The Tyre War Year
Download the NewsOnF1.com
Who is going to dominate this year? And before all the Ferrari fans and Schumacher fans shout "Ferrari of course" think tyres.
It is exceptionally unlikely that both Michelin and Bridgestone are going to come up with the best compromise tyre for all conditions. We are either going to see one of them considerably superior or each of them will be superior for a certain set of conditions.
My guess is that one will dominate, certainly the early part of the season, and the other will be working hard to catch up.
I further suspect that Michelin will come out on top. Bridgestone was marginally better toward the end of last season and they may be in the lead at the beginning of this season but their only test base is Ferrari. The other two teams that use Bridgestone are Minardi and Jordan and neither team will have the ability to run near the front so feedback from them will have diminished value.
Michelin on the other hand will have data from Button & Sato (BAR), Webber & Heidfeld (Williams), Raikkonen & Montoya (McLaren), Alonso & Fisichella (Renault), Sauber, Red Bull and Toyota who will be giving them continuous and varied feedback while Bridgestone will be relying on six drivers in three teams of which only Ferrari will be competitive.
Just the overwhelming difference in available race data between the two tyre companies must give Michelin an edge. How well they use that will determine the outcome of the season.
If Michelin dominates my guess is that excluding mishaps and disasters (and in racing there will always be some) the order will be:
McLaren, Williams, Renault, BAR, Ferrari, Sauber, Toyota, Red Bull, Jordan, Minardi.
If Bridgestone dominates the order will be:
Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Renault, BAR, Jordan, Minardi, Sauber, Toyota, Red Bull,
If tyres are evenly matched the order will be:
Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Renault, BAR, Sauber, Toyota, Red Bull, Jordan, Minardi.
There are many that believe that Ferrari has an edge because they virtually have full say in the tyres that Bridgestone produces for them (it is unlikely that Bridgestone will put any real effort into Jordan or Minardi). I have a different view:
Apart from the abovementioned deficit of race day feedback, Ferrari are going to have to put a lot of effort into the partnership with Bridgestone. This will take time and focus while the Michelin shod teams have responsibility to provide feedback and may even have some requests for differences but essentially they can leave Michelin to get on with it.
They are still the team to beat. The other may have closed the gap but I will be very surprised to see any one of the other teams leapfrog Ferrari.
Ferrari has the benefit of reliability in both engine and chassis. For them to come up with a motor that can last for the required period will be easier than for most of the other teams and I expect that they will need to sacrifice very little power for reliability.
As I mentioned before, their Achilles heel could be Bridgestone.
Michael Schumacher must be getting to the point that he may consider retiring after his contract with Ferrari is over but there is no indication that he has lost any of his drive or ability. He is a very competent (probably the most competent the world has ever seen) and gifted driver that is going to be very hard to race, let alone beat.
Rubens Barrichello is fast enough to fully exploit the Ferrari. He is not as consistently fast as Michael but this is probably because he is not as good as Michael when it comes to planning a race from the cockpit.
Although I cannot deny the progress they have made in 2004, I still feel that they lack engine reliability. They may have to forfeit considerable power to get their engines to last and that may drop them in the ranks early in the season.
Even if they do not fare that well in the early races we can expect the engine to constantly improve bringing more power and reliability.
Jenson Button is very competent. He is one of the few drivers on the circuit today that may even match Michael Schumacher's ability to plan during a race. I am expecting great things from him this year.
It was not that long ago that I suggested that Japan seems to be able to produce several world-class motorbike pilots but are yet to give us a competitive formula one driver. No sooner did I write that and Takuma Sato comes along to prove me wrong.
BAR has two very strong, and finally too, mature and competent drivers. They have made enormous progress in the last eighteen months or so and there is no reason to assume that they will not continue. They definitely are worth watching and Jenson may even find himself in a different place on the podium this year.
They are getting their act together. There is no doubt about that. Like Honda, Renault do not have to go too far back in history before they can point to a period when their engines dominated the sport and they could get there again. They have always made great chassis so the chance of them having a good car this year is good.
Fernando Alonso is the driver to watch. He has awesome skills behind the wheel and has really just not quite been in the right car to fully exploit these for a full season. Give him a car to win races with and he will.
Giancarlo Fisichella may be getting a little too long in the tooth to have the aggression to win but there is no denying his incredible skill especially in wet conditions. I place both him and Alesi in the same class as Michael Schumacher in wet conditions.
They have been very inconsistent over the last three seasons or more. It is almost as if they gamble on some radical departures from conventional design to leapfrog into the lead but it never pays off. Over the last three seasons they have also had a very powerful, if not always reliable, motor but have been unable to exploit it because of poor chassis or unmanageable power curves.
Mark Webber is mature and relatively new to formula one. His performance with Minardi and Jaguar shows a lot of promise. In Williams gives him the car to do it with he will win races.
Nick Heidfeld is a very experienced formula one driver. At times he is mature and focused, other times I feel that he is not motivated and almost lethargic. This is possibly the best drive of his career so far so he should be strongly motivated.
I bet they have a very fast car that still needs heaps of sorting out. I bet they will fix it during the season. I bet it will be too late to win either championship. I bet I will not be wrong but I hope I am. This has been their pattern for almost as long as I can remember, maybe they can overcome it this year.
The Mercedes engine also had its period of being the most powerful but I am not to sure it will be this year. Their reliability record has not been brilliant and it is possible that they will have to turn the wick down to last.
Kimi Raikkonen is fast, very fast. I have been watching his career with interest. So far he has not been in the right car to win a season yet, although he got reasonably close. This could be his year.
Juan Pablo Montoya is a very experienced formula one driver. At times he is mature and focused but there are the times when the red mist comes down and he drives with a Kamikaze outlook. He is good, he is talented and he can be very fast but he is inconsistent.
I feel that Montoya and Raikkonen could be very evenly matched. If so racing between the two of them could be interesting to watch but I am sure that Raikkonen will be worried that his team-mate could take both of them out of the race in a sudden reckless moment.
Last year this team started with the same motor as the Ferrari team and made a woeful mess of what was a very real chance of doing exceptionally well. They claimed that it was because their wind tunnel was not built and when it was they claimed that it was because their wind tunnel was not calibrated.
This year they get to start with the same motor again. The wind tunnel is done and should be calibrated by now. So now there are no more excuses - they could be very fast.
Consider this: What if Ferrari comes up with the best engine and Bridgestone comes up with the worst tyres? Is it possible that Sauber could leapfrog to the front?
The jury is out on Jacques Villeneuve He was never really consistent but certainly had the flair on or off the track. He did not seem to get in the groove last year but we should assume that he will be as used to his car as all the other drivers by the time they get to Australia. Does he still have it?
I have never been able to pick Felipe Massa because he has yet to get into a competitive car. This could be his year.
Red Bull Racing
Going from a Jaguar to a Bull seems fitting but I thought that they managed to already achieve that status several seasons ago. Red Sloth Racing seems more appropriate to me.
I do not know if Red Bull money can get this team with the ageing Cosworth motor out of the doldrums. I guess time will tell.
David Coulthard is in my opinion ready for retirement. His pace over the last two seasons were not inspirational and there is no reason to assume that he is suddenly going to be less pedestrian.
Christian Klien we have seen on the circuit and was the most consistent rookie last year. Naturally Red Bull decided to give him the drive for Melbourne and they should for at least the fly-away races Vitantonio Liuzzi seems fast in testing but you know my opinion on that.
They did make progress last year but way too slow. If they can accelerate their rate of development they may be a force in years to come but I do not see it this year.
Both Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher do not inspire me.
Jordan and Minardi will still fight for the right to come last (or is it to avoid coming last?)
Enjoy the season
Agree or disagree ?
You can now discuss this article on NewsOnF1 Forums. The Heretic will post replies there too.
Note: If you are having problems accessing the forum or prefer not to register, you can provide your comments through the form on the Contact Us page.