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25th January, 2000

Schumacher's 2000 Mission

by Carlos Soto

Exactly a year ago I was discussing with my friends about what we expectes to happen in the '99 season, and we all arrived at the same conclusion: "There's no excuse that Ferrari and Michael Schumacher can come up with for not winning the championship." But I guess that my friends and I didn't consider Schumacher injuring himself.

Would Schumacher have won the '99 championship, had he not suffered that accident? We all saw him perform impressively at Malaysia and Japan, but he also lost valuable points at circuits where he usually wins easily (France and Canada). We know that Hakkinen made some mistakes, but he generally seems to perform better under pressure - Monza, for example, might have been very different if his mirrors were full of Ferrari red, rather than a yellow dot, and the other title contender over half a lap behind. But there's little to be gained in discussing what might have been because no-one can prove their conclusions.

The 2000 season, however, is about to start and again the question arises "what will happen with Schumacher and Ferrari this season?" And again, I must say that they have everything they need to win the championship and once again there's no excuse for failing to win it. Why? Well, a look at the elements should illustrate my point.

The team

Sure we all cursed or laughed (depending on who you cheer for) when the Ferrari team tried to set Irvine up with three wheels at the Nurburgring, but aside from that incident the Ferrari pit crew one that every team owner dreams about. It is very rare to see another team beat Ferrari in the pits, though other teams often match their performances.

The engineers and mechanics are among the best in Formula One. Remember also that most of the key elements of the team are the same people that delivered Schumacher the two Driver's Championships (94-95) and Benetton their Constructors win in '95.

Surely the engineers and drivers benefit from the Ferrari facilities: they have whatever equipment they require, can test whenever they like at their own track, and have a top class wind-tunnel to draw on.

Additionally, and perhaps the strongest point in favour of the Ferrari team, is their exquisite ability for race strategy. We have all seen Ferrari win races they should have lost because to it: just think to remember the '99 Austrian GP, where Irvine won, after Ferrari's strategy allowed him to pass Coulthard. Coulthard had carried a huge advantage into his pitstop, but brilliant strategy saw Irvine pass with ease in his own stop, and take the race win.

The car

I don't think Ferrari can keep blaming their defeats on the car. The cars showed huge progress at the end of the '98 season, and in '99 it was clear that the car was in excellent shape. The engine is very powerful as demonstrated by Ferrari's 1-2 finish at Hockenheim, and Salo's podium at Monza - both power circuits. Furthermore, this years the engine should be comparable with the Mercedes unit.

The chassis is famously stable and well balanced, and it's often said that Ferrari's braking is the best in the grid. But there's something the Ferrari has that torments Ron Dennis, Adrian Newey and Norbert Haugh to keep them awake all night: the Ferrari car is reliable! It ran near perfectly through the '99 season, with only a few minor glitches. On the other hand McLaren is still haunted by reliability difficulties, though the majority of those seem to fall Coulthard's way…

The drivers

After the '94 season, which marked the end of the Mansell-Prost-Senna era, Formula One has been all about Michael Schumacher. You love him or you hate him, but you can't ignore the huge talent, which was key to two Driver's Championships, and helping Ferrari "rise from the grave." Luca di Montezemolo might have trouble signing the annual $30 million cheque, but he always does so.

However, rising from the grave is not enough, and this year Schumacher must show why he gets paid that much, and why he is considered the best driver in the world, and the only way to do it is winning the championship. He will be partnered by Barrichello, who should be a calmer and less confrontational team-mate than Irvine, and in my personal opinion a much better driver. He'll surely be a key element in this year's season and help Schumacher in his quest. Help him? Although Barrichello will not admit a humiliating number two status, he'll be Schumacher's second this year: when the two drivers are racing close together for 1st and 2nd the guy that gets 30 million a year will be the one to cross the finish line first.

Concluding

So adding up everything, the Championship is down to Schumacher driving the car to the finish line first - and he has all the components he needs to do that.

But what if he doesn't? Well perhaps Luca di Montezemolo might have more difficulty signing the cheque, because by 2001 Ferrari would have paid Schumacher some U$150 million over five years for a Championship that he failed to deliver. Giani Agnelli (FIAT boss) will surely be very upset because in that time interval he has authorised the team to spend (according to my calculations) around a billion dollars and the only result to date is the '99 Constructors Championship. It must have been a nice consolation prize for Ferrari, but that's not what they're looking for. After all, when we remember the 94 season, the first thing we remember is Schumacher being crowned champion, not Williams being winning the Constructors. Furthermore, sponsors Shell and Marlboro must start getting concerned about the return on their very significant sponsorship, when they see the cars sponsored by Mobil and West doing so well. Adding insult to injury, those are the same cars that they sponsored until moving across to Ferrari…

So, the season start is something like a month away, Ferrari are planning to launch their contender in early February, and pre-launch testing makes everything seem set for Schumacher's third championship.

I can't imagine anything happening this season that could keep Schumacher from being Champion - much less the consequences of such a failure; but in Formula One, nothing's fixed until the chequered flag drops. I guess we'll just have to wait and see who is crowned champion when the final flag falls in Sepang.


Article is written by and copyright © 2000 Carlos Soto.
Carlos Soto is 19 years old, living in Bogota, Colombia. He's a 4th semester mechanical engineering student, and a fan of auto racing from birth.... Totally unashamedly, he's a fan of Juan Pablo Montoya (can't wait to see him in F1), Hakkinen and Frentzen. If you want to know any more, just ask him!



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