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18 August 2000 Volume 2 - Issue 25
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There is no doubt in my mind that Michael Schumachers chances of winning the championship this year has just taken a turn for the worst.
Had he been able to hang on to the lead at the start in Hungary I suspect that he would have lost the lead at the first pit stop, and if it was not for some problem that was holding Coulthard up in the early stages of the race, he would have finished 3rd.
Before the first pit stop it was clear that Schumacher did not have the pace to stay with Hakkinen. He was, however, slowly pulling away from Coulthard which made me assume (wrongly) that Coulthard was running a different set up.
After the first pit stop Coulthard did have the pace and was definitely faster than Schumacher and I was surprised that McLaren brought him in at the same time as Schumacher for his second stop. I would have thought that pitting either earlier or later would have given Coulthard the chance to use his superior speed to gain 3 or 4 seconds in a handful of fast laps which would have been enough to put him ahead of the Ferrari after the pit stops. Maybe he did not have the fuel to stay out longer, but McLaren lost a great opportunity to finish first and second.
Now before I get all the e-mails accusing me of having a biased view in favour of McLaren, this is not so. I would be delighted to report that I believe that Ferrari have the pace to race McLaren but unless Ferrari do something dramatic, that is just not true.
Now, I am not suggesting that Ferrari is slow. Minardi is slow. Ferrari is faster than the rest of the teams but unfortunately, McLaren is even faster, especially on the faster tracks.
Both teams seem to acknowledge this. Ferrari openly admit that they do not have the speed to compete at present and McLaren are hoping that they can maintain their superiority to the end of the season.
This week Ferrari are testing a more powerful motor. We do not know how much more power it will produce but the down-side is that it could be unreliable. So Ferrari fans; there is light at the end of the tunnel, the only problem is that it could be a train coming this way.
Now that Mika Hakkinen has managed two very fast starts in the season one must wonder if this was just luck or has he perfected the ultimate start? If the latter is true it means that he may be able to do this every time and even qualifying on pole will not guarantee Schumacher the lead into the first corner.
I was very surprised to see Schumacher leave the door open for Hakkinen at the start. I know he was severely criticised for the recent spate of dangerous defensive starting but this time I feel that he could have safely claimed the inside line without running the risk of an accident. It seemed very timid for Schumacher.
Panis, who will be taking over from Zonta in the second BAR next year, was incredibly fast during this week's testing in Silverstone. If testing is anything to go by, and we all know that most of the time it is not, Villeneuve could be challenged as the top driver in the BAR team.
Jenson Button will also make a big difference at Benetton, where he has signed for two years. He is however still under contract to Williams after the end of the two years so we may see him driving for Williams again (especially if Montoya struggles to adapt to F1). He has certainly done well so far this season and would have done a lot better if it was not BMWs first year.
Jenson will replace Wurz who has had an appalling season so far this year. I believe that Wurz could have been a lot faster if Benetton was prepared to build a car for him that would suit his very tall frame. Driving a car in the foetal position cant be the way to optimise performance.
Overtaking was a joke.
For the last two thirds of the race Coulthard was patently faster than Schumacher but powerless to do anything.
With the exception of Villeneuve reclaiming the positions that he lost with his nose cone there was no overtaking.
As a consequence the race was boring and very processional.
Qualifying, the start and the pits are now the only possibilities for improving position and it is not surprising that this was also the only events of interest during the weekend.
Most teams have, by now, organised their pit efforts to the point that it is becoming very difficult to gain any time in the pits and apart from the blistering starts by Hakkinen most cars get off the line at around the same pace too.
That must leave qualifying as the most important factor to determine the outcome of the race. Soon all teams will have very specialised qualifying cars, which will yet again favour the big budget teams. During the race, because overtaking can almost be ignored, teams can afford to run much slower cars.
The battle between Coulthard and Schumacher during the Hungarian Grand Prix is a good example of what we have come to expect. Coulthard was almost 1.5 seconds faster than Schumacher and did not even try to overtake once. After both pit stops did not give him a chance to get ahead, Coulthard was forced to stay behind Schumacher for the rest of the race.
For most of it Coulthard stayed close to Schumacher, hoping for a rare mistake by Schumacher, or some incident while overtaking back markers. As this did not happen, he could not even contemplate overtaking.
So far the only significant change for next year is that the front wing is to be raised two inches and as I said before, this will be countered in the wind tunnel before the start of next season.
So, we must expect another season of refinements of the current formula. In my mind that means that aerodynamics will play the biggest role in evolution and overtaking will become non-existing unless it rains. As more power means a greater choice in aerodynamic design there will also be a huge emphasis on getting more out of the engines, and whoever wins that will have the best shot at the season.
Qualifying will become a well-honed skill and driving ability during the race will have to play second fiddle to qualifying ability. Pit stops will become even more clockwork-like and a lot of development will go into making the cars easier to manage in the pits.
Race order will be determined at the start, changed only if someone made a mistake on the track or in the pits and spectators having a mid race nap will miss nothing.
Is that really what we want to see?
Agree or disagree ?