Spanish GP 2002
APRIL 28, 2002
Spanish GP, 2002
It's that man again!
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER needs to learn about the law of diminishing returns. The more you do something, the less interesting it becomes. After a while everyone expects you to do things that were once a struggle to achieve. Success is demanded and when you are only being moderately successful you are then judged to be failing. Schumacher has won four of the last five races; seven of the last 10. And, to be a little bit too honest, it is a bit dull. Michael's driving is a pleasure to behold but if he keeps on winning all the time the TV figures will start to dip and the grandstands will snore gently as he thunders by. Crushing domination may be impressive but it ain't show business.
After the race in Imola they were talking at Williams and McLaren of the problems they were expecting to have in Spain. "They are going to beat us again in Spain," they said. "It'll be the same," they said. There was no time to do anything else.
Getting the package right is not easy but Ferrari has it. The others do not. The BMW engine may be the most powerful engine in F1 by about 30 horsepower but the Williams chassis could be better and the McLaren chassis may be good but the Mercedes-Benz engine (dare we say it) is seriously down on power. When one adds in the fact that Bridgestone is clearly working very closely with Ferrari and that Michelin has to split its effort between Williams and McLaren, and that Michael Schumacher is a cut about the rest of them in F1 at the moment, the result is that Ferrari has the best package. And that will not change until Williams get some more aerodynamic efficiency or McLaren get some more power and Michelin gets up on the pace of Bridgestone. All these things can be achieved. The big question then is whether Michael Schumacher's abilities can be matched by his adversaries...
Until then we have to sit and watch as Ferrari dominate. The team has worked hard for many years to get to where it currently is and the pressure now is for the others to catch up and overtake. It will happen but that will take time. You cannot cut corners in the ups and downs of Grand Prix racing. You just have to invest more and work harder than those around you.
Ferrari never looked like being beaten in qualifying in Barcelona but for a while it looked as though Rubens Barrichello might actually outpace Michael Schumacher, but it was a mirage in the desert for in the dying moments of the qualifying session Michael put it all together and so zipped across the finishing line with a time which was three-tenths of a second faster that Barrichello's best effort. Michael was almost a second clear of his brother Ralf who once again managed to outqualifying Juan Pablo Montoya by slightly more than a tenth of a second.
"That was a dream qualifying session," said Jean Todt. "We have an excellent car and engine, supported by very good Bridgestone tires."
More importantly perhaps, Ferrari also managed to save a set of tires for each driver which the team reckoned could be crucial on Sunday as strategy tends to be for two or more pit stops. It is often hard to tell how these things will pan out but on Saturday the mood across the paddock was that Sunday would bring another Ferrari massacre. It is a story which has become a little too familiar in recent months but it is hard to see from where the solution will come until some fairly big things are shaken up.
Williams put a brave face on the situation but a second a lap in qualifying trim is a lot. Perhaps the gap was going to reduce when it came to the race. We could but hope. In fact the numbers did not tell the whole story. The team spent Friday working on race set-ups and doing all the necessary homework so while other teams showboated Williams looked to be struggling.
"We looked maybe worse than how we actually were," Ralf Schumacher said.
It was good therefore that everything came together on Saturday because otherwise it might have been embarrassing. But a second a lap is a big chunk of time. The fact is that qualifying and races these days bear only a passing resemblance to one another because of the use of what some refer to as "Kleenex" engines, designed and built to last only for qualifying and then thrown away like a used paper handkerchief. Some teams use them but Williams solidly (and one can use such a word when Patrick Head is involved) denies that it is the case. Thus the trend appears to be towards Williams racing better than they qualify. This offers some hope.
The statistics say that Ralf beat Montoya again but the Colombian did a good job in the circumstances. His BMW engine was misfiring and the team took the decision to switch him to the spare rather than trying to fix the problem and so he was catching up all the way. His last-minute lunge to fourth was a mighty effort.
"I don't know how it worked," he said. "But it definitely did!"
The McLaren world was looking bronze rather than silver as the team is very definitely in third place right now. Kimi Raikkonen qualified fifth, just a tenth adrift of Montoya and a tenth ahead of Jenson Button's Renault. The young Englishman did a good job to outqualify David Coulthard by a margin that was incredibly tight, and was three-tenths faster than his Renault team mate Jarno Trulli. If Button is not careful he'll find himself being rehired by Renault next year.
"As always we will do our best," said David Coulthard with a face as dour as Edinburgh when there's a good east wind whistling in.
"Our grid positions are no great surprise," said Ron Dennis.
Of the rest there were a few performances of note. Heinz-Harald Frentzen again drove the socks off his Arrows to be the top Cosworth-powered car while Giancarlo Fisichella again won "Formula Honda" but he was down in 12th place and being 1.9 seconds behind Schumacher's pole lap cannot have inspired much confidence.
There were red faces at Jaguar by the end of it all after Eddie Irvine's fuel sample was found not to match the "fingerprint" it should be matching. His times were taken away and so he tumbled from 15th to the back of the grid.
The Toyotas were back where we thought they might be, proving that a good start is worth its weight in gold from an image point of view. Better to start well and then reach a lower plateau than to start at the back and plod in a sombre fashion up the mountain.
All great World Champions are also lucky men and this has always been an element in Michael Schumacher's career. He always seems to have problems at the right moments and it happened again in Spain when Schumacher's car stopped out on the circuit during the warm-up with an hydraulic failure. Michael went into the spare car for the race but the set-up was not a problem.
When Rubens Barrichello has a failure it tends to affect his races and it happened again in Spain. As the cars were setting off on the final parade lap something went wrong with Rubens's gearbox and the car stopped. The mechanics tried to get the car going again but it was clear this was something major and the car was pushed away. It would never emerge from pitlane. Rubens's weekend ended there and then.
This meant that there was no-one to challenge Michael on the run down to the first corner and after that everyone else was wasting their time.
"It's really bad luck for Rubens," said Schumacher. "Everything that has gone wrong this year so far has gone wrong for him."
Afterwards Jean Todt described it as "a tense race" but then he had a vested interest and was probably worried that Michael's gearbox would lunch itself but Michael's fairy godmother was flying around as Michael's wingwoman as usual and the car ran without a hiccough all the way to the checkered flag.
One should salute that achievement. This was 24-carat domination. Four wins in five races this year. Seven out of the last 10 Grands Prix.
Success is often based as much on one own's efficiency as on the failing of others and while no-one would detract from Ferrari's achievement one does have to point out that if McLaren had a better engine or Williams a better chassis the story would not necessarily be the same. The issues of tires is also an important one but when all is said and done the overall package is what is needed and Ferrari has it.
Williams-BMW remains the nearest challenger but in Spain that challenge was not as strong as one might have expected. Juan Pablo Montoya ended the day in second position and he was happy enough with that.
"I think we made the best of what we had," he said. It was not quite that simple because at his pit stop a confused signal had caused a fair old mess. The lollipop man (the man who tells the driver whether he can depart) is chief mechanic Carl Gaden. For some reason which he probably does not even know he was under the impression that the refuellers had finished their job. The lollipop went up, Montoya took off. In a split second Gaden realized that things were not right and tried to stop the disaster that was about to happen. He stepped forward and as he did so the car went over his foot. This tumbled him over forwards. At the same time, on the other side of the car, one of the front wheel men was tumbled into another. The fuelman himself had an uncomfortable couple of seconds as he found himself riding the sidepod.
Montoya had realized quickly that something was wrong.
"I managed to stop fairly quickly," he said. "It was lucky I still had my hand on the clutch."
The car stopped ” unfortunately on Gaden's foot but one of the other mechanics came in quickly and heaved the wheel upwards, allowing Gaden to pull his foot out of the way. Montoya took off. A second or two had been wasted.
Gaden was in pain but it soon emerged that nothing was broken.
The team would have other dramas as well because Ralf Schumacher's race did not go well either. Initially he was second but unable to match his brother and then on lap 29 he made a mistake and went bouncing across the grass. This removed the barge boards and part of the front wing. He had to pit and from then on the race turned sour. The front wing fitted had a different wing configuration and the car did not handle at all well and so later on they had to change it again. By then Ralf was down at the back of the field where he had a lengthy dice with Mika Salo which ended on the last lap when Ralf's engine failed him. He ended up being classified 11th. It was nothing to write home about.
The McLaren team ended up with third place for David Coulthard which was a better result than the team ever imagined would come from the weekend. At the start of the race Kimi Raikkonen was beaten off the line by Jenson Button but the Finn then made a brave move around the outside of the Renault at the first corner and so was in fourth place until the start of the fourth lap when his rear wing disintegrated on the straight. Following the problems Minardi had this was a worry but the team decided not to call in David Coulthard.
"Within less than a minute we were able to interrogate our database and confirm that the wing assembly on David's car was effectively new which, supported by our extensive test mileage convinced us that there was no risk to David."
When all is said and done teams make choices. Minardi had said that morning that they were confident that their rear wings were all right but could not be 100% sure until the failure had been analyzed and so decided not to race. McLaren decided to go on. There was no way of analyzing what had happened on Raikkonen's car in the time available. No database in the world will tell you if there is going to be a catastrophic structural failure.
Coulthard's rear wing did not fail. That's fine.
But what if it had?
Racing is all about taking risks and if the team is comfortable with that there can be no reproach.
Coulthard ended up third but only really because he profited from the misfortunes of others. And he was honest enough to admit that at the end of the race.
Sauber came home fourth and fifth after the demise of the two Renaults which fell out due to hydraulic failures in the closing laps after a pretty good showing. Heidfeld was fourth and Massa, who had a good fight with Button, was fifth.
The final point went to Arrows which was a good effort given the troubles that the team has been struggling through in recent months.
Jacques Villeneuve was seventh which was not bad given the problems the Honda men have had this year. Neither Honda team has scored to date ” everyone else now has.