At 15.40, up goes the lollipop in front of Michael’s Ferrari, he shoots off and aims for the pit lane exit, held back only by the speed limiter. “It’s looking good,” Ross Brawn radios him in the cockpit. “It’s looking good.” Michael can’t really believe his chief technician’s words. He thinks that the last laps have not really been good enough: lapping, light rain and worn tyres have held him back. Then the unexpected revelation: “It’s looking damn good.” 13 laps before the end of the race, Michael takes the lead from his rival for the title, Mika Häkkinen.
Ferrari’s first title is within reach. For the final two laps, Michael drives more slowly, more cautiously. On the dark, newly asphalted surface it is hard to tell whether it is wet or dry. At 16.30 none of this matters any more. Michael crosses the finishing line, world champion for the third time, drumming on his steering wheel. “It was a real explosion of emotion.” Until this moment he does not allow himself to think for one second of victory or the longed-for title, or allow in any excitement. “I wanted to be absolutely sure first, and have the finishing line behind me,” he says.
But afterwards he gives himself over to unrestrained joy. “I can’t describe what happened then. You just can’t put something like that into words. I was so amazingly happy. I didn’t know what to do with all this good fortune. I suddenly felt almost trapped in my car, my Ferrari. It’s as though you are about to burst. It was just such a release! Such a relief!”
On the way back to the pit he simply coasts along, his eyes full of tears and almost beside himself. In parc fermé a second celebration awaits him, from his Ferrari team – as Formula One World Champion: “Those faces! Bright eyes everywhere and everyone cheering. I would have loved to hug and kiss each and every one of them.” On the podium, it’s the same. “By now, I could hug the whole world. When you look down and you’re simply engulfed by laughing, cheering and singing – words can’t adequately describe moments like these.”
One of the best races of all time
But he has to fight for it all the harder. For almost 40 laps, he and Häkkinen achieve almost identical lap times. Michael calls it constant qualifying. “This was certainly one of the best races I have ever driven, if not the best.” But now the pressure is over, and the first Ferrari title since Jody Scheckter in 1979 has finally been brought home. Michael has tried his luck with Scuderia over five years and three times they failed. “Year after year it seemed to go on longer and longer. Of course you get angry when you fail once again, even when the opportunities were there.”
In 2000, everything finally comes together. The accident at Silverstone, the long break, his team-mate Eddie Irvine’s near title-win, all are forgotten. Rubens Barrichello is the new driver in the second F1-2000. At Melbourne, McLaren are on the front row, but victory nevertheless goes to Michael, and so it does again in the following races, in Brazil and San Marino. Three races, thirty points, the foundation stone for the first Ferrari title has been laid.