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Now it is McLaren to beat
27 May 2005 Volume 7 - Issue 8

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Raikkonen has now shown on two, very different, consecutive circuits that the McLaren is fast, possibly the fastest car of the season.

Ferrari may be able to match their pace but I suspect that it is not sustainable on the faster circuits because Bridgestone is way behind Michelin.

I guess that Renault used their new aerodynamic package in Monaco to shake it down as it would not have made an impression on a circuit where cornering speeds hardly get high enough to ruffle your hair.

Whether it was the choice of tyres or the heavy fuel load it was obvious that Alonso barely had tyres in the last laps. I cannot remember when last I have seen tyres that bad make it to the end. I suspect that they decided on a soft compound and made a big mistake by either ignoring that or forgetting that when they decided to pit and fuel for the rest of the race when the pace car came out.

Raikkonen may not be in line for the championship yet but Alonso cannot afford to have too many bad tyre days.

Nurburgring is a medium speed circuit that has lost much of its charm and excitement since it has been modified. It has some very fast corners so we must expect to see the teams carry a lot more wing than we saw at Monaco.

There is enough distance between the start and the first corner to make the start of the European Grand Prix exciting, if not disastrous. The first corner is a strong right-hander that will be negotiated at no more than 90km/H (56mph) (on the first lap expect cars to approach this at not much less than 280km/H(174mph) - on a normal race lap it will be close to or over 300km/H(186mph). Cold tyres and brakes combined with hot excited heads have the potential to cause carnage here.

It is immediately followed by a lefthander at around 120km/H(74mph), a short dab on the brakes for a slightly tighter left hand turn followed by a very tight right hander that leads onto a short straight where the cars will get up to around 280km/H(174mph) before braking down to 180km/H(112mph) for the lefthander that leads into Ford Kurve a right-hander that exits into the 300km/H(186mph) approach to the 80km/H(50mph) Dunlop Kurve hairpin.

Now we get onto the fast part of the track accelerating through 240km/H(150mph) in the gentle left/right sweep to over 300km/H(186mph) before braking for RTL Kurve which with the following Bit Kurve is taken at around 180km/H(112mph) before again exceeding 300km/H(186mph) on the approach to the ultra fast (200km/H plus) ITT Bogen. Back up to 300km/H(186 mph) to the Veedol S Kurve where speed will come down to 100km/H(62mph).

A short squirt on the loud pedal and they are in the very critical Coca Cola Kurve (around 130km/H(81mph) that determines their entry speed onto the pit straight where I expect them to exceed 300km/H(186mph) this year.

We will probably not see any overtaking on the track but if we do the two best places will be the main straight (pit straight) where it is critical go get out of CocaCola fast to attempt an overtaking manoeuvre, or out-braking into Veedol which is only for the very brave as that section of the circuit is likely to be slippery off the racing line.

Renault: Maybe the new aerodynamic package will give them the pace to handle McLaren. We will just have to see. My guess is that they do not match McLaren's power output so it could be hard.

Alonso may be well ahead on points but the gap between Renault and McLaren in the constructors' championship is a lot smaller - another disaster and they could easily lose the lead.

Fisichella's drive was far from inspiring. Could it be that he is getting too old? That will be sad as last time he drove for Renault I thought that he had a lot of promise - but that was long ago in F1 years.

McLaren: It has been a long time since McLaren looked this strong this early in the season. They are fast.

Raikkonen has what it takes to win anywhere. He is going to be hard to beat from here on if McLaren keep on giving him the car he had for the last two races.

There may be less for Montoya to run into at the Nurburgring and he may have made up a lot of ground in Monaco from way back, but I never know what to expect from him. He could do very well but he is just as likely to cook his tires in the first laps or get in a few 360-degree spins. (Sorry Jim, but when last has he converted driving skill into a win of a championship? Occasional brilliance will not do it.)

Toyota certainly have the straight-line speed to do very well at the Nurburgring. They have just lost second place in the constructors' championship to McLaren so they will be motivated.

The only problem is that I do not think that they have the drivers to beat Alonso or Raikkonen. As I have said many times before they are both good but certainly not winning material.

Willliams: I was impressed with their performance in Monaco. It sure looks as if they have more mechanical grip than most so I do not see them doing well on a high downforce circuit like Nurburgring.

Both drivers are capable of winning in the right car.

Ferrari: Well, in past years they have been very lucky but that luck seems to have turned in this season, especially for Michael Schumacher who seems to finally get all his bad luck at the wrong time.

There is no doubt that Ferrari have a good car this year and there is also no indication that either Michel or Rubens are performing worse than before but the tyres are just appalling. Bridgestone have let them down and will probably do so for the rest of the season.

The qualifying system (and the changes to a single run will not change it) certainly will always make sure that a problem race haunts drivers and teams for at least the following race. Even then, after recovering to some extent from total disaster in Monaco, still puts Michael out on a mediocre track for this weekend (he will be qualifying halfway through the session which may be better than being one of the first out but still will not be as good as Alonso's or Raikkonen's chances to make pole).

On the qualifying thing as an aside: I think it stinks.

If the rule changes were made to make qualifying more interesting it failed dismally. If it was to make qualifying fairer it failed dismally. If it was to make the race more interesting it even failed as I am sure that most of us would have liked to see if Michael had the car and pace to take on Alonso or Raikkonen.

Sure, the FIA recognised this and changed it from an aggregate of two sessions to time in one. What does that achieve? It was not the two sessions that was the problem but the format of the session. The single qualifying lap. The risk of the weather deciding who is on pole.

I despair.

Anyway, neither Michael nor Barrichello will qualify well, unless it rains immediately after their run, so we will have to see what they can do in the race.

BAR: Will they come back with a vengeance? Will they still be as fast as they were? Did the little tank make a difference? We will just have to see.

Red Bull are certainly starting to suffer from their engines so unless they do something on the slower circuits like Monaco (which they did not) we are unlikely to see them in the front pack for the rest of the season.

Sauber have not done well so far this season, in fact they have not even looked as if the could do well for several seasons, so don't expect much. I am sure they are not expecting much.

What do you say about Jordan and Minardi? Hang in there? Enlarge your rear view mirrors? Don't worry guys, somebody has to come last and Ferrari have done that a few times this season.

Agree or disagree ?

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