SCHUMACHER, FERRARI LOOKING OUT FOR NUMBER ONE By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Correspondent INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 12, 1999 -- When Michael Schumacher races in next year's United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, he wants the prestigious ...
SCHUMACHER, FERRARI LOOKING OUT FOR NUMBER ONE
By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Correspondent
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 12, 1999 -- When Michael Schumacher races in next year's United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, he wants the prestigious number "1" to adorn the sides of his Ferrari.
In Formula One the driver who wins the World Championship carries the number "1" on his car the following season, and Schumacher and Ferrari are among the favorites to win the title this year. But first they have to beat the rest of the pack led by current champ Mika Hakkinen in the West McLaren-Mercedes.
"You will have the same two top teams up at the front," he said, "with other teams chasing. I can't say how close they will be, but with everybody on the same tires there won't be the same gaps (as last season) and it's pretty certain that things will be closer. It's the second year of grooved tires, so all the engineers know what to do to get their cars set up. But it will still be the same two cars at the top. I guess the others will be Williams, Jordan, Sauber and Benetton."
Last year, Schumacher challenged Finland's Hakkinen for the title right up to the season finale in Japan where Hakkinen took the crown. This year, Schumacher hopes that Ferrari will finish on top so that he can present Ferrari with its first World Driver's Championship since 1979.
"Our objective is to win the championship," he said. "Ferrari has been waiting 20 years. It looks like a good number to win the last championship of the century. I think that the Ferrari Marlboro Team has all it needs to be the best team. It just has to prove it."
Schumacher said it isn't the prospect of winning his third world championship that motivates him.
"It's not about the third world championship," he said, "it's more about being with Ferrari and doing it with Ferrari. They haven't had a driver's championship for 20 years. We have twice been very close. And there are a lot of reasons to make any championship very special. But it's nothing to do with it being a third one for me."
Ferrari's name and its famous black prancing horse logo set on a yellow shield are so intertwined with F1 lore and history that for many people F1 and Ferrari are inseparable. F1 without Ferrari is like baseball without the New York Yankees.
The team's drivers over the decades read like the who's who of F1: heroes such as Alberto Ascari, Juan Manual Fangio, Mike Hawthorn, Americans Phil Hill and Mario Andretti, John Surtees, Niki Lauda, Gilles Villeneuve, Jody Scheckter, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and, of course, Michael Schumacher. With 33 career victories, Schumacher is third on the all-time win list behind Alain Prost (51 wins) and Ayrton Senna (41 wins).
Ferrari is the only team to have continuously competed in F1 since the modern era started in 1950 with the establishment of the World Championship. It has racked up nine Driver's Championships, eight Constructor's Championships, a record 119 Grand Prix victories and a record 124 pole positions. The Constructor's Championship was not established until 1958 - but unofficially Ferrari won that title five times up until then.
The last Driver's Championship for Ferrari, however, was back in 1979 with Scheckter, and the last Constructor's Championship came in 1983. Schumacher has played a key role in Ferrari's revival. Since joining the team in 1996, he's won 14 races and finished second in the final point standings for the past two years.
Ferrari recently unveiled the new car that Schumacher and his teammate, Eddie Irvine of Ireland, will use to challenge for racing's most prestigious championship.
Designed by South African Rory Byrne with input from England's Ross Brawn, the new Ferrari is an evolution of last year's design that won six Grands Prix. Compared to the 1998 car it's 44 pounds lighter, has a more powerful V10 and features revised aerodynamics, electronic power steering, a lower center of gravity and new suspension.
Called the F399 because it of its three-liter engine and 1999 chassis model - it's the 45th F1 car built by Ferrari to race in the World Championship. Famous for its V12 engines, Ferrari now uses V10s like all the other F1 teams.
Ferrari plans to do all of its testing with the new car at the Fiorano and Mugello tracks in Italy, so not until the season opener March 7 in Australia will it go head-to-head with McLaren-Mercedes and the rest of the Formula One field.
Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo declined to make any promises that Ferrari will finally win the championship this year: "There is no point in making promises or claiming anything right now. We will be totally committed. We want to do better than last year.
"The team is stable, motivated and prepared to do its best. What we really don't want to do is lose the title in the final race again. Ferrari has made a big effort to regain a place at the top of F1 over the past two years. I still want to win, but it's more important to have Ferrari back at the top of F1."
For the past two seasons Schumacher has lost the championship in the final race, but he's put the disappointment of last year behind him.
"I had a very good winter break," he said, "probably the best since I stepped out of Formula 3 (in 1990). I have had lots of time to spend with my family and to concentrate on my physical preparation. I feel good, relaxed and fresh. It means I am in the right environment to be able to go back fresh to F1 and to forget about what happened last year. I can just concentrate on what's going to happen this year."
"We have a new car and a new challenge," Schumacher claimed. "Those are the things that motivate me. I've got a 50 percent chance this year of winning the championship. McLaren is given as the winner, but it will have to cope with a very strong Ferrari."
This season will show if the Ferrari is strong enough to carry the number 1 at the Brickyard in 2000.