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The heat was on!   
29 July 2002 Volume 4 - Issue 23   

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By the Heretic
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Hockenheim was a disaster for many drivers purely because it was so hot. It was the hottest race of the season to date and almost all of the problems experienced could be tracked down to overheating components.

Michael Schumacher got off the starting line well ahead of brother Ralf and immediately started building a buffer. The Ferrari was patently faster than the Williams and by the fourth lap Michael was ahead by that many seconds. But that only lasted for around five or six laps.

Michael�s lead first stabilised at just below 5 seconds and then eroded as Ralf slowly made up the lost ground. It was a combination of tyre performance degradation for Michael and tyre performance improvement for Ralf. The race was back on and Ralf, who has spent most of the season just circulating, looked as if he had a real chance of winning. It settled down for what looked like it was going to be a serious battle for the lead with Barrichello in the second Ferrari firmly in third and not far behind.

Because the competition between teams is approaching paranoia that anything disclosed to the press will somehow damage their perceived advantage we find it hard to discover the real causes of the various anomalies that affect the outcome of these races so we are relegated to guessing. Here are my guesses:

Michael�s tyres went off after the first five laps of the race. As this happened after such a short distance it could only be blistering, not wear. This could be because he pushed too hard to build a comfortable gap to Ralf, or the extreme track temperature could have caused it.

My guess is that it is most likely that he pushed his tyres too hard before they scrubbed in. He was on average almost a second faster on the first four laps and even if the Ferrari could take the pace the tyres could not. They overheated and blistered.

This also explains why he did not have similar problems with the subsequent sets of tyres. They were the same tyres but seemed to last the distance without letting him down. The team may have played around with tyre pressures, which sometimes can lower tyre temperatures, but it is more likely that he managed his tyres better because he could afford to.

It is also possible that the track became stickier as rubber was laid down during the race which may save tyres because they would slide less, or even that track temperatures came down during the race but I don�t think so. Track surfaces do not change that quickly and track temperature will go up rather than down unless it rains.

I know that I keep on harping on the bad luck that Barrichello has while Michael seems to be blessed, but how far can it go? If anything goes wrong in the Ferrari camp it happens to Barrichello. He was certainly in line for a podium position when he came in for a disastrous pit stop, which was just bad luck. It never happens to Michael.

Ralf drove extremely well but the heat probably got to his car as well. If he did not have to stop for a hasty top up of air pressure he would have easily stayed in second.

Montoya did not seem to enjoy his first set of tyres. They looked awfully loose in the tail end while he was all over Raikkonen but after he managed to get past the Finn his tyre problems seemed to go away and towards the end of the race he was very fast.

I wonder what would have happened if Williams decided to stop only once? It may be faster to stop twice but the risk of pit trouble or being caught behind back markers and not being able to realise the extra speed is emerging as compelling arguments for stopping as little as possible. It appears that Michelin could easily do half race distances (Ralf did 2/3 race distance on his final set of tyres).

I think that the tyre failure experienced by Raikkonen, which killed his chances of another podium, was probably not due to wear. I think that he was just unlucky to get the one tyre that could not make the distance or it could even have been a puncture.

On the other hand it looked as if McLaren were carrying more wing than the other teams. If this is true, it will account for their disappointing performance and it may also have been the cause of Raikkonen�s tyre failure.

More downforce on the rear tyres may have put more load on the sidewalls of the tyres causing internal wear that would not have been apparent from a quick inspection in the pits. Raikkonen�s tyres were obviously not worn or losing performance but could have been deteriorating structurally. Again, it is but a theory. We will never know.

For the rest of the field, Sauber won the day by being more reliable than the rest, leaving Sato and Salo to make up the end of the field.

With only one gearbox failure (Villeneuve) and one brake failure (Irvine) it is unlikely that the high attrition was as a result of track layout. It was just too hot and engines and hydraulics just cooked.

In summary I think that Michelin still cope better on very hot tracks but that Bridgestone have closed the gap to the point that it comes back to overall performance. Ferrari may have had to nurse their tyres to ensure that they do not blister but it did not seem to slow them down by much!.

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