The day Ron Dennis told Enrique Bernoldi his F1 fortune

In the 2001 Monaco Grand Prix, unheralded backmarker Enrique Bernoldi boldly held off delayed poleman David Coulthard for over 30 laps – and then received a telling off from a furious Ron Dennis.

Bernoldi is perhaps best remembered these days as the man Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz favoured when Peter Sauber decided instead to take a punt on Kimi Raikkonen.

Mateschitz subsequently bought his man a seat at Arrows, and the Brazilian duly made his Grand Prix debut in Australia in 2001 on the very same day as Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Juan Pablo Montoya. Quite a graduation class…

Bernoldi is also recalled for what happened later that year in Monaco, when he found himself in front of delayed pole position man Coulthard, who was trying to make his way through the field after a problem on the grid.

Coulthard spent over 30 laps trying to get by, and only gained the position when Bernoldi finally pitted – leaving McLaren boss Dennis so frustrated that he made of point of telling the Arrows driver his fortune after the race…

To finish first, first you have to start

Inevitably the 2001 season was all about Michael Schumacher and Ferrari versus McLaren, but with a twist. Double World Champion Mika Hakkinen got his year off to a disappointing start, and it was his teammate Coulthard who was flying the flag for the Woking outfit, winning in Brazil and Austria.

At the latter race Schumacher was controversially gifted second place and precious extra points by teammate Rubens Barrichello on the final lap. He now led the Scot by 42 to 38 – everything was to play for, and as ever qualifying was going to be crucial in Monaco.

For once, Schumacher got it wrong. Traffic forced him to abort his first run, but that gave him a spare lap that he was able to use right at the end with a two-lap final run. However, he clipped the barrier at Portier, joking later that it appeared to have moved, and made the track narrower…

Schumacher had to settle for second, his thunder stolen by Coulthard, who deserved full credit for a fine achievement under enormous pressure.

The McLaren ace had clanged the barrier in an earlier practice session, losing crucial track time, which made his effort even more impressive. And beating his teammate Hakkinen in their mutual home town did no harm to his stature within the team.

Earlier races had indicated that the McLaren had a longer fuel range than the Ferrari. If Coulthard could stay in front at the start, he just had to keep going, and hope that he had a clear run through the traffic once Schumacher pitted behind him.

Unless he could get the jump at the start Michael’s only real chance of sneaking ahead would be to pit at a time when he was guaranteed an empty track that would allow him to run flat out before Coulthard stopped and pull off an undercut.

Practice makes perfect

David Coulthard

David Coulthard

Photo by: DaimlerChrysler

The start was complicated by the presence of launch control, which had recently been made legal – and given everyone a massive headache as they tried to perfect it.

Ferrari was still a little nervous after problems in Austria, where the grid proved grippier than the pit lane surface on which the system had been tuned.

Practice starts weren’t allowed from the end of the tight Monaco pitlane, but the for the first time the FIA wisely introduced a new procedure and allowed them on the grid after the chequered flag in each practice session.

Drivers could thus do one on Thursday morning, one on Thursday afternoon, one on Saturday morning, and one after the Sunday warm-up. Ferrari had the added luxury of going home to Fiorano to play around on Friday, a day off for everybody else…

McLaren had no obvious problems during these sessions – but for the fourth time in 2001, the team had a costly glitch when it mattered. Hakkinen had previously stalled at the start proper in both Brazil and Austria, and on both occasions he had made a mistake, in the first instance with the clutch, and the second the operation of the complex traction control system.

In Spain Coulthard had an issue at the start of final formation lap – and in Monaco, it happened again. The pole man was left stranded as the rest of the runners drove away and made their way around to the grid.

Both times he was an innocent victim of software not reacting as it should to a particular set of circumstances.

In Spain McLaren technical director Adrian Newey had described it thus: “It’s a situation that perhaps we hadn’t properly rehearsed. Something happened which we hadn’t properly envisaged, which caused the problem.

“David did something slightly differently, but I have to say that the system probably should have coped with it, so there’s no point in allocating blame.”

The problem in Monaco was similar, but not identical.

“It was nothing to do with David,” Dennis explained after the race. “The system is complex. A set of parameters manifested themselves at the start, and because the system was not able to accommodate those parameters, it turned off the engine.

“As is always the case when the computer sees a set of conditions that it doesn’t expect to see, then it will turn the engine off, because it’s failsafe. And that’s what occurred.”

Dennis would usually never criticise a member of his own team in public, but surprisingly there was just a hint that he was annoyed with the ongoing problems: “It was a repeat performance of Barcelona, save for the fact that the actual cause was different.

“And that’s pretty frustrating, because the engineers responsible for that trawled through all the various parameters to try to avoid it happening again. So I’m sure they’ll be pretty uncomfortable…”

He also admitted what was by now glaringly obvious. The McLaren system was not only difficult for the drivers to operate (although Hakkinen had no problems in Monaco), it was unnecessarily complex and sensitive.

Schumacher gifted pole

The start

The start

Photo by: Ferrari Media Center

With Coulthard out of the way, Schumacher was effectively starting from pole from his second spot. The Ferrari launch control worked well this time, so he was able to stay ahead of third qualifier Hakkinen.

“Obviously we were relieved to have one of them out of the way,” said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, “although we knew we’d have a long, hard race.

“Launch control worked very well, although we think our side of the grid was not as grippy as the other side, from the practice starts we’ve done.”

Schumacher pushed hard for a few laps, and then eased off – to save crucial fuel – when he realised that he was not getting away from the Finn. The gap to Hakkinen went as high as 2.6s on lap 5, and then fell to just 1.0s on lap 12.

Brawn explained what was happening: “With Mika pushing, we were just deciding whether to conserve our tyres and fuel and then try and build a gap later, or try and build a gap then.

“They were sort of jousting, weren’t they? One would push and the other one would push. They were trying to judge who could go the quickest, because they both started on new tyres that took a while to settle down. And then Mika dropped out…”

On the very lap after he’d cut the gap to a second, Hakkinen slowed dramatically, and came into the pits. After a further exploratory lap he was back in for good. There was talk of a mysterious steering issue, but it later emerged that on that weekend the Finn had first faced the doubts that would lead him to retire from the sport.

McLaren’s hopes now rested with Coulthard. Overtaking might be hard in Monaco, but from a pit lane start a pole man should in theory be able to cut through backmarkers. However, almost immediately he found himself caught behind the Arrows of Bernoldi, who had qualified 20th of the 22 starters.

This is how the early laps played out:

Coulthard’s progress before catching Bernoldi

Enrique Bernoldi, Arrows A22 Asiatech leads David Coulthard, Mclaren MP4-16

Enrique Bernoldi, Arrows A22 Asiatech leads David Coulthard, Mclaren MP4-16

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Lap 1: Last from back of grid

Lap 2: Passes Burti (Prost), who slowed with a broken wing.

Lap 3: 0.1s behind Marques (Minardi)

Lap 4: Passes Marques. 2.8s behind Verstappen (Arrows)

Lap 5: 1.6s behind Verstappen

Lap 6: 0.6s behind Verstappen

Lap 7: 0.5s behind Verstappen

Lap 8: 0.4s behind Bernoldi (Arrows), who had been passed by Verstappen.

Coulthard now had Bernoldi in his sights. By this time he was already 34.1s behind leader Schumacher, and 13.1s behind the BAR of Jacques Villeneuve, the man who eventually finished ahead of him in fourth.

For a while Bernoldi stayed in touch with teammate Verstappen, but he had a problem that forced him to switch to a conservative fuel map, and thus he lost a little speed. And yet still Coulthard could not get past.

Between laps 8 and 25 the gap between Coulthard and leader Schumacher grew from 34.1s to 78.8s. Then the Ferrari driver lapped the McLaren, and any chance DC had of getting a serious helping of points was obviously gone.

Bernoldi was helped to a degree by his weight advantage – he was carrying fuel for just 43 laps, while with a full tank Coulthard was eventually able to go to 65, having saved a little extra fuel when stuck behind the Arrows.

When Bernoldi finally pitted on that lap 43, he and Coulthard had been lapped by everybody down to Villeneuve, who was at that stage running fifth. With Bernoldi out of the way, Coulthard’s lap times improved by around 3s, and he soon unlapped himself from Villeneuve.

Coulthard’s progress after passing Bernoldi

David Coulthard

David Coulthard

Photo by: DaimlerChrysler

Lap 42: 12th (Bernoldi pits)

Lap 43: 11th (Verstappen pits)

Lap 44: 10th (Fisichella crashes)

Lap 46:  9th (Passes Alonso’s Minardi)

Lap 49: 7th (Button pits and Frentzen crashes)

Lap 57: 6th (Ralf Schumacher retires)

Lap 65: Coulthard pits and maintains sixth.

Lap 69: 5th (Alesi pits with puncture)

There was no officially published gap, but Coulthard was still around a minute behind fourth-placed Villeneuve at the flag. He had set fastest lap and picked up two points – better than a retirement, but poor reward on a day when Schumacher was gifted victory and picked up 10.

Bernoldi meanwhile eventually crossed the line in ninth place. It was immediately after the race that a frustrated Dennis, accompanied by Mercedes boss Norbert Haug, accosted him.

There’s an understanding between team bosses that it’s bad form to speak directly to drivers from rival camps in such circumstances – it’s up to a driver to seek out a colleague with whom he has a grudge. This situation was a little like an angry parent at a junior kart meeting accosting a nine-year-old who’d dared to punt little Johnny off the track.

“They wouldn’t have done that to Michael or Jacques or someone with balls,” one driver told me with a smile. What would he have done if he’d been verbally accosted by Dennis and Haug, I asked? “Told them to **** off!”

Ron’s reaction was perhaps understandable. McLaren had endured a terrible day, with a technical problem stranding Coulthard at the start, and Hakkinen retiring a seemingly healthy car. Both men had a bone fide chance of beating Schumacher, not least because of the MP4-16’s ability to go longer on fuel, and yet the chance was squandered.

His point of view was that Bernoldi should have made way for Coulthard, simply because the latter was a World Championship contender.

Dennis hit the rev limiter after Bernoldi told him that he was just following orders. Ron instantly smelled a conspiracy to deprive his team of victory, when in fact Bernoldi was simply pointing out that the McLaren was on the same lap, and he was thus under no obligation to let it through.

Ron Dennis

Ron Dennis

Photo by: Brousseau Photo

“It’s true I spoke to Bernoldi afterwards,” Dennis admitted. “I felt that the driver contending 15th position, who was chopping across the front of a driver that was contesting the World Championship, currently lying second, I think it’s acceptable for a period of time.

“But I think the length of time it took was unacceptable. I told him I thought his behaviour was unsporting, and not reflective of the attitude that a young developing driver should be putting into his career.

“His response was that he had been instructed to do so by the team. All I’m saying is what he said. If that team is so desperate for television that it has to resort to those strategies, then you somewhat question the behaviour of the team as a whole.

“I have no problems with Arrows or with drivers, but at the end of the day we’re all fiercely competitive. We want to approach it as a sport, and during the course of the race one has to have a sporting behaviour…”

When he found out about the conversation, Arrows boss Tom Walkinshaw was incensed. He understood that Dennis and Haug had told his hapless driver that they could “end his career,” although other versions of the story suggested that the actual wording was along the lines of “you won’t last long in F1 if you drive like that again,” which seemed a little less harsh.

If nothing else, Dennis had successfully diverted attention away from the problem on the grid, and indeed Hakkinen’s mysterious retirement, although Walkinshaw wasn’t fooled.

“He should take his anger out on himself,” he thundered. “Rather than venting it on everyone else…”

Enrique Bernoldi

Enrique Bernoldi

Photo by: Brousseau Photo

Most neutrals took Bernoldi’s side – he was racing for position. It was also worth noting that in Austria Dennis was upset when a driver (Barrichello) moved over for another car (Schumacher). In Monaco he was upset when somebody else didn’t move over!

At the same time we were being told that the title situation was not yet clear in terms of who got priority at McLaren, and thus there were no team orders in the Woking camp. So somehow an Arrows was expected to wave a McLaren past – and yet Hakkinen wasn’t obliged to aid his own teammate.

The irony was that whatever way you did the maths, Coulthard would not have done better than fifth even if he had not become stuck behind Bernoldi. And it would only have been sixth had Jean Alesi not had an extra pit stop with a late puncture.

Let’s suppose that on the very first lap that Bernoldi saw the McLaren he had decided to let it though. Then consider the guys who Coulthard would then have had to pass on track just to get within striking distance of Villeneuve, the man who ultimately finished fourth.

Can you really imagine that the likes of Jos Verstappen, Jenson Button, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Alesi and Giancarlo Fisichella would done what Dennis wanted, and moved out of the way?

The only positive was that Coulthard didn’t panic and didn’t damage his nose (as had happened when he was delayed in Spain), and he came home with those two crucial points.

Nevertheless on that day McLaren handed victory to Schumacher on a plate - and thereafter he pulled away to win the title by a comfortable margin.   

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