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Sunday, April 23, 2006

San Marino GP

He who blinks first loses. I would've thought that lesson would have been learnt time and again by the teams. Ferrari is back in the winner's circle once again but it was a close run thing. In fact, it was more of a case of Renault losing than Ferrari winning in this case.

Interestingly, the shape of the race today had very much to do with certain choices made yesterday during qualy. Michael Schumacher used up all his sets of tyres except the set he started the race on. By contrast, Fernando was saving a few sets of brand new tyres for the race. This was a risky strategy for qualifying but in the end starting from fifth wasn't all that bad. Plus, everyone suspected he was carrying a heavier fuel load than the rest. It was just a question of how much more.

I remarked yesterday that the drivers all covered a high number of laps during qualifying. The top ten drivers doing at least 20 laps or more and in the process using up their tyres for the race. Still, they have plenty of sets and the load I would have thought would be spread evenly through all of them. That means that each set would on average be doing 6 or 7 laps during qualy. Surely those extra laps would not mean so much in the race... but it turns out that having brand new rubber is crucial in the race. I'm not sure if its just for Imola or for other circuits as well. Fernando having brand new rubber after his stops meant an average of 1 to 2 seconds advantage over Michael with his qualy-worn tyres. Thats how he was able to close up to Michael in a flash after the first round of stops.

And after all that good strategy in qualifying, some twit, probably Pat Symonds, threw it all away by calling in Fernando before Michael had made his second stop. Could I have done better? Well, I think in this case, hell yeah. At a circuit thats impossible to overtake you've got to do it in the pits. The only way to ensure that would have been to keep Fernando out for much longer in a much quicker car and build the lead. Pat Symonds or whoever it was made a bad call. Fernando was fueled for a much longer stint and he had all the time in the world to put the hammer down once Michael made his final stop.

By contrast, the master Ross Brawn made an absolutely brilliant call. Perhaps sensing the activity in the Renault pit, he must have told Herr Schumacher to speed up as much as he could. In fact on the lap that Fernando came in, Michael did a high 1m 26s after lingering in the 1m 28s and 1m 27s in the previous laps. And he must have wrung that Ferrari all the way on the following lap before coming in as per Ross' orders. It was enough and kept him ahead of the Renault when he came back out. Game over despite Fernando's out lap being faster than Michael's by more than a second. Fernando must have lost some time in the pits as well.

Jenson Button was catching the leading pair prior to the final stops and some including the ITV commentators felt that he could have played a part in the battle for the lead had he not had that disastrous pitstop. That may have been so but its also telling that once again the Honda's pace in the race simply could not match their qualifying performances. In clear air for instance, Fernando Alonso was able to get down to the 1m 24s. After the second stop, Jenson Button could hardly break the 1m 26s barrier. In fact after the first round of stops had been done, Jenson found himself some 17 seconds behind Michael despite having been only a couple of seconds behind before his first stop. Teammate Rubens Barrichello fared even worse, managing to do only 1m 27s laps and ending up in tenth at the end. The only reason for Jenson being able to keep up with Michael early on was because the Honda was carrying a hell of a lot less fuel on board as evidenced by their earlier stop.

The McLarens simply couldn't live with the pace of the Renault and Ferrari up front but I thought both of them drove quite solidly. Juan Montoya was a little under pressure from Filipe towards the end but on this track it really didn't matter. There's just no way past. Still he managed a podium in a t-car ahead of his teammate. Thats got to count for something.

Speaking of Filipe Massa, we should now truly welcome him to the Scuderia or should I say, Team Schumacher. It was so obvious once Jenson Button had pit in for his first stop and Michael was clear, Filipe slowed down almost to a crawl. Where he once did 1m 25s lap he now did 1m 27s laps and clearly holding up Fernando Alonso behind him. I guess Ferrari were worried even at that stage that despite a heavily loaded Renault underneath the Spaniard Michael was not able to leave him as quickly as he would have liked. And so, they did what they've always done. Screw the second driver to let Schumacher ahead. Pants down Filipe and bend over please. We'll have none of the Malaysian GP shenanigans from you young man.

Still Michelin should be well satisfied. Their tyres were actually the ones to have on a circuit that traditionally favours the Bridgestone rubber. The Great Ferrari Fightback? On paper at least. But ominously, Fernando Alonso is proving quick and in terms of raw pace, nigh unbeatable at every venue so far this season. The rest have a lot to do. Including his teammate whose raw pace once again was nowhere near that of his own despite using a newer spec engine. Today perhaps we've seen two of the best Formula 1 drivers of the current crop battling it out in what was a great strategic battle.

1 comment:

brookster said...

Pat Symonds - can't win them all.

Rubens was appalling: even with that Button pitstop incident, he still finished three places adrift. Is his heart still in it?

Ide? Villain or not?