UNITED STATES GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
A smashing day for Michael
The Americans love Ferrari. Perhaps it is because it is the car company for the self-made man. Perhaps because overt displays of wealth are normal. Ferrari is considered to be a special brand. One of the results of this is that Ferrari has huge numbers of fans in the United States and since the Grand Prix arrived in Indianapolis back in 2000, the Ferrari have been flocking each year to Indy. Michael was the winner in 2000, and again in 2003, 2004 and 2005. And let us not forget that he had the race won in 2002 as well but handed victory to Rubens Barrichello to say "Thank you" for his efforts to help Michael. At the time the US fans were irate about that but now they cheer him to the echo.
Last year the fans were up in arms again after 14 Formula 1 cars pulled off the track at the end of the parade lap. Ferrari won but the victory but it was a meaningless success. It was shooting fish in a barrel. This year some of his rivals would have smart to have parked at the end of the parade lap as they would have saved themselves a lot of money. Nine cars were put out of action in a couple of crashes on the first lap. No-one else could keep up with the Ferraris. It was in many respects the same story all over again but this was not a hollow and meaningless victory. Ferrari won fair and square this time - even if it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
The start resulted in Felipe Massa taking the lead with Michael Schumacher in his wake. We all knew that this was never going to be the result but had not had time to verbalise the thought when suddenly there were cars going everywhere. Nick Heidfeld was rolling. Mark Webber (poor fellow that he is) was again being taken out. It was bumper cars. Looking at it all later on was still not easy task because the camera angles available were not much good and the drivers themselves seemed to be rather confused about who had hit who.
The first part of the accident was at the back of the field where Christian Klien tried to take his Red Bull down the inside at the first corner on a dusty bit of track as he tried to pass two Midlands. Christian arrived too quickly and sailed into the back of Webber, the tyres made contact and Webber went flying. Fortunately the car did not go over. At the same time as this was happening Klien hit Christijan Albers. Tiago Monteiro, Albers's team mate at Midland, was inches from his team mate. Tonio Liuzzi was going around the outside while David Coulthard was backing off to avoid the trouble. And behind all of this Franck Montagny had nowhere to go and piled into the back of Klien's battered Red Bull. Evereyone else took off on the grass to avoid all the bits and pieces.
At the same moment in Turn 2 things were getting similarly messy. This one was more complicated because people were hitting each other simultaneously and so tracing the blame was touch. The truth was simple: four threads to not easily fit through the eye of a needle.
Juan Pablo Montoya ran into the back of his McLaren team mate Kimi Raikkonen. This probably did not much impress Dr Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of DaimlerChrysler, who had come to watch his nice grey cars in action. Alas, he was not going to see much of it as the two McLarens spun in unison. Montoya's car bumped into Button's Honda and knocked it sideways. At that very moment Nick Heidfeld was on the outside of Button trying to squeeze in towards the apex. His left rear tyre touched Button's front right and the BMW was in the air, rolling in dramatic fashion across the sandtrap.
The Safety Car deployed.
Montagny, Klien, Speed, Webber, Montoya, Heidfeld and Raikkonen were all out on the spot. Albers and Button were damaged. Such as the chaos that Nico Rosberg, who was at the back at the start, ended the first lap in an improbable 8th position.
Cleaning up the mess took a few laps and then they were off again and immediately Takuma Sato went smashing into Tiago Monteiro. That was two more cars effectively out of the game. A few laps later Jacques Villeneuve's engine went boom and half the field was gone with 50 laps still to run. The message was very clear. Those who got to the finish were likely to score points.
In those early laps it was clear that Ferrari's domination in qualifying had not been a flash in the pan. Massa stayed ahead of Michael Schumacher but we all knew that this was a temporary state of affairs. Michael would soon get ahead. It was just a question of how that would be done. Behind the two red cars the two Renaults circulated but there was no chance of them staying with the Ferraris. After 15 laps Fisichella went ahead. He was obviously being held back by Alonso and the team no doubt decided that it must chase as many points as possible. Alonso dropped back towards Barrichello's Honda and the Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher' and Jarno Trulli.
The pits stops began after 29 laps and Michael was called in first. Fisichella followed. Next time around Massa was in the pits, chased in by Ralf Schumacher. For a brief moment Alonso was leading before he too pitted. And when it was all over there was Michael at the front with Felipe behind him. Trulli, running a one-stop strategy and carrying a big fuel load, was third and then came the two Renaults. It was only a matter of time before he headed for the pits and dropped away and so it was back to two Ferraris and two Renaults. And that was the story all the way to the flag. Alonso dropped gradually back and at his second stop was passed by Trulli and Ralf Schumacher but soon after that Ralf's Toyota gave up its ghost and so Alonso moved back to fifth where he stayed all the way to the flag. Barrichello was the only other man not to be lapped while a lap down Coulthard and Liuzzi picked up the final points both having found their way past Rosberg.
And that was that.
"A great day," said Michael. "A great weekend."
It was a good win but whether it will make much of a difference overall remains to be seen. Michael clawed back six points but the gap is still 19 points and Michael cannot rely on Renault having many weekends as bad as this one.
"I think this was a very particular race," explained Fisichella. "Ferrari is a strong team. They are able to push all the time but I am not really worried. We need just to keep going on the development for the rest of the season."
As in qualifying, there were some strange anomalies. Ferrari and Toyota flew on their Bridgestones but Williams was nowhere. We will never know how Mark Webber would have done in the race but Rosberg was way off the pace. The result looked bad for the team but it was not as bad as that. But, at the same time, it is now five races since a Williams scored a point and that is not good enough, even allowing for some incredibly bad luck.
In the overall scheme of things this was not a great race but it performed an important service for the sport. It showed that America does want Formula 1. It showed that F1 has been forgiven for its stupidity a year ago.
And that has to be a good thing.