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& Driver season review
23 November 2000 Volume 2 - Issue 36
Early in the year, before the silly season got to its silliest, I predicted that horsepower and the consequent exploitation of downforce will determine the outcome of the season (see: 2000 the year of the horse). As the season unfolded I was surprised at how prescient my speculations were. Mechanical grip was relegated to Monaco and Hungary, the rest of the season was dominated by aerodynamics.
Almost from the first race it was obvious that Ferrari and McLaren were the only two teams that had both the power and aerodynamic grip necessary to win the season. None of the other teams seemed ready and as the season unfolded, it was a case of catch-up for everyone. McLaren spent the first part of the season catching up to Ferrari in the reliability stakes, Ferrari chased McLarens speed and the rest of the field were trying to catch up to where they should have been at the start of the season.
Although I am not a Ferrari or Michael Schumacher supporter (I honestly cannot allow myself to develop a bias regardless of the many accusations to the contrary) I am glad that Michael won. Not that he deserved it he made his fair share of mistakes this year, as did Hakkinen it was good for the sport to see a Ferrari win in a strong finish. There are a lot of Ferrari supporters that have been waiting for a long time.
This team did what it needed to win this year. By that I do not just mean the pit team or the management team. Everyone in Ferrari can be proud of a win against the odds.
They did not win because they had the best driver or the fastest driver, they did not win because they had the best car, they did not win at the start of races or in the pits. They won everywhere!
Michael has the ability to do what it takes, when it is needed. The team was prepared to change strategy halfway through a race and make it work. When a decision was made by a driver to stay on dry tyres in the rain, or vice versa, he had total backing from the team. They did what it took to win.
Ferrari started the season strong. From the first race it was obvious that they were still marginally slower than McLaren but their reliability gave them an early boost in points and built the buffer they needed later in the year.
They had their problems. Starts were inconsistent, tyre wear was high and their cars never looked as stable on the racetrack as the McLarens.
In mid season they lost points because of bad luck and driver errors (not particularly Michaels). In Spain a low pressure tyre slows Michael in the last stages of the race, in Monaco he retires with a failed suspension, in Austria Michael is touched by Zonta on the first corner spinning him off the circuit and in the German GP we had that controversial move by Coulthard at the start pushing Michael into the way of a flying Fisichella.
Despite all of the mishaps, Ferrari succeeded, in my opinion, because they maintained the flexibility to change when required and they had one of the worlds best strategists to make those calls.
Regardless of whether you or I believe that Michael is the best driver on the circuit today it is indisputable that he is the most successful of the current drivers (and there are not many with a track record better than his). If measured in accomplishment he must be the best, in popularity there are as many that hate him as love him.
Michaels claim to fame is not just his skill as a driver but his enormous flexibility and adaptability. He is great on a wet road with dry tires and he is fast when caught out on a dry track with wet weather tyres. When everything is working well he is not particularly faster than any of the other top drivers but as soon as something is not optimum he is streets ahead of them. In a world where everything that can go wrong always does he is brilliant.
Michael drove an inspired season in a car that was not as stable or fast as the McLaren. Strategy, adaptability and an amazing ability to take advantage of the unsuspected got him his third season title.
Rubens is a very accomplished driver that underestimated how long it would take to get used to a new car and team.
Even when he won the German GP he did not appear to be at ease with his car.
Rubens, I suspect, is a driver that needs to drive a car that is predictable and stable. He struggled with the Ferrari compromise between drivability and speed for the whole season.
On the other hand he is doing very well compared to the early years of Irvine and may well improve. Fourth in the championship, not that far behind Coulthard, is pretty good for his first year with the team.
They had the car, the speed and the drivers to succeed. And they came pretty close.
But they lacked the versatility of the Ferrari team when conditions changed.
As soon as it rained, even on a track where it was expected, they would screw up by either leaving one or both of their drivers out too long or bringing them in too soon. Maybe they should just have watched the Ferrari team and followed their lead.
Their early reliability problems also did not help. But, that is motor racing.
The car was brilliant and when they were fast they were very fast, but when they got it wrong they did not seem to be able to recover fast enough to win. Their starting ability alone gave them an edge in almost every race (although it always seemed to be Hakkinen that managed to take advantage of the McLarens unbelievable starting ability).
They also seemed to take an extraordinary long time to set up for each race. I cant remember how many races this season they started off way behind the pace and only closed the gap by the time they had to qualify.
They certainly do not need to work harder on the package but the delivery needs attention. They had the car to win, the few races they lost due to reliability could be overcome if they were better able to adapt to changes during the race. They were out-thought not out-gunned.
Hakkinen can drive a perfect race in a perfect car. Under those circumstances he cannot be caught.
He has difficulty driving when his car has not been optimised for conditions. For example: put wet weather tyres on when his car has been set up aerodynamically for a dry race, and he is pedestrian in the wet. Set his car up for a wet race and he is quite good in the rain. Add to this McLarens propensity to get things wrong when things do not go according to plan and he was pushing it up hill.
In the early part of the season Hakkinen seemed to have difficulty in setting up for races. It was almost as if he was finding it hard to get used to this seasons McLaren. When he did get it right he was very fast.
David confuses me. He can be brilliant in one race and very ordinary in the next.
For a while he looked as if he could be taking up the charge for McLaren. He was consistently faster than Hakkinen and looked very comfortable on the track. Then, when Hakkinen started getting it right, he seemed to drop off the pace and amble around in third place without any sign of his earlier speed.
They started the season not expecting to do well at all (or at least that is what they told us).
I also did not expect them to perform well at all, seeing that the BMW engine was fresh off the drawing board and had to do most of its testing real time.
I was absolutely amazed to see Ralf Schumacher finish third in Australia, the first race of the season. Both drivers finished in the points in Interlagos but in Imola they both retired, showing that they still have the expected teething problems.
Williams were also aided by the poor performance of the other teams like Jordan, Benetton and Sauber who never got their act together.
The BMW motor obviously produces the power and the Williams chassis, like always, performed well too. I wonder how they would have gone if BMW did get a chance to really test the motor before the season started?
A very fast driver who is settling down as maturity sets in. He can be very fast but I am not convinced that he is in the same class as his older brother.
He did extremely well in the early part of the season and coming 5th in the championship is no mean feat if you count how many times his car let him down this season.
He was consistently good but never brilliant.
He was a little on the wild side at the start of the season almost as if his car was getting away from him, but halfway through the season Jenson seemed to settle down and display the qualities that Frank Williams saw when he chose him from a field of promising rookies.
He seemed to mature in months without losing flair and by the end of the season he certainly looked like the faster of the two Williams drivers.
He probably still has a lot to learn, but at the rate he is learning we can expect him to be on the podium a lot if his car has a chance of doing it. I hope Benetton get their act together early in the new season Button bears watching.
Any business that is sold mid-season never does well. Benetton was pretty close to pathetic in the last half of the season.
Fisichella did very well in the early part of the season (one second place and two third places) but it became apparent halfway through the season that Benetton are not developing this years car. I am sure that they realised that it was not going to be competitive, regardless of what was done in the short term, and that it would be better to work on next seasons car.
Nevertheless it was disappointing after three podium positions to see them falling back so fast.
In my opinion Fisichella is one of the best on the circuit today. His driving style often reminds me of Prost when he was winning championships.
Giancarlo struggled through the season with a car that was almost competitive at the start of the season but received very little attention thereafter. It is therefore not surprising that most of his championship points for the year were earned in the first half of the season.
A pedestrian performance with occasional flashes of brilliance. He was consistently slower than Fisichella for almost all of the season.
He finished in 5th place in Italy, scoring his only points of the season. He qualified once in the top 6 (Malaysia 5th) while Fisichella, in the same car qualified in the top 6 twice during the season and finished on the podium three times.
It will be interesting to see how well he fares as a test driver for McLaren.
They started the year pretty much like they finished last season: poorly. The car was not reliable. Villeneuve retired in four of the first six races.
The car was however much faster than last year and when Villeneuve managed to finish it was mostly in the points.
Halfway through the year reliability improved greatly. Honda were working hard on not just the engine and it started paying dividends.
They never did get the speed to compete in the front but were certainly fast enough to make Williams and the like sit up and take notice. They seem to be getting there faster than the other teams and if the progress continues during the off-season they may well be competitive from the start of the 2001 season.
Flamboyant, outspoken and aggressive.
He is one of the best drivers on the circuit today but his record with BAR has been very disappointing. Since joining them he has discovered that the BAR breaks easily and Villeneuves driving style is not very gentle. If it can break, he will break it.
As the season unfolded and the car became more reliable, Villeneuve consistently finished in the top 6 point scoring positions. He may be aggressive and controversial but he can drive!
Zonta on the other hand only retired twice because of engine failure. He is not as hard on the car, but then he is nowhere near as fast as Villeneuve.
His car may only have let him down twice in the season but he let his car down by spinning off 4 times and crashing into a barrier in Monaco, and that does not count the many other times he spun without retiring.
Zonta did not do well I am not surprised that he did not keep his seat for next year.
After the promise that they showed by the end of last year, Jordan had an appalling season. They had 12 retirements due to equipment failures (mostly gearbox). Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished only 6 races.
It was almost as if there was no quality control and they could not learn from their mistakes. The cars just kept on braking.
When they did not break they were reasonably fast (although Trulli did not capitalise on it like Frentzen did) but still not on the pace of the front-runners.
I was surprised at their consistent struggle with reliability. Jordan may have had some reliability problems in prior seasons but they always seemed to overcome those well before the end of the season. This time reliability was a problem right to the end.
A very accomplished driver that finished in the points in every race, but the ones that he did not retire from. He made it on to the podium twice during the year and had his car not failed that often, he could have done much better.
Not as fast as Frentzen.
He has only driven in 63 F1 races so there is still a chance that he may improve.
Consistently fastest in practice sessions and often fastest in a straight line during races, Arrows never managed to capitalise on their potential speed.
I suspect that their problem was chassis or even aerodynamic grip as they never seemed to benefit from their speed during the season.
Reliability was also an issue, although they retired as many times by crashing as they did due to failure possibly due to handling.
Jos seemed to get some speed out of the Arrows every once in a while. It was not consistent enough to earn him or the team any significant points.
He seems to be very fast during practise but unable to convert this to a consistently strong performance on race day.
It is almost as if the Arrows is fast in clear air only a sign that they did not get the aerodynamics right.
Pedro de la Rosa:
Although Pedro has impressed me as a fast rookie in the past he did not do as well as Verstappen this year.
A very disappointing performance. Although the cars were reliable they consistently qualified poorly and were never competitive.
I have still not made up my mind about his ability and while he is driving a car that is not capable of competing it will continue to be hard to assess his skill as a driver.
A mediocre performance in a mediocre car makes it hard to judge if it is only the car or the driver too.
An absolutely pathetic performance by a team that seemed to have money to burn. They never looked fast and they never were. Reliability was not a problem but performance definitely was.
What happened to the performance they had last year?
By far the best of the two Jaguar drivers. He started the season by spinning out of the first two races but after that seemed to come to terms with his car and finished in all but three of the rest.
It is significant that his car did not break down once (one of the three retirements was in Austria where he retired with an abdominal pain and the other two race accidents). Jaguar were tops in reliability, so why could they not gain speed?
I dont think that Johnny wanted to race this season. He certainly did not look as if he was trying.
Why do they bother?
With their budget they are unable to compete and are barely hanging on to any credibility.
I cant comment on either driver as their cars were so slow that there is nothing to compare them with.
An absolutely disgusting performance. The cars were totally unreliable, seemed impossible to drive and on the rare occasion where a Prost did not break it was pretty slow.
In the whole season they finished 10 races between the two drivers. Pit stops seemed disorganised, qualifying was appalling and they suffered from every known retirement in the book in one season.
It was not that the car displayed a few weak aspects and the rest was OK there was no OK.
Everything failed from engines to hydraulics, suspension to throttle, oil pressure to electrics.
They just got nothing right.
Jean has started in 183 F1 races, earned 236 points and now that his career is drawing to a close he is seen in a Prost. I would be embarrassed.
Rumour has it that he can drive. Pity we have hardly seen him do it.
The season was interesting if not always exciting. The change in style and strategy to using pit stops and the start almost exclusively to gain track position has also changed our understanding and appreciation of the game. Recovery from small mistakes by overtaking may still be possible but it is so unlikely on most F1 circuits that it hardly features in any of the teams plans any more. Getting it right and taking advantage of any unforeseen event is crucial and teams and drivers now have to regard every lap as if it is a race in itself. Flexibility and adaptability has risen in importance and just being the fastest is not good enough.
Agree or disagree ?