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#717 2004 San Marino Grand Prix

2022-02-21 23:00

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#717 2004 San Marino Grand Prix

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To celebrate a 50-year relationship, America offers Ferrari a gift for lovers: the Empire State Building in New York dressed in red, from sunset to midnight. Manhattan's iconic skyscraper, illuminated for one night in the Maranello marque's colour, provided the backdrop for the Prancing Horse gala and, like any self-respecting love story, America did not fail to send messages of affection. From Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Mario Andretti and Ralph Lauren, many people wanted to remember what the Italian car represents when it first arrived in the USA in the spring of 1954 and soon became a status symbol from Wall Street to Hollywood. Says Ferrari President, Luca di Montezemolo:

 

"There has always been a great love between the United States and Ferrari. Knowing that Ferrari's 50th anniversary in the United States is being celebrated by lighting the Empire State Building in red would have given Enzo Ferrari the same joy that it gives me and all those who are proud to be Italian".

 

The first Ferraris appeared in America in an atelier created by Luigi Chinetti, driver and friend of Enzo Ferrari, which stood on 11th Avenue at the crossroads with 54th Street in Manhattan. A place just a stone's throw from the Javits Center, the exhibition centre where the half-century of American history of the car that was loved by Cary Grant and Paul Newman was celebrated. It is still produced today in one colour, Ingrid Grey, which is a tribute to the eyes of a great admirer, Ingrid Bergman. Roberto Rossellini wanted the colour when he gave her a Ferrari as a wedding gift. Today's Hollywood continues to express its passion for Ferraris and some people collect Prancing Horse cars. Explains Mario Andretti, unforgettable driver and Formula 1 World Champion:

 

"My love for Ferrari, began when I was a child in Italy".

 

After Chinetti convinced Enzo Ferrari to export to the American market, the legend quickly grew overseas. Today, the USA has become Maranello's number one market. 2003 closed with the eleventh consecutive year of growth, with 1350 cars delivered. Moving from America to Europe, in an interview Michael Schumacher praises the Lingotto cars he uses in his everyday life. An example? He prefers the Multipla for taking his children to school.

 

"Because Gina Maria and Mick like to be at the front, and in the Multipla, the three of us are at the front".

 

The German, with Ferrari, is undermining the image of the German car industry.

 

"Perhaps, it's an indication of what will happen in the future with Fiat. Because Ferrari has had a lot of help from Fiat in terms of research and development. But Fiat, as a production car, has made enormous progress in quality over the years and is now at the same level as the German brands. But it will go further".

 

In the meantime, anticipation is growing for the fourth round of the Formula 1 World Championship scheduled for Sunday 25 April 2004. Michael Schumacher confesses while waiting for Imola:

 

"When Senna died, I really thought about quitting".

 

Ayrton Senna's death could have marked the end of Michael Schumacher's career. The six-time world champion says on his website that on 10 May 1994, during the tragic accident at Imola that cost the Brazilian star his life, he seriously considered retiring:

 

"For the first time I was faced with death in this sport and I asked myself if I still wanted to continue. It was a horrible weekend because the previous day Roland Ratzenberger had also died in an accident".

 

According to the German, Senna's death was:

 

"A great loss for all of motorsport. Ayrton was an inspiration, not only for me, a symbol. And he gave so much".

 

Schumacher adds that he believes FIA president Max Mosley is right in saying that after the accidents of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, Formula 1 has become less dangerous.

 

"Since then, safety has improved enormously, and much more attention has been paid to the problem. That's the only positive lesson that can be drawn from that tragedy".

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In view of the Grand Prix of Imola (Sunday 25 April 2004), on Tuesday 13 April 2004 Ferrari does some tests at Fiorano on tyres with the F2004 driven by Barrichello, who will be on track again while at Vairano with Luca Badoer will be engaged Andrea Bertolini, test-driver of historic single-seaters, for the first time at the wheel of the Ferrari that disputes the world championship. Meanwhile, a curious piece of news comes from Germany; 11.770 inhabitants of Kerpen-Manheim, the birthplace of Michael and Ralf Schumacher, will be relocated: brown coal has been found in the town's subsoil. To extract the precious fuel - reveals the German newspaper Bild - by 2007 the new Kerpen will be built, by 2012 all the inhabitants of the old town will be relocated and from 2022 coal mining will begin. Ten days before the San Marino Grand Prix, Williams is preparing to redeem itself against the power of the prancing horse.

 

"I will cure my walrus to chase Ferrari".

 

Italian Antonia Terzi is the "mother" of the English single-seater.

 

"In the new wind tunnel, we work 24 hours a day".

 

Williams-BMW is the only single-seater that even a layman can distinguish from the others by details other than the colour or the sponsors: Williams-BMW is the walrus for everyone. The front wing is not attached to a traditional nose but to two carbon tusks which, in the imagination of Formula 1, were supposed to bite Ferrari. The walrus's mother has long blond hair, blue eyes and very Italian origins. Her name is Antonia Terzi, 33, born in San Felice sul Panaro, in the province of Modena. Her background is also Emilian, from her degree in engineering to the master's degree in England sponsored by Minardi, which introduced her to the world of Formula 1, to her apprenticeship at the aerodynamic school in Maranello under the guidance of Nicolas Tombazis. In March 2002 she joined Williams, where within a year she was promoted to head of the aerodynamics department. Her creation, the Fw26, has so far only engaged Michael Schumacher in qualifying. But in 2003, after a difficult start, Terzi found the right solutions to give Ferrari a run for their money.

 

"I created the wind tunnel work programme for the next races on the calendar".

 

Antonia Terzi is rarely seen on the circuit. Only twice last season, most recently at Monte-Carlo. She spends most of his time at the Grove plant in England, where the second wind tunnel has been in operation for a few days. Aesthetes have turned up their noses at the walrus nose.

 

"For me, a car is beautiful when it works, when it has its own construction logic and offers good performance. No one in our aerodynamics department is aiming to make a purely beautiful car. The aim is to design a single-seater that meets the objectives. I don't worry about the aesthetic impact, because I see other aspects".

 

Was the aerodynamic design of the Fw26 born before or after that of the engine and all the mechanics?

 

"The design is a compromise. I work closely with design director Gavin Fisher and technical director Patrick Head. I propose aerodynamic innovations and Gavin checks that they fit with the mechanics. In the end, we usually compromise".

 

Did the nose work?

 

"Yes, it's a solution we've been studying for a long time".

 

How long?

 

"My department is operational twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This availability of means is vital in Formula 1: all teams are constantly evolving and the only way to stand out among the top teams is to increase the frequency of development. You have to move forward as quickly as possible. Competitiveness depends on how often you get developments on track".

 

How do you plan to catch up with Ferrari?

 

"The work of improving a single-seater is continuous. Sam Michael (the chief engineer) and I spend a lot of time analysing the data collected over the race weekends, isolating problems from previous races or trying to respond to the specific needs of the Grands Prix to come".

 

You left Italy, and in particular, Maranello, to work in England: are you happy?

 

"Very happy. Here I studied for my master's degree and I feel at home. I have my rewards: since April 2003 I have been chief aerodynamics officer, responsible for the three key departments in the sector. It's very similar to research in that there's no established and recognised knowledge of how to build an efficient single-seater. The only drawback is that I work a lot: that's the rule in Formula 1".

 

The Williams-BMW is being tested at the Spanish circuit of Montmeló: at the wheel is New Zealander Dixon, who is engaged in a test. Meanwhile, the Russian and Northern European tour comes to an end: over ten thousand kilometres, no problems with Ferrari and Maserati without limits. A great winter test in the snow and ice. Ferrari does not only win in Formula 1, going from one triumph to the next with Michael Schumacher, but it also goes strong on snow and ice, in extremely difficult climatic conditions. Not with Ferrari, of course, but with its precious road models and, in this case, together with Maserati, the other pearl of the Emilian group. The Prancing Horse and the Trident concluded the Russian and Northern European Tour, the over 10.000 km raid that took two Ferraris, a 375M Maranello and a 360 Modena, and two Maseratis, a Quattroporte and a Spyder Cambiocorsa, through eleven countries, from Modena to Modena, with an important stop in Moscow and an appendix in Turin. It was there that the partnership with Iveco was celebrated. Iveco provided support for the expedition with two vehicles (a Eurocargo and a Daily) and its network of dealers and workshops. Gigi Barp, expedition leader and head of reliability for the Ferrari-Maserati Group, is proud to say:

 

"That our cars have not had the slightest problem. These cars, designed for high performance, proved to be robust and safe as well, running without any problems on slippery or uneven surfaces. We didn't have to modify the set-up or suspension: after all, tough tests and road tests are part of our development programme".

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In short, Ferrari and Maserati are as good on the smooth asphalt of Florida or the French Riviera as they are on the snow of Northern Europe or the rough roads of the East. The poker of cars left Italy on 5 March 2004 and travelled through Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Baltic Republics, Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria, covering, among other things, two thousand kilometres on very bumpy roads and another three thousand on snowy and icy surfaces, with stretches of up to 1200 kilometres a day. A total of 182 hours were spent driving (with a group of test drivers from the Group and the specialist company Prototipo as the drivers), consuming 6,800 litres of fuel (not special fuel, but found at normal service stations). The key stage was Moscow. Maranello and Modena will make their official entry into the Russian market on 20 May 2004 through the Mercury distributor, and the raid brought a preview of four splendid examples of Made in Italy to Red Square. Explains Antonio Ghini, Ferrari head of communications:

 

"We are small and we try with agility to promote interesting events for our road models, linked to sportiness and adventure. Our first market remains and will remain the United States, but for years President Montezemolo has focused on countries with great development potential for Ferrari and Maserati, as he did for Japan. In June we will also be in China".

 

Russia is the Ferrari-Maserati Group's 50th market. It is an alternative that could bring in additional resources, useful in compensating for any problems in other areas (for example, the dollar-euro exchange rate, which has made the albeit substantial sales in the United States less profitable). Of course, it will take some time before the Kremlin lights up all red, as it did in New York for the Empire State Building, symbolising 50 years of Ferrari's presence in North America. Ferrari is pushing the accelerator on all fronts: ample resources for research and development, new industrial plants (in Maranello as well as in Modena), expansion of the sales network and initiatives dedicated to customers and fans (another Ferrari Store will be opened in Rome on Friday), fascinating models in terms of design and refined technology. Recent examples include the Scaglietti or, for Maserati, the Quattroporte. A similar philosophy is being pursued by Iveco, which in recent years has invested over two billion euros in renewing its vehicle range, and has created an 18-million-euro Customer Support Centre in Turin, employing 150 specialists. In essence, this is a centre for after-sales service, training and updating, diagnostics and technical support for customers and the network. An important part of the centre is the Client Centre, an 80-strong operations centre that speaks 7 languages, covers 25 countries and operates 24 hours a day to help customers with difficulties. The centre, which handles 94.000 cases a year, improves hauliers' business. Iveco, which sold around 150.000 vehicles in 2003, also has a remote diagnostics service. This allows technicians at the head office to collaborate with workshop technicians in the field, thousands of kilometres away. In the meantime, the president-designate of Confindustria is busy preparing the programme to be presented to the council on 29 April 2004. Montezemolo is at work, in first contact with the unions. Luigi Angeletti says:

 

"I appreciate the openness to dialogue".

 

A private meeting. In a private home.

 

"We had a very good cup of coffee".

 

A normal gesture of cordiality, the coffee offered by Ferrari president Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, who has been nominated as president of Confindustria, to CGIL leader Guglielmo Epifani, CISL leader Savino Pezzotta and Angeletti, nevertheless attracts attention. It is, in fact, the first occasion of contact between the confederal unions and Montezemolo, who will be elected to the leadership of the entrepreneurs in forty days, on 26 May 2004. The value of this contact lies precisely in its being the number one appointment. Moreover, the day before the meeting Angeletti pointed out that Montezemolo "technically has not yet been elected president", observing that therefore the scheduled meeting (and not intended to be made public) could not have been 'anything other than an informal meeting'. Or rather 'of courtesy', as Montezemolo stressed. After his conclusion, he returned to Imola. committed to listening to everyone within the entrepreneurial system but also to the moods and requests of the entire economic world. This work was the basis for the presentation on 29 April 2004 to the Confindustria council of the programme for the next four years and the top management team, a fundamental stage in view of the election and, the following day, the inaugural speech as Antonio D'Amato's successor. All this while the signs regarding the Italian economy continue to be very negative: last Tuesday, Istat announced that industrial production did not increase in February and the gross industrial product is almost at a standstill. There is concern among companies. There is a concern in the trade unions. But there is also 'the desire to react', the president-designate of Confindustria has repeatedly stressed in recent weeks. Angeletti reports that in the meeting held with Montezemolo, which lasted about an hour:

 

"There was no discussion of specific issues; there was no particular agenda".

 

Naturally, the problems of the economy in this long period of stagnation were discussed, with a view to the efforts needed to relaunch development and create jobs and measures to increase competitiveness. This initial contact is therefore only a prelude to future discussions.

 

"We are committed to meeting again as soon as Montezemolo takes office in Confindustria".

 

Epifani said. In the meagre statements released yesterday by the confederal secretaries, there is no reference to the tensions of recent years. Angeletti, however, also made some explicitly positive assessments of the invitation to CGIL, CISL and UIL to have a coffee.

 

"It is an initiative that shows openness to dialogue that we cannot fail to appreciate".

 

The need to recover the culture of dialogue, in a climate of collaboration at all levels, has been recalled several times by Montezemolo in recent months and in particular during the debate within Confindustria that led to his nomination for the presidency decided by a large majority of the board on 11 March 2004. In the notes he wrote in February, after a series of meetings with local and trade associations, Montezemolo stated that in the operation of building our future we do not claim to be the only active players. He added:
 
"On the contrary, we want to have constructive relations with everyone; ready to explain our reasons but willing to listen to those of others. Those of the trade union, in particular, which represents the workers, i.e., a large part of the companies' assets".
 
Montezemolo, who would later be appointed to the leadership of the employers with such a broad consensus, also points out what this method means:
 
"If we all have this willingness to listen, then we can reach agreements that are not mere compromises but the result of shared choices, where no one has to give in to the other party but must be able to recognise the validity of the positions".
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While waiting for Imola, there is a big crowd at the inauguration of the new store in Rome: Ferrari lands in Rome but Iraq cancels the party. Montezemolo, in agreement with Veltroni, cancels the announced show of Schumi and Barrichello to respect the dramatic moment in the country. This time, the track seems to be running along the route through Rome's historic centre, following the trail of Ferrari fans in red who stop behind the barriers just a few metres from the huge windows of the Ferrari Store, the three-storey Prancing Horse shop that, from last night, will be the Roman home of Schumacher and Barrichello fans. Via Tomacelli, a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps is the final straight of an afternoon that writes a new chapter in the special historical bond between Ferrari and Rome, where, in 1947 at the Terme di Caracalla, the Prancing Horse won its first Grand Prix. It rains without interruption on the thousands of fans waiting for their flying heroes, but the detailed protocol of the inauguration, mid-afternoon, is changed, (the president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo, and the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, in such a dramatic moment for our country, decide to remove all officialdom from the opening of the Ferrari store, keeping the event in the utmost sobriety.

 

"For this reason, it has been decided that drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello will not take part in the event".

 

is the message from the Maranello company. No ribbon-cutting ceremony and no music, therefore, for the opening of the third Ferrari shop (after the one in Maranello and the one at Bologna airport) and while waiting for the Prancing Horse brand to land, after New York, in Las Vegas, Shanghai and Tokyo where other stores will open in the coming months. Jean Todt, general manager of the team, is the first to enter as soon as the red veils are removed from the windows. In the foreground is the solemn presence of the world champion Ferrari F2003-GA, but also the single-seater nose hanging on the wall, as well as the steering wheel to put on the bookshelf and the 2001 engine. Then, among the tables and shelves, there is space for the red Toyland: from the little hat to the small gold brooch to the notepad. From soft toys to window display items, from high-end watches to scale models to toys, including original elements of GT and Formula 1 cars and small mechanic's suits (complete with tools) for the little ones, over three thousand items are on display on three floors. The monitors give the illusion of being among the grandstands of the most spectacular Grand Prix, a noise that blends in with the one coming from outside, where there is the possibility of simulating a race at the wheel of a single-seater.

 

"We mustn't get carried away after a very positive start to the season with three wins in as many races".

 

Says Ferrari team principal, Jean Todt. President Luca Montezemolo merely comments on the decision to keep the profile low at the inauguration of the Ferrari Store.

 

"Given the things that are happening in Iraq, it seemed the most logical decision".

 

The guests are divided between the three floors of the shop: there is the undersecretary to the Prime Minister, Gianni Letta, Alain Elkann, the actress Claudia Gerini, Massimo Giletti, Gianni Mina, Roberta Capua and Fabrizio Frizzi. Behind the counter at the entrance to the shop, Piero Ferrari, the Enzo Ferrari's son, laughs as he thinks about what his father, engineer Enzo Ferrari, would have said about an event like this. Piero Ferrari explains:

 

"What would my father have thought of Maranello merchandising? At the time he did not think of it as a business. But he was the one who created objects to make presents, to please his friends: umbrellas, for example, and key rings".

 

By the time the Ferrari fans begin to leave their seats behind the barriers, the spotlights have already turned on, celebrating Italy winning in the world.

 

"The presence of our two drivers on the programme is not a contradiction to the decision not to have them attend the opening of the Ferrari store: there we talk about Italian supremacy in industry and the successes of Ferrari".

 

Says Antonio Ghini, Ferrari's communications director. Schumacher dribbles with the media, Barrichello hopes to triumph at Imola, and Ferrari's president Luca di Montezemolo smiles:

 

"As long as it is a Ferrari that wins".

 

In the evening, the whole team is a guest on 'Porta a Porta' celebrating Italy's successes. The World Champion:

 

"Formula 1 boring? Maybe for others, not for me".

 

Sunday 25 April 2004 sees the San Marino Grand Prix come to life in memory of Senna.

 

"At Imola I am used to winning; by tradition at Imola we have always been very strong, and I naturally hope to maintain the tradition".

 

Says Michael Schumacher. The Ferrari champion is optimistic, and we defy anyone to complain in his condition after three wins in a row to start the championship. But he reiterates the traditional caution, the invitation to keep one's feet on the ground. On Sunday 25 April 2004 Formula 1 arrives at Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix, the first European round after Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain. At the autodrome dedicated to Enzo and Dino Ferrari, Michael Schumacher has won five times.

 

"Sleeping on your laurels is the first step towards defeat. You always go forward, you always improve a little. And we have many areas in which we can give more".

 

According to Schumacher, Ferrari's excellent record at the start of the season means more motivation for everyone in the team. Pressure is not a problem for him:

 

"I have lived with it for a long time. We all have to live with it. For now it's going very well".

 

Schumacher wins the first time at Imola in 1994 with Benetton. It was on 10 May, the tragic race that cost Brazilian Ayrton Senna his life. The previous day, in a serious accident during practice, Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger died.

 

"It was a terrible weekend".

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Schumacher recalls. Several initiatives are planned in memory of Senna. The first one on Wednesday 21 April 2004 in the evening at the municipal stadium in Forti, where a football match will be played between the Nazionale Piloti (of which Schumacher is captain) and the 1994 world champion Brazil. The proceeds will be donated to the Senna Foundation. Our gaze returns for a moment to Confinduistria, where Montezemolo forms the team by presenting names chosen on the basis of cohesion without the scales. Extensive involvement with the 'long bench': among the deputies are Pininfarina, Tronchetti, Bombassei and Pistorio. It's February. Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo meets entrepreneurs from all over Italy. After listening to them, he begins to sketch out some ideas:

 

"We do not want a closed and parcelled out Confindustria, where each associative component has its own little piece of power managed by associationism professionals, in a logic of internal consociativism from which even we are unfortunately not exempt".

 

Appointed president of Confindustria on Thursday 11 March 2004, Luca Montezemolo set to work to select his team, to be presented to the board on Thursday 29 April 2004. And those notes have become the starting point. The team that is about to be defined, in fact, is based on cohesion, on compactness, on the coherence of strategic choices, on the commonality of directions. And not on the so-called Cencelli manual, the distribution of posts among the various components of a coalition applied at a political level. Montezemolo's team, therefore, is not chosen with the scales like a council of ministers to take into account the different categories or geographical areas or types of company: it is a new method. The president-designate (who will be elected by the assembly on 26 May 2004) is completing the choices by identifying the people with whom he believes he can work well to develop the programme, also presented on 29 April. On the other hand, 'teamwork' is his slogan. Eight of the nine vice-president's boxes with the relative appointments seem (the conditional is a must as there is one week to go before the board meeting) to already have a possible recipient: Andrea Pininfarina for the study centre, Marco Tronchetti Provera corporate finance, Alberto Bombassei industrial relations.

 

Marino Vago internal organisation, Pasquale Pistorio innovation and research, Ettore Artioli Mezzogiorno, Emma Marcegaglia industrial policies, Gianmarco Moratti Europe. The vice-presidency for internationalisation does not yet have a favoured candidate. The vice-presidents by right are Anna Maria Artoni as number one of the young entrepreneurs (to whom Montezemolo has pre-announced additional tasks as an investment in the new generations) and Sandro Salmoiraghi as head of the small industry committee (currently engaged in the difficult management of its board). Together with the vice-presidents, there is talk of the allocation of three special proxies. The names of Francesco Bellotti for credit and Gianfelice Rocca for education are circulating, while for services a solution has yet to be found. The holders of the delegations could participate in the bureau. Basically, the search for the members of the line-up that will flank Montezemolo has been set up without alchemy, looking at the specific skills and commitment possibilities of the chosen entrepreneurs: in practice, the actual and not cosmetic willingness to perform the assigned role. Montezemolo wrote in February:

 

"We need a professional and authoritative Confindustria at all levels, central, territorial and category, where unity is the fruit of shared ideas and not the product of power sharing".

 

Montezemolo also seems to be committed to the team concept to ensure maximum involvement within Confindustria. According to the statute, he has the possibility of appointing eight deputies in full autonomy (the ninth, responsible for Southern Italy, must be chosen from the shortlist provided by the Southern Regions Committee, which indicates Artioli with 83 votes out of 148 followed by Nicola De Bartolomeo with 78, Nino Paravia with 43 and Gerardo Giura Trabocchetto with 11). But the allocation of responsibility for large areas does not allow even priority areas to be covered. Thus, it is said, the 'long bench' scheme has matured: alongside the vice-presidents and delegates, a number of working commissions. It is a way to deepen essential topics, such as energy or institutional reforms or made in Italy. And a way to nurture contributions, to the benefit of the entire system. Having launched the team on Thursday 29 April 2004, the president-designate will be able to open a kind of phase two: attention to the structure. For the director general in office, Stefano Parisi, other external commitments seem to be emerging: there is talk of the railways (assembly on Tuesday 27 April 2004) as well as Inpdap. For the moment, therefore, any hypothesis on the main collaborators within the apparatus seems premature. Blitz by the king of motorbikes: Valentino's first time on an Formula 1 racing car impresses the technicians at Maranello with times under a minute. Rossi and Ferrari magic: What a thrill to be Schumacher. Thirty laps at Fiorano with the F2004: only 3 seconds separate him from the German driver.

 

"I thank the Ferrari for the opportunity".

 

The word spreads like wildfire: there is Valentino Rossi testing the Ferrari. Immediately, the Fiorano circuit comes alive with fans, scattered along the nets and hedges surrounding the track. It's true: the hero of the MotoGP race in South Africa on Sunday 18 April 2004 is on the track, at the wheel of one of the F2004s normally driven by Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello or, at most, Luca Badoer. The two-wheel World Champion covers a total of about thirty laps. Impressive: for a guy who has never driven an F1 car (his experience is limited to karts and rally cars) he pushes the accelerator well. The timings are not official. But he came very close to 59"0, a time that does not pale in comparison with those achieved by the Scuderia del Cavallino's regular drivers, just over three seconds off Schumacher's record (55"999).

 

"A l'è brevi di mondi" ("He's very good").

 

Says one of the Fiorano warehouse operators in dialect, those fans who distinguish drivers from a distance, from the way they use the gearbox, and who have a sense of every slightest flaw. Valentino Rossi, after the impromptu test, in his red sweatshirt, spoke a few words:

 

"It was a very emotional day for me. Driving an F1 car was an extraordinary experience and it was great to step into Schumacher's shoes for a day. I want to thank Ferrari for giving me this opportunity".

 

A Tuesday to remember, on the eve of the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. The test of Mr. Rossi is also attended by Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, who, in the late afternoon, are offered in a special ceremony, together with Jean Todt, the honorary citizenship of the City of Fiorano, obviously for sporting merit. The German (who lent suit and helmet to Valentino) and the Brazilian also did a series of laps shortly before with the new Maserati MC12, destined to take part in Fia-GT races. You can't say it wasn't a surprise, this long-awaited twinning between Ferrari and the Doctor. Renault was also thinking of Valentino Rossi, with Flavio Briatore even offering him a week of testing. And, earlier, before the Tavullia star's move to Yamaha, a test programme with BAR-Honda was ventilated. Evidently the lure of the 'rossa' is stronger than all, after Ferrari's President Luca Montezemolo reiterates his intention to organise such an exciting day:

 

"I would love to see Rossi in a Ferrari".

 

The story, which is being kept as secret as possible in Maranello, is going round the world. It seems that at Ferrari they even received a phone call from a well-known Honda executive: he asked if the test was actually taking place. Yamaha knew nothing about it either, so much so that Davide Brivio, the sporting director of the centaur's current team, when questioned replied:

 

"It's true that we were not aware of it. Before making any considerations we want to talk to him and his manager. We know, of course, what his contract allows him to do. In any case, the important thing is that he shows up serene and calm at Jerez next week to compete in the second race of the World Championship".

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At dusk Valentino leaves in his personal car. For the moment it is not known if and when the practice will be followed up. Certainly the emotions felt by the young man were strong, capable of intriguing him for the future, when he will have completed his cycle in motorcycling. Rossi showed a very fast learning ability, even though he lost control of the Ferrari on at least three occasions. A 'straight' from the bridge where the road bends to the right, a couple of spins, and even a silting up in the escape route at the hairpin bend leading back to the pits. In his day Max Biaggi, in 1999, has the same opportunity. The Roman covered 57 laps at Fiorano, best time of 1'06"58, a time that was considered very promising at the time. But no comparisons can be made, except on style: always thoughtful and cautious the Roman, impetuous and decisive the one from the Marche. And who knows with what thoughts Valentino returns home. Shortly before the champion, Viviane Senna, Ayrton's sister, also left Maranello, as did the Brazilian national football team, victorious after beating Italy in the 1994 World Cup final, led by Careca. Rossi is not in time to meet them, because he is focused on driving. Luckily. That way he won't get the urge to play football too. Michael Schumacher checks his helmet before lending it to Valentino Rossi for the F2004 test. Giancarlo Fisichella flunks him:

 

"In motorbikes he wins, he is the undisputed leader, in Formula 1 it would be difficult to do the same results, he would just be a Mr Rossi".

 
Giancarlo Fisichella remains sceptical about Valentino's employment in Formula 1:

 

"Yesterday's was a bonus test".

 

Says the Roman driver from Sauber, making it clear that it is not enough to understand whether the Italian will be able to make the jump to single-seaters.

 

"I think that after a difficult and complicated start he has gained confidence with the car. After all, Valentino already has experience with rallies. But it's too early to say that he can be strong in an F1".

 

Nor does he neglect the media aspect:

 

"It will be positive for him on the publicity level. Rossi is at the centre of attention and the news that he has tested a Ferrari will surely go round the world".

 

Rubens Barrichello adds:

 

"Bravo Rossi, but don't change sport. In cars he goes really fast, like me on motorbikes".

 

They all smile through gritted teeth, torn between hope (of beating Ferrari) and fear (of being defeated again). Alonso, Trulli, Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Coulthard, Button and even Raikkonen and Sato are lulled by the idea of being able to win the San Marino Grand Prix and make up for disappointments or placings that are now no longer enough. For the Scuderia di Maranello, on the other hand, an eve in serenity, in the knowledge that they have worked in the best possible way to remain at the top and in the curiosity to see if the adversaries will have made significant progress. The fact that Ferrari has given Valentino Rossi the opportunity to test the F2004 for a day before such an important race, with the arrival of the F1 World Championship in Europe after three exotic races, is seen as a sign of strength. And the test of the champion who enchants the world on two wheels (often just one) still holds sway. Michael Schumacher says:

 

"He was very good. Among other things, fulfilling the dream of the majority of Italians who would like to drive a Ferrari on the track. I was surprised by his ability to adapt to something completely new so quickly. I think he had a lot of fun. Will he become a driver? If he wants to, he certainly has the talent to make it to a good medium level. The next step, to be a champion in the car as well, will depend on many factors. We'll see. Me on a motorbike? I already ride my Harley Davidson and that's enough for me".

 

Rubens Barrichello also appreciates the talent of 'Doctor Rossi'. But above all, the Brazilian likes the boy's approach:

 

"He's nice, humble, he doesn't act out. A comparison comes to mind: we all used to watch Tyson, waiting for him to collapse under an opponent's fists sooner or later. With Valentino it's different: every time you hope he accomplishes a new feat. And he always succeeds. He possesses many qualities. But I don't know if the transition from two to four wheels will be easy. In Surtees' time it was perhaps easier. In any case, the boy has shown that he is very fast in his first experience. Nothing is precluded for him. I want to remind you, however, that I am by no means stationary on the bike. I tried it with Barros at Interlagos and he only gave me seven seconds on the lap. One day I'd like to try Capirossi's Ducati".

 

While waiting for Barrichello future test, the talk turns to the race, which kicks off on Friday 23 April 2004 with free practice. Says Michael Schumacher:

 

"I am optimistic. On this track in the winter tests we had gone well. But there were also Renault and Williams. I don't know how much progress they made and I saw that BAR in Spain set respectable times. We will all be quite close. However, we know we have the best to keep doing well, so we are aiming for victory. Imola for Ferrari, and also for me as an ambassador of San Marino, is a, special place. We want to entertain our fans and make them go home happy".

 

Rubens Barrichello goes into detail:

 

"I feel charged up. I want to race and give my best. I hope to be able to set up my single-seater in the best possible way, because the race will start on Saturday, in qualifying. Taking pole position is not a guarantee to finish first in the race, but it is a nice advantage".

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It is not a belligerent challenge, that of the 31-year-old from São Paulo, but a declaration of intent. He will certainly be one of the drivers to beat on the fastest lap. Even for Michael Schumacher. For San Marino it may be the last showcase: at Imola The 24th San Marino Grand Prix risks being the last. The future of the Imola race also depends on the influx of spectators (the organisers hope to exceed 100 thousand). The next following the Grand Prix the municipal administration will meet the government to ask for an official commitment in the negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 patron tempted by the very rich offers coming from the East. The new rich are threatening the Motor Valley: like other historical circuits, the Santerno one could only be saved by a very expensive renovation. Imola risks exclusion: Turkey, India and Mexico are advancing. When, in the press conference on Thursday 22 April 2004, Michael Schumacher calls the Imola circuit 'my home', because he has won there five times, he does not think that from next year, 2005, we could consider him, sportingly speaking, homeless.

 

The track that lies in the heart of Europe's Motor Valley, where even a child recognises a car or a motorbike by its engine, before it comes out of a curve, has probably reached the last act of Formula 1: from 2005 it could be replaced with a Grand Prix in Turkey, or in India, in Mexico City or in the heart of Moscow, because the new rich à la Abramovich are not exclusive to football. The world moves on and Imola takes a back seat, like other historic circuits. Ecclestone, whose hair on his stomach is as legendary as the treads in his shoes, makes no concessions to memory: if Silverstone does not find the money to modernise the facility, in 2005 there will be no races in Great Britain; Magny Cours, Montreal, one of the two German circuits, probably Nurburgring, are in the balance. Replacement in itself is not a bad thing when it brings new blood, and it would be nice to think that behind certain choices there really is an interest in satisfying a love that has exploded in virgin countries. But, with the excuse of globalisation, places of tradition are being wiped out to please new markets lukewarm with passion: 2004 opened to China and Bahrain, in past seasons Malaysia slipped in.

 

The circus bosses do not care if there are 20 or 30 thousand spectators in three days, crumbs of what is gathered in Europe. The empty grandstands, or packed with people dragged there by weight, and the impossible temperatures are optional compared to the governments' cover-up intervention and the freedom granted to tobacco sponsors. They say that, just to get into Formula 1, there are those who would paper the circuit with packets of cigarettes. And in Mexico, where there is an epic tied to road racing, they would accept any condition from Ecclestone. Imola is crushed by impossible competition. It will try to defend itself with weak and demodest weapons. How much is the weight of tradition worth compared to the increase that Ecclestone will ask for to keep Imola in Formula 1 for the next five years? The 8.500.000 dollars guaranteed to date are a capestro: if Ecclestone really demands 11.000.000, as he is demanding from Monza, the forfeit is inevitable.

 

"I will talk to Ecclestone, I expect an interlocutory answer,' says lawyer Bendinelli, fresh president of the Automobile Club Bologna company, which manages the circuit. 'I would already be happy if he did not tell me that he has now cut us off".

 

There is a problem of costs and an investment to improve the facility, which is now old compared to when (in 1980) it first hosted Formula 1 by snatching the Italian Grand Prix from Monza. Spiega Federico Bendinelli, presidente dell'Autodromo di Imola:

 

"For the modernisation project, which must respect heavy environmental constraints, 20-25.000.000 euro would be needed. With the current profit margins, it is not an expense we can cope with: next Friday we will go and knock on the Ministry of Public Works, we would like to be included in the government plan for public works, given that the land belongs to the State and it is not a cathedral in the desert: here we use the facility for 230 days a year".

 

We hope, we would like. There are too many conditionalities on the horizon in Imola, where it is only now becoming clear just how serious the errors of the past have been, amidst judicial woes and the immobility of those who felt untouchable.

 

"Our best card with Ecclestone is tradition, enthusiasm. We closed the pre-sale with 67.000 tickets sold, if we get to 100.000 we remain far from the record of 192.000 of five editions ago, but we reach an economic break-even point and give a good signal of interest from the public: Formula 1 cannot be just a television event, it needs the crowd".

 

In order to attract them, they reduce the prices a lot. In 2003 they were so high that many judged them a theft and stayed at home: 82.000 spectators in three days, 62.000 on the Sunday that was Easter. Never so few. Let's hope is repeated. Even if the VIPs are at most two Zelig comedians and the beautiful women who used to wander around must have found other paddocks for the catwalk, the Motor Valley still needs its Grand Prix. The Aci of Bologna manages the facility:

 

"We will talk to Ecclestone, without too much hope".

 

On Nick Heidfeld's Jordan there is a large photo of Senna: in this way the German wants to honour the memory of the Brazilian champion who died in an accident at Imola on 1 May 1994. Friday 23 April 2004 first track day at the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit. This is the programme: 11:00-12:00 a.m. and 2:00-3:00 p.m. free practice. Saturday 24 April 2004: 09:00-09:45 a.m. and 10:15-11:00 a.m. free practice; 1:00 p.m. pre-qualifying; 2:00 p.m. qualifying. Sunday 25 April 2004: 02:00 p.m. Grand Prix. In the classification, Michael Schumacher leads with full points (30 points) ahead of team mate Barrichello (21) and Button (15), while among the constructors Ferrari (51) precedes Renault (22) and Williams (19). Very far away is McLaren-Mercedes, just four points, which on the eve of the race is considered among the favourites. A small parenthesis opens on the new exclusive importer for Maranello thanks to Ferrari's joint venture in China. Ferrari has reached an agreement that will lead to the establishment of a joint venture with its two Chinese partners Wo Kee Hong and Poly Technologies. The joint venture, named Ferrari Maserati Cars International Trading, will be the exclusive importer of Ferrari and Maserati cars in China, as well as responsible for marketing, sales to the commercial network, spare parts and accessories and technical assistance for both marques. Ferrari, Wo Kee and Poly Technologies will hold 40%, 30% and 30% of the new company respectively. The Ferrari Maserati Group has already been present in China since 1993. A number of events are planned for the Ferrari Maserati Group in China during 2004, including the inauguration of the new showroom in downtown Shanghai on June 5, 2004, and participation in the Formula 1 Grand Prix, also in Shanghai, on September 26, 2004.

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On Friday, 23 April 2004, practice takes place on the track just a stone's throw from Maranello: Ferrari continues to dictate the law and its traditional rivals suffer. In Schumacher's wake only BAR-Honda. Michael Schumacher sets the new record, Jenson Button chases him. As on all Fridays, Michael Schumacher takes to the track, demolishes the record that already belonged to him and spends the rest of the day testing tyres and set-ups while the rest of Formula 1 tries in vain to get closer to him. His best time came after three free practice laps: a second quicker than his 2002 pole position. In winter testing he manages to do even better, but there is no official timing. The only one who manages to keep up (and even this is becoming a habit) is Jenson Button: 1'20"084 the German's time, 1'20"966 that of the BAR-Honda Englishman. No one else drops below 1'21"0. Comparing the times of the two free practice sessions, third is the Japanese Takuma Sato with the other BAR, fourth Rubens Barrichello with the other Ferrari, who would be the first of the lapped drivers if everyone would keep the same pace in the race. The historic competitors sank: Raikkonen (McLaren), Trulli (Renault), Montoya (Williams) were a second and a half behind. Imola begins to turn red. A grandstand is reserved for Ferrari employees. The Maranello headquarters is 80 km away. Confirms Michael Schumacher:
 

"The tradition is favourable, and the car is in great shape".

 

Then he puts the brakes on:

 

"The winter tests have allowed us to arrive at Imola with a good data base and to go fast straight away. Qualifying and the race will be uncertain. I think we can fight for the victory, but it will certainly not be an easy task".

 

Let's strive to believe him.

 

"Our opponents achieved a good level of performance as practice went on".

 

This is true: the problem of the opponents (who have Michelin tyres) is, if anything, to run two consecutive fast laps. Nobody can do that. The French tyre degrades in about ten kilometres and in the race the problem is embarrassingly noticeable. With Schumi we might as well talk about something else. Is Mrs Corinna here to bring luck?

 

"She always brings me luck. All she has to do is cross her fingers even when she's at home".

 

So that's the secret to so much success. And the fans?

 

"Unfortunately I haven't been able to see them from the track, because I've been working a lot with the steering. But I know they are there and I hope they will fill the circuit on Sunday".

 

Also because the future of the San Marino Grand Prix is somewhat in their hands. The organisers are hoping to sell at least 100 thousand tickets to make ends meet and raise the bid with Mr Ecclestone.

 

"I am an ambassador of San Marino and I hope to continue racing here. I know that things are changing fast and there are a lot of negotiations going on".

 

And the BARs? Is it true that some solutions are copied from Ferrari?

 

"I don't think so. Each team has its own strategies, copying serves little purpose".

 

Barrichello is the great malcontent. He can't find the right set-up, he can't exploit the new tyres, he keeps dreaming of slicks (without grooves), abolished in 1998 to slow down Formula 1.

 

"The engineers will work tonight to fix the car for me".

 

At home BAR are enjoying a little recognition: they are the team that has improved the most in one year. Button has Ferrari in his sights:

 

"Without deluding ourselves, let's be clear. Now we can keep up with them on single laps, in the race the gap is huge. But...".

 

But?

 

"If we continue to grow, at the end of the season we will try to win some races. At the moment we are always aiming for the podium. We are the second force in the championship".

 

Takuma Sato, the only Japanese driver in the company, who was strongly wanted by engine supplier Honda, also dreamed. On Friday 23 April 2004, he will be remembered for his third place ahead of Williams-Bmw, Renault and McLaren-Mercedes. But above all, he will be remembered for a record that would have cost a normal driver his licence: four speeding fines in the pits, a total of 3.000 euros.

 

"Yes, a small electronic fault".

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At the first race in Europe after the long trips to Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain, most of the teams introduced innovations on their single-seaters. In particular, Ferrari fitted on the F2004s of Schumacher and Barrichello a new engine hood, narrower and lower especially at the rear. BAR-Honda, following a request for clarification made to the FIA by Jaguar, modified the rear wing, reducing the size of the vertical bulkheads mounted on the main profile. The modification does not significantly affect the performance of the single-seater, because the modest loss of downforce is compensated for by a reduction in drag. The Anglo-American stable can also mount an upgraded version of the Honda engine. Renault also has several changes to the aerodynamic appearance of the single-seater, featuring new ailerons at both the front and rear and a new extractor profile. In particular, the rear wing features large vertical louvers on the side bulkheads, a solution previously adopted by Minardi. Less active, however, are McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-BMW: the former makes only slight changes to the MP4-19's rear suspension, while the latter mounts on Friday a wing profile in front of the rear wheels, an element introduced by BAR-Honda at the beginning of the season but then discarded by the British stable for qualifying and the race. In addition, special attention is paid to the braking system, which is highly stressed on the Romagna circuit: increased air intakes are mounted on all cars to ensure better heat dissipation. In big trouble was McLaren-Mercedes, always penalized by the poor reliability of the Mercedes engine. The Anglo-German stable reduces the maximum engine speed by 1.000 revolutions on Coulthard's car, which marks the 11th time, while Räikkönen does not run any timed laps, later replacing the engine, on which exhaust valve problems are discovered. Fisichella, sixth in the empty-tank session, are also forced to give up setting a time due to a gearbox problem, thus being relegated to 18th position.

 

Rain fell on the Imola circuit overnight, washing away much of the rubber that had been laid down over the weekend, theoretically handing the advantage to teams with Bridgestone tyres. Qualifying was enlivened by the confrontation between Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher. The British driver, fifth in the session with empty tanks, set an excellent time, inflicting a 0.7-second gap on Barrichello. Michael Schumacher set a time in line with his rival's in the first sector, then was faster in the second by just under 0.2 seconds. The German Ferrari driver, however, makes a mistake in the third part of the track, losing almost 0.5 seconds to Jenson Button, finishing behind. Neither Ralf Schumacher nor Juan Pablo Montoya were able to come close to Button's time, thus winning the first career pole position for himself and BAR-Honda. Montoya, the fastest in the first session, takes third, ahead of Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Alonso, Sato, Webber, Trulli and da Matta. The brat Jenson Button scares Michael Schumacher: Saturday, April 24, 2004 the BAR-Honda ahead of the Ferrari queen of the World Championship, then Juan-Pablo Montoya and Rubens Barrichello. On the San Marino Grand Prix there is also the unknown factor of bad weather. After three placings in as many races the English driver gets the best time because of a mistake by the German who risks the f off-track. The first news is that Michael Schumacher is not in the lead: this never happened in 2004, neither in qualifying nor in practice. The second is that it is a certain Jenson Button who is the only one attempting to disturb the manoeuvre. A confrontation all the more serious as it was carried out in front of 30.000 red-clad fans. Jenson Button is flawless:

 

"A perfect lap".

 

the author calls it. Michael Schumacher showed his human side: forced to force, he sometimes makes mistakes.

 

"Jenson set a great time and I tried to beat him. Good on the car for staying on track. And good on him for being able to take the BAR-Honda to the limit. Now they are the second force in the World Championship".

 

The two are separated by 0.258 seconds. At the moment of the mistake, a skid at the Variante Alta of the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit, Michael Schumacher is ahead. The impression is that the best time was within his grasp, while the german driver excludes it:

 

"There was nothing to be done, it will be a tough race".

 

On his return to Europe, Ferrari encounters the first difficulties of the season right on his home circuit, where in the winter tests he had grown the (so far) invincible F2004. Nothing is compromised: in the hands of the German, the red car shows a consistency of performance that the rivals lack, thanks to the Bridgestone tyres, which are much tougher than Michelin. One could also speculate on the strategies, but the experience of the first three races of the season (and some rumours) ensures that none of the top teams invent anything anymore. The fuel loads are similar and after a dozen of the scheduled 62 laps in the pit lane there will be traffic like a ring road. The German will start on the dirty side of the track.

 

"A year ago, the same thing happened to Ralf (who got a fifth time), who managed to overtake me at the first corner".

 

Record times achieved in winter practice also suggest a bluff attempt. But the results of the first three races then confirmed the progress made by BAR-Honda. So, after a sixth place and two thirds, comes the first pole position of the Anglo-Japanese team and of Jenson Button, a 24-year-old Englishman hailed as the emerging phenomenon on his debut with Williams in 2000, then collapsed with Benetton and now resurrected in the new team. First pole in F1, of course, for the boy from Frome, who shines in the lower categories for victories and great races. Jacques Villeneuve, who in 2003 wimped out his young team-mate and wrecked the car, must be eating his hands in his gilded exile in Monte-Carlo (although it is rumoured that he will be back in 2005 with Williams or Toyota). In truth, the manager of BAR-Honda, David Richards, has always been successful in the world of Motorsport. With his company, Prodrive, he wins in the World Rally Championship and also in the Fia-Gt where he races the Ferrari 550 Maranello. As soon as he took over the team, he turned it around like a glove, calling in Geoff Willis, who used to be an aerodynamicist in the shadows at Williams, as technical director.

 

Willis - who in a few weeks' time will marry the beautiful Italian noblewoman Francesca d'Aragona in the Odescalchi castle in Bracciano - has a taste for the simple things. He designs a single-seater that is easy to drive, to tune, agile and light, without being ashamed to copy from the strongest like Ferrari. BAR (British American Racing) employs 400 men at its Brackley site near Silverstone. But the secret lies in the support of Honda, which supplies the engines and since 2004 also intervenes in the chassis and gearbox. The Japanese manufacturer, which has not won a pole since June 1992 when it equipped Ayrton Senna's McLaren with its turbocharged V6 (another anniversary for the great Brazilian driver), has a racing department in which 500 technicians work. That's a lot, if you consider that there are less than 200 in the racing department at Maranello. Even in total, Richards' team outnumbers Ferrari's: 900 people against the Gestione Sportiva's 800. Button, always followed by his father John (a former kart driver and used-car salesman) and his beautiful fiancée Louise, keeps his feet on the ground:

 

"It is extraordinary to be ahead of Ferrari on its home track. But Schumacher and Barrichello are very fast and concrete in the race. I will have to stay in front after the first corner and adopt a good strategy. I am racing to win, because I have a competitive car. In any case, if it is not possible this time I will try again. Since the beginning of the season, we have always improved and we will be closer and closer to the best".

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Sunday, April 25, 2004 the weather conditions are an unknown. In the evening a downpour hit Imola, accompanied by strong winds, but meteorologists are ruling out rain around 2:00 p.m., the start time of the 24th San Marino Grand Prix, the fourth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, 62 laps of the 4933- metre circuit, equal to 305.609 km. On race day it is warm and sunny, and the circuit was completely dry for the start of the race. As the lights went out, Button go away well, leading the field through the first corners. At the first chicane, David Coulthard lock his brakes and ran into the back of Fernando Alonso, dislodging Coulthard's front wing and sending the Scot into the gravel trap. He rejoin the track, but is already a long way behind and is forced to pit to repair the damage. Meanwhile, Montoya attempt to pass Michael Schumacher around the outside of the Tosa corner, with Schumacher squeezing Montoya onto the grass and forcing the pair to touch wheels as they exited the corner. Later, Schumacher explain that he could not see Montoya beside him. The incident causes Montoya to lose momentum, and fall back towards his teammate Ralf Schumacher. As the German attempted to pass Montoya, the Colombian forced him across the track and onto the slippery grass, where Ralf Schumacher kept his foot on the throttle, but was forced to yield the position, and lost another position to Takuma Sato. At the end of the first lap, Button has built a good lead over Michael Schumacher, Montoya, Sato, Ralf Schumacher and Barrichello. Michael Schumacher close the gap quickly though, putting in consecutive fastest laps to put pressure on Button. The pair pull away from the field easily, both lapping at nearly one second faster than every other driver.

 

On lap 4, Coulthard, still struggling at the back of the field, went off track momentarily to short-cut the chicane. Cristiano da Matta and Felipe Massa become the first drivers to pit on lap 7, Massa dropping from 11th to 14th, but taking a position from da Matta due to his faster stop. Giorgio Pantano become the first retirement of the race, going off track thanks to a hydraulics failure. Lap 8 saw Montoya become the first front-runner to stop, followed into the pits by Mark Webber. Button show that his qualifying effort is mainly due to a lighter fuel load, stopping on lap 9 to release Michael Schumacher, who immediately started to lap faster. Ralf Schumacher, Olivier Panis and Christian Klien also make their first stops on lap 9. Sato and Barrichello pitted on lap 10, but Barrichello's faster stop allow the Brazilian to got ahead as they exited the pits. Michael Schumacher's stop come on lap 11, but he has built up enough of a lead over Button to emerge well ahead. Jarno Trulli, momentarily in second place, pitted on lap 12, with fast work by the Renault team allowing him to take 4th position from Ralf Schumacher. Nick Heidfeld is the last of the three-stoppers to make his stop on lap 14, leaving Fisichella and Räikkönen, in 9th and 10th as the only drivers not to make a pit stop.

 

Barrichello, with a clearly faster car, close up on Ralf Schumacher, but is unable to pass for several laps as Michael Schumacher built up a 12-second lead at the end of 18 laps. Coulthard, who have been switched to a two-stop strategy due to his first lap collision, make his stop on lap 19, with Fisichella following on lap 20, then Räikkönen on lap 21. Meanwhile, Massa took 11th place from Jaguar's Mark Webber, the Australian suffering a misfire in his Cosworth engine. Cristiano da Matta is again the first to pit in the second round of stops, refuelling on lap 23, followed by Webber and Massa the following lap. Minardi's Gianmaria Bruni enter the pits, with the team engineers apparently unprepared for his stop. Soon later he retire from the race, citing a continuously locking rear brake, which make the car difficult to drive. Montoya stoppes on lap 25, falling back from 3rd to 7th, follow by Button on lap 26, who is able to retain his 2nd position. Michael Schumacher pit from the lead on lap 27, easily retaining his position, with an 18-second lead. Ralf Schumacher, Barrichello and Sato all pitted on the following lap, which see Schumacher just retain his position ahead of Barrichello, the pair nearly colliding as Schumacher is released from his pit area. Fernando Alonso then pit on lap 30, rejoining behind Ralf Schumacher and Barrichello, who were still close together on the circuit. Trulli then stopped the following lap, splitting Schumacher and Barrichello to take fifth.

 

Christian da Matta is served with a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags, but made a mistake and went off track soon after, ending his race. After 35 laps, Button is able to find some pace, but not enough to significantly reduce Schumacher's lead, which stood at 16.4 seconds. Both Sauber drivers, on different strategies, took their final stops on lap 38. Coulthard make his second and final stop for the day on lap 40, leaving him in 14th position. Räikkönen, in the other McLaren is also struggling in the midfield, but hopeful to pick up his first point of the year, pitted on lap 41. The final round of pit stops for the frontrunners begin on lap 43, with Montoya and Barrichello pitting, followed by Button and Ralf Schumacher on lap 44, then Michael Schumacher and Trulli on lap 46. Trulli kept his position ahead of Barrichello, before Alonso's stop on lap 48 saw the Spaniard move ahead of both Barrichello and Trulli, into 5th position. Alonso begin pressuring Ralf Schumacher, and on lap 51, attempted an overtaking move on the inside of Tosa, which see the pair collide, sending Schumacher into a spin and dropping him down to 7th. The stewards announced the incident would be investigated after the race. Heidfeld retire from the race with a transmission problem, as Alonso move in on Montoya and Barrichello got closer to Trulli.

 

Takuma Sato retire from the race with a spectacular Honda engine failure with 6 laps remaining, possibly causing worry for teammate Button, who is in 2nd position. The retirement move Räikkönen into 8th, eyeing his first point for the 2004 season. Michael Schumacher cruise to the finish line to win his fourth race of the year, with Button in 2nd, and Montoya holding on to the final podium spot ahead of Alonso. Trulli survive an attack by Barrichello on the final lap to hold on to 5th, with Ralf Schumacher and Räikkönen closing out the point scorers. The result continue Michael Schumacher's perfect start to the year, with a maximum 40 points from the first four races. Teammate Barrichello held on to second with 24 points, just ahead of the surprise package Button, on 23. The constructors championship underline Ferrari's incredible early dominance, with the Italian team on 64, over double the score of second-placed Renault, on 31, followed by both Williams and BAR on 27.

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Ralf Schumacher is the big stars of the 2003 San Marino Grand Prix. In the concert of celebrations dedicated to Ayrton Senna, nobody remembers the first anniversary of the death of their mother, Elizabeth. In April 2003 Michael and Ralf are the fastest in qualifying, then fly to Germany and barely make it in time to pay their last respects to their mother, who dies in the night. On race day, Michael Schumacher wins by strength and intelligence, as in his best days, and Ralf Schumacher finishes fourth.

 

"Imola is the worst place to lose pole position. Our fans will have their fingers crossed. I think the first corner will be decisive".

 

Barrichello (4th) bites his hands: for once his partner makes a mistake, he fails to take advantage of it.

 

"At best I could have finished third. However, it is inevitable that sooner or later someone will be faster than us".

 

Third, however, is Juan Pablo Montoya, who sits on the bank of the Santerno and waits for his opponents' mistakes. That's all he can do, because the performance of Williams-Bmw is regularly inferior to BAR and Ferrari. The nightmare continues at McLaren-Mercedes: as in Bahrain, Kimi Raikkonen gives up his qualifying lap. The mechanics replace yet another engine and knock-on wood: the Finn, leader in the predictions and second last year in the World Championship, has not yet finished a race. With his ninth place Jarno Trulli (Renault) is the first of the four Italians. Giorgio Pantano (Jordan) set the 15th fastest time and was ahead of team-mate Nick Heidfeld, while Gianmaria Bruni (17th) hit a kerb and due to the recoil touched the speed limiter button, losing precious seconds. Giancarlo Fisichella (Sauber) does not complete the qualifying lap: he has been penalised by 1 second for not observing the yellow flag during practice and therefore prefers to leave the car in the pits for the mechanics. The president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo, warns Bernie Ecclestone and congratulates Jenson Button and BAR.

 

"Imola goodbye? We are against it and we will be heard. At the end of 2007 the contracts will expire and each team will be free to decide what to do: we will also be free to say no more and withdraw from Formula 1".

 

And although the threat is not new, the prospect is shocking. Ferrari outside the circus is like re-writing Tosca without Cavaradossi or listening to a U2 concert without Bono: practically something else, so it won't happen, but the breakdown in negotiations between the major constructors and Ecclestone's company, which holds the commercial and television rights to F1, completes the scenarios after a period of peace. Montezemolo comes in hard on the issue and not only on that. It is an afternoon when he even wears his jacket with annoyance and Imola prepares him for the first disappointment of the year with the pole lost by Schumacher; however, the Ferrari president is in a good mood.

 

"I think back, to when I came here with Alesi, in the early 1990s, with a different spirit. I feel like those actors who were starving, so they know the value of money: I know how strong we are, but I don't forget where we started from".

 

Disappointed at not winning pole?

 

"We are in Italy; I was hoping for that. But you can't do it all the time and I'm happy to have two cars in the first two rows: a sign of strength and competitiveness. Schumacher was in the lead, he lost half a second in the last sector: without that slip he would have been the fastest, but that's also the beauty of racing".

 

Perhaps he wanted to give suspense to a boring championship because of his superiority.

 

"He wanted to do it, I'm fine with boring. I wish everyone would fall asleep because Ferrari dominates the races: I would fall asleep too, then we would wake up happy".

 

How serious do you consider Button's attack to be?

 

"We have to think it is. BAR also does great things compared to Williams and McLaren, who use the same tyres. As for Button, it's important for everyone that a young man comes to the fore because he brings something new".

 

Ten years have passed since Senna's death. Is it true that he wanted to come to you?

 

"He told me before the San Marino Grand Prix: I want to finish my career trying to win with Ferrari. I had met him at Villa d'Este, he was relying on our positions against the electronic aids for which there was a hangover at the time".

 

Now we are going in the opposite direction: if the new proposals pass, the electronics will be almost zero, the driver will prevail over the car. Do you agree?

 

"You have to work for safety and in the interest of the show. As for the rules made to limit Ferrari, I don't think they have been very successful, nor have they increased the show".

 

What will the break with Ecclestone lead to?

 

"The stability pact has been broken and I am sorry: we were asking for a fairer division of the cake, more transparency and longer terms in contracts. After 2007 we will be as free actors to negotiate with the manufacturer, it is likely that there will be no collective agreements but individual ones and we will go back to when the engineer Ferrari told me: if they want us at Monza they have to pay us. An alternative championship could be born. Or we could decide to say enough and commit to something else: the moment is very delicate".

 

It is also for Imola, which is in danger of disappearing.

 

"So far, we have been quiet, polite and polite but we are not absent and before they cancel one of the Italian Grands Prix they will have to listen to Ferrari. Who does not agree?"

 

There is talk of something happening three years from now, in 2007. But what will Ferrari's management be? There is talk of profound changes.

 

"I have read many inferences: this management has achieved exceptional things and I don't think it is necessary to change it, especially since there is the trust and support of the shareholder".

 

How does the entrepreneur Montezemolo see the job of Montezemolo as president of Confindustria?

 

"I will have to adapt. If this were a country where there was less arguing and a few more decisions were taken, it would be good for everyone. I hope to bring a little of the culture that is that of all entrepreneurs: pragmatic, concrete, close to real problems and able to act with speed. But it won't be easy".

 

The emotion of the young English driver, Jenson Button, who had struggled in his debut after great results in the minor categories.

 

"I wasn't bluffing, now I want to keep my head even at the start, I'm racing to win".

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Imola is tinged with red for the San Marino Grand Prix dominated by Maranello like the three previous races. Schumi and Ferrari drop the poker, with Michael who never ceases to amaze: the older he gets, the more he wins. Ferrari and Michael Schumacher are phenomena that should be studied. Take the driver: he is past the age of 35, an age that in sport often marks the beginning of old age; he has a wife and two children plus a third whose arrival he has never denied; he possesses a growing fortune of around 5.000 a day (more than 3€ a minute, nights included); he has won everything there was to win in Formula 1 and has beaten all the records that seemed unapproachable, apart from the pole positions that still belong to Ayrton Senna, the myth that his sister Viviane mourns in front of the people of Imola on Sunday 25 April 2004; he is known in every corner of the world, especially now that Bernie Ecclestone's policy is taking Formula 1 to exotic places. In Schumacher's condition, past champions have said goodbye to the company, like Indurain who hung up his bike after the fifth Tour de France. Or they have continued for simple economic reasons, like Pelé.

 

The extraordinary thing about Schumi is that he gets better as time goes by. His triumph at Imola is a pearl that is almost lost among the 74 he has achieved in his career: the ambassador of San Marino could not avoid winning his own Grand Prix. It is true that a driver's fortunes depend on the delicate technical balance of a single-seater. But it is he and only he who treats the F2004 as an extension of his body, constantly modifying, by means of buttons, knobs and dials, the settings of the brakes or the engine, while driving at 300 km/h and discussing with the technicians in the pits. Those who think it is easy try imitating him with a PlayStation. Barrichello does not have the same feeling. This year he has never managed to get ahead of his bulky team- mate, while in 2003 - at least in qualifying - he often gives him a run for his money, as they say in motorsport jargon. Schumacher's voracious hunger for victory continues to surprise. He does not concede an inch of track to his opponents, at the cost of sacrificing fairplay. He does not want Montoya to overtake him and sends him into the grass without much ado. His justification:

 

"There was no point in overtaking at that point".

 

Reasoning as a rampant young driver competing for the first victories with the champions. It also happens in reverse on a couple of occasions: the rookie Montoya on Schumacher. The difference is that the German cashes in without complaint, only to make up for it with interest, leaving the crumbs of three victories in three years to his sanguine and acclaimed rival. Ferrari's secrets, however, are jealously guarded in the Maranello factory. Jean Todt praises the work of the team. And the organization. And the ability of the people. And the dedication to the cause. Out of this mix has come a car that risks even fading the memory of the F2002 that became world champion three months early, and that in turn erases the exceptional F2001. From year-to-year Ferrari increases the gap to its rivals, with a small parenthesis in 2003 that is easily explained today: the new rules were introduced too late. If it really achieves what technical director Ross Brawn hoped for, the 18 wins out of 18, Ferrari will have no record left to break. With the triumph of Scuderia Ferrari in the San Marino Grand Prix, Bar-Honda conquers an excellent second place; Montoya, third (and controversial) with Williams, "sees himself again". Button's dream vanishes at the pit stop: Schumacher overtakes him at the pits and flies in the lead to the finish line. Four races, poker of successes and one common thread: simplicity. From lap nine onwards no one tries to disturb the invincible, who travels at a pace one second faster than the best of his rivals. On the eve, technical director Ross Brawn gambles:

 

"Ferrari could win all 18 races".

 

And how could he, as long as he means the No.1 Ferrari. Barrichello doesn't have the same feeling with the F2004, which is nothing new. He complains about the traffic, but to find the track clear it would be enough to be in the lead (or in 20th place when you have an uncatchable teammate). Rubinho struggles in qualifying in search of satisfactory set-ups and keeps out of trouble in the first three corners, right where the 24th San Marino Grand Prix is decided. Schumi, who by now sniffs out these situations, realizes in a split second that he has to maintain second position at the cost of pushing Montoya badly on the manicured grass of the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit. The Colombian takes it badly (and in the press conference, commenting on the recorded images, he expresses his lament), but there is nothing left for him to do but get back on track and throw the other Schumacher, equally detested despite being his teammate, into the grass and fight for third place. After just one kilometer, the world champion solves all problems. He has plenty of time left to settle Jenson Button, who meanwhile is shooting like an arrow. The feat took nine laps, as many as the English Bar- Honda driver, the only credible alternative this year to the Ferrari-Schumacher dominance. On the ninth lap, in fact, as Button entered the pit lane for the first pit stop, Schumi ran the fastest lap of the race and virtually overtook his opponent.

 

Either the German is a phenomenon who imposes exactly the desired pace on the car or he has an extraordinary vehicle. We opt for both hypotheses. Even though it took place in the pits, the overtaking move made the 70,000 fans, decked out in red caps, scarves, T-shirts, flags and bandanas, go crazy. He would always win (and we are almost there) and they would settle it with the same vigor. Start losing and nothing would change, because not even the dark times in the second half of the 1980s have soured the love for the Cavallino. Despite the downpour on the eve of the race, the hills of the Imola circuit are carpeted in red. Behind the Ferrari's driver, Jenson Button plays the part of the new challenger, which, moreover, has not brought much luck in recent years (see Raikkonen, who won his first point of the season on Sunday 25 April 2004). The Englishman is third in the general classification, one point behind Rubens Barrichello and 17 behind the leader, who leads with full points as he did in 1994 with Benetton after the first four rounds. Fernando Alonso was responsible for the only overtaking, which ended up under investigation. For once in the role of victim, Ralf Schumacher is attacked on the inside and touched on the left rear wheel, ending up in a spin.

 

Normal race incident: the stewards ruled after listening to those involved, even though the Spaniard's manoeuvre appeared to be at the limit of the regulations. Politically wise decision: it is better to be a little flexible in interpreting the rules, especially in times of low emotion. Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello enter the pits in single file for the second refueling. The quickness of the mechanics is decisive: the Ferrari's men finish in 7 seconds, Rubens Barrichello dreams of imitating his teammate Michael and making the overtake in the pits. The Brazilian restarts and seems to have made it, but the Williams men are just as skillful: Ralf manages to precede the driver of the No. 2 Ferrari by a trifle. Hands in the air, Michael Schumacher celebrates his fourth win of the season. The next appointment is on 9 May 2004 at Montmelò in Barcelona, a circuit where BAR-Honda has covered thousands of kilometers in testing. This week Ferrari will test at Mugello with Felipe Massa, on loan from Sauber. The changeover was already announced at the beginning of the year, to allow Schumacher and Barrichello to rest. In the future it will also be Fisichella's turn. The Roman driver has already received the red overalls and will soon be called up for a test session.

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Only in 1953, with Ascari, Farina and Hawthorn, did the Scuderia Ferrari win the first four races. Ferrari has no weak points. Performance and reliability: that's how analysis records are born. It is since the distant 1953 that Ferrari has not won, in a row, the opening four races of the season. In truth, that year, thanks to Alberto Ascari, Mike Hawthom and Nino Farina, the team of Maranello even won the first seven of the nine races on the programme, not having participated, like the other European teams, in the Indianapolis 500, which at the time was included as the second round of the World Championship. The poker is an en plein that Michael Schumacher had already achieved with Benetton in 1994, but could not repeat even in triumphant years such as 2002. In the meantime, the German star has reached 74 wins, improving his record of fastest race laps (59) and reaching 150 results in the points zone. This is also quite a record, considering that in the next Spanish Grand Prix, the Maranello driver will celebrate his 200th Grand Prix. Which means he has collected something in three out of four races. For Ferrari, victory 171, a number that takes the lead over the second placed McLaren-Mercedes to 34. And with very little chance of the Woking team catching up in the short term. McLaren-Mercedes itself is a symbol of how a top-team can collapse fairly quickly if it fails to react.

 

Today, with the point won by Raikkonen, it is down to five and is fifth in the standings, overtaken by Williams and BAR, paired on 27 points, and by Renault, which has risen to second with 31 points, but largely lapped by Ferrari. The Honda-powered BAR (forgetting the engine that burst with a resounding smoke on Takuma Sato's car), confirms itself as the surprise of 2004 and is undoubtedly the emerging team. However, if one analyses the results, it is true that Jenson Button comes second at 9.7 seconds from Schumacher, but only after the German, in the last fifteen minutes of the race, takes his foot off the accelerator to avoid taking unnecessary risks. Ruthless are the figures that can be deduced from the fast laps: Michael Schumacher (who also records the new limit on the distance covering the 305.609 km of the San Marino GP in 1h 26'19"670 at an average of 212.405 km/h) scores in his best lap - when Button stops for the first pit stop 1'20"411. BAR's Briton sees a gap of around 8 tenths, rising to 1.2 seconds for Alonso's Renault and 1.4 seconds for Montoya's Williams. Since, tyres permitting, a team can plan, when all goes well, to gain a tenth per race, this means that Ferrari and Schumacher, on paper, could live off the clock until the end of the championship. In any case, what most worries and intimidates the rivals is not only the chronometric performance of the F2004 and the German driver.

 

Also on the scales are consistency of performance and reliability. Extraordinary the latter, if one considers that in 2003 Ferrari did not have a single engine problem during the races of the entire season and that it has now passed the first four unscathed, despite the regulatory requirement to keep the same engine for the whole weekend. The result on Sunday 25 April 2004 (Schumacher first, Barrichello sixth at 36 seconds) closes a door on the ambitions of the Brazilian, who would like to aim for the title sooner or later. With Schumacher will be tough. The Brazilian driver will certainly be useful to the team in the next races, as he did in 2003 by fixing things at Silverstone and Suzuka. His, however, remains a subordinate role: not by choice of the team but by an effective recognition of values. The determination, application and even the incredible physical form shown by the champion leave no glimmer of hope for those who want to beat him. Montoya, Alonso, Raikkonen, now even Button, are convinced that with the same car they could stay ahead of him. Perhaps this is true: in one or two races. But in the distance, as has already happened, even at the wheel of single-seaters that are not fully competitive, Schumacher would remain the man to beat. Imola did not betray the expectations: 140.000 spectators during the three days of the Grand Prix for the Ferrari employees, Maranello rented a special grandstand: flags in the wind and a big party after the victory. The aftermath of the race is poisoned by the Montoya's accusations.

 

On the podium, Michael Schumacher, who has just won the fourth of the four Grands Prix that have taken place, allows himself to take a leap, a little leap with his arms raised as if the invisible strings of the great puppeteer that is himself were manoeuvring him. People expect it, it is a ritual. The jump with raised arms is his victory song, the same and repetitive, but it never tires. There were eighty thousand people waiting to see him jump at Imola. Eighty thousand souls intrigued by the missed pole position and lucidly convinced that Schumacher would send them home happier because at few moments in the history of Formula 1 have a driver and his car seemed so invincible. En plein of points in the championship, 43 races without a retirement, four World Championships won with Ferrari and the fifth one going downhill, four triumphs in the last five years at Imola. The circuit invaders are not crossed by the doubt that Schumacher would not have won his fifth victory (the sixth, counting the one with Benetton, on the day Senna died). That second time in qualifying behind BAR, a surprise, was a nice diversion, a passing wave in the pond of Ferrari's overpowering. On the Saturday night before the race, at the Sterlina, a rustic trattoria on the road to Castelguelfo, where the Romagna border crosses, Michael Schumacher dines and the fans enjoy it a lot to see him come out of the reserved room and ask for "olio di olifa" (olive oil) to dress the salad.

 

"Vinegar is for tomorrow: you make Button drink it".

 

Says one, and he is successful, and off goes the Romagna toast ("If you ask for a drink in Emilia, they give you water, in Romagna wine"; is a local saying). The guy only misses the opponent. The vinegar is earned by Juan Pablo Montoya. You can see the droplets of it on his lips as he tries to explain that Schumacher has screwed him over with a mistake at the third corner and that he should not be allowed to do anything. He has a small part of right but, on the whole, the Colombian driver receives less sympathy. On the track, on the lap of honor, Montoya even flanked the Ferrari, tapping his finger on his temple as if to say to Schumacher: are you crazy?

 

"I thought you approached me to congratulate".

 

Pretends Schumacher.

 

"I don't think so".

 

Juan Pablo Montoya replies and the turn of the eyes is an amusing compendium of the diversity that has led them to squabble on the track and more often off: Montoya wryly ironic, Schumacher perfidiously glacial. Images of the episode scroll across the monitor: the Ferrari completing the wide turn and the Williams ending up on the outside, on the grass.

 

"Crazy, never seen anything like it. He slammed the door in my face several times as I was about to overtake him. Me at Indianapolis, because of an episode that happened with Barrichello, I was sliced up, I was penalized with a pit lane pass and I lost my chances of winning the World Championship. Schumacher wanted to defend his position but he drove me onto the grass and I wonder how far one can go to defend oneself from being overtaken and to what extent he is allowed to do so. The rules must apply even if his name is Schumacher and his car is the Ferrari".

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Michael Schumacher, seated at the side, betrays a hint of annoyance. A cold expression, a take-for-granted smile, capable of getting on the nerves of people more laid-back than Juan Pablo Montoya, who is named after the Pope but not inspired by evangelical precepts.

 

"I just didn't see it, I was worried about not losing contact with Button and he went out of my sight: after all, attacking me in that position in that corner was senseless, nobody would have done it. They are episodes that are part of the competition and give it flavor. So much so that immediately afterwards he pushed my brother onto the grass: he didn't see it either".

 

Jean Todt then says, to accentuate the differences:

 

"Montoya is an agitator, he is always complaining, he makes controversy at every race, they should keep him for an hour in the park to let him cool off, instead they throw him straight into the jungle of the press conference. Michael has done what any driver would do, and anyone who doesn't do it is better off changing jobs".

 

The controversy fades among the eighty thousand. Imola is Ferrari's home, the others are guests, a patch of color distant from the red. A section of the grandstand looked like the Maranello after-work area because the technicians and mechanics reserved it for friends and families. Games of children used to engines. Later, with victory assured, the Montezemolo family would also arrive by helicopter. The president followed the race on TV, then flew from Bologna to congratulate.

 

"Michael gave a great gift to my daughter Guia, who had a birthday. She drove another absolutely perfect race and not getting pole on Saturday was a boost, an incentive for the team to do better. It reminded us that the competition is strong, I also said it to the guys in the pit box, and I think it's a sign of humility to emphasize it now that we're winning so much and that we've managed to get to the back with both cars again. I am very happy for the fourth win in four races, for the Italian public and also for Imola, which we consider home. The only note is that you cannot overtake on this track, as Barrichello demonstrated after an excellent start: it is something to reflect on in terms of regulations and circuits, it is not a limitation exclusive to Imola".

 

Yes, overtaking: rarer than a stream in the desert. If it had not been for the 5 seconds duel between Schumacher and Montoya and for Alonso's attempt on the coronaries of the other Schumacher, Ralf, the Imola race would have all been resolved in the pits. On lap 50, the only overtaking: Alonso attacks Ralf on the inside, who occupies fourth position. The German closes the trajectory, taking every space away from the Renault driver. The collision is inevitable. Ralf has the worst of it, who ends up spinning and is also overtaken by Barrichello and Sato, slipping to seventh place. On lap 57, with Montoya in pursuit of the two leaders Schumacher and Button, Sato's Honda engine explodes. The Japanese driver is still classified 16th. From the pits the engineers immediately warn Jenson to slow down and to administer the 18 seconds lead over Montoya to avoid unnecessary risks. The triumphant epilogue. Barrichello on lap 62 attempts the last attack to take fifth place from Trulli, but the Italian resists without too much trouble. Montoya also had to fend off an attempt by Alonso, while Raikkonen kept Fisichella behind, finished the first race of the season and brought home a point. For Schumacher another triumphant finish.

 

"To win on our home circuit is a special feeling, and anyone who doesn't think so has the wrong place: they came for us, they wanted to see what we do. It was a beautiful victory on a great day. I wanted it for this special feeling with the fans and because after three races, we were finally in Europe, the second phase of the World Championship was opening. I started on the dirty part of the track, Button was quicker and set a furious pace: I didn't worry because I knew how heavy I was with petrol and I imagined he was lighter. But it was a hope, if I had been wrong it would have been hard to keep up with him".

 

Schumacher not wrong. It's difficult for him to take flak on technical matters.

 

"I made one mistake on Saturday and Button had beaten me, yesterday I didn't make any and I beat him. In the last few laps, I was able to lead safely, in Malaysia on the other hand I had forced it to the end".

 

The secret of this season's start?

 

"The team behind me and that puts me in these conditions. Ferrari has a great team but from Barcelona I expect it to get tougher: Button has been running well there in tests and has already shown that he can do important things. And there are three other teams that are dangerous for the championship. Button started like a madman but I knew he was lighter, a perfect strategy All these people had come for us, right to give him a party".

 

Schumacher wins, Montoya stay behind. 

 

"I don't run to convince people, nor to compete with Michael. Some people understand that and some don't. In any case, if Michael had not managed to keep ahead of Montoya in the first lap, he would have finished behind him too".

 

And about what happened after the race, with the Colombian driver lashing out at Schumacher, Scuderia Ferrari team principal Jean Todt says:

 

"He is an agitator; they should lock him up for an hour and let him cool down. Juan Pablo approached him at the end calling him crazy: You slammed the door in my face and prevented me from passing, I was sliced up and penalized for a similar gesture in Indianapolis".

 

While Schumacher adds:

 

"I thought he wanted to congratulate me. I didn't even see him; his position was senseless. Immediately afterwards he threw my brother onto the grass".

 

Impossible to overtake. Like any motorist stuck in a traffic jam, Rubens Barrichello grumbles throughout the race and continues to do so afterwards. Next time they will honk at him to get his way and not end up with shattered nerves. 

 

"It's a weekend to forget, it would have been better to stay at home. It's frustrating when you have a competitive car but you always find yourself in traffic. I tried a hundred times to pass, I tried with everyone but there was nothing to do. On a circuit like this you don't pass, unless the person in front makes a mistake or has problems, like what happened last year with Ralf Schumacher and we celebrated overtaking as if I had won".

 

The ordeal began at the start.

 

"I had to give up because I would have crashed into Montoya, Ralf passed and forced me to go wide and put the wheels on the grass. So, Sato passed me as well and my race was over. There was always someone to stop me. When Ralf made the first stop, I had one lap to build up an advantage that would allow me to stay ahead of him, pulling my Ferrari to the maximum I would have done it, but after two corners I found Sato and I couldn't push as I should. Then they did the calculations on my race. I anticipated the comeback and so did the others to stay ahead of me: it was too easy. Imola in this respect is among the most terrible. Even with Trulli I never got close enough to try. By now it becomes indispensable to start from the front row".

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The difference is that Schumacher sent his opponent into the grass, while Barrichello ended up there. And that is no small thing. BAR-Honda celebrates the place of honor behind Schumacher. Button exults:

 

"Soon it will be my turn".

 

David Richards slowly inhales the cigar he always indulges in at the end of the Grand Prix. 

 

"If we keep improving, we might even win a race this year".

 

The big boss of BAR-Honda reads the updated classification and smiles: 

 

"Good".

 

Third place among the constructors on a par with Williams and four points behind Renault. Ferrari does not even consider it, 'too far out of anyone's reach'. Indeed, commenting on the Montoya-Schumacher rift he says:

 

"I don't judge the accident. Juan Pablo is an aggressive driver. And so is Michael. But I saw the difference in the times at the end and I am sure the classification is correct".

 

The Villeneuve era has passed:

 

"Without any regrets, because I am not in the habit of looking back. We have two good drivers and we are improving from race to race. I think that, one day, Button will be champion".

 

Jenson Button thanks. Unable to defend the first pole position of his career: disappointed with second place?

 

"On the contrary, I am delighted. I was not able to beat Michael Schumacher today. We will talk about it again in a fortnight in Spain".

 

Is that a promise?

 

"It is a hope. We know the circuit well and we will be very close to the Reds. That doesn't mean we will beat them, but if we manage to start at the front again, who knows".

 

The duel during the first lap between Williams and Ferrari? 

 

"I did not see it".

 

Actually, you followed it together on the monitors during the press conference...

 

"Well, I have to think about it. In fact, if they had penalized Michael maybe I would have won, but it didn't happen and I am delighted all the same”.

 

Geoffrey Willis, technical director, hopes for a nice warm sun in Barcelona:

 

"We need a bit of luck to challenge Ferrari. On that circuit our Michelin tyres work very well. We will see, the important thing is to learn and improve. There are still a lot of things to work on: for a start, the Honda engine on Sato's single-seater went out with five laps to go. The telemetry didn't give us any clues. However, we warned Jenson immediately, advising him to lower his pace and manage his lead over Montoya".

 

The spectacularity of the 2004 World Championship depends on this team. Let it be clear, no bookie dares to give a quote for the final success of Schumacher and Ferrari any more. But the spectacle depends on it. Saturday 24 April 2004 saw the pole position, next time - who knows - an overtaking move. The current Williams seems to have little room for growth, while McLaren is going through a dark period. Raikkonen is able to rejoice in eighth place. He has not seen the chequered flag in Japan since October 2003.

 

"I know that my team will continue to work hard to improve the car and make further progress in terms of performance and reliability".

 

Poor guy, what else could he say? 2004 is thrown away and in 2005 he will have an uncomfortable character like Montoya as his team-mate. Always better than David Coulthard, protagonist of a collision on Fernando Alonso at the first corner that forced him to go back to the mechanics at the pits. Renault, on the other hand, has another philosophy: sufficient performance and great reliability. The French team is the only one - apart from Ferrari, of course - to have always brought both cars to the finish line. This has resulted in only one podium with Alonso in Australia (the expectations on the eve of the race were of an entirely different ambition), but also a good second place in the constructors' championship. Jarno Trulli (fifth) is satisfied:

 

"At the start I slipped to ninth place because the engine was not revving. To recover four positions on this circuit is quite an achievement. The lapping of a Minardi, for example, lost me five seconds. I also managed to keep a Ferrari behind".

 

For Michael Schumacher, Montoya and Button it was time for a champagne bath on the podium at Imola during the prize-giving ceremony. The fascination of the duels that set Formula 1 on fire: Schumacher-Montoya, three years of spite. From the fistfights in the Interlagos Grand Prix to the insults at Imola. The South American temperament clashes with the Teutonic phlegm but in the end the German champion always wins the confrontation. Juan Pablo Montoya's protests sound like the lament of certain coaches: we lost 5-0 but they denied us a penalty. Although he may have some reason, even if Schumacher did not shine in fair play, the Colombian looks like a loser: he attempted an overtaking move that was more foolish than impossible and was answered:

 

"If I had given him the way I would have lost time to re-supervise him".

 

Here is the world champion's idea of his fiery rival: little more than a hiccup. The casus belli, yet another between the two drivers, is during the first three corners of the San Marino Grand Prix. The Ferrari's Bridgestone tyres take longer to reach ideal temperature, so Schumacher - despite having a better car - has to watch his back for at least a kilometer. Montoya flanks him on the outside, he defends his position by keeping the ideal trajectory and accompanying the Williams on the grass. Open heavens. Montoya is furious. He argues that the rules are not the same for everyone, recalls a contact he made with Barrichello in 2003 that cost him a penalty and - according to him - the chance to win the championship. He accuses Schumacher: 

 

"He is either stupid or blind". 

 

In reality, the man of records sees very well and is as smart as he is bad. He held his position and won for the fourth consecutive time, the sixth at Imola, the 74th in his career, and, after six World Championship titles, he strolls quietly towards the seventh. Juan Pablo Montoya have only three successes.

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He entered Formula 1 in 2001, bursting through the door: hired by Frank Williams in place of Jenson Button (the last acknowledged heir to the Ferrari Kaiser), he overtook his hated enemy at the first opportunity. It was the 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix. Other squabbles followed, a month later in Austria and in 2003 at the Nurburgring the toughest ones, but without the result changing: one won everything, the other gathered crumbs. Great duels are the stuff of the past. The last one pits Schumacher against Hakkinen, two wins each between 1998 and 2001, and the unforgettable overtaking of the Finn at Spa in 2000 during Zonta's lapping. Schumacher also quarrelled with world champions Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill and Ayrton Senna. Senna himself, Mansell and Prost wrote the most spectacular pages of modern Formula 1, while in the early days the protagonists were Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, eternal second behind the champion. The result at Imola leaves no appeal. This is underlined by David Richards, the Bar boss, neutral spectator of the diatribe:

 

"I don't judge the manoeuvre, but I saw the difference in the lap times". 

 

Schumacher's best is one and a half seconds faster.

 

"Juan Pablo is free to express himself as he wishes".

 

The German driver settles the matter. 

 

"As for me, the season could not have started better than this: four races, 40 points. But let's watch out for the Bar-Hondas, they have grown. In the first laps at Imola Button was very good. Not only that: I saw their times in the Barcelona tests and I assure you that from the next race we will be faced with a new and difficult situation".

 

Taking a look at the past again, one has the great enemies. First of all, Villeneuve and Arnoux at Dijon 1979: Jabouille wins the French Grand Prix, Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari) and René Arnoux (Renault) engage in the most beautiful duel in Formula 1 on the last lap. The Ferrari driver won. At the end, handshake between the two drivers. Senna and Prost at Suzuka 1990: Last Grand Prix. Senna (McLaren) rams Prost's Ferrari. The two retire, the title belongs to Senna, who takes revenge for a similar manoeuvre suffered by the French driver in 1989. The Brazilian and the French driver made peace in November 1993 in Adelaide, on the podium of the last Grand Prix raced by Prost. Mansell and Senna in Barcelona 1991: Mansell (Williams) flanks Senna (McLaren) on the straight at 300 km/h. The low-slung single-seaters of the time touch the asphalt and sparkle as the two drivers look at each other in defiance. Mansell pulls out last and takes the lead. He wins the race, Ayrton the World Championship. Villeneuve and Schumacher at Jerez 1997: decisive race. In the lead is Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) pursued by Jacques Villeneuve (Williams). Attacked on the inside, the German driver tries to throw his rival out, but is forced to retire. Villeneuve becomes champion, Schumacher is stripped of all points.

 

The embrace between Schumacher and Button. Montoya carefully avoids complimenting the German driver. In Germany they wonder when he will stop for a picnic. Numbers in hand, it could be at Hockenheim, on the occasion of the 120th round in 2004: he is eating on the grass with his seventh title in his pocket, while the others are scrambling around the track in what is being dubbed the World Championship of the others. Alternatively, he could spend a holiday on the boat that the Mondolfo (Pesaro Urbino) shipyards are building for him, costing 15.000.000 euros. In the meantime, he thinks about work. Ferrari is preparing its test programme in preparation for the Grand Prix of Barcelona (Sunday 9 May 2004) and Monte Carlo (Sunday 23 May 2004). From Tuesday 27 to Friday 30 April 2004, Luca Badoer is busy at the Monza circuit with a F2004, with which he works together with Bridgestone technicians on tyre development and race preparation on fast tracks. Also on Tuesday 27 April 2004, but at Mugello, the young Brazilian Felipe Massa is back at the wheel of a Ferrari, who finishes tenth in the Sauber. Wednesday 28 April 2004 is Schumacher's turn, while on Thursday 29 April and Friday 30 April 2004 the tests are conducted by Rubens Barrichello. Button in the orbit of Ferrari. Brawn thinks about the future: he's on list. If there was a need for an official investiture for Jensen Button after a brilliant weekend at Imola, this one comes directly from one of Ferrari's most influential figures, Ross Brawn, technical director of Scuderia Ferrari. Interviewed, Brawn tried to outline Ferrari's future (without Schumacher) which could include the British driver.

 

"One day Michael will decide to stop. Then we will have to see who will be the best driver to take his place. I think Jenson will definitely be on that list. He is doing a fantastic job; he knows the circuits and he is learning quickly how to work as a team. He will be one of the great characters of the next few years".

 

Jean Todt, on the other hand, analyses the fourth success of Scuderia Ferrari without triumphalism:

 

'We are favorites, but nothing more. This is a difficult sport and you know that a lot happens. Schumacher's missed pole? I don't think about the last two minutes, I try to see all the elements I have. Michael got behind Button because of a half off in the third sector. We were pretty sure we had more petrol than Bar. I like to see Ferrari win. But even if we finish second and third, that's fine with me. We now have an incredible streak of four victories following last season's finale. Every day I read that this domination is formulaic, but when we are not first you ask me if I am worried".

 

Worried about the BAR's improvements?

 

"It is more interesting to see that at Imola only two teams managed to finish in the points with both cars. Renault and us. And I am proud of that".

 

But Barrichello did not finish with a great result.

 

"He was in traffic. In Formula 1 it's a difficult situation. On certain tracks you can only overtake by flying. The car was going well. In traffic he couldn't exploit it".

 

FIA president Max Mosley has proposed to change Formula 1 in 2008. But in that chair - according to rumors - Jean Todt himself could sit. Who denies it:

 

"It is not my ambition, assuming there is the possibility. Rather I would like to take it easy. If I have to think about a change, I would like to not stay at work for 14 hours a day, to enjoy life more. You only live once. I don't think I would like to add some qualifications on my business card because there is no more room to write on it".

 

Mosley's proposals for the future of Formula 1?

 

"There are ideas that are right and interesting, others to be discussed, and still others that we will not agree on. But don't ask me which ones. There will be a meeting. We are talking about 2008 and we are only halfway through 2004. There are many people who will discuss it, such as the GPWC, FIA, the banks".

 
Martina Felloni

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