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BAR and Button on the move
23 April 2004 Volume 6 - Issue 3

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BAR have definitely got it right and although they are still considerably slower than Ferrari they certainly do not have to take a back seat as far as the rest of the field is concerned.
Button is back in the form that we saw when he was driving for Williams except that he appears to have matured and is now very calm and collected behind the wheel.

Instead of reviewing the Bahrain race I feel that it is more appropriate to look at the results after three races.

Michael Schumacher is nine points ahead of teammate Barrichello who is six points clear of Button who is in third place in the drivers� championship. The top Williams driver is Montoya who is 18 points behind Michael Schumacher and McLaren�s best shot is Coulthard who is 26 points behind Michael.

These gaps are already dauntingly big to claw back and there is no indication that Ferrari can be challenged in the short time.

In fact the Ferrari drivers do not seem to have to work hard at all. I am not convinced that we have seen them under pressure so far this season so how much faster can the Ferrari go if Michael is pushing? If he wanted to it is quite possible that he could have lapped everyone except for Barrichello in Bahrain. He never looked as if he was pushing at all.

It is clear that there is little difference in tyre performance so I cannot see the other teams catching up for most of the season, if at all.

Ferrari are clearly the favourites to take out the top two podium positions in San Marino and guess who will win. There may be no team orders at Ferrari but Barrichello knows that his is a supporting role.

Williams may be equal third in the championship with BAR but if Ralf�s performance in Bahrain is anything to go by they are considerably slower than BAR. It looks as if they have again gone for a radical chassis and if it takes them as long to get it sorted out as it did in 2003 both BAR and Renault may fare better than them this season.

I do not believe that Williams will make the last podium spot. Their performance so far this season has not been good and seems to be deteriorating.

BAR could make that third podium position and if they did it is most likely that it would be Button again. The car seems good and although Sato is no slouch, Button seems to have the edge.

Renault are in my opinion the only other team that could finish in the top three. Alonso is faster than Trulli who again is a very competent driver.

Renault claim that the engine improvements planned for release during the earlier part of the season will substantially increase power and driveability. If this turns out to be true they may be the only team that could get close to Ferrari.

McLaren. who have been Ferrari�s major competitor for many seasons when Mika Hakkinen was still driving for them, certainly do not have a chance this year unless they do something dramatic. Not only are they way off the pace but they seem to have no reliability. Finishing in the points may be a possibility if they can get the car to go the distance getting to the podium is, in my opinion, impossible unless a major accident eliminates all the better cars.

Despite his efforts in qualifying Mark Webber is finding it hard to get the Jaguar to perform well for a whole race. There is no doubt that this years Jaguar is much better but then their last two year�s cars were so bad that they could not get worse.

Having said all of that there are occasional glimpses that this year�s Jaguar has potential. The question is: How much can the car improve and does the team have what it takes to see this development through in time to compete this season?

I am very disappointed in Sauber. If ever they had a chance to do well 2004 is it. Ferrari were forced to give them current spec engines for 2004 and they seem to have done nothing to capitalise on this.

Sauber�s straight line speed clearly shows that it is not the engine that is letting them down, so what is it. Can their chassis be that pathetic? Have they got the aerodynamics that wrong?

Toyota should be watched to gauge their rate of improvement. It is far too early in their development to expect a competitive car this soon but their improvement is gradual and I expect them to inch closer to the leading teams over the season.

Jordan and Minardi will be locked in the battle for last place until one or both of them are no longer there. Jordan is likely to be first to follow the financial demise that was so painful to watch with Prost.

The pit straight at Imola is relatively short limiting speeds to around 300km/H(186mph) before braking for the Tamburello, a sweeping s-curve taken at around 130km/H(90mph) before building up to 300km/H(186mph) again around a long sweep before braking for Villeneuve, a fast 200km/H(124mph) right handed kink.

A short straight gets up to Tosa, a 110km/H(68mph) left hand corner that is almost a hairpin, from which a flat out right handed king separates the trip to Piratella a fast left hand corner (200km/H or 124mph). A stretched out left-right weave builds speeds up to around 280km/H(174mph) before braking for Acque Minerali (right 90 degree 145km/H or 90mph) after which the track weaves left then right to Variante Alta taken slightly faster than Acque Minerali.

A short straight ends in a flat out right hand kink so the cars should get up to around 300km/H(186mph) again before braking for Rivazza a full, fast hairpin that slows cars to 125km/H(80mph) on the apex, accelerating through the corner to exit at over 150km/H(93mph) through Variante Bassa (a right hand sweep so gentle that I am surprised it was named at all) up to 300km/H(186mph) before braking down to 100km/H(62mph) for Tranguardo the entrance to the pit straight.

Overtaking is always difficult at San Marino. The only opportunity is the pit straight but it is a little short. Getting on the inside in Tosa by starting on the outside in Villeneuve is also possible but it is risky and difficult to exit Villeneuve fast enough to stay with the opponent that has the optimum line on the clean part of the circuit. Rivazza may also work on the same basis � overtaking on the wrong, long left side of the kink to get the inside through Rivazza.

It would be interesting to see if there will be a significant difference in the tyres here. San Marino is a little slower than the three previous races of the season needing a little more mechanical grip. If Renault�s design catered for lower engine power we may see them do well here as they would have designed for better performance on non-power circuits.


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