APRIL 3, 2003
BRAZILIAN GP - PREVIEW
The first two races of the year have been surprising in that both have resulted in McLaren Mercedes victories. This was definitely not what was expected at the start of the year. But, at the same time, there remains a suspicion that we have yet to really see the true pattern of Formula 1 in 2003. At both races to date the Ferrari team has had specific problems which have meant that the team has yet to give a true picture of its competitiveness. Things are further complicated by the fact that both Ferrari and McLaren are still operating with interim cars and their new cars will not appear until the early season flyaways are over. So even if we can judge the relative competitiveness of the interim cars we will have to wait to see how the new cars compare to one another.
The one thing that has been clear is that Williams is going to have to fight to hold on to its runner-up status of last year. The new Williams-BMW FW25 has been rather a disappointment thus far. The team has said from the start that we are not seeing the full potential of the car because of the need to further develop a completely new aerodynamic concept. The team will have a new package for the Brazilian Grand Prix and recent testing showed the car is considerably better than it was in the first two races. One worry that the team has is that Ralf Schumacher is not doing very well this year. He has made a series of mistakes in the all-important one lap qualifying runs and there is the suspicion growing that he is susceptible to that kind of pressure. There has always been something of a question mark of Ralf under pressure and now we will find out once and for all. Thus far he has not impressed, given the machinery he is using.
While Bernie Ecclestone and some others are arguing loudly that the new qualifying arrangement is not very good, there is a strong argument that we have yet to see it working at its best. Those who have watched single-car qualifying in other series know just how exciting it can be so to judge it this early is not very sensible an approach. And there is no question that the slightly jumbled grids have had a positive effect on the racing. And what is important to the marketing men of the sport is what happens on Sundays rather than what happens on Saturdays, when the audience is much smaller. Getting rid of the new qualifying system would have a seriously detrimental effect on the races. People out there in the real world do not understand why the sport has the belief that the fastest man should start at the front of the field. They see it as a recipe for boredom. The new qualifying is an imaginative attempt to improve the sport.
The effect of the qualifying system on the rest of the grid has meant that we also do not have a very clear picture of who else is where in the group of teams chasing the big three. There is a suspicion that Renault is the best of the rest but despite the podium finish in Malaysia the pure speed of the cars needs to be examined. Are the Renaults really faster than the Toyotas, BARs, Saubers and Jaguars. The strategies employed to date have muddied the waters and perhaps is one of the most exciting aspects of the new season because it gives teams the opportunity to shine thanks to tactical skill rather than just pure brute technology. In a way it has negated the effects of money. In a logical world where technology is allowed free rein, the team that spends the most money will build the fastest car. But it does not work out like that because not all the teams are well-managed.
In many respects one can argue that as a result of the new rules this is the most intriguing season in Formula 1 for many years. Brazil will help to flesh out the picture of where things stand but we must be aware that we may get more distortions. Brazil is a track where the ability of a car to ride the bumps is of critical importance. It is a track where in the past Williams has shone and there is the additional variable that the weather is bound to have some effect on the weekend for Sao Paulo at this time of year is not a place where one can predict much in terms of the weather.
So let us not try to worry about who will be where on Saturday on Sunday but rather sit back and enjoy the spectacle that is Grand Prix racing in 2003. The world needs a little light relief from the dark goings-on in Iraq and F1 can provide us all with some entertainment which is, after all, what the sport is all about...