The German Grand Prix is no more. The FIA disposes the teams to shut down the engines until Friday’s two free practice session in Hungary, scheduled for the first half of August. The governing body allows for a test of 50 km for each team before shipping the cars off to the Hungaroring. Ferrari tasks Luca Badoer to do this job. The test is divided in two brief sessions on Friday 10th August 2001 and on Monday 12th August 2001 at Fiorano.
In the meantime, Ferrari, with the help of McLaren, Williams and the other teams, presents a complain to the European Commissioner for Competition, to ask the annulment of the Concordia pact in light of corporate changes in the Slec. The teams want more money from Ecclestone. It is none other than the outpost of the big manufacturer reunited in the Acea, the same ones that threatened to create an alternative championship from 2008. Leo Kirch, who detains 75% of the Slec company, seems to give in to the teams’ demands. Soon, an agreement will be reached between the two parties.
The month of August also represent a deadline for many situations regarding the drivers’ market. An example of it is Giancarlo Fisichella. The option to drive for Renault expires on 15th August 2001. By that day, the French outfit will tell him whether he is signed or not. On the other hand, the Italian knows that Jarno Trulli will probably drive the French car in the 2002 season. This is why Giancarlo already has a spoken agreement with Eddie to sign a two-years contract with the Jordan team. It is the constructor that allowed the Roma driver to drive for the top position in Formula 1 until the end of the 1997 season. Talking about Giancarlo, Jordan said this:
"Had he stayed with me, Fisichella would have won. I know how to motivate him".
Jean Alesi has an urgent deadline which, in a matter of days, will define his move to Jordan from Prost for the rest of the 2001 season. The driver from Avignone will be Jarno Trulli’s new teammate, in the outfit that enabled the Italian to win in F.3000 back in 1989. Ricardo Zonta, who replaced Frentzen in Germany, is back as a test driver. The deal Alesi-Jordan is for the last five races, with an option for the 2002 season. The French driver closes a rather difficult relationship with the Prost team. The latter decides to replace Alesi with Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who was fired from Jordan a couple of weeks prior.
"You cannot imagine how motivated I am to drive for Jordan. I cannot wait to drive my new yellow car. It is like re-starting my career in Formula 1. I am not done. It is amazing, like a bath of youth. Forget the bad times and the long faces. That is now behind me".
Laughs Alesi whilst speaking on the phone from a boat holiday with his family at Capri. The new Jordan driver then continues to say:
"I am over the moon for this opportunity. I will soon get on my knees to pray for Mother Mary to thank for this miracle. At one point, I was without a seat when I split ways with Prost after the German race".
The story is worth telling. The French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours was a disastrous race for Alesi. Jean vented during the heat of the moment, accusing the Prost team of poor professionalism. Prost threatened to send Jean a letter from the lawyer for talking in public about internal problems, for disclosing technical secrets and for not participating in technical meetings. Furthermore, there was a heavy fine to pay, despite the fact that most of the salary had not yet been paid. All this drama then to the Silverstone race. Alesi remembers this:
"I told Alain that if he had followed through with that letter, I too would have been forced to respond through legal action. That is what I did. At that point, I put a cross on the Prost team. You know me, I am a great touchy guy. When you work for someone, I know that you have good moments and others in which you fight without having to resort to lawyers. If so, then it is not the right environment for me. I also told this to Prost".
At this point Jean, in order to free himself from the Prost contract, is willing to renounce his sumptuous salary of five million dollars. To go where? Luck is on his side. 48 hours later, his manager Mario Miyakawa receives a call from Eddie Jordan. The nipponic informs the English manager about Jean’s situation. Ever since Hockenheim, a Jordan seat is available. Alesi takes time to think about it because he does not want to badly end his relationship with Prost. Then there is the contract to be deposited to the FIA, at Ginevra. Furthermore, a letter of junction is needed from Prost. So, the French driver drives at Hockenheim with the blue car. He did an aggressive yet outstanding race, finishing a fantastic 6th place and surpassing Prost’s expectations. Thus, he earned a valuable point which adds to the three gained in Monaco e Montreal. Alesi emphasizes:
"It was the best way to end with Prost. I talked with Alain and we left on good terms: it was the right decision to make an agreement with Jordan during the summer break. This way, he was able to find a replacement. I will have two pedals and brake with the right foot as I always did. After 13 years in Formula 1, there is no need to change driving style as the team already modified the car according to my needs. I will not be able to test the car before racing in Hungary but I will do a shakedown at Silverstone. What do I expect from this race? I do not know. I am very excited and gassed like when I debuted with Tyrrell in Formula 1".
The heart once again decides Alesi’s career. He renounced over 50% of his salary in order to drive for Jordan. He did the same in 1989. Using his instinct, the French driver decided to drive for his beloved Ferrari for the 1991 season, although bound by an agreement with Williams. His friend Prost was close to the driver’s title in 1990 but lost it after a collision with Senna at Suzuka. Ferrari gifted him lots of podiums and one sole victory (Canada 1995) but also many disappointments. The team was going through a period of huge decline in performance during that time. Despite this, he become an important driver in the hearts of the Tifosi.
A couple of hours after, it is then confirmed that Frentzen will join the Prost team, via their managers. Frentzen, who was unexpectedly sacked from Jordan on the eve of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, signs a contract with the French team until the end of the ongoing season:
"I am happy that Alain Prost offered me to drive for the last five Grands Prix. It was very difficult to turn down the opportunity. I am happy to tackle this new challenge and I am looking forward to support the team for the rest of the season".
The German will make his debut at Magny-Cours, with the 50 km that the International Federation allows the teams to test with.
"My collaboration with Prost is a great challenge. I am extra motivated. I am also happy that I will finally be able to drive a Ferrari engine".
Alain Prost is also satisfied about this situation:
"I am delighted to welcome Heinz-Harald Frentzen in our team, I always been his admirer. His achievements in the last few years place him among the best drivers I should have hired him two years ago. I am happy that the chance to do so came".
According to rumours, Il Professore contacted the German the day after the Hockenheim Gran Prix, after it appeared clear that Alesi wanted to leave the team. There was an immediate and secret meeting between the two in Paris. The German was officially on holiday with his wife Tanja and their little daughter Lea in Spain, as his mother’s guest. Frentzen’s manager, Otwin Podlech, states that the agreement does not absolutely take into account an eventual continuation of the collaboration for 2002. Prost does only talk about Frentzen but also fires shots against his now ex-driver, Alesi. What is the reason behind this? It is Alesi’ interview after his move to Jordan:
"When we fixed the terms of our separation, it was agreed that nobody would denounce the other party or would give his version of how things had happened. Then, minutes after we announced his departure, he was giving everything away on radio. It is a childish attitude. It happened again with us... It is the same every time".
Then Alain continues with his version of the story:
"At Silverstone, I explained to him that I was obligated to send that letter. He should have forgotten for a moment our friendship. I was Prost, team owner in that moment. It was in my right to remind him of his duties. He did not understand that but it is normal. He took that letter as an excuse to leave. I knew of the risks of hiring him. He did exactly the same at Ferrari, at Benetton and exactly at Sauber. With Jean Todt, he had a violent fight through the press and it was the same with Flavio Briatore and Peter Sauber. It is the same thing every time. The others are all imbeciles, engineers are no good and there is no progress made on the car".
Prost then re-calls another behind the scenes moment:
"When we were driving for Ferrari in 1991, I personally exposed myself to salvage his seat with three races to go. In Japan, I was then fired for a political reason that everyone, including Ferrari, know very well. I do not want to say no more... I am rather shocked by his behaviour. Two years ago, he phoned me at 2:00 a.m. and plead to get hired. He did not have a seat and was begging me to go to Prost. Now he uses the letter and the financial woes as an excuse to say “I am leaving because I was not paid".
From Capri, Alesi immediately replies to Prost:
"I do not understand why Prost dares to speaks about my working relationships with Ferrari, Benetton and Sauber: it is unfair. Until proven otherwise, I was always the one to leave those teams. No one fired me. Mr. Prost instead was fired in 1991 from Ferrari. The very childish thing is to not pay one of your employees and to also give him a heavy fine: nice going. All of this to try and not pay me. If the team was on the verge of bankruptcy, if last year they lost four sponsors, it is not Jean Alesi’s fault. If the team is good, why were they not able to achieve Sauber’s results despite having a Ferrari gearbox and engine? What about the Mercedes engines which were promised for 2001?"
The French controversy ends like this, as does a friendship which lasted 11 years. Meanwhile at Prost, after the brief testing session at Magny-Cours, Frentzen is satisfied of his first outing with the French car:
"So far so good.; There were quite a lot of question marks because there has not been much time to get used to the car. I hope to have a good weekend in Hungary".
The German driver repeats that he still has issues with Eddie Jordan due to the sacking. Meanwhile, Niki Lauda critics Frentzen by defining his move to Prost as a mistake:
"Alesi was the one who gained from this swap. Prost is worse than Jordan".
Frentzen’s reply to Niki is a sarcastic one:
"He could have offered me a seat at Jaguar if he really wanted to".
Concluding the drivers’ market topic, Alex Yoong could become the first Malaysian driver to drive in Formula 1. He also claims this, after announcing that he is in the process of applying for the super licence to the FIA. Yoong should take Tarso Marques’ seat at Minardi. There is no official news from the Faenza team at the moment. During the summer break, concerns such as those do not minimally apply to David Coulthard, the only one who has feeble chances to snatch the title from Michael Schumacher. The Scots driver is filmed whilst relaxing in a yacht with two girls by the German newspaper. The title of the article is:
"Coulthard, sex orgies on his yacht".
Under the title, there is an unequivocal sequence of photos. On the other hand, Michael Schumacher is living a less luxurious break period. The upcoming race could gift the fourth title, the second one with Ferrari, to the German driver. A triumph which would seal a fantastic season by the German driver. By winning 6 races and with four 2nd places finishes, he is beating everyone: just think of the 37 points-advantage over his most dangerous rival, Coulthard. Hakkinen was struck by bad luck and an inconsistent McLaren and was forced to give up his championship campaign almost immediately.
Michael then sometimes fought against his brother Ralf, capable of winning three races. The William driver though lacked the consistency to become a serious candidate for the title. Michael, despite the non-finish in Hockenheim, is about to close the championship. Budapest is a favourable track for the current world championship. If he wins, the championship is over. The Ferrari driver either needs to finish 2nd, if Coulthard finishes 4th and with Ralf not winning, or 3rd, if the Scots is 6th and Ralf 2nd, to achieve his goal.
Schumacher’s dream is to take the fourth title with a win and to equal Prost’s record of 51 wins. Furthermore, Ferrari can easily be able to win the constructors in Hungary as well. Riccardo Patrese, who took part in 256 races, is one of Formula 1 veterans with six victories. In 1993, on his last year in Formula 1, the ex-Italian driver was Schumacher’s teammate. Can Michael do this in a couple of days? Patrese is sure of it:
"For sure. Nobody was able to beat him this season. He will win his fourth title. He, together with Senna, is one of the strongest drivers ever. The results confirm this. History is incontestable".
Riccardo met Schumacher a long time ago:
"I immediately understood that he was special. I was impressed by his speed ever since that February morning at Silverstone. The weather was bad, with lots of fog and rain. There was one corner, Bridge, which is taken in 6th gear during qualifying. He only took three laps to figure out how to drive that particular corner. Then he started to take Bridge at full throttle. The thing was: before that test, he had not driven for four months; I had never seen something like that. Schumacher showed me things that no other teammate had been able to achieve and I had raced with drivers of big calibre such as Jones, Piquet and Mansell".
Talking about Mansell: was he much better than this Schumacher?
"Our Williams was a rocket ship: active suspensions, traction control, automatic gearbox. It was a more futuristic car than today’s ones. He was an English driver driving for an English driver, he even had the wind in his favour. You could only win with that car. On paper, Schumacher had more rivals: it is not his fault if McLaren collapsed. Williams is strong only in some circuits".
Schumacher’s best trait?
"I would say the speed. His physical preparation enables him to always give his best in the car. He is an outstanding team player".
Some say that he is not nice.
"The German who does not speak Italian. He is different off-track. He is the centre of the project. In 1997, Villeneuve had a very fast Williams car to win the championship. Michael found the team in crisis and is now building a winning cycle with Ferrari. Schumacher did not just take Ferrari to the top of the world but will stay with the team for many years. Find me another guy who can pull a team like that. Credit goes to the people around him, his mechanics and engineers. Nobody can motivate them like him. Mansell was not like this, so much so that I was the one to stay with Williams for five years".
In the meantime, on 13th August 2001, something does not work according to the test programme that Badoer is doing at Fiorano. The F2001 car (chassis 210), destined for Michael Schumacher, is not given the thumbs up. It is pulled into the garage. the Ferrari technicians are not satisfied by what they saw on track. At around 1:00 p.m., the Ferrari car is further tested but something is still not working. Thus, it is sent to the race department to be dissembled. During the night, the underlying problem is solved and the F2001 is thus rebuilt. The new test is scheduled for the following day, which is the last day to ships the cars to the Hungaroring.
Among other things, the emergency test provides a defined short route of the Fiorano track (800 meters). On 13th August 2001, Badoer does 10 laps of the short track (best one in 1'01"512) for a total of 22 km. Added to the 10 km that the Treviso driver did on Friday, he is now only allowed to do 18 more km. Ferrari maintains a reserved silence regarding what happened. It only transpires that the problem is not serious. Badoer downplays what happened:
"No nervousness, we only want to have the maximum peace of mind to win the championship early. Ferrari demonstrated a total commitment in exploiting the 50 km allowed by the FIA on the week of the Grand Prix. We did many start simulations during the test. We will then analyse what happened to the car on Friday. A breathless programme without leaving nothing to chance. Today’s Formula 1 is unforgiving".
This is not the end of Ferrari’s horrible day in the office. At 6:40 p.m., a fire spreads across one of the electricity sorting stations, within the industrial section of the factory and in proximity of the paint shop. The firemen work for two hours and a half to limit the damages which interest some installations and a counter ceiling. After a throughout analysis in the race department, Badoer tests the chassis n. 213, instead of the 210 one. The Treviso driver tests it until it is ready to be deliberated. The kilometres, that are allowed by the FIA, are running out. In total, he does two long laps (the best time is a 1'01"418) and three short ones. This test lasts only 15 minutes: the car material is then shipped off to Hungary.
Ferrari, given that the race on Sunday could prove to be decisive for the title, prefers to not take risks and are merely repairing Schumacher’s original race car. The one with the 213 chassis is almost ready and will be used in next week’s post-race testing, at the Mugello circuit. Alternating the teams of mechanics throughout the team, Schumacher’s car is prepared for the race on Sunday. Despite the positive feedback from the track, Jean Todt is cautious at the eve of the Hungarian race:
"We arrive in Hungary leading both Championships and for the first time this season it is mathematically possible for us to take the drivers' and constructors' titles. Despite this, we are approaching the weekend prudently with our feet firmly on the ground because we know that it is actually possible for us to lose both Championships. We have seen that it does not take much to have a problem or an accident. We know the world of racing too well to count our chickens before they hatch. Obviously, we are favourites. We know this, but we will tackle the Hungarian Grand Prix like any other so far".
Thus, the aim is the same one:
"We will try and get both cars onto the podium. This is a high-downforce track like Monte-Carlo. Overtaking is very difficult and qualifying will be very important. We also know that the track reaches very high temperatures and is very demanding on the mechanical parts".
Ron Dennis, the boss at McLaren, has apparently said something against Michael Schumacher in order to keep the tension high at the eve of a crucial race. According to the German newspapers, this is what Dennis said:
"I enjoy seeing Schumacher being beaten. I do not buy into this Mr Invincible thing. It is improper that Michael is able to successfully project an aura that says he can do no wrong. I am convinced that if other drivers had perpetrated Michael's more questionable starts and first corner manoeuvres, they would have been censured".
In his lividity, Dennis also accuses the FIA president, Max Mosley, of being impartial. The McLaren boss recounts the case of the alleged irregular diffusers, which Ferrari apparently used at the 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix. Those parts conformed with the FIA regulations. He then insinuates:
"I am sure that marginal calls tend to go in favour of teams other than McLaren or Williams. I am not being paranoid, just realistic".
Mosley’s reply is immediate:
"The FIA never tried to favour a team. I like to see Ferrari win but not too often, otherwise it gets bloody boring. McLaren attacks us because there have been two occasions on which they have come up with a technical device which we all thought was legal but which has subsequently been shown to be illegal".
Regarding Dennis’s attack to the current world champion, Bild reacts with this title:
"Schumacher badly insulted".
The article talks about whether Dennis does not mind the fact that the Ferrari driver could already seal the title already on Sunday. Schumacher is a completely different mood, after a relaxing holiday with his wife Corrina and his two children:
"I am really looking forward to the race in Budapest. It's time that things started moving again. I am really geared up to driving now".
Michael relaxed in the beach with the family. He also had a parachuting day, one of his most recent passion. He discovered it a year ago with Corinna. He focused on training, by mainly using the bike. His motto is to be moderately optimistic. The German announces some upgrades on the car:
"I count on us to be right at the front again in Budapest. I do believe we have reason to be confident with Ferrari's new aerodynamic package and the development of the Monaco package".
He then goes on saying:
"I do not like dreaming, I always keep my foots on the ground. Winning the title is a realistic goal since we always did good at Budapest. I want to quickly wrap this championship to then think about next year’s car. I said that this Ferrari could start a winning cycle and I was right. It is exciting to be the protagonist of a great team and of a fantastic project".
David Coulthard is not even to resist. He clings to catchphrases like:
"It is not over. I like this track and I can fight for the win".
The Scotsman has stopped believing in it but continues to say:
"Losing the championship? How can you lose something that you have never had in your hands?"
As Coulthard launches some digs at McLaren ("Schumacher will win the title because his team did an exceptional job whilst we made costly mistakes as a team"), Michael recounts:
"Reliability has always been our strongest points. I am not worried about the Hockenheim’s retirement; a couple of failures are normal in a season. We will once again become indestructible".
Friday 17th August 2001. The Hungarian weekend starts well for Schumacher. In FP1, he finishes ahead of Barrichello and Mika Hakkinen. Apart from Ferrari’s dominance, the session is characterized by Coulthard’ incident. After aggressively hitting a kerb, the floor of his McLaren is ripped apart and the rear is also damaged. The Scots ends the session in 10th. In FP2, the latter is unable to run. On the other side, Michael continues his run of form by lapping quicker than everybody else. His teammate and Mika Hakkinen are once again 2nd and 3rd respectively. By the end of the day, Coulthard complains about the kerb which damaged his car:
"It is a very aggressive kerb. If hit, it can destroy a car. Changes need to be made. If you do a mistake here, it will be fatal".
As this championship is waiting for the inevitable verdict, the drivers’ market is heating up. The paddock rumours say that McLaren could break the deadlock on the confirmation of his drivers on Friday. This does not happen. Someone believes that this stalemate is due to the name of the test driver who will partner Wurz (Dennis wants to hire Zonta from Jordan). The malignant see Coulthard’s position as precarious (given that he has only scored nine points in the last six races) and suspects that Hakkinen did not like Dennis’ salary proposal for the renewal of the contract.
In Saturday’s qualifying session, Schumacher’s domination remains undisputed. The reigning world championship gives an impressive demonstration of strength. At the start of the session, Hakkinen is the first driver to set a lap time with a 1’14’817. With 29 minutes gone, the Ferrari driver exits the pits and sets a scorching time, a 1’14’417 which is four tenths faster than Hakkinen’s one. With 20 minutes to go, he improves his provisional pole time by a further four tenths. His 1'14"059 time is the new track record. Prost’s one is completely demolished. No-one is able to get close to his outstanding time. In the end, the German scores his ninth pole position of the season and his 41st career one.
With a last lap-effort, Coulthard puts the McLaren car in 2nd place but is 8-tenths slower than Michael. Barrichello finishes 3rd, almost one second behind his teammate and curses Montoya for blocking. Ralf Schumacher will line up in 4th. Hakkinen will start the race in disappointing 6th place, after being beaten by an excellent Trulli in the end. Juan Pablo Montoya struggled a lot throughout qualifying and is only 8th fastest. David Coulthard does not mince words when describing his rival’s performance:
"On the third run I ran a little bit wide and finished on the gravel as a result. On my first attempt, I had a misunderstanding with Frentzen. In the morning session I was quicker in the morning than in qualifying. I was fighting against the car on low fuel. It was impossible to achieve Schumacher’s time. I was eight tenths slower than him. Schumacher is on a league of his own".
Is it a declaration of surrender?
"No, I think generally we have been a bit better in the races this year, I am not yet giving up, I will fight until the end. Beating him will be very difficult. The start will be crucial. I have got to at least have a clear run down to the first corner to try an overtake".
What if it does go badly?
"All that remains is to hope on the pit-stop phases. In the meantime, I hope that I do not stall on the grid, like in Monte Carlo. Then we can think about the strategy. It will be a very long and difficult race. The warm weather can help us".
Regarding his future, the Scotsman affirms:
"This has been my best season in Formula 1. I scored many points. In the first half of the season, I fought on equal terms with Schumacher. We made too many mistakes altogether in the second half. The car had many technical problems to dream about the championship".
This does not detract from the fact that you were often criticized:
"I say that my future is with McLaren. The team knows that I am able to fight for the championship. I will have another chance next year. The race is going to be very tight. The spectators are going to see a good show tomorrow".
Coulthard was almost hit by Frentzen during his fast lap:
"It was dangerous and frustrating. I think he was on an out lap and did not know I was coming down on a timed lap and it was just a normal situation when a driver is not paying attention. I feel that his team should have been giving him the information. His team manager or his engineer should be able to tell him 'Okay Heinz, a car has just passed the start/finish line'. Other people do not have the same level of professionalism I had to brake on a dangerous point of the track".
Why is Ferrari so strong in qualifying?
"They better use the tires in qualifying. It is an advantage that they have since the beginning of the season. It is one of the weakness of our car. On high fuel, we have been a bit better".
Fresh from an exceptional qualifying session, Schumacher responds with a smile to Coulthard’s words regarding the fact that he did an alien performance in qualifying:
"I jumped with a parachute during the summer holiday. Maybe that's what he was referring to... Jokes aside, I did not expect that kind of gap".
But you did: another step towards the fourth title.
"Taking pole was key. We are halfway there. I will be trying to win tomorrow, but I expect a tight competitive race with the others. I will be honest, overtaking here is very difficult even if an eight-tenths gap is a big cushion to have. The race will be stressful. It is like Monte-Carlo; a multitude of corner and you can never lose concentration. It is very hot; the track is quite bumpy. The car bounces on the kerbs and slides a lot. We have seen quite a few spins here. 78 laps are not a joke, even if my Ferrari is perfect. If you make a mistake, you are done".
Do you think Coulthard is already giving up?
"He will try to do what he can to beat me. He has nothing to lose and should try and go for it, to feel the conscience at ease. He is on his last leg and he could be dangerous at the start. I will try everything to defend pole and to win the race".
Do you already know how to enjoy the championship?
"You know me, I never prepare anything in advance, it is my style. We are realistic, the mechanics knows that the championship could be sealed here but never talked about it. It is not a set-up to be studied. Spontaneous things are amazing and are more emotional".
The old track record belonged to Prost, when driving for Williams. Schumacher beat it twice in this qualifying session. Do you realize that his performance was disarming for McLaren?
"When I took pole on older tires, I immediately knew that I would not have been beaten. However, I went out again to test the car on brand new tires and improved my lap by four tenths. At that moment, the only thing left to do was to sit down in the garage to watch the competition. It has been a long time since I did a perfect lap".
Ross Brawn, the holiday did wonders for Michael:
"Could be. When I came back on track, after the Silverstone incident in 1999, in Malaysia, I was immediately going like a rocket ship. The break was good for me".
Bernie Ecclestone arrives at Hungary and meets with Ron Dennis in front of the McLaren motorhome. The two have a brief conversation:
"No, I am not worried: the championship still ends on the last race. I do not know why Schumacher should gift point to Coulthard since he could win the title here".
According to Ecclestone, there is no risks that Michael’s victory could kill the interest of this edition of the world championship. Or at least, if it happens, the damages will be limited. At the end of the day, the image of the sport and the audience are at stake, not the money of the F1 circus. Firstly, the television rights are already sold until 2007. Spa and Monza will surely make the sold-one in every occasion as well as Indianapolis and Suzuka.
The important thing, according to some, is that at least one Ferrari is ahead of everyone. That’s it. Passionate fans want to see the red team and the famous Cavallino Rampante. This was already achieved in the past by maybe manoeuvring the races, which goes towards Dennis’s belief that the FIA is non-transparent and inequal. In order to re-open the championship, it is needed a miracle and more importantly, a true rival for Schumacher.
Unsurprisingly, there is a vibe of the last day of school in the paddock. The thought is unanimous: Schumacher will win the championship either this week-end or the next. The competition is annihilated, disheartened and annoyed. By now, they are tired of having to praise Schumacher:
"Schumacher? He is very good, the best, write whatever you want".
Cuts short Flavio Briatore, the man who launched Schumacher’s Formula 1 career. The Italian manager does not want to talk about his ex-driver anymore. In case of victory, Michael will equal Alain Prost’s record of four world title and 51 wins. The next goal is to chase Manuel Fangio at five titles. According to Eddie Irvine:
"He will retire with a total of seven world crowns to his name".
Sunday 19th August 2001. Time for the warm-up session. Coulthard is the fastest driver, lapping in 1'16"915 with the race set-up in. Schumacher and Barrichello are 2nd and 3rd respectively, 423 (Schumacher) and 445 thousand (Barrichello) behind Coulthard. The others are further behind: Ralf Schumacher is 4th (1'17"608), Hakkinen is 5th (1'17"704) and Jarno Trulli rounds up the top-6 (1'18"433).
A couple of hours later, it is time for the race. The track is very hot and the air temperature is over 30°C. The race is almost underway. Lights out, go, go, go. Michael Schumacher has a crucial start and is easily able to defend 1st place going into turn 1. Coulthard is immediately challenged by Barrichello, who had a great launch off the line. The Brazilian powers past the McLaren for 2nd. Disastrous start for the Scotsman. Dropping to 3rd at the first corner is definitely not what he wanted. In the midfield, Eddie Irvine’s race lasts a matter of seconds. The former Ferrari driver is into the gravel and out of the race after attempting to defend against Fisichella.
It is a dream scenario for Ferrari. By the end of the first lap, Schumacher leads by 1.3 seconds ahead of Barrichello. Then they are followed by Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Trulli and Hakkinen. By lap 8, it seems like the top 3 are evenly matched in terms of lap time. The reason for this is that the leading Ferrari driver is not showing his true potential. This is proven by the fact that, by the 12th lap, his race pace is unmatchable for the others including Barrichello. With 1/10 of the race gone, the gap between 1st and 2nd is over 3 seconds and increasing. The Brazilian will need to continuously look in the mirrors because Coulthard is determined to re-gain the place lost at the start.
Jarno Trulli also needs to be careful, hunted by Hakkinen’s McLaren. By the start of the 25th lap, the Finn tries an audacious and quite desperate move down the inside but the Italian covers him off. It is a further prove that it is difficult to overtake on this track. By lap 28, the race leader comes in for his first pit stop and momentarily drops to 3rd, behind Barrichello and Coulthard. In the meantime, Hakkinen is still stuck behind Trulli but that soon changes.
On the 30th lap, the Jordan driver comes in to the pits. It is a problematic pit-stop which last 12 seconds. This allows the two-time champion to leapfrog the Abruzzo driver for 5th place with an overcut. As this goes on, Barrichello pits at the end of lap 31 for fuel and tires. The pressure is firmly on Coulthard and the McLaren mechanics to make the one-lap overcut work. With a good stop, the Scots re-gains 2nd to Barrichello’s detriment.
At the end of the first round of first pit-stops, (most drivers are opting for a two-stops race), Schumacher is a commendable lead with Coulthard 2nd and Barrichello 3rd. Down at McLaren, the team decides to put Mika Hakkinen on a 3-stop strategy, in order to attempt to shake up an overly static situation. On the 34th lap, Jenson Button spins at the exit of the last corner. The Benetton car is beached in the middle of the track. The risk of the Safety Car is averted by the timely intervention of the track marshal to remove the stricken Benetton. Thus, Schumacher maintains a 12-seconds lead over Coulthard and Barrichello, who are quite close to each other despite the position swap.
The race leader starts the second round of pitstop at the end of lap 51. Coulthard once again opts to extends his stint compared to Barrichello. At the start of the 52th lap, the Ferrari mechanics face a crucial test as the Brazilian comes into the pits. Coulthard has the opportunity to guarantee 2nd place. The McLaren team has a problem with the fuel rig during his pitstop. Despite a quick in-lap, Coulthard is marginally behind Barrichello by a couple of tenths. The latter re-takes 2nd place. The Scot tries to close right behind the Brazilian, without posing a serious threat.
Jarno Trulli’s compromised race ends due to an electronic system failure. The race ending is only enlivened by a brief fight between Ralf Schumacher and Hakkinen for 4th. The Finn tries to pass the Williams driver at turn 2 in vain on lap 63. Soon after, Mika needs to pit for the third time and is forced to make do with 5th place.
With seven laps to go, Michael Schumacher is cruising around the race track, drastically increasing the lap times in order to manage the F2001. At the end of 77th lap, Michael crosses the line to win the Hungarian Gran Prix ahead of Barrichello and Coulthard. The German can now celebrate his 51st career win but more importantly, his fourth title. Numbers that puts him level with Alain Prost. Ferrari completes a triumphal day by also winning the third consecutive constructor’s title. It is a Ferrari feast in the podium. Coulthard can also watch as his rival joyfully sprays the champagne.
Before the end of the celebrations, Schumacher, Barrichello and Todt sing the Queen’s song We are the champions. The now 4-time world champion goes to the post-race press conference in a happy and alien mood:
"We got pole position, we got the victory I got my fourth championship and the constructors’ title with Ferrari. It is a bit too much for me right now to take it all in. I do not have the right words for you at the moment. It is amazing. We destroyed the competition, what a memorable achievement".
With the best version of Schumacher ever?
"Maybe. I won a lot. When I debuted in Formula 1 in 1991, I only thought about what could be my achievement at Spa, when driving for Jordan. I was thinking I would be somewhere in the midfield. That was my kind of target. there was no kind of indication from me that I would become as successful as I am now. The season is not yet over. I have still got three more years with Ferrari. The aim for the end of the season is to win as many races as I can. I feel every race is a new challenge for me, there is always space to improve. I feel there is enough fire in me to keep me pushing for quite a while. I have a three years’ contact and I want to keep living days like this. A dream race with a dream team".
Thus, there is no dangerous of you slowing down:
"It is impossible with the guys alongside me. you cannot believe how wonderful the guys are, they are such a great crew, how much we stick together, in good times and particularly in bad times. The guys and everybody in the team are so fantastic, they are so human, they work so hard, they are so determined, it is lovely to work with them. I am in love with them all".
What about Barrichello?
"A great teammate. I trust him completely. Rubens is a very important part of the team. he has contributed to that quite a big time. When he goes testing, I can relax with my children, my family, because he is doing the job well. His wife is now pregnant. I will work a little bit more next year. That's the way we work, and all together we have moved up to the step we are at now. He let me through at the Austrian race. And to some degree if I can help him be sure I do, because that's the way the teamwork has to be. In the meantime, I gifted him the winner’s trophy. It is a steering wheel and he liked it".
You are now equal with Prost at 51 wins:
"We just had yesterday a chat in the motorhome and he said 'please win that race, I am so bored all the time of answering that question: when's it going to happen, what do you feel for Michael, blah, blah, blah...' and I said exactly the same so he will be a little bit more happy - so will I - but then he said you have to win another one because now we're equal".
You are now one step closer to equal Fangio, at five titles:
"I think it is not fair to compare at all. All we are doing in comparison is pretty small, if you see the safety and the cars from the old days it is something unbelievable to imagine to race this fast".
When did you understood that you would win the title?
"A couple of laps from the end of the race. I had a big gap but you cannot be sure of anything in this sport. After the warm-up, I had a bad good feeling, for what reason I am not sure".
What happened during the formation lap? You went into the gravel:
"It was a frightening moment. I preferred to go around the kerb and got into the gravel. It was not ideal obviously. The mechanics told me that there was no damage and that the car was fine".
The race was a walk in the park for you:
"Do you know how many corners there are on this circuit? It is never easy. In the last three laps, I only started to think 'well, it's supposed to be this weekend'. That is when you get even more nervous. If you make a mistake, you are then going to look very stupid. I was hearing strange sounds in the cockpit. The car was going really well but the tension can play tricks on you. This is the reason why I talked to my engineer on the radio".
What is the most important title for you: this one or last year’s one?
"You always ask about comparisons. I do not think it matters actually. I think we want to enjoy this. It is always something special to win a championship. It came quite early because Williams took points away from McLaren. We are indestructible and very strong in every type of circuit".
Who do you want to dedicate this to?
"Make only one name would be absurd. This is Ferrari’s victory. The guys made me world champion. This is my 6th season with this team and I do not want to cancel anything, not even the bad moments. I can reveal my luck charm for this race, it was the kiss that my daughter Gina Maria gave me before leaving for Hungary".
Compared to last year, Hakkinen was unable to fight for the title:
"I would have not won so early had he not had all that bad luck".
Barrichello is also very happy:
"I do not know what to say. I am really proud to be his team-mate and to be part of this team. Working with Michael and with Ferrari is fantastic".
Words that are followed by a hug with his teammate. Jean Todt has always been the most cautious member of the Ferrari team, keeping the enthusiasm low as not to let it get the upper hand. He is now also enjoying this achievement:
"A dream race with a dream team. I am very happy that Ferrari has secured its third consecutive Constructors' title and that Michael has won the Drivers' for the second consecutive year. It is fantastic to achieve this with a one-two finish and with four races still to go".
High praise for Schumacher but Todt does not forget the big role that Rubens Barrichello had through this season:
"Rubens drove a stupendous race which gave us the Constructors' title. Michael has given him the winner's trophy from this race. This year's results speak for themselves and I am delighted for the team that Ferrari has reaped the rewards for all its hard work. There are still four races to go and we will do all we can to live up to our titles in the races to come".
Ferrari’s sport director wants to emphasize this victory among others:
"This year’s success is particularly sweet as we were up against two very strong rivals. This evening the entire team will dine together in Budapest and tomorrow we will return to Maranello to celebrate these titles with all the Ferrari staff. In fact, at the moment I am thinking mainly about all these people and their work which has contributed so much to this great result".
At Maranello, the town where the Ferrari factory is situated in, carousels are decorated with Ferrari’s red flags. On this August Sunday, the Tifosi celebrate Schumacher’s driver’s title and Ferrari’s constructor one. The Tifosi watched most of the race in sacred silence in the auditorium. A round of applause started after Michael and Rubens were 1st and 2nd at turn 1. The Tifosi then shouted after David Coulthard exited the pitlane behind Barrichello during the second pit-stop phase. Everyone was on their feet on the last lap, in the wake of the slogan.
"The people who are not jumping are Scottish".
In the end, the Tifosi exploded with joy when the chequered flag declared Ferrari’s triumph. The streets of Maranello are swarmed by the usual carousel of cars and motorbikes. The priest, don Alberto Bernardoni, plays San Biago’s church bells to accompany Ferrari’s double success.
"President, we are partying here, do you want to come?"
Todt and Schumacher talk to the Ferrari president before going to the podium. Luca Montezemolo, soon after, is on a flight from Bologna and arrives at Budapest at 20:45. One hours later, he is seen talking with his men in the waiting room of the Kempinski hotel:
"In life and in sport, winning is very difficult. Repeating last year’s success was even more challenging. It is a magical year. If people told me at the beginning of the season that we would have won the drivers’ and the constructors’ championships with five races to go, I would not have believed then. At the start of the year, I thought it was impossible to do better than last year but we succeeded".
What is Ferrari’s secret?
"A lot of sacrifice, a lot of work and many exceptional people: that is the recipe for beating our greatest rivals, the biggest teams in the world. For five years, we have been constantly in front. Such dominance is unprecedented in the history of Ferrari. Our thoughts go to Enzo Ferrari: he is surely watching us from the sky. He will be proud of what this team has achieved so far, after the upheavals encountered after his death".
Is Schumacher one of the greatest drivers in Formula 1?
"Michael was extraordinary throughout this season and had a perfect weekend here. He is the best driver that Ferrari has ever had, even if the comparisons are always difficult. He is the one who won the most and is the driving force of this team. This is important for us. In the 80s, we suffered from too many lacerations and divisions inside the team. Today we are united and Schumacher is our spearhead".
Your rivals were struggling this year.
"I do not think so. McLaren were also stronger than ever, including Williams as well. Next year, the fight will be tougher as they are capable of doing big investments. Winning is in our DNA. We have celebrated already but we will continue today and tomorrow as well, because we deserve it. From Tuesday, we will immerse ourselves into the 2002 project in order to continue winning. I will finally be able to watch some races live".
You will have the stability on your part:
"I was very criticized when I hired Todt but he, together with Schumacher, became the true Ferrari men. A phenomenal group was born. These victories are not pure luck but are coming from the will of the people who work for Ferrari".
Lawyer Agnelli, via boat, followed the Hungarian race with a small group of friends. His feelings regarding Ferrari’s success are the following:
"Everything went according to plan. At 2:00 p.m., I was worried about the race. Fate is more mocking in life than in sports with its players. This evening I feel a very lucky guy. Destiny satisfied three of my passions within a couple of hours. Juventus won the Berlusconi trophy. the Stealth boat won another regatta and Schumacher/Ferrari won the two world championships with two months to go. It is the best way to end my holiday in Great Britain".
The Maranello team was perfect at Budapest without taking any risk on the track or in the pits. Ferrari crushed McLaren in the race. Did you fear that something was going to spoil the party?
"Michael and Barrichello started so aggressively and kept Coulthard behind. I said to myself: the championship is ours today. I then concentrated only on Schumacher, observing his driving and his imperceptible gestures until the end. I am now even more convinced that he is an impeccable and extraordinary driver. I was emotional. I did not think it could have happened to me".
Schumacher is also emotional whilst listening the Italian anthems. He then cries during the meeting with the journalist. How much did Italy and Ferrari change you?
"You can tell that a German becomes wiser when going to Italy. It is not true that a man should never cry. Crying is not a sign of weakness; it is not humiliating. It is sometimes nice to cry".
Agnelli compliments Todt, the mechanics and Rubens Barrichello, who are the great architects of a sensational season. Let’s talk about your rivals. Why do you think Ferrari dominated this season?
"Look, I always thought that winning two leagues on a row is insane. It is the same thing for Formula 1 but I am convinced that this Ferrari is now close to perfection. When the other teams will catch up to us, we then will need to do another step forward. Let’s prepare ourselves".
Will the other teams catch up in 2002?
"I do not know but we cannot afford to slow down. That's the beauty of building cars and not just race cars".
Consistency was the key element to win the championship rather than the car itself. The F2001 conserved many virtues of the 2000 single-seater. Luca Baldisserri explains that:
"It was improved on the weak areas. Last year, some of the hard-fought races were very useful. We learned from the mistakes that we did in high-temperature tracks such as Germany or Hungary. This year’s car behaves like the previous one and is also much faster".
Stability is the key word. This goes for the car, which had to inevitably be adapted to this year’s rules and to the necessary technological advancements: from the aerodynamics to the suspensions, from the weight distribution to the V-10 engine. Furthermore, stability is important for the organization of the team. Key members, such as Brawn, Todt, Byrne and Schumacher, have extended their contracts and will stay with the team for a long time. With an unbreakable bond, they will continue to do their work as usual. There is one famous quote from the Ferrari president Montezemolo:
"When I arrived at Ferrari, the team was in crisis. It took a long time to build a strong team, I would not want to let anyone get away".
Under Todt’s leadership, stability is secured. Schumacher, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, Paolo Martinelli, Stefano Domenicali and the new-graduate mechanics from the Ferrari school are a force to be reckoned with. With their services, Ferraris is a well-oiled machine which can teach a lot to the other rival teams. Montezemolo does not admits exemptions: the members mentioned above, including Todt will stay until the end of 2004. Barrichello has only a contract until 2002. Despite this, the Brazilian is part of the future. Next year will be his third season with the team.
The Hungarian Ferrari party is underway at the Kempinski, one of the most elegant hotels in Budapest. is not sober but is moderate unlike others. As the party goes, let’s look at the most unforgettable parties. In 1995, after Benetton won the two championships at the Aida Grand Prix, a member of the team’s personnel danced naked on the table. In 1999, Michael was seen drunk during the McLaren ceremony. In 2000, after winning the first title with Ferrari, the German shaved his track engineer during the team’s party. At the Malaysian race, after sealing the constructors’ title, he then had the brilliant idea of bringing red wig for himself and the team.
Speaking of which, he arrives at the hotel for the Ferrari party dinner together with his wife Corinna and his brother Ralf. At the moment, the atmosphere is quite shallow and muggy. The buffet is quite rich, with lots of good Italian wine. There is so much elegance but the guests have little desire to let themselves go. It is Michael’s turn to turn this party on its head as a way to express his joy for winning the championship. With the help of Marlboro, the crowned champion hires a band and becomes the life of the party. His presence is enough to brighten up the party.
Since there is no swimming pool, no-one ends up in the water unlike what happened in Hockenheim after Ralf’s victory. The serious designer Byrne is enjoying the party and is dancing the twist dance. In the meantime, Haug sings the song “We are the champions” together with Schumacher. Michael knows how to involve people, even the one who are working for other rival teams, including McLaren. Two years ago, he celebrated Hakkinen. Haug and Mario Ilien, who works for Ilmor, return the favour. Then, it is time for the cake. It is a big and delicious chocolate cake with the design of the Cavallino Rampante. It says:
"Congratulation Ferrari, 2001 World Champions".
Finding it indigestible would have been an insult to those who serve it: the waiters Schumacher, Barrichello and Badoer. The party ends in the morning at 4:30. Mario Illien is among the first to congratulate the Ferrari members:
"Ferrari triumphed because they had the best car package in terms of engine, aerodynamics and chassis. They deservedly won the two titles. We are not far off. The race demonstrated this. We will continue to work hard on all departments to catch up. Ferrari is a great team and has an excellent potential as demonstrated this year on track".
He and Mario Theissen, BMW technicians, are on the same wavelength:
"Ferrari deserves the two titles for building the best car overall. We won three races. With four to go, some tracks will definitely suit our car’s characteristics. We will fight to increase our tally and to fight against McLaren for 2nd place in the constructors’ championship. By winning, we could now say that we have beaten the world-champion team, Ferrari".
Niki Lauda, the driver who was the protagonist of a Ferrari era, applauses the Maranello guys and enhances their team spirit:
"It is a super-team and has an incredible technical potential. The resources that the leaders, of each department have is incredible. Everything there is perfect, it is a beautiful organization. In my opinion, they will also win in 2002. Ron Dennis will need to work hard to chase and overtake them. They are simply perfect. I did not win three on a row due to the Nürburgring incident. You will see, they will win multiple championships. Awesome job".
Another ex-Ferrari driver, despite working for a rival team, is happy for the Maranello team’s result. We are talking about Gerhard Berger, BMW Motorsport responsible, who drove for Ferrari for six seasons:
"I am very happy for what they did. They will win for a long time. Ferrari is clear favourite for next year. We really have a lot of homework to do. I do not see how we can match Ferrari's pace. I think that we, including our rivals, will have to do a lot of work if we are going to be able to compete. You could say that Ferrari has become dominant as were Williams and McLaren in the recent past. They fully deserve the two titles for their hard work throughout the year".
Eddie Irvine, Ferrari’s 1999 vice World Champion, has a more telegraphic style:
"They deserve this double triumph; they did an extraordinary job in improving the car throughout the season. Schumacher is also very strong as usual. I would have played second fiddle to Schumacher in the team if I stayed. I instead want to win".
Jo Ramirez, McLaren’s sport directors, admits:
"Ferrari had an incredible year. We had stupid technical failures, we were also very unluck and made lots of mistakes. The results do not correspond to the strength of our car. We are better than what the standings says even if Ferrari deserves the two titles".
Here is Cesare Fiorio’s opinion, ex-Ferrari sportive direction who almost won the championship with Prost, about this topic:
"Ferrari worked better than the others, the car is perfect. The team has the best drivers. When you win races and take lots of pole position, it means that you simply worked better than the other rivals. For years it has been said that Ferrari was not winning because they were making everything in-house. With the arrival of car manufactures, such as Mercedes, BMW, Honda, Ford, Ferrari become the model to imitate. Constructing everything at Maranello is now their strong point, since they are doing for more than 50 years".
Accepting defeat is difficult: doing it with style and a big dose of elegant spirit is even more hard as well as rare. There is no shortage of class in a manufacturer such as Mercedes-Benz. Nevertheless, the Stuttgart-based manufacturer’s way of congratulating Schumacher is quite extraordinary. All German newspaper publish A photo of the Ferrari-suited championship sitting in the passenger’s seat of the Safety-car, a silver Mercedes SLC. It is truly a masterpiece of refined humours which goes by the title:
"Driving lesson by a World Champion".
Followed by a heartfelt series of compliments:
"Heartfelt congratulations, Michael Schumacher, for your fourth title".
Further down, there is a couple of phrases in which, apart from complimenting Schumacher’s driving skills, the teams promise immediate redemption:
"Michael Schumacher is simply the fastest driver. He is the first to cross the finish line and to close the championship. We will do what we can to finish this season on a high since there are four races left. Next season, we will fight hard to try win the championship".
Norbert Haug, Mercedes-Benz’s sports director and Schumacher’s friend, accentuates this though:
"We want redemption. We, as well as Ferrari, won for two consecutive years. We will score 3-2 in 2002".
Continuing to talk about the drivers, the Stoccarda manager announces that the redemption weapon is almost ready: the 2002 Silver arrow car. Over 100 people are working around the McLaren-Mercedes car, in Great Britain and Germany simultaneously, under Adrian Newey and Mario Ilien’s guidance:
"We are quite far ahead in almost all components; we will try to test them in the remaining races of the season to check their development rate".
According to Haug, working on the car reliability will be very important since until now, it was a distinctive characteristic of the McLaren-Mercedes team:
"We cannot afford to make bad starts next year".
For the rest of the season, there is only clear goal:
"Winning all four remaining races".
Without thinking too much about the scrap with Williams-BMW for 2nd place in the constructors. Ralf Schumacher seems to not believe the Mercedes manager:
"Losing against Ferrari is one thing but losing to another German manufacturer is a completely different story".
The titles for the 2001 season have already been given well in advance yet there are four races to talk about.
Davide Scotto di Vetta
Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno