Features - News Feature
AUGUST 1, 2001
How are they doing?
BY DAVID TREMAYNE
Things started well for Ferrari with victory and third place in Melbourne and a haul of 14 points, and it just got better. Schumacher won again in Malaysia when Barrichello followed home in the rain, and though Coulthard beat the World Champion into second place in Brazil and a brake duct problem stopped him in Imola, he's been dominant ever since.
The F1-2001 is a clean car that uses its Bridgestone tires well and, unlike its forebears, is well able to use the soft tire compounds. It has good aerodynamics, benign handling and reasonable fuel economy, and with Schumacher at the wheel that adds up again to championship winner.
He lucked into victory at Hakkinen's expense in Spain, and was beaten by Coulthard in Austria, but since then only brother Ralf has looked like dethroning him. He won in Monaco, was second to Ralf in Canada, then won in Germany and France to build a 31-point lead over Coulthard by the British GP.
On the occasions when Michelin has seemed dominant, only Schumacher and Ferrari appear able to get the best out of the Bridgestone's, and in France in particular that ability to turn the tables was crucial to their victory.
Barrichello's qualifying speed is now not far off Michael's at most tracks, but there is still a big gap between them in races. Nevertheless, the Brazilian is offering strong support and his score of 34 points after Silverstone was the best of any number two driver.
Drivers: Schumacher 5; Barrichello 4
When Adrian Newey tried to escape from McLaren's Colditz Castle in June, a lot of things became clear. First, the level of design unrest within the former champion team. Second, the fact that the technical director's focus was elsewhere became clear as the aerodynamic performance of the MP4/16 fell dramatically short of McLaren's standards - and Ferrari - in the opening three races. Coulthard won the third of then with a brilliant drive in the rain in Brazil, but against that was Hakkinen's feeble run in Malaysia and his failure to get off the grid in Interlagos. Nobody had remembered to tell him that his car had been fitted with a new clutch.
Much worse was to come. Coulthard kept his title challenge alive with second place to Ralf Schumacher in Imola, as the strength of the BMW Williams challenge was confirmed, but Hakkinen was only a subdued fourth.
Spain was to be the crunch point for the Finn, and he rose to the occasion splendidly. Victory was in sight when his clutch exploded with half a lap to go, gifting victory to Schumacher.
That was the race when electronic driver aids were readmitted, and Coulthard's let him down on the grid formation lap; he had to start from the back and clawed his way to fifth.
In Austria the Scot again won superbly, but again Hakkinen was stranded on the grid. Then came Monaco where Coulthard's car did something else to him on the formation lap after he had won a brilliant fight for pole position. He fought back to fifth in damage limitation mode, but it was a bitter disappointment and McLaren's failure to get on top of its electronic problems was costing both drivers dear in their title quests. To make matter even worse, Hakkinen's dramatic chase after Schumacher ended when his car began handling erratically, possibly after hitting a wall. The team was in danger of playing a secondary challenge role to BMW Williams, but managed to turn its fortunes around with Hakkinen's excellent victory at Silverstone. That shows that McLaren is far from finished in 2001.
Drivers: 4 Coulthard; 3 Hakkinen
BMW Williams has been the sensation of the season, and with a little better fortune the team could have been celebrating at least four victories by the season's halfway point rather than just two.
The FW23 is an improving machine, propelled by the best engine in the business. The way in which Williams has dragged itself back to the top is impressive enough, but BMW and Michelin have both done heroic work too. Eighteen months ago the BMW V10 was still blowing up with monotonous regularity in testing, yet now it is the most powerful and one of the most reliable power units. Michelin, out of F1 since 1984, has come back with a bang and brings new tires to every race.
One of the secrets to the team's success, this level of commitment apart, is that the FW23 has the longest wheelbase of any F1 car. That not only endows it with reasonably sound road manners, but has also allowed chief designer Gavin Fisher to pack in the biggest fuel tank. In Canada Ralf was able to sit behind his brother in the opening stages, confident in the knowledge that he could run faster and longer. This he duly did, exiting the pits after his stop still well ahead of the Ferrari.
The pairing of Schumacher and Montoya got off to a shaky start and they are not friends, but they drive well. The German is on the top of his form and a match for pretty much anyone, while Montoya is also quick but needs to calm his style before he can win races.
Drivers: Schumacher 4.5; Montoya 4
When Sergio Rinland's Sauber Petronas C20 first appeared it attracted a lot of favorable comment, not least from Michael Schumacher. The World Champion confided that he expected that it would go very well, and indeed it has done just that. It is the most competitive car to come out of Hinwil since Sauber's maiden season in 1993.
It's neat, well thought-out, reliable, driver-friendly, and pretty fast. Nick Heidfeld put it on the podium in Brazil after finishing fourth in the opening round in Melbourne. Kimi Raikkonen was sixth on his debut Down Under, and has since finished fourth in Austria and Canada.
If Sauber has a problem now that it has let Rinland go and he has been followed out by his replacement Stephen Taylor, it will be maintaining the C20's competitive edge. But it should be good for points for the remainder of the season.
Heidfeld has swept away his gloomy 2000 debut season with Prost with a string of fast drives, and could have scored more than the eight points he has amassed prior to Magny-Cours with only slightly better fortune. Raikkonen has without question been the find of the season, driving at similar pace to Heidfeld's straight away despite his lack of experience, rarely damaging the car and never, like Montoya, falling into the trap of overdriving.
At Silverstone the blue cars from Switzerland yet again challenged strongly for top six places and got them, with fifth and sixth for Raikkonen and Heidfeld respectively.
Drivers: Heidfeld 4; Raikkonen 5
When Honda finally signed on the dotted line with Jordan, it seemed like the last great step had been taken to boost the locally-based team into the Big League. Just look at what the Japanese engine manufacturer had achieved with Williams and McLaren. Initially drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jarno Trulli raved about the EJ11. But since those heady days it has been a saga of unreliability and disappointment. Jordan Honda seems to have settled into a rut.
With only 13 points on the board prior to Magny-Cours, the season so far must be counted a failure. The sole consolation is that it hasn't been much better for BAR, the team with which Jordan is fighting for what everyone knows will be single-team engine supply in the not too distant future. At a time when it is cramming all its available resources into F1, Honda cannot supply two teams indefinitely. By the end of 2002 somebody will be in tears.
On its side Jordan still has silly little reliability issues to resolve, but the EJ11 is nevertheless quick, and not too far enough off the pace of McLaren. What it really lacks - and this is a major surprise - is horsepower. The Honda has yet to breach 800 bhp. With the engine brain-drain working only as a one-way street in Europe, the Japanese have found that the game has moved on in leaps and bounds since 1992, and they have been left behind. Until they catch up, Jordan will not be challenging for victory, which after all is precisely what it should be doing right now.
Drivers: Frentzen 3; Trulli 3.5
Yet again, BAR is failing to realize the results that its financial spending should be reaping. The 03 is another disappointment in the performance stakes, and its isn't particularly reliable, either.
The 03 has three basic problems. One is a chassis that it probably flexing around the suspension pick-ups; another is poor braking; the third lack of power from its Honda V10.
The first two are unforgivable in this day and age, for composite construction and finite element analysis are straightforward enough concepts to master. The third is surprising, given Honda's past domination of F1. Throw in the unreliability, and you see why the team is still lounging around in sixth place. At the same time it is one of the few top teams not to be running its aerodynamic research 24 hours a day, ostensibly on grounds of cost, yet it has one of the most opulent motorhomes in the paddock. Does this mean that appearance is more important than results to its management?
It's already clear that a major improvement in performance is unlikely over the remainder of the season, but even a small boost in reliability could yet see it claw ahead of Sauber and Jordan for that coveted fourth place in the pecking order.
Drivers: Villeneuve 3.5; Panis 4
If things were tough for Jaguar Racing before the fiasco with Adrian Newey, they will inevitably get tougher now that the McLaren technical director has been paid to stay put. What will they do?
At the start of the year it was clear that the R2 had more of the same handling problems that dogged the R1, allied to an improved version of the Cosworth V10 that took F1 by storm in 1999. The combination was a disappointment, taking Jaguar no further forward than it had been at the end of 2000. But behind the scenes Niki Lauda and Bobby Rahal were becoming increasingly confident of signing Newey for 2002. Everything went into that endeavor, so it was a crushing disappointment when he signed, and was then whisked away at the 11th hour.
For all the brave face Lauda and Rahal might put on things, the loss of Newey has been dispiriting, but on track aerodynamic changes to the R2 have coincided with a performance hike from Michelin. A combination of the two, allied to Irvine's under-rated driving at Monaco, brought Jaguar a strong qualifying performance and third place in the race - it's first podium. Since then the green cars have only been in the points once, with sixth in Canada courtesy of de la Rosa. The euphoria of Monaco evaporated in the Newey fallout, but the lack of results since then has not helped either. But Jaguar fans should not lose heart just yet; Irvine was in good form in Magny-Cours when he wasn't spinning, so continual development over the remainder of the season could yet bring it ahead of Sauber, Jordan and BAR on the track, albeit not in the points standings. As for Jaguar's longer-term prospects, however, the situation is wide open.
Drivers: Irvine 3.5; de la Rosa 3
For Orange Arrows the 2001 season is almost a repeat of 2000, when the A21 redefined the team's technical identity. The A22 is simply a development of that car and still suffers from its lack of performance in high downforce mode. Added to that the Asiatech (nee Peugeot) V10 lacks the sheer grunt of the Supertec used last year.
But Arrows is an adventurous outfit and more than once has opted for an unusual strategy which has paid off. Several times - notably in Malaysia, Austria and Monaco, the A22s have gone to the line with a light enough fuel load to capitalize on Jos Verstappen's getaway driving style. In Austria in particular his lighter-than-the-rest car stayed with the leaders, and was able to pit for sufficient fuel to make the rest of the race without being caught by those people that the Dutchman's start had drawn him clear of.
By Nurburgring this was still only good enough to score the team a single point for Austria, but it has given it a lot more television time than more stolid rivals such as Jaguar and Prost. Without out such strategy Arrows would be nothing better than a backmarker.
Drivers: Verstappen 4; Bernoldi 3
During the off-season there is no doubt that Prost ran its car in qualifying trim when Jean Alesi set impressive testing times in Barcelona, and while this might have helped to secure a modicum of sponsorship it did little to help the team progress and irritated Alesi himself. The Frenchman believes that you make ground in F1 by testing in the same configuration as everyone else, with a reasonable fuel load aboard. Otherwise you delude yourself with good test times and are doomed to disappointment when reality calls at race meetings.
Within Prost there is a struggle for power going on that is not doing the racing effort any favors, and until it is resolved, together with pressing financial issues which seem likely to force it to return to the unloved Peugeot (Asiatech) engine that it used in 2000, it will act as an anchor to further progress.
Major aerodynamic and suspension modifications were introduced at Monaco, but it was Alesi's habitual attacking style that won the team a point and sent it into post-race emotional rapture. In fact, he should have finished fifth but for a puncture. The mods then helped rather more in Canada, where he did finish in that position. But though further significant changes were introduced at Magny-Cours, this is a team that has an awfully big mountain to climb, and is running out of time to reach the summit.
Drivers: Alesi 4; Burti 3
If you believe any of the engineers at Benetton and Renault, the 201 package and its ambitious 111-degree engine are about to come right any day now.
If you pay more attention to the performance of car and chassis on track, however, the future still looks bleak.
In hindsight the decision taken by Renault Sport to insist on Benetton racing the adventurous powerplant was a major error of judgement. First of all it had to discard some of its advanced technology - such as solenoid-operated valves and direct fuel injection. Then it was unreliable and lacked power. The upshot was that Benetton has done about a third of the test mileage it accrued in 2000 with the B200, which used the 770 bhp Supertec V10. That car is still being used for test purposes this season, and as yet the B201 has not got within half a second of it. That perhaps tells you more about the dilemma Benetton faces than anything else.
Rumor suggests that the RS21 produces between 690 and 720 bhp - way down on anything else currently racing. But if 50 bhp is worth half a second off the lap times, there is an awful lot more wrong with the B201 than just a lack of grunt. It's aero performance has also been weak.
The knock-on effect of all this is that Fisichella has benefited because the team knows what he needs. With the front end maximized for mechanical grip he has done things that Button has struggled to emulate as he fits into the team. He prefers a light front end that tracks through a corner, and his career has gone on hold while he and the team try to figure out an optimum set-up.
The big step forward promised for Magny-Cours and Silverstone did not amount to much, and now Fisichella and Button are waiting for more horses to arrive at Monza. Some more downforce wouldn't go amiss, either.
Experts say that Renault will get it right, but on current form it's going to take a long, long time.
Drivers: Fisichella 4; Button 3.5
Considering that Paul Stoddart only acquired Minardi a few weeks prior to the Australian GP, and that the team had to go flat-out just to make that race, Minardi's efforts in the toughest season of its existence has been far from disgraced. Yes, the black cars are 11th in the World Championship for Constructors, but they are 2000 chassis updated for the 2001 regulations, and they are running Ford's 1998 chain-driven technology.
When you look at the speed of Alonso in particular, against the much-vaunted and infinitely better funded Benetton Renaults, it shows you that there are an awful lot more things to Grand Prix racing than just spending vast wads of money.
Reliability hasn't been the Minardis' strongest asset, and the best finish to date is only a ninth in Canada, but remember too that since Toyota stole Gustav Brunner from Stoddart the team has been working without a technical director.
So it's been a hard struggle, and it can only get harder still, but Minardi has a place in F1 and everyone wants to see it do well. It is a genuine underdog.
Drivers: Alonso 4; Marques 3