After the sad Italian Grand Prix, at Monza, due to terroristic attacks in the United States and Alex Zanardi’s horrific incident, Michael Schumacher adamantly denies the possibility of skipping the penultimate race weekend at the Indianapolis circuit:
"I have heard rumours saying that my season was over, but I have never thought about it. I have never thought about not competing in the final two events of the season, in Indianapolis and Suzuka".
The allegations, about his will to skip the last two races and to stay home, started to proliferate. He thus felt the need of nipping them in the bud, by declaring that two sentences on the Monday post-race. Stopping beforehand is not in his plans. Michael thus will go to the United States. Willi Weber and the Ferrari team also confirm this. This does not detract from the fact that the reigning world champing is going through a particularly difficult period. The people, who saw him up close during the Monza weekend, noticed a shaken man, particularly affected by the Manhattan tragedy. His entourage, which normally armours him to the point of even hiding his own feeling sometimes, admits that Schumacher has been obsessed with the image of the airplane that struck the towers for a week. He cannot take that image out of his mind.
"It is he who drives and he who needs to say if he feels like doing it".
Says Jean Todt, making it clear that the team chiefs (taking a swipe at Briatore especially) should never pressurize the ones who are risking their lives, the drivers:
"I have no respect for those who have never driven a Formula One car".
Briatore irately replicates that Schumacher has the power to take decision because he is the one true leader at Ferrari. Mosley was then told that Michael could sit out the last two races. Before the German denies this, he was also attacked by the FIA president della:
"If Michael does not want to go to the US, that is between him and his team. You cannot make him drive if he does not want to. What is being said about possible dangers at Indianapolis are crazy. President Bush has told America to go back to work and that is what we should do. People over there are taking all the security precautions which makes us happy to go to the USA. Schumacher needs to remembers that all drivers go but Formula 1 remains. It survived Senna’s retirement and can also do even without Schumacher, if necessary".
Bild, in reporting Bernie Ecclestone’s alleged intentions to take points and the title away from Schumacher in case the Ferrari driver decide to skip the Indianapolis race, comments:
"Ecclestone wants to take the championship away from Schumacher. Our Formula 1 hero is thinking about skipping the USA race. The Formula 1 boss threatens to cancel his championship points. Does he want to obligate Michael to race in USA? Is Ecclestone crazy?"
In the meantime, the air traffic in USA re-starts regularly. Consequentially, the risk of the event cancellation seems to be a remote possibility only. The director of the Malpensa airport, Francesco Federico, also confirms the go-ahead:
"Everything is back to normal. The American authorities communicated that we are only required to observe meticulously the normal security procedures for the boxes of equipment".
Ralf Schumacher talks about the possibility of racing in the USA once again. During the course of a speech at the BMW stand in the Frankfurt Saloon, the German freely expresses his opinions in an unabashed way:
"My personal opinion does not count. Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley decided that we should also go to Indianapolis. Thus, we will race. My only hope is that the race goes smoothly, without complications".
Regarding the controversy for the start of the Monza race, Ralf reiterates:
"All drivers wanted to start according to Michael’s proposal of a symbolic gesture. Everyone except for Villeneuve; then some team managers intervened and that was it. The start was normal, except for Trulli. That is the way it is".
Speaking about the race, the German Williams driver confirms that he did not get out on track with the right state of mind, after the terroristic attacks in America. He was also deeply affected by what happened to his friend Zanardi on Saturday. In the face of such dramatic facts, he seems to consider the Williams race result as a secondary thing:
"It is a great achievement to have our cars finish 1st and 3rd but we were not in the right mood to celebrate it. I feel especially sorry for Montoya, who deserved the victory but was unable to fully enjoy and celebrate it".
The Kerpen driver admits that his team has realistic chanced to take 2nd place in the constructors’ standings and has every intention of exploiting them. Instead, he is not interested about finishing 2nd place behind his brother Michael:
"I do know, let’s see how the situation will evolve".
To close the discussion concerning the Italian race, the Ferrari president, Luca di Montezemolo, thanks the sponsors and the technical partners of removing their logos from Schumacher and Barrichello’s cars on Sunday:
"I would like to thank our sponsors for their sensitivity and willingness to accept our proposal. We wanted to give a strong sign of solidarity to the American people during the Italian Grand Prix".
Arriving at America, the drivers are on the same wavelength regarding terrorism. Villeneuve, Irvine and Trulli declare:
"Let’s go to America to defeat terrorism. Let’s not give up of terrorism".
In a quick survey between driver, most of the drivers think that the Indianapolis race can go ahead. Jacques Villeneuve, the only North-American driver of the 2001 grid, emphasizes:
"I too, if I were to go immediately to the USA, would have some concerns in terms of security. I count on the fact that the situation will go back to normal in time for the Indianapolis Grand Prix. I hope everyone should continue working, otherwise the world ends".
Eddie Irvine, due to his North-Irish origins, unfortunately knows what it means to constantly deal with fanaticism and religiously-motivated terrorism:
"If we surrendered, we would be playing into the hands of those people. Instead we should go to America and race there in order to give a sign that life goes on".
Jarno Trulli also emphasizes this point:
"I cannot hide that there are obviously all the conditions to be scared. We, as drivers, cannot decide whether or not the race should go forward. Though in my opinion, I believe that racing could be the best way to respond to these surreal attacks. I twill the sign that we want to move on".
Giancarlo Fisichella emphasized the point of not be overwhelmed by events:
"I am not scared, if we gave too much weight to these facts, we would never get out of our houses".
David Coulthard promises that he will be racing at Indianapolis, if Formula 1 will go to America. He also says that:
"I would fly with more worry than usual".
Same goes for teammate Hakkinen:
"I would be literally be petrified in front of this opportunity".
In the end, Niki Lauda, in the columns of the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, explain his position:
"Ecclestone encouraged the drivers to go to the USA. I, being a rational guy, could not agree more. Firstly, the risks are minimal. Secondly, the organizers insisted that the race would still go ahead. Thirdly, the FIA refused to cancel the race. Thus, all drivers will race at Indianapolis, including Michael Schumacher. There are contracts to be respected and I think that he has no right to skip the races. We have to choose between emotion and reality. If you go against the latter, you go against the system".
Taking about sportive matters, Formula 1 come to the United States with the drivers’ and constructors’ championships up for grabs last year. This year though, the titles are already won by Ferrari but the themes of this race are still as important. The winner of the Italian Grand Prix, Juan Pablo Montoya, who took his maiden win in Formula 1, aims to score a historic double win at the Indy track. In 2000, the Colombian triumphed in the 500 Miglia race. The second theme is that Alesi will start his 200th Grand Prix of his career on Sunday. Nobody, between the drivers on this grid, can boast to have this many race starts. In the history of this sport, only Patrese (276), Berger (210), De Cesaris (208) and Piquet (204) have started more races than Alesi. It is nice that he will achieve such a similar achievement in the North-American continent where he scored his first podium in Formula 1 (finishing 2nd at Phoenix in '90 with Tyrrell-Ford) and his only win (at the ‘95 Canadian Grand Prix for Ferrari). It will also be a particular weekend for Rubens Barrichello, who is fighting for 2nd place in the drivers’ standings. The Brazilian arrives at Indy as a new father. Little Eduardo was born on Monday 24th September 2001, in a San Paolo clinic.
Friday 28th September 2001. The USA weekend officially starts with the first two practice session. In FP1, Michael Schumacher is the quickest driver, in 1'14"085 ahead of Barrichello and Coulthard. Instead, judging from the FP2 results, Mika Hakkinen does not look like a driver who is so tired that he has to retire at the end of the year, as announced at Monza. In second free practice (the Flying Finn lowers Schumacher’s 2000 pole position time by 7 tenths of a second. Michael is 2nd fastest, ahead of Barrichello and Coulthard. It is a disappointing day for the two Williams drivers, Ralf Schumacher and Montoya, who finished 9th and 10th respectively. Let’s not forget that the Grove team tends to hide their potential on Friday, more than others.
Giancarlo Fisichella is unlucky. In the morning FP1 session, he finishes a brilliant 4th behind Schumacher, Coulthard and Barrichello. Eight minutes into the FP2 session, he spins into the gravel trap and is unable to continue the session. There is some concern regarding the choice of tyres. The Bridgestone soft compound degrades really quickly whilst the hard tyres do not have any lap performance. In the end, Schumacher and Barrichello complete 43 and 44 respectively, trying the two compounds that the Japanese supplier brought to the United States. The general view is to race with the same tyres that were used in France and then in Hungary. Regarding the technical aspect of the car, both F2001 have a medium-high downforce configuration with the rear wing that has by one principal pylon and two wings. A medium-size flap is mounted on the front wing. Jaguar, Jordan and Benetton Ferrari, together with Ferrari, have a flashy American flag on their respective bodyworks.
On the day of Hakkinen’s 33rd birthday, Coulthard waits until the end of the session to celebrate with a chocolate cake. Bernie Ecclestone, Formula 1 boss, is also attending the Indianapolis race. He looks around to observe the grandstands that are not as full as last year. He extends his arms when asked if he is afraid:
"No, I am not afraid and I do not understand the people who fear terrorism here. The risks are everywhere, always. We cannot get out of our houses for ten years; it would be unreasonable. Furthermore, it seems that there are so many controls and more eyes than elsewhere in order to guarantee maximum security. This is why I come here".
It was expected. It is like a strength test to Ecclestone. He does attend the race weekend whilst Max Mosley, the FIA president, does not. This is not appreciated by the Formula 1 circus. After a long silence and various torments, Michael Schumacher would like to explain and explain himself, pointing the finger in quite harsh fashion, regarding some recent situations. He also wants to immediately emphasize that he never thought about skipping the race at Indianapolis:
"I never had any doubts about racing in Indianapolis. Naturally, like everyone, I wanted to see if anything would happen after the attacks in the USA, but, as I said, in principle, I always wanted to race there. My hesitation was normal, anyone could be devastated in a situation like this. I then understood that it was going back to normal and that the people wanted to watch the race, to move on. It is right thing to be here. I admit that I had to go through a period of profound crisis. After Monza, it took me a week to get back to normal. On Tuesday, I felt a bit better. Aside from that, I am happy to be racing here in the USA and I hope that this weekend's Grand Prix will entertain the crowd and bring some happiness and relief after the terrible events of a fortnight ago".
Maybe it was better to not race at Monza?
"It was a terrible weekend for a number of reasons, without forgetting what happened to Alex Zanardi. I had the feeling that it was a cursed day and not the right weekend to race. We went through another very difficult moment at the 1994 Imola weekend, when Senna and Ratzenberger passed away. Back then, I was a bit younger and did not have a clear vision of the situation. Now it is different. I feel those kinds of things even more".
President Mosley says that Formula 1 went on without Senna and will go even without you.
"I know that Formula 1 existed before me and will continue to do without me, there was no need to remind me".
Have you ever thought about quitting?
"In fact, I could say neither yes, nor no. In critical moment, many things go through your mind. It is an extremely difficult week for me".
Did Ferrari give you the choice to decide whether to race or not?
"It is quite true that Ferrari even in Monza was very open and said that if I feel it is not the right time to race, they would leave me the decision on what to do. And I thought that was very fair from the team to both drivers, honestly. Nobody knew what was going to happen from Monza on. I felt kind of obliged to race in Monza for all the Italians to see. If things would have become difficult or war would have started, then probably none of us would have liked to see a race down here. If I decided to skip the race, Luca Badoer would have theoretically raced in my place".
Even if you still found yourself in the fight for the championship?
"In those difficult moments, I think it would have made any difference. Some things strike you or not: for me, it was quite tough".
Did he manage to let the Monza disappointments and frictions go?
"No. What is obviously not so good is that you use the weakness of some drivers to simply tell them what to do and you know they can't do anything against that. Sentences like ‘I pay you and you should race’ are a complete lack of respect. The drivers are there to drive, they know how to do this job".
What kind of atmosphere are you feeling here at Indianapolis?
"There is also a certain expectation. Last year, 300 thousand people created a beautiful atmosphere for us drivers. Aside from that, I am happy to be racing here in the USA and I hope that this weekend's Grand Prix will entertain the crowd and bring some happiness and relief after the terrible events of a fortnight ago. Basically, the problem you face here is that it is not the most challenging circuit. That is the way it ended up, being a compromise in terms of challenge to us. Villeneuve says that it is a Mickey Mouse track? He is not that tall either. He also says that Prost and Senna were stronger than me because they raced with the same car? Jacques and I are not the best of friends...".
Talking about Monza, Bernie Ecclestone vehemently wants to again talk about Schumacher’s attempt to make a non-attack pack in the first corners:
"I am happy that the agreement was over because it was illogical. I do not discuss the reasons behind it but the timing was all wrong. Schumacher should have thought about this on Thursday and not two hours before the start of the race. He then talked about security, telling that the first chicane could have been a risk, having all cars piled up. Yet, he was the one who wanted that chicane on the first place. He designed it himself and this should be known. Thus, I agree with team managers like Briatore, who asked their driver to race normally".
Speaking of Fridays, Michael comments the free-practice results. He particularly focuses on his eternal rival:
"I am happy for Mika. He is always a great champion; I like to race with the best drivers. It will be difficult, in my opinion, to take a sabbatical year and then come back at the wheel of a Formula 1 car. I will miss him very much. Everyone will miss someone like him. It was a pretty normal Friday today. We just did our usual work of adapting the car to the circuit. There were no particular problems".
Barrichello is also particularly satisfied:
"It was the first day after becoming a father to my son Eduardo. The track was dirty and it was quite windy. I am happy to be here in Indianapolis. I like it here and would have been disappointed if the race had been cancelled. We did a lot of laps today and that has given us a lot of data, which will help us for the tyre choice. From what I can see, the car seems to work pretty well. Tomorrow's qualifying will be all about being on the track at the right time".
Ferrari does not only run at Indy. At Fiorano, Luca Badoer tries some new mechanical and electronic solutions, which are also tested in the United States. Those are parts of the 2002 car development. The new car is already at an advanced stage. It is on-track check of the test-bench data in order to gain time and guarantee an increase of the performances. The best time set by Badoer, as part of the 50 km given by the FIA, is a 1'00"94, in high-fuel racing conditions. In total, the Treviso drivers does 16 laps.
Saturday 29th September 2001. It is time for qualifying. During the first half of qualifying, it seems like the battle for pole is between Ralf Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen. However, with 15 minutes to go, Schumacher does a blistering 1'11"708 lap time on his third attempt. With that lap, Michael Schumacher is confident that it will be enough to take pole position. Thus, in the few remaining minutes of the session, he sits in the garage. Speaking with Modesto Menabue, he does not forget to take a look at the monitors to see if someone else improve his time in extremis. In the end, Mika gets within two tenths of Michael’s time but is not enough. Thus, the Ferrari driver will start ahead of everyone for the 42nd time.
Furthermore, scoring 10 pole positions in 2002, Michael equals Senna and Villeneuve in the classification of most pole-positions in one season. Unfortunately, he will not unable to catch Nigel Mansell. In 1992, the English driver took 14 poles. Mika will line up in 2nd place ahead of the two Williams drivers. Michael shakes hands with the Ferrari mechanics and goes toward the grandstand to wave to the crowd. So many Ferrari flags are waving everywhere, there is a celebrating atmosphere. Michael is very pleased to note this and thanking the American fans with raised arms. By doing so, he arrives to the press conference late. His first words are the following:
"I am very happy. The car has been going pretty well all weekend and we have continually improved. Things are looking positive. As far as qualifying is concerned, I could not have gone any better than this. You know when you have reached the maximum. I was worried in case it might be a little new and tight and not as good but it worked out better in the end".
Will Hakkinen be dangerous also in the race? What about Ralf?
"We will see. Without doubt, Williams-BMW are clearly improving. Engaging a fight with my brother Ralf is always exciting but I do not if it will be the case. My Ferrari is consistent enough to the point of thinking about having a very good race".
Do you think you can win the race?
"I always hope to win, I always race for the victory even when I have it in my grasp. My motivations come from my constant search for the winning pleasure. Having wrapped up the championships early makes you free for the individual event. You simply enjoy that and try to fight, try to do the best and try to win. I hope do the same as last year and win the race. We have lots of supporters in the US. Obviously with all that happened, we would like to put a smile back on people’s faces and put on a good show - and do that by winning the race".
After you first attempt, we saw a bit of smoke coming from the car. Were you worried?
"Cannot resist from smoking, that is my main problem. No, it was simply the last lap. When I made that mistake, I simply locked the front wheel. The only worry I had before the qualifying session was that we had to change the engine after this morning’s practice session. It was not the same specification as the first one. I cannot complain about the new engine that I had it. It felt very good and powerful. I think the run to the first corner, after the start, will be exciting tomorrow".
Is there any chance to overtake on this track?
"You have a very good opportunity for overtaking manoeuvres down here, certainly. It's a very long straight, which happens to give this opportunity. We do have other circuits where we have, as well, opportunities. I hope to have a good start in order to not make any overtake. However even if you are not up front, you still can hope that you might overtake in order to win the race. Jokes aside, Mika and Ralf will give me a good fight, given that Montoya and Rubens will start further back. My teammate is fighting Coulthard for 2nd place in the drivers’ championship. I am sure that he will have the chance to do a good race".
Jean Todt and Ross Brawn are also satisfied by this result:
"It is very good to see Michael on form again. Monza was just a glitch! A tenth pole position this season represents a personal best for Michael Schumacher, while Ferrari has now equalled the result it obtained in 1974 and 2000. Rubens has a good grid position from which he can try and improve his standing in the Drivers’ classification".
Hakkinen is unable to start ahead of everyone, as it was the case on Friday. Indianapolis, where he had to give up the hopes of winning a third consecutive title, is the place where people are seeing a a revitalized Flying Finn. The double world championship is once again Schumacher’s most dangerous rival. Also, the two have something in common now: the possibility of running without any added pressure. The Ferrari driver has already won the fourth championship title whilst the Finn has nothing more to demonstrate before retiring. The McLaren driver explains:
"I feel good. I can just focus now for the rest of the two races and try to do the maximum for myself and for the team and enjoy and take everything out of these two Grand Prix that I can. From Thursday, I told myself that the goal is to simply win the last two races".
It will not be an easy operation since you will start behind Michael:
"I am not disappointed to be beaten by Schumi. I am really pleased to have been able to fight for pole position. It was so close and I enjoyed it. The pieces from Fisichella’s Benetton did not influence me during the last flying lap. I aborted the second run because I was not quick enough and it was not smart to continue. Points are scored on Sunday, not after qualifying. I am really looking forward to the race, which I think will be exciting. I want to put on a great show for all the fans. It will be the best way to say goodbye".
Ralf Schumacher, 3rd fastest, has a happy yet astonishing expression:
"On my last lap, I was braking too late into turn four so that is the reason I did not improve my time. We should be satisfied with our positions as this is where we expected to be. We have struggled all weekend to find the right balance and I still believe it is going to be difficult tomorrow".
Is it the tyres’ faults? A bit. On Friday, the German asked to held an extraordinary meeting with to Michelin in order to discuss the issues encountered during FP1 and some of the imprecise regulations:
"We were unable to find the right compromise between the high and low speed sections of the track. The tyres were not favoured by the low temperatures. Let’s hope that they will be higher tomorrow".
Ralf and Juan Pablo Montoya are line astern for the start of the race. The Colombian wanted to give to his fans, who made a great deal of noise throughout qualifying in front of his garage, a better result than 4th place:
"It was a really difficult day as we could not really get our hands on the handling of the car. I think it was a pretty average qualifying for me. I had traffic in my third run, which was my quickest, and on my last I made a mistake. I am sorry because in my heart I thought I could do better".
Rubens Barrichello is 5th fastest alongside a surprising Nick Heidfeld in the Sauber. David Coulthard will line up in a disappointing 7th place. Jenson Button is 10th fastest, which is his best qualifying result. This also confirms the steps that Benetton-Renault has made through the last couple of races. Fisichella is 12th, two tenths slower than his teammate. Looking at the race, Ferrari is the only team to opt for the Bridgestone hard compound tyres. Prost will also use the hardest compound provided by Michelin. The other teams choose the softest compound. Emerson Fittipaldi, who won a couple of 500 Miglia races and is still a myth in the United States, tries to console Rubens Barrichello. The Ferrari driver though demonstrates that that he does not feel dejected for the 5th place result:
"On the second run I tried the tactic of slipstreaming but unfortunately it did not work. Finally, on my last two runs, the track conditions meant I could not improve my time. The car was balanced this afternoon, the engine was going well, I only needed a tow. Nevertheless, I have a good grid position. As long as I immediately gain some places at the start, it will be fine Overtaking is possible here, so I reckon I can have a good race".
The Brazilian Ferrari driver finished 10 times on the podium, out of 15 races, with five 2nd places and five 3rd finishes. This is how Barrichello, week after week, is building up the possibility of becoming vice world champion. It would be a prestigious goal for him and Ferrari, which would put a further seal to his season. The Brazilian drivers has had difficult moments but has gradually adapted to his second-driver role, with some important race finishes. Jean Todt, at Monza, after publicly praising him, said:
"I hope to find a Rubens like this also in America. from week to week, I sometimes find him a bit different".
However, Rubens is ready to take 2nd place. This is what he says:
"I think that I can go even faster. I am happier now that I have become a dad. I always thought that the happier a driver is, the better he does things. I know that Enzo Ferrari and Emerson Fittipaldi said that a driver loses one second when every child is born. I do not believe it and I want to prove My passion for racing is intact. When I get in the car, I only think about this".
At Monza, you explained that that excellent performance was due to a major support by the team. Will this support be even more important here?
"Since Michael and Ferrari won the championships, I have two races at my disposal to win a Grand Prix, with the full support of the team. We are a great group. It would be great, for Ferrari, to finish 1st and 2nd in the Drivers’ Championship".
Do you feel you can win?
"Let’s say that I now like to wake up in the morning with the feeling that I can win. Between Indianapolis and Japan, I seriously hope to win. The 2nd place objective is very interesting but it is even more important to fight for the win".
The win would be a nice gift to give to Eduardo:
"Eduardo and my wife Silvana deserve this win. It would be fantastic to have my son here when I win a race. It would be nice to win here at America in a moment like this. We are happy to race here and we would like to give a good show to this crowd. I am hopeful. Every race we go to, Ferrari is the favourite. This track is a combination of mechanics and aerodynamics and we have a bit of everything. I reckon I can have a good race from the third row of the grid".
Trulli is 8th, followed by teammate Alesi and Jenson Button. His Benetton will start ahead of Fisichella, 12th. Fernando Alonso posts the 17th best time despite an underpowered Minardi. The two BAR cars of Panis and Villeneuve had a very difficult session and will start 13th and 17th respectively. On Sunday morning, the brief warm-up session is characterized by Hakkinen’s mistake that costs the missed start from the front row. The Finn does not notice that the pit lane is closed, after Montoya’s Williams spread oil on track, and still goes out on track. He is thus penalized by the race stewards, cancelling his best qualifying time. By doing so, Mika is re-classified from 2nd to 4th. Consequentially, a couple of hours later, the starting grid will see the two Schumacher brothers for the fifth time this season. Murray, for the last time, says the usual iconic commentary line.
At lights out, Michael maintain his slender advantage. Ralf instead has a difficult getaway and is overtaken by Montoya at the start. The Colombian also tries to surprise the current world champion with a hopeful move around the outside of the first corner. Schumacher is able to defend his lead. Barrichello shows how it should be done and takes 3rd place from Ralf. At the back of the field, Tomáš Enge seems to have stalled off the line. On the replay, the rookie only had a delayed start due to a problem with the starting procedure. Having some difficulties in adapting to a Formula 1 car, the Czech driver had to resort to the manual procedure.
Hakkinen and Coulthard queue up behind the quarters formed by Ferrari and Williams. The leading cars approach 220 miles per hours on the start/finish straight to start the 2nd lap. Meanwhile, Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld are battling with Kimi Raikkonen for 7th place. The trio make use of the full width of the track and are three-abreast going to the turn 1 breaking zone. Kimi is sandwiched between the other Sauber and the Jordan. Unfortunately, three into one won’t go. Thus, the Finn loses the front wings and damages the driveshaft. This contact ends the new McLaren driver’s race.
On the following lap, Schumacher emerges from the haze and is breaking away from the squabbling duo of Montoya and Barrichello. The latter is on a light fuel (he is on a two-stops strategy) and with the use of the slipstream, easily overtake Montoya for 2nd place. Soon after, on lap 5, Schumacher lets Barrichello pass, in order to help him in the fight for 2nd place in the drivers’ championship. 10 points would put it out of Coulthard’s reach as things stand. At the present moment, the Scot is only 6th.
Rubens scampers off the distance. When it is time to make the first pitstop, on lap 28, Barrichello has a 12-seconds margin over Michal Schumacher. The stop lasts 8.6 secondi and Barrichello comes back on track in 5th place. Schumacher is now leading but is being pursued by Montoya. The latter uses his US racing knowledge to get good moment of the banked curves and tucks into the slipstream of the Ferrari in the start/finish straight. At the start of the 34th lap, Schumacher is wary of a move down the outside. Leaving the inside line exposed, Montoya is not slow on the intake and takes the lead of the race. A great move that sends the audience into an uproar in the grandstands.
At the end of the 36th lap, Montoya comes to the pits for his sole stop of the day. It is 13.2 seconds long and the Colombian re-joins in 5th place. In the meantime, Ralf Schumacher is having a lacklustre race and it does not get any better. Approaching turn 6, he spins off the track and into gravel. His Williams-BMW car is beached and is thus forced to retire. Fernando Alonso is also out of the race due to a broken driveshaft. On the 39th lap, more bad news for Minardi and Williams. Yoong retires due to a gearbox issue whilst a second consecutive victory for Montoya is put on hold by a hydraulic pump failure. The marshals are waving double yellows for the stricken Williams. Whilst this is going on, Schumacher pits from the lead. Hakkinen is now leading the race.
The two McLaren cars have not yet stopped. Both were carrying way more fuel than the likes of Ferrari and Williams at the start This explains the reasons why they were struggling in the first half of the race. In the midfield, the duel between Jacques Villeneuve and Pedro de la Rosa, for 10th place, ends with a bang. The Jaguar driver clips the right sidepod of the Bar which sends Villeneuve into a spin. Hakkinen comes in to the pits on lap 45, out of 73. The Flying Finn, thanks to a fabulous race pace and a 9.6 pit-stop, exits the pitlane in 2nd place, behind Barrichello but crucially ahead of Schumacher and Coulthard (who stopped at the end of the 43rd lap). However, Rubens is yet to make his second pit-stop. When he does so, on lap 50, the leader is once the McLaren driver for now. Further behind, Eddie Irvine has the better of Heidfeld for 6th place.
Barrichello is trying to catch Hakkinen. On the 68th lap, the gap is now three seconds. The gap between Coulthard and Schumacher is under two seconds. With five laps to go, an exciting fight seems to be looming for the victory. All of a sudden, Rubens is starting to slow down. A trail of smoke flows intermittently from the rear of the F2001. The gap is increasing and, by the next lap, it over 10 seconds. The white smoke is becoming even more intense. Barrichello seems able to continue even if he slumps to 4th. With two laps to go until the chequered flag, the Ferrari V-10 engine gives up. The Brazilian parks the Ferrari car in a safe area of the track.
With Barrichello out of the picture, Mika Hakkinen can celebrate. The chequered flag declares the Flying Finn as the winner of the United States Grand Prix. Mika unexpectly wins, especially considering the penalty, which represents his 20th and last win in Formula 1. Michael Schumacher is 2nd. After crossing the line, Michael stand alongside the McLaren to congratulates his old rival. David Coulthard, helped by Williams and Barrichello’s misfortunes, finishes on the last step of the podium and consolidates 2nd place in the Drivers’ Championship.
Trulli, Irvine and Heidfeld complete the top 6. Afterwards, the Abruzzo driver is disqualified due to the excessive wear of the floor on his Jordan. The Irish team will present an appear to the FIA Federation and will win it. The decision to disqualify Jarno had been taken in the absence of the three sporting stewards. It is a circumstance that violated article 134 of the sportive regulations, which stipulates that all three stewards have to make a decision. Trulli n order to be given back the 4th place finish, will need to wait about a month. On his penultimate race in his career, an emotional Hakkinen declares to the press:
"What a weekend. I am delighted, this is the highlight of my year. This Grand Prix is definitely one of my most important victories. Winning the British Grand Prix and Monaco Grand Prix is something I have always wanted to do and now it is in my book. Indianapolis was the other one. Everyone wants to win those races. I had a good race and we definitely used the right strategy today. We were confident that the car and the Bridgestone tyres could cope with a one stop strategy. The car was like a missile like the old times".
Mika is almost saying goodbye to this sport. He says that he will not regret leaving the Formula 1 world. He goes on to say that he will continue pushing for one last race like a true champion. In his gentle manner, he always thinks about his team:
"Today's result is due to the efforts of the team. They are motivated. I am sure that, at Suzuka, they will give me the car make the mark. They did an incredible job this weekend. The mechanics worked so hard to get my race car ready after I went off in the closing stages of the warm up. On Friday, they were even able to put a fresh new engine in just 35 minutes".
The Flying Finn does not forget about sportive director Jo Ramirez, who is also saying farewell at the end of the season, and gifts him the trophy and the helmet. Hakkinen can also be tough on those who make his life difficult:
"You know, I was really looking forward to see some stewards on the podium, to be honest, earlier. If I had seen them, I would have knocked them down. I was disappointed to get information from the stewards that they were giving me penalty, you know. Five cars were lined up in the point where I was entering. There is a kink when you exit of the pit lane. It was just physically impossible to see that light. Rules are rules, but you have to use the common sense and understand, you know, if you cannot see, you cannot see. After Monza, I am relaxed. I was able to tell everybody what I planned to do in the future. I was able to really focus a hundred percent. I wanted to give one last joy to my fans. This is a gift for Finland".
This is also Murray Walker’s last appearance as a commentator and ITV British journalist. He retires from commentary after 23-years stint in Formula 1. James Allen, already a correspond for ITV since 1997, will now sub for him. There are no gifts for Barrichello, just a lot of bitterness for that engine which blown up with a couple of laps to go:
"It was a real shame. Since Michael won the championship, apart from Monza, I cannot get anything right. Things were looking good until the engine problem. In the final part of the race, I was gaining around half a second a lap on Hakkinen when I felt something was not right with the engine. That smoke at the back of the car was a blow to the heart. I am disappointed. Having the spare car at my disposal proves the team believes in the fact I can win. Today, I showed that I have the right motivation to succeed in that".
The fight does not seem to involve Schumacher just as much. Michael scored his 13th podium of the season. Ross Brawn confides to the English journalists:
"Michael truly though about retirement. He feels he is incredibly lucky to be in the position he is. He has a great life, great family and after everything that happened, it has made him realise what he could lose. We talked with him. In the end, he decided that he likes racing too much. Racing is his passion".
He will thus continue. To bring back the stimuli, it will be necessary to wait for the start of the 2002 season. Before thinking about the future, there is one race to go. Schumacher surely wants to end this dominating season on a high note.
Davide Scotto di Vetta
Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno