AUGUST 1, 2005
HUNGARIAN GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
Grey matter matters
Formula 1 folk do not discuss strategy much these days because it is almost impossible to know what to expect on a Sunday until we have seen a few laps of the race and with a track like the Hungaroring things are much more complicated because pace has little to do with it. Track position is everything. And when qualifying is disrupted by the results of the previous race, some funny things can happen. Hockenheim, let us not forget, resulted in a mechanical failure for Kimi Raikkonen and that meant that the poor Finn would have to start first in qualifying in Hungary, when the track was dirty and (more importantly) slow. The practice days showed the pace of the teams and then it was time for decisions before qualifying began. From nowhere, up popped Michael Schumacher to take pole position. And by a goodly margin as well. Everyone had shaken the dice but no-one knew what the others were doing. Was this really the start of a great Red Revival as the thousands of horn-hooting Schumi fans would like to believe? It was expected that Michael would run light - very light - and try to get into a situation in which he could slow the pace from the front and hold on for a win. We wondered if such a thing would actually work and what the other teams would do to spoil Michael's little party. But no-one guessed what was really going to happen. The men at McLaren obviously had their thinking caps on during Friday night and concluded that Ferrari was better than in previous races and that, in such circumstances, Michael and his engineers would try to go for glory and the cork-in-the-bottle strategy. They concluded that the way to counter such a threat and overcome Raikkonen's huge disadvantage from Hockenheim was to do absolutely the opposite of what was expected of them. In recent races the McLarens have been able to qualify well with heavy fuel loads but on this occasion Kimi went light. This enabled him to qualify fourth on the grid and a good start meant that he was up to second place in the course of the first lap. And then he went after Michael Schumacher.
At the end of the first lap Schumacher must have felt quite confident. He was nearly two seconds ahead. But by the end of the second lap Kimi had sliced half a second from that. On the third lap he took another four-tenths and from then on Raikkonen was within a second of the Ferrari. The two pulled quickly away from Montoya, who was McLaren's insurance policy and embarked on a more traditional two-stop race. At this point Michael was probably not very confident. He would have wondered how much fuel the McLaren had on board.
And then expectations were turned upside-down as Raikkonen went into the pits after just 11 laps. This meant he was back in fifth place when he rejoined. Michael was leading, 10secs ahead of Montoya. Two laps later Jarno Trulli, who was third, disappeared into the pitlane and so Raikkonen was back to fourth. Two more laps came and went and then Michael went into pitlane for his stop. Montoya went into the lead and with third-placed Ralf Schumacher stopping as well, Raikkonen was suddenly racing down the pit straight as Michael was coming out of the pits. On this occasion the Ferrari got there first but Raikkonen was soon pressuring Michael heavily and all the while Montoya was going away at the front. Montoya stayed out until lap 22 when he went into the pits and so allowed Michael and Kimi to go ahead again. The two were locked in proximity if not combat and Kimi was gradually ramping up the pressure. Montoya was third and nicely within striking distance. He was slipping back a little each lap but he knew that eventually they would stop again and he would be back in the lead and then it would be down to the last pits stops.
On lap 36 Schumacher headed for the pits. Immediately the McLaren men radioed Kimi and called him in. They knew how much fuel Michael had taken and saw an opportunity. The stop was quick and the fuel load light and when Kimi came out he was ahead and very fast. Michael must have known then that he was beaten because there was no way that he could restrain or match the pace of the McLaren. In 11 laps, Raikkonen built up a lead of 25secs.
"We pushed as hard as we could but we knew that wasn't going to succeed," said Ferrari's Ross Brawn, "so we changed our approach and decided to manage the situation to ensure that we didn't become vulnerable towards the end of the race."
In other words Michael gave up on the win and hoped that the McLarens would break down.
"The Bridgestone tyres held up quite well," said Brawn, saying a lot without really meaning to. "Quite well" is rather tepid when it comes to compliments.
As all this was going on Montoya was in the lead and even Raikkonen had to admit that he was not sure that he was going to beat Montoya. In the end it did not matter because on lap 41 the Colombian's car faltered and slowed down. A driveshaft was broken. Montoya cruised around to the pits and retired. The game was over. Raikkonen was ahead with Michael giving chase as best he could but seemingly looking behind more than looking ahead. On lap 48 Kimi came into the pits again, took on the fuel he needed to go all the way to the finish and was out on the track once again before Michael had showed up on the main straight. Once ahead Kimi put his foot down and drove away again. There was no holding him back. The Ferrari revival was turning into a defeat. In a season like this one, second place is a pretty good result, but for Michael , with expectations a little higher, it was disappointment. The McLaren was still quicker. Now, with a three-week break before F1 is back in action again in Turkey, Ferrari will be out testing at every opportunity, hoping to find the missing time. The others teams will stick to their deal not to test. Ferrari does not seem to think this is unfair and we will just have to see how things turn up at the end of it all. Ferrari looked better in Hungary but then Renault was not very good and BAR was not really a threat and with Kimi first out in qualifying there was an opportunity for Ferrari to look good. In F1 everything is relative.
Renault did not look good at any point in Hungary and it was not really clear why this would be the case. Perhaps the team decided on a two-stop strategy and was surprised by the pace of the Kimi and the Toyotas. Whatever the case neither car qualified well and then in the first corner things went wrong as Fernando was looking for a gap on the inside at the first corner. He was going to a place where there was no room to be and Ralf Schumacher was there already. The result was that Ralf's rear tyre tagged Fernando's front wing. It cannot have been much of an impact because Ralf did not even know it had happened. Fernando certainly did. The wing was soon beginning to come apart. All of this was missed because elsewhere in the first corner there was action along similar lines. Firstly Rubens Barrichello ran into the back of Trulli's Toyota and helped neither of their causes. Trulli felt the car was handling oddly after that and Rubens went into the pits at the end of the lap for repairs and more fuel was pumped in. There was no coming back from that.
The most attention in the first corner went to an incident further back when Christian Klien and Jacques Villeneuve made contact, the Sauber's front left getting inside and ahead of Klien's rear right. The two tyres made contact and physics took over with the Red Bull going up and over. The car turned in the air, came down on its roll-hoop and then went over again and ended up a sorry mess in the sand trap. Klien climbed out, looking a bit miserable.
As he was doing this further around the circuit the Red Bull challenge was coming to an end. Alonso's wing finally fell off and landed in the middle of the road. Cars went left and right, the last lucky man being Webber. As he jinked left, David Coulthard had just a split second before the hit the Renault parts and the front right suspension was torn clean off the Red Bull and Coulthard was out of control and spinning down the road, shedding bits and bobs everywhere. It was all a bit of a surprise because one would think that a wing is a light thing. Clearly however this is not the case and one has to ask whether the weight of such parts should be examined on the grounds of safety. We have seen evidence of heavy wings elsewhere this year and it is a bit of a worry that such heavy objects can fly about. The other thing which was astonishing was that with wreckage everywhere there was no Safety Car. When there has been such a fuss in other places about carbonfibre shards, one wonders about the thought-processes in race control. Having said that the only evidence of trouble was a pit stop from Tiago Monteiro although a lot of drivers complained about rubbish in their radiators. The lack of a Safety Car was good news for the three-stoppers because a caution period would have ruined their races. The various messes and pit stops broke up the midfield a little but through it all came the Toyotas to pick up third and fourth to bolster the team's Constructors' challenge. Toyota's major rival in this respect is now BMW Williams and after a series of disasters the team did pick up five points with Heidfeld sixth and Webber seventh.
It was a good day too for BAR-Honda with Jenson Button picking up fifth place and four points while Takuma Sato finally got off the mark and scored a point, which will be a big help for him. Fisichella came home in ninth place after going off twice and those behind him were either those who suffered early damage or the riff-raff down at the back, led on this occasion by Narain Karthikeyan's Jordan.
It was a good day of racing and one which has done wonders for the World Championship.
A similar result in Turkey would really get things going.