This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Williams flatter to deceive
- Tyre honours even
- Upset at Barrichello's let-off
Williams flatter to deceive
Despite Patrick Head's complaint that Verstappen denied Montoya a victory, there is a strong undercurrent at McLaren and Ferrari that the rain would have deprived the Colombian of victory anyway.
In setting up for the race, Coulthard had decided to gamble on a wet setup, as the team believed there would probably be rain from around the mid-point. When Montoya passed Schumacher, the Ferrari driver attempted to regain his place, but was struggling under a heavy fuel load. Ferrari thought rain was likely, but rather than gamble one way or the other, they looked for flexibility. Schumacher was actually fuelled to over half way through the race. and he was carrying more downforce than the Williams, leaving him unable to close, let alone effect a pass, on either straight, for all he was slightly quicker in most of the corners.
So, Schumacher went into fuel economy mode, until the team brought him in for an early pitstop, looking to move onto a two stop strategy.
Although Coulthard was losing time to Schumacher and Montoya, things were not as bad as they could have been. Traditionally, Brazil is a medium-high downforce circuit for maximum speed over a single lap, but cars are set up with significantly less downforce for the race, in order to provide overtaking opportunity on the straights. And to deny others that same chance, of course. So in electing for a wet setup, Coulthard used a relatively high downforce, but was not handicapped too badly for speed. Going for slightly softer suspension did not help matters whilst the race was dry, but proved a godsend for pushing hard on the wet surface.
Montoya, on the other hand, was looking for a dry race. With a relatively low downforce to maximise straight line speed, the chasing Schumacher could not get close enough on the straight to re-pass - and indeed, had the race remained dry, the Williams was the class of the field. However, had Montoya continued racing until the rains came, he would found the Williams tougher to keep on the road than Schumacher the Ferrari. In fact, his team mate Ralf Schumacher, in the repaired Williams, struggled badly once the rains came - something he has not done since the "magic" drive into the points from the back at a wet Silverstone in 1998 which marked his coming of age in Formula One.
Would Coulthard have caught and passed Montoya? Judging by his pace on the wet track, he should certainly have caught the Williams; and after considering the pass on Schumacher, maybe he'd have done the same to Montoya. But we'll never know!
Tyre honours even
Coming away from Brazil, Michelin and Bridgestone are both claiming a victory, and using the coverage to good effect.
For Bridgestone, the clear dominance of their intermediate tyre, which saw Coulthard take the chequered flag, has shown their technology is still there to be beaten. Having taken a beating in the US, following accidents put down to their faulty tyres on four wheel drive vehicles, the company is in serious need of some good press. Margins are not extraordinary in the tyre business, so recalling the faulty tyres combined with suppressed sales from adverse public reaction has hurt the profitability of the company there. Bad news has travelled, though, and poor press has been bad for business.
Bridgestone gained nothing from winning the first two events - the newcomers were, after all, still learning the ropes, despite the qualifying efforts of Ralf Schumacher. But in Brazil, Michelin demonstrated they are getting to grips, and can start to compete at the front. Here on in, winning means Bridgestone have beaten a genuine rival, not just "the newcomer."
Michelin, on the other hand, are claiming a moral victory, as Montoya was clearly dominant before being taken out by Verstappen. Fresh returnees to the sport, Michelin continue to publicly play down their chances of winning in the first half of the season; but that does not prevent them making the most of the opportunity that has now come their way.
The return to Formula One has raised Michelin's profile considerably around the world. Sales were up over five percent last year, and look set to improve by more again this. Demonstrating their ability to compete at the forefront of every sport they work at, particularly Formula One, provides miles of free, positive advertising in the form of name placement alongside winning teams, let alone the column inches dedicated to the progress of their tyres, in their own right, on the track.
At the end of the day, it has to be said that Brazil was pretty good for just about everyone.
Upset at Barrichello's let-off
As Jos Verstappen stumps up a $15,000 fine for running into the back of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sao Paulo, there's a lot of talk in the paddock, questioning just how Rubens Barrichello managed to escape Scott free after a similar incident with Ralf Schumacher.
Barrichello has now hit another driver in each of the three opening races this year. Collecting Heinz-Harald Frentzen in Australia to spin the Jordan driver out of the race, he claimed to have been alongside, putting the blame squarely on the German driver. In Malaysia, he caught the inside right of Ralf Schumacher heading into the first corner, putting the Williams to the back of the grid. Again, he blamed the other driver, and took no responsibility for the action.
The Stewards called Schumacher and Barrichello to explain what happened after the incident in Brazil. The Brazilian claimed that Ralf moved into his line, then braked a lot earlier than expected, leaving him nowhere to go. Television evidence shows that Schumacher did, indeed, move before braking, and the Stewards decided there was sufficient doubt to let the incident go with a warning to each party. Barrichello's excuse was accepted on the basis he was racing the Williams, which he essentially claimed was weaving. The Stewards thought the German should have been more aware of Barrichello's proximity, and left him more space. They did not take into account incidents from previous races.
However, most of the pitlane are agog at this outcome. Verstappen made essentially the same excuse and was fined - largely because he had just been lapped before being careless enough to take out an emphatic race leader, but mainly because the accident was deemed avoidable. Not only that, but Barrichello's antics at previous events have led to deep concerns that the Brazilian is consistently coming in to contact with his peers.
The irony, of course, is that neither Verstappen or Barrichello is entirely to blame for their accidents - and all four participants gave accurate accounts concerning how the accident happened. Schumacher and Montoya did, as they claim, both brakes at around their normal braking point. However, that was was several yards earlier than either Barrichello or Verstappen expected to brake: the Williams was set up with significantly lower downforce, which increases straight line speed at the expense of cornering speed - and braking distances. Not only that, in those critical yards, the following driver would close considerably on the decelerating Williams, suffering a significant loss of downforce themselves, making their own braking far less effective.
Of course, that is no excuse for hitting the car ahead. Any driver who claims to be one of the top ten in the world today should be capable of establishing that another car can have a different braking point, and reacting to it. This is, after supposed to be the very pinnacle of motorsport.