AS YOU WERE........
A year ago, Ferrari came to Imola with two F2002s for the
first time and utterly dominated the event, setting the tone
for a summer of red and white domination. This time,
Michael Schumacher, whose mother had died earlier in the
morning, had to fight a little harder, but he gave the F2002 a
Entry and Practice
Word has it that this might be the last San Marino Grand Prix.
Imola, since its emasculation by chicanes, is really not a
particularly exciting place any more. Thereís nowhere to
overtake and the track is little more than a series of shortish
straights separating slow corners. Nothing which really shows a
modern F1 car at its full potential. If Max Mosley is looking to
broaden the sportís global appeal then this really might be a
good race to drop. And Magny Cours for that matter, but Iíll
not get into that again.
Of course, at heart, all this Euro-race dropping has an awful lot
to do with the European Union and its fair-minded attempts to
protect its citizenry from the evils of tobacco/ obsessive
nannying desire to interfere in every aspect of our lives (delete
according to political preference). Why on earth else would the
powers that be seriously considering Bahrain as a venue for F1 ?
Where next ? North Korea ?
It was perhaps amusing to see that Williams are running
Niquitin CQ logos on their cars now - perhaps helping all those
that started smoking Winfield back in the late nineties give up
the habit. One trusts that Marlboro, Imperial Tobacco et al are
not overly concerned, and the team at least no longer have the
embarrassment of having Worldcom decals on the car.
Whatever, the cars were rather quicker than they have been in
practice all season, especially that of the younger Schumacher.
Ralf Schumacher came within a hundredth of a second of taking
pole, despite running in the spare car. That honour, of course,
went to the older Schumacher, to form the first all-Schumacher
front row in some considerable time. All of which meant that
Schumacher had got the upper hand in the Williams civil war
for the first time since, well since the last race at Imola really.
After their frankly bizarre win at their 200th Grand Prix in
Brazil, it was back down to earth for the Jordan team in practice
for the San Marino Grand Prix. Their weekend began with
Giancarlo Fisichella belatedly picking up his winnerís trophy
from Interlagos, thus removing himself as a potential wild card
for "greatest driver never to win a Grand Prix". What with
Chris Amon showing up at the Australian Grand Prix and taking
an interest in the sport again, its perhaps as well thatís been
cleared up. Fisichella ended up qualifying 17th and mystified as
to why he was so slow. There was no such mystery surrounding
the lack of pace of his team mate Firmanís lack of pace. The
Englishman ended up stone last after a lap of quite singular
ineptitude. Or almost last, for finally, at the fourth race of the
year, somebody put their car in the wall on their hot-lap. That
man was Jos Verstappen, so, no great surprise there. As he
pointed out himself, all this meant was that he would have to
start from the back of the grid, which was about where he
expected to be anyway.
If the Jordans were inexplicably slow, then the Jaguars were
correspondingly surprisingly fast. Quite what the usually
shambolic Anglo-American team have suddenly started doing
right isnít clear; the team looks much the same as the one
which made a complete pigís ear of 2002 and even the car looks
like last yearís lemon. Whatever the explanation, Mark Webber
lined up fifth, ahead of both of the McLarens and while he
might have been a little lighter on fuel than some, it nonetheless
appears that Jaguar have finally put together a decent racing car.
Shame one of them is in the hands of Pizzonia, but thereís hope
yet that he might come good.
Two men who were going to have a lot to do on Sunday were
David Coulthard and Jarno Trulli. The McLarens seemed to be
nowhere throughout Friday and Saturday, and Coulthard did
nothing for his chances by making a mistake on his quick lap at
Rivazza and ending up down in 12th. Trulli, who had been on
the front row just a month ago seemed completely at sea with
his Renault and ended up qualifying 16th in a spare car set up for
What of the rest ? Honda appear to be winning the battle of the
Japanese, with their Ferrari-F2002 lookalike machines lining up
7th and 9th, while the Toyotas were back in 10th and 13th. The
Saubers were having an anonymous time, much as ever really,
and lined up 11th and 14th. Whatever we were to make of the
times, the scrap for the final few points was clearly going to be
very hard fought.
Early on Sunday morning, word filtered through that the
Schumacher brothersí mother had died at the age of 55. For a
while it was unclear whether either brother would race, but in
the end, it wasnít perhaps any great surprise to see the two
Schumachers get in their cars and take up the front two spots in
the grid. What it must be like to lose a parent and then later the
same day have to perform in an arena like F1 is hard to imagine,
but on track, one would have been hard pressed to tell any
difference in either Schumacherís driving. Ralf Schumacher
beat his brother down to the first corner, and the two brothers
began to engage in a spectacular dogfight. Schumacher Sr did
all he could to find a way past, but Schumacher Jr, who has so
often been vulnerable to this kind of pressure in the past, and
whose frame of mind cannot have been great, did not give in
this time, and so he led until the first pit stops.
Behind them, Barrichello and Montoya followed closely, while
Raikkonen kept a watching brief in fifth. Mark Webber, who
qualified so well, lost out at the start when his launch control all
but failed to get his car off the line, and ended up dropping all
the way down to 11th on the opening lap. He was at least better
off than Pizzonia, who didnít get off the line at all, and who
would have to wait a whole lap before his mechanics managed
to fire up the car. Webber was, as it turned out, fuelled light, but
rather less so than the two Toyotas, Alonsoís Renault and
Heidfeldís Sauber, all of which pitted around the eleven lap
mark. And remember, Webber had outqualified all of them.
Indeed, the Toyotasí lack of pace, given their fuel load, was
really quite embarrassing. Alonso was at least going quickly,
sufficiently so, in fact, to emerge from the pits ahead of his team
mateís car - which was busy holding up Fisichellaís Jordan and
ensuring that there would not be even the ghost of a chance of
any kind of follow up to Brazil. Not that there was anyway, for
neither Jordan was close to the pace, and both would expire in
flames before the end.
After the first pit stops, Michael Schumacher emerged ahead of
his brother, who had to stop a few laps earlier for fuel, and so
the pattern of the race looked set. The McLarens were dark
horses, for it soon became clear they were running a two stop
strategy when all their rivals were running three-stoppers. The
second stops saw a further shaking up of the order. Juan
Montoya lost a lot of time when his fuel rig failed and he was
forced to stop twice in successive laps. The two McLarens
emerged looking set rather pretty. They were never going to
live with the Ferraris on pace, but Raikkonen was nonetheless
now second on the road, just a couple of seconds behind
Schumacher, while Coulthard was firmly in the midst of a battle
between the second Ferrari and Ralfís Williams. After the first
three races, it was perhaps no surprise to see that F1 had
reverted back to a battle between Ferrari, McLaren and
Williams, but at least the on-track action was rather closer than
it ever was last year. Of course, the sheer impossibility of
actually overtaking anyone at Imola meant that we were really
watching a high-speed procession, but there was always the
Nonetheless, there was a feeling that the order at the end of the
last round of pitstops (Schumacher, Raikkonen, Schumacher,
Barrichello, Coulthard) represented the final finishing order.
The hard charging Barrichello had other ideas. Like Michael
before him, he now found himself running right behind Ralf
Schumacherís slower Williams. Again, it was a matter of
keeping the pressure on and hoping to push Ralf into a mistake.
In the end, the effort paid off - Ralf Schumacher missed his
braking point at Rivazza, giving Barrichello the ghost of a
chance. He edged alongside Schumacher coming into the
braking for the Traguardo chicane, just before the start/finish
line. Schumacher missed his braking point again and allowed
Barrichello a faster exit out of the corner and into third place.
Thereafter, he set about Raikkonen, although to no avail. he
caught him on the final lap, but could do absolutely nothing
about getting past the Finn.
Schumacher took his first win of the year - the fourth different
winner in four races. Raikkonen maintained his strong
challenge for the 2003 World Championship by finishing
second, Barrichello was third, Ralf Schumacher just held off a
rather rapid looking Coulthard for fourth. Fernando Alonso
didnít make the podium this time, but given the superiority of
the big three when compared to the rest of the grid, he had good
reason to happy with sixth, ahead of a delayed Montoya. The
final points-scoring position went to a lapped Jenson Button.
He might have been happy that his BAR was quicker than the
Saubers, Toyotas and Jordans but it still must have been rather
dispiriting to discover just how far behind the McLarens,
Ferraris and Williams they are.
And the mood canít have been that great in the Williams camp.
Qualifying had promised much, but ultimately the new FW25
still isnít even quite a match for last yearís Ferraris and
McLarens, never mind the Woking and Maranelloís 2003
machines, whenever they might deign to appear. You can be
sure that there will be more aerodynamic tweaks, more
Ďupgradesí, but fundamentally it simply doesnít look as though
the Williams is quite up to the job. Raikkonen sits pretty at the
top of the drivers standings, and must be rather pleased with 2nd
place, which is probably more than the car really deserved
today. The question is whether, given that the new McLaren is
not expected until mid-season, he will be able to maintain that
lead over a Ferrari team which have shown over the last three
years that they will not be beaten easily.
If Williams have reason to be a little dispirited, then imagine
how disillusioned Sauber and Toyota must be. Toyota have
spent sums which dwarf even those being lavished by Ferrari
and McLaren on becoming a top-line F1 team, and yet still, with
a trouble free run, the best they could do today is 9th and 12th.
Peter Sauber, whose cars finished 10th and 11th commented only
that "We cannot be satisfied.... It was the first regular race of the
season, and it showed the limitations of the Sauber Petronas
C22". At least neither Ove Andersson nor Peter Sauber have the
ignominy of being Jarno Trulli, whose uneventful race brought
him home 13th and last bar one - in a car that Alonso brought
home in the top six.
And so finally, six weeks into the new Grand Prix season, we
were treated to the sounds of the German and Italian national
anthems, which had become so familiar last year. Out of the
car, Michael Schumacher once again looked a man in mourning,
rather than the fastest Grand Prix driver of our time. Nobody
could have known that simply from watching him on the track.
To return to racing lines.