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Monday, April 25, 2005

San Marino GP Notes

Well I guess its safe to say that the Ferrari bashing holiday is over now, and here is where it all gets serious. Dead serious. Ferrari are indeed back into the fray as many of us expect. It was good having a laugh at their expense for a while but now the championship really begins.

If the Ferrari didn't look good in Qualifying 2, it was probably because it was brimming with fuel and running a heavy load. Ross Brawn simply knew how fast the car was and that running heavy wouldn't matter. Once the midfield pitted for fuel, Michael would be unleashed. And what a stunning drive it was. Whereas Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso could at best run in the 1m 23s bracket as they did in qualifying, Michael could run in the low 1m 22s. His fastest lap was a 1m 21s.

Yes, of course Michael is right when he says that had he qualified better, he would have won the race. However, this discounts the fact that a certain McLaren driver retired from the race. And not for the first time. According to Ted Kravitz who was in the McLaren garage on Kimi's retirement, Kimi drove into the pits, got out, took his rather expensive steering wheel and flung it right across the garage. If I were him, I'd have taken the steering wheel and thrown it at Ron Dennis. And then I'd have picked it up and thrown it at Norbert Haug.

McLaren have this rather nasty habit of letting their drivers down. It happened to Hakkinen. Its now happening with Kimi. Kimi pulled two seconds out of Alonso on the very first lap and was continuing on at breakneck speeds, mirroring his form in qualifying. If anyone could run with Ferrari this weekend it would have been Kimi. Alas, he was robbed again by some dumb ass constant velocity joint in the drive shafts. If I were Kimi just about now, I'd be making plans to move to Maranello once Herr Schumacher retires. It seems the Ferrari boss and the technical director wants me there anyway.

So what about Fernando Alonso? You must give credit to the man. He resisted the enormous pressure of Michael Schumacher for the best part of 15 laps. His karting pedigree really showed as he smartly positioned his car to defend his position. All the while, he delibrately went slower to avoid lapping backmarkers. The aerodynamic turbulence from them would have ruined him. Put it this way, Button fluffed his defence against Schumacher. Alonso did not. He controlled the situation brilliantly. To my mind, he has proven that he is indeed world champion material. According to Alonso in the press conference and in the press releases, he experienced a lack of grip towards the end. Michelin confirms this as well.

Alonso's teammate Giancarlo Fisichella suffered an ignominous end to his race. The car suffering some sort of failure that caused Fisichella to lose complete control of his car. This may explain why he suffered such dismal form in qualifying. Its a pity otherwise Schumacher would have had two Renaults to contend with.

As for Button, the last main protagonist in this race, I think he had some speed but ultimately it was insufficient. In addition, as I mentioned before, he made a complete hash of defending against Schumacher. This, on a circuit thats very narrow and subjects cars behind to enormous aero turbulence. Given that, Button should have done better. Still, given the pace of the Ferrari, perhaps it was just a matter of time before Michael overtook. After all, at that point there was still one more pitstop to go.

Asides the main action at the head of the field, a great battle ensued between Takuma Sato and Mark Webber during early part of the race. Both of them part of a great train of cars following the Toyota of Jarno Trulli. The Toyotas were clearly out of their league this weekend, although Trulli still managed to gather some points in 7th. Ralf Schumacher, originally finishing in 8th was penalised for some sort of unfair manoeuvre in the pits.

Both the Williams boys finished rather poorly this weekend classified 9th and 10th prior to Ralf's penalty. Webber almost got himself lapped by the leader. Ditto the Red Bull guys who were simply nowhere this weekend. Coulthard getting himself into a ding dong battle with Filipe Massa during the race. First the Brazilian loses his front wing endplate in a botched overtaking attempt. After changing his wing, he got back, chased Coulthard and proceeded to barge Coulthard out of the way at the Rivazza corner. Attaboy Filipe. Filipe's much criticized teammate however managed to put in a solid drive to 6th position. This is more like a former world champion.

In the final analysis, doomsayers will say its going to be Ferrari all the way from now on. But I somehow think the tyre situation had a lot to do with the results here this weeekend. Bridgestone's products seem to do nicely in cooler climates. And it was cold this weekend at Imola. The Michelin clad teams seemed to suffer a lack of grip. It would have been interesting to see how Kimi faired towards the end. Apparently, he was on a different compound rubber to the others.

In the end Fernando Alonso still managed to extend his lead further in the championship. Its his third win on the trot. Whether or not he'll pick up more race wins this year is another matter but I believe he will. There are a few places where the Renault will have an advantage. If he can pick up a couple more with a clutch of podium finishes he can still take the championship. If McLaren can give Kimi a car that lasts then I think Kimi, like Schumacher, is still in with a shout.

But Michael Schumacher is the man of the moment. I bet he's gutted from not winning and he's going to have to start soon. There are 15 races left in the season. If he came first every race with Alonso second he'll only be making up the deficit in 13 races time. Of course this isn't always going to happen but it'll probably work out on average. I'm still curious to see what happens to the Bridgestone tyres once summer comes.

But one thing's for sure, this is shaping out to be the best season in years.

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