JUNE 21, 2004
UNITED STATES GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
Michael drinks the milk
Back at the Indianapolis 500 in 1966 Jim Clark had two big spins which confused the Brickyard lap charters. Many people believe that they missed one of Clark's laps and as a result at the end of the race when Clark headed for Victory Lane, he was turned away and victory was given to Graham Hill. Later when Clark sidled up to Hill and suggested that he had been the true winner. Hill replied simply, referring to the tradition that the Indianapolis 500 winner drinks milk and not champagne: "No way mate," he said. "I drank the milk!"
At Indianapolis on Sunday Michael Schumacher celebrated his win with champagne but there were questions about how he had done it.
It all started at the first corner where Barrichello went ahead. Behind the two Ferraris there was mayhem when two Toyotas tried to use the same piece of tarmac in the second turn . At the last moment Cristiano da Matta realised he was about to hit Olivier Panis and jumped on the anchors. He was hit from behind by Christian Klien in the second Jaguar who complained later that he had "nowhere to go". The Austrian was run into by Felipe Massa's Sauber and as cars went in all directions Giorgio Pantano and Gianmaria Bruni joined in the chain reaction. Four men were gone and da Matta was heading for the pits. A Safety Car was despatched and for five laps there was clearing up to be done.
This took us to the critical moment of the race when the Safety Car peeled off into pitlane at the end of lap five. The decision was communicated fairly late on the timing screens and that meant that the drivers had little time to warm their tyres (or have an accident as happened in Monaco).
Michael Schumacher had been clever. He had anticipated that here might be a restart and had warmed his tyres. Barrichello had not. When they hit the gas Rubens was in trouble.
"I had a lot of wheelspin," he reported. "That allowed Michael to take the slipstream and get past. It was difficult to keep flat-out through Turn 13 on the banking because the car was bottoming with the tyre pressures being so low so I didn't have the chance to close the door or anything like that."
The rules state that cars must hold position until they have passed the start-finish line. The two Ferraris went through side-by-side, the gap between them being just 0.013s. There were some who were sure that Michael was ahead and others who saw the timing monitors flash up the name Schumacher for half a second before Barrichello's name was reinstated. After the race none of the officials could explain that particular glitch. The only similar glitch came last year in Brazil where the wrong man was declared the winner, a problem which was later traced to human error.
There is no way we will ever know because even a photograph would have trouble showing up a gap of 0.013s but it was odd. The important thing was that Schumacher was ahead. This would be deeply significant a few laps later when Ralf Schumacher augured into the wall at the final corner after a rear tyre deflated, almost certainly because of debris from the shunt. It was a big hit and the Williams came to rest in the middle of the road with wreckage all over the circuit. Ralf had been running in sixth place, about 10 seconds behind Michael. The Ferrari team had about a minute to decide what to do.
"They were telling me, "Come in, don't come in, come in, don't come in" so I was slowing down," said Barrichello later. In the endthe team called in both drivers and Rubens had to wait until the mechanics had finished with Michael. Some drivers chose not stop, hoping to gain advantage, but they were slowed to such an extent getting through the wreckage field that Michael Schumacher came out of the pits still (unbelievably) in the lead, despite the fact that he had changed tyres and taken on fuel.
That one had us scratching our heads up in the Media Center.
The pit stop completely ruined Barrichello's race. The timing data showed that Rubens lost 15secs on that lap while other timing beams captured the fact that Rubens spent only 5.1secs waiting for the Ferrari mechanics to get rid of Schumacher. But the result was that Barrichello was seventh in the queue behind the Safety Car and so when the race restarted he had major traffic ahead of him, made up of those who had not stopped. Rubens was bottled up behind them until lap 35 but which time he was 10 seconds behind Michael. He then went for it and after their second pit stops he was right behind Michael and challenging for the lead. Michael gave him the usual nose-shave to warn him off and Rubens took the hint. And so Michael won the day and Barrichello was second.
Ralf's crash was a big one and gave F1 a reminder that this is a dangerous sport, but after it while it became clear that he was OK, attention turned to the other Williams-BMW, which was black-flagged in the closing stages of the race, having climbed up through the field from the back.
Montoya was on the grid when it became clear that his car could not be fired up. Juan jumped out of the Williams and ran across the track and into the team pit where he climbed into the spare car. The timing was crucial because the rules state that everyone must be clear of the grid 15 seconds before the start of the parade lap. It must have been very close but obviously Montoya had broken the rule because the FIA stewards felt that they must act.
That is fair enough but perhaps it would have been wise if a decision had not taken 93 minutes in a 100 minute race.
Montoya would have finished fifth had it not been for the black flag and would have given Williams something.
"The only comfort," Montoya said later, "is that the car was quick today and that allowed me to catch up with the frontrunners from the back of the field."
What Williams needs is points on the board as i is now falling behind in the fight for second place in the World Championship with Renault and BAR.
BAR should have had a better day than they did but the decision to leave the cars out after the Ralf Schumacher shunt proved to be the wrong choice. The two BARs went through the wreckage so gingerly that they lost nearly 20 secs. And that meant that Michael Schumacher had popped out ahead of them before they got to the pit exit. The Safety Car however went on for much longer than expected and destroyed their strategy completely. The two BARs ended up in the midfield after they pitted on laps 24 and 25 and then Button disappeared with a gearbox problem and Sato was to grapple his way through the traffic but which time he was too far back to be a threat to the Ferraris. But i got him to third as he was much quicker than Jarno Trulli's Renault which held the position.
Alonso's day was spectacular but short. He went from ninth on the grid to third in the first corner, having gone around the outside of Sato at the first corner. At the start of the ninth lap his right rear Michelin tyre punctured and Fernando smacked the wall heftily on the run down to the first corner. Trulli then emerged as the man most likely to be third, a great effort from the back of the grid, but in the closing laps he was in big trouble and could offer no defence to Sato. He went off trying to hold on and then hesitated when he saw oil flags after Webber's Jaguar blew an oil line. In a flash Sato was ahead.
Webber was hoping for a good result and after the second Safety Car emerged he looked to be well-placed, running fourth, not having stopped. He ended up in even more trouble than the BARs as he only had enough fuel to go to lap 17 and when he rejoined he was back behind Baumgartner. The gamble had not paid off. He fought back and was back to seventh towards the end when an oil leak ended his day.
Panis drove a strong race to pick up points for fifth place but the rest of the field were also-rans. The two McLarens were a lap down and trying to peddle the idea that Kimi's car might have finished third. If the engine had worked it might have been unlikely but Kimi's engine did not work properly so there was no chance at all. Coulthard had to have an extra stop as well because of debris lodged under the car. The haul of five points was enough to draw the team ahead of Sauber in the Constructors' title, which has saved a few red faces.
Sauber never really had a chance at Indianapolis as Massa went out at the first corner and Fisichella had to go off as well and so was at the back. He fought back until a hydraulic leak sidelined him a few laps from home. This promoted Zsolt Baumgarner into eighth place albeit three laps down at the end. No doubt there will be dancing on the streets in Budapest as Zsolt is the first Hungarian driver to score points in the history of the World Championship.
Jordan failed to get a car home but Heidfeld deserves a mention for his resolute defence of his position against cars that were much quicker than the EJ14. He retired with pneumatic problems after 45 laps.