ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 25 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Reflections on Montreal

  by Roger Horton, England

Pit-stop strategy can be such a wicked mistress; Get it right and she can richly reward you with an unlikely race win, or save a bad day from getting worse. Get it wrong, and she can turn an average day into a total disaster.

Up and down the list of finishers in yet another incident-filled Canadian Grand Prix, there were plenty of candidates for the team that suffered most from getting it wrong. Throw in mid-race rain and the opportunities for miscalculations can increase ten fold and so it proved.

As is so often the case, Ferrari got just about everything right but they were a little lucky. Michael Schumacher once again drove with the calm assurance that is his trademark as the conditions worsened. The removal of David Coulthard's challenge following a stop-go penalty meant that he was never under any serious pressure, which, given the telemetry information coming from his Ferrari, was perhaps fortunate. In the end he won as he liked, with his teammate following dutifully, close behind.

Schumacher timed his stop to change on to wet tires at exactly the right moment. He does this so often in dry-wet races that it's uncanny and begs the question as to just why so many other teams and drivers struggle to master these tactics. All the teams knew that the rain was approaching and that it was always going to be more than just a passing shower.

Having made an early stop on lap 34 to allow for a quick checkup for an apparent problem, Schumacher made a perfectly timed second stop on lap 45, and then cruised the rest of the way to the flag.

Rubens Barrichello looked to be more convincing in Canada than in recent races. He wore down Jacques Villeneuve with his constant pressure and drove fast without any mistakes when the rain came. He obeyed team orders not to attack his team leader late in the race, and he is still hoping to be allowed to win when and if the roles are reversed.

One team that knew the rain was coming and got it just right was Benetton. Both Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz made just one stop on lap 44, and that one move alone promoted Fischella from running nowhere to a strong second place. But for an off on lap 49, the Roman would perhaps have even managed to repeat his '99 result and hold onto that position. As it was he still managed a fine third place after successfully withstanding some late pressure from Mika Hakkinen.

For the McLaren team, this was a day of total misery and an unfortunate way to 'celebrate' their 500th Grand Prix. It did not just rain on their parade - it poured. And, as team boss Ron Dennis afterwards acknowledged, "perhaps in hindsight we were too conservative in our decisions when reacting to the changing weather conditions." Not only conservative, but also perhaps they were conned a little too!

For McLaren, the key decision regarding Mika Hakkinen's race was just when to make his one planned stop for fuel and tires. After Schumacher's early stop the German rejoined in second place and was then running heavy with fuel. Hakkinen, who had been delayed behind the BAR-Honda of Jacques Villeneuve until he managed to find a way past on lap 35, was now setting fastest laps and closing up quickly on the Ferrari of Schumacher.

Since Schumacher had already made his one planned pit-stop Hakkinen was no threat to him, but he was to Barrichello, who was some eight seconds further up the road. Michael Schumacher only needed to ease his pace slightly to 'protect' Barrichello's lead and McLaren were sure to act. This they duly did, bringing the world champion in on lap 42, just moments before the rain came, forcing him to return to his pit on lap 45 for 'wet' tires. Just a little more patience on behalf of the McLaren pit wall team could have seen the Finn make only one stop and emerge not only as a threat to Schumacher's lead but ahead of Barrichello.

Earlier on, Hakkinen's rather tentative current form was evident from the 10 laps it took him to follow Barrichello's Ferrari past the BAR of Villeneuve. The Canadian had been pressured into a mistake letting Barrichello overtake and yet it seemed to take an age for the Finn to follow suit.

David Coulthard's day started badly and never improved. Being penalized for having his mechanics restart his stalled McLaren just past the mandatory 15 seconds, when they are supposed to be clear of the car, was a tough break but completely within the rules. To have team members working frantically around a stalled car as the grid moves off on its parade lap is clearly dangerous, and even Coulthard himself had no problem with the decision despite his obvious disappointment.

Stopping on lap 43 for fuel and tires and again on lap 45 for 'wets' did him no favours, and he was unable to make much impression on the tail-enders to improve his position. Coulthard however still looked the more convincing of the two McLaren drivers in Canada. He once again out-qualified his teammate, a feat he has accomplished no less than four times in the last five races.

Jacques Villeneuve again made an outstanding start and toughed it out with both Barrichello and Hakkinen at the first corner to emerge in third place from his sixth place starting position. Villeneuve was able to use the considerable power of his Honda engine to hold off the attentions of first Barrichello and then Hakkinen, for enough laps to allow Schumacher to build up a comfortable lead. Whatever shortcomings the Reynard side of the BAR-Honda partnership has, it was less evident on this low downforce circuit than the previous race held at Monaco.

Villeneuve was another driver who suffered from his team's lack of communication, being forced to stop on successive laps when the rain came. After one over-ambitious overtaking maneuver at the pits hairpin on lap 64, from which he and the other drivers around him emerged unscathed, Villeneuve repeated the dose a lap later, this time removing both himself and Ralf Schumacher from the race.

The Arrows team continues to embarrass some much better-funded teams with higher profile drivers. Pedro de la Rosa qualified a brilliant ninth and Jos Verstappen thirteenth. Both drivers made the most of a canny two-stop strategy, especially Verstappen whose second stop coincided exactly with the onset of the rain, and he made the most of a good setup to make his way up to a fifth place finish. De la Rosa ran strongly in the dry, constantly worrying Hakkinen's McLaren until Pedro Diniz pushed him off the track. Performances like this can only add to the Spaniard's growing reputation.

Both the Jaguar and BMW-Williams teams had their second bad races in succession. Jaguar made practically no impact on the race at all, with Johnny Herbert retiring early and Eddie Irvine being left on the grid. Irvine eventually finished three laps down after sustaining damage to his car following several spins. The Williams cars were off the pace all weekend and seem to have lost some of their early season's momentum. Jenson Button in particular never really made his presence felt during this race, and his stock must be falling slightly after a promising start to the year.

The entire Ferrari team can leave Canada well pleased with their combined efforts. Michael Schumacher now has a commanding 22 point lead in his chase for the drivers' crown, and there must be a huge question mark over whether either McLaren driver can mount the type of sustained challenge required to make good the deficit. Going by what was on show in Montreal, Coulthard appears to be out of luck, whilst Hakkinen appears to be out of inspiration.

Roger Horton© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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