will use the upgraded and more powerful version of its engine for the race. Previously, it was only used for qualifying. The Italian team is also bringing a new rear extractor profile, whilst Panis is testing an innovative braking pedal.
Saturday 28th July 2001, the odds for this qualifying session are respected: Juan Pablo Montoya takes his maiden pole position of his career. His fastest lap time is a 1'38"117, 0.019 seconds faster than his teammate. Ralf Schumacher completes a front-row lockout for Williams-BMW. Mika Hakkinen is 3rd fastest, ahead of Michael Schumacher and Coulthard. Barrichello, in the other Ferrari, is 6th ahead of Räikkönen and Heidfield. De la Rosa and Trulli will line up in 9th and 10th. The Jordan had an engine failure during the latter stages of qualifying. At the end of the session, Michael comments qualifying:
"The only positive thing about today's session is that Coulthard is starting behind me. I was seven tenths faster than Coulthard. We have performed normally, if you look at our gap to McLaren, but Williams has done a much better job than usual. This shakes things up a bit. I would of course like to win the race because I have never won with Ferrari. I have to look at the situation in terms of the Championship: it is good for us, considering that one McLaren is behind us".
Perhaps more was expected from the new Ferrari engine. Anyway, what worries the Maranello team are minor issues in the brakes. According to Jean Todt, the aerodynamic package is not working as expected:
"We would like to win here. Tomorrow it will be important for us to bring home as many points as possible".
The only obstacle for Schumacher is Coulthard, who will start behind him. What Michael needs to do is to not get overtaken by the McLaren driver. Let’s not forget that Michael has a 37-points advantage on David. Could this be the secret tactic to keep the suspense alive until the final race of the season? Jean Todt cuts to the chase:
"We want to win this championship as soon as possible. If Bernie Ecclestone or his wife ask to keep the championship alive, I would say no".
How much are you satisfied about your first pole position in Formula 1?
"We worked really hard. Everything went really well. The car has been working very well and we were able to put together the perfect lap. To get the first pole in Formula 1 is very exciting. Beating Ralf in Germany is very good. Everyone expected either him or his brother to fight for pole but the underdog took it. It is an exceptional result. I now want to win. Scoring my first win in Hockenheim would be fantastic. It is BMW’s circuit".
Regarding the relationship between teammates, Montoya explains:
"We respect each other. The team does not order us to eat together. We only speak about car set-ups or engines. Outside of the track, we do not talk to each other. I think it is common between teammates. We try to beat each other. I do not care if our relationship is frosty".
Williams is enjoying a front-row lockout. Their previous one was on 13th July 1997 at Silverstone with Villeneuve and Frentzen. A peremptory order is given to Montoya and Ralf Schumacher from the team: do not do something stupid in the first corner, otherwise the punishment will be terrible. Patrick Head, technical directors, expect no margin for error. He calls the two drivers to his office to give specific instructions: if you crash into each other, we will take no prisoners. The last time the German engine supplier locked out the front row was back in 1986, at Zeltweg, in Austria, with Teo Fabi on pole and Berger 2nd. Montoya nods:
"Ruining everything at the start would not make sense. I need points and so do Ralf and the team in order to overtake McLaren in the standings. I have a great chance to win".
It is unknown whether Ralf thinks the same.
"I wanted to be the first German to score pole position at Hockenheim. Unfortunately, I was not able to give my best. I made a mistake on my third lap and then traffic penalized me on the final attempt".
His thoughts are on the race:
"Who has the fastest split times in sector 1 and 2, takes pole. This time it was not enough. The race is pretty long so anything can happen".
Williams continue their run of form in Sunday morning’s warm-up session. 29th July 2001. At 2:00 p.m., the stands are coloured in red. The fans are supporting Michael Schumacher towards his 51st win in Formula 1. Despite this, Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya are looking forward to race in the German Grand Prix in the historic circuit of Hockenheim. This is the last time that this lay-out will be used. From 2002, the new circuit configuration will not go through the evocative passage through the German woods.
Light out, the race is underway. The two Williams-BMW have a brilliant start. Michael Schumacher is slowly getting off his grid slot very slow, due to a gearbox problem. The Ferrari could be a potentially dangerous hazard for the cars behind. Luciano Burti, unsighted behind one of the Jordan, is unable to avoid Schumacher. After launching off the back of the F2001, the Prost driver launches into the air and collect Bernoldi’s Arrows in the process.
The cars are severely damaged. Initially the race director opts to bring out the Safety car in order to clear up the cars involved in the incident. There is too much debris and carbon fiber on track after the horrifying incident. At the end of lap 1, Charlie Whiting decides to red-flag the race. By doing so, Michael Schumacher, Luciano Burti and Enrique Bernoldi can take part in the race with the spare cars, for the great relief of the thousands of tens of thousands German fans. The debris was flown in every direction, due to the three-car incident. Andy Davis’ leg was hit by those. The Jaguar employee is taken away by an auto-ambulance.
The start/finish straight is cleared of scattered debris. The race will re-start as if the incident did not occur. For the second time this afternoon, lights out and away the cars go. The Williams drivers re-enact their first getaway. Montoya leads ahead of Ralf Schumacher. Immediately behind the white-blue cars, an intense battle ensues between Ferrari and McLaren. With the use of the slipstream effect, Michael Schumacher overtakes Hakkinen for 3rd. Coulthard is trying to defend against Barrichello but cuts the chicane. The McLaren-Ferrari duo are now side by side. Going into the entrance of the Motodrom section, Rubens makes a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre around the outside of the McLaren for 5th place.
In the midfield, there is another big incident which involves Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfield. The Spanish Jaguar driver completely misses the breaking point of the Clark chicane. By locking up the brakes, he hits the rear of Heidfeld’s Sauber. Both drivers are forced to retire. At the end of the 1st lap, Montoya lead from Ralf Schumacher by 1.4 seconds. Michael is 3rd, ahead of Hakkinen, Barrichello and Coulthard. With a lighter fuel load, Barrichello breezes past Hakkinen for 4th. Soon after, on lap 6, Michael Schumacher lets his teammate by. The two Ferrari drivers are on two completely different strategies.
The incidents are not yet over. On lap 7, Zonta and Bernoldi make contact. The Jordan driver loses the front wings and leaves plenty of debris throughout the race car. His race is over. Meanwhile up front, Montoya has a sizeable 6-seconds lead over Ralf Schumacher at the start of lap 10. Three laps later, fluid is leaking out of the left sidepod of Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren. It is a radiator failure. The Finn can only park the car in a safe place and out of the race.
Having taken less fuel on board, Barrichello makes his first of two scheduled pitstops on lap 16. He filters back in 5th place, behind Coulthard. Upfront, Montoya and Ralf are on a league of their own, trading fastest lap times. The Colombian first sets 1'42"089. One lap later, his time is beaten as Ralf goes even quicker with a 1'42"048. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen and Eddie Irvine are retiring due to technical problems on their respective cars. Slotting in behind Coulthard after the stop, Barrichello quickly catches up to the back of the McLaren. it is a re-match of what happened on the first lap. On the 19th lap, the Ferrari driver goes around the outside of Coulthard at the entrance of the Motodrom section and re-gains 4th place.
The Williams pit-crew is ready for a pitstop. On lap 22, race leader Montoya goes into the pits. The Colombian’s pit stop lasts 29.9 seconds. The Williams team had an issue with the Colombian’s fuel hose and had to switch to Ralf’s one. Two laps later, Michael Schumacher, exiting the pits with a fresh set of tires and plenty of fuel, has to deal with his second retirement of the year. The cause is a fuel pump issue in his F2001.
At the start of the 25th lap, Ralf comes in to the pits. Despite a 11-seconds stop, the sole remaining Schumacher retains the lead ahead of Barrichello and Montoya. There is more drama going on. The BMW engine has given up on Montoya and is the latest driver to retire after Hakkinen and Schumacher. On lap 27, Coulthard’s Mercedes engine blows up. The Scots, who was already relishing the idea of recovering a few points in the standing from Schumacher, pulls over to retire. With the top runners out of the race, Ralf Schumacher is firmly in the lead with a good gap over Rubens Barrichello. At the end of lap 32, the Brazilian’s hopes of winning the race go down the drain as the second pit-stop lasts 20 seconds. The Ferrari team encountered difficulties with the fuel hose, similar to what previously happened to Montoya. Despite this delay, the Brazilian driver is still able to stay in 2nd. Jacques Villeneuve, 3rd, is nowhere near the Brazilian.
With 17 laps to go, the BAR is now under pressure from Fisichella and Button’s Benetton and Jean Alesi’s Prost. Jacques is able to defend from the cars behind and racks up BAR’s second podium of the season. Benetton enjoys a double-points finish. Finishing 5th, Jenson Button scores his first points of the season. Another impressive results for Alesi, finishing 6th despite driving a modest Prost.
The driver of the day is Ralf Schumacher, emerged unscathed from an elimination race. This is his third win of the season and of his F1 career. During the in-lap, Michael (who listened the race from the sidelines via radio together with two marshals) cheers for the race winner. Eventually, the Ferrari was able to go back to Parc Ferme to hug and congratulate Ralf.
In the drivers’ standing, Ralf overtakes Barrichello for 3rd. With 41 points, the Williams driver is now only 7 behind Coulthard. The Brazilian, finishing 2nd in the race, is relegated to 4th. Michael Schumacher has 84 points. Given how things went, the German cannot complain. By winning the Hungarian Grand Prix would be enough for the Ferrari driver to seal the world championship. For once, the two title rivals are on the same page. The title is already in Schumacher’s pockets. The Scotsman’s championship hopes are completely buried after this race. The Scots wanted to fight until the end:
"I am not angry but disappointed with today's result. We should have more reliability and our retirement influenced our season. As a team, we did not do what should have done and now we have to ask why".
Coulthard’s analysis is pitiful and its conclusion is almost obligated:
"It is an unpredictable sport. As such you have to keep an open mind, weekend to weekend. It is not over even if it is in reality".
He is still angry with the race director:
"It is difficult to accept. It was waved because it was Schumacher’s home race. The race should have not been red-flagged. The most dangerous start was the start but that was it. We could have all driven through slowly since the safety car was out. They had minimum two and a half minutes to clean the debris on track before we came around".
He then is talking about his retirement and a terrible weekend for him:
"It was my last chance and it was a very difficult weekend. I am disappointed because we've had understeer all weekend. Barrichello overtook me twice. On a situation like this, how can you pray for a miracle?"
You don’t. McLaren’s atmosphere is in perfect sync with this resignation. The anger for the red flag, which allowed Schumacher to start with the spare-car, is a comfortable alibi for not taking into account the two blown-up Mercedes engines. Those are embarrassing failures in comparison to rival BMW who won yet another race. Ron Dennis, McLaren’s soul, is trying to involve everyone on this shipwreck. He continues to go on with the story of the red flag ("I respect the decision of the race director but he Safety car was needed in other..."), when the topic of disaster is brought up:
"We lost as a team, not just those who build the engine. It is race to forget and it should make us think".
Jacques Villeneuve has doubts about the race director’s choice to red-flag the race:
"I was surprised when the safety car was out and then the race was stopped. Usually it is one thing or another".
Barrichello did not like this indecision as well but for the opposite reason:
"The red flag should have come earlier. Going through the debris for one lap could have been dangerous".
Michael Schumacher cannot hide from it. Consoling himself from the bittersweet defeat in his home race, he makes a promise:
"I almost have the World Championship in my pocket. I only need four more points to win, I will try to close the championship as soon as possible".
It was an emotional day for Michael. Now that the race is over, he is not worried about the retirement in Germany and the incident during testing:
"I am not too disappointed as the situation in the Championship remains the same. We have had such a reliable car over the whole year, one day it had to hit us back as well. The incidents are part of this sport. The ones that I had were completely different from each other. At Monza, I had a massive shunt against the barrier. I was lightly hit here. It was surely harder for Burti. I do not what happened. At the first start I told Ross Brawn that I had a problem with the gear selection. He told me to reset the gearbox programme and to shift into first gear. I responded okay, whilst trying to warn Barrichello. If I stalled, he should have tried to avoid me. After this, the car seemed stuck. I did not know where to go. I looked in the mirrors as two cars suddenly appeared. When I saw Burti in my mirrors I couldn't move out of the way and that was it".
Coulthard accuses the race director for the red flag. The German driver replicates to the accusation by saying:
"The FIA race director made the right decision, there was too much debris on track. Continuing the race would have been irresponsible. It is a high-speed track and you want tyres picking up pieces of carbon fibre whilst the cars are going full speed. Coulthard says this because he is desperate".
Schumacher is not someone who normally settles for 2nd, let alone not finishing the race. Today he is not disappointed given that Coulthard did not score points. The reigning world championships compliments Ralf:
"It is a nice sensation. My brother Ralf won and Barrichello finished 2nd. Our fans can go home satisfied. I am very happy for Ralf. This is our home race and it was good to see him win here. It would have been nice to get on the podium with Ralf and Rubens and the fans would have liked it".
Michael wants to close the championship as soon as possible. On Sunday night, he prepares to celebrate it by partying in a Walldorf hotel until dawn. The people participating in this party are rigorously German, regardless of the teams. Michael leads the party, followed by Ralf and the BMW man Theissen, who is wearing a Ferrari T-shirt, and a crazy Haug. The Mercedes’ soul is more worried about singing, being the lead singer in a rock band consisting of his friends, than the two broken Mercedes engines in front of an astounded German public. A gigantic happening, in which Schumacher does not certainly back down.
He is not exaggerating with the alcohol. Once the championship is over, he will do so. In terms of jokes, the world championship is more aggressive than ever. At one point though, the champion is thrown into the pool by an unknown push. According to the people know the Ferrari driver, this party is a good sign since he feels that the championship is already in his pocket. In two weeks’ time, at the end of the Budapest race, the number one Ferrari driver could be crowded World Champion.
Davide Scotto di Vetta
Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno