HUN: Schuey's record collection
In a far superior car, Michael Schumacher overcame the drubbing of Hungary 2003 for two more record achievements: his 12th win of the season and Ferrari's sixth straight constructors' title. By Mark Hughes
The coolest qualifying temperatures in the history of the Hungarian Grand Prix changed a few things, but it's doubtful whether they changed the front row. It was the fourth Ferrari lock-out of the year, with Michael Schumacher just edging out Rubens Barrichello. There couldn't have been a more striking refutation of the nadir of Ferrari's 2003 season. But, although the duo would almost certainly have been up front regardless of the weather conditions, it's more likely that the anomalous temperature actually amplified their advantage.
Certainly it hurt the McLaren MP4/19B - the machine many fancied as the strongest threat to the Ferraris here - because it tricked the team into making the wrong tyre choice.
It probably hurt BAR's Jenson Button too, as he made too conservative an out-lap and didn't have optimum tyre temperature for the first part of his lap. But they're details, really.
The Ferrari F2004 was suited to the tight twists, turns and bumps in a way the F2003-GA had not been, aided immeasurably by the vastly improved wares of tyre supplier Bridgestone, which had come up with a new rear construction for this race. "Much of the credit for this does go to the Bridgestones," said Ross Brawn. "They are a big step forward."
It could all so easily have swung the other way. About halfway through the session - with the Ferraris running right at the end, on account of having been one-two (Barrichello ahead) in pre-qualifying - it seemed for all the world as if the heavens were about to open. A fine spray built into a few drops that got as far as spoiling Jarno Trulli's lap. But then the downpour was postponed until the start of the Formula 3000 race and the Ferraris were safe. It would have been unfair, but potentially fun on Sunday, to have had the red cars back in, say, 17th and 18th.
By the time Barrichello ran his lap as the last car of the session, the track temperature was a full 10C down on its pre-qualifying level. "It meant the car had more understeer than in pre-qualifying," reported Rubens, "and I guess Michael coped with that a little better than me." Actually, the number two Ferrari was on a softer compound of Bridgestone than Schumacher's and this might have been expected to have granted the Brazilian an advantage in the cooler conditions, but the balance perhaps changed more and that scuppered his chances of pole.
By his own standards this year, Schumacher's lap had been good but not great. There was a slight over-commitment into Turn 1 and a moment of hesitation while he sorted out the ensuing moment over the bumps before he was able to get back on the throttle. The 0.2sec advantage over Barrichello came in the middle sector and particularly the way he was able to get the front of the car settled early into the tricky quick sweeps of Turns 8 and 9, Michael audibly able to pick up earlier there on the throttle.
Half a second behind the all-Ferrari front row was an all-BAR row two, Takuma Sato only just edging out the media-harrassed Button. Both laps had their imperfections. In the hotter conditions of pre-qualifying the Michelins were giving out before the lap was over unless you went very gently on the out-lap. That was no longer the case an hour later, as Button discovered with a general lack of grip in the first sector as the rubber came up to temperature. It paid dividends in sector three, where he was quickest of all, but not to the extent of overcoming his early deficit.
Sato was quick early in the lap but had a wild ride on the exit of Turn 11, dropping a couple of wheels off and giving a nice moment of Sato-style drama. He reckoned it lost him a couple of tenths. He was 0.007sec quicker than his team-mate.
Fernando Alonso was one of many surprised by the grip reduction between qualifying sessions and rescued a scarily-fast moment through the fifth-gear Turn 4 on his lap. It left him fifth, but at no stage of the weekend did the Renaults look like approaching their 2003 form here, despite an uprated engine. Trulli was left back in ninth, hurt in the final sector by the brief rainfall.
A new nose for the Williams didn't make much difference to its feel according to Juan Pablo Montoya, who qualified seventh, a place behind team-mate Antonio Pizzonia, who this time kept his composure at the critical moment and did a far better qualifying lap than at Hockenheim. "I was probably a bit too conservative with the set-up," said Montoya, "and I had understeer, having had oversteer until five minutes before the end of the final practice. We over-compensated."
Giancarlo Fisichella made good use of the Bridgestone grip in the cool conditions to put his Sauber in eighth spot. Felipe Massa in the other car didn't even run because he would have incurred a 10-place penalty regardless due to the engine failure he had in morning practice.
Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top 10 at a track where he might have expected much more from the McLaren. Friday running had revealed internal blistering in the softer Michelin, not necessarily a major problem, but potentially so if it escalated. Furthermore, Raikkonen had done a quicker time on the hard and that therefore became the logical choice. But hindsight revealed that the faster time was probably more to do with Raikkonen doing the hard- tyre run when the circuit had become faster - the hard option didn't work in the cooler conditions of qualifying.
Mark Webber was conservative at Turn 1 on account of having locked up badly there on his pre-qualifying lap and was 0.3sec slower than Jaguar team-mate Christian Klien through sector one as a result. He nonetheless clawed that and more back to go 11th, three places and 0.4sec better than Klien. Both Jags were fuelled long.
David Coulthard in 12th was in the same tyre-compound conundrum as Raikkonen, while 13th quickest Olivier Panis was at a loss to explain where the practice pace of his Toyota TF104B had gone. "I can only assume we caught the wind at a bad point," he said. He was quicker than newly-promoted Ricardo Zonta, 15th, who confessed to being affected by his unfamiliarity with one-lap qualifying.
Nick Heidfeld and Giorgio Pantano in 16th and 17th were separated by 1.2sec in Jordans that appeared even more nervous than usual under braking and turn in, Pantano struggling particularly in the final two corners. Zsolt Baumgartner pleased the home crowd by lapping 0.3sec quicker than Minardi team-mate Gianmaria Bruni, aided by a significantly lighter fuel load.
There's no-one left to beat and so, with broken records littering the ground he stands upon, Michael Schumacher has taken the fight to time itself. It's a battle he's only ever going to lose, but at the moment he's winning even this one. Just think back to 2003 when a victorious Fernando Alonso, 12 years his junior, lapped him. This time Alonso was best non-Ferrari in third - and Michael could probably have lapped him had he so chosen. One year on and he's reversed the tide of the generations.
Schumacher was left to break another of his own records - winning 12 times in a season beats his 2002 tally - Ferrari another of its own by taking its sixth consecutive constructors' championship. It was aided, as if it needed any help,
by a spectacularly effective new Bridgestone rear tyre.
On lap 28, seven laps short of the halfway point, Schumacher set a stunning 1m19.0s, 1.2 seconds faster than any non-Ferrari would lap in the whole race. At that point his margin over third-placed Alonso was 27sec. It was just feasible that Michael might be going to lap the Renault before the end. Bridgestone technical manager Hisao Suganuma always monitors the race from the Ferrari pitwall and at this point he got very excited. "Yes, I was thinking, 'Come on Michael, do it, let's get revenge.'" As it happens, that wasn't how Michael or the team chose to run their race, but Suganuma-san's sentiments reflected just how powerful a driving force last year's Hungary drubbing was in coming back here with something special.
Some of the statistics were mind-blowing. Since being lapped here last year Ferrari has won 15 of the 16 races that have followed. Michael's fastest lap was 4.2sec faster than his best lap of 2003, an improvement of 5.25 percent. In cumulative race distances since Hungary '03 they have lapped the opposition twice.
But without detracting from Ferrari's awesome achievement - the sixth consecutive constructors' title was publicly acknowledged by Frank Williams as one of the most astonishing sporting feats of all time - even its usual level of superiority seemed to be amplified here by the new Bridgestone rear construction.
It had first appeared at the Jerez test between Silverstone and Hockenheim, where Rubens Barrichello was comfortably fastest against a full field of quick Michelin cars in track temperatures in excess of 50C. What's more, the car was quick on the first lap and super-consistent thereafter. Bridgestone was ecstatic; fastest in high temperatures and on a surface demanding high chemical grip - the supposed two keys of Bridgestone's shortcomings, the two main features of the Hungaroring. What's more it promised to allow Ferrari to be quick in qualifying without the need to run light on fuel.
So here was the new Hungary tyre, the weapon to redress last year's embarrassment. For Hockenheim the new compound had been used. Here, both compound and construction were as in Jerez, and the outcome was even more resounding. Suganuma is normally a very reserved, polite man. But there's a deep competitive racer's streak in him and he couldn't resist a celebratory dig. "People have said our tyre does not work well in high temperatures. Well, we'd like to shut those mouths up now."
After the race, after Alonso had spent an hour-and-a-half driving round on his own, the two cars ahead of him becoming distant dots which then disappeared entirely, the Spaniard said: "To have the chance to beat Ferrari next year we have to have a bit of help from Michelin... We are far away from a tyres point of view." That might not be entirely fair. Certainly Michelin's Pierre Dupasquier didn't think so. But before going any further into that let's acknowledge what little action there was out on the track.
It was warm. Not by Hungaroring standards, but the track temperature was in the high-40s as they lined up on the grid, much warmer than qualifying had been. There may have been some Michelin runners who believed that offered them a window of opportunity. If so, they were to be sorely disappointed. Schumacher easily led into the first turn, Barrichello took up station behind. Alonso had used the Renault's amazing traction to complete an exquisite move between the two BARs. He thought about a look inside Barrichello as the Ferrari's right front briefly locked, but then backed out of it.
Enter Takuma Sato, stage left. Having been out-accelerated he certainly wasn't going to be out-braved and he reappeared in Alonso's left-hand peripheral vision. There cannot be a worse corner to get on the outside of. Dusty and long, the outside describes a much longer circumference than the alternative line.
Juan Pablo Montoya learned as much last year when he was bundled down the field there. He wasn't about to make the same mistake again and, as Sato sawed away at the wheel, desperately trying to maintain grip and momentum, Alonso was released from his threat, Jenson Button out-accelerated Sato and Montoya got alongside both BARs from the grippy inside. The Williams out-accelerated Sato as they came out of Turn 2 then immediately ducked down the inside of Button into three to take up fourth place. It was a superbly instinctive racer's opening lap.
Sato's problems accumulated as, with dusty tyres, he was nudged down further in the following couple of turns by Jarno Trulli and Kimi Raikkonen. Further back, Antonio Pizzonia was another to take Turn 1 on the outside, losing a load of places as a result. Ricardo Zonta was knocked into a spin there by Giorgio Pantano, clipping Mark Webber's Jag as he did, but he got going again.
The two Ferraris were comfortably out of range of Alonso at the completion of the lap, the Renault followed by Montoya, Button, Trulli, Raikkonen and Sato. Schumacher had pulled out 2.5sec by the third lap and it was already apparent that Barrichello had no answer to his team-mate today, despite similar fuel loads and a softer compound tyre. Did the conditions on the day suit Michael's harder tyre? "No, I don't think so," said Suganuma. "There was no significant performance difference between the two compounds. I think the difference came from somewhere else..."
Barrichello was a similar distance clear of Alonso, who in turn was able to drop Montoya. With Alonso in clean air the true superiority of the Ferraris became clear. What's more Fernando wasn't even running as much fuel as them, coming in at the end of lap 10 more than 12sec adrift of the leader. During that stint the performance pattern showed the Renault to be initially around a second slower than Michael, in the middle only around 0.6sec and at the end up to 1.5sec. Here was where the strength of the Bridgestone rear became apparent.
It's standard practice to set up a car to understeer early in the stint in order that the oversteer you get later is manageable, but the Michelin teams were inducing a lot more early understeer and still getting more late stint oversteer as the rears went away. Bridgestone's rears - on the Ferraris at least - stayed in perfect shape.
The first round of stops (laps 10-12 for most of the field) saw Raikkonen fall back and eventually retire with a suspected software-related engine problem, enabling Sato to take over seventh. Pizzonia stayed out until lap 14, three longer than team-mate Montoya (putting his qualifying performance into a very good light) and in the process leapfrogged Giancarlo Fisichella for eighth. He was now four seconds behind Sato and closing. Schumacher was around seven seconds clear of Barrichello, more than 20sec ahead of Alonso.
Although the red cars looked serene at the head of the field, in their pits there was serious concern about the fuel rig that had been used at Barrichello's stop. Spilt fuel on the floor gave an initial concern that he'd been short-filled, though the telemetry revealed any shortfall not to be significant. As a precaution the couplings were changed and for the rest of the stops Michael's rig as used for both cars. The drivers never even knew. Montoya, Button and Trulli had run very close together for the first stint but on his second set of tyres Trulli began suffering serious front graining. As they approached the second stops the problem was so serious he was leapfrogged by Sato and Pizzonia.
Not long after, the Renault's engine expired. Button too had suffered tyre troubles during his second stint, the use of semi- rather than fully-scrubbed rears inducing big oversteer. But Trulli's slow pace behind him had prevented Sato and Pizzonia from being in range to leapfrog him. "We had fully scrubbed ones put on for the third stint and it was fine again," said Button, who was soon back up with Montoya.
Behind Fisichella in the second stint was a good battle between David Coulthard and Webber. The Jag had run a very long first stint of 16 laps, but was eating its rear tyres regardless of how much early understeer was dialled in. Eventually the lack of rear grip caught him out at Turn 9 and he spun. He got going without losing a place but had lost 13sec to the McLaren, not that the silver car was giving its driver an easy time. "In these longer duration turns it just couldn't maintain a constant load," said DC. "Even a Jordan was keeping a higher minimum speed through the corner."
Trulli's retirement brought Fisichella into the top eight. He was on the new Bridgestone 'wonder tyres' too. Where was his pace? His best lap was only ninth quickest. This was indeed Dupasquier's point when angrily answering criticism of the Michelins. "I was watching his times very carefully when he had a free track ahead of him, but there were no miracle laps. I tell you, you cannot separate car from tyre."
Even Suganuma conceded that, "Our other cars had some blisters, but not the Ferraris. As well as the tyre, it's also about a car's downforce and its balance. If it is good in those areas it looks after its tyres better because it is not sliding the tyre so much."
Even if not a lot happened on track, Hungary was a good race for comparing the performance characteristics of the various cars. In looking at the Montoya/Button struggle, the BAR seemed quicker, particularly so late in the stint. Once he got onto scrubbed tyres Button was satisfied with the way his car maintained a reasonable balance through the stint, but Montoya was finding a bigger change. It suggested the BAR might have more downforce, something supported by the various speed trap figures. The Hungaroring is a maximum downforce track, just like Monaco. Whatever downforce you can find, stick it on and don't worry too much about efficiency. Exiting the fast Turn 11, the BAR was second only to the Ferrari, but at the end of the pit straight was 6mph down on the red cars, barely any faster than the Minardis, suggesting plenty of downforce.
There was another good BAR/Williams scrap between Sato and Pizzonia. The latter looked set to leapfrog the former at the final stops by running four laps longer. He was on course to come out 1.3sec ahead, but pitlane traffic prevented him being immediately released, losing him around 2.5sec, thereby letting Sato off the hook. Pizzonia continued to chase hard but, after an off-course excursion on the exit of Turn 11, he backed off and settled for seventh. What he didn't know was that Taku was suffering a worrying lack of oil pressure into the late stages and was having to continually pump more through.
The other interesting car performance was the Renault's - traditionally one of the slowest cars down the straights but here the third quickest car through the pit straight trap. It had a new evolution of its engine with a bit more power, but perhaps of more significance was the new rear wing pull-test introduced for this race (see Pit & Paddock) which has effectively outlawed flexi-wings. "We didn't have to change ours at all," said engineering boss Pat Symonds. Teams such as Ferrari, BAR and McLaren did and suddenly the straightline speed hierarchy had changed.
The Ferraris? They were fastest everywhere. Into the final stint there were no changes in the points places and Schumacher simply toyed with his comfortable lead over Barrichello and massive margin over Alonso. Montoya's fourth was hard-won from Button, with Sato, Pizzonia and Fisichella following on a lap down.
The celebratory Ferrari pit board went out as Schumacher crossed the line and saluted his crew. In the cockpit his eyes were smiling, his arms pumping as he enjoyed another of those moments of achievement. He's enjoyed more of them than any racer in history, but still the thrill isn't fading. It won't will it, if you are out-running time itself?
HUN: Schuey's record collection
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