Analysis: Can Anyone Beat Kimi?

Despite Nick Heidfeld's pole position for BMW Williams at the Nurburgring yesterday, the feeling is that Kimi Raikkonen is well set to score a hat-trick of F1 wins in today's race, following up his dominant performances in Barcelona and Monte Carlo

Analysis: Can Anyone Beat Kimi?

Raikkonen has qualified just 0.116s slower than Heidfeld who, it is suspected, may be a fair bit lighter than Williams teammate Mark Webber, who qualified third with the second FW27. Heidfeld's pole is the first ever by a German driver with a German engine in a World Championship race in Germany, but the suspicion is that, although the gap between the Williams drivers is less than three tenths of a second, Heidfeld may even be looking at a three-stop race.

Nurburgring has one of the biggest fuel effects, with 10 kilos of fuel equating to around 0.35s in lap time, so race strategy plays an important role and, without the level playing field empty-tank qualifying session for the first time this year, the European GP grid more directly reflects race strategy.

Ron Dennis is very confident that his team got the right strategy to win the race.

"When you come to a race, you have your theoretical optimum strategy - assuming there are no cars on the circuit, the fastest way to get from beginning to end of the race," explains McLaren chief Ron Dennis. "When you vary away from that optimum, you are doing it either for grid positions or on the basis of being blocked and having the benefit of going long and getting an advantage.

"Our pace through the weekend so far has not required us to deviate from the optimum strategy. We have a healthy respect for our competition but we think we know where the competition is and what their strategies are. Only the race will tell but, certainly, Kimi's front row position coupled with the fact that we think we have the best start line performance at the moment, should give us a slight advantage. We're not too concerned about the people around us."

The people directly around Raikkonen are the two Williams men and Toyota's Jarno Trulli. Although Williams are expected to race strongly, they are unlikely to be at McLaren's pace and they are likely to have based their strategy around qualifying ahead of Trulli, who they have found themselves running behind at a number of races. If you were cynical, you might also suspect that with BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen currently making his proposals to the Munich board and said to be leaning towards a new relationship with Sauber, then a 2-3 result in Monaco followed by pole position in Germany, might just make things a little tougher for him...

Trulli, incidentally, rated his qualifying lap as mistake free and one of the best he has driven - which is saying quite a lot - so it would be reasonable to assume that the Toyota is fuel-heavy and, while unlikely to trouble McLaren, could be in the hunt for a podium and certainly strong points. Juan Pablo Montoya, fifth, admits to having some difficulty getting the McLaren tuned in to his style and says that his qualifying performances are suffering as a result. But from fifth on the grid, Montoya is odds-on for a podium.

The Renaults are also likely to be fuelled heavy, with Fernando Alonso starting sixth, almost a second behind Heidfeld's pole, and Giancarlo Fisichella ninth, a whole second and a half away.

As in Monaco, tyre wear could also be an issue at the Nurburgring. The track is not as severe on the rears as Monaco, but radio reports had Saturday's temperature in the Eifel mountains as the highest on the corresponding day for 100 years! That was certainly not anticipated when tyre pre-selection was carried out.

And then there is Ferrari. Michael Schumacher has qualified 10th, 0.34s behind teammate Rubens Barrichello, despite Barrichello making a mistake in the first sector which looked to have cost him around three tenths of a second. It is fair to assume that Schumacher's car is therefore very heavy and will do a long first stint. Either that, or he lost out because he ran the car with less downforce in a bid to facilitate overtaking in the race. Or both.

The clue to the reduced levels of downforce was given by Schumacher being fastest through the speed trap in qualifying, despite what is almost sure to be a fuel-heavy car, but also running wide in the tight Turn 10, where he would have appreciated more aero assistance, which cost him a couple of tenths.

Expect the Ferrari race pace to be very strong, and as Ross Brawn pointed out: "Unlike Monaco, there is potential to get something out of a good race strategy and of course it is possible to overtake at this track."

Although Schumacher's speed trap advantage was not huge, it is worth pointing out that the trap is positioned just before the chicane, the key overtaking opportunity on the circuit. It would be a brave man who bet against Schumacher finishing on the podium today. Whether he can trouble Raikkonen is another question.

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