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Now it is up to Bridgestone
15 March 2004 Volume 6 - Issue 2

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Ferrari were surprisingly dominant in Melbourne and Michael, like always, found it easy to also put distance between him and Barrichello in second place.
I was amazed at how fast they were. For the first time in years we saw Michael post fastest laps just before pitting for fuel and new tyres. When last did we see him do that?
When last did the Bridgestones last for more than half of a stint, let alone all the way to the next pit stop?

Admittedly the weather was ideal for Bridgestone. Track temperature was low (never even got over 40 degrees Celsius) and with the dramatic lead that both Ferraris developed from the first laps there was no need to punish their tyres.
Under these conditions it is hard to guess how good the Bridgestones really were. They certainly seemed to match the Michelins but will they be able to withstand the extreme track temperatures we can expect later in the season?

If it does not rain in Malaysia we will know by the next race. Malaysia will be hot enough to show up any of last year's legacy if Bridgestone have not completely eliminated this.

The trend to more pit stops will obviously also benefit tyres that cannot handle extreme sustained heat. This may save the day for Bridgestone and Ferrari if it applies to all races.

I have been pondering this sudden increase in pit stops and suspect that it has come about for several reasons.

The one engine rule.
The teams will be working hard to keep power as high as possible without stressing the engines to the point that they fail before the end of the race.
One of the highest stress incidents of the weekend is the start where total power is applied to getting off the line as fast as possible. Despite the warm-up lap cars are not up to full temperature and the risk of engine or even transmission failure is high.
This risk can be dramatically reduced by going out on a lower fuel load.

Increasing pit lane speed to 100km/H(62mph).
Teams, unlike commentators and spectators, measure the time cost of pitting as the difference between the time it takes to negotiate the sector in which the pits are with and without a pit stop. We may find that the increase in speed was all that was needed for the benefit of a lighter fuel load and new tyres to justify an additional stop.

Cars are faster.
Much faster. Power is definitely not down on last year and one must assume that the power to drag ratio has improved dramatically as minimum weight is fixed by the rules. 
Minimum weight may be fixed but if cars are that much faster the added power to weight ratio advantage of a lighter car may be enough to also justify an extra pit stop.

Lastly, removing a dogleg from the entry into the pits would also have reduced the time lost in the pits. I will be surprised if this was enough to justify an additional pit stop but we will soon see if this pattern is to become the norm.

I was impressed with the progress that Renault made since the close of last season. They are a lot slower than their competition in a straight line and if the expected improvements that they are talking about are substantial we may see them challenge Ferrari before the middle of the season.

Although Williams did not absolutely embarrass themselves they did not perform well. They have a long way to go to close the gap to Ferrari.

McLaren, on the other hand did embarrass themselves. They were slow.

BAR are finally getting there but one must wonder if it is sustainable. Their past track record makes me doubt it.

Sauber are supposed to be using the same engine as Ferrari but it certainly was not evident in their performance. Given that they were the fastest in a straight line we can only assume that their chassis is not up to the task.

Sepang Circuit in Malaysia (Track Layout) will be very hot and humid unless it rains in which case it will still be hot and humid but the rain will keep down track temperatures.
It is not a high grip circuit so tyres will last reasonably well unless they deteriorate (blister) from the heat.

As I mentioned before, I believe that the cars are faster this year again because of improvements in aerodynamics, reducing drag without losing downforce. So, even though I expect to see reasonably high downforce configurations to combat the low grip of the circuit I am also expecting the cars to be considerably faster than last year.
Lap times will be more than a second faster than last year which may again, as in Australia, justify additional pit stops to maximise power to weight ratios and ensure that the effect of tyre wear is minimised.

Depending on the individual aerodynamic set up of cars (minimal downforce configurations, especially on the front wing, will be more susceptible to turbulence) overtaking should be possible on several places on the circuit.

After turn 1 and 2 (which I tend to combine as a single S-bend) the cars accelerate through a right hand sweep (turn 3) on to a short straight ended by a very tight right hander (turn 4).
Given more grip that the car being passed it should be possible to build up enough speed to overtake on the short straight and still get a good line through the 2nd gear turn 4.
Turn 4 is followed by two sweeping curves after a very short straight. Lots of power could get there first under acceleration but it is also on the dirty part of the circuit so grip could be a problem.

For the very brave it may also be possible to out-brake a competitor into turn 7 and 8 (which is really a single double apex corner), but between turns 8 and 9 is the first real opportunity to overtake an evenly matched car. The exit out of turn 8 will be fast and the exit speed from this corner will determine the speed on the straight. Overtaking means getting that exit right. Speeds should get above 250km/H(155mph) before braking for the extremely sharp left handed corner that leads into turn 10, a gentle right handed sweep.
After that there is no opportunity for overtaking (unless it is a back marker between turns 11 and 12) until you get to turn 14, which leads on to the first of the long grandstand straights. Again exit speed is important, as it will determine terminal speed at the end of this rather long straight. If the overtaking manoeuvre is balked there is a second chance after the sharp 2nd gear left-handed hairpin (turn 14) that leads onto the pit straight.

The layout of the track may allow several overtaking opportunities but as the race progresses only the racing line will be clean of the marbles and dust resulting from wear of the very soft tyres. To overtake anything other than cars being lapped (they are forced to move over promptly) means driving on this dirty part of the circuit, which, apart from being the long way round, has dramatically reduced grip. Do not be surprised to see that this alone eliminates any chance of overtaking.

Unless Williams or McLaren have managed to find considerable improvements in the two weeks since Albert Park we must assume that Ferrari will be the team to beat.

I do not think that Ferrari will be quite as dominant as they were in Australia because the circuit layout is very different and track temperatures are bound to be higher (possibly a lot higher) than Melbourne. We know that Bridgestone seemed to be a match for Michelin in Australia but don't forget that the track was relatively cool and we do not know if they have overcome their problems on hot tracks.
It is also worth mentioning that Ferrari were woeful in Sepang last year and as their car is a derivative of last year's car they may struggle again this year.
Michael Schumacher seems to have lost little of his skill or motivation � we can expect him to be as good as always. Barrichello on the other hand will not be as consistently fast but could well be fast enough to finish in second place.

It was difficult to assess Williams in Australia. Both Montoya and Ralf Schumacher hardly ever saw clear air while the Ferraris hardly ever saw traffic. I will still venture a guess that the new Williams with its weird looking nose will be struggling to match the pace of the Ferraris.
I suspect that Williams are experiencing a repeat of last year when their radical chassis turned out to be very difficult to tune and balance but it is unlikely that they will again need almost the entire season to get this right. If their problem is purely chassis tuning we must expect them to improve rapidly over the next few races and they may already be a lot better by the time they get to Malaysia.
Both Williams drivers do not impress me. I have said this before and nothing has happened to change my mind. In Melbourne Ralf did an OK job but it could not be described as an inspiring drive and although Montoya was fast at times he again made a mistake that he hardly recovered from.

If Williams need a lucky break in chassis tuning McLaren need a miracle to be competitive. They are awful.
Kimi Raikkonen is fast, hungry and good enough to take the race to Michael Schumacher but first he has to have the car to do it with. David Coulthard has neither the talent nor the drive or dedication to get there.
McLaren were so bad in Australia that it is impossible to even guess where their problems lay. Judging from how far they are off the pace one can only conclude that it is both chassis and engine power. It is obvious that a lot needs to be achieved before they will be ready to compete for podium positions. They also have an extremely bad history of being able to sort out all the teething problems in their cars, often only getting competitive late in the season. If they do the same this year I cannot see them getting anywhere in the championship.

My prediction is that Renault will not do as well in Malaysia as they did in Australia. They are still down on power and this will be a big disadvantage on the Sepang circuit. They will probably not be able to keep up with Williams but should stay ahead of McLaren.
Alonso drove a brilliant race in Australia and that will motivate him to maximise the points that he earns in Malaysia maximising championship points while he waits for the next evolution of the Renault engine. He will be extremely aggressive.
Trulli could do well too but is not as fast as Alonso.

If McLaren do not watch out they will be fighting for fourth place against BAR.
I am surprised at the huge progress made by BAR in the off-season. They may not be fast enough to compete for podium positions but they certainly have the speed to stay in the points.
Both Button and Sato are good drivers � certainly good enough to finish on the podium if their cars can.

Sauber are in trouble. Traditionally they have always raced with Ferrari's previous year's engines and that always meant that they had to do well at the beginning of the season as they were unlikely to keep up as other teams develop their engines.
This year is not that different except that they get to use the current year Ferrari engines which theoretically should mean that they have a chance to do very well. They may still fall behind, as they are unlikely to benefit from further development on the engines but this early in the season they do not have a power disadvantage.
This is borne out by the fact that they were exceptionally fast in a straight line in Melbourne so we must assume that their chassis is absolutely pathetic. Taking into account the power from the motor, they did not do well in Melbourne.
In Malaysia they may do better as it is a power circuit, but do not expect them to improve dramatically.
Fisichella could do very well if it rains (assuming of course that the chassis is not so bad that even this is not possible). Massa is unlikely to get the Sauber up there.

Jaguar is not fast enough to feature anywhere but in the low end of the points. Their chassis seem to be better this year but the overall package is still not fast.
Webber is doing a credible job and we can again expect him to get the best out of the car but unfortunately the Jaguar's best is rather pedestrian.

Toyota is getting better slowly but it will take a long time before they are competitive. At least they are now well clear of Minardi and Jordan.

Jordan is in a downward spiral that will probably end in extinction. Not even worth watching.

Minardi, on the other hand, have been the absolute underdog for so long that I cannot imagine a race without them being there. For them being second last is already an achievement.

If it rains the race belongs to Michael Schumacher but if it is really hot the Bridgestone tyres may not make it and Williams could be the team to beat. Enjoy the race.

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