CAN: Schuey's seventh heaven
Another Formula 1 record fell Michael Schumacher's way when he won Canadian Grand Prix number seven, proving unbeatable even from the third row of the grid. By Mark Hughes
Ralf Schumacher! On pole in a Williams FW26! That was very much against the run of play this season - and right up until he came out as the final runner neither he nor his car were considered a threat for the front. But there he was, with a peach of a lap. How did it happen?
There are two parts to the explanation: why it wasn't Ferrari; and thereafter why, of the Michelin runners, it was Williams rather than the habitually faster Renault or BAR.
On the first point, Williams technical director Sam Michael was keeping his feet on the ground. "If you look at difference in lap time between Michael [Schumacher] and Ralf it's massive. That difference is much bigger than fuel load would account for, otherwise you'd need more fuel on board than what I think the capacity of their tank is. I think there is a deficit in [Ferrari's] qualifying performance. I don't think we'll see that in the race."
Indeed, the difference between Ralf and his brother in sixth place was 1.08sec, a difference that would take an extra 40kg of fuel to account for - around 15kg more than the difference between two and three-stop loads.
No, the deficit seemed to be the old chestnut of first-lap tyre performance - and of how the Michelin's got loads of it and the Bridgestone struggles. Amplifying the characteristic were the scorching track temperatures of Saturday afternoon; in the mid-40Cs, it was way hotter than at any time during Friday, when the Ferrari had looked generally the quickest.
For Ferrari the picture had been clouded in pre-qualifying, with Schuey eighth and Rubens Barrichello 11th. On account of their Nurburgring one-two, they'd been the track cleaners in this running-order-deciding session and both had felt a lack of grip as a result. But it had to be more than just that. Ahead of them were a host of Michelin-shod cars, the best of them almost a second quicker. Yes, Williams habitually runs this session light on fuel - and its cars were indeed one-two, Ralf ahead - but the Renaults, BARs and even a McLaren were faster too. It had to be down to one-lap tyre performance in the hot conditions. In which case Ferrari was clearly going to get beaten for pole - even the front row looked unlikely. That being the case, a heavier fuel load and a race-day strategy advantage suggested itself.
So with 50kg of fuel on board and tyres that couldn't produce the instant grip needed, Michael knew he wasn't fighting for pole. Barrichello, on a softer-compound tyre than Schuey, ran with a similar fuel load but messed up his lap with a brake-locking moment into Turn 6 that cost around 0.5sec and left him seventh, behind Michael.
So why was it Williams and not BAR (Takuma Sato had been quickest in the second Friday practice) or Renault (one-two in the second Saturday practice)? Actually, it could easily have been BAR. Jenson Button nailed a lap good for second, only hundredths adrift of Ralf's last-gasp stunner, but which included a brake-locking moment into the hairpin that he said cost him a couple of tenths.
The quality of Button's lap probably contributed to the sister car of Sato starting only 17th, as it was Button's provisional pole that Taku was trying to beat when he got all ragged and oversteery through Turns 6 and 7 and then dropped the lot at the final chicane trying to claw it back. He only just missed the notorious wall as he spun and was lucky to make a dash for the line more or less in one piece.
On Friday Sato - a driver who relishes the late braking this circuit demands - had been very much The Man in the BAR 006, a car that loves the kerbs which are so critical here, pushed along by an engine that devours long straights. If all had gone to plan, you'd have fancied him for pole. But an oil-system problem kept him out of the first Saturday practice at a critical time when track conditions were changing. Then Button did that lap. All of which left Sato under pressure. He responded in the only way he knows - by attacking. It might've worked, but didn't.
The Renaults were on a two-stop strategy and carrying around 25kg more fuel than Ralf. Hence the 0.7sec gap between pole and Jarno Trulli, though that was still good enough for third. Calculating the effect of the extra weight, Jarno would have been in the fight for pole. Fernando Alonso, fifth, wasn't in quite such good shape, his time compromised by collecting some of Sato's debris as he began his lap, this inflicting damage on the Renault's undertray: "I had a bit too much understeer to be really quick." The R24s were running upgraded engines here, with a significant boost in power, though they were still 6mph slower at the end of the back straight than the Ferraris and Williamses.
But it wasn't solely because the BARs didn't do perfect laps and the Renaults ran heavy. For that to have any significance, the Williams needed to be good - and it was, the best it's been all year, as Sam Michael explained: "At a track like this you move into a different efficiency range. The drag ratio increases and where you run in terms of ride height and set-up is quite different. Slow-speed grip and power become more important. Montreal moved the car into a better part of its efficiency range."
That just leaves Ralf's team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya. "I felt good grip and pushed but then ran wide a couple of times, and just to finish it off I then locked a rear into the hairpin," he said in disgust. Even that was good enough for fourth. That's how good the FW26 was on Saturday.
Ralf Schumacher, in pole position, was asked on the grid whether he was worried about his brother Michael coming through to threaten him. "Well, I'd be surprised if he could from where he is," he replied. But he did seem worried; worried about a red spectre two whole rows behind. Sixty-five laps later - before Michael began his five-lap cruise to the flag - Ralf was seven seconds behind the winning Ferrari, having driven a flawless race in the Williams.
Ralf had been banking on the two-stopping Michael being held up by the Renaults and Jenson Button's BAR, while he made his three-stopping escape. And, for a time, it looked like it was happening that way.
Williams technical director Sam Michael had done his sums and liked what he was seeing.
"Up to mid-distance, comparing three stops to two and where each should have been, Ralf was about two seconds in front of Michael," he said.
But Michael had performance in hand - and those cars that Ralf had figured would be baulking the Ferrari actually had pretty good pace and hadn't held him up enough.
In fact, Ralf wasn't the only one who had looked capable of beating Michael; he wasn't even the most likely. Fernando Alonso in his two-stopping Renault was shaping up into a real threat when a driveshaft let go, just as it had on team-mate Jarno Trulli's car three seconds into the race. Given the positional advantage Trulli would have enjoyed, his chances of beating Michael would probably have been even greater than Alonso's.
And finally there was Rubens Barrichello, pressing Michael like crazy in the middle stages, on the same strategy and better tyres. But Michael held the positional advantage and the reason for that went back to Saturday when his team-mate had made a mistake that, with hindsight, may well have cost him the race.
So, two driveshaft failures and a qualifying error; you cannot hand Michael Schumacher advantages like that and get away unpunished. Like last year, this was a race he shouldn't have won, but did. This time, he used his own faultless performance, his car's inherent speed and the failures of others to overcome the handicap the qualifying characteristics of his tyres had forced upon him. In so doing, he became the first man in Formula 1 to win the same event seven times.
"A good package and a bit of luck, I guess," he surmised.
Yes, Michael's luck. Arguably his most dangerous opponent here - Trulli - was out within seconds of the lights changing. As Ralf accelerated cleanly into the lead ahead of Button, Trulli suddenly felt the Renault sit down on one corner. He steered it out of the way of the following pack and parked it. A failure in the driveshaft retention system had damaged the rear suspension, but the cause of the initial failure won't be known until the part was stripped down back in the factory at Enstone.
Two places ahead of Schuey on the grid, Trulli was nonetheless fuelled just as heavily and would probably have made his first pit visit on lap 19, the same as the German. The reluctant early lap pace of the Ferrari's Bridgestones would have made it unlikely it would then have troubled the Renault. The Ferrari's potential pace during the rest of the stint would probably have been better than the Renault's, but positional advantage is almost all. Ferrari's only hope against Trulli would have been for Michael to do an extra lap on the eve of the second stops.
But between Trulli and Michael would almost certainly have been Alonso - and that could well have prevented the Ferrari getting close enough to Trulli in time to make the extra lap count. It's all what ifs, but there's every reason to believe Trulli and Renault could have done it.
Trulli's loss was Alonso's gain as he took up third, right behind the lighter BAR of Button and ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya. Just behind, Kimi Raikkonen almost got past Michael in Turn 2, but just failed to make it work. The Finn was followed by Barrichello.
At the same corner Christian Klien tried for an impossible move down a rapidly narrowing gap inside David Coulthard, touched the McLaren and bundled them both onto the grass. Mark Webber took evasive action, but was then clobbered by Klien, making a heavy landing after getting airborne over the McLaren's wheel. Timo Glock knocked his wing askew in the kerfuffle, too. Felipe Massa took to the grass and Takuma Sato, starting from the pitlane on an altered strategy, had to join him to avoid the whole mess. Webber pitted with a puncture before retiring with suspension damage. Everyone else got going again.
Ralf was devastating in the first few laps, the gap to Button up to 2.4sec after just three laps.
"That was very impressive," said Sam Michael. "That's where Ralf did his work. We knew the gap we needed to beat a two-stopper and that's where he made a lot of ground over Michael. Also, we didn't know what strategy Jenson was on, but if he was on a short two-stop, Ralf had made enough after three laps to beat him."
Actually, Button, like Ralf, was three-stopping and was to come in a lap earlier than the Williams. The BAR's lack of pace was a surprise.
"Both drivers reported the car was oversteery and generally difficult to drive," said technical director Geoff Willis. "With hindsight, we didn't realise we were as quick as we were in Saturday practice. We thought we needed a low fuel load to be quick, and we maybe had the car compromised too much towards qualifying in terms of set-up. We would have been better making use of our speed and going for a longer stint."
Last year, this was almost universally a two-stop race but, since then, the pitlane speed limit has been raised by 30mph and increased tyre grip has brought higher brake wear. So, this year, the trade-off between two and three was close in theory.
At Montreal, brake wear - rather than the more usual tyre degradation - is the deciding factor. Conventional wisdom has it that running the car three-stop light gives the brakes an easier time and that two-stopping is better only in terms of likely positional advantage.
But Renault's Pat Symonds isn't convinced. "One of the reasons why braking is more marginal than it used to be is that we have a lot more tyre grip and we're therefore using the brakes harder," he said. "That leads me to think that maybe a three-stop race isn't a very clever idea because the average tyre grip is higher."
Button's BAR was pulling out nothing over the much heavier car of Alonso, who in turn had Montoya and Schuey just behind. On the seventh lap, Barrichello finally breezed by Raikkonen for sixth on the straight, the McLaren man having put up a very robust defence to this point. Quickly, Barrichello pulled himself up to Michael's gearbox and his pace as he was doing so suggested the Ferraris were being held up by 0.5sec per lap for much of this first stint.
Raikkonen pitted on lap 12, but just touched the white exit line as he rejoined, which guaranteed him a drive-through penalty that would drop him out of the running at the front.
As the other three-stoppers pitted, so Alonso led for a few laps from the two Ferraris. Next, another stroke of luck for Michael. Alonso got ever so slightly sideways as he entered his pit apron. It meant that the refueller didn't get to aim his equipment square-on to the nozzle and it failed to attach. Thinking it was rig failure, the spare was installed instead, but it all cost the Spaniard around eight seconds.
Now Michael was leading, but Barrichello, on his softer tyres, was right on his gearbox and looking for all the world as if he was being held up.
"As he was pushing me, I thought, 'He made the right decision [about tyres] and I made the wrong one!'" said Schumacher.
Critically, however, Michael was fuelled for a lap longer, and so, on Barrichello's in-lap, he was able to hold him back to a comfortable pace before really letting rip on his own in-lap, suddenly 0.6sec quicker. This was a critical stage of the race for Michael. If Barrichello got ahead, he would probably stay there and maybe even pull away. Besides, Barrichello was slightly short-fuelled in an effort to get him out ahead of Montoya. Although Schuey's stop was 1.4sec longer, an out-lap a second faster, plus his in-lap speed just kept him ahead. In the process, it got him by Montoya, putting the Williams between him and Barrichello for a few laps.
Positional advantage is all. In pushing on a heavy load to keep ahead of his team-mate, Michael had hurt his tyres somewhat, and during this middle stint, he wasn't setting the sort of pace that might have been expected. That's how come Sam Michael looked at the gap at the halfway stage, lap 35, and saw that Ralf was still on course to beat his brother. It was a false picture, however. There was more Ferrari pace to come, and Ralf's Williams ultimately had no answer to it.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves. Once the two-stoppers had come in, the three-stoppers, Ralf and Jenson - separated by around four seconds - returned to the front, with Schuey third from Montoya, Barrichello and Alonso. Montoya closed up on Schuey and began to apply a bit of pressure.
"We told Michael to let him past if he had to," said tech boss Ross Brawn. "There was a fear he might then have held him up to help Ralf, but we didn't think he would do that. I told Michael, 'Don't get involved, you don't need it.'"
As it was, Montoya was never quite close enough to force the issue.
When the three-stoppers made their second pit visits - Montoya on lap 30, Button on 31, Ralf on 33 - Barrichello was suddenly free to renew his attack on Michael.
"I was pushing," he said. "I had a better set-up and when everybody says I sit behind and am happy, they can see [today] that I was fighting as hard as anyone to win."
On lap 37, Barrichello jinked around the back of his team-mate as they braked down from 195mph into the 35mph hairpin, and made for the inside. But Michael braked as late as he dared, obliging Barrichello to tuck back behind.
"I had a fight like this a couple of years ago with Coulthard," recalled Barrichello, "and I got past there when David braked so late he couldn't make the inside and the corner was mine. I was thinking this time that Michael might do that and I was saying, 'Oh, go straight, go straight', but he managed to get through."
Repeatedly braking so late while running in Michael's slipstream was taking Barrichello's brake discs into heavy oxidisation territory - and this would have implications later. It was arguable that Ferrari lost the chance of an on-track one-two by not instructing Michael to let Barrichello by at this stage, because Ralf was still very much in the picture. Michael could then have used his extra three laps (caused by Barrichello's earlier short-fuelling) to redress the balance. Except he might not have been able to and so the one-two may then have been RB-MS.
"They were racing," said Brawn.
A cynic from another team said: "It's nice to see Ferrari abandon their policy of team orders. Oh, but Michael was ahead, wasn't he?"
At around this time, Alonso came back onto the radar. His pace since his pit-stop glitch hadn't been spectacular because his front Michelins had grained, just as they had in the first stint. Every other Michelin-shod car was rear-limited, but not the Renault. Once the graining was completed, the car suddenly came alive and from lap 38 it was the fastest on the track and closing down the gap to Ralf's third place, Button having rejoined behind after a slight delay leaving his pit.
"Yes, at that stage we were keeping a very careful eye on [Alonso]," said Brawn. On lap 45 he breathed a little easier as the blue car pulled off with a repeat of the driveshaft failure that had taken out Trulli.
A lap earlier, Barrichello trailed off from Schuey's gearbox into the pitlane for his final stop. As before, Schuey let rip, upping his pace by 0.5sec. Barrichello was still fighting.
"I pushed like hell on my out-lap because I wanted to get in front of him," he said, "but it cooked my brakes and I went straight on at Turn 8."
This lost Barrichello five seconds, which as well as allowing Michael off the hook cost him second place to Ralf (on the road at least, for there was a silly post-race disqualification of the two Williamses and Toyotas for brake duct infringements). Michael pitted on lap 47, just one before the three-stoppers began their final visits. Sato's engine blew up yet again at this point.
With all the stops over, Michael led by six seconds from his brother, with
Barrichello a further five seconds back, but a long way clear of Button who was now under big pressure from Montoya. Well behind this group ran a troubled Raikkonen. As well as his drive-through, he'd had a slow second stop while the steering wheel was replaced because of a short-circuit. He looked set for a distant sixth, but had to make his fifth pit visit on lap 60 for his third steering wheel of the race. This dropped him behind an inspired Giancarlo Fisichella, doing a great job in the two-stopping Sauber. Fisi's team-mate, however, was not having such a happy time, Massa crashing out of 12th heavily at the hairpin on lap 63 with left-rear suspension failure.
Cristiano da Matta - whose strategy looked better than Toyota team-mate Olivier Panis's - took eighth before his disqualification, having lost valuable ground to Raikkonen and Fisichella due to inopportunely-timed blue flags. Coulthard was next, his race ruined at the first corner. Panis crossed the line ninth. Rookie Glock finished a metre or so ahead of Jordan team-mate Nick Heidfeld, only after the latter was delayed by a minute after knocking over his rig man when the lollipop was lifted prematurely at his first stop. Klien, 13th pre-disqualifications, ninth after, had a large number of incidents and pitted five times. He was ahead only of Zsolt Baumgartner's Minardi at the end.
Five laps from home, Michael began to cruise. He allowed Ralf to close, while Barrichello set fastest lap chasing the Williams and later pondered - along with Trulli and Alonso - what might have been.
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