The decision by Renault to opt for limiting their testing to 10 days during
the season in exchange for 2 hours of testing on the Friday of each Grand Prix
weekend received mixed reactions at the start of the season. 2 races into the
season and it appears that they have made the right choice. The extra 2 hours
of testing on Friday is allowing Renault to gain valuable information from the
track that other top teams can't. This appears to have contributed to the
team's double finish in the points in the first 2 races of the season. (and
the only team that have done that). As the season moves forward though,
Renault may start to suffer from the lack of testing between races but whether
that will affect the team significantly remains to be seen. In the meantime
though, the lap times that the Renault drivers are setting with an
underpowered car are simply amazing!.
In Malaysia we saw an all Renault front row, sure they both had a lighter fuel
load than the McLarens and Ferraris but they were still on a 2 stop strategy
and despite Alonso having fever and having to shift manually and Trulli being
bumped off the track by Michael Schumacher, they finished 3rd and 5th.
Renault expect a major update to their engine in time for Monaco, if they can
bring their horsepower up close to the other 3 top teams they could start from
the front row with heavy fuel loads!
McLaren were again impressive in Malaysia while Ferrari and Williams weren't.
There has been a lot of talk about the superiority of the Michelin tyres in
the sizzling heat of Sepang and that might be a decisive factor. In Brazil
temperatures won't be as high so we'll see if the Bridgestones will prove
Brazil is a power track and so the Williams will be strong despite their
chassis problems and will be closer to McLaren and Ferrari. Renault on the
other hand will be disadvantaged.
All 6 teams that opted for full testing were testing at Barcelona with
Ferrari testing at Fiorano as well. Williams and McLaren exchanged fastest
times during the 4 days test at Barcelona while Michael Schumacher set a new
lap record at Fiorano with the F2003-GA.. As usual, it is very hard to read
much into the lap times from testing as each team runs their own programme.
McLaren: I doubt that they expected to be leading both
Championships at this stage of the season given that they are still racing
with last year's car. They are certainly taking it to Ferrari and had
Coulthard not retired with an electrical problem, they would have had an even
bigger gap!. They will do well in Brazil and could surprise a few and win
again. Reliability 8/10 - Speed 9.0/10
Drivers: Kimi Raikkonen is leading the championship for the first
time in his career. He deserves it and if his car doesn't fail him as it has
so many times last season, he will be a contender for the championship this
year. A 3rd podium in a row is likely.
David Coulthard didn't have a chance to prove the critics wrong
in Malaysia retiring after a few laps with an electrical problem. We couldn't
tell how much fuel he had either. On thing for sure though, if his car lasts,
he is likely to finish in the points, possibly on the podium.
Ferrari: Being second in the championship isn't too bad, for
Ferrari however it must be disappointing. Rubens Barrichello couldn't
challenge Kimi Raikkonen due to the inferior Bridgestone tyres at Sepang
and Michael Schumacher committed his second mistake in as many races, this
time though he not only affected his race but also Trulli's and all those
drivers behind who sustained damage as a result. However, Ferrari are
still strong and the Interlagos track won't be as hot as Sepang so they
should bounce back.
Reliability 9.5/10 - Speed 9.0/10
Rubens Barrichello drove a good race in Malaysia to score his
first podium of the season. However being in a Ferrari he should have been
closer to Raikkonen. Barrichello hasn't done well on his home track in the
past, could this year be any different ? A podium finish is possible.
Michael Schumacher has had one of his worst starts to a Formula
1 season by his standards. The pressure is on him and he needs to avoid making
any more mistakes. He managed to win here last year after keeping his brother
Ralf behind him. A win is possible.
Renault: Tied with Ferrari with 16 points must be a very good
result for them. In Brazil though they will be negatively affected by
their lack of power. In theory they'll be behind the other top 3 teams but
any of those teams are likely to suffer from a problem or two and Renault
will be there to grab more points.
Reliability 8.5/10 - Speed 8.5/10
Drivers: Fernando Alonso had an impressive weekend in Malaysia
despite his fever. He is set to become one of the top drivers in Formula 1.
Another podium finish will be hard given the power of the Renault but a points
finish is likely.
Jarno Trulli managed to finish 5th despite being forced to spin
at the start of the race by Michael Schumacher. Towards the end of the race he
surprisingly managed to keep Michael behind him and that is likely due to
Michael's poor performing tyres. As with Alonso, a points finish is likely.
Williams: Yet again their appears to be a big difference
between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher with Montoya qualifying in
8th and Schumacher in 17th. However given that Montoya refuelled early in
the race in Malaysia as his rear wing was being changed, we cannot tell
for certain that they had similar fuel loads. In the race, Ralf did finish
in 4th thanks to the problems of several drivers in front of him while
Montoya finished 12th and 3 laps down.
The Williams car whilst powered by one of the most powerful engines seems
to have chassis problems and the team has to cure those fast before the
new Ferrari and McLaren cars are used. In Brazil though, the BMW power
will be a big help. Reliability
9/10 - Speed 8.5/10
Juan Pablo Montoya lost his rear wing as an indirect result of the
Schumacher-Trulli incident. That made his race just another testing
session. Expect him to bounce back in Brazil, a podium finish is possible.
Ralf Schumacher needs to get used to the new qualifying rules as
well as to driving a less than perfect car. If he continues his mediocre
performance, his seat could be threatened despite having a contract that runs
out in 2004. A points finish is likely.
Sauber: Despite being early in the season, the Sauber team have not
able to be close to the top 4 teams even though they are running last
year's Ferrari engines which are powerful. It seems that their chassis
isn't as good as their previous ones or that the other teams have made
bigger steps forward. In Malaysia we saw Raikkonen take Heidfeld who was
on a lighter fuel load. That isn't a good sign for the team. In Brazil
they may score points if the cars ahead run into problems. Reliability 8.5/10 - Speed 8.0/10
Drivers: Heinz Harald Frentzen missed out on a points finish in
Malaysia just behind his team-mate. It is interesting how close the Sauber
team-mates have been over the years. In Brazil the same will apply and
Frentzen will only finish in the points if one of the cars in front run into
Nick Heidfeld scored his first point of the season. Like his
team-mate, he needs to fortune to abandon those in front to score points.
BAR: They appear to fine as long as they run de-tuned Honda
engines. Villeneuve though could make the start due to an electrical
problem. Eventually Honda will have an engine that is both powerful and
reliable. How long ? Who knows!
Reliability 7.5/10 - Speed 8.0/10
Drivers: Jenson Button drove a good race until the final lap
where he definitely blew it. No matter how badly worn his tyres were he should
have kept his 5th place, instead he dropped 2 places. He could score some
points in Brazil if cars in front hit trouble.
Jacques Villeneuve didn't qualify ahead of his team-mate but
indicated that he was on a good strategy. He didn't make the start and so we
didn't see how much more fuel he had on board. As with Button, he could score
points in Brazil if ....
Jordan: Early on in the season and we are starting to see that
the Cosworth powered cars are occupying the back of the grid. Fisichella
made the mistake of missing his grid slot (yet again!) and paid for it.
Firman drove a good race and finished in 10th despite all the problems
with the drivers in front. It seems that Jordan have to be very lucky to
score a point.
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 7.5/10
Drivers: Ralph Firman drove a good race in Malaysia aided by his
knowledge of the track. He will struggle in Brazil.
Giancarlo Fisichella will need to make up for his formation lap
blunder. He could finish the race but scoring points will be hard.
Minardi: Having secured Cosworth power (albeit 2 years old), they
were expected to be closer to the rest. So far it doesn't look like it.
Like Jordan, they have to be very lucky to score points.
Reliability 7.5/10 - Speed 7.0/10
Drivers: Jos Verstappen managed to get the car home 4 laps down
after being involved in the first lap drama. We all remember what Verstappen
did to Montoya 2 years ago in Brazil. We hope that won't happen!.
Justin Wilson had to retire due to severe shoulder pain. In the
early part of the race he was impressive but we have to see that for a whole
race. Points will be very difficult though!.
Jaguar: They had 2 retirements yet again and they weren't that
fast either. Don't expect miracles in Brazil.
Reliability 6.5/10 -
Drivers: Mark Webber had a good race until he had to park it in
the garage due to loss of oil. Webber has the potential to score points
but he needs the car to do that.
Antonio Pizzonia was also affected by the first lap incident
between Schumacher and Trulli. He survived it only to retire later in the race
with brake problems. In Brazil he'll be racing in front of his home crowd and
it remains to be seen how he handles the pressure.
Toyota: We have yet to determine the true pace of the Toyota
cars over a race distance. In Malaysia Panis was matching the Ferrari of
Barrichello but was on a light fuel load. Once he pitted he retired on his
outlap!. They have a powerful engine and that should be an advantage in
Reliability 7.0/10 -
Drivers: Cristiano da Matta had to start from the pitlane in the
spare car in Malaysia and had a fuel pickup problem which prevented him from
running on a light load, seems strange to have such a problem for a team with
one of the biggest budgets in the sport. He managed to finish 11th and that
wasn't too bad. Brazil will be his home race and the fans expect a lot from
the ex-CART champ.
Olivier Panis also suffered from a fuel pressure problem and that
was after he made his pit stop and refuelled. Strange. He showed some good
signs and if the team sort the car out he'll be able to pick up points soon.
Pole and see how your predictions stack up against the others.
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