News and views on motorsports

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Notes from Melbourne

An open goal was the term used by the ITV F1 commentators to describe Giancarlo Fisichella's fortune during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix. Whilst the rest of the top runners found themselves unlucky to be placed way below their expectations, Giancarlo was blessed with a gap in the rain. He took advantage of it to take the second pole position of his career. Take nothing from him, that Renault looks mighty good.

ITV showed highlights of the second qualifying prior to the race. This year, the starting grid is decided by totalling up the times in both qualifying sessions. It was quite strange to look at the timings and see cars doing 3 minutes. The runners who did poorly yesterday such as Michael Schumacher took the opportunity to do a single lap during the session session before promptly diving into the pits. In the days of old, a second qualifying session would simply be another opportunity to grab pole position. Now, if you know you haven't got a chance, you just use it for an installation lap. All in all, I think its a bit better than last year, this aggregate system. However, its still a pale shadow of previous years before this silly one lap qualifying business came to being.

If the intention of this new system is to mix up the grid, it certainly worked here in Melbourne. Giancarlo and Webber being the only top runners in the top 5 of the grid. Montoya, Raikkonen, Barrichello and Alonso starting from 9th, 10th, 11th and 13th on the grid respectively. Michael Schumacher started in 18th, penalized due to an engine change. Some screws loose in the sump according to Michael, necessitating in a fresh engine. I suppose so, Michael.

The race itself was like a throwback to the 80s. See, back in those days, refuelling was banned and FISA slapped a limit on the capacity of the fuel tanks. If the 80s was all about conserving fuel, so now its about conserving tyres. Tyres must last a whole race, subject to certain conditions like rain, or a big huge spin or it is in a "dangerous" condition.

During the race, I believe some of the runners like Trulli for instance, who shined during the early stages of the race running in second, simply did not wear their tyres properly. McLaren, is another team whom I believe experienced tyre problems. Raikkonen for instance was unbelivable at the start of the race, with a visibly quick car but fizzled out as the race progressed. If in the 80s, it was all about having a powerful engine with good fuel economy, today it is all about having a fast car that at the same time conserved its tyres well. As it was, McLaren who was everybody's tip for this race, simply could not keep up their sparkling pace during the race.

So as it was in the 80s, drivers seemed to make a huge dash at the start, with constant jostling for positions, then settled into a rythm to conserve the tyres. Only towards the end, did things start to heat up again. Whereas in previous years, we would have seen the race progress in 15-20 lap sets of sprints. Not less exciting I think, but just different.

David Coulthard was in fine form today, managing to keep ahead of Mark Webber throughout the entire race, although not without some close attention from the Australian in the Williams. David essentially replaced Webber in the Red Bull nee Jaguar, so that must have been quite cool for him. Even more satisfying for David was finishing ahead of both Montoya and Raikkonen. Hah. If I were him, I'd give Ron the two fingered salute for that. Coulthard finished a fine 4th.

Mark Webber once again drove a solid race but simply didn't have the raw pace if measured against the likes of Renault. The folks at Grove have a lot of work left to do, Sam Michael promising some aerodynamic tweaks from their shiny new wind tunnel. His team mate Heidfeld was involved in an accident with Michael Schumacher. Heidfeld was coming up to pass Michael. Side by side into a right hander, Michael I thought was late in trying to close the door on Nick. Heidfeld, having to take avoiding action drove on to the grass. Under braking with insufficient grip, he lost it and clipped Michael was turning in. Both of them ending up in the gravel.

What happened next was to me quite disgusting. Only Michael in a Ferrari would get away with things like this. Michael, who I believe was not in any dangerous position, beckoned the marshalls to push him out. That's simply unbelievable. Senna did it once in 1989 Suzuka after coming together with Prost and he got disqualified for it. But a Ferrari driver? No he can bloody well do what he wants. In the end, after receiving that push Michael drove his Ferrari into the pits to retire. That's even more bullshit.

His teammate Barrichello, to me, drove a great race. He started out 11th behind Raikkonen and Montoya and in the end managed to outpace them both and with some consistent and smooth driving ended second in the race. The likes of Alonso, Coulthard and Webber must have been quite bemused by that. Ferrari it seems are by no means dead in the water, even if Michael Schumacher looked comprehensively outpaced. Perhaps Ross Brawn and Barrichello has a point when he says that his smoother driving style better suits this new tyre economy formula.

So what the hell happened to McLaren? Raikkonen, for a long time behind Michael Schumacher during the fuel stops managed to damage his bargeboard after an off on the grass. He managed to get ahead of the Ferrari after the fuel stops but that incident put him under pressure from Michael. After Raikkonen's second stop the barge board, still stuck in front of his sidepods was removed but clearly it affected his pace and hence his race. Montoya after being ahead of Barrichello and pulling away during the early part of the race completely fizzled out in the end. I somehow do not believe the McLarens lack any pace at all. Starting from 9th and 10th is no excuse. After all, Barrichello started from 11th and managed to finish 2nd. I think McLaren are facing some serious tyre wear problems.

The team not facing any such problems is Renault. Did you see the condition of their tyres at the parc ferme? They look fresh. Not a single blister or grain on the tyres on both Fisichella and Alonso's cars. They have the raw pace and it looks like they are making the best use of those Michelin tyres. Their winter testing form is spot on the money I believe.

I was really glad that Fisichella won today's race. Not only is he not a Ferrari driver but I think he deserves all the good fortune and success he got. He is extremely talented and if you look at his debut season in 1997, you would have thought that he is Alonso's equal. He's always managed to outpace all his teammates including that lemon, Ralf Schumacher. Alonso is going to be an extremely hard nut to crack but I think he's going to manage just fine.

Talking about the battle of the teammates, I have this sneaky feeling that the Iceman is starting to feel some heat from his Colombian teammate. Throughout winter, there were times when The Monster, had bested our man Kimi. Today in qualifying, he did the same as well as finishing ahead of his teammate. Although bad luck to Kimi. He stalled his engine and had to start from the pits.

Alonso was for a lot of people the man of the race. Had he started from a higher grid position and had he not been stuck behind Villenueve for almost a third of the race, I think second or even a win was on the cards. Having said that I believe Fisichella was simply taking it really easy towards the end and simply controlling the race. Still, take nothing from Alonso. A storming drive through the field saw him finish third, completing an all Latin podium.

Speaking of Jacques, he was quite recalcitrant today. I mean, getting in people's way in the end. Didn't help that the marshalls seem to be asleep and not waving blue flags to him to get out of the leaders' way. He held up Fisichella in such a way as to lose the Italian three seconds on one lap, incurring the wrath of the Roman. In another interesting incident, he held up Coulthard who was coming up to lap him for a whole lap. Coulthard at the same time was under intense pressure from Webber close behind him. Could the marshalls have intentionally avoided waving the blue flags to aid the Australian to get close to the Red Bull RB1? Heh heh.

Its been a long boring winter filled with political intrigue. It was a breath of fresh air to see a race once more. I always get this feeling at the start of a season. And what a start it has been. Fisichella and Renault lead the drivers and constructors championships after what looked to be an easy victory. This season is long and may it have more victories like this one.

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