News and views on motorsports

Monday, July 25, 2005

German Grand Prix

I may not like this new Hokkenheim circuit but I have to admit, the racing here was better than at Silverstone a fortnight ago. This circuit, remodelled by Herman Tilke carries his characteristic tight and slow corners, where aerodynamic turbulence is less of a factor. The cars relying much more on mechanical grip and the tyres. This may be what the FIA wants for the future but god, those slow corners are dreadful and don't show off what the cars can really do in the twisty bits.

You'd have to wait for Spa for that where the fast sweeps adds to the spectacle. But I fear the cars would be very much affected by aero disturbances there, as in Silverstone.

Yet again, McLaren are doing the favourite party trick. That is to let their drivers down just when it matters most. Raikkonen didn't put a foot wrong all weekend except for that lurid, go-kart like slide during his qualifying lap. Even then he managed to stick it into pole. The driver that is arguably letting his team down in Juan Pablo Montoya whose lift off oversteer at the final couple of bends ended up in a spin and a trip into the gravel.

So quick is that McLaren though, Juan Pablo managed to fight his way from twentieth and last all the way to finishing second in the race. To say that the cars were not affected by aero turbulence at all can't be true. Once Montoya had swept up into the top ten (which didn't take long at all), his progressed was slowed by the slower cars up front. His overtaking largely happening during the pitstops.

My theory is that whilst the McLaren has superb aero and is clearly the most agile and well balanced car out there, nevertheless, the Mercedes engine doesn't have the grunt of the other engines. Reportedly its power output is significantly less than Toyota, BMW and Ferrari. Although, Juan Pablo did manage to dispatch Ralf Schumacher with ease before the first stops. So, the McLaren relies much more on its chassis and aero for its speed. And getting stuck behind the likes of Button and Schumacher spoils the aero balance especially. Juan Pablo misses the extra grunt of the Honda and Ferrari engine.

Nevertheless, Juan Pablo had a lot of fuel in his McLaren and could run much longer than the rest. Indeed Juan Pablo spoke of saving fuel running behind the slower cars. Once in clear air, he could build up a cushion and overtake the BAR and Ferrari in the pits. Still, he should have stuck the McLaren on the front row and possibly win this race.

Michael Schumacher ran well in the opening stages in third and once Kimi's McLaren retired moved into second but unable to do anything with the speeding Renault ahead. Fernando Alonso in his own words had a boring afternoon. His Renault and the McLarens are miles ahead of the rest.

Schumacher elected to use softer Bridgestone tyres which was a very interesting tactic. Obviously his plan was to qualify ahead of as many people as possible behind the Renaults and McLarens. He must have known from free practice that the Japanese rubber wouldn't last the race and indeed in free practice his tyres were going bald. But given the slowish nature of this circuit, he could fight a rear guard action towards the end of the race.

His strategy succeeded. His Ferrari once his tyres were worn became a scarlet roadblock and he managed to hold off Button and Montoya for a long time. Jenson eventually made it through with a good overtaking move at the hairpin. Juan Pablo overtook him once Michael dived in for his second fuel stop. From then on, you could tell the Ferrari was losing more and more grip as the race drew to a close.

Schumacher's lap times were getting slower and slower. In the end, he might have hung on to fourth but for a fuel feed problem. This let Giancarlo through a couple of laps from the end. Behind Michael was a queue of cars including Ralf Schumacher's Toyota and David Coulthard's Red Bull, having a good weekend. However, the Ferrari's pace is a tribute to Michael's driving and good strategy. Otherwise, he would have suffered the same fate as Rubens Barrichello who finished behind Christian Klein after being passed by the Austrain. In the end Barrichello's Ferrari was lapped by leader Alonso.

Spare a thought for Raikkonen. He was setting lap times in the 1m 14s during the race, in a package clearly suited for him. He was pulling away from Fernando Alonso in what looked like a sure and easy win. In the end a pointless exercise. His hydraulic failure reminded me of the same one that afflicted Juan Pablo's McLaren at Magny Cours. Despite Ron Dennis' claims that Kimi should stay with McLaren to win the championship, young Kimi must seriously be thinking about driving other cars. Just when will McLaren sort their fast but fragile cars? Even a die hard McLaren fan like myself is getting pretty sick of this.

Toyota, in my mind are moving backwards. After some stellar performances in Bahrain and Malaysia, the team has not managed to consolidate and build upon that. The problem with the Toyotas seem to be the way they use their rubber. In the early part of the year, it seemed that they can start well but their pace bleeds off towards the end. At this stage of the championship, they're starting horridly but the car builds up speed towards the end. Even then, in terms of outright raw pace they're slipping badly behind the McLarens, Renaults and even deadly rivals BAR Honda. No surprises then that Ferrari are ahead of the in the constructors race.

Mike Gascoyne has plenty to do yet. However, I think as experienced as Gustav Brunner is, I should think that Mike would be better off with a new and more dynamic chassis designer. As in 2004, Gustav runs out of ideas in mid season.

One chap who didn't have a good weekend was Jacques Villenueve. He had a coming together with rookie Doornbos and later ran into the back of Tiago Monteiro. Poor Jacques is having a torrid time this year and once again outpaced and outraced by Filipe Massa who finished in eighth. Mario Thiessen must be shaking his head and Sauber contract or not, Mario can't afford this in his BMW team next year.

There was some good battles for the podium in Germany this weekend but I think all of us wants to see a fight for the lead. Something like the opening stages in Montreal where the Renaults and McLarens were having a good battle royal, but happening throughout the race. One thing's for sure, I doubt we'll get that at Hungary this weekend.

But happily again for me, the Ferraris despite all the testing (cheating) they've been doing are still struggling and getting left for dead. Long may that continue. Perhaps Ron Dennis was right when a year ago at Spa he predicted the fall of Maranello. The old guard is changing. Clearly, they miss Rory Byrne's hand at designing the cars. Jean Todt some say is getting a bit too distracted by his glamour seeking wife and spends less time at the factory.

On top of that he has to run the Ferrari road car operations. Once Ross Brawn leaves, perhaps at the end of next year I believe the scarlet cars could be facing another long drought of championships. Whether it will last 21 years as it did before year 2000 is another matter. if Michael wants to continue after 2006, he's going to have to convince the top people to stay on and Ferrari are going to need someone better than Aldo Costa to pen their racing cars.

If Michael leaves, I simply don't think anyone, not Raikkonen, not Button nor Alonso, could fill his shoes. Ferrari is his team and without him, they would be struggling even more this year. When he leaves, it won't be the same team and that is something Kimi, Fernando and Jenson must realise. They may be as quick as Michael on the racing track but they simply don't have the leadership and technical qualities that the German has.

1 comment:

cccp said...

nice post. ferrari's era is indeed coming to an end, if not this year then it'll be next.

lead by michael, the dream team brought a team without any championship for 21 yrs into a dominant team, breaking all sorts of records. if it wasn't due to the rule change, i reckon ferrari will be in with a fight this season. dare i say he might even continue his championship wins.

now as michael and the dream team prepare to leave, no one will ever bring the team back to its past glory. and who would dare come in the team and expect the team to stay dominant?

we did witness a piece of brilliant formula 1 history from 1999-2004. for those who cannot appreciate michael's success, intead call themselves as fans, aren't real fans after all.