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Alonso's performance in San Marino was possibly the best race of his career. During most of the race Michael Schumacher looked faster but as he started from thirteenth position I fully expected his tyres to not make it to the end of the race.
Bridgestone must have pulled out all the stops since Bahrain because their tyres looked a lot better. This could have been due to the weather being kinder but I was surprised to see the pressure that Michael could muster by the closing laps of the race.
If Michael had a decent qualifying lap things may have been different but I was sitting on the edge of my seat for the final quarter of the race when Michael was all over Alonso like a rash.
Michael and Ferrari are definitely back in contention but with the ground they lost it will be very hard to win the championship from here.
McLaren's qualifying speed was great to get Kimi on pole but reliability ended Raikkonen's race but Wurz who was driving Montoya's car (due to an injury) managed to finish in fourth which may be an indication that McLaren will not be haunted with reliability problems like we have seen from them for so many seasons in the past.
In fact not one of the top three teams are looking very reliable. Fisichella's Renault suffered some problem, Raikkonen lost a drive shaft in his McLaren and Barrichello's car suffered an electrical problem.
BAR and Williams on the other hand may not have the pace but all four cars finished.
I was very impressed with BAR's performance but must confess that I regard them as unpredictable. They seem to get it all together for a race only to follow up with poor performance and reliability the next. When they settle down they could even be competitive.
Toyota did not embarrass themselves either and if Ralf Schumacher was not penalised he made would have made it in the points as well.
Much of the action in San Marino was on the battle between Michael Schumacher and Alonso, as it should have been. When last have we seen a race fought that aggressively for so long?
Circuit de Catalunya - track layout - (the Spanish Grand prix venue near Barcelona) is hard on tyres. Pole position will start around one third from the beginning of the long pit straight, leaving plenty of distance for the cars to get up to over 300km/H(186mph) before they have to brake for the second gear, sharp right Elf. Being so far from the first corner has the advantage that, on the first lap, the drivers will get a chance to assess their relative positions and avoid touching other cars in the approach to Elf, but on the other hand they will all approach that first corner on cold tyres at very high speed so if anything goes wrong it will be traumatic.
Elf exits into a gentle left sweep which will see the cars build up to 250km/H(153mph) for the long, fast right-hander, Renault, followed by a short 290km/H(180mph) straight before braking for Repsol, a right-hander negotiated at around 145km/H(90mph) which straightens out for a short burst up to 250km/H(153mph) before a tight 2nd gear lefthander at Seat. Seat is the beginning of three relatively slow corners where mechanical grip will be very important before a short straight (250km/H or 153mph) that ends in the tight 2nd gear right-handed Campsa, the start of the second longest straight where cars should get up to over 300km/H(186mph) before braking for the left-hander La Caixa a complex curve that starts slow in second gear and accelerates up to over 160km/H(100mph) before it changes direction into Banc Sabadell where cars will be down into second gear again. A short 250km/H(153mph) straight then leads up to New Holland (3rd gear) after which the cars get up to 260km/H(158mph) before the right-hander, negotiated at over 200km/H(124mph) before exiting onto the main straight where top speeds will exceed 310km/H(192mph). Because turbulence will affect a following car in the very fast corner on the approach to the main straight it is not as easy to overtake on the pit straight as it looks. The following car will find it hard to maintain the same speeds through the corner as the car ahead and will therefore need to catch up before attempting to overtake, losing much of the advantage offered by the long straight. The shorter straight between Campsa and La Caixa offers almost as good an opportunity to overtake because speeds in Campsa will be low enough to be able to rely on mechanical grip. Cars with superior mechanical grip can exit this corner faster than the car in front, which goes a long way towards getting to La Caixa first. We may see some overtaking on the track but do not hold your breath. Pit and qualifying strategy, like always, will probably determine the outcome of the race.
Many are of the opinion that the Spanish race will be between Alonso and Michael Schumacher but do not be too sure of that. McLaren are starting to look fast as well and Raikkonen is hungry for a win.
Renault: Although Fisichella had a mechanical problem in San Marino I do not feel that he will be fighting for the lead unless it is raining (either during the race or qualifying). Alonso is not intimidated by Michael like so many of the other drivers and has the ability to think and plan in the cockpit.
The Renault is fast. Reliability is a little flaky but so far Alonso's car seemed OK. He has to be the driver to beat.
Toyota: There is no doubt that Toyota are finally making progress. They are second in the championship and are consistently improving.
I do not think that they are fast enough to fight for the lead yet but their straight line speed will help a lot on the long straight in Spain.
Both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli are fast enough to win in the right car but I do not regard either as being talented enough to make up for a slight lack in pace.
McLaren: They are certainly fast enough to win races, or at least get on pole. It is also about time we see them in the leading group again. Reliability has been an issue recently but that was mostly the engine, it is a little dismaying to see them now retire with drive train problems.
Raikkonen is very good and consistent Montoya can be very fast but is hard on cars and inclined to be a little inconsistent and impulsive (I am assuming that he will be driving in Spain).
Ferrari: I would never have guessed that after the spectacular season of 2004 Ferrari would be relegated to fourth this early in the season. The decision to use the 2004 car was obviously the wrong one and regardless of how fast the new car may be they have a hard time ahead to claw back in both championships.
In terms of pace, Michael did look good in San Marino but it was a cool day, which would have helped with tyre wear. Spain will probably be hotter again and it is hard to predict how this will affect tyre wear for Ferrari. They may be fast but I am not convinced that Bridgestone has overcome their problems.
Although not unexpected, Ferrari seem to also still have teething problems with their cars. Barrichello's retirement in San Marino may have been a once off problem - we will just have to see.
Williams: Williams may only be a few points behind Ferrari in the constructors' championship but they are very far behind on performance. They have a lot of ground to make up before they will be competitive.
Both Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld are very experienced drivers but we have never seen them in a fast car.
Red Bull: Expecting anything from this team is somewhat premature. As Red Bull they may be a new team but where they have been as Jaguar and Cosworth, facing bankruptcy and limited budgets for so long, will take much more than a face lift and one season to recover from.
David Coulthard's input to the team is valuable from a management and organisational point of view but I believe that we will soon see him retire as a driver. Vitantonio Liuzzi will have to impress more if he wants to keep the seat after Monaco.
BAR: Way behind on points - so far behind that they are unlikely to get in the top three regardless of how much they improve in the rest of the season. On the other hand if San Marino is anything to go by they may again regularly feature third on the podium. That always assumes that Button wins the appeal as the argument about what constitutes minimum weight gets even more confusing. If you imagined the FIA appealing against a ruling of the FIA could not happen, well think again.
Button is fast and Takuma Sato is pretty fast too and if BAR does not suddenly drop their standard we may see them in the leading group in Spain.
Sauber: Sauber are just not shaping. Villeneuve may have finished 6th in San Marino but he was almost a full lap behind. This is not their year, new wind tunnel or not.
Jordan and Minardi: The proving ground for new drivers that tend to frequently add spice when lapped.
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