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Will Barrichello be allowed a F2002 ?   
11 April 2002 Volume 4 - Issue 8   

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Although I am sure that Ferrari will be able to produce four cars by Friday they may not all be fully tested or debugged. There is no way that Michael Schumacher will go back to last year's car after his success in the new car in Brazil so if there is a shortage of new cars Barrichello may find himself piloting last year's car again. San Marino is faster than Brazil and not nearly as bumpy. If the 2001 Ferrari was showing its age in Brazil it will fare even worse against Williams at San Marino.

The pit straight is relatively short, limiting speeds to just below 300Km/H(186mph) before braking for Tamburello, a sweeping s-curve taken at around 130Km/H(90mph) before building up to 300Km/H(186mph) again around a long sweep before braking for Villeneuve, a fast 200Km/H(124mph) right handed kink.

A short straight gets up to Tosa, a 110Km/H(68mph) left hand corner that is almost a hairpin, from which a flat out right handed kink separates the trip to Piratella a fast left hand corner (200Km/H or 124mph). A stretched out left-right weave builds speeds up to around 280Km/H(174mph) before braking for Acque Minerali (right 90 degree 145Km/H or 90mph) after which the track weaves left then right to Variante Alta taken slightly faster than Acque Minerali.

A short straight ends in a flat out right hand kink so the cars should get up to around 300Km/H(186mph) again before braking for Rivazza a full, fast hairpin that slows cars to 125Km/H(80mph) on the apex, accelerating through the corner to exit at over 150Km/H(93mph), then through Variante Bassa (a right hand sweep so gentle that I am surprised it was named at all) up to 300Km/H(186mph) before braking down to 100Km/H(62mph) for Tranguardo the chicane at the entrance to the pit straight.

Although average lap speed is marginally faster than Brazil, compared to the rest of the season San Marino is a medium to slow track. The chicanes, added some time ago now in the interest of safety, has fundamentally changed this once flowing circuit to a stop-start track where it is very hard for drivers to establish a rhythm. Cars are either braking hard or accelerating hard with very little in between. It is almost as if they just get going and then they are on the brakes again.

Downforce will be very high to get maximum traction for the drags out of the corners and because there are no sections where speeds will exceed 300Km/H(186mph) the penalty associated with high downforce configurations (i.e. aerodynamic drag) can almost be ignored unless the car is very low in power.

The track is not particularly hard on tyre wear but it is murder on brakes and will certainly challenge the robustness of traction control systems. Most cars will go out on softer compounds and pit strategy will revolve around fuel weight factors rather than tyre wear. One-stopping is certainly possible from the tyre wear perspective but the loss of acceleration and nimbleness through the corners due to the heavier fuel load may convince teams to stop twice.

Overtaking is always difficult at San Marino. The only obvious opportunity is the pit straight but it is a little short. Getting on the inside in Tosa by starting on the outside in Villeneuve is also possible but it is risky and difficult to exit Villeneuve fast enough to stay with an opponent that has the optimum line on the clean part of the circuit. Rivazza may also work on the same basis - overtaking on the wrong, long left side of the kink to get the inside through Rivazza.

With little opportunity for overtaking unless it is in the pitstops, which is always a crapshoot, qualifying and starting position will be more important than ever. Launch control seems to vary so much from team to team that I suspect that several positions will change before the first corner.

The new Ferrari does not seem to suffer from the same problem of bogging down at the start that plagued Ferrari for most of last season. Michael Schumacher may find that he no longer needs his, by now famous, chop technique any more.

The little that we have seen of the new Ferrari indicates that it has far better launch control that the 2001 car. Seeing that launch control and traction control are closely related it follows that some of the extra speed that Michael Schumacher displayed in Brazil is due to improved traction out of the corners too. If this is true Ferrari will definitely be very strong in San Marino.

Providing that the new Ferrari is reliable (sure I know that the one car in the one race so far has a perfect record but one swallow does not make a summer) we could see Ferrari take both top places on the podium. They certainly need to. Michael Schumacher may be eight points ahead of brother Ralf but Williams are leading the constructor's championship by 6 points.

Michael could easily win the race but Barrichello needs a dominant car to get into second place. He is not as fast as Schumacher, has an appalling track record compared to Schumacher, is great at making excuses for not doing well and is certain that he is not the No2 driver. Wait a minute! It looks like a duck. It walks like a duck. It quacks like a duck. And it is not a duck? (Must admit though that he retired from the last 2 races through no fault of his own, poor guy!)

Providing that the new Ferrari is reliable and they are not involved in an accident, to me it is obvious that if Barrichello's 2002 Ferrari is fast enough to get him on the podium, Michael will win the race.

6 points ahead of Ferrari makes Williams the top team at present. They are certainly also the only team that can stop Ferrari and Schumacher's run for the championship this year. The new Williams seems particularly nimble and the BMW engine is still rumoured to be the most powerful.

Ralf Schumacher is fast but conservative. He looks after his car, is certainly able to match Michael's performance in the right car but seems to lack the aggression to win unless he has a clear advantage. I do not think that he will get that clear advantage from his car this year so he better start thinking about making the opportunities rather than wait for them.

Montoya on the other hand tries to make opportunities where they do not exist. He is too aggressive! To the extent that he is becoming a danger to himself and other drivers (or is it only Michael). A clear case of as soon as the car is in gear the mind is in neutral.

I am still of the opinion that Montoya will settle down. If he does he is clearly fast enough to be a threat to Ferrari.

Last year Williams were best at the faster tracks but I suspect that this is not the case this season. The car seems much better balanced and could be good on all circuits. They certainly have a very good chance in San Marino.

If Williams and Ferrari do not suffer any retirements it is quite possible that McLaren may not even finish in the points. Coulthard is very experienced and Raikkonen is blisteringly fast and sensible but no amount of experience or speed can make up for a car that is definitely off the pace.

The superb traction control that Renault has displayed so far this season puts them in a very good position to take on McLaren. If they continue to improve the car at the rate they have so far this season they will be my prime candidates for the last two positions in the points.

Trulli seems to be fast and steady and Jenson managed to get back the flair that disappeared last season - so things are looking up in the Renault camp.

Jaguar amazed me by scoring enough points to be in fifth place in the constructor's championship while Arrows, who I thought would make much better use of the same Cosworth engine, are nothing short of pathetic. Add to this the fact that Jaguar were contemplating going back to last year's car because they were so disappointed in their 2002 car and my view that Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Enrique Bernoldi are both better drivers than Pedro de la Rosa and Eddie Irvine, the Arrows car is really bad (or at least really unreliable!).

Toyota will keep on catching up to the pace of McLaren. I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I am with their effort in their very first year with a car that is totally designed and built by Toyota.

As I said before I expect Sauber to finish behind McLaren and Renault because you're already seeing the age of the 2001 Ferrari engine.

That leaves Minardi, BAR and Jordan who I group in the same "not going anywhere fast" class. Minardi is under funded but BAR and Jordan were let down by Honda who were big on promising the future and small on realising it. Unless Honda miraculously produce a competitive motor these two teams are doomed to mediocrity.

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