OCTOBER 11, 2004
JAPANESE GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
A great race - if only we'd seen it
Total domination of a race by one driver - inevitably Michael Schumacher - does not mean that it was a bad race. Far from it. Races happen all the way through the field and keep those of us who visit the circuits amused. Not everyone can be bothered to follow the action that closely but those that do rarely get bored. However, in order for the TV audience around the world to get excited a Grand Prix needs to be televised properly. It needs a TV director who understands what is going on and what people want. The man from Fuji TV is not going to win any prizes for the coverage of the 2004 Japanese Grand Prix. It was hopeless. The coverage missed most of the important moments and when he had nothing much else to do he switched coverage to Takuma Sato. This was deeply frustrating because we knew that behind Michael the racing was good and by the end of the Grand Prix a lynch mob was forming in the Media Center.
If ever there was a case for getting rid of national broadcasters, Fuji TV proved it on Sunday. Teams do not have to do things in the best interests of the sport (although some do) but it would be nice if the TV companies involved at least understood that the most important thing is to put on a good show. The TV people missed Takuma Sato passing Jenson Button, they missed a collision between David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello. They missed Kimi Raikkonen running into a Jordan and most of the other overtaking moves or interesting battles. There was never a hint of what had happened to Mark Webber. He simply disappeared from the radar screens.
If the locals cannot do it, Formula One Management must take over the direction of the events - even if it requires investment. F1 is doing nothing to make its coverage new and interesting at the moment.
Perhaps it would be wise to try.
One cannot denigrate Michael Schumacher's achievement. He drove a super race with a car that was brilliantly set-up (Ferrari even guesses better than the other F1 teams). The tyres worked. And it quickly became obvious that Michael had no opposition at all.
"It wasn't clear who would be running heavy," Michael said., "We had no indication from practice. So we had to be flat-out in the early part of the race, until the pit stops had been done and we could judge who was on what strategy."
After that it became obvious that Michael was not under threat and he did cruise. He had a lead of 20 secs after 20 laps and he kept the same for the rest of the race until backing off in the last couple of laps. But you could see he had a little extra in hand.
Ralf Schumacher came second for Williams but there was a good case for arguing that if BAR should have beaten him. In the early laps Jenson Button and Takuma Sato ran together. At the time Sato needed to be going ahead because he was on a three-stop strategy. Button was on a two-stop and was not really looking at the bigger picture. Teams which do not have team orders sometimes suffer for being sporting. The strategy called for Sato to make a good start and be ahead of Button. In theory he would have then been able to deal with Mark Webber and then go with Ralf.
Instead Sato was slow away and Button went ahead. And there they stayed for seven laps. The team says that both drivers knew the strategies and were given their respective lap times are were asked to judge what was best for the team. The engineers "reminded" Jenson about the strategy involved and eventually Button pulled over and let Takuma go. Sato took off and left Jenson behind but he had lost too much time by then to challenge Ralf. When he pulled over Jenson lost two seconds. At the last pit stops Ralf Schumacher came out just ahead of Button and one could only wonder what would have happened if Button had had those two seconds in hand.
It is easy to be wise after an event but down in the BAR pit no-one seemed unhappy. They had drubbed Renault again and now only a miracle will let Flavio Briatore's team finish runners-up to Ferrari. Renault must score a 1-3 result in Brazil without BAR scoring. And Jacques Villeneuve, the great white hope a few weeks ago, is not going to produce a miracle like that in the time available.
The team has only itself to blame. If it had not got into a fight with Jarno Trulli in the summer. It might have had the second place sewn up by now. But demotivating Jarno meant that he stopped scoring and Renault became a one-car team. Fernando Alonso may be pretty good but he isn't that good. And in Japan he started 11th on the grid. Fifth was a good result in the circumstances. Villeneuve qualified ninth and went backwards from the start. The car understeered and changes did not really help.
"I could not increase my pace," said Jacques.
Down at BAR they were enjoying Jacques's misfortune while over at Sauber they were thinking about 2005 and 2006 when Villeneuve will be paired with Felipe Massa. The Brazilian was hopeless in practice and fell off all the time, which is not good for a man who has been in F1 as long as he has. And then the mercurial Brazilian drove a magnificent race, setting the fourth fastest lap and pulling off some lovely overtaking moves. Peter Sauber must have enjoyed it but he would also have known that if Massa had qualified properly this would have been a great performance. Giancarlo Fisichella usually makes up for things but this time he did not. He made a poor start and then fell off while fiddling with his radio.
Sauber was not the only team to throw away points.
Kimi Raikkonen started 12th on the grid but then made his life even more difficult by making a bad start. He fought back like a champion but then was run into by Timo Glock, who did not see him as Kimi went to lap the Jordan. The bump damaged Raikkonen's steering and so he had to make do with fifth. David Coulthard looked for a long time like a man on his way to a good score but then he failed to see a move from Rubens Barrichello and the two collided
"I caught him by surprise," said Barrichello. "He didn't see me and closed the door."
"I don't think anyone was to blame," said David. "It is just one of those things that happen."
The fight for fifth place in the Constructors' between McLaren and Williams was virtually over. Williams goes to Brazil with a decent 13 point lead and it will take a really big result from McLaren to overturn that. Mind you Juan Pablo Montoya did not look like a man firing on all cylinders.
"My starting position compromised my race today," he said. "I was stuck in traffic and the best I could do was to collect some points. I can only hope that a poor performance here will give me an advantage in Brazil, as happened with Ralf here."
Down at Williams they are looking forward to next year and to getting a driver who is both fully motivated and consistent. Mark Webber is the man they think will do the job and down at Jaguar Racing he was giving his all. Qualifying third was a really remarkable achievement but the Jag was slow off the line, as it often is, and Webber lost three places before he was in the first corner. The biggest problem was that one of those who went past him was Jarno Trulli and he was soon getting in Mark's way. As he was pondering this he began to notice that things were getting pretty hot inside his cockpit. As each lap passed the temperature went up. Webber pitted on schedule and the team tried to cool him down by throwing a bucket of water over him and then he was sent on his way.
"I just carried on, hoping that it would go away," said Webber. "But it didn't and in the end the heat became unbearable. It was distracting me and so I took the decision to stop."
Thanks to uncharted airflows within the car, it seems that air which had passed over the exhausts was being forced forward and was getting into the cockpit by way of a small hole , designed to take wiring, which was located behind Webber right hip. With Webber having retired with a frazzled rear end, Christian Klien was Jaguar's only flag waver and he was a long way from Webber's pace although he finished 12th.
Fortunately for Jaguar, Toyota did not do any better. They looked good in qualifying with Jarno Trulli sixth and Oliver Panis 10th but from the start things went wrong. Trulli had hard tyres and was slow. Panis had soft tyres but made a bad start and lost a lot of ground. As Trulli was pushed along by Webber the tyres grained and the Toyota became more and more difficult. By the end of the race Trulli was back in 11th. Panis could not do anything because his tyres were also graining and he could not push at all.
And thus ends an F1 career which promised so much and yet never quite delivered. Olivier finished 14th.
So it is goodbye Olive and we're sorry to see you go. Bonne route!
It may not seem very significant to some but the departure of Panis means that only one Grand Prix driver who was born in the 1960s now remains in the sport.
Michael Schumacher. Your time is nearly up! You are now the oldest Grand Prix driver by more than two years.