News and views on motorsports

Monday, May 08, 2006

Euro GP

Well, well. So the Great Ferrari Fightback is well and truly on it would seem. The way Michael Schumacher won the race was fairly copybooks stuff, something we've grown accustomed to over the years. When the opposition dives into the pits (first naturally), the German would still be out, pounding the circuit and setting fastest lap after fastest lap. Effectively overtaking in the pits since doing it on the circuit is not only difficult but risky too. Still, like the man he beat, Michael is a driver you can depend on to deliver when it truly matters. When Ross says go, Michael Schumacher is like a heat seeking missile, and a fantastic sight to behold.

It was a great battle of course between Fernando and Michael but given the way the Ferraris had been going all weekend, you would have guessed that no one else stood a chance. In Imola, one could argue that it was a tactical mistake by Renault that cost them the race but at the Nurburgring, no amount of tactical prowess could save them.

Michael has a lot to thank for his teammate. Filipe did much of the hard work on Friday and in the process using up his own tyres to his own detriment, meant that Michael had plenty of brand new sets of tyres left for the race. Crucially, he had one more than Fernando Alonso. Its funny how a brand new set of tyres means so much in the race nowadays, as Fernando himself demonstrated at Imola two weeks ago. However, at the Ring, Renault placed huge emphasis on getting the pole position and in the process, using an extra set of brand new tyres. Still you wonder about these tyres. I remember a couple of years back, there were races where Michael would go out on scrubbed sets which worked better in fact. This year, brand new tyres are a must.

But really, whichever way Fernando Alonso went, he couldn't do much against a man whose entire team is dedicated to his own glory. Of course, Ferrari themselves couldn't give a damn on whether this is right or wrong. They want the world championship and Michael is clearly the favourite and is the best choice in the team to do so. So, just as Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello were sacrificed for the greater good of Maranello, now its Filipe's turn. Quite why a racing driver or any sports person would volunteer to do so is simply beyond me. Sure, Renault or any other team could follow the same game plan, but somehow to my mind it just doesn't feel right.

But its a strategy thats worked for Michael and his team and really is a carry over from the days when he, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne were at Benetton. One could argue that in those days the situation was even worse. The car was built to suit Michael's style and screw whoever else was doing driving duties. At Maranello at least they have the resources to give the second driver at least a car he's comfortable with.

And indeed, Filipe did well to bring the car home in third and on the podium. He could have done worse. In fact he could have done a Giancarlo Fisichella. Fisi may argue that Jacques Villeneuve held him up and in fact the Villeneuve did. But going up to him and berating him in public was like watching the idiot blaming the moron for his own mistake. The fact of the matter is, he did have the opportunity to do a quick lap prior to that but it just wasn't quick enough. The fault dear Fisi lies not with the waning star but with yourself. Having said that Jacques too could have moved out of the way. I'm not surprised if both these drivers are out of their teams at the end of the season and possibly both of them on their way out of Formula 1.

Despite a good turn of speed at the end, Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren simply didn't have the legs of the Renault and Ferraris up front. He may have ended up with second fastest lap of the race but in truth, the pace of the McLaren was very erratic even given its fuel heavy strategy. In the first stint, the leading four were all lapping in the 1m 33s bracket but significantly, Kimi's laps were always that little bit slower. Mere tenths but still very significant over an entire stint. Also, it did not seem to me that the McLaren had any consistent pace. On some laps Kimi would keep pace and on others he was simply at sea. But at least he comprehensively outpaced his teammate who ran a one stop strategy that never seemed to quite work out.

Everyone else were simply nowhere. Great mid field battle though with cars from fifth to twelfth running nose to tail, but alas overtaking is mighty difficult. A lot of commentators would say its due to the circuit and yes I'd agree. Its another Tilke horror. But really there are places to overtake but the aero on the cars are simply not up to the job.

Nico Rosberg's driving this weekend was very impressive given the machinery he had to work with. But I cannot for the life of me fathom why Williams decided to go for two short stints after the extra long first one got them as high as fifth. Once Nico came out again, the others in the pack dived in again not long after. And he was back in fifth. But then they pulled him in again. I mean, why mess with a strategy that had worked so well? Funny times at Williams. They've been out of the winners circle so long that they are starting to act like a typical midfield runner. Mark Webber in the meantime must be seething with yet another failure. I'm not so sure he'd turn down a Renault offer should it come to him. And I have a feeling he would make better use of the opportunity than Fisichella. Williams is a proud team with a tradition for excellence. But I have a bad feeling about them right now. I sincerely hope they don't go down the path of Lotus or Tyrell.

I think the rest of the season will really be about Michael vs. Fernando and at the moment its advantage Michael and Ferrari. He will be doing what Kimi did last season and that is chase the Spaniard all summer. However, its possible to say that Michael has the advantage of having a reliable car beneath him. And that will make all the difference. Despite what the ITV commentators have to say, I think its going to be very difficult for Fernando and Renault to pull level in terms of development. And of course now that the tyre regulations are back to what they were, Bridgestone are having a much easier time. Expect Michael to win a string of races in the summer and eventually overhauling Fernando, to the delight of everyone who will once again praise his brilliance and that of his team. Oh and the supposedly loyal tifosi, conspicuously absent last year will be back in Monza this time round.

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