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The Ferraris will fly!   
9 May 2002 Volume 4 - Issue 12   

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The start will be exciting. The starting grid is relatively close to the first corner (Castrol Kurve) which is the second slowest on the track. Approaching at full acceleration in a gaggle could lead to some very early retirements and heaps of confusion.

Although cars are getting faster every season I will be very surprised if they get much over 300km/H(186mph) anywhere on the A1-Ring. Compared to the other circuits in the season it is quite fast (average winning speed should be well over 200km/H or 124mph) but this is due to the majority of very fast corners rather than top speeds on the straighter bits.

The pit straight is probably the fastest part of the circuit where cars will get to around 300km/H(186mph) before braking for Castrol Kurve, a ninety degree right hand corner. Braking will be very late as the track climbs quite steeply towards Castrol. After that it is virtually flat out on a slight right hand sweep followed by a gentle left curve before braking down to under 100km/H(62mph) for Remus Kurve - the slowest corner on the track. A short straight then leads to Gosser Kurve (a fast right handed hairpin) that is separated from Niki Lauda by a short squirt on the loud pedal.

Niki Lauda will be negotiated at over 200km/H(124mph) (depending on aerodynamic setup) through a long double apex before accelerating up to near 300km/H(186mph) before braking for the very fast (well over 200km/H or 124mph) Jochen Rindt Kurve which exits into the A1 Kurve that leads onto the Pit straight.

Unlike some of the other circuits A1-Ring flows very well and it is easier to establish a race rhythm. It is not particularly heavy on brakes and because most of the corners are taken at well over 100KMh downforce setup will be moderate. If anything wings and suspension will be taxed and we may see rear wing and suspension failures.

Overtaking opportunities, like on virtually all modern circuits, are troublesome. The first opportunity which is on the approach to Remus Kurve will necessitate driving on the outside, dirty, part of the sweep leading into this very slow corner. Seeing that the overtaking car will also have to brake hard to succeed this will be tricky unless it is possible to get there early enough to move back to the clean side.

In Remus aerodynamics will not be very effective so it will be possible to follow another car closely through the corner, accelerating past it before braking for Gosser. This will only be possible if the overtaking car has a lot more power.

Although the pit straight is long enough for overtaking, A1 Kurve, that leads in to it, will be negotiated at over 200km/H(124mph). At this relatively high cornering speed the following car will be affected by the turbulence of the leading car and lose ground through the corner. It will take a huge power advantage to claw that back in the straight.

This time of the year the weather is also very unpredictable and the probability of rain during the race is high.

Tyre choice is a gamble as it is so dependent on weather conditions. Tyre wear is hardly ever a problem at A1 unless it is wet or intermediate tyres that are overheating on a drying track. Most teams will be opting for relatively soft tyres so they will all be in trouble if it turns out to be a very hot day.

I do not believe that either tyre manufacturer has any significant advantage any more. We have yet to see how Bridgestone fares on very hot and very fast tracks which is where Michelin were so good all through last season but that will not be an issue at A1-Ring. If any, Bridgestone may even have a slight advantage this weekend.

I will be surprised if the two Ferraris are not dominant. If the BMW engine is still the most powerful (and lately there has been very little evidence to support this two year old rumour) I do not think that they will be able to use it to advantage in Austria. The straights are just a little too short and aerodynamic grip is too important.

Williams may have to hope that rain will upset Ferrari's qualifying efforts, while supporting theirs, to give them the opportunity to start in front of their red adversaries, but rain during qualifying could equally go against them. After all Schumacher is by far the best of the wet track masters.

McLaren will only shape if retirements strike the Ferraris and Williams cars. They may even find themselves behind Renault, who should do well in Austria.

Unless several of the leading cars fail to finish the race, I predict that points will be scored by Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Renault only, Ferrari will be well in the lead with Williams clearly ahead of the rest of the field. Renault may be fast enough to be ahead of McLaren and may even be fast enough to challenge one or more of the Williams cars but if that is the case, one must wonder if they will be reliable enough to finish the race.

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