BRA: Juan upmanship
Juan Pablo Montoya ended his Williams career with a bang. And, crucially, he beat Kimi Räikkönen, his 2005 team-mate at McLaren. By Mark Hughes
Rubens Barrichello's weekend began to lock into place when Michael Schumacher suffered a big off in the closing minutes of Saturday practice after the Ferrari bottomed out over the bumps in the braking area for Turn 6, the fourth-gear uphill right. Schumacher got the corrective lock on but the car appeared to be sitting on its plank and didn't respond. As it then came off the plank, so Michael's opposite lock speared it off to the left and he hit the tyre barriers hard, side-on. A brief engine fire erupted as the seriously-damaged Ferrari sat forlorn. For qualifying Michael would be in the T-car with a fresh engine, thereby taking a hit of 10 grid places.
But it would be wrong to say Rubens was gifted this opportunity. The reason Michael was pushing so hard that he went off was that he was making his third attempt at beating his team-mate's time. Barrichello was on it on at home, pumped up and ready. "As I crossed the line and realised I had done it, my legs went light," he said. "The pressure had been so big. I think if I'd made a mistake the fans would have chased me to the garage!"
The crowd - excited by Felipe Massa's quick time a couple of runs earlier - let rip for Barrichello. In beautifully rhythmic time they stamped the creaking boards of the grandstands to their chants of 'Ru-bin-ho, Ru-bin-ho'. Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen, second and third, shrugged their shoulders and headed for the press conference.
"I was quite conservative in the first sector," said JPM, "because that's where you can gain or lose it all, but even so I don't think I could've done Rubens' time." The Williams hadn't been easy to set up and it was only in the second Saturday morning session - after the stray dogs had been rounded up in the first! - that the team found a decent balance. Even then the traditional Interlagos bumps didn't sit well with the restricted travel of the FW26's front suspension.
Williams had erred towards a high-downforce set-up, covering itself for the sort of wet-dry race the forecasts suggested. The team consequently found the most time from the twists of sector two and the cars were relatively slow down the long pitstraight.
By way of contrast, the McLaren MP4-19B was soaking up the bumps just fine and had been well balanced almost from the moment it first ran on Friday. "I've been really happy with it all weekend," said Räikkönen. "I could have had pole. The lap was okay, but the rear was loose through Turns 1 and 9 and it just got out of shape." The McLarens, like Barrichello, were between the extremes of the Saubers (low downforce) and Williams (high downforce) in their chosen wing level.
Massa used a lowish fuel weight in the Sauber to overcome the sector two penalty of low wing and produce the fourth fastest lap, just 0.276 seconds off pole. "All day I had the confidence to be flat in Turn 11 but then in qualifying I had a big snap oversteer and lost a tenth or so," he said. The Saubers used a harder compound of Bridgestone than the two Ferraris.
Jenson Button got well out of shape through the same Turn 6 that had claimed Schuey and lost a couple of tenths there, all of which left him a disappointed fifth. The team had been hoping for more than that on a bumpy track that should have given its FCP (the front clutch package that reduces front wheel-locking) a chance to shine. The Honda horsepower was evident in how the car was still accelerating as it reached the braking point for Turn 1, despite running a high wing level.
Team-mate Takuma Sato, 0.1sec and one place behind, was similarly disappointed. His problem came in the first couple of turns, where he found less rear-end grip than in pre-qualifying. "Maybe I needed a harder out-lap to get the right temperature for the start of the lap," he said.
Ralf Schumacher appeared cautious in the first couple of turns and had a visible understeer problem through the slow turns of sector two. The FW26 had not enjoyed a good balance all weekend and, whereas Montoya muscled it around regardless, Ralf spent time trying - in vain - to find the car's sweet spot.
Brother Michael, in the spare Ferrari, was loaded up with fuel in the knowledge of his 10-place penalty and was therefore only eighth fastest, good for 18th on the grid. He also ran very little wing, knowing he would need above all to be able to overtake in the race. This worked against an optimum qualifying time, but even allowing for these factors he was still disappointed.
The Renaults also ran with very little wing and probably suffered in qualifying as a result. Fernando Alonso was the only Michelin runner not to choose the harder-compound tyre and, though he suffered with the car's usual slow-corner understeer, he had a reasonable lap to go ninth.
Alonso's former team-mate, Jarno Trulli, rounded out the top 10 in the Toyota. This was a great effort in a car that disliked the bumps and kerbs and for the second race in succession it seemed like he'd flattered it into a grid position it didn't deserve.
Giancarlo Fisichella was on a different strategy to Sauber team-mate Massa and was 0.6sec slower with substantially more fuel, placing him 11th ahead of Mark Webber - in the Jaguar for the last time. The R5b was well balanced here but hopelessly outclassed in the power stakes. "It was a better time than I was expecting," he said, "but as I came to the last turn at the bottom of the hill I was perhaps too conservative." He'd been greedy there last year and had lost the front row.
Next came a host of underperformers. David Coulthard, Jacques Villeneuve, Ricardo Zonta and Christian Klien filled 13th to 16th places, each with disappointing tales. DC had been suffering power understeer until qualifying when he had a big oversteering moment through Turn 3: "From there I wasn't sure how it was going to behave and I was a bit cautious." Villeneuve didn't cope with his understeer, Zonta didn't get his set-up right and suffered a lot of slow-corner understeer and Klien made a succession of small errors that snowballed into a lap time 0.6sec off team-mate Webber's.
Nick Heidfeld did a neat lap in the Jordan for 17th and, though team-mate Timo Glock was 0.7sec slower, some of that was due to a heavier fuel load. Zsolt Baumgartner's was the only Minardi to run, as Gianmaria Bruni's had suffered a rear-suspension problem in pre-qualifying.
There's something about Interlagos. The atmosphere was electrifying as the drivers left their garages and made their way to the dummy grid amid a steady drizzle. The occasion felt momentous as wailing V10s left behind a wake of mist and uncertainty. Combined with the amphitheatre contours of the place, it felt more than ever like a coliseum. The crowd provided their thumping, chanting backbeat as teams and drivers tried to make up their minds about wets or dries. Radios crackled, tyre fitters wheeled trolleys back and forth between cars and pitlane.
Michelin tyre engineers were praying for the drizzle to stop now that it had showered the track enough to give them a big advantage if they were able to retain their dries. But still it kept coming, to the relief of the Bridgestone guys; shallow wet conditions surely favoured them and, as the moment of decision approached, we seemed to have reached that phase. 'Okay, wets,' ordered race engineers to their fitters up and down the grid - even as far back as 18th, where Michael Schumacher sat.
But there were a couple of dissenting opinions. Renault engineering boss Pat Symonds overruled his drivers and ordered dries for Fernando Alonso and Jacques Villeneuve, while David Coulthard, wanting at the last moment to change to wets, found there wasn't time. His dries were fitted, but in the confusion they hadn't been pre-heated.
Up at the front there really wasn't any decision to be made. Polesitter Rubens Barrichello knew this was way too wet for Bridgestone dries. With a higher operating temperature than the Michelins, the coolness of a damp track takes them further away from that window. Alongside him, Juan Pablo Montoya wanted above all to cover the heavier fuel load Williams suspected McLaren was carrying. This required JPM to maintain track position. This in turn required wets.
A track wet enough to demand wets but likely to dry before you could coincide your planned first stop with your enforced tyre change was really bad news for those carrying bigger fuel loads. We didn't know it at this stage, but Kimi Räikkönen had planned to two-stop, while Barrichello and Montoya had intended to three-stop. At a stroke, Kimi was up against it.
As it was, Räikkönen passed JPM off the line anyway as the lights went out and the Williams bogged down. Barrichello led, but exiting the long left-hander of Turn 3 he didn't have the front-end bite of the McLaren and, as he ran wide, so Kimi got alongside and outdragged him down the back straight. Montoya's slow getaway had allowed Felipe Massa past and, as they came through Turn 4, Montoya attempted to brave his way by on the outside. Massa was having none of it and - just as at Spa - left Montoya to make his own arrangements, Jenson Button nipping by as the Williams slithered all over the kerb.
But Button was on borrowed time. Even as he passed Massa for third into the infield, he knew his engine was about to expire. It had begun smoking badly on the grid. "I was hoping that it would cool as we got going," he said.
A sticking valve in the pressure system had starved the motor of oil and he would retire very soon. Montoya meanwhile repassed the spirited Massa and, as they each repassed Button, they were followed through by Takuma Sato, Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli and Christian Klien, the latter having benefited from team-mate Mark Webber being forced wide through Turn 1 at the start in avoiding Jacques Villeneuve.
Meantime, Michael Schumacher took a quick spin out of Turn 3 as he started his third lap. He got going again but was now behind Webber's 12th-placed Jaguar. The Ferrari was running lots of fuel and not much wing on account of Schuey's penalised grid position and both these things were counting against it.
Barrichello was now coming back hard at Räikkönen and as they completed lap three the Ferrari was sucking in the McLaren down the pitstraight. Rubens jinked inside and held Kimi out wide as they dived for Turn 1. It was the classic Interlagos passing move and the crowd roared its approval. With both using their tyre brands' wet-weather rubber, the Bridgestone-shod Ferrari might have been expected to pull easily away from the McLaren and its Michelins. But in fact, with the track already beginning to dry, Kimi was able to hang on reasonably well.
The real barometer of the state of the track was Alonso on his dries. The Renault had been near undriveable at first - he went off on the formation lap and the opening lap! - but slowly got better. Williams technical director Sam Michael was monitoring it very closely. On the second lap Fernando - slithering along in 17th place - had been 10 seconds slower than the fastest of the wet-tyred cars. On lap three he was only two seconds slower. That was enough for Sam. The moment the time flashed up, he called Ralf Schumacher in. As Ralf was stationary - losing a couple of seconds by not immediately going when the lollipop was lifted - Alonso was tripping the timing beam for a lap a full 2.7sec faster than leader Barrichello's. It was only at this point that the rest of the pitlane woke up and brought their men in. Räikkönen, Montoya, Sato, Trulli and Michael Schumacher all stopped for dries.
But not Barrichello. He stayed out one more lap before pitting and handing Massa a brief lead. "In these sort of conditions we are not fantastic," Rubens said in reference to his tyres. "In the wet we are the fastest; in the dry we are the fastest. But in the damp we are in trouble. It was hard to call for slicks because the car was all over the place and it still seemed too wet." His fears were confirmed as he rejoined eighth, felt the lack of grip and struggled to lap within two seconds of the dicing Montoya and Räikkönen who were in second and third behind Alonso, who of course had not needed to stop.
There had been a great spectacle of Räikkönen and Montoya leaving the pits absolutely together and driving down most of the length of the pitlane side by side. Räikkönen had the inside for the left-hander at the end of the lane and so kept his position, but Montoya then pulled the move around the outside of Turn 4 that had failed with Massa. This time he made it stick. "I was too conservative there," said Kimi. It turned out to be a crucial point in the outcome of the race.
Spread out behind Alonso, Montoya and Räikkönen after the stops were Schumacher Jr, Sato and Barrichello, with Villeneuve and Coulthard fighting over seventh. Massa had fallen out of the picture with the same struggle on his Bridgestones that Barrichello had spoken of, but more so given that he was on a harder compound. "I will never forget that lap of leading my home race though," said Felipe. "That was a very special moment."
Villeneuve and Coulthard had not fared anything like as well as the similarly dry-shod Alonso. On his cold tyres, DC had been slow away and taken a biff into the first turn. By the third lap both he and JV had been passed by Zsolt Baumgartner's Minardi and were at the back! While Alonso was triggering the pitstops with his 1m17.692s on lap five, JV and DC were around 2.5sec slower. But thereafter they made their way through the field as those in front of them were forced to pit. Michael Schumacher joined their dice and on lap nine DC forcefully repelled him at the first turn. Michael was now 10th, 27sec behind the lead and falling ever further back. No miracles today.
Schuey's race was a curious one. He would have to wait until Coulthard and Villeneuve pitted before he got past them. Sure, he was on a heavier fuel load and the Bridgestones weren't great on a damp track. But even after they'd got out of the way and given him a clear run, he was lapping between 0.5-0.8sec per lap slower than Barrichello, with the same fuel load. The lower wing settings he'd chosen in order to make progress from his penalised grid position were certainly less well suited to the damp, and so here was yet a further snowballing penalty of his attempt to beat Barrichello's time in Saturday practice. The same white-hot competitive intensity that has made him the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time had worked against him - and now that quality wasn't very evident.
Alonso finally made his first scheduled stop on lap 18, surrendering a lead of just over six seconds. Completely out of synch with most of the rest of the field, he rejoined sixth, just behind Barrichello. For the next eight laps he would suffer fairly serious graining of his front tyres, costing him around three seconds, this the penalty for his choice of the softer-compound Michelin.
It had taken a long time for the track to dry enough to allow the Bridgestones to work properly, but on the 17th lap Barrichello set the fastest time of the race so far - at 1m12.4s, a tad quicker than the frontrunning Montoya and Räikkönen. Montoya still had another 11 laps to go before his second stop and he really began to nail it now with some superbly consistent on-the-limit lappery. Just as at Monaco 2003, with the possibility of victory clear he was focused and completely error-free. Räikkönen struggled to keep pace, the gap growing from 3.5 to 4.7sec between laps 19 and 25 before Kimi began to come back.
Ralf Schumacher was having a fairly lonely race in third at this point, around six seconds adrift of Räikkönen and under no threat from Sato, who in turn was only gradually being reeled in by Barrichello.
On lap 24 any chance of a decent showing for Jaguar Racing in its final grand prix came to an end when Webber and Klien collided into Turn 1 when fighting for 10th. Since his first-lap delay and his subsequent queuing in the pitlane behind Klien, Webber had made up the lost ground and had been lapping around 0.5sec quicker than his team-mate. Once onto his tail he waited a couple of laps, hoping for Klien to move aside. When it became clear that wasn't going to happen, Webber took a dive down the inside into Turn 1. He was most of the way alongside but still Klien turned in and one Jag scraped along the side of the other, Webber then tripping over his own nosecone before pulling off. Klien pitted for a new nose.
The second stops of the three-stoppers came between laps 26-30. Ralf was the first in and again he lost time with an error. This time he tried to go before the lollipop was lifted and had to immediately pull up short. It lost him three seconds, which would prove crucial later on. Räikkönen pitted a lap after Montoya but couldn't get close enough to leapfrog him. Besides which, Montoya's out-lap
was superb and his follow-up of 1m11.644s was the fastest of the race so far, so that his lead after the stops actually increased to 6.5sec. JPM's last race for Williams was shaping up into perhaps his finest. Räikkönen had been fuelled for five more laps than Montoya and so the sting of his challenge would come later.
Alonso remained third from Schumacher Jr, Sato, Barrichello and the battling Saubers of Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella, the latter having been delayed with a lap-one trip across the grass while avoiding an early-braking car. Schumacher's Ferrari lay only ninth, ahead of the still-battling Villeneuve and Coulthard.
JV was by now in the swing of things and lapping pretty much as quickly as Alonso - and his fastest lap was only 0.1sec slower. It was looking by far the most convincing race of his comeback.
That said, Alonso was not in great shape, his compound choice having proved very definitely to be the wrong one. He made his second and final stop on lap 47 and, in order to avoid a repeat of the graining phase, the team decided not to change his front tyres. He rejoined seventh but immediately the three-stoppers (those who'd made the extra stop to change to dries) ahead began coming in for their last stops too: Ralf, Barrichello, Montoya.
When he stopped, Montoya had an advantage of around six seconds over Räikkönen, helped by what would be the fastest lap of the race just prior to coming in. He wasn't able to post quite such an impressive series of post-stop laps as last time, however. Partly it was down to a tired neck, something that Barrichello was suffering from too on this anti-clockwise circuit.
Räikkönen responded in the five laps he had before his own stop, setting a best lap just 0.1sec shy of Montoya's record. This was gripping stuff. The stop was good, but he exited still behind the Williams, albeit now trailing by just 1.4sec. Kimi was suffering no neck problems and began to attack, taking 0.3sec off on this lap, 0.2sec the next.
By being fuelled a little longer and banging in the fast late laps, Barrichello had leapfrogged both Sato and Ralf Schumacher to go third. Critically he exited ahead of Alonso, who was now in real difficulties given that his front tyres were well into their second stint. Soon Sato and the brothers Ralf and Michael were queued up behind. Ralf scrabbled by Sato on one occasion into Turn 1 but ran wide, enabling the BAR to retake the place. This was where Ralf's earlier pitstop errors proved costly. Had he not made them he would have exited in front of Alonso. For a time Michael was looking very threatening to Ralf's position, but never tried a move and would come home a subdued seventh.
Still the lead struggle was not over. By lap 68 Räikkönen was only 0.6sec behind and pushing very hard indeed. A little too hard, for he overcommitted into the slow Turn 9 and ran wide. Effectively Montoya was off the hook, though he'd always looked in control. Three laps from the end Sato, attempting to pass Alonso, instead lost fifth to Ralf. Alonso's drive under taxing circumstances had been superb.
Afterwards Räikkönen was rueing that conservative run into Turn 4 just after the first stops. "I think that's when the race was decided," he said. His own country's weather had probably kept Barrichello from victory, but third was the maximum possible on the day - and he'd been fast enough early in the weekend to induce a nightmare performance from Michael Schumacher. That first home win will have to wait another year.
And now Montoya heads into the off-season with a nice warm glow from the knowledge that he beat his future team-mate fair and square.
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