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The Watershed  
25 April 2001 Volume 3 - Issue 11  

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With the pit straight being the only obvious place to overtake Circuit de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain) is a track that threatens processional racing and pit lane passing. 

It is not a fast circuit. Even with the higher speeds that this year’s tyres are bringing to most circuits, I will be surprised to see lap speeds exceed an average of 210km/H(130mph) during the race although it is anybody’s guess how fast they will be in qualifying.  

It is definitely not a circuit to lend itself to overtaking. With the exception of the pit straight, which is by far the longest straight bit of this track, there is no obvious sections where we can expect to see any overtaking other than some overtaking of back markers. 

Because overtaking will be difficult, qualifying will be even more crucial and we can expect to see all teams throw just that little more at the qualifying stint. Pit stops will also get a lot of attention as this is not the circuit to try and make up lost positions after a poor stop. 

Last year Michael Schumacher dropped out of podium contention after leading the race for 42 laps – all lost in a bad pit stop and then suffering low pressure in one of his tyres forcing him to stop for a 3rd time. Schumacher could have easily have won the race had it not been for factors beyond his control. 

Williams may have a definite horsepower advantage this season and although there are several circuits later in the year where they will be able to exploit this, it is not a major advantage in Barcelona. This is not a top speed circuit. 

This circuit needs a nimble chassis that takes care of tyres. There are four corners that will be negotiated slower than 130km/H(80mph) so we will see all of the leading teams using a lot of wing to maintain downforce at lower speeds. That will be compromised by the need for less downforce on the main straight where the cars reach a top speed of 310km/H(195mph). 

Although we have not seen Williams in a similar situation so far this season (but then San Marino was not exactly a fast track), they have always built very good chassis so we must assume that they will be very competitive. Ralf Schumacher has won his first F1 race at San Marino and, if we look at other drivers in the past, this almost always means that he will be more confident and determined to win. Montoya also has the ability to win if he can shake off the spate of bad luck that has retired him so far this year. 

Last year Barcelona was the first win for Hakkinen. If my theory is true and it takes Hakkinen this long every season to come to terms with his car, he may well win this race again. Coulthard, on the other hand, will also be acutely aware of that, if he wants to win his first championship, it is essential to maintain his lead over Hakkinen (as well as the other drivers of course) so that, when team orders are invoked at McLaren it is his turn to get the number one driver treatment. 

McLaren are getting faster and it was not long ago that they were the dominant team. They were very fast at Silverstone last week and can never be discounted. 

Ferrari, on the other hand, are an unknown quantity. Their last two races were plagued by wrong tyre choices and bad car set-up so it has been impossible to gauge their progress. It is hard to imagine that they have lost their ability to set up for races and exploit race circumstances, so I expect Michael Schumacher to be back with a vengeance providing that his car has improved over the last month. Schumacher will be anxious to maintain his lead in the championship as well as prove the many doubters (myself included) that their recent problems were temporary and that Ferrari are still on top. 

Even if Ferrari overcomes the problems that they had in the last two races, I still believe that Rubens Barrichello is unlikely to do better than 4th or 5th unless several of the faster drivers retire. Both Williams and McLaren drivers appear faster than Barrichello, who seems to be struggling for his second season in Ferrari. 

Although one can never discount the determination and ability of Honda, it seems that they have not managed to stay in touch with the meteoric rise of BMW. Jordan has so far this season managed to fare better than BAR and definitely look as if they have a better chassis, which makes me suspect that they will be considerably faster than BAR. This will however mean that they can expect to finish in the points only if one or more of the leading drivers retires, or drops back substantially.

Even then I do not believe that BAR will finish immediately behind Jordan. BAR’s chassis does not impress me. They seem to understeer at the drop of a hat and on a circuit where turn in will be essential for fast lap times; I do not rate their chances high. Sauber have a far better chassis and it is conceivable that they would qualify better than BAR, even though they do not have as much power as BAR. 

Benetton are too far down on power to be able to take advantage of this circuit but I expect to see them much more competitive than they have been so far this season. Both Fisichella and Button are very good and the little that we have seen of this team in the season indicates that Benetton, like always, have a very good chassis. Even so I do not expect to see them finish in front of BAR or Sauber. 

Prost is powered by the same factory Ferrari engine as Sauber, but that is where the similarity ends. Sauber are doing reasonably well with the old Ferrari engine while Prost are still nothing short of pathetic. 

Changing drivers at Jaguar is unlikely to make a difference. The car seems totally lacklustre and although they may not have the top drivers I do not think that their problems has anything to do with their drivers. They would be far better off starting with the cars. To do well in a F1 race one needs a fast car! 

Arrows are also struggling with a car that is down on power. The balance and roadholding of the car seems very good, especially in the rain where power is hard to apply. 

Minardi is Minardi. Destined to train drivers at the back of the pack. 

Michael Schumacher needs to win to demonstrate his and Ferrari’s superiority. His brother Ralf wants to win to show that San Marino was not a flash in the pan and Williams has the best car. Montoya will want to win to show that his decision to move to F1 was valid, and also to make sure that Ralf does not get too far ahead in status in the Williams team. Coulthard wants to win to move ahead in the championship and to increase the gap between him and Hakkinen. Hakkinen has to make a move soon if he wants to have any chance of making the championship. 

All of them have a chance and the motivation. 

It is unlikely that any will do well if they do not qualify well. Qualifying will be brutal and the race could prove to be very exciting.

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