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Tyres could stop Ferrari's run   
26 April 2002 Volume 4 - Issue 10   

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Not the grip but the ability to last.

Circuit de Catalunya (the Spanish Grand prix venue near Barcelona) is seriously hard on tyres. My guess is that Ferrari will have to stop twice, or go out on tyres so hard that they will have to forfeit considerable grip. In the past we have seen Michelin tyres go for unbelievable distances after they have been "scrubbed in" for several laps. If Michelin are still capable of going twice the distance than can be achieved by Bridgestones it is possible that Williams (and even McLaren) could opt for a single stop.

The Michelin tyre used during last year did not seem to go off until it was really well worn, so, if they have retained this feature in this year's tyre, they could stop once without sacrificing much performance. Unless Bridgestone have focused on this ability for 2002 there is no reason to believe that they will be able to also only stop once.

I do not think that Michelin specifically designed a tyre to last that long in 2001. I think that they were trying to develop a tyre that would perform well throughout the stint and landed up with a tyre that only performed well when it was well worn and hot. The longevity came as a bonus, the time it took to get them up to speed, a disadvantage.

So far this season we have not been able to determine if this year's Michelin can still go forever, getting better as it wears. If so, I believe that they are fast enough to win the race by stopping less than Ferrari.

Alas, I do not believe that McLaren have the speed to be able to take advantage of their Michelin tyres, if this is the case. This year's McLaren, heavily fuelled up, will be so slow that Ferrari will be able to make up enough time to get out in front of them after their first stop and once that happens it will all be over.

Judging by the performance of the 2002 Ferrari only Williams may have the speed to finish in front of them if they stop less but even that will not be easy. A light Ferrari may make enough distance in the first third of the race to stay ahead.

If that turns out to be the strategy, keep an eye on the start. Both Williams drivers will know that if they could get ahead at the start they will have a chance of keeping the Ferraris behind them to the first Ferrari pit stop. If they manage to do that they could well win the race.

To have a chance to spoil the Ferrari dash at the beginning of the race at least one of the Williams cars will have to qualify in the front row, preferably in pole.

That means that qualifying will also be worth watching as both teams will regard the front of the grid as essential to their strategy for race day.

Of the rest of the fleet Renault are the only team that will get close to the performance we are expecting from the leaders. I would not be surprised to see them finish ahead of McLaren and they may even be fast enough to trouble Williams. If Michelin give them the tyres to stop only once we may even see a Renault on the podium.

BAR and Sauber will probably find Toyota serious competition for the best of the rest, followed by Jordan, Jaguar and Arrows who could all be beaten by Minardi if they are not careful.

Pole position will start around one third from the beginning of the mile long pit straight, leaving an easy kilometre for the cars to get up to close on 300km/H(186mph) before they have to brake for the second gear, sharp right Elf. Being so far from the first corner has the advantage that the drivers will get a chance to asses their relative positions and avoid touching other cars in the approach to Elf, but on the other hand they will all approach that first corner on cold tyres at very high speeds so if anything goes wrong it will be traumatic.

Elf exits into a gentle left sweep which will see the cars build up to 250km/H(153mph) for the long, fast right-hander, Renault, followed by a short 290km/H(180mph) straight before braking for Repsol, a right-hander negotiated at around 145km/H(90mph) which straightens out for a short burst up to 250km/H(153mph) before a tight 2nd gear lefthander at Seat.

Seat is the beginning of three relatively slow corners where mechanical grip would be very important before a short straight (250km/H or 153mph) that ends in the tight 2nd gear right-handed Campsa, the start of the second longest straight where cars should get up to 300km/H(186mph) before braking for the left-hander La Caixa a complex curve that starts slow in second gear and accelerates up to over 160km/H(100mph) before it changes direction into Banc Sabadell where cars will be down into second gear again.

A short 250km/H(153mph) straight then leads up to New Holland (3rd gear) after which the cars get up to 260km/H(158mph) before the right-hander, negotiated at over 200km/H(124mph) before exiting onto the main straight where top speeds will exceed 310km/H(192mph).

Because turbulence will affect a following car in the very fast corner on the approach to the main straight it is not as easy to overtake on the pit straight as it looks. The following car will find it hard to maintain the same speeds through the corner as the car ahead and will therefore need to catch the leading car in the first part of the straight losing much of the advantage offered by the long straight.

The shorter straight between Campsa and La Caixa offers almost as good an opportunity to overtake because speeds in Campsa will be low enough to be able to rely on mechanical grip. Cars with superior mechanical grip can exit this corner faster than the car in front which goes a long way towards getting to La Caixa first.

With two overtaking opportunities a lot of the battle will be fought on the track and not in the pits. If Ferrari still displays the big speed advantage it had in the last two races it is hard to imagine that tyres can make a significant enough difference for them to be challenged. If Williams managed to close some of the gap and the Michelins are indeed superior on this circuit we may have a race to watch.

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