ITA: Barrichello saves the day

Just when it looked like the tifosi's party would be spoilt, Rubens Barrichello drove a storming race to secure his eighth GP win and Ferrari's eighth 1-2 of the season. By Mark Hughes

ITA: Barrichello saves the day



Amid the fanfare for the fastest Formula 1 pole lap of all time - step forward Rubens Barrichello at 161.802mph - it was easy to be distracted from the competitive question of just where Ferrari's Monza speed had come from. It hadn't been apparent in either of the practice days, when the F2004s were quick but no quicker than the Williams, McLarens or Renaults. The cars' limitation seemed to be how much kerb they could use. Yet here was Barrichello on pole by 0.6sec.

With minimal Monza wing settings, the trade-off between straightline and lap speed was particularly sensitive. Between pre-qualifying and qualifying Ferrari put a little bit more downforce on the car, Barrichello slightly more than Schumacher. It cost them a bit of time in sectors one and three, but the benefit it brought through the two Lesmos in sector two more than overcame that. It also made the cars ride the kerbs better.

But still, that didn't really offer a full explanation. All weekend the times had been very closely matched, a standard Monza phenomenon as downforce ceases to be the differentiator between cars and the more closely matched factors of drag and horsepower take over. And behind Rubens the differences were still tiny. After his 0.6sec margin, the gaps were 0.017sec, 0.008sec, and 0.070sec. Another 0.6sec after second fastest Juan Pablo Montoya would have taken you to 11th on the grid.

So it must have been fuel load, right? In fact, Barrichello had on board around 40kg, representing around 0.8sec. The answer was inescapable: Barrichello had driven a stunning lap. "It was close to perfect," he said. "Through the Lesmos it was just fantastic."

Actually Barrichello didn't set the fastest qualifying lap of the weekend. That had come in pre-qualifying, where Montoya went around in 1m19.525s, an average of 162.959mph, beating his own 2002 record. In qualifying, with a little more fuel on board, he was still quick enough to split the Ferraris, despite it being a lap with which he was not particularly happy. "I made a mistake under braking for the second chicane and into Ascari a little bit," he said.

The Williams-BMWs were expected to go well on a low downforce track, just as they had in Montreal, as their diffuser moves into a different range of its efficiency. The team had also been experimenting with brake disc materials, something that had led to Antonio Pizzonia suffering a left front disc failure in Friday practice as he braked for Parabolica, the car spinning across the gravel and into the tyre wall.

In pre-qualifying, Pizzonia had been second to his team-mate (and was one of four drivers to have lapped quicker than Barrichello's pole time, in common with the two BAR men) but, come qualifying proper, he made a small but critical error at Lesmo 2, just hooking the inner kerb, this losing him valuable exit speed. It was only a couple of tenths slower than third quickest Michael Schumacher, but in a grid as tightly packed as this, that translated only to eighth. In actual fact, it represented a good effort in a car weighed down by three laps more fuel than JPM and running less wing.

Barrichello's super lap, midway through the session, placed a lot of pressure on team-mate Schumacher, the next man out. He shaved a tenth from the target in sector one, but could not match Rubens' stunning speed through the Lesmos, leaving him a tenth down going into the final sector. With it all to do, he over-committed into Parabolica, got a slight twitch on and was audibly later on the power than Barrichello had been, leaving him 0.6sec adrift on a very similar fuel load.

Fernando Alonso's Renault was seven-hundredths slower than Schuey in fourth place. The blue cars were very quick in sector one but relatively slow through the Lesmos. They were running less rear wing than anyone, without even a trim tab.
Jarno Trulli had been unable to get a balance with which he was comfortable through the practices. "Due to this we decided to adopt a more conservative strategy," said Symonds. With around 9kg more fuel on board than Alonso, Trulli was actually very pleased with a lap that netted him ninth place.

Takuma Sato and Jenson Button proved very closely matched in the BAR-Hondas, separated by just seven-hundredths in fifth and sixth spots respectively. Both cars were fitted with the revised front clutch package (FCP) across the front axle. Sato got a bit ofa twitch on the high-speed exit of Ascari, his reactions very evident, his foot hard down. Button found that the increased fuel load from pre-qualifying had nudged the BAR just past its sweet spot and into exit oversteer.

Kimi Raikkonen's seventh place on the grid in the wide-nosed McLaren seemed tame on the back of his Spa victory, but, as he pointed out, aside from Barrichello everything was so closely matched even the smallest error meant a big grid position penalty - and he, like Schumacher, over-committed into Parabolica. His team-mate David Coulthard was 0.5sec and three places back.

The competitive hierarchy was extremely evident in qualifying, because after the tightly-matched big five teams came a chunk of a gap before the Toyota/Jaguar/Sauber struggle. Ricardo Zonta led this sub-category, 11th fastest after a good, hard, clean lap. Olivier Panis was a couple of places back, suffering the run-on effects of a gearbox change after practice, the rear of the car still not giving him the confidence needed to fully commit.

Mark Webber split the Toyotas in 12th, the Jaguar not in its element on a track with a lot of straights. Trimming the car back to the absolute bare minimum of wing, it looked absolutely gorgeous - sitting in the garage. On track it was balanced but gutless and gripless, especially so on a harder compound of tyre than the other Michelin cars. Christian Klien was 0.3sec slower and two places back, admitting to a mistake at Ascari.

In the practices the Saubers could not get the softer Bridgestones - as used by the Ferraris - up to temperature and accordingly suffered blistering. Paradoxically, opting for the harder compound lessened the tyre warm-up problem. But it lost them a decent balance over one lap and so a conservatively heavy fuel load was used in an effort to combat lack of pace with strategical advantage. Giancarlo Fisichella just edged out Felipe Massa despite the latter having messed up the first chicane, losing 0.5sec before the lap had barely begun. They were 15th and 16th, with Peter Sauber curt about their efforts.

Nick Heidfeld, 17th, went 0.9sec quicker than his Jordan team-mate Giorgio Pantano but had to take a grid penalty after losing an engine in practice. Zsolt Baumgartner made the most of his lighter fuel load to outqualify his Minardi team-mate Gianmaria Bruni.

RACE

They came out of nowhere, red assassins from behind the clouds. The others didn't stand a chance. BAR and Renault had made their final pit-stops by lap 34 and were apparently contesting the win, but within eight laps the two Ferraris would make up almost 15 seconds on them.

"They could do anything they wanted and still win," said one rival of Ferrari. "They could stop for tea. They can do two stops, four stops - or make two screw-ups like choosing wets instead of dries or spinning to the back on the first lap." Which of course, they did.

But while a Ferrari 1-2 may have been a familiar result, the path to that outcome was thrilling high-octane stuff. And it had Rubens Barrichello coming out on top for a change.

The weather formed a very delicate fulcrum on which the whole complexion of the race balanced. For the first time since anyone could remember - actually back in 1981 - Monza was wet on race day morning, with heavy rain up until an hour and a half before the start. Everyone made their reconnaissance laps on wets and found the first two chicanes still very slippery, but the now bright sun was drying things quickly from the Lesmos onward.

For the Michelin guys there was no question and every one of them went for dries. The weather changeover window is much wider with the Michelin dry than the Bridgestone. The Michelin runs cooler and so low wet-track temperatures don't take it as far away from its ideal operating temperature as the hotter running Bridgestone. For Bridgestone runners at Ferrari, Sauber, Jordan and Minardi the call was less clear.

Poleman Barrichello agonised. "I knew it was going to dry," he said, "but not when. I thought on wets I might be able to be quick until the first stops and combine my fuel stop with the change to dries at just the right time."

Michael Schumacher, sitting directly behind on the grid, waited for Rubens to make up his mind - then immediately made the opposite choice. "I had no idea which was going to be better," explained Schuey. "In fact I had a feeling that both would be wrong!" What he meant by that was that the Bridgestone dry was going to take even longer than usual to reach working temperature

in these conditions and so would be hopelessly slow for the first few laps, while the wet would probably be hopelessly slow thereafter.

"But once he made his choice," continued Michael, "I thought I would try the other and that way the team would be covered."

There was no contest at the start. Barrichello took off into a grippy lead while Schumacher slithered away as best he could. Fernando Alonso's Renault did its usual explosive thread the needle stunt, this time creating an R24-sized gap between Schumacher and front-row starter Juan Pablo Montoya to go into the chicane second. Schumacher was fourth into there but couldn't find the grip to slow in time and clattered across the kerb, cutting the corner and emerging ahead of Montoya, who appeared to lift off extravagantly.

"I think he did this deliberately to make it look like I was getting an advantage," said Schumacher. Schuey avoided a possible penalty by immediately surrendering the place to the Williams as they accelerated up to Curva Grande, with Kimi Raikkonen and Takuma Sato blasting by too, Michael just hanging on as best he could with a chronic lack of grip in contrast to his team-mate, who was already opening out a gap up front.Raikkonen and Sato touched going into the second chicane, Taku clobbering over the kerbs and losing momentum, but even as this was happening Schumacher was having a bigger drama.

"I just got a big four-wheel drift, it was so slippery, and Jenson [Button] went around my outside. But I kept sliding and I touched him with my front wheel and that spun me round. I was thinking I could just keep the power on and swing it round but there was a Renault coming towards me and I had to stop. Then I was stuck there until the whole field came past. It's a horrible thing to have to let them by when all you want to do is get going."

Olivier Panis hit Antonio Pizzonia up the back at this point too, making the Toyota an instant retirement and spinning Pizzonia down to the very back, 33 seconds behind the leader. Schumacher was fifth from the back, briefly battling with a fuelled-to-the-gills David Coulthard, who had opted to start from the pits after changing his mind about going for wets. At the front Barrichello completed the opening lap a massive 6.9sec clear of the snarling pack comprised by Alonso, Montoya, Raikkonen and Button - who passed team-mate Sato into Lesmo 1, taking advantage of Taku's lack of momentum after his Raikkonen run-in.

These manic early laps at Monza speeds in iffy conditions were real heart-in-the-mouth stuff, 200mph slipstream battles down the long straights, cars twitching through the damp side-by-side in Curva Grande, only trust and precision keeping them apart. Button was really on it in these greasy conditions which so suit him and he picked off Raikkonen for fourth between the Lesmos, not a traditional passing place. As Kimi lost momentum he was almost taken by the wet-shod Felipe Massa too. What the watching world didn't know was that Raikkonen's telemetry was already showing a loss of water pressure in the engine. Button was immediately hassling Montoya for third and on the fourth lap the Williams got out of shape under braking for the second chicane and Jenson was through in a flash.

The wet-tyre phase of the race was now coming to an end, way sooner than Barrichello had hoped. He had been six seconds faster than Alonso on the first lap, 1.3sec on the second but by lap three Fernando was coming back hard, 1.8sec faster than the Ferrari.

"We wanted to bring him in at this point," said Ferrari tech boss Ross Brawn of Barrichello, "but there was some confusion over the radio." He stayed out another lap, one that was a full four seconds slower than Alonso, and before he could make it to the pits the Renault had sliced down his inside for the lead into Ascari. That was the end of lap five. Barrichello made his stop for dries (as did Massa) and rejoined back in ninth, a couple of places ahead of Schumacher, the pair separated by the heavy Sauber of Giancarlo Fisichella, who was defending hard. Ferrari's afternoon looked like being one of damage limitation now. "I certainly didn't think we were in a winning position at that stage," said Brawn. "I thought maybe a points finish, a podium at a stretch."

Alonso's lead over Button remained steady at around six seconds with Montoya and Raikkonen close behind. Sato was in fifth, well ahead of the Jaguars of Christian Klien and Mark Webber, both of whom had passed a seemingly disinterested Jarno Trulli without much in the way of resistance. Klien really had the bit between his teeth in these early stages and for a time was vying with Schumacher as the fastest man on track! He fell out of contention after being given a drive-through penalty for pitlane speeding at his stop.

First of the conventional stoppers was Alonso on lap 10 while Montoya, Raikkonen and Sato pitted together on lap 13. Actually, the McLaren was making its way there to retire as the water pressure was now critically low.

Once he'd inherited the lead, Button really got on it in the four laps between Alonso's stop and his own and emerged still in front. At this stage the fight for victory really did appear to be between the BAR, Renault and Montoya's closely following Williams. Schumacher was staging a great comeback drive, had passed the heavier Barrichello, and on lap 13 had set what was the fastest lap so far. But he was still almost half a minute behind the leaders when he made his first stop on lap 15. On his return he spent a few laps stuck behind Webber, who was giving no quarter until eventually making a mistake and clattering over the second chicane kerbs. Schuey gave him a sarcastic wave of thanks as he passed, but it had cost him around three seconds.

Barrichello was up to fourth on his out of sequence strategy but was suffering too much understeer, despite a front wing adjustment at his stop. "We hadn't adjusted it enough," said Brawn. But still, Ross was beginning to see a chink of light. "Once the track had settled down we could see from Michael's times just how quick the car was," he said. "It was this that gave us the idea of changing Rubens onto a three-stop."

It wasn't just that Schumacher had been so quick, but that the Michelin-shod leaders were still relatively slow. In cleaning the track of rubber build-up, the morning rainstorm had apparently handed the advantage to Bridgestone. Whereas the BARs and Renaults had been consistently in the 1m22s, even high-21s, in practice, on Sunday they were barely out of the 23s. The Bridgestone cars by contrast had lost nothing in the change.

The original plan for Barrichello's lap 30 pit had been to fuel him to the end. "But that wasn't going to get him past the three guys ahead of him," explained Brawn. "He would have been coming out with 23 laps of fuel, they would have stopped three laps later and he wouldn't have been quick enough on that fuel load to overcome their low fuel laps. So the only way to do it was to short stint him and do another stop. Michael had shown there was enough pace in the car to make this work." With a stop of 6.3sec, Barrichello was fuelled for 13 laps.

Not that Michael was out of contention. He set fastest lap so far on lap 28 at 1m21.8s compared to leader Button's 1m 23.2s. In sixth place he now trailed the lead by just over 20sec. Barrichello rejoined one place behind him after his stop and set a 1m21.7s a lap later, the fastest so far. They each had one more stop to make, Michael's second and Barrichello's third. It was going to be close.

Meantime there was a briefly terrifying pit fire at Minardi when fuel was spilt at Gianmaria Bruni's stop. He inhaled extinguishant and had trouble breathing. He got out the car and went for a lie down.

On lap 33 Alonso and Montoya peeled in from second and third close together, the Renault quickly under way again, the Williams stationary for a long 10.2sec stop. A broken sensor meant the team had no way of knowing precisely how much fuel was still in the tank and were thereby forced to be conservative and fuel him heavily.

On his return to the track, Montoya found the handling appalling and dropped up to three seconds per lap, falling out of contention and being leapfrogged by Sato for fifth.

Button pitted from his lead at the end of the 34th lap and rejoined still around a second ahead of Alonso. Schumacher in a brief lead made full use of the two extra laps before his stop and upon rejoining was just seven seconds behind Button and lapping up to two seconds faster with 17 laps to go. It was inevitable now that the champion would soon be on the tail of the BAR and Renault. Just as he was homing in, Alonso got on the gas a little too early at the second chicane and spun. A flash of red went by in chase of Button, while the Renault sat with its rear wheels spinning uselessly in the gravel. Fernando was hoping for a push and was quite justified, as he was in a dangerous position. But the marshals were having none of it, leaving Fernando to get out and give the metal barriers a good kicking.

The fight between the two out-of-sync Ferraris was now very much on. Barrichello, leading, had made superb use of the eight laps between Button's stop and his own and made up 14.5sec in that time, giving him just enough time to buy his extra stop. With Schumacher closing in on Button, would the German be held up, thereby giving the race to Barrichello? It all happened at once. Immediately after setting what would stand as the race's fastest lap, Rubens made his splash n' dash on lap 42 and got under way just as Schumacher was slipstreaming the BAR down the pit straight. Barrichello got out a few car lengths clear of the duelling pair. "If it had happened the other way and Michael had got past, everyone would've said we'd put Rubens on a three-stop in order to give Michael the win," pointed out Brawn.

As he exited, Barrichello was uncertain what his position was. "I asked as I came out, but then I lost radio contact. Then coming into Ascari I asked again and Ross said 'you're P1' and I screamed something in Portuguese, I was so happy."
Both Ferrari drivers were then told to turn the engines down to a more conservative map, and the race was effectively over. "It was a concern," said Brawn, "because this is the toughest engine track of all and they had been running at maximum stress for much longer in the race than usual."

With Button's third and Sato's fourth combined with Alonso's non-finish, BAR took over second in the constructors' championship from Renault. For the last six laps Montoya was without the first four gears and just had enough in hand to keep ahead of the battling Coulthard and Pizzonia, the latter assaulting the McLaren on the final lap, to no avail. Pizzonia's was actually one of the great hidden drives.

After being punted off, he'd completed the first lap 33sec behind the leader. He finished the race 33sec behind the leader. In between times he set what was by far the fastest Michelin time, a full 0.7sec faster than Montoya despite a lower downforce set-up biased towards raceability more than lap times. Fisichella took the final point after a typically flawless drive in the Sauber. Back in 10th, Trulli's performance was extraordinarily tame. Yet in the final three laps he unleashed a scorching series of laps and set the race's fastest sector one time on the last lap! He also said not one word over the radio the whole race. His relationship with the Renault team seems to have irretrievably broken down.

Even with their engines in muted form, the Ferraris pulled out around 10sec over Button in the remaining 11 laps. That was simply another manifestation of their superiority.

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