News and views on motorsports

Monday, May 09, 2005

Spanish GP Notes

Five races down and still we see no Ferrari victory. And thank god for that. What we did see at Barcelona was a totally dominant display from a team that was a couple of months ago written off as rubbish. At last, McLaren showed a performance worthy of their winter testing form.

Kimi Raikkonen started from the front row after a better second qualifying performance making up for his mistake in qualifying one. Joining him on the front row was a lighly fueled Mark Webber in the Williams. Alonso and Ralf Schumacher completed the second row and their teammates Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella made up row three. Michael Schumacher started eighth behind Juan Pablo Montoya.

It seems to me that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari suffers the same problem as Raikkonen and McLaren did prior to San Marino. That is, poor qualifying performance. This can be put down to tyres. The Bridgestone doesn't seem to have that initial bite when fresh. This compromises Schumacher's race quite badly. They fuel him up very heavily as a result and if Barcelona is any evidence, that hurts the Ferrari badly.

At the start of the race, Kimi simply walked away from everyone else. Alonso, making a good start settling in to second place and simply unable to do anything about the Iceman in the McLaren. Kimi put in lap after devastating lap breaking lap records along the way. It was as if he sought to underline the fact that it should have been his victory in the last race at San Marino. At the same time, proving to us all, just why he is so highly rated. It was simply a tremendous display of superiority we haven't seen from McLaren for a very long time. And from the point of view of this McLaren fan, truly superb.

Kimi built up such a lead that when he pitted, he came back out still in the lead. Although Fernando Alonso was right behind him. But Alonso himself, like Kimi in the end, was suffering from tyre degradation and in fact, before long slipped back into the clutches of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli who were running behind him before the first stops.

After that first round of stops in fact, Giancarlo Fisichella who also put in a superb drive, emerged ahead of Alonso his teammate. After the first round of stops, the Toyotas suffered badly and completely lost to the two Renaults and Michael Schumacher's Ferrari.

Juan Pablo Montoya was leading Michael Schumacher and pulling away at the start of the race before he made a mistake and lost about 4 seconds with a half spin. Still the pace of the McLaren told, and he managed to pull away from the Ferrari again.

As in in Imola, Schumacher was fueled heavily. He didn't stop until half distance and once those Bridgestones had been run in, and his fuel loads getting lighter, he was in the hunt again. Whilst everyone else pitted, he kept going. And like Imola, he set fastest lap along the way.

The difference was that in Imola, he was held up by traffic. No such thing happened here and indeed at first JPM was simply leaving him for dead. In fact, David Coulthard was shadowing him all the way. It was only when the Ferrari ran light closer to half distance did we see the Ferrari pushing on with speed.

And also unlike in Imola, once the Ferrari pitted, his pace immediately slowed again. Whatever it was after that first round of stops, Michael emerged ahead of the two Toyotas in fourth behind the Renaults and Kimi Raikkonen.

Sometime after, Giancarlo suffered a front wing failure of some sorts and had to call into the pits for a rather long stop to get a replacement. This let Michael through into third. But again, he made no impression on Alonso and was lapping a second slower than the Spaniard. A pity for Giancarlo. This was one of his better drives and to me it proves that he can compete against Alonso in a straight fight. Once his front wing was replaced, his pace was tremendous and he ended up with the fastest lap of the race.

JPM also suffered some ill fortune. His fuel stop had to be repeated when a problem with the fuel hose meant that he received no fuel in his car. He was indeed going well and should have placed higher than he did. Whatever it was though, clearly his pace was no match for his teammate who in a master class of his own.

In the end, Michael Schumacher's Bridgestones gave up the ghost. First his left rear tyre punctured and luckily this happened before the pit entrance and he was able to dive into the pits for a fresh left rear. On his next lap, his front left gave way at the end of the long start finish straight. Michael ended up in the sand trap but managed to nurse the car back into the pits. His front left tyre failed.

I have a feeling it wasn't really a puncture but just a tyre failure. The weather in Spain was warm and sunny. And those Bridgestones simply hate that sort of weather. In Imola, it was gloomy and cold and the Japanese rubber seems to revel in those conditions. Well, summer is almost here and they better have an answer soon. Michael Schumacher suffered a broken front suspension as a result and retired.

Perhaps Michael's pace was simply too much for his tyres. All the runners suffered some form of degradation or another. Even race winner Kimi suffered blisters. The Toyotas were eating their front tyres away and it was clear at the second stops that the front tyres were almost bald at that point. Alonso in the end was also conserving his tyres.

Michael's teammate Rubens Barrichello, displayed no pace whatsoever and was lapped by Kimi during the race. But of course Rubens thought he was leading the McLaren and gave Kimi a rather hard time of it, the bastard.

All in all, quite a nice race. Great fun watching the McLaren on form again. Finally, McLaren decides to give a car worthy of Kimi's talents. But not without some blue smoke dramas in the pits. Whatever it was, give the Finn a good car and he'll go out and win. McLaren ought to be doing this more regularly.

As for the championship, I think Michael can really kiss it goodbye. Alonso has been so consistent this year. And with Michael not finishing, is now 34 points ahead of the German.

On average I think, unless Alonso has some really bad luck later on in the season, the title is his. But the man still capable of hunting him down I think is Kimi Raikkonen. His car is tremendously quick everywhere. It was fast in the cold of San Marino. It was fast in Spain. It was fast on a Tilke circuit. And fast at one of the classics. He should be favourite for Monaco as well.

Another man who is quietly scoring points is Jarno Trulli. The Toyotas faded badly in the end but he still made it to the podium. Well, you could argue for luck. Had Schumacher still be in the race or even Fisichella for that matter, he wouldn't have been spraying champagne.

But what if Toyota makes some drastic turnaround in speed? Trulli after all, is closer to Alonso than anyone else. A very long shot but who knows what magic Mike Gascoyne can conjure from the wind tunnel. Whatever it is, Toyota should be able to win at least one race this year. And isn't it absolutely great to see them competitive at last? We talk often about the top 3 or top 4. But now with Toyota in the fray and BAR there are 6 top teams this year.

But one team who doesn't seem to do anything good is Williams. After starting from second, they faded away and it was a rather uneventful race for them as well. In fact Heidfeld managed to get himself lapped by Raikkonen. I bet Mario Thiessen can't wait to get his hands on Sauber. And I bet he's more looking forward to the WTCC race at Silverstone this weekend. At least his touring cars are looking absolutely magnificent.

This season is turning out to be a classic. I'm sure Ferrari will solve their current woes (I hope not but I have to be realistic). Kimi is at the moment looking unbeatable. Alonso still scoring as regularly as ever. We're in for a long and exciting summer.

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