Ferrari be caught ?
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Button may have managed to get pole position which enabled him to lead the race to the first pit stops but the moment he pulled in for his pit stop Michael Schumacher raised the pace by almost two seconds a lap. Even taking into account that Michael has the ability to consistently post qualifying lap times when needed, two seconds is huge. BAR have improved a lot but still not enough to take Ferrari on.
Barrichello was caught up in the pack behind the Renaults for most of the race. It is hard to make up positions as overtaking is impossible but I could not help feeling that he did not even try. Button’s BAR was much faster than both Williams and Renault and Michael was much faster than BAR. Assuming that Barrichello’s car was capable of the same pace it is hard to understand why Ferrari did not change his pit strategy. A few fast laps in clear air could have easily moved him up several places.
But that is Barrichello. Brilliant one day, pedestrian the next. It is almost as if he just gives up and resigns himself to circulating.
Toyota were disappointing. If they are making progress at all it is far too slow to notice.
Circuit de Catalunya - Track Layout (the Spanish Grand prix venue near Barcelona) is hard on tyres.
Pole position will start around one third from the beginning of the mile long pit straight, leaving an easy kilometre for the cars to get up to over 300km/H(186mph) before they have to brake for the second gear, sharp right Elf. Being so far from the first corner has the advantage that the drivers will get a chance to assess their relative positions and avoid touching other cars in the approach to Elf, but on the other hand they will all approach that first corner on cold tyres at very high speed so if anything goes wrong it will be traumatic.
Elf exits into a gentle left sweep which will see the cars build up to 250km/H(153mph) for the long, fast right-hander, Renault, followed by a short 290km/H(180mph) straight before braking for Repsol, a right-hander negotiated at around 145km/H(90mph) which straightens out for a short burst up to 250km/H(153mph) before a tight 2nd gear lefthander at Seat.
Seat is the beginning of three relatively slow corners where mechanical grip will be very important before a short straight (250km/H or 153mph) that ends in the tight 2nd gear right-handed Campsa, the start of the second longest straight where cars should get up to over 300km/H(186mph) before braking for the left-hander La Caixa a complex curve that starts slow in second gear and accelerates up to over 160km/H(100mph) before it changes direction into Banc Sabadell where cars will be down into second gear again.
A short 250km/H(153mph) straight then leads up to New Holland (3rd gear) after which the cars get up to 260km/H(158mph) before the right-hander, negotiated at over 200km/H(124mph) before exiting onto the main straight where top speeds will exceed 310km/H(192mph).
Because turbulence will affect a following car in the very fast corner on the approach to the main straight it is not as easy to overtake on the pit straight as it looks. The following car will find it hard to maintain the same speeds through the corner as the car ahead and will therefore need to catch up before attempting to overtake, losing much of the advantage offered by the long straight.
The shorter straight between Campsa and La Caixa offers almost as good an opportunity to overtake because speeds in Campsa will be low enough to be able to rely on mechanical grip. Cars with superior mechanical grip can exit this corner faster than the car in front, which goes a long way towards getting to La Caixa first.
We may see some overtaking on the track but do not hold your breath. Pit and qualifying strategy, like always, will probably determine the outcome of the race.
Ferrari is so dominant in Michael’s hands that I cannot see him being challenged this year. He already has a huge lead in the championship so even if another team does get the pace to compete with Ferrari it will be almost impossible to claw back in the remaining races of the season. If Michael does not finish in the points for a few races it may be possible but how likely is that to happen?
Barrichello on the other hand is not assured of keeping his second place in the championship. He is only one point ahead of Button who has done extraordinarily well so far this season and seems to be getting faster all the time.
Barrichello is not having a good season but then he has never had a good season.
Theoretically Ferrari should take out the first two podium positions but only if Barrichello has one of his better days.
I am not sure that Renault has the package to do well in Spain. They are still down on power and Spain requires moderate to high downforce, which because of the increased drag means that power is important. We may need to wait until the next level of improvements before they have a good chance at podium positions.
They are reliable and Alonso should finish quite high in the points. Trulli will probably not do as well.
BAR are more likely to have a fast car in Spain. The Honda engine is powerful and should be able to handle the higher drag but reliability is an issue. So far this season Sato failed to finish two races both due to engine failure.
Button is overdue for an engine blow. It could happen in Spain.
If his engine does not fail he may do very well again.
Sato could also do well. He may not be as fast as Button but is certainly fast enough to take advantage of the new BAR.
Williams seem to be getting better and faster but are still well off the pace of the Ferrari. I would not be surprised to see Montoya on the podium but will be surprised if he does better than third.
Ralf could be fast but is more likely to be pedestrian again.
McLaren are now out of the running. They seem to be going from better to worse.
Kimi Raikkonen will do his best again and may finish in the points if his car lasts and Coulthard will circulate to take advantage of attrition to make up positions again.
Coulthard seems to be losing a lot of nose cones this year. Could it mean that McLaren have a braking problem or is it just Coulthard?
Jaguar could be the wild card in Spain. They certainly have a faster car this year but to date their performance has been inconsistent.
Webber could do well if the car works but even then it will only be in the lower end of the points. Klein still has a lot to learn so not much can be expected from him.
On paper Sauber should do well. They have a great engine and certainly have the wind tunnel to come up with a good aero package but they are just not getting it together.
Fisichella may have been a good driver in his day but it has been such a long time since we saw him in a competitive car that it is hard to judge if he still has it.
Massa is young and relatively inexperienced but equally difficult to assess as the car seems woeful.
Toyota seem to have a better overall package but are still well of the pace. I am sure that they will improve over the season but I think it will be a long time before it is enough to get our attention.
I now tend to group Jordan and Minardi together. They take up all the bottom positions and Minardi seems a little more reliable.
This year I am amazed at the big differences between teammates in many teams. Compared to Schumacher, Barrichello is pathetic. It is hard to believe that they are driving the same car. Montoya is heaps better than Ralf Schumacher and Raikkonen is vastly faster than Coulthard. Alonso makes Trulli look like an amateur and Button is a lot faster than Sato.
I wonder if there is a reason for this. Differences in performance between teammates is not new but this year we do not see any of the leading teams with evenly matched drivers. That is new.
Agree or disagree ?