The mystery of the fuel loads

Rubens Barrichello, Italian GP 2004

Rubens Barrichello, Italian GP 2004 

 © The Cahier Archive

There were plenty of clues left lying around after qualifying at Monza which suggested that perhaps Ferrari had run its cars a little bit light on fuel to make sure that the home team had pole position in front of its home crowd. The Ferrari men have always liked to do that. But were the clues red herrings? Were we watching an Agatha Christie or was it all very straightforward. Would Hercule Poirot be able to solve the case before Sunday morning?

Rubens Barrichello was on pole by half a second and there were then nine drivers covered by four-tenths of a second. So how was it that Barrichello was so far ahead?

The obvious conclusion was that he had a lighter fuel load than the others. That was a plausible argument but when one looked again at Michael Schumacher's final qualifying lap one could see that he had made a mistake in the Parabolica. One is so used to seeing Michael beat Rubens that the half a second gap was a bit of shock. He had matched Rubens in the first two sectors but then mysteriously blew it all in the last sector. The mistake was almost invisible. Perhaps, some said, it was not a mistake at all but Michael playing strategic games to confuse the opposition.

"I couldn't have matched Rubens anyway," said the World Champion.

Did they have the same strategy? Who could know?

Down at Renault, even that wily old stager Pat Symonds was not sure.

"We had predicted that the field would be very tight and the top 10 are covered by just a second," he said. "Given how close everyone is, we were surprised to see Barrichello on pole by six tenths of a second. We will have to wait for the race to understand what is going on."

Whatever the case, Barrichello had achieved something of note in addition to his pole position. He had recorded the highest ever average speed for a F1 qualifying lap with an impressive 161.8mph. Juan Pablo Montoya had gone faster in the pre-qualifying runs with a lap of 162.9mph and the F1 cars were really motoring.

The Autodromo Nazionale at Monza is all about horsepower. The throttles are open more here than at any other race in the year, with full throttle being used for 73% of the time. And that means that engines tend to work very hard. Brakes too. Speed over one lap is one thing, reliability is quite another. This year BAR and McLaren have had engine worries and Williams has not been very good with brakes on occasion. The way seemed to be open for Ferrari or perhaps Renault in the race. Now a Ferrari victory would not be a big surprise but Luca di Montezemolo said something very interesting when he was not complaining about Bernie Ecclestone on Saturday afternoon. He referred, almost in passing, to the fact that Ferrari lost the race in Spa because the team took the decision to be cautious with its choice of tyres to make sure that the drivers would be safe.

"Safety is our number one priority," he said. "And we have made the same choice here."

The fact that Michael Schumacher tanked into the wall at 180mph the other day during the Monza test was perhaps rather more significant than it might have appeared. And perhaps the remark highlights the major problem in F1 these days about which people do not wish to talk: the limit of tyre development. The recent spate of high-speed tyre failures may be a sign that the tyre war is now so intense that perhaps the limit has been reached. And if that sounds dangerous, it is. So perhaps it is time for the FIA to get the tyre companies to cut an extra groove in the tyres before someone gets hurt. The question of tyre development is worrying the F1 circus and at a track like Monza, it is a big worry because the cars are travelling so quickly that any incident tends to be a big one.

It is nine years since Keke Rosberg took his turbocharged Williams-Honda around Silverstone at an average speed of more than 160mph and it seems that we are now back where we were in the latter days of the turbo era even if the power outputs are still way lower than the 1500bhp that the best turbo engines managed in that era. There is a real reason that the FIA is campaigning again for safety although many suspect that political games are the issue.

The qualifying was a pretty good show with the two Ferraris going out in mid-session and then the other fast cars trying to beat them in the closing minutes. And the gaps were tiny.

Kimi Raikkonen was the first man to try and he could only get to within two-tenths of Michael. Rubens was eight-tenths faster.

"Rubens is a lot faster than everybody else," he concluded. "It will be interesting to see what happens in the race when it becomes clear what strategy other teams have chosen."

Clearly McLaren felt strong and Ron Dennis seemed to be referring to Barrichello when he suggested that lighter fuel loads were "distorting the grid". Ferrari obviously had a plan for Rubens to play tortoise and hare roles. Perhaps Rubens was to be the hare to drag the others along in the race in the hope that they would blow their engines. As all Ferrari plans seem to end up with a Michael Schumacher victory the rival teams were scratching their heads trying to work it all out. Renault too looked like they were playing with fuel loads because Fernando Alonso was fourth on the grid, which was definitely not expected. The Spaniard said he surprised to be that quick but made no bones of the fact that the best he expected on Sunday was "an aggressive race" and a fight for a podium finish. He was four-tenths quicker than Trulli and that translated into five grid positions. Jarno had gone for what the team called "a conservative race strategy" but the team said that it did not expect to see any great difference in strategies on race day. There was a question that this situation raised: was Trulli on a different strategy or is he just driving slowly at the moment, demoralised and fed up with the team which has left him in the lurch next year. In China the Toyota people will announce Jarno's deal so he knows his long-term future is settled but Jarno does not really have much of an incentive to make Renault look good. In fact he's pretty fed up with the place.

The thing is that Renault needs every point it can grab to hold off a marauding BAR, which is desperately keen to be second in the Constructors' Championship in order to grab some more sponsors for next year. These things are important and there are questions as to whether Renault can hope to beat BAR with only one driver firing on all cylinders.

The BARs looked strong again in qualifying and Jenson Button was pipped by Takuma Sato to fifth and sixth places on the grid. If Barrichello and Alono were running light and Michael was playing a conservative game that would leave the BAR men looking very good for a podium on Sunday. The main threat would seem to come from Williams which qualified Juan Pablo Montoya second and Antonio Pizzonia eighth. Now that sounds like a big gap but the time involved was only two-tenths of a second so one should not be harsh on Jungle Boy. He was right up there with Montoya as he has been in recent races. This achievement was made all the more impressive when one considers that on Friday Pizzonia got a fright when he had a brake failure and went off in a huge cloud of dust at the Parabolica.

Montoya's performance was an exciting one and when he pipped Michael Schumacher to second there was great excitement everywhere apart from in the grandstands where only Ferrari matters.

And so we had an interesting grid: Barrichello and Montoya on the front row; Schumacher and Alonso on row two; Sato and Button on row three and then Raikkonen and Pizzonia. Trulli and Coulthard were next up. The top 10 was reserved for the five big teams. Next up was Ricardo Zonta in his Toyota and Panis was 13th, two places and three-tenths behind. The pair was split by Mark Webber's Jaguar, which was a bit breathless on the rev-munching straights. Christian Klien was three-tenths behind Mark and so lined up 14th on the grid. The Saubers were 15th and 16th and that was a pretty dull performance although the team tends to run heavy on fuel so perhaps the race would improve matters.

And down in Formula Ford we had the two Jordans and the two Minardis. It was pretty much business as usual.

"There remains a risk that things could change dramatically tomorrow," said Michelin's Pierre Dupasquier. "Rains remains a strong possibility, particularly in the morning. And it is worth noting that the circuit takes a long time to dry because much of the lap is affected by overhanging trees."

On Saturday evening therefore Formula 1 was being very British. Everyone was talking about the weather.

Just like an Agatha Christie novel.


Rubens Barrichello (1st, 1:20.089): "I am so happy with this result. The car was really good and I got the most out of it. It felt better through the Lesmos than in the last section and even if you can never do a perfect lap, I think it was very near the limit. But at Monza the important thing is to get it right rather than be on the limit because a tiny mistake can cost you half a second. It was an exciting lap for me from inside the car. I won here in 2002, I like Monza and while in the past, all the support we got here would distract me, now it gives me a boost. I am quite confident for tomorrow, when we will see what the weather brings."

Michael Schumacher (3rd, 1:20.637): "My lap started well with a good time in the first sector, where before I had been struggling. Then I lost the time in the final part, but Rubens did a perfect lap and I could not have matched it anyway, so I cannot complain. As for tomorrow, I am not so far away from Rubens, so we have a strong chance of transforming today's performance into a good result. Coming here having won both championships, it would be great to do it in style. It would be the perfect way to thank our tifosi."

Jean Todt, Team Principal: "It was a really exciting qualifying. I was worried that we would not take pole position, right here in front of our fans and our staff, who have their own grandstand at the entry to the Parabolica. But, we did it, thanks to Rubens who drove a fantastic lap. I am happy for him, as he adds another pole to the one he took in Indianapolis back in June. We have one Ferrari behind another on the grid, as Michael qualified third. Now we have to tackle the toughest part of the weekend, which is the race itself. We know we can count on a carengine- Bridgestone tyre package that is very competitive and effective, but we are expecting a close fight. The weather forecast is uncertain, with a chance of rain, which adds another unknown element. We hope to give our fans something more to celebrate."

Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "All weekend, it's been difficult to know where we stood in the pecking order. Given the strategy we have chosen, I am happy with our performance today. Rubens drove a really fantastic lap, incredible. He put pressure on Michael, who made a small mistake on his lap. First and third on the grid is a great result. I think we can have a very consistent race in performance terms, thanks to our Bridgestone tyres."


Juan Pablo Montoya (2nd, 1:20.620): "The team did a very good job today and we had two good qualifying sessions. My final qualifying lap was not the best, because I pushed very hard and made too many mistakes, but even if it had been perfect I still think Ferrari would be ahead, Rubens put in a very good lap! It is a positive result for our team, especially because the top times are very close together here. We will see how the race goes and what strategy Ferrari are on. I also started second last year so I really cannot complain! We had three good days of testing here last week, and they seem to have really paid off."

Antonio Pizzonia (8th, 1:20.888): "After a very good pre-qualifying I had a slightly less successful final qualifying lap, but I am still quite happy because I know I have a good race car. Eighth is still a good position to start from and still a reasonable gift for my birthday. The top ten positions are very close. Unfortunately I made a small mistake in the middle sector which cost me probably a few positions but still I know that we have a consistent pace for tomorrow's race and a good strategy."

Sam Michael, Technical Director: "It was a good qualifying session from both of our drivers and it is good to be back on the front row. Monza is a hard circuit on the brakes and on the engine. We spent a lot of time to prepare ourselves in the test last week and also in the free practice sessions. Now we are looking forward to a good race tomorrow but it will be interesting to see what the weather will be like."

Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "I am satisfied so far. Setting the fastest lap times in pre-qualifying meant we secured the best starting positions for the final qualifying. Both drivers were brilliant in sectors one and three, but lost fractions in the middle sector. Starting from the front row gives Juan excellent chances for the race. Antonio was just two tenths of a second slower than him and yet he lines up only eighth. This shows how tight the competition is here in Monza. Obviously we are pleased to have shown a strong performance so far on what is known as an engine circuit par excellence."


Kimi Raikkonen (7th, 1:20.877): "It was an OK lap. I think I was a bit too quick coming into the last corner and possibly lost some time, but otherwise it was good. Rubens is a lot faster than everybody else, but apart from him we are all pretty close. It will be interesting to see what happens in the race when it becomes clear what strategy other teams have chosen. In addition the weather might play a role as some say it could rain."

David Coulthard (10th, 1:21.049): "A very close qualifying session where a few tenths of a second made a big difference to where you are on the grid. My lap was a tidy one. However, I did lose a small amount of time in Ascari, but because we are so close this cost me some positions. We believe that our strategy will allow us a strong race."

Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "A very close qualifying session with the varying fuel loads and strategies distorting the grid. We are looking forward to the race where it will quickly become apparent as to whether we have chosen the right strategy or not."

Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "Everything is really close apart from Rubens' pole time, and we should have a better performance in the race than our grid positions indicate."


Fernando Alonso (4th, 1:20.645): "I am quite surprised to be fourth on the grid. We knew things would be very tight, and I managed to take advantage of that to get a place on the second row. The timed lap was quite difficult because the car was understeering in the first part of the lap, at the second chicane and the Lesmos, but then handling really well in the fast corners in the final sector. Overall, though, the balance of the car was good and I am pretty confident tomorrow. I think we can run an aggressive race and fight for a podium position as we had hoped."

Jarno Trulli (9th, 1:21.027): "I am really pleased with my qualifying performance. I pushed to the limit and managed to put in a good lap. I still do not feel completely comfortable with the car, and it was nervous and difficult to drive on the lap, so I took a lot of risks and they paid off. The car is quite competitive here and from what we have seen so far, we should be consistent on the longer runs. I will definitely be aiming for a good points finish tomorrow."

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "At a circuit like Monza where overtaking is nearly impossible, it is important to be well positioned at the front of the field, and Fernando put in a strong performance to achieve exactly that. Unfortunately, Jarno was still not comfortable with the car balance after practice this morning, so we chose to go a more conservative route with his strategy, which explains the difference in the drivers' positions. We had predicted that the field would be very tight and the top ten are covered by just a second. Given how close everybody is, we were surprised to see Barrichello on pole by six tenths of a second, but we will have to wait for the race to understand what is going on."

Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "This was a pleasing qualifying result for the team. Fernando gave himself a solid starting point for the race, although Jarno seems to be less well-placed at the moment. On the engine side, we have experienced no problems at all and the weekend has run to plan. Looking ahead to tomorrow, there is still a question mark over the weather and, of course, our competitors' race strategies. If, as usual, the fuel loads only vary by several laps, then we will certainly have a good idea of exactly how quick everybody is after the first fifteen laps tomorrow."


Takuma Sato (5th, 1:20.715): "This is not where we felt we could be on the grid here, but the close lap times at the front of the grid have shown that it was a very competitive qualifying session. I think we can be happy with our performance today and it's good that we have split the Renaults. We tested successfully here last week and the team have really progressed well through the weekend so far. I believe that we should have a strong strategy, and as a result, a good race here tomorrow."

Jenson Button (6th, 1:20.786): "I had a good balance in pre-qualifying but when it came to the actual qualifying run, the car was very different. I had a lot of oversteer - some big snaps as soon as I got on the power at the exits, especially at Lesmos and Ascari. So it was pretty tough and quite disappointing, but I'm sure we can do something from there."

David Richards, Team Principal:

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director:

Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "I am happy to have both drivers in the top six today and only being one tenth of a second from the front row should allow us to fight for a podium."


Giancarlo Fisichella (15th, 1:22.239): "My lap was not so good. Obviously we had a fair amount of fuel, but while the first sector was very good I was too conservative in the second and then braked too late for Parabolica and got into a lot of understeer. That cost me at least three-tenths. We are, however, optimistic for the race because we know how consistent the car is on long runs."

Felipe Massa (16th, 1:22.287): "There was a big difference in the balance of my car between its pre-qualifying configuration and the qualifying set-up, and this caught me out a little under braking for the first part of the first chicane. I locked the rear wheels a little and ran in wide, so after that the lap was ruined. It's a pity because the rest of it was very good. I probably lost two, maybe three, positions. Now I just have to exploit the car's strong race form as much as I can."

Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "Qualifying was unsatisfactory. I hope the race will be better."


Mark Webber (12th, 1:21.602): "We had a good morning session today when we worked on both balance and race set-up. Going into qualifying this afternoon I was happy with the work that the team had done in preparing the car. I really enjoy driving this track here although there are probably too many straights and not enough corners, as I would like. The first chicane can be quite tricky though and you really need to have a perfect lap to get those extra tenths out of the car. I am pleased to have split the Toyotas and certainly, I will be doing what I can to make the most of any opportunities tomorrow. The team and I worked hard last night and we are pleased with our tyre decision and strategy ahead of the race. I think there is some rain forecast for tomorrow so it could be an interesting race. This track is incredibly fast and it is specifically tough on brakes and can also punish the rear tyres. We have come here well prepared though and we will be doing what we can tomorrow to score some more Championship points."

Christian Klien (14th, 1:21.989): "We made some good tyre decisions last night which has made today much easier for us. I managed to complete twenty-six laps this morning in free practice that allowed me to fine-tune the car ahead of qualifying. This afternoon the car felt good and I was generally pleased with how my final qualifying lap went. However I made a slight mistake at the Ascari chicane and this probably lost me a couple of tenths. Despite that I was pleased with where we have ended up given our strategy and the race-pace of the car. I am very much looking forward to this race tomorrow, as I am sure that there will be some excitement on track. The high speeds make it exhilarating and I will be doing what I can to make it to the chequered flag and score some more points."

Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "We have been reliable all weekend and I am really pleased with the way the team has prepared for this track and worked towards both qualifying and the race. This morning was good for us as although we are pleased with our long-run performance we wanted to concentrate on improving our first-lap performance. We completed this successfully this morning and we then were able to do set-up work to optimise the race performance. Going into qualifying we were satisfied and given our final positions on the grid for tomorrow I am pleased with our progress. We have made a good tyre choice and we have worked on our strategy. Mark's lap was very good and whilst Christian may have lost a tenth or so on the Ascari Chicane I am still pleased with his starting place. Tomorrow's race is going to be tough but we are certainly looking for the chequered flag and as always, more points."


Ricardo Zonta (11th, 1:21.520): "I am very pleased with my qualifying lap this afternoon. We have worked very hard in preparation for this race, both at the test session last week and in the free practice sessions. The Michelin tyre evaluation work we carried out yesterday was beneficial for qualifying and I think the tyres will be consistent in the race. I would have liked to get into the top ten, but I am satisfied with eleventh - it is a good position from which to start the race and I hope from there we can get a positive result."

Olivier Panis (13th, 1:21.841): "I cannot say that I have enjoyed a trouble-free weekend up to now. After the problems we faced in yesterday's practice sessions, we were forced to change the gearbox on my car just before pre-qualifying today. The team has been working hard to fix the car quickly, but I am still not totally happy with the car. Considering all the problems that we have encountered, I think we should be content with 11th and 13th places on the grid, even if I personally expected us to be more competitive at this high-speed track. Now we simply have to be focused on tomorrow's race and hope for our fortunes to change."

Luca Marmorini, Technical Director Engine: "Overall, I think that we have achieved encouraging qualifying positions today and both Ricardo and Olivier performed well. Basically, the results are very similar to what we expected. We opted to run both sessions with more fuel in the car to make sure that there were no surprises in the important second session. The Monza circuit is particularly stressful on the engine, but so far this weekend we have had no difficulties. We studied the problem that we unfortunately experienced in Spa and we subsequently found the cause to be a broken bearing. We have taken measures to ensure that we never have this problem again. From 11th and 13th places on the grid, I really hope we can score some points tomorrow afternoon."


Nick Heidfeld (17th, 1:22.301): "Obviously it was a disappointing day for me although it was clear already that I would be starting the race tomorrow ten places back because of the engine change yesterday. I was not able to do a quick lap in pre-qualifying as I had a gearbox problem and we were not able to rectify it before qualifying so we chose to jump in the spare car. In the circumstances, I was quite happy with the lap."

Giorgio Pantano (18th, 1:23.239): "I was expecting better from qualifying. I lost two or three tenths of a second when I went off slightly at the exit of Ascari - I think I was pushing a bit too much. Apart from that mistake I think it was the maximum."

James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "Nick had a gear selection problem with his car in pre-qualifying which we were not able to fix before qualifying. Having already incurred a 'ten places back' penalty for changing his engine yesterday, we chose to use the spare car given the high probability of rain tomorrow. Giorgio's car had to be repaired after his accident late in free practice so the boys worked hard and did well to get it ready in time for pre-qualifying."


Zsolt Baumgartner (19th, 1:24.808): "The accident this morning was very unfortunate, and I was lucky, as the speed differential between my car and the car that hit me was much higher than at Spa two weeks ago. As for my qualifying run, I locked the brakes up going into the first chicane and slid across the first part of it, losing time in the process. Otherwise, the rest of the lap was better than on the previous run. In any event, I am happy with qualifying today and with the fact I didn't suffer any injuries in the accident."

Gianmaria Bruni (20th, 1:24.940): "My qualifying lap was good and the car felt fine considering the strategy we have adopted for tomorrow, when it may well rain. I didn't make any obvious mistakes on my flying lap and the time was quite good, so I'm very happy with the work we've done today."

Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "It hasn't been the greatest of days for the Minardi team. Two race weekends in succession, Zsolt was been taken out as a result of someone else's problems. This time, although the accident didn't look as dramatic as the one at Spa, the damage was far more serious, resulting in the total loss of the chassis. That's racing, however, and all in all, the team did well to get Zsolt settled in the spare car for qualifying. As for Gimmi, he's had a solid debut at his 'home' Grand Prix. Also on the positive side, it's good to see the encouraging lap times that have been set in preparation for tomorrow's race."

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