Qualifying fuel tactics play against Schuey

The United States Grand Prix grid has thrown up the prospect of a fascinating race, with Kimi Raikkonen on pole position and the championship favourites, Juan Montoya and Michael Schumacher fourth and seventh respectively.

Qualifying fuel tactics play against Schuey

Between Raikkonen and his rivals are Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari and Olivier Panis, who achieved Toyota's best starting position when he qualified third.

One theory was that Ferrari would qualify Barrichello on light fuel and Schumacher relatively heavy, the idea being that Rubens could take pole and then dictate a slower than optimum race pace to frustrate the Williams-BMWs and play into Michael's hands. How light Barrichello is remains to be seen, but if that was the plan, the failure to outqualify Raikkonen might prompt a rethink.

The fact that Barichello and Schumacher's straightline speeds were similar does tend to disprove the theory that they were running widely varying fuel loads, however, with Michael himself calling his qualifying session "very average" and lamenting a lack of grip.

The race's first lap could be critical for Raikkonen. Indianapolis, with its tight infield and flat out front section all the way from Turn 11, demands a compromise set-up, but we know from qualifying last year that the best way to turn a lap time is to run with wing. This year though, the fact that you cannot change the cars between qualifying and race means that running high wing levels makes you a sitting duck if you qualify anywhere but at the front.

Raikkonen though, has done that, and although the fact that he is quickest in sector two points to relatively high wing levels, he is still fifth quickest through the speed trap. Even so, he is still 10kph down on the Williams-BMWs and 5kph down on the Ferraris, which could make him vulnerable into Turn 1 unless he can make an early break.

Panis, third on the grid, had an almost identical sector two time to Raikkonen, but is fully 17kph slower through the speed trap than Montoya, who starts one place behind him on the grid. Montoya was also a quarter of a second quicker than anyone bar team mate Ralf Schumacher in the third sector of the lap, so don't count on the Toyota being able to resist the Colombian for too long.

Montoya is both three places ahead of Michael Schumacher on the grid and 5kph faster on the straight and so Michael's race looks like being a tough one. All in all, Bernie couldn't have it better if he'd scripted it...

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