Number one is number one?

Michael Schumacher, Hungarian GP 2005

Michael Schumacher, Hungarian GP 2005 

 © The Cahier Archive

Eighteen, 13, 2, 14, 8, 8, 10, 2, 5, 4, 10 and 5. This is a list of numbers none of which are number one. They are the qualifying positions of Michael Schumacher so far this season in his difficult Ferrari. The thing that is worth noting is that when Michael started a race with a low number he usually pitted before his rivals or faded badly in the course of the race as his tyres became less effective. His pole position in Hungary came as a surprise to the Formula 1 circus and seemed to confuse a lot of people. At San Marino a few months ago the Ferraris showed unbelievable speed and then it disappeared again. But in Hungary the pace was back and Michael was eight-tenths faster than Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren. Given that a week ago the car was not very impressive and Michael said that nothing much had been changed, the only sensible conclusion was that Ferrari was playing with a light fuel load and planning to try to win the Hungarian Grand Prix on tactics rather than speed. The thing about Budapest is that if you can get the right track position, you can do that because you can control the pace of the cars behind you. Thus if Michael could start from pole and do a short fast stint and then get out of the pits before his rivals arrived, he would then be able to hold them back when they would be running fast and he was running slow and by doing that would ruin their chances and improve his own. Having the fastest car is not necessarily the only way of winning a race. There are not many drivers in F1 capable of doing such things but Michael is certainly the master of such things, even with a poor car. And let us not forget that bad cars rarely turn into good cars in a matter of days. Ferrari would no doubt like us to think such things and Bridgestone will no doubt be happy to say that the tyres are better than they have been but the proof of this particular pudding will be in the eating.

"We have obviously changed the tyres substantially," said Michael, "and it seems to pay off."

"We have done a lot of work over the past few months," said Bridgestone's Hisao Suganuma, "That has begun to pay off today. It is good to see the latest new compound working well and we hope to see it continue to perform well in the race tomorrow. Our tyres have the speed and now I would like to see our teams use that to run a fast consistent race."

The word "hope" seemed to leap out of the page. If Bridgestone had improved its rubber to such a degree then one would expect to see a similar leap forward from the Jordan and Minardi teams but they were where one would expect to see them.

"This has come about through a combination of factors," said Ferrari's technical director Ross Brawn. "We have had new updates, a new aero package in the last couple of races and I think we are seeing the benefit of it here."

What confused matters was that Michael Schumacher said that the car was the same as it was a week ago in Hockenheim.

The only way to know the truth was to kick around until Sunday to figure out just how much fuel was involved.

Obviously some of the gap to the opposition was down to the poor performance of others. Michael drove a good lap while his nearest challenger did not have such a good time.

"My lap was not perfect," admitted Montoya. "I had a bit of oversteer on the first corner and I already knew after the first couple of corners that I wouldn't catch Michael Schumacher. So for the rest of the lap I was a bit cautious and concentrated on a good clean lap and getting on the front row."

Montoya was no doubt thinking about the mistake he made a week ago in Hockenheim.

The sport nowadays rewards consistency and reliability and punishes mistakes to such an extent that drivers nowadays rarely taken any big risks. It is better to finish a dull lap rather than do something magic. And that cannot be good for the sport. Qualifying without fireworks is dull.

The rules are such now that a bad result in the previous race punishes a driver doubly becuase not only does he score no points but he starts the second event with a huge disadvantage. Raikkonen was the first to run in qualifying in Hungary and the track conditions were improving with each car. In the circumstances Raikkonen's lap of 1m20.891s was an extraordinary affair. Logically in such a circumstance a driver in this situation would drive a heavy car so as to go longer to the first pit stop and thus get clear road and gain an advantage over those who stopped early and dropped into the pack.

"It was really slippery," said Raikkonen. "I pushed as hard as I could to make up any deficit and I am happy with the lap in the circumstances I feel we have done the best job that we could expect."

But now Kimi needs a good start to stay ahead of slower cars in the all important early laps when Michael Schumacher will try to build himself a lead. The problem for Kimi is that knocking around at the front are the two Toyotas both of which are prone to making good starts and then getting in the way for lap after lap after lap. The Renaults are good at starting as well but on this occasion they are not really in the picture with Fernando Alonso sixth and Giancarlo Fisichella ninth. Both drivers complained of understeer problems and the sight of Alonso going wild and wide at the final corner seemed to underline the problem although the team did say that it was confident of its race pace. But would it be enough to enable the two drivers to overtake?

BAR-Honda was disappointing with eighth and tenth places on the grid with both men complaining of a lack of grip. Rubens Barrichello was seventh in his Ferrari, which was much more in line with expectations for the team.

"I drove a good lap apart from the fact that I lost a bit on the brakes at the beginning of the lap due to a change in set-up on the car," said Rubens. "That made the brakes feel a little bit different. I have a good strategy and I know I can expect to have a very consistent performance level in the race."

Of the rest, Red Bull Racing took 11th from Williams by a smidgeon thanks to the efforts of Christian Klien. The Austrian was happy.

Nick Heidfeld was next and said that the Williams was definitely better than it has been thanks to a lot of new aero dynamic parts. However Nick felt that points would be possible.

David Coulthard was next up for Red Bull and disappointed because he had "a wobble" in Turn 1 which meant he lost time.

The two Saubers were next up but with nothing much to report and then came Mark Webber, who had suffered from running early in the session.

"The car is improved," he said, "but we are still not where we want to be."

Down the back it was business not quite as usual as Christijan Albers was ahead of the usual Jordan-Minardi battle.

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