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Is Renault the new team to beat?
15 March 2005 Volume 7 - Issue 3

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Or will Ferrari bounce back when they start using this year's car?

Ferrari and Michael Schumacher could not recover from starting at the back of the grid in Melbourne. To me this appeared to be a combination of a car that was too heavy with fuel to look after the tyres and the normal ham-handed driving that Michael always displays when he is back in the field. Tangling with Heidfeld may not be the usual occurrence but it is typical of the desperate style we have seen from Michael when he is far back in the pack. It is almost as if he has forgotten how to race when he is not near the front.

I guess the question is: How much faster than Ferrari is Renault?

Fisichella led by a margin from beginning to end. It was not possible to guess if he could have gone faster if he needed to because he never needed to.

Like Michael Schumacher, Alonso also spent a long time stuck behind other cars but unlike Michael who crashed before we could see what he can do in clear air, Alonso set the fastest lap of the race when he finally could. This was considerably faster than Barrichello but at the end of the day not enough to overtake him.

Barrichello had to hurry up at times to maintain a reasonable margin to Alonso but was never really under pressure. He seemed unable to do anything to Fisichella in the lead, so again we really do not know how much faster he could have gone.

In Australia Renault was definitely faster than Ferrari. We just do not know how much.

If the difference is substantial then why did Alonso not close faster? If Renault were confident that he was that much faster than Barrichello why did they feel the necessity to give him permission to override the rev limiter twice?

Ferrari on the other hand are talking about putting Michael out on his used engine in Malaysia so that they can have him in the new car in Bahrain. This may just be politics, and we have seen a lot of those, but it could also be that Ferrari is rattled enough by the Renault pace to bring their new car out prematurely.

The new rules are not only insane when it comes to qualifying but have more holes than the New York sewer system.

Why add my diatribe to the many that reject the qualifying system? What I can't understand is what the FIA were thinking when they dreamt this one up. Did they assume that conditions would be identical on both qualifying days? Or maybe they just expect perfect weather all the time. Did anyone say: "Now how will it work if it rains on the first day but not the second?" If it rains on both days the rules may almost work, but it better not clear up halfway through the first session because then it will always be a shambles. If it rains on half of the second session it is almost as bad but we would have that problem if there were only one qualifying day only. How much brain does it take to realise that?

The cars are not much slower despite the tyre and engine rules. What did that achieve?

As far as I could work out there was only one true retirement (maybe two if Michael's Ferrari was too badly damaged to continue) the rest parked their cars to get new engines for Malaysia. Poor sportsmanship? Bullshit. Poor rules.

Back to the drawing board Mr. Mosley, but throw that one away. Get yourself a new drawing board.

As they have not changed the circuit much I repeat my comments from last year that still seems valid: Sepang Circuit (Malaysia) 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.

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 250kph/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.

I do not expect Ferrari to be fast at Sepang as it is pretty clear that they see the new car as their only option for the circuit after losing ground to Renault in Australia. They would therefore have stopped development on the intermediate car and all their resources have been diverted to the new car which they hope to debut in Bahrain. Michael won here last year but didn't dominate. If Rubens looks after his tyres better than Michael it could that he may fare better than Michael again.

Although Renault seemed fastest in Australia they may not have such a clear advantage here. Temperatures are extreme and although we can rationalise that it happened because he was stuck behind cars in Melbourne Alonso did look as if he had tyre trouble when he was chasing Barrichello down in Melbourne.

If any team challenges Renault it is more likely to be McLaren than Ferrari for the reasons already mentioned. If Montoya is in the right frame of mind he could be very fast, all Kimi needs to be fast is a fast car.

Renault, Ferrari and McLaren (and not necessarily in that order) will be in the leading group, a class ahead of the rest.

After that it is hard to decide who is the fastest. Williams were reasonably good at the start of the race but faded quickly, which could be an indication that their chassis is a little hard on tyres. David Coulthard, in the Red Bull, seemed to have the pace to stay in touch with the leaders for a while but then he faded.

If I had to guess, and I have to, I would put Williams and BAR in the next best group. I am not overly impressed with either Webber or Heidfeld, I think they are both good drivers but neither seem to have that spark of brilliance needed to get into the lead. I believe that Jenson Button and Takuma Sato are a better driver combination than that at Williams but then their performance in Melbourne looked pretty ordinary although that may have been the car.

Yet again Sauber did not look as if they had the same engine as Barrichello (although I would hate to make that comparison with Michael Schumacher). Villeneuve found out very quickly that the softer compound tyre was not the right choice. Massa did well finishing 10th after starting from the back. Perhaps he's got potential.

Toyota are better than last year but only a little bit. They have yet to take the big strides forward that we expected several years ago.

Neither Ralf Schumacher nor Trulli inspire. Both have hardly ever outperformed the other driver in a team.

The new drivers at Jordan and Minardi need rear view mirror training as they are now lapped frequently and they did hold up quite a few drivers in Melbourne.

Agree or disagree ?

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