IMOLA, Italy, Thursday, April 6, 2000 - This is Ferrari country. The base of the fabled Ferrari race team is just up the road in the village of Maranello near the town of Modena, and the track hosting this weekend's San Marino Grand Prix, called...
IMOLA, Italy, Thursday, April 6, 2000 - This is Ferrari country. The base of the fabled Ferrari race team is just up the road in the village of Maranello near the town of Modena, and the track hosting this weekend's San Marino Grand Prix, called the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, is named after Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari and his son, Dino.
On race day the hills and grandstands around the track will be a sea of red as the fanatic Ferrari fans, known as the tifosi, wearing red Ferrari caps and waving Ferrari flags, cheer on their beloved team.
This year the tifosi really have something to cheer for as Michael Schumacher has won the first two races of the season in his Ferrari while his teammate, Rubens Barrichello, finished second in the season opener.
"With all our supporters in Imola," Schumacher said, "we will have extra power against our competitors."
The last time Ferrari won the first three races of the season was in 1976. West McLaren-Mercedes drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard will be driving flat-out to ensure that Ferrari doesn't win the first three races of 2000. The McLaren duo has yet to score a point this season. Coulthard finished second in Brazil two weeks ago but was disqualified because of an illegal front wing. The team appealed the decision but lost the appeal. Coulthard has put all that behind him.
"Any emotion that could come from losing hard-won points, I felt it," Coulthard said. "But the job here is to focus on this weekend's race. It doesn't matter now what happened in Brazil."
After two of 17 races, Schumacher leads the Drivers World Championship with 20 points, while Giancarlo Fisichella, who has eight points, is second in the standings. Ferrari has already amassed 26 points on the Constructors Championship while McLaren has no points.
"I am obviously pretty happy about the situation, except for having lost one car (when Rubens Barrichello retired) in Brazil," Schumacher said. "That wasn't really necessary because it turned out to have been a minor fault (which eliminated Barrichello).
"As I said after the first two GPs, I would have loved to have been racing the McLarens to the end, to see what the exact situation is between us. We still haven't seen it to its full extent. All we can say is that the two cars are very competitive, very close to each other. By the end of the day we will see who is the winner, but (to win this year) it is enough to be only a little way in front."
The McLaren-Mercedes drivers are looking forwards, not backwards.
"With 15 races to go, 'drastic' isn't the right word to use," Coulthard said of the championship battles. "I think Ferrari has been further behind than that at times during the past two seasons, and they pulled it back. We are hoping to be able to do the same.
"But nobody wants to give away as many points as that, especially to a team with the sort of reliability record that Ferrari had last year and has shown so far this year. Although we can't change what's happened in the past, we can hope to change things in the future."
Hakkinen, meanwhile, cannot count a San Marino win among his 14 Grand Prix victories.
While it is called the San Marino Grand Prix, the race is held in Italy because there simply is no room in the tiny country of San Marino, which is perched on the side of a mountain in Italy. While the official name of the track is the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, most people call it Imola, the name of the town adjacent to the track.
"The last few times I came here I was driving for a well known local team!" Irvine said. "Given that I live part of the time in Italy and that I spent four years driving for an Italian team, this will be something of a special weekend."
Rubens Barrichello, who took Irvine's place at Ferrari, is already a favorite of the Italian fans.
"The Italian fans are something special," Barrichello said. "Racing for Ferrari automatically makes you a son of Italy, whatever nationality you might be.
"Ferrari fans are something special. They wait all day outside the gate of (the test track) Fiorano just to have an autograph at the end of the day. It is incredible."
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK
Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the San Marino Grand Prix live on Speedvision at 7:30 a.m. (EDT) April 9. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape delayed at 10 a.m. in all time zones April 9. Check local listings. Speedvision will show qualifying live at 7 a.m. (EDT) on April 8. Fox Sports Net will carry an exclusive with Michael and Ralf Schumacher who were interviewed together on TV for the first time.
Driver's centuries: The San Marino Grand Prix marks the 100th Grand Prix start for Eddie Irvine and Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
Double deckers: With limited space in the paddock for the hospitality motor homes, the teams have been expanding upwards rather than sideways. McLaren-Mercedes started the trend of two-story motor homes and BAR joined the club last year with its own double deckers. Williams-BMW, the latest team to join the club, had two two-story motor homes in the Imola paddock.
New technical director: Willy Rampf is the new technical director at Red Bull Sauber-Petronas. He replaced Leo Ress, who now takes charge of long-term technical research and development at the team's headquarters in Hinwil, Switzerland. Rampf, who had been the coordinator of engineers at tests and races, will begin designing the 2001 chassis in May. This summer Leo Ress, 49, celebrates his 15th anniversary as the responsible designer for Sauber. His resume includes designing the Sauber that won Le Mans in 1989.
New supplier: The Nippon Mitsubishi Oil Corporation, NMOC, is now the official supplier of oil and fuel to the Lucky Strike British American Racing-Honda team. The products supplied to BAR will be jointly developed by BAR and NMOC.
New team manager: Ron Meadows has replaced Robert Synge as team manager at British American Racing. Meadows previous role was factory manager.
Jaguar to run on Michelins: Jaguar Racing will use Michelin tires when the French tire maker returns to F1 next year. Michelin has already signed up with Williams BMW as well as Toyota.
"We are proud to be associated with a company with such a tradition of sporting excellence," said Neil Ressler, chairman of Jaguar Racing and chief technical officer of the Ford Motor Company. "We are looking forward to a strong partnership with Michelin and, the fact that it is a long term agreement shows the strength of commitment from Michelin and Jaguar Racing to succeed."
Michelin started the radial revolution in F1 in 1977 and Michelin-shod cars won 59 Grands Prix before the company withdrew from the series at the end of the 1984 season. Its return to F1 will end a two-year monopoly by Bridgestone. Goodyear withdrew from F1 at the end of the 1998 season.
Stars for charity: Michael Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli and Ferrari's test driver Luca Badoer led a team that played a soccer game against a team of celebrities in Faenza, Italy on Wednesday. The game, which the driver's team won by a score of 2 - 1, was put on to raise money for charity.
"The star of the game was (Fisichella) who scored our winning goal," Schumacher said. "It was a good one. He did much better than me: he was free and alone in front of the goalkeeper, and he scored."