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A Cakewalk   
17 April 2002 Volume 4 - Issue 9   

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Sure it was boring. What do you expect?

Take a perfectly good and fast track and add a few random chicanes in just the right spots to ensure that it is absolutely impossible for any driver to get a race rhythm going whilst making sure that any remaining straight bit is too short for any car to get anywhere near its potential maximum speed and you have the makings of a boring race where overtaking happens at the start and in the pits.

And that is exactly where Ralf managed to get past Barrichello and where Barrichello got second place back. In defence of both drivers, barring the failure of the exotic gear they are equipped with, accidents or driver errors, the outcome was totally predictable. Firstly Barrichello was on the dirty side of the track at the start and it was obvious that he (or Montoya behind him) could not get the grip needed to keep up with the Schumachers
who were both on much grippier (if there is such a word) tarmac. On the other hand it was obvious that a single clear lap will see him at least a second faster than Ralf so if he could outlast Ralf and pit later it will all be over unless Barrichello's run is spoilt. And that is how it turned out.

Were Barrichello forced to come in on the same lap as Ralf he could have exited behind Ralf. If he was forced to pit earlier it is unlikely that he would be able to do the early laps of the second stint at the same pace as Ralf could in the final laps of his first stint which could also have left him behind Ralf again.

Fortunately his first pitstop went well and it was only in the second stop that Barrichello had some problem with a rear wheel, but by then he was so far ahead that Ralf could not benefit from it. He got back on the track comfortably in front of Ralf where he stayed to the end.

Apart from the possibility that Barrichello had all the luck in qualifying and may have started the race from pole, it looked all too easy for Michael.

He managed to snatch pole from Barrichello (not by much - Barrichello was fast in Imola) and after that he was not challenged until the end of the race, by which time he had lapped all but Barrichello and the two Williams.

Michael Schumacher has now driven in more races for Ferrari than any other driver. How many records are left? The only one that I can think of is the number of world championship wins where Fangio is still ahead of Michael. But for how long? Oh and there is that record number of Poles by Senna, that one would be a bit hard!

I wonder how much faster the Ferrari really is? Barrichello was heaps faster than Ralf Schumacher when he was building a buffer between them after the first round of stops but was happy to just stay out of Ralf's reach after the second stop. Michael slowed down after he established a lead of over 15 seconds and drove at the pace needed to maintain that. In other words both Ferraris paced themselves on the Williams of Ralf Schumacher.

To me that looked too much like the game Michael was playing in Brazil to be coincidence. I wonder if it is team orders to conserve the cars or to not let on how much they have in reserve?

No, although I believe that there still is some difference in tyre performance and that this is heavily influenced by weather, I do not believe that tyres decided the race on Sunday. Michael would like us or, more importantly, the other teams to think it is the reason, but it does not wash with me.

If that was the case and the circuit favoured Bridgestone that much then how come there is a break of four Michelin shod cars before another Bridgestone tyre is seen - and that is Villeneuve who was more than a full lap behind the leader?

I am sure that the weather helped - but not by anything up to a second a lap. If that is the case Williams are in dire straights. But if it is due to the performance of the Ferrari alone they are in dire straights anyway.

Boring as the race may have been, Imola is perfect for being able to compare the cars without being too concerned with driver input influencing the comparisons.

This is reflected in the qualifying order where it almost looked as if cars were deliberately paired into teams on the starting grid.

The gap between Ferrari and Williams in Imola may not be a reflection of their future relative performance but it is a very good indication of how cars stack up now (and we know that things do not change too dramatically between races). Ferrari are currently the fastest with Williams hopefully not too far behind them but the fact that Button made it past Coulthard who was unable to reel him back makes it more likely that Renault will be mopping up the remaining points after Ferrari and Williams have claimed theirs.

McLaren seem to be going from bad to worse, but are they really? Compared to last year they are at least a second per lap faster on all circuits. Coulthard is as fast as he has always been and Raikkonen is living up to all expectations.

No, I do not think that they are going backwards or even standing still. They are ahead, considerably ahead, of where they finished at the end of last season, but that is nowhere near enough. They have made good progress and that may have been more than enough a few seasons ago. Especially if you take into account their starting position which was arguably the leading team - at worst they were sharing this with Ferrari. Now it is not even
enough to guarantee one car in the points.

Their major competitors, teams who watched every move they made, no longer notice them - unless it is to lap them.

They absolutely underestimated the rate of progress that they had to keep up to. And now they are paying the price.

Ferrari and Williams seem to have the reliability it needs to finish races. Well ,Williams definitely have it - the jury is still out on the new Ferrari but three finishes out of three starts, so far, is not bad.

Renault and Sauber are the only other teams that finished two cars. Sauber's reliability does not surprise me - in fact I was more surprised by their lack of reliability so far this season. Last year that engine was bullet proof in the Ferrari and it should have been even more so in the Sauber.

Renault is enjoying far better reliability at much higher levels of performance than I would have thought possible this early in the season.

Button had the pace to beat Coulthard. As I said before this is one circuit where driver input is rather diminished and car performance counts most. So, that means that Renault is past McLaren and setting their sights on Williams.

BAR did better - it seems that they found a way of winding the elastic band a little tighter.

Jordan has just discovered that every dark cloud can have a dark lining. Between Sato and Fisichella they did 25 laps, well short of half distance for one car.

Both Jaguars retire with driveshaft trouble, which is almost as bad but then Eddie Irvine got pretty close to full race distance. Despite this, they are certainly doing better than Arrows who have a faster car but one that doesn't finish. Unless you consider 1 finish out of 8 attempts as finishing.

Toyota are experiencing the problems that I would associate with their first year. They will go through several of these before it settles down. At least when they are going they are fast - even if it is only in a straight line.

And Webber works so hard to show that even in a Minardi he is fast enough to not come last but attrition gets to all the cars behind him and he still finishes last (but at least moving). Yoong on the other hand must wish that it is possible to buy luck and talent.

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