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Is this the year in which we see the two Schumacher brothers fight for the championship?
Or is Michael not in the competition any more because Ferrari have forgotten how to set up, plan and think during races?
From memory this is the second time that I have seen Ralf Schumacher streak off the track (let alone the racing line) to overtake at the start. Fortunately Barrichello was far away and Ralf managed to get through because of very mature and sensible driving by David Coulthard.
After that Ralf had the race under control and although it looked as if Coulthard could give him a run for his money in the early stages of the race, he was never really threatened.
The Williams was not only very fast compared to all other contenders in a straight line but it also looked as if it was going around the corners on rails. Ralf might have had to work very hard to maintain his lead but from the spectator's point of view it looked as if he was on a Sunday afternoon drive in the country.
Michael, on the other hand, was obviously struggling with his car that looked as if it was carrying a far bigger handicap than merely a full fuel tank. He looked clumsy and never looked fast. Had he not retired with some form of suspension problem, my guess is that he had no chance of getting to the front.
It certainly looks as if Ferrari have lost the edge they have always exhibited on race day. This is now the second race in succession that they have made the wrong call for race day set up and strategy.
I find it hard to believe that they would plan to go out with full tanks (that is, if they were planning to stop only once) when both cars will be starting from the dirty side of the track. Of course they would be slower than the others on take off. Of course they would struggle to get enough grip to not lose several positions.
And even if that was part of their strategy, how were they going to advance during the race? They would be far too heavy to overtake lighter, more nimble, cars for most of the first half of the race and even though they may have a lot of rubber left by the time the two stoppers have to pit, will they be fast enough on hard compound tyres to make up what could be more than half a lap if they were stuck behind the wrong car?
As it turned out Barrichello went in very early so we must assume that he did not have a full load of fuel. On the other hand he always bogs at the start regardless of fuel load, tyres or side of track – so what was new?
If he did not have a full fuel load why did he chose hard tyres? With less fuel he had to stop twice and a softer compound would have increased his grip. Was there something in the strategy that I could not see?
Before his fuel stop, he could not do anything about Hakkinen, who in turn could not get past Trulli.
I am sure that there was a plan, and I am sure that had events rolled out the way Ferrari anticipated, they would have been successful. As it turned out it appears that they took a wild gamble that did not pay off without a fallback plan. Not like Ferrari, not like Ross Brawn and not like Michael Schumacher.
It is possible that Ferrari have just lost the edge that they showed at the beginning of the season and that we can expect similar poor performance from them in future. I hope this is not the case.
Although Coulthard drove a very controlled race and made no mistakes that I could see (apart from stuffing up his start), he never looked as if he was in a position to catch Ralf. Every time he posted a fast lap, Ralf effortlessly produced a faster lap. Coulthard tried his best, but this time his car was just not up to it.
Hakkinen, on the other hand, drove yet another totally uninspiring race. I know that he gives up too easily, but this time he never even looked as if he was trying. What happened to the unbelievably fast starts that he was known for?
Was Montoya just unlucky to be delayed in the pits (due to a sticking fuel hose) until overheating damaged something on the car or did he break something on the car in his hurry and frustration to get going? Or maybe it was a fault that was already developing on the pre-pitting lap and it was just coincidence that it materialised after the disastrous pit stop.
Either way, it ended a run that could have got him onto the podium.
Montoya is fast, but as many drivers have demonstrated moving to F1 from CART is not easy and takes some adaptation. Zanardi could not master the transition and in my recollection it is only Villeneuve that successfully made the change.
I believe that Montoya is fast and versatile enough to make the transition. So far he has been very unlucky (although his team mate Ralf has not escaped his share of bad luck either).
He may have qualified down on the grid but then do not forget during practice, the only session that was run under dry conditions was the session that Montoya only managed a couple of laps before his engine stopped so he never managed to setup his car in the dry and still qualified in 7th.
The Williams (more likely the Michelin tyre) is only fast on a dry track. Michelin will undoubtedly improve their wet tyres but until they do Ralf and Juan Pablo will be praying for dry while the Ferrari drivers and possibly Coulthard will be doing a rain dance before races.
Unless Ferrari get their act together on race day and come up with a winning strategy, or at least not a losing strategy, we may not see the two brothers fight it out in the lead.
Keep up what you were doing in the last two races, Michael, and your brother will inherit the championship (unless Montoya or McLaren can do something about it).
Agree or disagree ?