ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 15 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   The San Marino GP Preview

Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola by Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.

Formula One returns to Europe and visits the historic riverside circuit in Tuscany, Italy: Imola.

The Imola track was originally public roads that were converted into a permanent circuit in 1979 and was named the Autodromo Dino Ferrari in memory of Enzo Ferrari's eldest son Alfredino who died in 1956. Dino Ferrari suffered from muscular dystrophy and the Ferrari family also established the Dino Ferrari Foundation to support muscular dystrophy research. After Enzo Ferrari's death in 1988 the elder Ferrari's name was added to the circuit name. Imola, like Interlagos and Kyalami, is run in an anti-clockwise direction. At 4.933 km, the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Imola is average in length and, since the addition of two extra chicanes in 1995, average in speed.

Imola features 4 chicanes, the Variante Alta, the Variante Bassa, the Tamburello and the Villeneuve. The first two chicanes were originally in the 1980 circuit while the latter two were built after 1994. The Tamburello chicane is a necessary evil since the original Tamburello corner was a death-trap and the adjacent river made the run-off area inadequate. The Villeneuve chicane was built at the site of Roland Ratzenberger's fatal accident and it unfortunately made overtaking at the Tosa hairpin much more difficult. Regardless, most drivers thoroughly enjoy Imola. It is still one of the best circuits in the calendar and has provided us with many exciting races. The 21st San Marino Grand Prix promises to be just as exciting.

Red Bull Sauber Petronas' Technical Director, Willy Rampf described the technical challenges presented by the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari: "Imola …like Interlagos, is a power circuit. It is also very heavy on braking because of all the slow chicanes and it requires good braking stability for the down hill section braking into Rivazza. High braking performance in these days means pulling more than 4G on deceleration for drivers. In Imola, you can win or lose the race on the brakes. Due to the slow speed corners the down force level is relatively high. This also helps to have improved traction out of the chicanes and to maximise tyre performance during the race. The Imola circuit is quite demanding on the drivers, with its varying characteristics of chicanes where you have to use the curbs, the fast corners and its up-and down hill sections where a good mechanical set up for high car stability is vital for a fast lap time."

BMW.WilliamsF1's Ralf Schumacher gave a driver's perspective: "The Imola circuit is interesting to drive as it has some blind corners. The kerbs invite the drivers to use them as part of the track, which does not work very well. The combination of fast and slow corners is very attractive. On the other hand, overtaking was very difficult in the last couple of years." Jaguar-Cosworth's Eddie Irvine added, "In the old days it used to be hard on fuel consumption, but that's no longer a problem. Instead, the brakes, gearbox and transmission can take a pounding. It's an anti-clockwise track, but we should be used to that after Brazil. There are not too many places to overtake, so a good start is essential. It also means you can be slowed by back markers. "

Wet conditions at Imola are a possibility. The 1995 and 1997 races started under damp conditions, but the Italian rain is typically not like the torrential downpours experienced at Brazil and Malaysia. Attrition is a major concern at Imola. 15 cars were classified in last year's race. Although 11 cars were classified as finishers from 1996-1999, only 8 cars in 1999 and 9 cars in 1998 were running at the end of the race. Engine failure has been the most common mechanical problem at Imola.

Pitstops and Tyre Strategy

In last year's race the top 8 finishers were on a 2-stop strategy while Benetton and Jaguar's Johnny Herbert opted unwisely for a one-stop strategy. In 1999, Michael Schumacher, on a two-stop strategy, defeated David Coulthard's McLaren on a one-stop strategy while Sauber's Jean Alesi finished 6th on a three-stop strategy. In 1998, all the points-scoring teams used a two-stop strategy.

Jaguar-Cosworth's Eddie Irvine suggested, "On the strategy side, I guess it should be a two-stopper. It usually is and with tyre wear a more important factor this year, a one stop seems unlikely, although we won't be sure until we get there" 2-stop strategies are encouraged by the pit lane at Imola which is one of the shortest of the current Formula One circuits. Those on a 2-stop strategy pitted between laps 23-29 and laps 42-48 of this 62 lap race, while those on a one-stop pitted between laps 32-40.

Bridgestone teams are expected to chose a soft compound since the track surface has unusually low grip. Michelin's Competition Director, Pierre Dupasquier confessed, "We don't know Imola any better than we did Sepang or Interlagos. True, we did a private test session there with our development chassis last year, but the track was so dirty that the car was trailing a dust cloud behind it. We weren't able to learn a great deal during our time there. The way we handle the corners at Tamburello and Acque Minerale this weekend will tell us whether we are still moving in the right direction."

Down the Pitlane

Ferrari lead the 2001 Formula One constructors' championship by 15 points and have finished another week of testing at Fiorano. Ferrari has won four times at Imola, in 1982, 1983, 1999 and 2000 and they had five consecutive 2nd places from 1994 to 1998. Ferrari have scored a total of 71 points at Imola from 1990-2000. Ferrari's fanatical followers, the tifosi, would love nothing better than a Ferrari 1-2 on Sunday. This has only happened once at Imola, in 1982 with Didier Pironi winning from Gilles Villeneuve.

Michael Schumacher's lead in the driver's championship has been cut to 6 points. Michael Schumacher's thoughts before Imola, "We have had the confirmation that this Ferrari is really as good as it seemed in winter testing." A philosophic Schumacher added, "The result (in Brazil) didn't surprise me, I knew that the run of wins could not go on forever, that it was ending. I had hoped it would happen after Imola, instead it happened in Brazil." Schumacher continued, "I think Ferrari should be afraid of nothing. We have found many solutions in testing at Fiorano which have allowed us to further develop the F2001, I am not worried in the slightest." Schumacher is the most successful and consistent driver at Imola. Schumacher won in 1994 for Benetton and in 1999 and 2000 for Ferrari and finished second in 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998. Schumacher set fastest lap in 1998 and 1999 and also took pole position in 1995 and 1996.

Rubens Barrichello has slipped to 3rd in the driver's championship. Barrichello finished 4th in last year's race for Ferrari, 3rd in 1999 for Stewart-Ford and also finished 5th for Jordan in 1996. His highest grid position was 4th in 2000.

McLaren have closed the gap to Ferrari in the constructors' championship. Team Principal, Ron Dennis declared, "There are still 14 races to go and you only have to look at last year to appreciate that this championship is still wide open." McLaren dominated the San Marino Grand Prix in the 1980s and they have won at Imola in 1991 and 1998 with a total of 59 points from 1990-2000.

Mika Hakkinen has slipped to 9th equal in the driver's championship. After the Brazilian Grand Prix Mercedes Motor Sport Director, Norbert Haug lamented, "I feel sorry for Mika, but there is a long way to go and we will give him a better package." Hakkinen scored his first Formula One championship points at Imola in 1991 for Lotus, he finished 3rd in 1994 for McLaren finished 5th in 1995 and 6th in 1997 and finished 2nd in last year's race. Hakkinen has never won the San Marino Grand Prix despite setting pole position in 1999 and 2000 and fastest lap in 2000.

David Coulthard has consolidated his 2nd place in the drivers' championship after a virtuoso performance at Interlagos. Strategically and psychologically, this victory is the most important of his career, since the last seven victors at Interlagos went on to win the drivers' championship. Coulthard stated, "We still have some work to do and are expecting to improve the car and engine even further for San Marino." Coulthard won the 1998 San Marino Grand Prix from pole position and he led the first 19 laps of the 1996 race. Coulthard also finished second in 1999, 3rd in 2000 and 4th in 1995.

Williams are 6th the constructors' championship and tested for three days at Magny Cours in France last week. BMW Motorsport Director, Dr Mario Theissen stated. "The three overseas races have clearly proved that we have managed a big development jump compared with last year. The gap to both the top teams has pleasantly decreased. But the team cannot be happy with a total of just two points, even if the three accidents that were not the fault of our drivers definitely contributed to that. Now we are pleased to start racing in Europe, where the distances are shorter and the working conditions for the team will improve. Imola is the track where we've been really quick for the first time last year, with Ralf starting fifth on the grid. Looking at our performances so far, we are obviously expecting that our engine will provide impressive performances here as well. Should our drivers not be involved in further accidents, our points score should also increase."

Team Principal, Sir Frank Williams added, "Following the promising race in Brazil I feel that Imola will present the team with another opportunity to see if we really can close that gap between the cars currently leading the championship and the rest of the field. The team had a positive test in the rain at Magny-Cours. All the performance components of the car are improving in unison and there's reason to be hopeful again of a good result at this particular circuit." Williams has been the most successful team at Imola over the past 10 years, winning in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997 with a total of 74 points from 1990-2000.

Ralf Schumacher has slipped to 7th equal in the driver's championship despite setting his second Formula One fastest lap at Interlagos. Ralf stated, "I think that we are well prepared for the Grand Prix of San Marino. So I am looking forward to travelling to Italy as I love Italian food and the fantastic atmosphere around the race track. I hope that I can finish my race and collect as many championship points as possible." Ralf has yet to score a point at Imola in four starts. His best finish was 7th in 1998 for Jordan and his highest grid positions were 5th in 1997 and 2000.

Juan Pablo Montoya made a big impression on Formula One with his lion-hearted drive at Interlagos. Montoya's performance was exactly what Formula One needed to add some spice to what was becoming a bland season. Montoya's driving style is a cross between the raw speed of Finland's Keke Rosberg and the flamboyance of Nigel Mansell. Perhaps he will indeed inherit the mantle of "Il Leone" and bring a partisan Italian crowd to its feet. As a word of caution, those of us with long memories will remember that many of the early accolades given to the 1998 F3000 championship are similar to those given to the 1989 F3000 champion, Jean Alesi....

Montoya revealed, "It's nice to go to Italy, there's nice people, nice food, the fans are quite ecstatic and the overall feeling is good. Imola should be a good track for us. Unlike the other circuits, which hosted the first three Grands Prix of this season, I have raced in San Marino before in F3000. I cannot say though that this is the most familiar track to me because my race there lasted about five laps before I crashed out! After the performance in Brazil I think we definitely proved what we can do and I am looking forward to giving it another go in Imola!" Montoya also set pole position in the 1998 F3000 race.

Benetton are now 7th in the constructors' championship. Benetton have completed a three-day evaluation of Michelin tyres at Jerez in Spain. Benetton have already chosen a new compound that the plan to use at Imola. Benetton have only won once at Imola, in 1994. They scored a total of 34 points at Imola from 1990-2000.

Rome's Giancarlo Fisichella is now 9th equal in the driver's championship. Fisichella scored his first Formula One world championship points at Imola, finishing 4th for Jordan in 1997 and finishing 5th in 1999 for Benetton. His highest grid position was 6th in 1997.

Jenson Button is doing his career no favours at Benetton and must be wondering what he could do with the Williams FW23. Button has found himself in a similar position to David Coulthard's situation at McLaren in 1996, leaving Williams to join a once-great team that had fallen behind the pace. In last year's race, Button did not finish after qualifying 17th for Williams.

Jordan are 4th in the constructors' championship. Jordan have completed a thre-day tyre development test at Silverstone. Team Principal Eddie Jordan declared, "We've scored points in each of the first three races and it's the hard work and commitment of the entire team at Jordan and Honda that has made this possible. We've worked hard with Honda over the last few weeks to resolve some of the early season hitches and feel confident that Jordan will continue to be a strong challenger to the top teams."

Managing Director Trevor Foster confessed, "Bad fortune has caused San Marino to traditionally be one of the less successful races for Jordan. We have been in some good point scoring positions in the past at Imola, but the cars have unfortunately not crossed the finish line. This race is therefore very important for us to rid ourselves of this tradition."

Jordan have scored only 8 points on this circuit, their highest finish being 4th in 1997 and 1999. In last year's race, both Jordans retired. Heinz-Harald Frentzen is 5th in the driver's championship. Frentzen confirmed, "It's good to go to San Marino as it's the start of the European season which is good for the teams and drivers. Italy, the tifosi and the circuit always remind me of my first win in 1997. This track is a roller-coaster ride for the drivers but it has special flair." Frentzen holds the race lap record (I min. 25.531s) for the revised Imola circuit which he set during his first Formula One victory in 1997. In 1998 he finished 5th for Williams and in 1995 he finished 6th for Sauber. His highest grid position was in 2nd in 1997.

Pescara's Jarno Trulli is 7th equal in the driver's championship. Trulli revealed, "Everyone assumes that Imola is my home race, which is true because I am Italian, but I haven't actually raced in Italy very much. I feel good about going to Imola. My supporters in Italy are hoping for a good result and I would like to give them that." Trulli was classified 15th in last year's race and his highest grid position was in 8th, also in 2000.

BAR are now 5th in the constructors' championship. The BAR team were on-the-pace during testing at Silverstone. BAR have scored 2 points at Imola.

Olivier Panis has jumped to 6th in the driver's championship. Panis has never scored a point at Imola, his best finish was 8th in 1997. His highest grid position was 4th in 1997 for Prost. In 1999, Panis' Prost AP02 was a mobile chicane.

Jacques Villeneuve has had limited success at Imola finishing 4th in 1998 for Williams and 5th in 2000 for BAR. Villeneuve holds the qualifying record for Imola (1 min. 23.303s) which he set in 1997 and he led for the first third of the 1997 San Marino Grand Prix. In 1999, his gearbox failed on the grid after he qualified 5th for BAR.

Orange Arrows Asiatech. "We'd like both cars to reach the finish." Team Principal, Tom Walkinshaw, declared "Everyone at Arrows and Asiatech has been working hard to improve the performance of the A22. We tested at Magny Cours and Lurcy Levis last week to get some mileage behind a few new ideas so we are hoping all this work will pay off. Ideally we'd like both cars to reach the finish with at least one of them in the points. We'll try our best and hope for a good race." Arrow, as Footwork, last scored points at Imola in 1992 when Michele Alboreto finished 5th.

Jos Verstappen has been, somewhat harshly, fined $15,000 by the FIA following his collision with Juan Pablo Montoya, especially since Jacques Villenueve and Rubens Barrichello were not fined for similar accidents. Arrows initially appealed this penalty but withdrew the objection early this week. Verstappen commented, "Imola is one of my favourite tracks on the calendar as it's a real challenge. It's hard on the brakes and has lots of slow speed chicanes so to do a quick lap here you need a car that can jump the kerbs well. Luckily the A22 can do just that so I'm hoping for a good race. Last year's race started well for me but I had a problem that caused me to do an extra pit-stop so I lost a lot of time. It will be nice to be racing in Europe again and hopefully we will get a good result." Verstappen's highest classification at Imola was 10th in 1997 for Tyrrell and his highest grid position was 14th in 1996 with Footwork (Arrows).

Enrique Bernoldi revealed, "I raced at Imola back in 1996 in Formula Renault and won the race so the track holds fond memories for me. It's a challenging circuit and I've always enjoyed racing at Imola so let's hope I can score my first Formula One finish there." Bernoldi also finished 9th in the 1999 F3000 race at Imola but did not finish in the 2000 event after qualifying 5th.

Sauber are 3rd in the constructor's championship. Sauber. After a three-day electronic and aerodynamic development test at Magny-Cours, Test Team Head, Jacky Eeckelaert stated, "We completed our intended programme today. Nick focused on more work with the traction control system that we will be able to use at the Spanish GP at the end of the month, and then tried a revised aerodynamic package this afternoon. The tests went well." Sauber has scored 10 points at Imola, their highest finishes being 4th in 1993 and 1994.

Nick Heidfeld has climbed to 4th in the driver's championship after his impressive podium finish at Interlagos. Heidfeld stated, "Naturally I am really looking forward to San Marino after my third place in Brazil! The C20 is really working well, and we have a new aerodynamic package to test before the race. In Nevers Magny-Cours Testing session last week, we conducted with the test team an efficient programme of electronic and aerodynamic development. I completed 76 laps during my test session in France and have set quickest time (1m.15.63s), so I am very optimistic." Heidfeld won the 1999 F3000 race at Imola and finished fourth in the 1998 F3000 race. Heidfeld holds the F3000 race lap record at Imola which he set in 1999. In last year's race, Heidfeld did not finish after qualifying last for Prost.

Kimi Raikkonen has slipped to 9th equal in the driver's championship. Raikkonen confessed, ): Imola is another new circuit for me, but as usual I'm really looking forward to the challenge. The Red Bull Sauber Petronas C20 has proved its speed on three very different types of track so far this season, and now the European season is about to start. I'm confident we will continue to perform well. "

Jaguar, as Stewart-Ford, scored 4 points at Imola finishing third last year.

Eddie Irvine is not overly optinistic for Sunday's race, "It's very hard to say, 12th place on the grid is pretty much where we are in the pecking order right now and that isn't going to change overnight. In last week's test in Jerez, I did a lot of tyre testing with encouraging results and we also have some new aerodynamic bits, which improved front-end stability. On a track that often sees a high retirement rate, the fact the R2 is a reliable old girl might pay off for us." Irvine has gone consistently well at Imola for Ferrari, finishing third in 1997 and 1998 and fourth in 1996. Irvine's Ferrari engine blew in the 1999 race while lying 4th. His highest grid position was 4th in 1998 and 1999.

Minardi have scored 4 points at Imola from 1990-2000. They last scored a point at Imola in 1993 when Fabrizio Barbazza finished 6th. Fernando Alonso finished 9th in the 2000 F3000 race at Imola while Tarso Marques has not competed at Imola in a premier Formula.

After testing at Magny-Cours, Managing Director Joan Villadelprat, stated, " Despite the changing track conditions, it was a productive test. It confirmed the reliability of the car and gave us a chance to run a considerable amount of miles testing some new mechanical development components which will be introduced in the upcoming races."

Prost have yet to score a point in the San Marino Grand Prix but Team Principal Alain Prost won the San Marino Grand Prix three times. Jean Alesi has the most Formual One experience at Imola having participated in ten San Marino Grand Prix. Alesi scored a single point for Tyrrell in his Imola debut in 1990 and he has scored points in the 1995-1999 races for three different teams. Alesi's best finish was second in 1995 for Ferrari and his highest grid position was 5th in 1995 and 1996.

Gaston Mazzacane finished 7th in the 1998 F3000 race at Imola. In last year's San Marino Grand Prix, Mazzacane finished 13th after qualifying 20th.

My Predictions:

If it is dry, I'll pick McLaren, Ferrari, and Williams as the top three teams in qualifying with Jordan and BAR completing the top 5.

Starting grid:

  1. Michael Schumacher,
  2. Mika Hakkinen,
  3. David Coulthard,
  4. Rubens Barrichello
  5. Ralf Schumacher,
  6. Juan-Pablo Montoya
  7. Heinz-Harald Frentzen,
  8. Jacques Villeneuve
  9. Jarno Trulli,
  10. Olivier Panis

The San Marino Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • Which chassis will ride the kerbs at Imola best? Ferrari, McLaren or Williams?

  • The San Marino Grand Prix is Ferrari’s home Grand Prix. The tifosi would love to see a Ferrari 1-2 victory. Can Michael Schumacher regain his momentum and make it three-in-a-row at Imola?

  • Can McLaren spoil Ferrari’s party? A 1-2 victory for David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen could even up the drivers’ championship.

  • The points tally shows that Sauber are the Best of the Rest. Will the works teams of Williams, Jordan and BAR catch up with the Swiss Garagiste?

  • Traffic: As it is difficult to overtake at Imola, backmarkers could determine the outcome of the race.

  • Ewan Tytler© 2007
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