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Michael's season is looking bleak
21 April 2005 Volume 7 - Issue 5

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It certainly looks as if Michael Schumacher will struggle to win this season. The Renaults are fast and reasonably reliable so there is not much hope for Michael that Alonso will not at least score points if ever Michael wins a race.

For those Ferrari/Schumacher fans out there who allow loyalty to overshadow logic lets go through the reasoning:

Ferrari are definitely fast. Michael qualified well at Bahrain and as it is the first race for the new car it is reasonable to assume that there is some scope to be even faster. Reliability does not seem to be a problem as we have seen in the past Ferrari know how to build a reliable car so we can assume that these early failures are just teething problems.

Renault, on the other hand, have reliability too (maybe not as good taking Fisichella's obvious engine failure into account) and must also have some scope for further development.

Michael is 24 points behind Alonso.

Alonso may feel threatened by Michael but it is unlikely that he is concerned with Barrichello's performance.

If there are no further retirements from either team and if we assume that the season will be a battle between Michael and Alonso Michael has to win thirteen of the remaining 15 races if Alonso comes second every time (and I think if I was a betting man I would, at this stage be happier to bet on Alonso finishing in the top two than betting on Michael winning every race). If Alonso wins one more race in which Michael comes second, Michael must win all the rest.

Now it is highly unlikely that neither will retire for the balance of the season. If Alonso does not score any points in a race that Michael wins Michael must still win 7 more races than Alonso for the remainder of the season. If Michael retires once more I do not like his chances of finishing in the top two.

Toyota are looking fast, McLaren are getting there and BAR/Honda are finally looking better too. It is not as if Renault and Ferrari will be enjoying a solitary battle in the front without having to care about the other teams.

It is far more likely that Michael's Ferrari will retire at least once more. Reliability comes slowly, even for Ferrari and most of Michaels recent poor results had nothing to do with reliability. If Michael does not score points for one more race his chances of catching up pretty much evaporates.

Add to all of the above problems, that Michael has, the fact that Bridgestone did not look good in Bahrain. Barrichello was very fast on fresh tyres but they hardly made half race distance before he lost so much grip that he looked as if he was in a Minardi. It is possible that Barrichello asked too much from his tyres in the early part of the race while he was storming through the field but my guess is that they would not have made full race distance regardless of how well he looked after them.

Imola is predicted to be cold, a total contrast to conditions in Bahrain which was probably the hottest race ever, so the difference may not be as pronounced or Bridgestone wear may not be as severe.

However, not all races will be cool, some will be very hot and if Bridgestone cannot solve their problems it does not seem to matter how fast Ferrari and/or Michael is.

All things being equal I do not expect Michael to win the championship this year. That, huge, gap of 24 points is more likely to grow before he gets the opportunity to work on shrinking it.

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

A short straight gets up to Tosa, a 110 km/H (68 mph) 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 (200 km/H or 124 mph). A stretched out left-right weave builds speeds up to around 280 km/H (174 mph) before braking for Acque Minerali (right 90 degree 145 km/H or 90 mph) 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 300 km/H (186 mph) again before braking for Rivazza a full, fast hairpin that slows cars to 125 km/H (80 mph) on the apex, accelerating through the corner to exit at over 150 km/H (93 mph) through Variante Bassa (a right hand sweep so gentle that I am surprised it was named at all) up to 300 km/H (186 mph) before braking down to 100 km/H (62 mph) 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.

San Marino is a little slower than the three previous races of the season needing a little more mechanical grip.

Renault are 9 points ahead of Toyota in the Constructors' championship and Alonso is 10 points ahead of Trulli so at this stage I would assume that Renault are watching Toyota's sudden gain in overall performance far more than the new Ferrari.
Renault are fast and based on their performance so far are going to be hard to catch let alone beat. Alonso has a commanding lead and providing that he finishes the race is likely to extend his lead even more this weekend.
Renault have reliability problems but so far it is the unfortunate Fisichella who after winning in Melbourne had to contend watching the last two races from the pits. Alonso must be hoping that this continues.

Toyota are looking very strong. Jarno Trulli is second in the drivers' championship and Ralf Schumacher is fourth. They may not have the overall performance to take on Renault yet but they are exceptionally fast in a straight line so it is just a matter of balancing chassis and overall driveability to take advantage of their speed.
Imola, that is somewhat slower than the prior races of the season, is unlikely to give Toyota an opportunity to improve even further as I suspect that they are relying mostly on aerodynamics for grip and some of the corners are too slow to effectively use aerodynamics.

McLaren are not far behind Toyota but both drivers are at this stage well out of contention for the drivers' championship. Montoya leads Raikkonen by on point but is likely to fall behind as he is will not be driving in Imola.
McLaren seems fast enough but appear to be down on power. At least they are showing promise early in the season, a huge step forward for this team that always takes most of the season to realise the performance of their cars.

Williams seem a little better than last season but they are still not competitive. Reliability could be their Achilles Heel even if they manage to increase pace.

Red Bull are off the pace but amazingly ahead of Ferrari in the constructors' championship. Unless Cosworth come up with a lot more power we cannot expect them to get anywhere for the rest of the season.

Who would have predicted that Ferrari would be so low on the totem pole after being so dominant last year?
Although Ferrari, and millions of fans, are optimistic that the new car will be competitive, I still have my doubts.
I am sure that the car and drivers will be fast enough but fear that their tyres will not be competitive.
It is obvious that Michelin are ahead of Bridgestone on hot circuits. Barrichello in Bahrain where he was very fast while his tyres lasted, but they did not even make half race distance before handicapping him.

Ferrari would not have started this season with last year's car if they felt that it was incapable of winning more races. If that were the case they would have been far better off using the first two races to develop their new car.
I suspect that their poor performance in Melbourne and Malaysia was already due to Bridgestone not being able to supply competitive tyres.
It is very difficult for Bridgestone to catch up from here. Michelin are getting feedback from four reasonably competitive teams while it is only Ferrari that is providing competitive race data to Bridgestone. With four times as much data from four different aerodynamic, suspension and power setups Michelin is at a huge advantage.
The only advantage that Bridgestone have is that they can fully focus on Ferrari but it must be difficult to know if tyre wear is the compound or the car setup if there is nothing to compare with.
In Imola Ferrari (or Bridgestone) may do better. It will be a lot cooler and the circuit may not be that hard on tyres.

Sauber is not shaping. They have a total of 2 points and they may be reliable but they are not fast. Massa is doing well under the circumstances but Villeneuve, like so many drivers before him, is proving that formula one is not a sport that you can return to.

In Testing both BAR and Ferrari were impressive, so there is a possibility that BAR could impress in Imola. Judging from their testing results they will certainly be fast enough and reliable enough to at least get one car in the points.

The rest of the teams have yet to score points. But then the rest is Jordan and Minardi who always fight to not came last.

Cooler weather, a slower circuit and the settled environment of Europe where long distance travel, jet lag and remoteness from their home base is reduced may show us a more consistent pattern over the next few races. It would be interesting to see if tyres between manufacturers are that different and if BAR and Ferrari will be joining the fray.

Agree or disagree ?

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