OCTOBER 25, 2004
BRAZILIAN GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
A nutty weekend in Brazil
The future of the sport was the subject for most of the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend but finally on Sunday everyone realized that Formula 1 is about racing cars and so the attention switched from commercial politics to the business of motor racing and, funnily enough, everyone seemed to have a better time - except for Ferrari which seemed to be in trouble whichever way one looked at the problem. Everyone assumed that Ferrari would dominate on the race track but that did not happen and Juan Pablo Montoya walked off with the glory.
It was the first time since July 2003 that Williams had won a race and came as an important morale boost.
"This was a great relief for the team after a long and tough season," said Dr. Mario Theissen of BMW. "Juan's race was just perfect. The progress is of great importance for our technicians as it is exactly the right motivation for the development of the new car and engine. Our 10th victory feels as good as the first."
Thing had begun to go wrong for Ferrari before qualifying when Michael Schumacher had a spin and hit the wall. He would be starting 18th on the grid. We assumed that this would open the way for Rubens Barrichello to take over the role of race winner but it did not work out like that. Rain just before the start of the race threw everyone's plans into confusion. Much of the track was damp but it was not really wet and the skies, while threatening, did not dump the promised rain. It was the kind of weather that F1 teams use to take risks, and in the hope of glory (and second place in the World Championship) Renault decided to send both Fernando Alonso and Jacques Villeneuve out on dry tyres. David Coulthard in his last race for McLaren (and perhaps his last race in Formula 1) had nothing to lose.
But while it looked for a few laps that this was a brilliant move, it did not end up that way. The race was decided by the tyres not because of strategy but rather because in the damp the Michelin intermediates were better than the Bridgestones. And after that the dry tyres were an even match and so neither Michael Schumacher nor Rubens Barrichello could make much of an impact.
Barrichello grabbed an early lead, but in the cut and thrust of the first lap Raikkonen breezed ahead at the end of the back straight. Behind them there was a wild fight as Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Juan Pablo Montoya diced for third. Button came out ahead but within a few minutes his race was over, the Honda V10 having blown.
And then the track began to dry and Barrichello was able to get some more heat into his Bridgestones and was able to take the lead away from Raikkonen. All the while the three men on grooved tyres were coming back at the men who had left them behind in the first three laps and so the tables turned and after Rubens and then Massa briefly led the race. For a lap Felipe was in heaven.
"It was a fantastic feeling," he said. "I'll never forget that lap. My goal was to score a point but leading the race in front of my home crowd was the icing on the cake."
Massa remains a man who is recognized as being incredibly quick but too often in the past has made mistakes which have cost him dearly. His drive in Japan a fortnight ago was astonishing but his qualifying had been so bad that the performance was somewhat overshadowed. But next year we will see Massa up against Jacques Villeneuve and then we can really judge the long-term potential of Massa.
After he went into the pits, Alonso moved into the spotlight, with an eight second lead over the rest thanks to his risky tyre policy. He had not been able to do enough to win the race but he had done enough to get a decent score. While Alonso gained from the risk, the same could not be said of Coulthard and Villeneuve They had been unable to use the tyres to the same level as had Fernando and they paid for it. It had been a risk for Renault but there was never much chance of the 1-3 that was needed without BAR scoring a single point.
Villeneuve would end the day a lap down in 10th position. But the fastest race laps revealed that Villeneuve was only a tenth slower than Alonso. It has not been an easy time for him in recent weeks but as the dust was settling on a drizzly Interlagos, the French-Canadian was able to look positively on his experiences.
"I lost time when the track was wet," he said, "but after that I feel we were quite quick. I didn't manage to score any points at Renault but I think my performances got better and better with each race. It was very tough to adapt but I want to thank Renault for the opportunity."
In the brief period when Alonso was the man of the moment, the fight between Montoya and Raikkonen switched to the pitlane where the two men left the pits side-by-side. At the exit Kimi had the line. Realizing this, Montoya took a wider line than normal at the exit, where the road plunges away down the hill and as a result the Williams had a hint more momentum by the time they arrived in the braking area at the end of the back straight. Montoya jinked out from behind Raikkonen and went ahead. Barrichello's extra lap and the fact that the tyres did not heat quickly meant that the previous leader ended up sixth behind Alonso, Montoya, Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher and Takuma Sato. That would last until Alonso came in for fuel, which dropped him to sixth. From then on it was clear that the fight was between Montoya and Raikkonen - the two men who will drive for McLaren next year. The gap ebbed and flowed all the way to the finish but in the end Montoya was able to stay ahead.
Behind them interest focused on Ralf Schumacher's pursuit of Alonso, and the Spaniard was not about to crack under the pressure and so at the final stops Alonso was able to beat Ralf. It helped that they had Takuma Sato between them for much of the final part of the race and it was only three laps from the finish that Ralf finally managed to get ahead of the BAR.
One might have expected a big show from Michael Schumacher but his car was difficult to handle (it was, remember, a spare after his crash on Saturday) and early in the race he had a spin in the wet and that did him in. He was able to claw his way to seventh place by the finish but he was never really a big threat. The Ferraris looked decidedly ordinary after a season of total domination.
Elsewhere in the field there was a sad ending for the story of Jaguar Racing when on lap 24 Christian Klien misjudged where Mark Webber was going to be and carved straight into his team mate. Webber's car was damaged and could not rejoin and the Australian spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the hillside watching the car he will drive next season being driven to victory by the man he will replace.
Over at McLaren they enjoyed watching their two 2005 drivers running 1-2 but there was an element of sadness as Coulthard's race faded to 11th by the finish.
"It is an emotional moment to goodbye to the team after all this time," said DC, "but the memories I will be taking with me will be of my 12 victories, 51 podiums and 412 points."
It sounded like a sales pitch.