The Italian Grand Prix, on 16th September 2001 at the Monza circuit, is going to be different from the previous editions. Ferrari and Michael Schumacher will arrive in Lombardy having already won both world titles. The race will be more like a gigantic feast, with at least 150.000 spectators. Ferrari’s Tifosi want to be there. Monza not only is the Temple of Speed and Italian Motorsport but is also the most suitable place to celebrate the triumph of the Maranello team. A couple of minutes before the race start, the ritual will include two things: an air show of the Frecce Tricolore and a fanfare performance from the Carabinieri. Then, Amii Stewart will sing the Italian national anthem. During the presentation of the Grand Prix, the president of the Milano Automobile Club, Ludovico Grandi, says:
"Those expecting a low turnout of Tifosi, only because Ferrari has already won the championship, were proven wrong. We are ready to welcome the passionate fans: we improved the infrastructures while also safeguarding the surrounding environment of the park".
Last year, there was a tragic accident. The track marshal Paolo Gislimberti passed away after being hit by a tyre that had come off Frentzen’s car. After that fateful day, the attention towards the track security has intensified, in agreement with the Milan Polytechnic. Enrico Ferrari, the director of the Monza Autodromo, claims:
"We moved in time and studied some improvements: the protection nets will be heighted to six meters, in order to protect the fans. The Parabolica escape route has doubled in size and transparent cages will be installed for the protection of the track marshals".
On Friday 7th September 2001, at Magny-Cours, Kimi Raikkonen goes off track at the de L'Ecole corner at around 170km/h. The shunt happened on the same corner where Heidfeld had an off moment the previous day and where another Sauber driver, Morbidelli, was injured years before. The crash occurred because the Finn took too much speed into the corner. The car did not respond to Raikkonen’s steering wheel movements and destroys itself against the protections. The unforeseen shunt happens at 10:15 in the morning. Raikkonen exits from the cockpits by himself. The service ambulance assists him after the crash but is taken to the hospital for a medical check-up Despite this, Kimi will regularly drive for Sauber at the Italian Grand Prix. This is Raikkonen’s first big crash since arriving in Formula 1. He had other off-track moments but not as bad as this one. Once he recovers and had been cleared by the Névers hospital, Raikkonen goes back home to Espoo, a place near Helsinki, in Finland, with some pains.
The 21-years old Sauber driver is in the mists of a very intense phase of his life. In his first year in Formula 1, after just one year in Formula Renault, he has received an offer to join McLaren- Mercedes. The team is pushing to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible. Kimi is tempted by Ron Dennis’ flattery which started in the middle of the summer break. At that point, the McLaren manager hinted that there was no need to change the driver’s line-up for the 2002 season. According to him, both Hakkinen and Coulthard were to be confirmed. Then, as the weeks went by, it became clear that the team wanted a change and to hire Raikkonen as one of the main drivers. He seems to be the most promising youngster that Formula 1 has ever had. Dennis thus wants to make that he become one of his drivers for the future. Let’s remember that in his debut race, at the Australian Grand Prix, he scored one point and finished 4th in both the Austrian and Canadian races. At Silverstone, the Finn finished 5th. Those results are enough to make the people, who criticized the decision of the FIA commission to give the super license to Raikkonen despite his very limited experience, change their opinions.
In the meantime, McLaren has to deal with the doubts regarding Mika Hakkinen’s future. This is the reason why the team decides to court Raikkonen. The latter however has a three-years contract with Peter Sauber. Thus, Kimi’s discover has set a very high price of around 25.0000.000 dollars. It is a heavy price, which would be a heavy burden on McLaren budgets. The team, after the failures of the last two years, will crash even less in terms of television rights and other things. Raikkonen, is ready for the challenge because he is also pressurized by his friend Hakkinen. The Mercedes manufacturer wants a driver for the future. The three parties are trying to find an agreement.
A couple of days before the Italian Grand Prix, the Formula 1 circus and the entire world are terribly shaken by the brutal terrorist attack on Tuesday 11th September 2001 at New York and Washington. As the mechanics are building the hospitality areas at Monza, the English teams are in a rush to install the televisions. The CCN channel, via satellite, are transmitting surreal images of a devasted Manhattan. However, life has to go on. Thus, the employees of each team, with their radio completely off, are quietly continuing to install the multi-coloured paddock. Thus, the Italian Grand Prix is confirmed by the FIA. Instead, the Italian Automobile Club annuls all representative ceremonies and asks the fans to maintain a sober attitude due to the gravity of the situation and the collective participation of the American citizens. Ferrari cancels the honorary dinner for the 2001 titles, which was scheduled for Sunday evening. The Lombardy region annuls the gala dinner at the Villa Reale.
The team decide to ditch their all-red colour scheme by running the scarlet cars with black noses, as a mourning sign for the immense tragedy that devastated the United States. The sponsors logos are also stripped as a sign of respect. It is an amazing initiative that, at first, only Marlboro (owned by the American giant Philip Morris) intended to undertake. Schumacher is shocked by what happened and initially ask the FIA to not run the Italian Grand Prix. He is then convinced by Todt to participate at the race and decide to create the initiative to eliminate the sponsor logos from the Ferrari livery. Later, at Ferrari’s request, the other teams join this initiative. The mechanics are taking out all logos from the cars. The two F2001 will only have the drivers’ numbers. Ferrari, on Thursday evening, officially states:
"Ferrari has decided to express a heartfelt participation to the great sorrow of the American people. We are all focused on our business but it is a different weekend from all the others and we had to do something different. In agreement with our partners and sponsors, we will run a plain red car with a black nose for the Italian Grand Prix. The Sunday race will only be a sporting event, without commercial implications".
The decision is accepted by everyone with great happiness, in particular by Schumacher and Barrichello. The two Ferrari drivers externalize their feeling of profound sadness for the terrorist attacks in America. Michael takes part in the official FIA press conference, as costumed. He then avoids other interviews to hide in the Ferrari motorhome. Schumacher is asked if the Indianapolis Grand Prix should be cancelled. He annoyingly says:
"This is a question that Ecclestone should answer. It is pretty difficult to find the right expression for what has happened there. We need to look forward. We need to improve things as much as we can in order to prevent this from happening again".
Regarding the Italian Grand Prix, the Ferrari driver declares:
"It should have been a great party. In a moment like it, I do not know if it can still be exactly as we imagined it would be. Certainly, things are a lot more relaxed in most respects. The big weight we had on our shoulders is already off after winning this year’s titles in advance. Still, you keep on fighting as usual with hard work and determination. We want to have a good race in front of our Tifosi. We can work more calmly and with less tension".
Commitment, determination and always pushing to win from your side?
"Without doubt. Even at Spa, despite having already won the titles, I had the will to win inside me. I wanted to still feel the winning emotion. I expect to be the same now. We will try what we can in order to help Rubens get 2nd place in the championship".
Barrichello, who is sitting next to him, nods and smiles. He then says:
"Coulthard has a 9-points advantage over me but 2nd place is still up for grabs. I will race the last races of the season with this objective in mind. In my opinion, Ralf is the favourite for the Monza win. We already did what we set out to do, which was to win both titles".
He then adds:
"It will not be easy to remain focused in our jobs with this horrendous tragedy being played in every TV channel in the world. Despite this, a good race could bring a smile to the people. It will be our job to offer a good show to them. Indianapolis? If we will go, the track needs to be fully secure".
The Italian weekend will go as planned. The Monza party, to celebrate Ferrari’s success, will be dutifully modified. The great Formula 1 circus has to go on. Giancarlo Minardi confesses:
"If it were up for me, I would have not raced but life has to go on. Let’s go out on track with the awareness that the world will not be the same after the New York tragedy".
Monza will neither be the same this weekend. On Friday morning, the weekend will start with a symbolic homage to the victims of the terrorist attacks. The engines will remain silent for 10 minutes as a mourning sign, from 12:00 a.m. to 12:10 a.m. The stewards of the Italian Grand Prix, the teams and the Formula 1 personnel decide to pay respect to the victims of the tragedy with a 1-minute silence throughout the entire Monza racetrack, from 12:00 a.m. to 12:01 a.m. Thus, the timetables of the two free-practice session will also change. FP1 will run from 10:50 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. FP2 will start at 1:00 p.m. and will finish at 2:00 p.m. The other side events, that were scheduled for the Grand Prix weekend, are cancelled. The fanfare performance of the Carabinieri and the Frecce Tricolore exhibition, that were supposed to fly over the circuit with their festive air evolutions, are no more.
Let’s go back to the sportive matters. On the eve of Friday’s first free-practice, it is announced that Mika Hakkinen will take a break from Formula 1. The stress of the many flights, the many races and test, the media and sponsors days made him lose the love for racing. The Finn thought about retiring beforehand. He first started having these thoughts after gaining his first title in 1998 and was allowed by the McLaren team to limit the testing sessions and the public appearances. Soon after though, this concession was not enough for him. Last December, when Hugo was born, he made the decision to retire together with Erja. The Finn then went to the duo Dennis-Haug, at Monte Carlo, to tell his decision to stop racing.
"Formula One has been virtually my whole life since I started karting in 1974. It was not an easy decision to take. The intensity of my career has become increasingly difficult for those around me. I am always on the move. I wanted to take a break and to enjoy more time with my wife Erja and my son Hugo. A couple of days ago, I picked him up and I realized that he was already 9-months old, a period of time that I spent at the wheel of a Formula 1 car. I want to see my son grow up. I am pleased to welcome a fellow Finn to the team. I wish Kimi all the best".
Mika wears that he has nothing else on his mind, that there are no other reasons behind his temporary Formula 1 retirement:
"I asked the team for a break which would be a good way to recharge my batteries. Prost and Lauda also took a sabbatical year. It might have been easier to retire but that is not a decision I feel ready to take. Sometimes it is good to be able to recharge your batteries to come back stronger than ever".
Hakkinen rightly praises the team for giving him this opportunity:
"I admit that it is nice to know that the team understood my unusual request. If I will decide to race again, a McLaren car will always be ready for me. In my heart, the passion for racing will always be there. All I can say now is a big heartfelt thank you to everybody".
Mika thus will take a break after the season’s finale. Kimi Raikkonen will replace the Flying Finn, and will continue to represent the Finnish flag. Until now, Kimi is a true protégé of the double world champion:
"They chose well. He is very good, given his young age, and has the right mentality to fight at the top of Formula 1. I will help him understand how a big team works. Furthermore, I believe that McLaren is the ideal team for a young driver like him".
Hakkinen knows what he is saying. At 25, he was the McLaren test driver back in 1993. Coulthard will have a new teammate, after a six-years stint with Hakkinen. The Scots jokingly comments:
"Lucky him. He can stay in the beach whilst I have to drive".
He then adds:
"I am a bit sorry that he will retire. There was a strong chemistry between us and we were teammates for so long. Kimi? I do not know him very much. I will start to get to know him from January onwards (It is the time where the young Finn will test the new car)".
Raikkonen signs a five-years contract plus an additional 1-year option. The salary will go up as the years go by. From a starting salary of 1.000.000 dollars, in 2002, to the 8.000.000 of the 2007 season. The rest of the line-up remains unchanged. David Coulthard will drive alongside Kimi, as emphasized by Ron Dennis. Alex Wurz will remain as test driver. The Scot renews his contract for another two years. The British driver was convinced to stay by an additional increase in his salary. The disappointment of being overlooked, as Mika’s successor, still remains. The decision to give a seat to the 21-years old Finnish driver was well thought out. In fact, during the Monaco Grand Prix, Hakkinen told the team about the intention to retire. Ron Dennis explains:
"Mika initially approached me back in Monaco to ask me if there was a possibility to retire at the end of the year. I initially thought that it was a little unusual. I thought about it and realised that it is a less dramatic decision than retirement. Then we discussed our drivers’ contracts".
Peter Sauber talks about McLaren’s decision to hire Raikkonen for his excellent result in his Formula 1 debut year. The man who launched Kimi’s Formula 1 career, even defying the wrath of the FIA president Max Mosley, reveals:
"Negotiations started during the Hockenheim weekend. Kimi, with his manager, said to me that he received the opportunity to race for McLaren and that his goal was to be part of a winning team".
At that point, the Mercedes Benz president, Jurgen Hubbert, came forward to talk with Peter Sauber. From his part, Sauber felt obliged to warn Jean Todt about this:
"I did this because there is a true friendship and an important commercial relationship between us".
Point us the Swiss manager. Ferrari, according to Sauber, not only did not get in the way of a possible agreement but also did not made any counter-offers. Sauber concludes by saying:
"The good relations that we had in the past with Mercedes have ensured that the negotiations would end well".
This did not mean that the Anglo-German team had also the right for a discount. The Woking team has to pay 50 billion lire for Raikkonen. This cash will probably go to Maranello since Sauber still has to pay for the Ferrari engines. What about Hakkinen? Keke Rosberg assures that his client will come back, after his sabbatical year, to drive for McLaren. In a sense, he could also stay in the team and to even do some testing sessions for the Woking team. The two-time world championship intends to follow Niki Lauda and Alain Prost’s footsteps. The two Motorsport legends are true living examples of what it means to go back racing in Formula 1 after a sabbatical year. They had different reasons for their decisions to retire. The Austrian decided to quit the Brabham team during the 1979 Friday free-practice sessions at the Canadian Grand Prix. He was nauseous by the environment:
"I thought about retiring for good after making that decision. I never thought that I would come back racing after a 2-years absence".
Niki remembers. He omits to add that his Formula 1 comeback was substantially due to the financial difficulties of his flight company. Il Professore adds:
"I stopped racing for contractual reasons. I was offered a one-year contract that I did not like".
Lauda and Prost do not quite understand Hakkinen’s move to retire. The two world champions cannot hide the fact that a driver of his calibre could encounter some difficulties in his Formula 1 return. Lauda won the third race of the 1982 season for McLaren. Prost, on the other hand, won the 1993 South African race for the dominant Williams force after taking pole position ahead of arch rival Ayrton Senna.
"It was not easy to start driving again, especially from a physical point of view, during winter testing".
Reveals the French champion. Despite his Prost name, the 4-time world champion remembers without rancour that someone in the team was not sure about his comeback:
"He was partly right. I was certainly no better than when I decided to quit".
The Professor does not want to say anything regarding the McLaren choice to hire Raikkonen:
"Let’s wait and see before saying whether it was the right choice or not".
Let’s talk about the situation of his own team. During a visit at the Palazzo Recalcati’s neo-classical saloons in Adecco, Italy, one of his financial supporters presents a television advertisement of the Prost team mechanics. The champion then talks about the choice to sub the injured Luciano Burti with Tomas Enge, the first Czech driver to arrive in Formula 1:
"In testing he showed how quick, reliable and professional he is. I am sure he can do a very good job for the team. We did not have any other alternatives even if we have Stefan Sarrazin as our test driver. We tried to approach Ferrari for Badoer. Enge is our choice for Monza, then we will see".
The year was characterized by many negative episodes: financial issues, mediocre results, numerous drivers (Burti to sub for Mazzacane), disastrous divorces (Alesi) until the Spa drama with the horrendous Burti incident. However, Prost talks positively about the future:
"There are discussions with possible Arabian buyers. I hope to retain Frentzen for the 2002 season. We are 100% sure that we will have Ferrari engines".
Prost, due to the need to ensure an adequate future to his team, did not yet drive Schumacher’s F2001 car as promised by the president Montezemolo. At SPA, the German become the most successful driver in Formula 1 after overtaking Prost, with 52 wins. Prost does not make any prediction for Sunday’s race but manifest a cautious optimism after a decent result at the Belgium Grand Prix:
"There were some improvements at Spa despite what happened with Burti. It was a shame to throw away a big occasion with Frentzen (the German could have started 4th if his engine did not shut away on the grid) and we could have scored points. Regarding Monza, a lot will depend on the behaviour of the Michelin tyres".
The tragic terrorist attacks did not leave the ex-world champion indifferent:
"I think that this sport can help overcome the shock., we need to stay united against terrorism".
Minardi subs Tarso Marques with a pay driver, Alex Yoong, who will drive for the Faenza-team in the last three races of the season. Marques will stay in the team as test and reserve driver.
Friday 14th September 2001. The first free practice session is marked by a one-minute silence to remember the victims of the New York and Washington attacks. At 12:00 a.m., the drivers, mechanics, technicians, journalists and Tifosi/fans line up on the pit lane. A surreal silence falls on the track for a minute, from 12:00 a.m. to 12:01 a.m. In the next 9 minutes, the engines are not roaring to life in the pits. In the grandstands, not a single flag is waving and the Tifosi are standing up during the one-minute silence. In FP1, Schumacher was the fastest driver, with a 1'25''524, ahead of Coulthard and Barrichello. The two Williams cars instead dominate the second session.
Ralf set a blistering 1'24"667 lap time, which is 0.4 faster than Montoya’s one. Michael is 3rd fastest 1'25"131). Pedro De La Rosa, in the Jaguar, is a surprising 4th fastest, 0.538 slower than Ralf’s time. Rubens Barrichello (1'25"311) is 5th. The two McLaren-Mercedes cars have a disappointing session: Hakkinen and Coulthard are only 6th and 7th fastest, 0.676 and 0.877 slower than Ralf. Most teams adopt the same aerodynamic configuration which was used in the high-speed Hockenheim track. Jordan is the exemption, presenting a new rear wing characterized by a single pylon, the team does not bring to the track the bodywork that was introduced at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Together with Minardi, it is the only team to use a front wing with the second flap interrupted in the central part. Ferrari decides to do the racing week-end with the Carbon Industry brake discs, instead of the Brembo ones. Those disks had victorious results with the Williams team at the Imola, Montréal and Hockenheim tracks.
"With the agreement of our partners, we wanted to show our solidarity with the victims, by removing all logos from our cars. We are professionals. Our job is to look ahead. It is our little contribution to show to the world that Ferrari and its partners are concerned with this tragedy. The history of Ferrari is tied to the United States. The team owes this country much of its own success, we cannot turn a blind eye".
Word pronounced by Jean Todt, regarding the fact that the two F2001 cars, the trucks and the mechanics and drivers’ suits will be stripped of any sponsor logos. The only distinctive trait, as said before, is the black nose as a mourning sign. The team’s press releases will only have the Ferrari sign. Michael Schumacher declares at end of the second free-practice session:
"From a purely sporting point of view, this was the usual sort of Friday. I had no particular problems with the car. As usual, we worked on tyres and set-up. Our souls are still shocked by what happened but we need to move on".
Together with Ferrari’s commotion and solidarity, the Daimler Benz group gives 10.000.000 dollars to the orphans of the American victims. What could be done has been done. It seems instead impossible to postpone the race start by 15 minutes. This is a decision that Formula 1 cannot take alone. There are too many television requests to satisfy such a request. The concept of let’s move on, life goes on and the show must go on prevails. Thus, everyone continues to organize the mega expedition to Indianapolis, where the penultimate Grand Prix will take place. They are waiting to see when the skies will re-open to the intercontinental traffic and whether it will be possible to send tens of tons of material without having complications with the American customs. For example, the first flight should be on Monday from the Malpensa airport. The plane should carry Ecclestone’s 50 tons of television installations. Those should guarantee the digital transmission of every single race and circuits. Yet it is unknown whether this detachable wagon could be transported on Monday.
Friday is also characterized by Kimi Raikkonen’s crash. The young Finn, the new McLaren driver for the 2002 season, continue to be as cold as ice even after a 300 km/h scary yet incredible shunt. He seems not scared by the incident. Kimi only did four laps before his Sauber went through the gravel trap and into the barriers at the end of the start/finish straight due a rear brakes failure. The incident was at point where Yoong’s Minardi was dangerously parked up. Destiny wanted that the Swiss car grazed the Italian car before violently hitting against the barriers. Kimi exits from the cockpit with a slight smile of condescension. The mechanics, while scrambling around the car, are unable to repair it before FP2. This end Raikkonen’s day. The Finn, with a shrug of the shoulders, comments the incidents:
"The car felt very good in my brief run this morning but I am very disappointed not to be able to run again today".
This is his second crash in two weeks. The first one was at Magny Couse during the testing days. Regarding his McLaren move, Kimi telegraphically re-calls his sensations:
"It is a dream coming true. I was not even expecting this time last year to be in Formula One. Everything has happened in a very small time. My goal for next season is to win a couple of races. We will see if I can measure against the best drivers at the top; I will do my best to succeed".
Hakkinen will give him a helping hand. Kimi considers Mika as his friend. He does not care that Mika could return at the wheel of a Formula 1 car. In the meantime, Sauber is looking for the next best drivers. In the following days, the team will do a testing session at Mugello with two Brazilian drivers, Felipe Massa and Augusto Farfus junior. Massa leads the Formula 3000 Euro series whilst Farfus is one of the protagonists of the Formula Renault series.
Saturday 15th September 2001. The qualifying session for the Monza Grand Prix gifts an unprecedented front row. Juan Pablo Montoya is the pole-sitter ahead of Rubens Barrichello. Behind them are the two Schumacher brothers, Michael and Ralf. Jarno Trulli will line up in 5th place, ahead of Coulthard and Hakkinen. The latter has yet another scary incident at the Second Lesmo. His McLaren goes into the gravel and becomes uncontrollable. When it hits the track, the car crashes against the left-hand side guard-rail at full speed. The car is completely destroyed. Moments after the shunt, Hakkinen exits the cockpit unscathed. The session is suspended for 13 minutes in order to allow the safety and medical cars to check on Hakkinen. When he is on board of the Safety cars, the Tifosi give him a very composed applause.
Montoya’s final time is a 1'22"216, which is a second and a half faster than Michael Schumacher’s 2000 pole of a 1'23"770. This is the third pole-position of the season for the Colombian after è Hockenheim (a track with similar characteristics to Monza) and Spa (where he took pole with a perfect tire strategy). Montoya is the man to beat but he has to deal with Barrichello. Ferrari counts on him to take 2nd place in the drivers’ championship. For the first time this season, Rubens will start ahead of his teammate. During the press conference, the Brazilian tells:
"Michael is always capable to drive the car to the limit. It was a good day in the office and I can be happy with finish ahead of Michael with a fantastic lap. I always had good qualifying performances but the results do not show that. I had a really good car today and all the support I needed. The team did a good work to help me find the best set-up. From the engine side it was good as well. We just improved the whole way throughout this morning".
Michael, what are your sensation after qualifying, did you think you could take pole?
"I was trying to go for the pole position so the only way to get that time was to push very hard and maybe overdo it. I made a mistake on my third run and that killed the overall time".
Rubens, you did not have the best start to the qualifying session:
"My first lap was terrible. Together with my engineer, we made some changes to the car and it becomes balanced. My first run was not on new tyres and I flat-spotted them and had to take new tyres. I didn't know if it was the right solution or not. Instead it became the right one".
What about the race, Michael? it seems like the Williams dominance has been halved.
"It depends a little bit what the conditions are we are going to face but we have improved a lot in engine factor and tyre factor so this is something which makes competitive with the Williams which didn't seem to be the case if you look at Hockenheim".
Rubens, you made some progress which could prove vital for the race. Could you win the race?
"The chance to win is always there. There is still a long race ahead of us and will be quite strenuous for the engines, the brakes and on our concentration. I think Monza is very special with all the Tifosi and I am happy to be having a good time in qualifying and hopefully in the race. The thought of what is happening is always fresh in our minds, we will do our best in the race. I consider myself quite lucky because I learned a lot of things after losing Ayrton. When I put my helmet on, the only important thing is the car. This will give an advantage but it will be impossible to be fully concentrated. It is a dark weekend. When I finish racing, my thoughts are on the victims of the attacks".
Jean Todt and Ross Brawn are not in full agreement with the evaluation of the qualifying results. Todt says:
"It was a good qualifying session. We managed to get second and third places, thus starting from the first and second rows which is a favourable situation. Tomorrow's race will be very close where we can hope for a good result in front of our fans".
The technical director how a certain disappointment for not scoring pole position. In his view, it was possible to do it:
"We are a bit disappointed not to have taken pole. The overall result, with two drivers in the top three, is good all the same, especially as far as Rubens is concerned. He should do a very good race. He could be back in the fight for 2nd place in the standing, since Coulthard will start further behind. It is very hard to find the right balance on this track as you run with very little downforce. The Williams are very dangerous on this high-speed track. We will count on very good and consistent tires for this race. We have chosen the new compound that Bridgestone brought here".
The two Schumacher brothers do not speak much during the post-qualifying interviews. The reason is simple: they did not want to get out on track and they reluctantly agreed to do so. Before going to the press conference, Michael takes out the racing suit to wear jeans, T-shirt and normal shoes. It is a gesture to demonstrate that the sport ends on track. He respects the obligation to step on the platform together with Montoya and Barrichello. Having fulfilled this professional obligation, he refuses to talk in front of microphones, notebooks and cameras. During the post-qualifying press conference, someone asks his if it is better not to race. His answer is:
"I have avoided to talk about it too much all weekend and I would like to continue like this if you understand".
Is it difficult to concentrate in this situation?
"Yes, very difficult".
It is better to talk about qualifying. This is a good conversation topic for him.
"The car was good. However, I made a mistake in the first sector of what might have become my best lap".
What about pole?
"If you look at the section times, we simply did not get it together in qualifying and did not get it together in one lap. we discussed this and thought about it and took a decision to not do it longer runs. The mistake was going too fast which makes you going slow sometimes".
How do you feel about the race?
"I remain optimistic. I do not think 3rd position is going to be a disaster for the race tomorrow. We will just have to see what we can do from 3rd. It depends a little bit on the conditions that we're going to face. We have improved a lot in engine and tyre factors so this is something which makes competitive with the Williams team, which did not seem to be the case if you look at Hockenheim. The times are not as important, the race is more important. The sport has to move from the tragedy, many of our Tifosi come here to watch the race. We will do our best to give them a good race result".
Michael and Ralf think that the next race, at Indianapolis, should not go forward since it is only an unnecessary risk. Michael makes this known through leaked paddock rumours. Instead, Ralf says it in clear terms, knowing that he is going in the opposite director to his boss, Frank Williams. It seems like the no-front is quite ample beyond the appearances. Five teams seemingly do not want the USA races. Furthermore, in view of the Concorde Agreement, the teams must declare in favour of the race. They need to respect the signed contract with the organizers which also involves the television rights and the relationship with the sponsors. According to this contract, 17 races need to be done without any exemption. If so, a portion of the money, from the television rights, will not be given to the teams. In reality, the Formula 1 team are waiting for the Bush administration to block the event, after declaring the warfare state. Meanwhile, Max Mosley, in an interview to the French television, declares that no one asked him to cancel the American race. He then adds:
"No one in motor sport has suggested cancelling the event. It is our duty to carry on as normal and to make no concessions to terrorism. I think all the teams have realised that all the measures are now in place to make everything safe which were not three days ago. The American authorities will undoubtedly have taken appropriate measures to protect the public at all large gatherings".
The Ferrari president, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, arrives at Monza and carries along contrasting feelings, like the regret of not being able to celebrate the two titles, that arrived earlier than in 2000, or the worry regarding the USA Indianapolis Grand Prix. Montezemolo, at first instance, even thought about not letting the two Ferrari cars start here at Monza:
"The least we could do was to give a strong sign of proximity to the American people. The relationship between Ferrari and the United States has always been very strong. America is the place where the Cavallino Rampante became a myth. It is our most important market. I would like to thank our sponsors for their sensitivity and willingness to accept our proposal. Coming here as world champions is amazing. This occasion deserved a different atmosphere. We thought about celebrating the titles in a festive weekend. Unfortunately, we had to cancel it. Monza has been a traditional appointment for Ferrari in good and bad times. Our spirit will be to tackle this race like any other. I would like to thank our Tifosi for behaving accordingly, understanding the delicacy of this moment and for maintaining a respectful and calm approach. We will try to make them happy after the race. Barrichello will start on the front row. Schumacher, who was very shocked and moved by the terrorist attacks, lines up on the second row. Monza is a circuit where we knew that Williams had the most chances for the win. We are assured by the fact that our drivers will be fully committed to also win here. Even we do not win here, it will still be fine. The satisfaction for the championships is intact".
Does it make sense to held a competition in a in a country at war?
"I think that it will be a mistake to not go. This sport is an important element of our society. Life must go on. We are participants, not organisers. Therefore, we will go along with whatever decision is taken. It is a decision that has to be taken by the United States government, not by us. I would agree if the United States Grand Prix does not go forward. Ferrari will be there if the race is held. We will miss Hakkinen on a human and sporting level. He was a fair driver, the best after Schumacher. Kimi is a young, talented driver and is a potential world champion but you cannot judge him from one season in Formula 1. Heidfeld was often ahead of him this season. It is also not the right moment for us because we have Michael Schumacher".
The Monza Gran Premio has to deal with yet another tragedy that occurred during the Formula CART championship on the infamous Lausitzring circuit. The previous 25th April 2001, Michele Alboreto passed away on the same track after a testing incident at the wheel of an Audi R8. This time, Alex Zanardi was involved in a horrible incident. The Italian ex-Formula 1 driver was leading the race, at the wheel of the Reynard-Honda. After a mistaken pit-stop, he then was forced to come back to the pits once again and lost a couple of positions. Soon after, the tragedy materialized. With 11 laps to go (out of 154), the Castelmaggiore driver lost control of the car. The car is sent into a spin onto the grass.
After re-joining the track, Zanardi was then fully hit by the Canadian Alex Tagliani at 320 km/h. It was terrifying crash, capable of dividing Zanardi’s car in two pieces. It is immediately understood that the consequences are very serious. Immediately after the incident, the German television immediately suspends the live transmission of the race, without never showing a replay of the crash. The driver lost consciousness and is urgently transported to the Marzahan clinic, in a Berlin district. In the meantime, a trickle of fake news starts to take place. Some newspapers say that he is dead, others that he is either in a coma or artificially kept alive.
The reality is that Zanardi’s condition is extremely serious. He has a fractured pelvis and smashed legs, having lost a lot of blood and with possible infections. However, the Italian driver breathes on his own and reacts to the stimulus. Doctor Olvey does not yet emit a medical bill in the late evening. The surgery contains the vast haemorrhage of the infection yet does not avert an inevitable amputation of both legs. The atrocious cause of Zanardi’s mistake, who won the 1997 and 1998 edition of the CART championships, is probably the methanol fuel. It is an invisible substance. Its crystallization may have veiled the helmet and disorientated the Italian driver.
Consequentially, on Sunday 16th September 2001 the Monza race is permeated by an even heavier atmosphere than before. The terroristic attacks and Zanardi’s incident lead the drivers to argue among themselves. They are deciding whether or not to make a particular starting procedure that would consist of slowly arriving at the first corner without battling. Beforehand, an annulment of the race was also assessed but decided against so. In the morning, Jarno Trulli is explicit:
"I would not like it was up to me".
Michael Schumacher concurs:
"The first two chicanes of the track are dangerous and we do not feel like taking any risks today".
On the other hand, Jacques Villeneuve wants to race. Meanwhile, Bernie Ecclestone, Formula 1 patron, talks to the Sunday Time newspaper and veiledly attacks Schumacher:
"Let's get one thing straight. Michael Schumacher is not the 2001 World Champion yet, anything could happen. Maybe he could lose his points over one of the next three races. I am sure that won't be the case, but it could be".
It is a clear reference to the fact that Schumacher could lose points in the event of a measure with relative penalization. Ecclestone’s words sound like a threat to the world championship. At around 13:00, with the cars lined up on the grip, a rumour starts to spread that the drivers will start slowly. Ecclestone goes easy this time:
"The race is going to take place, but I can't control what drivers are going to do. However, there may be retaliation".
It seems like the deal between drivers is done. Instead, the team principals break the deal. Briatore forbids Fisichella and Button to sign the document and to regularly take part in the race. The Benetton manager explains:
"It was necessary to talk about this on Thursday. It seems strange to me that the drivers want to change the rules after the warm-up session".
The BAR-Honda team manager, Pollock, increases the dose:
"I ordered my drivers to race. I know that we are not alone in this".
In fact, Minardi, Arrows and Williams decide to take the start with their drivers. At this point, Ecclestone meets the Jaguar, McLaren, Williams, Ferrari and Benetton team principals. In the end, the final decision is to go forward with the race. Some drivers do not take this stance well. Jean Alesi attacks Briatore:
"Briatore’s behaviour is deplorable. We wanted to do something between us drivers on an already difficult situation. Today it was important to do something like that. Briatore had the audacity to obligate his driver to start the race by threatening to boot them out of the team. It is completely wrong because this is a dangerous circuit. Briatore should not be doing this, he is not honest".
Two teams join Ferrari in their initiative to remember the victims of the terroristic attacks at New York and Washington. Jaguar runs with a black nose as a mourning sign. Jordan instead opts for the American flag. Nick Heidfeld and Giancarlo Fisichella had cars issues with their cars before the start and will have to start from pit lane with the T-cars. There is suspense on what the drivers are going to do in the first chicane. As predicted, mayhem ensures. Button has a feline start but uses Jarno Trulli as a brake. The Jordan is forced to retire for the fifth consecutive time.
Montoya has a great start and leads the field at the first Lesmo curve, Barrichello is 2nd. Michael Schumacher regains 3rd place at the Secondo Lesmo Curve after briefly losing it from his brother Ralf. David Coulthard is 5th, ahead on an impressive Pedro De La Rosa in the Jaguar. Hakkinen, in order to avoid chaos, misses the chicane completely and is only 13th. Button’s slingshot start thwarted by the contact with Trulli. The British driver is forced to pit immediately to change the front wing. A Renault engine failure prematurely ends his race on the 4th lap.
More engines woes happen soon after. On lap 7, the Mercedes V10 engine, at the back of Coulthard’s McLaren, also signals its demise. The Scots was running in 5th place before the engine issue. In the meantime, Barrichello is getting closer to the rear of the leading Williams-BMW. On lap 8, after a short study phase, the Brazilian overtake Montoya for the lead of the race at Variante Alta. Sunday’s poleman does not does not put up any fight against the n.2 Ferrari driver. The Colombian is conscious that he is in completely different strategy to Barrichello. Taking advantage of the lighter fuel load, Barrichello immediately waltz off into the distance.
This is a disaster for Coulthard in his battle for 2nd place with Barrichello, who is now leading the race. Montoya is now in a pickle and in a Ferrari sandwich. Schumacher is looking to also overtake the Colombian to have a Ferrari 1-2 at their home Grand Prix. On lap 17, the Brazilian Ferrari driver has an impressive gap of 9.5 seconds over the duo Montoya-Barrichello. At the start of the 19th lap, the reigning world championship is the first driver, among the leaders, to come into the pits. he Maranello team will thus do a two-stops strategy with both drivers. On the following lap, it is Barrichello’s turn to pit, giving the lead back to Montoya.
Rubens’s stop is slowed down by the re-setting of the refuelling rig and last well over 16.3 seconds. It is an inconvenience that will be crucial in the fight for victory. Meanwhile, further down the order, Hakkinen’s day goes from bad to worse. The Flying Finn is forced to retire on lap 20 by a transmission failure. This Sunday is a day to forget for the McLaren team. It is a double-zero result that weighs like a boulder for them. The 2nd place in the constructors’ standings is now at risk for the Woking team.
At the start of the 28th lap, Montoya makes his only scheduled stop which lasts 11.9 seconds and briefly gives up the lead to his teammate, Ralf Schumacher. However, the Colombian re-joins the track behind and Barrichello. Let’s remember though that the Brazilian has to make another pit-stop. With 23 laps to go, Ralf makes the fastest lap of the race in 1'25"487. At the start of lap 35, the younger Schumacher makes his sole pit stop which momentarily relegates him to 4th place. On lap 40 and 41 respectively, both Michael Schumacher and Barrichello carry out the so-called splash and dash. In other words, it is a short stop to fill the tank of the F2001 cars with a little bit of fuel in order to finish the race without problems.
At this point of the race, Williams-BMW are 1-2, followed by the two Ferraris of Barrichello and Michael Schumacher. Although aware of having no chance of winning, Rubens does not give up and starts to pursue Ralf for 2nd place. With six laps to go, the Brazilian overtakes Ralf Schumacher in the first chicane. The German, whilst trying to defend, cuts across the apex of the chicane and has to concede 2nd place to the Brazilian.
There is no more time left for Barrichello to complete his comeback drive. Thus, at the end of the 65th and final lap, Juan Pablo Montoya crosses the chequered flag and savours his maiden win in Formula 1. This is the first ever win for a Colombian driver. Barrichello is 2nd, Ralf Schumacher completes the podium. Michael Schumacher will not stand on the podium for the first time this year. At Imola and Hockenheim, he retired. Pedro De La Rosa finishes a career-best 5th place ahead of Jacques Villeneuve. The 1997 world championship was the author of a strong comeback drive from 15th position.
In the drivers’ standings, Coulthard is still in 2nd place with 57 points despite the retirement. Barrichello is 3rd, with 54 points, and gaining on the Scot. Ralf Schumacher is at 48 points. Montoya, with this victory, overtakes Hakkinen for 5th. The post-race ceremony is composed, with few smiles: at the end of the national anthems and the trophies, there is not the usual champagne spraying. In the press conference, the winner of the Italian Grand Prix declares:
"I am so happy. First of all, I want to thank everyone at Williams, BMW, Michelin. They've done a fantastic job for me and I am just so pleased with the result".
Barrichello instead does not hide the disappointment for that pit-stop mistake which probably cost him the victory:
"I am not really sure what happened. We lost a lot of time but as I said before, we put on a great show".
He then goes on to say:
"I would like to say something about what happened outside of racing. This weekend has been very dark, not only for what happened in the US but also for what happened to Zanardi. Yesterday I could not stop thinking about him to be honest. I am here because I love my job but it is difficult to find unanimity. It is a Formula 1 problem. For a moment, we had an agreement to brake 200 meters before the first two corners because it was only fair. It is bad when you have an agreement and just one guy (Villeneuve) does not want to do it but that's pretty much life. At the end of the day, there were drivers who were told by their team managers to not sign the agreement and everything changed. Others said that they were here to race and did not care if they crashed. Yet we did not ask to go slowly for 53 laps. I am also to race because it is my life and not because I am being paid for it. Only the two chicanes had to be taken with cautions. You arrive at almost 300km/h at the first chances. It would be enough for the start to be moved forward by 100 meters".
The most widespread objection is that it was a decision that should have been taken beforehand. It would have maybe been enough to say that there was no desire to race if it was the case.
"No, it was the right moment. If we talked about it beforehand, there could have been a prolonged and useless commotion. It is an easy think for a driver to say ‘I do not want to race’. If I would not have raced here, I might as well not go to the next race. In the end, you do not race anymore if you have this mindset. In the end, driving is my passion".
Are there any regrets for that time lost in the pits?
"I wanted to fight for the win. I gave my best even in this race. I think it was one of my best races. During the pit-stop, I realized that the refuelling was the issue that cost us time. The car was very good, Bridgestone did a fantastic job with the tyres. We were very competitive with the engine as well so it was great. Unfortunately, we lost that little bit and it wasn't enough to win the race. I love to go to America; we just have to see if it is safe or not. I love to go there the race is great and the atmosphere is great. I will now go home and I will pray for Alex".
In the previous days, Ferrari seriously considered the scenario of stopping Michael Schumacher. According to some rumours, it could be possible that Michael could the next two races, at Indy and Suzuka. That is his choice. Jean Todt recalls:
"Michael was very dejected when he came here, I asked if he wanted to race or not. He wanted to be at Monza. We will then respect his opinion in the future. he is guiding the team and he is the one who has to say whether he feels like racing".
Those are clear words with comprehensible and legitimate intentions. The German will not do the two testing days at the Mugello track for sure. Luca Badoer will replace him. Regarding what will happen next, we will wait and see the decisions of USA government, the FIA and the Indianapolis organizers. Despite not speaking about it, Michael hints that he would rather avoid a race in the United States, as a sign of respect for the pain of the American people. He wants Formula 1 to annul the penultimate race of the 2001 championship. Bernie Ecclestone already spoke about this and threatened the German with serious penalties.
On parc ferme, Michael does not even look towards the grandstands to say hello. He instead escapes to the motorhome to eat something with his manager. He will later on talk with Luca Baldisserri and Jean Todt. After the end of the technical meeting, Michael leaves immediately the paddock to go to Switzerland. His statement for the Ferrari press release, is laconic and brief:
"Luckily, everything went well and nothing happened. I am glad this weekend is over. It was a pity that Rubens was not able to win this race. Overall, the most important thing is that nothing bad happened this afternoon".
At the end of the race, Jean Todt talks about Schumacher’s commendable efforts to propose the idea of driving the first chicane at low speed:
"Most of the drivers rightly decided to do a symbolic gesture for the start of this Grand Prix. The team 100% agreed with this initiative. I respect the opinion of a driver, since he is the one who is driving. I do not have no respects for the managers who speak on behalf of the drivers and have not driven a car. This difficult weekend is now over, considering the tension and sadness atmosphere that surrounded Monza. We would have liked to have celebrated our two world titles in front of all our fans, but world events meant this would have been inappropriate. Instead for us, this race was just another round out of the seventeen. Life goes on but it was difficult for the entire team to race, also considering Alessandro Zanardi’s incident. On behalf of all the team, I send our best wishes to Alessandro Zanardi. The thoughts of all of us are with him today. Rubens drove a really great race and he could have won. Unfortunately, a problem with the re-setting of the refuelling rig, at the moment of his first pit stop, cost him around seven seconds which was probably enough to deprive him of the victory. Michael drove a good race in a professional manner, even if his heart was not in it at this track".
Between the various polemics and many uncertainties, la Formula 1 nears the penultimate race of the 2001 World Championship, the United Grand Prix States at the Indianapolis circuit.
Davide Scotto di Vetta
Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno