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How robust does the McLaren have to be?
28 July 2005 Volume 7 - Issue 14

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Has anyone noticed how often Raikkonen's car retires due to some form of failure?

I criticised him for driving on a tyre that was obviously unlikely to finish a race not that long ago but a friend recently pointed out that he is extraordinarily hard on cars. I suddenly realised that he was right.

There is no denying that Kimi is fast. Some feel that he is fearless and his preparedness to go where other drivers do not have the courage to go is one of the contributing factors but I am not sure about that.

Raikkonen's car control is astounding. He may not be the only driver that takes deep lines through chicanes, which means that he mounts the curbs or ripple strips with all of the car, but he is one of the very few drivers that can do it at very high speed without the slightest indication that the car is getting out of shape.

This ability to control the car at the extremes of adhesion when both chassis and aerodynamics are stretched beyond the limits gives Kimi the confidence. I do not think in his mind that he is taking a risk, he knows that he has the control to make it work lap after lap.

Montoya, on the other hand, has a reputation for brilliant car control, but let us be quite honest about that. The only reason why we know that is because we have seen him use it so often and so effectively when his car gets out of shape.

Do we ever question why Montoya's car gets out of shape? Do we ever wonder why he gets out of shape so often?

There were some incidences where Montoya was forced into the situation by another driver or oil or debris on the circuit but in my recollection the vast majority of the times that he got out of shape was a result of something he did. He did not need help from anyone. He is quite capable of doing it all by himself.

He certainly has the skill to correct most of the time but there are also many times that he did not manage to stay on the track and some of those ended in watching the race from a sand trap.

Raikkonen by comparison looks boring. It is rare to see him recover from a slide because it is rare to see his car slide. On average Raikkonen is faster, which is logical seeing that recovering from problems is unlikely to result in fast lap times. Montoya is a lot more spectacular but, on average, slower.

So, how is it that Raikkonen can be so perfectly in tune with the balance and control of his car on the one hand and on the other be so hard on the car? He seems to have little or no empathy for engine, transmission train or tyres. If it can break he is always more likely to retire than Montoya who is easier on the car but has a problem keeping it on the circuit.

Interesting combination of drivers.

Hungaroring is the second slowest circuit of the season (Track Layout).

There is only one spot where speed may get to 300km/H(186mph) and that is the main straight. This ends in a wickedly slow hairpin taken at less than 100km/H(62mph) and the slow sweep leading up to turn 2 will see the cars barely exceeding 200km/H(124mph) before braking to 80km/H(50mph) for this virtual hairpin too.

Accelerating through turn 3 the cars will again not get to 200km/H(124mph) before slowing slightly for turn 4, a left hand kink. Speed then drops down to just over 100km/H(62mph) through 5 and, after a quick squirt on the accelerator, 90km/H(56mph) through turns 6 and 7, a loose "S" formation.

After that it is constantly either on the accelerator or brakes as they make their way through turns 8, 9 and 10 gradually faster until braking for 11 which is relatively fast(180km/H or 112mph) before building to 240km/H(149mph) before turn 12.

Turn 13 is a slow (80km/H or 50mph) hairpin and speed will not get up to 200km/H(124mph) before braking to 125km/H(78mph) for turn 14 that exits into the main straight.

It will be a high downforce setup. That much is obvious from the track layout. What we do not know is how tyre wear will affect the race. I suspect that all teams will go out on a soft compound and if the track surface is very abrasive this may cause excessive tyre wear during the race.

Turn 14, that leads on to the main straight, is fast enough for aerodynamics to work (always hard on the following car) and that will make the straight, which is the most obvious overtaking place, somewhat difficult for overtaking as there will be little time to make up lost ground. It is not a particularly long straight.

It may be possible to force a car to drive defensively through turns 8, 9 and 10 and take advantage of the balance and flow setup to scramble past but it looks very hard to do.

Overtaking, as always, will probably be orchestrated for pit stops.

Renault has my money in Hungary. It is a slow circuit where mechanical grip and traction control will be very important. All indications are that Renault has both and their traction control is probably still the best.

Alonso will be fast but Fisichella could be too. Fisichella has very good car control on tight circuits.

I do not feel that McLaren will be particularly fast. Their forte seems to be on the higher speed circuits.

Raikkonen will be hungry for a win because if he does not score more points than Alonso, his chances for the season will slip away. He needs to win to keep his championship chance alive but I am afraid that this is not the place to do it. Add to that he is first out in qualifying and he'll have a huge mountain to climb!

Montoya could do very well. Lately his driving has become very erratic, which may be an indication that he is having difficulty in setting up his car. On the other hand his results to date have been so inconsistent that one can expect anything between a win and a retirement on the first lap from him.

I suspect that BAR may worth watching. They seem to just not have the pace to fight for the lead in Germany but this is a much slower circuit where high speed aerodynamics hardly feature.

Button has moved closer to his regular spot on the podium that he enjoyed in the past - I will not be surprised to see him on the podium again.

Ferrari are down on power which I believe has made it impossible for them to regain ground this season. It may be possible that they have other problems too i.e. chassis or aerodynamics but if that was the case (and they were not lacking competitive power) then I would have expected Sauber to be able to do better with their Ferrari engines.

Having said that, they may do better in Hungary where a lack of power is unlikely to handicap them as much as on faster circuits. A lot will depend on their mechanical grip but if their performance at Monaco is anything to go by this is not a prominent feature of this year's car.

Michael Schumacher may be 40 points behind Alonso, which given Ferrari's performance this year is pretty much unreachable, but he is only four points behind Raikkonen so it is very possible that he could move into second place. If Raikkonen drives his car into the ground again Michael's second place is almost guaranteed.

Toyota seemed to have lost some of the ground they have gained earlier in the season. For a while there they looked as if they were getting very close to the leading pack but lately they have drifted back. Their strong point is the power of the engine which is unlikely to help in Hungary.

Williams ? They are fighting with Red Bull and Sauber. Who would have thought!

Red Bull may not be getting on the podium but they are doing a lot better than I expected. They must have a very good chassis and/or aerodynamics as I am pretty sure that the aged Cosworth engine is unlikely to get them in the top power group.

Sauber are hardly worth mentioning as there is little indication that they have managed to get anything right. They can blame Ferrari for a lack of power or driveability of the engine but the rest was up to them and they did not do a lot with it. Under the control of BMW they may do better next year but there is a lot of ground to gain before they will be competitive.

Jordan and Minardi? Well, they will race too.

Do not expect Hungary to be the same as the last four or so races. The second half of the season always happens on faster circuits than the earlier half so development is focused more around performance at higher speeds and then there is Hungary where top speed performance matters less. Car balance and setup is crucial seeing that so little is straight and suddenly teams have to forget everything they learnt in the last two months and try to remember what happened in Monaco. If nothing else that will scramble the field even more.

Agree or disagree ?

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