Race Analysis: Canadian GP

Since Ralf Schumacher's impressive debut win in Imola Williams seemed to have lost any edge it had, but in Montreal the team gave everyone a wake-up call. Patrick Head admitted it was no co-incidence that Montreal resembles the Italian track; perhaps it's worth putting some money on Ralf for Hockenheim and Monza

Race Analysis: Canadian GP

It's now obvious that while the poor finishing record at the start of the year has cost Ralf any realistic title chance, the white and blue cars will certainly interfere with the McLaren/Ferrari battle at circuits which favour the BMW and Michelin package. But while Ralf is 36 points behind his brother, second place in the constructors' battle is something to aim for. McLaren is now just 20 points ahead...

Montreal means two things - brakes and fuel consumption. After the problems in Imola, Ferrari was particularly concerned about Montreal. Some modifications were introduced in Austria, but the definitive package was finalised in testing at Fiorano on Saturday before Canada. Obviously all the other teams had paid a great deal of attention to brakes, and Jordan was one of several to have introduced a version of the drum-shaped cooling device pioneered by Ferrari. The team was impressed by the aerodynamic benefits. McLaren was obviously also doing something with its brakes, the evidence being that Mika Hakkinen had at least four major offs during the weekend, all caused when he locked up.

The biggest surprise of qualifying was that Ralf Schumacher was able to secure second despite using the harder Michelin compound. Even the team didn't expect him to get on the front row, but it was further proof that the tyres work better as the temperature goes up. That could be quite useful as the summer unfolds...

The race was about only two men, so I'll focus on their afternoon. At Imola Ralf jumped from third into the lead and duly disappeared, but this time it wasn't so easy. At the end of the warm-up both Ferraris appeared to get away a little sluggishly when they made their final practice starts on the grid, and indeed Ralf got alongside and had his nose ahead. But the inside line is a huge advantage, and Michael got to Turn 1 first, although he needed all the road in order to get round in one piece. The key thing was could he pull away?

Ralf stayed in touch with Michael for the first three laps, but by lap 5 the gap had edged out to 1.1s. It went up to 1.4s by lap 7. Michael appeared to be in control, but then it started coming down again, to 1.0s by lap 12 and just 0.4s


All Michael's efforts to open up a gap were in vain, as Ralf drew up on him without much trouble. Schumi Jr explained what was happening thus: "When I was following him, I thought he was going to pull away and then I saw that the two of us were pulling away from the rest of the field and I thought OK, why isn't he going quicker? At the beginning I thought he was saving his brakes or his tyres but then he kept his pace. So I knew that I would have the upper hand at the end. I had to look after my brakes at the beginning of the stint as well, so I took it quite easy."

Now he had shifted up a gear. For the next five or six laps they circulated together, until the brief safety interlude caused by the incident involving their respective team mates. At the time they were 14s ahead of a struggling David Coulthard, and that margin was now completely wiped out.

For a while it looked as though DC might have been playing a waiting game, and he would now be able to push having taken a lot less out of his car in the opening laps. But from the restart he faded away again.

And for a brief while it looked as though Ralf was in trouble too. As usual Michael played the safety car situation just right, slowing down and accelerating again at just the right time. He opened up a 2.6s lead in the first green flag lap, and when that gap stabilised, over the next five laps, it appeared that Ralf might have lost his momentum. But then just as at the start proper, he began to reel Michael back in.

"I picked up a lot of rubber on the tyres. I don't know why that happened, because I always took care. When I got the call that the safety car was coming in, I couldn't get them clean again and they took a bit of time to come back. But I knew at that stage I had to close the gap again otherwise I would lose the race. Luckily it worked out."

2.612s (green flag waves at end of previous lap)

Once again Michael had pushed hard, and once again Ralf had effortlessly reeled him in. On the very next lap he had a go coming into the last corner, and was more or less alongside when his tighter line forced him to brake. He tried again a few times, but that first warning ensured that Michael knew what to expect. Ralf then decided to sit back and wait for the pit stop situation to unfold.

"The whole time the two of us were together I was waiting for him to make a mistake. Obviously he didn't. I tried it a couple of times at the end of the straight but then it was difficult, so I waited for the pit strategy when I thought that we would go longer anyway, and it worked out that way..."

Juan Pablo Montoya said that he was hitting the rev limiter in top as he drew up behind Mika Hakkinen, and thus was not quite able to draft past. Presumably the same was happening to Ralf, which is why he came close to squeezing by but couldn't quite make it.

The speed trap figures told an interesting story, and indicated that Michael had opted for a higher downforce spec than his team mate - and that DC had some serious problems throughout:

333.8kph 333.7kph330.5kph330.0kph 326.6kph320.0kph

Austria was the race that gave us a real ideal of how far each car can run on a full tank of fuel, but neither Williams made it as far as the stops. Indeed the team's appalling finishing record meant that the opposition had no real evidence as to how long the BMW-powered cars can stay out.

It was suspected that they would be able to go a long way, and in Montreal we got the answer. Michael came in on lap 46, while Mika Hakkinen underlined McLaren's superiority in this area by going to lap 49, although he may have saved a little while stuck in traffic early on.

But Ralf kept going, and quickly too. With Michael out of the way he put in some storming laps, knowing that only a disaster in his own stop would cost him victory. He finally came in on lap 51, having run five laps further than his brother.

Everyone else now has a clear idea of what Williams can do on fuel strategy. It's not by chance that the car could go further; when it was in its gestation stage the team's engineers requested a large tank, having calculated that there could be at least five races where it would be a strategic advantage in 2001. As is always the case the design department wanted something smaller, because of the packaging problems. A debate ensued, and while the engineers didn't get exactly what they wanted, it was close. Apparently the car has a longer than average wheelbase, which perhaps explains how they did it...

From the following table it's easy to see by how much Ralf was able to improve his lap times once Michael moved out of the way, despite some problems with traffic.

1m18.130s (Michael heads into pits at end of lap)
1m17.514s (laps Zonta)
1m17.467s (passes Verstappen as he emerges from pits)
1m17.205s (fastest lap of race)
1m39.675s (Ralf passes Alesi and Raikkonen before he pits)
1m20.606s (out lap)
1m17.970s (first flying lap)

He must have made a mistake of some kind on lap 49 - there was no one in his way - for he lost a second. Perhaps chastened by that, he pulled out all the stops on the next one to do that 1m17.205s, which was no less than 0.943s better than the second best lap done by Mika Hakkinen, and 0.971s up on Michael's best. Obviously the fuel was all gone by then, but the tyres had done 50 laps. Impressive...

Even though the job was done, there was no let up. With new tyres and fuel for 16 laps on board, Ralf did a 1m17.970s on his first flying lap, which was still 0.2s better than anything Mika and Michael did on empty tanks. The next lap was almost as quick, but by then Michael had already made the decision to switch to cruise control, and the gap had gone out to 8.2s.

"Initially I pushed very hard in order to maybe make up the gap and beat him so when he came out of his pit stop I was in front of him," said Michael. "But it's normal that this doesn't work, because you're normally always faster at the end of the stint than when you put fresh tyres because of the fuel on board. But you have to try. You never know what the traffic is going to be like, or a little mistake. So I pushed at this moment very hard, but once I saw him pulling out in front of me and pulling out a margin, there was only one strategy, try to save your race and take the six points."

Would Michael have backed off if a McLaren had been in front? I suspect he would have tried to keep the pressure on for a while in an attempt to force a mistake, and the fact that he didn't this time shows just how gobsmacked he was by Ralf's pace, and that brakes must still have been a real concern.

With just 14 laps to go, Ralf could now also ease off and save the car. But even without trying the gap to his brother went out to 23s with a couple of laps to go, coming down to 20s at the flag.

It was perhaps no co-incidence that after the race Patrick Head was quick to congratulate the guys from AP Racing and Carbon Industrie, both of whom work closely with the team.

"We didn't have worries over the brakes," said Head, "but you're never absolutely certain, and obviously the data tells us whether we're getting on OK on the brakes. I think he probably felt in the first 10 laps let's give a bit of a margin."

Other people were less lucky. The left front is under most stress at Montreal, and with a couple of laps to go a tell-tale sign of a cloud of black dust could be seen from that corner of Jos Verstappen's car; with a couple of laps disc exploded, sending him into the gravel. Apparently there was no problem with the other three.

Ricardo Zonta's progress was hampered for the second half of the race by worn brakes, while Jarno Trulli and Olivier Panis both had problems that perplexed their teams; the pads and discs were OK, but both drivers lost their pedal. A master cylinder was the suspected cause on the Jordan.

Interestingly, BAR's telemetry showed that during the weekend Panis, who brakes with his right foot, was giving the pedal a 'confidence tap' with his left. The conclusion was that he hadn't yet forgotten his 1997 crash, and knowing that the track allows little margin for error, wanted to make sure he still had a pedal...

It's unusual to have so little to say about McLaren, but it was not the team's most distinguished race. After qualifying only eighth Hakkinen slipped to 10th at the start, and was then stuck behind Zonta for what seemed like an age. He finally got through on lap 34, by which time the Brazilian was suffering with brake problems.

When Olivier Panis (in the pits with brake problems) and Kimi Raikkonen (rear-ended by Panis) disappeared from his view Mika suddenly woke up. Sensing a helping of points, and with a clear track ahead, he improved his times by 2s a lap, and eventually set a best that was marginally quicker than any lap by Schumacher. He went quick enough to get ahead of his troubled team mate after the stops, and claimed third. But it was hardly an inspired performance by a guy who has nothing to lose by trying to get past people.

For Coulthard, Sunday was a complete nightmare. On the formation lap he found a piece of metal in the cockpit, which he described to the team as like a 50p with a hole in it. It had fallen out of the front suspension, and the left front of the car didn't feel right. One can only presume that the cause was 'finger trouble' after a last minute set-up change.

The team gave him the option of stopping, but DC decided to take the start, and on the grid he threw the offending item over the pit wall so that the crew could see it. I'm told that it landed at Ferrari, and it wasn't handed over! Meanwhile the mechanics checked the spare car for something that looked like a 50p with a hole in it so they could work out what it was...

David's decision to barrel into the first turn without knowing what to expect was a bold one. The fact that his best lap was good for only 10th overall, and was 1.6s down on Mika's best was a good indication of the problems he had. In fact he must have done a mega job to run as well as he did considering that the wheel was not co-operating with the rest of the car.

"It was attached by the wishbones, but there was nothing attached to the pushrod, so on righthanders I got a lot of oversteer, and on lefthanders it would just flap around. Basically the team made me the offer to stop if I wanted, but because I was in a points position I thought that would be a mistake. Provided I could actually know what it was doing, then I thought I could still score a couple of points. You were driving a car that was nowhere the way it should be, but it's about scoring points on bad days. Unfortunately about 15 laps from when it did decide to blow up, the water temperature went up and up and up, and eventually it let go, and that was it."

After the software problems in Spain and Monaco he must be wondering when his luck will change; he's not been the one making mistakes this year. Yet after the race David was anxious not to blame the team, saying "I'm part of the process as well. The little electronic ones in a way have cost us more than this. You have to expect the occasional failure of an engine during the race season."

He'll have another reason to remember this race, thanks to a large blister on his behind.

"It's the same as I had in Malaysia [last year], but it's the left cheek this year rather than the right one. And I'm still scarred from Malaysia, so I'll end up having a scar for sure..."

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