The World Championship titles have already been assigned with four races to go. However, the 2001 season is not over just yet. Formula 1 teams continue to actively work in intense testing sessions which, at this point of the year, are mainly focused towards next year’s cars. On 21st August 2001, most of the teams such as Ferrari, Jordan, Sauber, BAR and Minardi are testing at the Mugello circuit. The Faenza-based team is letting Alex Yoong do as many laps as possible during the test. This way, the Malaysian driver can be able to obtain the FIA super-license as soon as possible, in order to race in Formula 1 Grand Prix racing.
Ferrari starts the Mugello test with Rubens Barrichello and Luca Badoer. Newly crowned four-time champion, Michael Schumacher, will close the test on Thursday and Friday. The test could be extended until Saturday. The main goal for the Maranello team is to further improve the performance of the F2001 and thus helping Barrichello take 2nd place. During those days, the German driver will also do numerous tests on the car’s mechanical elements in view of the car that will race in the 2002 season.
Whilst the Mugello test is ongoing, the Williams-BMW 2002 chassis is already debuting in Spain. The Anglo-German team is jointly testing with Benetton at the Catalunya circuit. Michelin considers this track to be the most suitable to identify the best compounds for the Belgium Grand Prix. Test driver Mark Webber and Jenson Button are testing with the Benetton team. Other teams, such as McLaren, Jaguar and Arrows, are testing at Silverstone. During the test, Rubens Barrichello promises that the silver steering wheel (the winner’s trophy of the Hungarian Grand Prix), which Michael Schumacher spontaneously gave him during the ceremony, will have a special place in his San Paolo home:
"That trophy certainly had a profound meaning for Michael. It did not represent only the race win but the recognition of a historic day in which he won his fourth title. If he has given it to me, it means that I am probably a very important person to him".
Moreover, Michael already emphasized this point during the Sunday post-race press conference, indicating how much Rubens was a fantastic teammate, especially for the race preparation.
"Everyone considers Michael as a cold and introvert. That is only a mask to hide his real personality. He is a genuinely nice guy with great humanity. There have been frictions between us in the past yet it is normal to have them when you work in an extremely competitive environment such as the motorsport world. Our relationship is now as good as new. Michael is a lovely person".
Rubens seems to have finally understood what is his role in the team. He does complain anymore about it:
"I do not know whether the team will now concentrate on helping me winning second place in the drivers’ standings. I simply do not think about it, I will not sleep over it. I thank God every day for driving for such a prestigious team. I will try to win. If I finish second, then I will be happy".
The Brazilian know that the head-to-head battle with Michael is not easy to win:
"I am sure that he is destined to beat all records. I am different than him for one simple reason. Michael is a driver who is always consistent and always has excellent race performances. I, on the other hand, do not have the same consistency. I have lots of up and downs. I always learn something when I am next to him".
The drivers are on track for the continuation of the test. Their managers are actively trying to find the best seats in Formula 1 for the 2002 season., Hakkinen’s future is still in doubt whilst it is highly unlikely that Coulthard leaves the McLaren squad at the end of the season. The Scot has had the best season in his career so far. The two drivers have already reached an agreement with the team. However, the fact that it has not yet been announced leaves room for speculations in the paddock.
Talking of rumours, the latest ones are about Jarno Trulli and Kimi Raikkonen. According to speculations, the Mercedes management is unsure that Hakkinen could return to his champion form and is trying to convince Ron Dennis to go to the Abruzzo driver. The English manager does not want to listen to what they are saying. Thus, the paddock thinks that McLaren could hire Raikkonen from Sauber as a test driver. After learning from Hakkinen, Kimi could then take the Flying Finn’s seat.
Speaking of Hakkinen, Jaguar is seemingly trying to raise a further proposal to him. At the same time, the team is also exploring the possibility of hiring Giancarlo Fisichella. Niki Lauda would really like the Italian driver to become his employee. A couple of days later though, there is the confirmation that Giancarlo has signed a three- years contract with Jordan and thus ending his relationship with Benetton-Renault. He will be substituted in the team by Trulli.
At Mugello, it was supposed to be a day of celebrations for Ferrari but an incident changes the dynamic of it. In the middle of the afternoon session, Michael Schumacher goes off track at the end of the start/finish straight, due to a suspension failure, and slams against the tire barrier at the San Donato corner. Before breaking for that corner, the cars run at 300 km/h. The driver is unscathed because the gravel slowed down the car before the impact. His F2001 is seriously damaged, at the point of forcing the team to suspend the test. The car (the only one available) is sent at Maranello for necessary checks. The 4-time world champion is rather upset after the shunt and decided to skip the football match of the Nazionale Piloti against the singer Zucchero’s team, at Pontremoli. He will get into the car until the start of the first practice session in Belgium. The German prefers to go back home in Switzerland. Leaving the track, he declares:
"I feel fine. I do not need a check-up from the doctors. It is better to go home and rest".
10.000 passionate Tifosi, who came here since the earlier hours of the morning to cheer the four-time world champion, had to unfortunately witness the shunt from outside the gates. The test was under closed door. Even the Ferrari driver is shocked by the sheer amount of people that came to the test. The Tifosi were ready to scramble to find the best place to see the red Ferrari dot. The incident, which happened at 16:55 (after 87 laps), is a further hoax for the team. The Italian team, realizing that not inviting the public to the test was a mistake, promised that they would do amends on the next day. This will not happen after what happened. Furthermore, Schumacher has already left Italy. The incident topic, during his lunch interview, was the main topic together with the consequent fear that comes with it:
"My concept of danger has changed me a little. This accident is definitely not a pleasant experience but I know there was a technical reason behind them. However, I always have great faith in the team. I know that, just as when I get on a plane for example, you can never be 100 percent sure that you will not have an accident".
Then he declares once again his love for Ferrari:
"I would happy to finish my career here. I have a contract until the end of 2004. I would like to extend my stay in the team if the team allows it".
A phrase that goes hand in hand with his promise to help Barrichello in quest to take 2nd from Ralf:
"Our primary objective in the coming races will be to secure 2nd place for Rubens. I am pretty sure I can help but he needs to be as strong as he was in Budapest. Even though I love my brother Ralf very much, we are driving for different teams with different interests".
Why is Michael Schumacher the best driver?
"His secret is to put lots of discipline in the training sessions. I think I have the most ingredients to win but you should never give up a fight".
Coulthard now considers him as a Martian.
"They do not exist. I realized this during my second race, in 1991, at Monza, when I was able to fight with Prost. I understood that the drivers, in Formula 1, are normal people who need a competitive car in order to win races and championship. From then on, I knew that I could have a breakthrough moment".
Is it true that you would have preferred to become a football player with Beckenbauer’s talent?
"Who knows, I simply knew that I did not have his talent. Jokes aside, a human being has only one talent. I like being a driver and to fight for pole position and races. My motivation obviously is to win. I do not care about finishing second place".
You would have never cried on the podium before:
"I always tried to control and to hide from my emotions. I had less self-confidence before and I thought that showing emotions was a sign of weakness. I always let myself go when I was with my family or watching movies with my wife but never in public. Now I always express my emotions. This is who I am, I do not care about people’s judgements".
In reality, before the Belgium Grand Prix, Schumacher has another public appearance on 30th August 2001, acting as a Fiat testimonial for the Fiat Stilo car. In this regard, he declares in front of the journalists:
"You will also try it in a couple of a days. What a car! I like it very much, a beautiful and aggressive car, it is nice to drive… not bad at all. If you think about what a Fiat car used to be... well... I really like to drive a car such as this one".
The four-time world champion is more relaxing and calmer than ever. How does he defend himself against the crowds of people who follow him everywhere?? How do you stay put? How can you remain impassive in the midst of so much enthusiasm?
"In those moments, I have my own way of defending and alienate myself to not be involved. I go back home and I close myself between those four walls with my family. I remain true to myself, to who I am and who I was. This does not mean that I do not feel emotions. I just do not get involved in all the shenanigans and I already thinking about the future".
With the Belgium Grand Prix just around of the corner, the German could have little motivation to score a good result. His words say otherwise.
"It is where, in Belgium, I made my debut in Formula 1 with Jordan ten years ago. Since then, I started to like it. It is a fast, challenging, difficult, even dangerous track. This year, the owners have finally made the needed changes in order to make the track more secure. I would like to win but I would let Barrichello pass if I were in front of him. We both drive for Ferrari. I want to help him secure second place in this championship. He deserves it".
Right from the get-go on Friday, Michael Schumacher is not unfazed by his championship win and continues to be the man to beat. In FP1, he is the fastest with a 1’48"655. He is eight tenths faster than Jarno Trulli, for Jordan, Rubens Barrichello and Mika Hakkinen. In FP2, with 20 minutes to go, the Ferrari driver tests the set-up of the F2001 in wet conditions. The same goes for the other drivers and their cars. A brief yet intense storm floods the circuit. High water clouds rise as the cars go by. The visibility is low and it is very dangerous to overtake.
Schumacher is in Pedro De La Rosa’s slipstream. Then, the Germany incorrectly calculates the distance between his car and the Jaguar when overtaking. The visibility is quite low and it is difficult to see. The front end of the F2001 hits the left rear of the Jaguar. Both drivers are going very slowly but are able to bring the cars back to the pits. The Ferrari car has a locked wheel and a broken front wing whilst the Jaguars had no rear tire. The incident between Schumacher and De La Rosa is not the only one that characterizes this second free-practice session.
With a few minutes left on the clock, Juan Pablo Montoya has an even worse incident. At the exit of Fagnes, the Colombian suddenly loses control of his Williams. Quickly sliding off-track, it violently spins against the guard-rail barrier. The car is semi-destroyed, especially in the left-sidepod, but the driver is unscathed. Hakkinen, Trulli (twice), Raikkonen, Irvine and Marques either spin or finish dangerously off-track.
Heavy rainfall prevents surprises in FP2. In the end, Schumacher tops the timing sheets. Rubens Barrichello, in the other Ferrari, is 3rd fastest. The surprise of the day is Jarno Trulli, who splits the two Ferraris in this session as well. Giancarlo Fisichella finishes in 4th place, ahead of the Finnish duo, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen. The familiar names of Ralf Schumacher, Eddie Irvine, Jean Alesi and Jenson Button round up the top-10. David Coulthard is only 22nd fastest. Regarding the incident with De La Rosa, Schumacher admits:
"When you are running in spray you have no chance to judge the distance between you and the car in front. I was being careful, because I knew there was a risk of aquaplaning, so I was not going flat out. For whatever reason, I just had a feeling he might be going slowly, which is why at the last moment, I moved over, even though I could not see anything. By then it was already too late. I could not avoid him".
With no more running remaining, business talks are happening the garages: among those, it is revealed that Prost will renew with Ferrari agreement for the engine supply for the 2002 season. Minardi officially announced the switch from Cosworth to Asiatech engines. It will be supplied for free and it will be an updated version of the one that is run by the Arrows team. Lastly, McLaren renews the sponsorship contract with Mobil 1.
Williams is the team which brings the most technical upgrades for the Belgian round of the 2001 championship. Ralf Schumacher will use an upgraded version of the FW23, characterized by a chassis realized with new manufacturing techniques. It is 3 kg lighter than its predecessor, thanks to the modifications applied to the attachment area to the more-extreme sidepods, despite having the wider and evident side fins. The idea of the designers is to improve the aerodynamics of the car by favouring a better airflow. There are changes to the diffuser profile, with higher and squared channels. The radiators are smaller. The front wing is also different, which present an unprecedented fin within it.
Ferrari brings a new front wing, built upon by a series of solutions which were tested in the previous races and adapted to the challenges of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. McLaren instead does not have any upgrades. Benetton, Arrows and Jaguar carry over the technical upgrades previously developed for Budapest. Meanwhile Minardi builds a new gearbox. Prost has a more substantial package of upgrades, adopting new rear suspensions with a deformable structure and a new semi-axle with a big extractor profile. Jordan and BAR do not confirm the Hungarian aerodynamic packages. The two teams are not bringing new upgrades since they are already working on the designs of next year’s cars.
On the eve of the race, the FIA publishes the first draft of the 2002 season. This version of the document does not have any changes compared to the 2001 calendar, apart for the date switch between the French and the British Grand Prix. At the same time though, Bernie Ecclestone puts into doubt that Belgian race could remain for the 2003 season due to the rigorous laws on the tobacco, introduced in 1997. Those prevents the advertising of those products even during big sporting events.
This declaration immediately arouses the reaction of Serge Kubla, the Wallonia minister of economy. The Belgium media emphasize how the Grand Prix is the main sources of livelihood of the Tourism. The race brings more than 200.000.000 Franks in the hotel coffers in the Liegi province. The ticket sales, souvenirs and various gadget generate a revenue of around 500.000.000 and 700.000.000 Lire, which also goes into Ecclestone’s society coffers.
During the course of Saturday’s free practice sessions, Montoya and Ralf Schumacher are the fastest drivers, setting the best sectors. Hakkinen is 3rd fastest, one second behind the two leaders. A couple of hours later, it is time for the start of qualifying. The session starts two hours later, due to the impossibility of the medical helicopter to take off, and lasts only 45 minutes. As it often happens in Belgium, the rain dictates the law. The drivers start the session with the wet tires and Schumacher is the master of those conditions. The track then gradually dries out. Towards the end of the session the track starts to dry up.
As a consequence, the times tumbles down. With five minutes to go, Jacques Villeneuve tries the gamble of the dry tires. All eyes are on him. If his attempt goes well, everyone will change tires to set better lap times. Ferrari then sends Barrichello on track, in order to improve his position. However, he does not want fit the dry tires. According to him, the track is still too wet for the dries. The risk of going off track and to subsequently destroy the car is very high. This proves to be the wrong choice.
At this point, Schumacher wants to try to set a lap time with the dry tires, understanding that his provisional pole position is at risk. Exiting the pits, Michael tries his best and is able to improve his time. This does not last long as the two Williams drivers show their dominance. In the end, the aggressive Juan Pablo Montoya snatches pole position from Ralf. Michael has to settle for 3rd. The superiority of the Michelin tires is confirmed by Frentzen’s very good performance. The Prost driver will line in 4th. Barrichello will line up in 5th, the only top driver to have set a time with the intermediate tires, followed by Villeneuve’s BAR, Hakkinen’s McLaren and Fisichella’s Benetton. Coulthard is only 9th fastest, ahead of Pedro de la Rosa.
The sixth row is occupied by Olivier Panis and Kimi Räikkönen, followed by Jean Alesi, on his second race for Jordan, and Nick Heidfeld. Jean will be able to start ahead of his team mate Jarno Trulli, 16th fastest and also behind Jenson Button. Eddie Irvine and Luciano Burti, instead, do not go beyond the ninth row. The last four spots in the grid are taken by Jos Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Enrique Bernoldi and Tarso Marques.
The Arrows and the Minardi cars, despite going over the 107% limit which is necessary to take part in the race, are nevertheless admitted to the starting grid based on the fact that the qualifying session was contested under exceptional conditions. 17 cars were on track when the track marshals were waving the yellow flags as Heidfeld went off track. The rule states that a driver has to slow down when the yellows flags are being waved. Those cars appeared to have not slowed down enough. The question is: did the drivers slowed down or not? We will never know. Meanwhile Ron Dennis presents a complaint to the FIA.
"It is idiotic to never respect the regulations. Maybe I am the idiot, who wants to enforce the rules".
Thunders Dennis at the end of qualifying. The boss of the Woking team forwards a formal protest at 6:20 p.m. By doing so, the 17 cars, accused of not having lifted off the gas, are under investigation. The stewards meet for an hour and a half, examining the telemetry of the involved car. In the end, they decide to reject the appeal, leaving unaltered a classification that a crazy qualifying session had decreed.
Dennis’ ire, who also had one of his cars involved, obtain, in addition to delay Montoya’s joy by just under six hours, the result of only to lighten his wallet. To file the protest, the McLaren boss had to pay a caution of 42.500 dollars. As it is not accepted, the money fly away from Dennis’ pockets. His anger still remains and he is unstoppable during the interviews.
"Last year, during free practice on Saturday morning, Wurz set the fastest sector time on a part of the track where the yellow flags were being waved. In the afternoon, all qualifying times were deleted for this exact reason. Why him and not the others? There is too much subjectivity in the regulations. At this point, if the stewards find a car underweight by a kilo, I could say that the I immediately consummated the remaining fuel after crossing the line. 17 drivers improved their times immediately after Heidfeld’s incident, with his Sauber stranded at the side of the track. It is a question of principles; the regulations are there to be applied".
Had his protest been accepted, his arch enemy Schumacher would have started in pole position:
"I do not care what would have happened. It is a question of sportsmanship. From now on, I will not tell my driver to slow down anymore when the yellow flags are out".
Dennis is pissed off and does not accept what the stewards say in their press statement. They attribute the improvement of the lap times due to the rapid track improvements. In addition, they add that the cars slowed down enough in the sector of the track where the yellow flags were being shown. A justification that Schumacher already anticipated many hours prior:
"If the track dries up, you are of course more rapid. We will not be able demonstrate that we lifted off but nobody can prove otherwise".
The malignant view Dennis’ shouting as a protection for the defeat suffered against Williams. The latter is close to overtake the Woking team for 2nd, by monopolizing the front row. The last time Williams were 1-2 after qualifying was a month ago at Hockenheim. The McLaren protest could have changed this. Fortunately for them, it did not happen. Montoya rants:
"Beating the two Schumacher brothers is always exciting".
Ralf is using the new chassis, whilst you had to make do with the old one:
"The chassis is important. We went out to get our time on dry tyres and it really worked".
Most Bridgestone drivers do not see like seeing the Michelin go so fast. Michael Schumacher reassures everyone:
"A race is going to be a long way and it should be alright for us. We should go better in the race. I am not upset at only being 3rd. I have the Bridgestone pole. The weather forecast is for a dry race, which would suit me. After this afternoon, it would seem that the only conditions where we might have a problem is when the track just makes the final change from wet to dry. We can win".
Sunday 2nd September 2001. In the morning warm-up session, the Ferrari driver dominates on a dry asphalt, with a 1'49"495, ahead of 2nd placed Mika Hakkinen. Ralf Schumacher has the 4th fastest time. Barrichello finishes in 10th place, whilst Coulthard is only 12th fastest. The session has a frightening moment involving Fernando Alonso. The Spanish driver is the protagonist of a scary incident, completely destroying his Minardi car. Alonso loses control at the exit of Stavelot corner and violently hits the left-hand side of the barriers. The Minardi goes through the track again before stopping on the grass of the right side of the circuit. The Spanish driver is luckily unscathed and can start the race a couple of hours later. The weather forecast rules out the rain for the race, unlike qualifying. Innocent dark clouds are in the sky.
At 2:00 p.m., 85.000 spectators will watch the race. The field is all set. At the third red light, Frentzen, from an extraordinary 4th place, waves his arms around to let his fellow colleagues, the marshals and the FIA race direction that his Prost car is not going anywhere. His Ferrari engine has completely shut down at the back of his Prost. This is also the case for Tarso Marques, whose engine has stalled. Charlie Whiting decided to abort the start.
According to the regulations, the German driver is forced to start from the back of the grid. Due to this inconvenience, he is forced to change his strategy to a one-stop race. The starting procedure is repeated again but soon after, Yellow flags are waving for Montoya. The pole sitter is stationary on the grid. As his fellow colleagues start the formation lap, the soon-to-be ex pole sitter will have to join Frentzen at the back of the grid. The two Schumacher brothers benefit from this. Ralf is thus on pole position and will try to defend against Michael, in 2nd.
Lights out: Ralf has a good start and keeps the lead going into La Source. the reigning Ferrari world championship can only queue behind his brother. Barrichello is 3rd. Giancarlo Fisichella, using Benetton’s new traction control, has an outstanding getaway. By the end of the first corner, the Italian is already up to 4th. At the end of the Kemmel straight, Michael Schumacher pulls alongside the Williams-BMW of Ralf and easily gets through with the use of the slipstream.
At the end of the 1st lap, Michael leads the race ahead of his brother, Barrichello, Fisichella, Hakkinen and Coulthard. Onto the following lap, Jean Alesi makes up a couple of places after overtaking both De la Rosa and Panis. The Jordan driver is now 10th. At the start of lap 3, Fisichella is trying to keep the two McLaren cars at bay. This does not last long. At Kemmel, the power of the Mercedes engine proves too much for the Italian. Hakkinen gets by Giancarlo for 4th. The latter seem flustered and Coulthard does not want to waste time stuck behind the Benetton. Taking advantage of a mistake from the Italian at Pouhon, the Scot driver is up to 5th place. At end of the lap, at the tail end of the field, Alonso is the first driver to retire out of the race due to a transmission problem.
During the 5th lap, Eddie Irvine and Luciano Burti have a really nasty incident. Looking at the replay, the Jaguar and the Prost are side-by-side going into Blanchimont and they collide. This causes Burti to lose the front wing. The Prost cars violently spears against the barrier at around 250 km/h. The dynamic of the impact is scary and the race is red-flagged. Irvine is unscathed and rushes to Burti’s rescue. The Prost driver is buried under a mountain of white and red tyres. With the intervention of the ambulances and the rescue vehicles, Burti is taken to the Liegi university hospital via helicopter. For a few minutes there is fear for his life. The official communication of the FIA stewards communicates:
"Burti is conscious".
The race is soon going to be re-started. The starting grid will be based on the classification of the 4th lap. According to the regulations, the race will be 36 laps long, instead of 44. The FIA takes into account the laps that were completed before the incident plus the ones that were made before the race was interrupted. Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso will not take part in the second re-start, since they retired before the red flag was displayed.
In under 3 minutes time, there is going to be a new formation lap. Everything is ready. The grid is cleared to allow the drivers, on board of their respective cars, to start the insight lap. Ralf Schumacher is ready to resume the fight with his older brother. There is one significant detail that will prevent him from doing so as something bizarre happens to him. Ralf is still up in the jacks. The mechanics run out of time after frantically trying to fix the rear wing of the Williams and thus forgetting to remove the jacks underneath the car. It is tragi-comical mistake which forces the German driver to start from the back of the grid, joining his teammate Montoya. Not exactly what the Grove team expected after taking pole position 24 hours ago.
At the start, Michael Schumacher has a good start and keeps the leads going into La Source; Hakkinen struggles with a slow getaway and is quickly overtaken by Fisichella. The latter has yet another storming start and is up to 2nd place. In the tail end of the field, Montoya gets bumped wide by De La Rosa and is almost against the barrier. On lap 2, Montoya is up to 12th but the BMW engine failure ensures that his race ends at the Pouhon corner. De La Rosa and Nick Heidfeld are also out in the early stages of the race. The Jaguar driver clipped the Sauber’s front wing and could not continue the race as a result.
On lap 4, Michael Schumacher leads the race ahead of Fisichella, Barrichello, Coulthard, Button and Hakkinen. Fisichella is pressurized by the n.2 Ferrari driver. The Italian is unfazed by Barrichello and is able to defend his 2nd place. In the meantime, Hakkinen is able to take 5th place from Button. The English driver is then overtaken, in a matter of 2 laps, by Trulli, Alesi and Jacques Villeneuve. Schumacher is on a race of his own. His race pace is one second faster than on average than Fisichella’s one. The Benetton car seems to be a cork in the bottle for the others behind.
By the end of the 6th lap, the race leader continues to extend his lead out front. The gap between 1st and 2nd is now 12.8 seconds. Trulli is the first driver to pit. It seems like an early pit-stop but this is because the teams were not allowed to refuel their respective during the red-flag procedure. If the teams did not follow this instruction, their driver would have forced to start the race from last position. In the following laps, Hakkinen and Barrichello make their first pit-stops on lap 7 and 8 respectively. With a good pitstop from the McLaren team, the two drivers exchange position. Mika is now running in 4th place whilst Barrichello is 5th.
On the 11th lap, Michael and Coulthard enter the pitlane for their first pit-stop of the day. Before this, the reigning world champion was 20 seconds clear of Fisichella. The latter Fisichella briefly takes the lead of the race. Despite doing the pit-stop on lap 12, the Italian stays in 2nd and ahead of Coulthard. At the end of the first pit-stop phase, the order remains the same apart from Barrichello. The latter was the big loser out of this. Panis is penalized with a 10 seconds Stop&Go penalty for crossing the white line at the pitlane exit.
At the start of 17th lap, Barrichello, in an attempt to gain 4th position from Hakkinen, hits a bollard in the Bus Stop chicane and is limping back to the pits to change the front wing. During the course of the same lap, Button is forced to retire. Fisichella continues to hold 2nd place and to slow down Coulthard. The Scots is much faster than the Italian driver but is unable to overtake him. Schumacher takes advantage of it to further extend his margin over his rivals.
On lap 19, Trulli starts the second round of pit-stops; the last one to enter the pitlane, for a fuel-and-tyres stop, is the race leader on lap 25. From this moment on, Schumacher simply manage his lead. Three laps later, Coulthard is really close behind the rear of the Benetton, after being slowed down by the lapped Arrows of Bernoldi. At the end of the Kemmel straight, the Scot sweeps around the outside of Fisichella for 2nd place.
The new race classification sees Schumacher in the lead, followed by Coulthard, Fisichella, Hakkinen, Trulli, Alesi, Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher. The Brazilian Ferrari driver, by lap 31, is on a charge to take 6th place away from Alesi. At the Kemmel straight, Barrichello pulls out of the Jordan’s slipstream to take one championship point. Simultaneously, Trulli’s engine blows up and is retiring out of the race. With a good straight-speed, Alesi is able to stay ahead of Ralf until the end of the race, gaining yet another championship point.
At the end of the 36th lap, Michael Schumacher crosses the line to win the race. This is his 52nd career win and becoming the most successful Grand Prix driver of all time, overtaking the legend Alain Prost. Coulthard and an extraordinary Fisichella are on the podium. The Italian taken the 200th and last podium in the history of Benetton. Hakkinen, Barrichello and Alesi round up the top-6. Schumacher starts to speak about this new record:
"I am proud to be the most successful driver in the history of Formula 1. The statistics usually do not have the first priority but it really does mean something to me to have this number on my count. I am very delighted about this but I will be much more delighted sitting one day on the sofa, retired, and I have a cigar and beer in hand and think about it".
Does the will to win goes away for you?
"Those who know me know that I will never stop fighting. Even when I play football, I try to do my best. There are no particular secrets, I like to win. I enjoy winning and that is it. What is good is winning the championship with a victory in Hungary and now we have had another race win here. A lot of people think we would take it easy but we are not. Doing it here so close to my home is an extra satisfaction. This is our year. Ferrari is dominating. Let’s hope to dominate for a long time".
It is not exciting for the other driver to always see you ahead:
"I did not enjoy myself either. At the end there was too much chaos, with two starts and Burti’s incident. It was important to stay calm. I was able to build up a very big lead, have a clear race and I am delighted with the result. It was probably too boring for them".
You should thank the Williams team for having such a disastrous getaway at the beginning. First Montoya, then your brother Ralf:
"I did not really notice what happened to him when we left the grid. I then saw his car in the mirrors jacked up. I was thinking 'what's wrong' and I went on the radio but I knew it was too late for him. I feel sorry for him. I would have liked for him to be on the podium with him. I think the guy next to me, Fisichella, made an amazing start. I do not know which position he came from but he almost overtook me. In the end, he blocked the others allowing to escape".
You made a mistake that could have ruined your race. You finished in the gravel at one point:
"I once lost concentration when I was going wide in turn 15. I was just playing with too many buttons at the same time and I ran wide and almost went into the barrier".
Why did you continue to push with that gap?
"According to our information, it should have started to rain at around 3:00 p.m. For whatever reason, I thought I had the chance to open up the gap for an extra pit and we did not know whether they would do. I just wanted to have that safety margin because I was faster than Giancarlo and David couldn't get by. Thus, I was able to open up such a lead. I used the T-car and I felt much more comfortable in it. Our package was very competitive".
This is your 5th victory at Spa, ten year after you debut. This day could have been ruined by Burti’s incident:
"Luckily, when we stopped, Jean told me about the situation so we knew at the time that he was conscious and things didn't look too bad. Obviously, we were not aware of the true picture and we were made aware just before that things seemed alright. I saw his destroyed car but also that the protection cell was quite intact. This was a relief for me. I think the drivers, the FIA and everybody have done a good job there. Remember, one or two years ago we had a big kink in the barrier. If it had still been there, he would have had a really big one, that would have been massive".
The next race is your home Grand Prix:
"Now we go to Monza, where we will have reason to celebrate at home, whatever the result. It will be nice to live the celebration of our Tifosi. I will be emotional for sure. we want to do well there, maybe with another victory".
The first official diagnosis from the medical staff, regarding Luciano Burti’s conditions, arrives in the evening:
"I have a contusion in the face. The exams revealed a slight intracranial haemorrhage, without hydrocephalus".
In other words, Burti suffered a severe head injury, a very strong contusion in the face with a subsequent intracranial haemorrhage and no internal liquid spillage. An official press release from Prost points out:
"The scan showed bruising on two locations on the head but no swelling. He will be closely monitored and tomorrow there will be another scan".
The shock now remains for his second consecutive scare in less than a month. At the start of the German Grand Prix, the Brazilian violently hit the back of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari, which was going slowly in the middle of the track after suffering a gearbox issue, and literally took off. At the first corner of the Hockenheim circuit, the car launched in the air and rolled over the top of Bernoldi’s Arrows. The Prost car then crashed into the barriers. The dynamic of the incident was spectacular: fortunately, the Brazilian driver was practically unscathed: at the second restart, Burti used the spare car but then had to retire after having pain in his arm.
Barrichello, his great friend, visited him at the Liegi hospital in the evening. The Ferrari driver recounted that Burti wanted to get up from the bed and smash Irvine’s face. According to the Prost driver, Irvine was the cause of the terrible incident. However, Burti, a couple of days after the incident, will claim that he has never said such things. He further explains that he does not remember anything and that he thus cannot put the blame on Irvine. Yet there is someone who openly accused the Jaguar driver of causing the incident. The two touched whilst the Brazilian was trying to overtake Irvine at Blanchimont, one of the fastest corners of the entire calendar. The North Irish driver brutally closed the door at his rival. By doing so, according to Flavio Briatore, he made a big mistake:
"Everyone needs to calm down. If a driver makes a mistake, he should be stopped for one or two races".
Irvine thinks otherwise:
"I kept my line; he provoked the incident. I was going slow since I was driving a heavy car, full of fuel. His attack surprised me. At that moment I thought: he is crazy, why is he trying to overtake me here?"
Irvine re-calls the first terrible moments that followed the impact:
"I was the first on the scene and his head was literally pushed over to one side with the weight of the tyres. The head and neck restraint system played a key role in saving Luciano from serious injury today. The head and neck restraint system obviously absorbed the impact of the tyres".
In realty as Sid Watkins pointed out, medical responsible of the circuit, was in the midst of a nervous breakdown:
"When I arrived with the ambulance, he was unconscious. I woke him up and he then started to scream. I told him to calm down. I was relieved when I saw that he was breathing well".
This story was confirmed by Alex Ribeiro, ex driver from Brazil, who was at the wheel of the medical. Barrichello, who shared a house with Burti at Cambridge, relived for a moment a tragic incident:
"When I saw a tarpaulin covering the scene of the incident, I thought about Senna. I was terrorized. He should thank God for being able to walk out of that horrible shunt still alive".
Subsequently, Burti clarifies his point of view, denying the rumours that he was furious with Irvine:
"I cannot yet tell what really happened. I do not remember the crash. I remember being quite fast and trying to overtake Eddie Irvine. Was Irvine the one who touched me and broke my front wing? I do not think he did not on purpose. He is not at fault. Whilst I was overtaking, the incident occurred, that’s the way it is".
The FIA will open a file to establish if there was any responsibility in the incident. Burti’s helmets will thus be requisitioned. It will be analysed for a long time to understand how was it possible that the chin strap guard has collapsed in the shunt. The deficiencies of the helmet will then be found and solved. In the meantime, it will be archived in a warehouse near Parigi. Years later, the helmet will be given back to its legitimate owner. Burti will then post a photo of the helmet on Instagram with a comment that reads like this:
"I got back from the FIA the helmet from the Spa accident after 13 years. I will put it in my collection, together with the helmets of Schumacher, Barrichello Buttons, Webber and many other colleagues. At first, I thought about putting it near my trophies. After all, it is a trophy".
In the meantime, the 26-years old Brazilian driver will not take part in the following race, the Italian Grand Prix at the Monza circuit. Unfortunately for him, the Belgium race will be his last appearance in Formula 1.