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Schumacher beats Schumacher at his own game  
13 June 2001 Volume 3 - Issue 18  

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I don’t know how many times we have watched Michael Schumacher gain position by starting on a heavy fuel load so that he could post a few very fast laps after his opponents pitted for tyres and fuel, thereby gaining those precious seconds that ensured that he would be in front after his pit stop. In fact he has done it so many times that I regard him as the master of that particular technique.

On Sunday we saw Ralf Schumacher execute exactly the same strategy with just as much aplomb, and relative ease, to overtake brother Michael and eventually win his second race of the season.

Michael was impressive. He qualified in pole position. He beat the pole position time that he set last year by over 2 seconds. He started well and immediately built a buffer to Ralf in second place. His restart from behind the pace car was nothing short of brilliant and he drove a perfect race.

But it was not good enough.

Ralf only struggled to stay in touch for a lap or two, waiting for his tyres to come up to full operating temperature, before he rapidly closed the gap to his big brother. After that it was obvious that Michael could do nothing to shake him off.

When Michael was finally forced to pit for fuel, Ralf not only had fuel for several fast laps but his tyres appeared to be almost perfect compared to the blistered mess that Michael was driving on. Even so I was amazed at how much faster he really was, building a comfortable buffer in a few laps to ensure that he was way in front after his stop.

One must wonder how much the harder compound Michelin had to do with Ralf’s very obvious advantage. Had Williams opted for softer tyres they would have been able to reduce the huge rear wing they were carrying. That may have increased speed on straights and overtaking Michael could have been possible before the pit stop. On the other hand their tyres may have also blistered.

Either way Williams are obviously fast and I am sure that grip on corners, acceleration out of the corners and braking ability gains due to the larger wing would have been carefully weighed against loss of top speed due to the drag of the rear wing. Williams were definitely fastest in a straight line – imagine how fast they would have been if the carried a smaller wing!

Both brothers drove a perfect race, but Ralf had the superior car on the day.

Can Ferrari (or McLaren) fight back?

I think Montoya is rattled.

Ralf is smooth and fast while Montoya appears erratic and suicidal. This is the third race this season that we saw Montoya retire because of an unforced error, lack of anticipation or pushing too hard. If he does not stick it into the kitty litter he wrecks it.

He is just trying too hard. Which is a pity seeing that he obviously has the skill to do well and Ralf has demonstrated on two occasions already that the car is certainly fast enough.

Juan Pablo should be careful. Frank Williams has a reputation for making quick and harsh decisions when it comes to drivers and embarrassing Sir Frank in a public harangue with Villeneuve is not the way to secure that seat.

I felt for Barrichello. He was doing so well in third place in the early laps before something went wrong on the traction control in his car, spinning him off in a cloud of burnt rubber. By the time he recovered from the spin and joined the field again he was virtually in no position to recover.

And then to be involved in Montoya’s accident just added insult to injury.

Hakkinen did well to finish in third place, doubling his world championship points to eight!

He again started the race as if he was sulking, or at least depressed, and he remained lackadaisical until it became apparent that he might finish on the podium. Then, suddenly, his pace increased dramatically.

But qualifying in 8th place, behind Trulli, Panis and Raikkonen?

Maybe he was not depressed – just embarrassed!

I hope that Mika is still trying. We have seen too many drivers finish off 12 months or a season after they have decided that they will retire from the sport. Mika has done very well and has a great track record – he should retire before he stops trying.

I was very impressed with Raikkonen’s performance. He was consistent and a lot faster than could be expected given the limitations of his car. His 4th place finish was well deserved.

I will be surprised to see him driving for Sauber next year. A move to McLaren or even Williams is a real possibility.

It was the second race this season that Alesi finished in the points. He certainly seemed delighted with the result – and so he should have been. Getting this year’s Prost in the points is some achievement.

Prost has been reliable (Alesi has finished every race so far this season) but they have been much slower than Sauber, who use the same Ferrari engine.

Sure, both Prost cars finished a race and they even scored some points but don’t forget that only 9 cars were running at the end of the race. They would not have made it into the top 10 were there no retirements.

Verstappen was also very good. He drove a steady and fast race until he crashed four laps from the end. Had his brakes lasted he could have done well.

Jaguar are still struggling. They may have done better than before but it is still obvious that they are off the pace.

They claim that the new chassis, which will improve aerodynamics dramatically, will make a big difference but in my opinion the jury is still out. I suspect that they do not have the power to compete with the leading teams.

Jordan and BAR are still struggling. One must assume that the Honda engine is not producing the power promised at the beginning of the season as it is unlikely that both teams are having problems with their chassis.

The season is settling down to a battle between Williams, Ferrari and McLaren for the lead with very little promise of any of the other teams getting it right.

In my opinion there are only two drivers that can challenge Michael Schumacher in this year’s driver’s championship: Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard and I do not rate either’s chances very high.

With 9 races to go Ralf will have to beat Michael by more than 4 points per race and Coulthard will have to score 2 points higher per race. If Michael wins only two more of the remaining nine races at best these go up to 7 and 4 respectively. That is a tall order against a driver like Michael.

Of the two, I believe that Ralf has the better chance, as he very definitely seems to have a car and tyre advantage – reliability is his only problem. Coulthard’s car is at best evenly matched with the Ferrari so it would be very hard for him to claw back the 18 point deficit, especially as Ralf will also win a fair number of the remaining races.

But, this is motor racing and anything can happen.

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