MAY 22, 1995
Will Schumacher dominate this year?
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER'S domination in the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona has led to the usual bleating and wailing among less well-informed F1 observers. They fear that Benetton-Renault will now be unbeatable for the rest of the year.
But, if you ask around the Benetton garage, the reaction is very different. Winning is nice, but it isn't easy when faced with Williams and Ferrari.
The results sheet in Spain may tell you that Schumacher won the race by nearly a minute; but when Damon Hill's Williams broke down on the last lap of the race, he was only 25secs behind the German and he had a terrible weekend.
"It was a tough race but I would have taken second and kept the lead in the championship," said Hill afterwards. "That would have been good enough for me because we did not have a good weekend."
Hill's Williams team mate David Coulthard was also struggling throughout the weekend as a result of tonsillitis. David is now planning to have his tonsils taken out before the Canadian GP, after problems in both Brazil and Barcelona.
"The only way my tonsils will be coming to Canada is in a box alongside me on the plane," he said. To make matters worse, Coulthard lost a lot of ground at the start because he was waiting for the green light to come on, while most of the field started when the red light went out. In Barcelona, the green light never did come on!
In addition to these problems, Williams made a mistake on race strategy, deciding to make three pit stops while Schumacher made only two. The only other frontrunner to choose the two-stop strategy was Ferrari's Jean Alesi who was forced to retire with an engine failure.
"It's a real shame," explained Jean, "because the car was going well. It was balanced and quick and I think I could have put Michael under pressure. I had decided to race at a strong pace without pushing too hard in the first half."
The Spanish race also gave away an important secret about the Benetton, which narrows down the team's strategic options in the future. The B195 has shown itself to be faster on full tanks than it is when the fuel load lightens.
In the early laps of the Barcelona race, Schumacher was able to pull away from Alesi and Hill at about one second a lap, but as the fuel went down, Jean and Damon were able to close up. With a full fuel load again Schumacher began to pull away after his first stop.
The implication was clear and it suggests that the Benetton's weight distribution is not as it should be. The team can play about with the weighting; but if weight is to be added without losing speed, it is going to be necessary for Benetton to embark on a rapid weight-saving program elsewhere in the car - and that means that the team is going to have to risk reliability problems.
It should also be remembered that when it comes to engineering, Williams, McLaren and Ferrari have much more engineering capacity, which means that they can improve faster than Benetton as happened last year when Benetton started ahead but had been caught and passed by the end of the season.
Benetton's most formidable weapon remains Schumacher himself, who is worth a few tenths on every lap. He's a tough competitor, but you would be a fool to predict Benetton domination for the rest of the year.
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