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Schumacher had a problem  
2 May 2001 Volume 3 - Issue 12  

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A friend commented that he could not understand the strategy (or lack of it) in the Ferrari camp at Barcelona. That got me thinking.

Why would Schumacher stay out on tyres that are making him considerably slower than several cars behind him? He was a minute ahead of Montoya in third place and losing ground to Hakkinen who, at the time, was comfortably in the lead.

Ferrari's explanation was that he was so far ahead of Montoya (and too far behind Hakkinen) that it did not matter. There was no harm in staying out for the balance of the race even though he was off the pace, as it was unlikely that it would affect the outcome of the race.

Tyres that give that much trouble are always a risk. They could delaminate, which could easily result in a spin and retirement, or the vibration could cause some other part of the car (suspension is the highest risk) to fail.

If for any reason the pace car came out, Schumacher would have been in serious trouble. Several cars would have closed up behind him that could easily overtake him once the race resumes. Depending on how bad his tyres were he could find himself out of the points altogether in two or three laps. That would not be the time to realise that he is better off with another set of tyres.

I do not believe that either Brawn or Michael Schumacher would have overlooked the risk that they were taking. I think that anyone must agree that the risk of losing more than a minute in the pits was a lot smaller than the risk of an incident totally spoiling his chances. Even if he did spend a minute in the pits Schumacher would probably have been fast enough to get back to second place.

Then he would also have been in an ideal position to have a go at Hakkinen if a pace car did come out.

No, the only explanation is that there was something wrong with Schumacher's car that prevented him from maintaining a competitive pace. The tyres were probably not optimum either but they did make a great scapegoat.

Barrichello retired with rear suspension failure. Is it not possible that Schumacher had to slow down to reduce the risk of the same problem occurring in his car?

Whatever it was, he could not go faster, even with a brand new set of tyres. That is why it was pointless to bring him in.

It is possible that Ferrari may have problems with their suspension. In the last two races they have had two retirements due to suspension failure (although Schumacher retired from San Marino with front suspension failure and Barrichello had a rear suspension problem).

It may just be a case of the design of the suspension being too light and not robust enough to take the hammering of a full race at maximum stress. So far, in all the other races that he won, Michael did not have to maintain maximum pace for an entire race.

I could not believe that Ferrari sent Barrichello out after his final tyre change. It was blatantly obvious in the pits that he was only running on three wheels. Going out in a car that was that badly bent could not achieve anything other than risking his life.

Williams were obviously very fast but at a severe disadvantage because they were unable to use traction control. Ferrari and McLaren just romped away from them.

Their traction control system seems to need a lot of work. Currently it is causing far too much understeer and instead of helping it is actually hindering their progress through the corners. They turned it off for both qualifying and racing.

Traction control will eliminate all power oversteer (wheel spinning under acceleration) and if a car is set up or balanced to take advantage of the rear end tending to step out through the corners it would tend to understeer (run on straight) if traction control is added with no other changes. This can only be overcome by slowing down to the point where the front wheels regain their grip and the corner can be negotiated. Not the best way to win races.

The fact that Ferrari and McLaren (as well as several other teams) do not have these teething problems makes me wonder if they have not always had traction control.

Although traction control was outlawed up to the Spanish Grand Prix, strict interpretation of the rules outlawed sensors on or in the back wheels only. There are several ways that sensors (or other electronic gadgets) on other parts of the engine or transmission can be used to achieve traction control. This was totally legal.

One of the many benefits of traction control is that a car can be floored at the start relying entirely on traction control, or some form of it, to eliminate the wheel spin that normally would bog the overeager driver down in a smoky but slow start.

If we look at the blinding starts that Hakkinen was renowned for towards the end of last season, it is easy to suspect that McLaren were already using and perfecting traction control at that stage.

Ferrari's ability to drive around the opposition and exit bends at a blistering pace on a damp track in Malaysia also smacked of traction control.

Watch out. Like everything else Williams will get their traction control working and then they may just be the team to beat. They certainly have the drivers and the horsepower for it.

What I can't understand is why they are having trouble with traction control when they have had launch control for most of the season already. Isn't it basically the same thing? Or have they never had it and Ralf, in particular, is just brilliant at starting? Montoya certainly was no slouch this time either.

Why was Hakkinen pushing so hard in the last twenty laps of the Spanish Grand Prix?

Michael Schumacher was far behind him and falling back at the rate of three seconds a lap; Montoya was a further minute behind Schumacher and the rest strung out behind him.

There was, in my opinion, no reason to push that hard. I absolutely cannot understand why an experienced driver would continue to push his car when it is not necessary.

Although I do not know why his engine failed on the last lap I suspect that it would have made it to the end if he just eased off a little.

I guess we will never know.

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