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Can Bridgestone bridge the gap ?  
2 July 2003 Volume 5 - Issue 11   

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Or is the European Grand Prix an indication that Michelin are now well ahead and Ferrari are unable to compensate for the poor performance of the Bridgestone tyres?

Ralf Schumacher looked good from the start although I must say that I tend to agree with him that he did not do anything spectacular at the start. It was a good start and he got away well but the crucial issue was that Michael Schumacher was starting on the dirty part of the circuit, well off the racing line in the rubber dust or marbles, where a good start was just not possible.

This was true for the rest of the field too. Raikkonen did not have a problem and made his pole position stick well into the race until the left bank of his engine gave up. Barrichello, who also started on the clean side of the track, got ahead of Montoya who was also struggling on the dirty part of the circuit.

The McLaren may be last year�s car but it is still competitive. Had Raikkonen not blown his motor I do not think that Ralf would have been able to get past him. David Coulthard, on the other hand, had a pretty ordinary race.

I was rather taken aback by Montoya�s performance. He certainly managed to take second from Michael Schumacher with ease but did not seem to have the pace to take the race to Ralf � possibly team orders but he never looked fast enough. He claims that his decision to only change two tyres in his first pit stop caused the problem. It could be. He has often done that and has rarely benefited. Why he keeps on trying I do not know.

Michael Schumacher�s sudden drop from second place was also reasonably straightforward regardless of what the press was trying to make of it. To me it was clearly a case of Montoya giving him just enough space to get round the corner (and Michael later confirmed this). Michael was in the better position, but to take advantage of the inner line through the corner meant that he had to at least be fast enough to not allow Montoya to drive past him around the outside and Michael�s tyres just could not take the pace. The rear let go and he landed up in the kitty litter. After that he struggled but, taking into account that Raikkonen did not finish, still managed to extend his lead in the drivers� championship.

Barrichello did pretty well to finish in third. The next Bridgestone shod car (with the exception of Michael Schumacher, in the other Ferrari) finished a lap down. Those Bridgestones have to be awful!

Renault again impressed me (or at least the one that finished). Alonso was never really going to threaten the leading cars but for a car rumoured to still be down on power he did not look bad. I am starting to wonder if they really are struggling that much with an underpowered engine � it does not look much like it.

Webber again finished in the points (6th) whereas Pizzonia had to settle for 10th, well outside of the points.

Button did well to finish 7th in the BAR � in fact the BAR did well to finish at all. Villeneuve had another one of those extremely frustrating races where nothing went right.

The starting grid at Magny Cours is right at the beginning of the pit straight, which will allow the cars to get up to full speed through Grande Courbe (turn 1) negotiated at some 270km/H(167mph) before slowing slightly for Estoril (turn 2) entered at 200km/H (124mph) steadily accelerating to exit at close to 300km/H(186mph) by the time the ever easing bend straightens in what is regarded as Golf (turn 4) where the cars will get well over 300km/H(186mph) before braking for Adelaide, a very tight right turn that is almost a hairpin. Again hard on the accelerator up to at least 280km/H(174mph) dropping only 20 or 30 kilometres per hour through the gentle �s� of Nurburgring bleeding off a further 30km/H through turn 8 before winding it back up to 280km/H(174mph) through 9 and 10, slowing to 225km/H(140mph) for 11 and 12. A quick dip on the accelerator before really slowing (80km/H or 50mph) for Ch�teau d�Eau. Then it is flat out through turn 14 before braking to 80km/H(50mph) again for turn 15 that leads into the pit straight just to get hard on the brakes for the weird chicane at the start to the pit lane. Turn left and you are in the pits, right and you are in the straight.

This little wiggle at the start will slow the cars to the extent that overtaking will be nigh impossible on the pit straight. The cars will be so slow out of this �turn 16� that the leading car will gain too much ground as it gets to accelerate first. Under brakes into Adelaide looks as if it could be the only obvious overtaking place but the sweep called turn 14 may also work.

In my opinion Ferrari are still by far the dominating cars. The problem is that Michelin is as dominant and Ferrari use Bridgestone.

If Bridgestone deliver the same tyres as Ferrari had in the European GP (and remember that was only last weekend � one week is not much time to develop better tyres) then I cannot see them winning. The team must be frustrated because they seem to have done everything right except for partnering with the wrong tyre company.

Williams seem to now have a better car than McLaren. It seems to be a lot more drivable which, I suspect, is why Ralf Schumacher is starting to show some speed.

It is always strange to see the often-radical difference between drivers in a team. I know that I have repeatedly said that, as technology progress, drivers play an ever decreasing role in the outcome of the season but it is obvious that Ralf is not very good at compensating for a car that may have the speed but is hard to drive while Montoya seems to revel in monstering a car round any circuit.

Raikkonen could be very fast again but I feel that Williams are getting better with every race while McLaren have some of their attention focused on trying to get their 2003 car on the circuit before the end of the season.

At the same time as Raikkonen is still clearly in the hunt for the lead, Coulthard is dropping back into the clutches of the mid group. Another radical difference between two drivers in the same car.

Renault are still improving and Alonso is obviously going to take advantage of every little bit of progress made but they still have a long way to go before I can describe them as competitive. At this rate they may get there before the end of the season but definitely too late to give Alonso a shot at the drivers� championship.

BAR, Jordan and Sauber are all struggling while Jaguar and Toyota seem to be making ground. Minardi tails like always. I wonder how much faster Villeneuve would be if he was on Michelins?

We are now well into the power circuits where, in past seasons, we saw McLaren take advantage of superior power to snatch victory from the nimbler Ferrari. This year it may be Williams but, if it is, it will have nothing to do with superior power � just superior tyres.

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