News and views on motorsports

Monday, May 15, 2006

Spanish Grand Prix

Whilst I was quite thankful it wasn't yet another Maranello victory, nevertheless I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that this was a terribly boring race today. What is it about these Tilke tracks that make them such a bore? Never mind the slow speed, hairpin infested Shanghai. Here we have a high speed track and yet its still notoriously difficult to overtake on.

As Michael Schumacher would say in the post race interview, the race was really won on the first stint. Fernando Alonso was simply running away in front leaving all else including his teammate for dead. It was these initial 17 laps that won the race for Fernando. Essentially the Spaniard ran almost the exact strategy as he did at the Nurburgring. Lighter fuel load but put the car on pole and try to run away with it.

In contrast to a week ago however, this time it worked really well. The lighter load enabling Fernando to put in a very solid first stint where he was able to pull out a 10 second gap of Fisi and 12 seconds over Michael before pitting in. Significantly also, once refueled he was able to keep pace with Michael after his stop. Somehow, Michael could not hook up his car enough in those extra laps before his diving into the pits. He was only slightly quicker than Alonso, the gap in lap times measured in tenths. At the Nurburgring, Michael was at least 1 second or more faster than Alonso before the pitstops.

In the second stint, all Fernando did was simply maintain a 10 second gap and put the hammer down at precisely the right time before refueling. Try as he might but Michael couldn't do anything about it. As Pat Symonds would say after the race, the Renault was simply too quick for anyone else. Or at least in Fernando's hands.

Traffic was always going to be a problem here given overtaking difficulties. Not helped by some backmarkers who are most notoriously difficult to pass. The two Midlands are very much guilty of this. First it was Albers refusing to get out of Alonso's way, then it was the turn of his teammate Tiago Monteiro running in close company. I can't believe people voted this idiot as rookie of the year last year. He has a bloody bad habit of getting into people's way when he's about to be lapped. It just shows either bloody mindedness or sheer incompetence through a lack of awareness on his part. I think its both. Like the whole Midland team and Alex Shnaider, he is a bloody waste of time.

Also suffering brain fade today was Ralf Schumacher. I mean, what was he thinking? He was miles behind Trulli and rather clumsily attempted an outbraking manuver, locking his brakes in the process and clipping Trullis tyres with his wing. It must have done a lot more damage for the hapless younger Schumacher retired after that. And just what is going on with Juan Pablo these days? He is not helping his cause for next year by committing mistakes like that. As if to shout his shortcomings, Juan Pablo suffered the ignominy of being beached on the kerbs, rear wheels spinning away uselessly.

Just as in 2005, there are really only two teams with any hope of the championship this year. The rest of the field were simply at sea. Just look at poor Raikkonen, almost a minute behind. Jenson Button keeping him company whilst Rubens Barrichello despite improving his own performance in the Honda was lapped by Fernando. The rest of the field long gone with no chance. Villeneuve strating at the back of the grid, was lapped before even making his first and only pitstop.

What a difference 12 months makes. A year ago it was Kimi that was in front showing Fernando how its done. This year he finishes a distant fifth in a car that simply and utterly did not have any pace at all. Honda has clearly been exposed as a pretender with not much substance. They did some sparkling lap times over the winter on this very circuit but it was very much a flash in the pan result done on vapour.

I think the result in Barcelona does show that Renault and Ferrari are quite evenly matched. It would seem that Ferrari are quicker on the tighter, more technical circuits whereas Renault are faster on the high speed circuits. Also, it could also be tyres at work here. Track tempratures reached 41 degrees in Catalunya and perhaps the Michelins have the advantage. Thankfully, the coming races have a mixture of fast and slow circuits and it will be interesting to see how the pendulum swings between both the leading teams.

Since there was not much else to comment on in terms of race action, I'd like to point out just how quick these 2.4 V8 cars are. A quick look at the fastest lap times in Barcelona over the years will illustrate this.

2006 - Filipe Massa, Ferrari 1m 16.648s
2005 - Giancarlo Fisichella 1m 15.641s
2004 - Michael Schumacher 1m 17.450s

Despite a loss of about 200 bhp and a much greater percentage lost in torque, the V8s are a only second slower than last year's V10 powered cars. You might say that the gap would have been greater since in 2005 tyre changes were banned. But then you look at 2004 lap times and you see that the V8s are almost a second quicker. And remember in 2004, the aero rules weren't quite as restrictive as the current spec cars. The wings are higher, the diffusers are smaller in size and despite having significantly less power, the cars this year are lapping faster. This time next year, Fisi's 2005 lap record will probably be overtaken. Thats the pace of development in this sport. Amazing.

One can also put to rest the argument over the V10s in the Squadra Toro Rosso cars having some sort of an advantage. Take a look at the lap times below.

2006 Vitantonio Liuzzi, STR 1m 18.488s
2005 David Coulthard Red Bull RB1 1m 16.947s (Slower than Filipe's time this year!)

Given that everyone else is a second or more slower this year than they were last year, it seems that the equivalency rules have worked quite well. At least in the high speed circuits. I'm still betting that in the next race in Monaco the torque of the V10 will tell. Just how well it will do I don't know for sure but here's a chance for Scott Speed to make it into the second round of qualifying!

One thing this race highlights is the fact that Renault are going to need someone very special to replace Fernando next year. I mean, just look at Giancarlo. Despite putting his car on the front row, he finished 23 seconds behind his teammate. Plus he put his car in the kitty litter losing him around 6 seconds on that lao. He is not the man to be leading Renault's championship challenge. If he were the leading Renault driver, the championship would definitely be in Michael Schumacher's hands for sure. Fernando is definitely a class act.

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