#673 2001 French Grand Prix

2021-04-04 00:00

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#2001, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Monica Bessi, Davide Scotto di Vetta, Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno,

#673 2001 French Grand Prix

Luca Badoer is doing a quick testing session at Fiorano on Thursday 28 June 2001, using the 50 km that are allowed by the FIA regulations on a race we


Luca Badoer is doing a quick testing session at Fiorano on Thursday, June 28, 2001, using the 50 km that are allowed by the FIA regulations on a race week. The Ferrari driver carries out numerous starting procedures, in order to fully optimise the automatic traction control system. The goal is to avoid further technical inconveniences, like it was the case at the Austrian Grand Prix and at the Nürburgring. The Ferrari driver covers a distance of 45 kilometres in almost 7 hours, from 11:45 am to 6:30 pm. The tenth round of the championship will be at Magny-Cours, in France. Michael Schumacher arrives at the Ferrari motorhome shortly before 2 pm. Ralf is in front of the Williams motorhome and rushes over to talk to Michael. They chat happily, drinking and eating together. The two brothers were considered enemies by paddock insiders after the Nürburgring race. However, Ralf has no hard feelings towards Michael. Ralf and Michael say goodbye to each other after half an hour, patting each other on the back. This friendly conversation is not what dozens of photographers expected to happen. They instead wanted to capture other types of images with their cameras. Michael explains:


"Nothing happened between us. I think the particular reason - although people do not like to listen to it since it doesn’t suit their story - is that Ralf was quite upset about the 10-second stop and go penalty because he felt that this decision was a very hard one. I can only agree that, given what happened, the penalty was too harsh. On the other hand, the rule is there and we all ought to respect that even if it is hard to accept and sometimes it’s the other way around. That is the main reason that he wasn’t too happy with what I did at the start, I can well imagine. I’ve been unhappy with people who did the same to me. The person who ends up behind is always the person who is unhappy and the one in front is totally okay. That’s the way it is. We do not have a particular problem with it. We talked about it and nothing happened after the Nürburgring. We work for different companies; we want to maximise the performance and use the rules to achieve our ambition. We have to use the rules in whatever way they allow us to until a certain point, obviously, and he’s quite happy with that. The battles between us will continue for a long time. It will happen that he will overtake me and vice versa. I would be happy if one day he would become my rival for the title. We always had fun fighting each other".


Will you fight Ralf at Magny-Cours?


"The battle will continue here and hopefully we will see more real overtaking on the circuit. I don’t know what will happen but we have had very tough battles in the past and they will always be exciting. Furthermore, the tests that we did a couple of weeks ago suggest that there is a chance that it could happen again. Williams is very strong with the Michelin tyres here. Let me assure you that Bridgestone is quickly reacting to Michelin’s threat. They brought tyres which have a new compound and we will see if it will be enough to win. The problem here is tyre degradation. During testing, we had some small issues. We improved the car since then and Bridgestone has worked hard to improve the performance of the tyres. There will not be particular upgrades on the car, maybe some fine-tuning on the starting procedures, which Luca tested at Fiorano. That’s about it".


Will McLaren lose 2nd place in the Constructors’ Championship?


"For McLaren, the last few races were not good. They are going through a difficult period, but as the saying goes, then there comes a good one. We do not know when McLaren will be back fighting but it will happen. Who do I fear the most out of Coulthard and Ralf for this race? I would say my brother and, seeing that Michelin is very strong here, it could mean another great fight between us. If I win again, can it almost all be over? For heaven's sake, let's not talk nonsense; until the championship is over, I will not say anything".


You are one win away from taking your 50th victory in Formula 1. Furthermore, you are two wins from equalling Alain Prost’s record of wins:


"It is something I always keep saying about statistics: it will be something nice when I retire, but we have other focus in front of us and that’s the main target. When I was a young chap, I just drove go-karts and that was my world. When I was a young chap, I did not know Alain was driving races, honestly. I only thought about Senna’s record in karting. Many people know that my career didn’t start with the focus on Formula 1, so I wasn’t aware that Formula 1 existed until quite late. I didn’t have a dad who was taking me along and making me aware of all motorsport activities. We have other goals in front of us which are winning the two championships. Winning on Sunday will be the main target".


It may be that Luca di Montezemolo is superstitious but he does not want to think that Ferrari has already won the two championships. The president is perhaps realistic that the 2001 season is not yet over. He invites all members of the team to keep their feet on the ground during his speech as honorary member at the UCIMU assembly in Milan, which is the association of the Italian machine tool industry. Luca is welcomed to the stage by a video that focuses on Ferrari’s 1-2 result at Monte Carlo. However, the Ferrari president wants the team to focus on the upcoming race:


"The goal is to win the championships for the second time in a row. It will be difficult to do so. A very challenging race awaits us on Sunday against our competitors who will have brand new tyres. But, as the saying goes, when things get difficult the most capable people come out".


Montezemolo is asked to give one good reason to get passionate about the current championship. He smiles and replies:


"One good reason is to see Ferrari representing not only itself but the entire Italian industry since 1997".


He also shuts down the enthusiasm:


"I do not like all this optimism. At the moment we’ve had a very strong first half of the season. We have a good advantage in the championship but, given the previous past experience, we are keeping our feet on the ground".


McLaren arrives at Magny-Cours for the upcoming French Grand Prix. This is a particularly critical moment for the Woking team, especially if they want to claw back the deficit in the two Championships' standings. David Coulthard and McLaren are Schumacher and Ferrari’s main competitors for the 2001 season. In the Drivers' Championship, the gap between Schumacher and Coulthard is 24 points. In the Constructors' Championship, Ferrari and McLaren are separated by 41 points. These statistics indicate that the Woking team had a worrying decline in competitiveness in recent times. The last victory for McLaren dates back to the Austrian Grand Prix, which was one and a half months ago. Williams is now breathing down the neck of McLaren for 2nd place in the Constructors' standings. Unlike Ferrari, McLaren does not get out on track and is instead working in the Woking headquarters. The Woking team wants to take a cautious approach towards the race without making any sort of claim, focusing on having a good weekend. Wurz, Hakkinen and Coulthard evaluate the two MP4/16 cars during the Magny-Cours test. Coulthard says:


"We have not covered the kilometres that we have done so far at Silverstone, our home track, but this is also because we did numerous testing sessions. We can say that we know the characteristics of the track even if, depending on the weather conditions and temperature, it changes every time. Based on past experience [Coulthard won the 2000 French Grand Prix ahead of Hakkinen, ndr], I can say that the information that we got from testing will be very useful for the preparation of the race strategy. Magny-Cours is a track that, with the nature of the corners, can be quite hard on the tyres. As I said before, I wasn't looking at the points because there's no point looking now; the championship isn't decided until it's decided. I'll keep doing the best I can and sometimes you can be driving well but not quite have the car, and other times you have the car and don't drive so well. I've got to make sure I get both the elements together at the right time. I hope to repeat last year’s win".


Mika Hakkinen does not want to talk about testing and prefers to instead analyse one of the key moments of the upcoming race:


"Even if there are little chances to overtake here, the breaking point at the Adelaide hairpin can be an emotional moment for the fans. It is the most spectacular sector of the track and you can try an overtake there. I finished in the points four times in the last six races here. I want to continue this trend. So far, it has been a difficult championship for me. It's not that complicated to motivate myself at times when it doesn't look so good and at times when there is a lot of disappointment. You just have to find the inner strength and decide yourself whether you want to win or not. And when you know you want to win, then it is quite easy".


Neither driver wants to talk about redemption nor about wanting to attack Ferrari. Coulthard and Hakkinen finished behind Schumacher at the end of the European Grand Prix. It was a difficult weekend for McLaren. The Scottish driver finished on the podium at the Nürburgring but was not able to bother the two Schumacher brothers. Mouths are sealed regarding any updates on the MP4-16 car. Ron Dennis is only looking at the recent work that was done by the members of the team:


"It will be a tough week with a double-header. We will do the maximum to try to improve the car performance. The situation with Adrian threw us off balance. To have consistent results, you need harmony and when something comes along that is a distraction, it affects the balance of the team. If people say that the McLaren-Mercedes combination is losing direction, it would be a ridiculous thing to say. We are confident we can get better results with the package we have. We have been here before and it is not going to be an issue in the long term. We know how to race and we know how to win. We are very determined, but you can't win them all. One thing we’re never going to do is panic".


It is time for the two free-practice sessions on Friday, June 29, 2001. Hakkinen sets a 1'15'899 and is the fastest driver in FP1. Michael Schumacher is 2nd ahead of David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello. Coulthard is the fastest driver in FP2 with a 1'14"935 ahead of a surprising Eddie Irvine (1'15"133). Jacques Villeneuve clocks the 3rd fastest time in 1'15"224, while Mika Hakkinen claims 4th position (1'15"372). Ralf Schumacher (1'15"537) and Juan Pablo Montoya (1'15"582) round up the top 7. The two Ferrari drivers are apparently struggling in FP2. Michael Schumacher is only 7th fastest. His 1'15"810 is almost a second behind Coulthard’s time. Barrichello finishes the session in 10th position. Some drivers, including Schumacher, are concentrating on the car set-up for the race and not focusing on setting the best lap time. BAR and Jaguar are satisfied by the excellent lap times. Villeneuve claims BAR’s weekend has started on a good note but admits that he set that time on low fuel. This is backed by the fact that the 1997 world champion has the fastest split time in sector 1. Irvine makes a similar comment, since the Jaguar is benefiting from the strong performance of the Michelin tyres. 


On the other side of the spectrum, Benetton has a day to forget. Button is the 17th fastest driver. Giancarlo Fisichella is not at all satisfied. He is 20th fastest at the end of FP2, three seconds slower than Coulthard. Bridgestone and Michelin bring two new tyre models to Magny-Cours. All teams need to face one main problem, which is the comparison between the available tyre compounds. The Ferrari team stands out with its methodical and precise work. As previously said, the Maranello team is not focusing on pure lap performance. Schumacher and Barrichello are instead covering as many kilometres as possible and are using all available compounds. While the two Ferrari drivers are coming back to the pits, the Japanese technicians are scrambling to measure the consistency and the tyres’ degradation. By the end of the day, both Schumacher and Barrichello have a clear idea on how to approach the race. The two Ferrari drivers are much faster with one of the two Bridgestone compounds that are available for this race, since there is less tyre degradation. On Sunday, June 30, 2001, the two Schumacher brothers monopolize again the first row of the grid at the end of the qualifying session. Ralf Schumacher sets a new lap record in 1'12"989 and is 0.01 seconds faster than Michael. He gets the better of Michael on this occasion, seizing his first pole position in Formula 1. It is a nice gift for his 26th birthday. Seven days after the much-discussed Nürburgring start, there will be another side-by-side getaway between the two. This time, though, it will be in reversed order:


"It feels really great to get pole. It’s a lovely birthday present. Pole is very nice but tomorrow is what counts". 


Michael, you could have taken pole position without that mistake at the end of the lap:


"I think both of us probably feel that way. If you come together, you may say that you could have gone faster, but that doesn't count. In the end, the result is that he finally got pole position, that counts, and it's a good way to celebrate his birthday anyway".


Ralf, do you think that Michael will give you any favour tomorrow? 


"I also owe him one, definitely. I think we are going to have a tight race again".


Michael Schumacher is asked to talk about the start after what happened at the Nürburgring. He answers the question jokingly at first but then becomes serious:


"No, he would never do it...".


Ralf immediately replies: 


"No, never ever". 


Michael later states:


"Jokes aside, I would feel the same. I think you’re obviously not excited but that is the way racing goes and I have no problem with that. I have been in that situation very often in the past with other drivers. I have put other drivers in the same situation. That is part of racing. It will be an interesting and intense fight between us and the fans will surely enjoy it. I have already given him a gift in qualifying. During the race, I only think about my Ferrari. I let him through once, on this track, when I was first, in order to unlap himself and score a point. This is a different situation now. We are both fighting for the win". 


Have your parents had a word with you and Michael about the Nürburgring start?


"My mother warned Michael this time! It’s a different way round. And this time, he is the car behind me and obviously he has to back off because he’s behind me. End of story. I hope that, since I am in pole position, I have a good start and go away. That would be the perfect scenario, I’ve no reservations about doing the same if it comes down to it. I mean, I have to defend my position as he has to do. Normal thing, isn’t it?"


The other drivers are curious to see how the Schumacher battle will pan out tomorrow. They also want Ralf to teach Michael a lesson. Irvine is among one of them and utters in a polemic tone:


"I wonder when someone is going to make Michael stop being a bully. I do not understand why Ralf lifted his foot at the start of the race on Sunday. The only way to get him to stop is to use the same methods. I say that Schumacher would not even try to squeeze either me, Villeneuve or Montoya into the wall. The fact that the rules allow for such moves does not mean that it is safe to do them. Those are dangerous. There is a rule about not causing avoidable accident".


Jacques Villeneuve, who is Schumacher’s old rival, agrees with Irvine:


"I don’t think Schumacher is a good example for the young generation. Smaller racers obviously look at what is happening in Formula 1 and who is winning and that is the example that is being followed. I just saw the pictures and seeing the positions, I could imagine how the rest of the start went. I’m just surprised that it was Ralf on the other side but that is how we have seen Michael do most of his starts in the last three or four years and nobody seems to think it is bad. Everybody knows why the rule was written and everybody understands it. It was written so you don't push someone into the grass, so you don't force someone else to hit the brakes. But then I guess if you just read it as it's written then it allows you to move at any time. That's not the intent of the rule but I'm sure Michael can understand that because he's 'Mr. Safety' after all, so I'm sure he's intelligent enough to understand the meaning of the rules".


Ralf continues to talk against the teams that notified his infringement at the pit lane exit during the European Grand Prix:


"I just think that imposing a 10-second penalty for crossing the white line at the pit lane exit was over the top. Sure, rules are rules and every driver has to respect them but penalties should make sense. The white line is there to prevent cars leaving the pit lane from endangering others. There was no way I was a hazard to anybody because there was nobody on the start/finish straight as I was coming out of the pit lane. I think it's a pity that the stewards handed me such a harsh penalty and not others who made the same mistake. I think it deprived the fans of an exciting duel for first place. Ferrari sent an email to the FIA about me crossing the white line. There were other teams who did as well: Sauber, Prost and Minardi. They are friends with Ferrari. In future we will have to watch other teams more carefully, do the same as Ferrari and report them as well".


It is curious that Michael Schumacher hears a radio communication from Ross Brawn while tackling his final timed lap. The Ferrari technical director seems particularly satisfied:


"Bravo Michael, you are doing great, keep going like this".


Michael almost has an epiphany and makes a small mistake at the last corner. He is thus unable to improve on Ralf’s time. The Williams driver thus takes his maiden pole position at the end of the qualifying session. According to Brawn, it is a missed opportunity. The technical director summarises Ferrari’s qualifying session with this statement: 


"It was a little disappointing in the end. Michael might perhaps have been able to beat Ralf today. One hundredth of a second is nothing. I came on the radio at the wrong time and spoiled one of his laps. We never got our three best sector times on the same lap. If we had, Michael would have been three tenths quicker than Ralf. Instead, there were some small anomalies in one of those sectors which did not allow Michael to take pole. Rubens is a little further back than we would like to see him. I think it will be a hard race. Tyre consistency will be difficult tomorrow and it will make for an interesting race".


The two McLaren drivers have a competitive qualifying session and will start behind the two Schumacher brothers. Ferrari always fears the Woking team. Coulthard is 3rd fastest at the end of quali and is still Schumacher’s direct rival. Hakkinen is 4th fastest, two tenths behind Ralf Schumacher’s pole time. Jarno Trulli will start in 5th position, finishing only three tenths behind the pole sitter. The Italian is also half a second faster than his teammate Frentzen. Rubens Barrichello is 8 tenths slower than Michael Schumacher and will start from 8th position. The Brazilian made a mistake and ran over a kerb during his second flying lap. In the end, he could only set the 8th fastest time. The mechanics changed the regulations of the front suspensions before the last attempt, as well as substituting the roll and torsion bars. However, the Brazilian was not able to take advantage of those modifications. Jean Todt and the Ferrari technicians are trying to protect Rubens, who appeared to be struggling after the Austrian team-order. The impression is that his state of mind is not ideal. He explains that he had various problems with the car set-up:


"I could not find the right set-up today. The car was very nervous under braking and that stopped me from having a good session. It is like I am poised into the wall: you change one setting and then another does not work. For example, I had to abort my second run because I went straight on into the corners since I could not control the car under braking. It was a really bad day. Eight tenths separate me and Michael. If you ask him if he is happy with the car, he would say that he is 98% satisfied whereas I am at around 80%. I am not in crisis. I am simply not happy, that is it. If we win the race, then we would be happy. Zeltweg has nothing to do with this. I am not demotivated. I always try very hard to prove that Ferrari has two drivers. Now we have to work to find out how to improve the car for the race".


What are your hopes for the race?


"Starting from the fourth row is not ideal, but with a good strategy, I think we can make up some places. It is true that Williams is improving but they were helped by the Michelin tyres in this circumstance, I am curious to know if Ralf’s tyres were the same as Montoya’s ones. The soft tyres can give you pole position. Hats off to them if they win the race but I have my doubts. We chose the right tyres to start the race, we will see how it turns out. I think positively, for Ferrari and for me".


It is almost time for the race on Sunday, July 1, 2001. The morning warm-up session shows that two McLaren drivers are back on form. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello are in the mix with their rivals. 


On the other hand, the two Williams of Ralf and Montoya are off the pace. Hakkinen sets the fastest time and is ahead of Michael Schumacher by one thousandth of a second. Barrichello and Coulthard are 3rd and 4th respectively. The session is probably spoiled by the asphalt temperature, which is 35 °C. It peaked at 50 °C during qualifying. The track temperature is affecting the tyre choice for the race. It is also penalising the Williams cars, since Montoya and Ralf Schumacher finish the session 11th and 17th fastest. In the early afternoon, at 2 pm, everything is ready for the French Grand Prix to get underway. Ralf Schumacher lines up in pole position for the first time in his career, at the wheel of a Williams single-seater on Michelin tyres. Michelin is celebrating the first pole position of its Formula 1 return. The first twist of the day occurs before the formation lap. Mika Hakkinen is raising an arm to let everyone know that he is unable to leave the grid. The marshals are waving the yellow flags while the other drivers overtake the stricken McLaren at the start of the race. The MP4-16 car is pulled into the pit. It is later discovered that Hakkinen’s car suffered a gearbox failure. The Finn’s race is already over. Coulthard will thus fill out the second row on his own. Lights are out and the race can get underway. Ralf Schumacher has an impeccable start, having fantastic traction off the grid. Michael has to fight off Coulthard as they are going side-by-side at the first corner. The Ferrari driver is able to stay in front in 2nd place. The Formula 1 field takes off without any accident. By the end of the first lap, Ralf Schumacher leads the race ahead of his brother Michael, Coulthard, Montoya and Barrichello. The Brazilian is able to gain two places at the expense of the two Jordan drivers. Trulli closes the points zone. Ralf, David and Michael have an excellent race pace in the early stages of the race. Montoya and Barrichello cannot keep up with the top 3. Coulthard is right behind Schumacher’s gearbox at the start of the 3rd lap. He tries to wave around at the Adelaide corner in order to try to disturb the Ferrari driver. Michael is having none of it and is trying to stay close to Ralf. Barrichello is also trying to do the same disturbing waving moves with Montoya.


On lap 5, Jacques Villeneuve is coasting around the outside of the Estoril corner with some technical issues. He parks the cars on the gravel trap and becomes the second driver to retire after Hakkinen. The cause of the retirement is an issue on the electronic system of the BAR-Honda car. The race continues with very little action as the positions are crystallised. The only real track battle is between Frentzen and Räikkönen for 7th. At the start of the 21st lap, Irvine makes a cheeky overtake on Panis for 8th. Rubens Barrichello changes strategy to shake things up a bit and is planning a three-stop race. This is why the Brazilian comes back to the pits to make a rapid 7-second pit stop. He comes back on track in 7th. The Brazilian now has a clear track ahead of him and a fresh set of tyres, setting the fastest lap of the race in 1'16"181. Bang on schedule, Ralf Schumacher comes in for his first of two pit stops on lap 25. During the pit stop, the race leader is delayed by a couple of seconds. There is a problem in putting the right rear tyre on Ralf’s car. The window is open for Ferrari. Michael puts the hammer down in order to set a quick in-lap. A lap later, he dives into the pits while Ralf is struggling to get to grips with the new set of Michelin tyres. The Ferrari mechanics do a cracking 7.7 pit stop, which is three seconds faster than Ralf’s one. This allows Michael to assume the race lead. The gap between the two siblings is over 5 seconds. Coulthard and Montoya complete their first pit stop on lap 27 and 29 respectively. Michael and Ralf are now running in reverse order compared to the first stint. As previously said, the Williams driver is not able to keep up with Michael’s pace on the second set of tyres. Coulthard is lapping much faster than Ralf and it does not take long for him to catch up to the back of the FW23 car. The McLaren driver begins studying Ralf’s driving and is planning to overtake him soon. On lap 31, Coulthard’s race receives a hammer blow. The Scottish driver is penalised with a 10-second Stop&Go penalty for speeding in the pit lane. He serves the penalty on the next lap and drops to 5th position. Barrichello makes his second pit stop on lap 36, which lasts 8.2 seconds. He re-joins the race ahead of Coulthard in 4th place. Ralf can hardly rest easily, since his teammate Montoya is rapidly catching him. On lap 40, the two are divided by less than six tenths. Magny-Cours is a track where it is difficult to overtake and the Colombian cannot afford to take too many risks in overtaking Ralf. The risk of jeopardising a possible double podium for William is high.


At the end of the 42nd lap, Eddie Irvine and Heinz-Harald Frentzen offer a bit of entertainment. They are battling for 8th position. The Jordan driver cuts the Imola chicane after being attacked by Irvine. He immediately lets Irvine through. The race stewards are satisfied with this move and Frentzen avoids a penalty. On lap 50, Michael and Rubens are ahead of the two Williams drivers and Coulthard after the second round of pit stops. Three laps later, Montoya pulls off the track to retire. The cause of the retirement is due to an engine failure. By the end of the 53rd lap, Barrichello makes his third and last scheduled pit stop and concedes 2nd place to Ralf. The Brazilian is still on a podium position, to the detriment of Coulthard. There are 17 laps left and Michael Schumacher calmly manages the considerable gap that he has over his brother. Coulthard is trying to snatch 3rd place from Barrichello. The McLaren driver has one chance to overtake on lap 68, when Rubens runs wide at the Adelaide hairpin while lapping Alesi. On lap 72, David tries a divebomb move against Barrichello to no avail. Michael Schumacher crosses the line to win the French Grand Prix. This is his 50th career win in Formula 1, which brings him even closer to Alain Prost’s record of 51. Ralf Schumacher and Barrichello celebrate with him on the podium. Coulthard, Trulli and Nick Heidfield complete the points zone. Sauber has a good race overall, with Heidfield scoring a point. The team is also impressed by Kimi Räikkönen’s strong race, who finishes in 7th position. Michael Schumacher wins his sixth race of the season whilst Coulthard finishes in 4th place. The Ferrari world champion consolidates his leadership in the drivers’ championship and now has a 31-point gap over Coulthard. Ralf Schumacher has 31 points, overtaking Barrichello by one point. Nothing seems to be able to stop Ferrari in the constructors’ championship. The Maranello team is at 108 points whilst McLaren and Williams have 56 and 43 points respectively. Schumacher is asked to talk about the upcoming record of victories in Formula 1:


"Number 50 is a great number. For the Championship it's a big step forward and so it was obviously a very exciting race in all means. Winning is always enjoyable and the way it went today, it was fun".


You will soon become the driver with the most wins in Formula 1:


"Some people seem to misunderstand my meaning of the thinking. There is a priority which is to win the race and over the year, to win the championship. That is what you are focused on - you are not focused on saying 'I want to win the record for the most wins' or 'the record of the most Championships.' That's not my target. I work each year for the Championship. Obviously, I'm very delighted in achieving win number 50. People seem to misunderstand my feeling about these statistics - I always said that they were second priority but they do mean something to me". 


You have a 31-point lead over Coulthard. Does it mean that the championship is over?


"Unfortunately for you guys I am a bit too realistic. Although, I have to be honest, it's a very comfortable lead but there are still seven races to go and 70 points to give away. Until mathematically it is secured, I will keep fighting like I did today. As we saw last year, things can change very quickly in just two races".


Coulthard believes that he is now out of the championship fight:


"Last year we saw how quickly things can turn around. The Stop&Go penalty for David? After a bad period, there is always a good one. I hope that the roles will not be reversed since I am going through a good phase".


What was the decisive phase of the race?


"The first phase of pit stops. The fact that Ralf had a problem in his first stop also helped. I then went longer in order to create a good gap because I was about to do my second pit stop. I think our strategy worked better honestly, it wasn't because Ralf had a problem, I guess, at least from what I have seen. They stayed out longer which in my view means more fuel, longer pit stop and we were a bit shorter. My second set of tyres was very good and I was flying. I did have a bit of problems on my third set, I wasn't as fast as I was with my second. We will find out what's going on there. Anyway, it's the perfect result".


At what point did you realise that you could win the race?


"I actually had a communication fault with the team because the radio broke. I was not informed about what the others were doing. When they put the sign, which indicated a 16-second lead over Ralf after my pit stop, I felt that I could win the race".


Michael is not sure that Coulthard’s Stop&Go penalty would have changed the outcome of the race:


"I do not know to be honest; he maybe could have finished ahead of my brother. The difference is only a couple of points which is not much".


You had a problem with the clutch before the start:


"We thought we had fixed the problem and that is why we went out to the grid fairly late, just to install and check everything. I almost lost a position against David. We came very close in the first corner. I was on the inside, he was on the outside, so I kept going until we would see what happened in turn three, but he pulled over already in turn one so the line was clear. I was quite close, very close to losing it; being behind him and then working with the strategy would have been far more difficult, so it was ideal to be behind Ralf, although he was very fast in his first stint".


You slowed down at the end:


"It was a precaution. Having no radio contact, I ran on the limit until they put a board sign which said slow down. I did exactly that. I did have a little bit of problems on my third stint. We will find out what is going on there". 


Do you think that this victory is due to the car reliability or the team tactics?


"Apart from Montoya, nobody had reliability problems. Our pit stop strategy worked well and it was the winning one. We should be proud of it".


After two unfortunate races, Barrichello is spraying championship on the podium: 


"It is good to finally have a good race. I must admit I am a little surprised to be on the podium. This morning we sorted out my qualifying problems and the car was a lot better. Eighth to third is a good achievement. I am very happy for the team, which thanks to Michael's win leaves France with a first and third place".


Barrichello declared at the start of the weekend:


"I stayed at Ferrari to win the championship. So far things have not gone as I would have liked. Being Schumacher’s teammate, in a team which is built around him, makes things difficult. It would be better if Michael was not there but I’ve never felt abandoned. I have a great sense of justice and I hate that they do me favours. This year, my goal is to be in the top 3 in the drivers’ championship. Before retiring, I want to become world champion even if I have Schumacher in the team. I am Barrichello. I can become world champion. I am one of the best drivers and I do not want to play second fiddle anymore, not even for money. It is not written in my contract that I should let Schumacher by. If it is a team order, even if it is hard to digest like in Austria, I did it and I will do it again".


There is so much pride in these words. Rubens had a great start and this is how he was able to finish on the podium, after starting the race from 8th position:


"During my first stint, I was going very well and saving fuel. Then the team came on the radio and suggested I switch to a three-stop strategy. I asked if it would do more than get me ahead of the Jordans and then I agreed to try it. I must thank the team very much because it was a hell of a race. That is how David managed to come alongside me, once because I braked at my usual point and nearly went off and the second time when I got held up by a backmarker. It was a good battle but from where I started, I knew I would have to fight today. My only problem came on my last set of tyres, which blistered very early. This did not affect me in terms of putting the power down or changing direction but it did affect my braking, especially at Turn 5. Finishing only 16 seconds behind Michael, after starting from the fourth row, is a good result".


The team told you that you finished 3rd, since Coulthard had a penalty and Montoya retired:


"A bit of luck is needed. I had a problem with the last set of tyres and this is why I was not able to stay ahead of Coulthard. I told you that I was not going through a rough period: bad luck passes, but it is up to me to shake it off".


Jean Todt is very happy about winning in France and praises his team for the hard work, from the mechanics to the drivers. He kisses Schumacher during the podium ceremony and uses the press, which is the most classical form of media, to praise the team:


"I am very happy with the outcome of this race, with Michael’s win as well as Ruben’s really great drive. This result has further extended our lead over our closest rivals and it’s a nice way to celebrate my eighth anniversary with Ferrari. It goes without saying that the team will keep its feet on the ground and work with the utmost concentration until the end of the championship. The whole team worked really well, with humility and maximum concentration. Even though this is my home race, I was happy to ask Rubens’ race engineer, Carlo Cantoni, to pick up the team prize in recognition of the great job done by his group of engineers, who brought a difficult weekend to a brilliant conclusion".


Stefano Domenicali believes that concentration is one characteristic that defines Ferrari:


"Compared to the other teams, we always keep our heads down if we either win or lose. We need to keep working on the development and reliability in order to have a good car and a good engine. It is clear that you cannot do anything without them".


The team also has another advantage, which is teamwork:


"The group is always the same which brings more stability, organisation and teamwork. We know each other very well and everyone knows what the other is doing without even talking to each other. We move in synchrony according to automatic patterns which have been repeated so many times. We are always the same group, without continuously changing members as do the English teams".


Jo Ramirez offers his congratulations to Domenicali and Ferrari:


"You guys are the best".


Mika Hakkinen already abused the word disaster throughout the season. However, he is forced to repeat it four or five times. Mika is increasingly disconsolate and his wife Erja is enraged about this situation. The Finn shakes his head when the mechanics bring the McLaren car back into the garage:


"I simply cannot believe how much bad luck I have had; it is incredible. The engine was fine and then suddenly it stopped. I just sat there as the mechanics tried everything but could not start the car. The problem is very serious. I was super disappointed but I walked away and said ‘well you just have to look to the future and stay positive’. This season has been very disappointing, so the future is definitely in my mind now and I am starting to think about next season".


The traction control system did not fail this time. Instead, a bolt from the gearbox was incorrectly assembled and got caught into the gears. Coulthard ended his victory chances after speeding in the pit lane:


"I’m not sure whether the penalty came on the way into the pits or on the way out. I was very surprised when I got the call. It was a shame but I had to face the consequences of my mistake. All we can do is wait until the end of the season and see how things are. It’s entirely possible that Schumacher could not finish a few races. I need to keep doing the best I can and we will see how things are after that. The World Championship hasn’t been won or lost at Magny-Cours; it is as simple as that. It is still possible but of course it is going to be difficult".


There is one paddock rumour that revolves around Jarno Trulli. The Italian driver could leave the Jordan team at the end of the season, in order to be Hakkinen’s replacement at McLaren. He does not hide his objectives:


"I demonstrated that I can score points if I have a good and reliable car. I dream of racing for one of the big teams: Ferrari, Williams or McLaren. I can fight for the championship with a good car".


Renault is looking to replace Giancarlo Fisichella at the end of the year. The Enstone-based team is interested in hiring Trulli for the 2002 season. 


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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