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McLaren on the way up ?   
11 June 2002 Volume 4 - Issue 17   

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David Coulthard may have been surprised to finish second but he was nowhere near as surprised as I was. McLaren may not be up to the pace of Ferrari or Williams but they certainly appeared a lot faster than they have been so far this season.

It was patently obvious that Raikkonen was holding Ralf Schumacher back. Ralf could have gone faster and to be stuck behind Raikkonen for the early part of the race must have been frustrating, but the good news is that a few months ago the McLaren would not have been fast enough to hold any of the leading cars up.

McLaren is getting better.

I tend to agree with Rubens Barrichello that the pace car could have stayed in and they could have removed the stricken Villeneuve BAR under yellow flags. Had they done that Barrichello, who was very light and on a definite two stop strategy, would at least have had an opportunity to try for the 30 second lead that he would have needed to stay ahead of one stopping cars. On the other hand a strategy that relies on everything to work perfectly seems to be a very big gamble. Interesting that Ferrari will mostly gamble with setup and race strategy for Barrichello but rarely for Michael. On the other hand when they do Michael always manages to pull it off.

He must have been on a very low fuel load because he went past Montoya with the greatest of ease at the exit of the corner. At that stage the Michelins on Montoya's car would not be working as well so I am not surprised that Barrichello was faster through the corner but to be able to overtake out of the corner when Montoya, in the lead, would have been on the throttle first, can only be done in a car that is heaps lighter.

I do not think that Montoya was that heavy, which makes the overtaking manoeuvre even more astounding. If Montoya was fuelled for a single stop, it does not make sense to stop that early in the race for more fuel. He could not, and did not, get enough fuel to make it to the end, so why do it?

As it turned out, he did not lose that much ground, joining in fifth place but why do it at all? Maybe he had a problem with one of the rear tyres or litter in the air ducts. I guess we will never know. A moot point, seeing that he retired with a blown motor on lap 56.

I know that I am always beating Montoya and Villeneuve up for breaking their cars. I rest my case - if it can break they will break it.

On the other hand today's engine management systems are supposed to be capable of managing engine stress so that the driver does not have to worry about it. When you run that close to the edge I guess it is difficult.

I have often heard that the goal is to build a car that would break down if the race were a lap or two longer. More robust than that is over engineered and implies that it could have been faster. But for Montoya and Villeneuve they should err on the conservative side and make the car a little more bullet proof.

Ralf Schumacher did not have a good race. First he was trapped behind Raikkonen for what must have seemed to him to take forever. Interesting that he did not try to get past. Or maybe he was trying but not very hard. Ralf struggles to overtake at the best of times and Canada is not the place to practice overtaking moves.

Then his pit stop turned to custard. They sent him out to do another lap while changing to Montoya's fuel rig, which eventually got the fuel into the car.

I do not understand why they cannot get those fuel rigs right. Over the years we have seen the outcome of many races affected by a malfunction of the refuelling equipment. Taking into account the complexity of today's formula one car it is amazing that they cannot get a simple fuel hose nozzle working.

Fisichella finishes in the points again. It seems that Jordan (certainly Fisichella) benefited from the new evolution from Honda and they are now starting to pull away from Sauber. BAR, on the other hand did not seem to benefit as much from the new engine. Villeneuve's did not even last for 10 laps and Panis finished a lap down although he did look considerably faster during the race. Let's hope that the next release of the Honda motor is even better.

Regardless of their misfortunes in Canada it is that time of the year for Sauber. They always do well in the beginning of the season with the previous year's Ferrari engine because it is very reliable and reasonably powerful but as the other teams develop their current engines and cars to the point that they realise the planned performance and reliability gain, Sauber falls behind and find it increasingly difficult to generate the pace required to finish in the points by only fine tuning the chassis and aerodynamics.

Mark Webber did very well to finish 11th in front of Heidfeld and Frentzen. Minardi just do not have the budget to build remotely competitive cars but if he carries on driving like he has been we can expect to see him driving for one of the better teams next year.

Again the Toyota was sort of reliable. McNish spun off but Salo's brakes could not make the distance.

The Toyotas looked OK to me. They seemed reasonably balanced and not obviously slow but uninspiring. Their race strategy was not impressive, pit stops pedestrian and at no time did they seem fast - even on the straights where they were at least fast earlier in the season.

It is a new team with a lot to learn. Maybe I am expecting too much too soon.

Jaguar on the other hand are not new to the game. They are just not good at it.

Heinz Harald has driven another good race - just a pity that the Arrows is currently not capable of getting anywhere near the points.

Renault are not developing at the pace I expected either. I expected them to be very close to McLaren by now. Instead they are still in the Honda/Sauber class. Maybe they are having problems with the very flat V formation of their engine. Whatever it is, it is taking longer than I thought it would.

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