By Tom Keeble, USA
The Canadian Grand Prix saw Kimi Raikkonen taking a big step forward in the battle for the title, and the Finn will be hoping to keep his momentum at Indianapolis this weekend. Tom Keeble previews the race and rates the teams' chances of success ahead of the ninth round of the 2005 season
The US Grand Prix is hosted at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. The weekend should be hot and sunny with temperatures getting into the eighties. Overtaking is relatively easy with the long main straight offering good slipstreaming opportunities and wide entry to the first corner. A fast lap requires moderate downforce in order to be quick through the infield, but defending positions on the long straight requires low drag and a powerful engine.
Following the excitement of the Canadian Grand Prix, this year's trip to Indianapolis and the Brickyard has a lot to live up to: though judging by recent history, there is a good chance of it. Furthermore, for the first time since Formula One returned to the United States, Ferrari are not favourites to win.
Track: A lap sees the drivers hitting speeds approaching 210mph by the end of the main straight, leading to a heavy braking zone with a wide entry into the first corner - offering one of the best chances for overtaking on the Formula One circuit - and leading to the twisty infield. This sequence of corners sees speeds down to 45mph, with short straights separating the tight turns, before an 80mph corner that brings the circuit back to the main oval of the original Brickyard. The long, sweeping, banked thirteenth corner is taken at speeds approaching 190mph and is taken flat, offering the longest single acceleration of over twenty seconds on the circuit.
Minimising laptimes requires teams to pile on downforce, as the infield sections benefit strongly from this. However, this makes the car vulnerable to being overtaken on the main straight, so most teams will actually optimise for top speed in order to give their drivers a chance to defend their positions: this leads to compromises in qualifying that can influence the pit strategy.
The circuit does little to emphasise driver excellence, especially with cars on equivalent compromise set-ups, so it is normal to see teammates qualifying alongside each other.
Tyres: The slow infield emphasises traction, so rear tyre wear will be of concern to most of the teams. Although the banked corner actually plays little part in the considerations, the long straight requires a very careful consideration of the loads the tyre has to withstand.
There is also the issue of driver damage to consider. Although the long straight should offer good drafting opportunities and many drivers will pass cleanly into turn one, working too hard either to defend or attack the corner is likely to see a few drivers locking up. As Kimi Raikkonen can attest, a flat-spot resulting from taking nearly 200mph off the car can literally result in it being shaken to pieces.
Weather: predictions are for the weekend to be sunny with occasional cloudy spells, it should see temperatures in the eighties with only small chance of rain.
Strategy: A two-stop strategy won the race last year, and should be optimum again this - though both single and three-stop approaches have merit. The odds are high that the safety car will make an appearance, probably more than once, so strategies have to include an element of flexibility in order to cope with this: attempts to build up a good lead on low fuel are likely to be thwarted. And, of course, getting the downforce settings tactically correct to ensure sufficient straightline speed to defend or attack in to the first corner, even at the expense of overall lap time, will be vital.
Surprises: Toyota could be strong, and BAR will probably run an aggressive strategy, but watch out for a Williams revival - and the race stewards, who are all too often a factor here.
Conclusions: McLaren are the team on form and hot favourites, with Renault widely expected to be the only serious challengers. However, this could also be the tightest race of the season so far: if Williams get their act together, they will be able to fight for a podium finish, too, whilst Ferrari's end of race strength and powerful strategists will make them a big threat by the end.
Team by Team
Despite the double podium finish in Canada, the team are not in the best shape for the US Grand Prix. Both Renault and McLaren clearly had the legs on Ferrari in Canada and there is little indication that their form will improve: they will be lucky to score another podium finish.
However, the US Grand Prix is also one that often throws up surprises; gambling on when the safety car might make an appearance could offer the team a chance to set a cat amongst the pigeons by getting out of sequence: either driver would be able to capitalise, and they have little to lose from attempting an innovative strategy. Accordingly, it would be little surprise to see Ferrari debut their next engine evolution.
Drivers: Michael Schumacher's record here is excellent; even though Ferrari are off the absolute pace, he should be able to make the most of any opportunity that comes his way. Similarly, Rubens Barrichello has been showing his metal this season - determined driving has brought him to the podium from well down the grid on numerous occasions; finishing third from dead last in Canada was no mean feat. Both drivers must be looking to score good points again.
Objectives: podium finish.
The disappointment of failing to score points - again - in Canada has to be rankling at BAR. Whilst it was likely that Schumacher would have passed Button in the next round of stops, had the Briton stayed the course, he could have finished on the podium to present the team their first points of the season in style. Instead, the outfit approach the mid-point of the season point-less.
The US Grand Prix should offer another chance to show that BAR are capable of scoring points, thought they are not expected to be on the pace of Renault or McLaren. Finishing ahead of the Ferraris would be a good result, though they need to keep a weather eye on Toyota.
Drivers: A strong race for Takuma Sato in 2004 based on an attacking strategy and bravery in passing resulted in his first podium finish - and leads the driver to believe he can do well again this year. Jenson Button also had a good weekend until mechanical failure finished his race. If the car works as effectively this year, they could be right, provided they reach the finish.
Objectives: qualify strongly and finish with both cars in the points; aiming for a podium.
Despite the showing of McLaren in Canada, there is little doubt that Renault were competing for the race win until their drivers retired. Quite how the strategies would have played out will never be known - especially as the relative state of the tyres on each car in the final stages of the race would have proven critical.
Although Ferrari can never be discounted, Renault are clearly expecting to race McLaren for the win again. The car is particularly useful in the infield, leveraging excellent balance and aerodynamics and better traction out of the corners; however the advantage is small and roughly offset by the arguably stronger Mercedes engine. The final result should depend largely on how efficiently the team can use their tyres and optimise strategy accordingly.
Renault have to be particularly careful that they do not have a repeat of their Monaco performance, however, where the emphasis on traction resulted in tyre wear that made the cars completely undriveable by the end of the race.
Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella may consider himself the unluckiest on the grid this year, but this is another chance for him to win his second race of the season; in Canada, he illustrated strong form that would bode well at Indy. Fernando Alonso's defence of his Championship lead going to require a lot of work, so the Spaniard needs a strong weekend; provided there are no mistakes, a podium finish is on the cards.
Objectives: aiming for a race win.
Although Williams have not had the best season to date, when they get the car properly dialled in, it isn't too shabby. In recent form, despite struggling to get the most out of the package, the team have been able to put in some strong runs. If they are able to do the same again this weekend, then a podium finish would not be impossible.
Then again, it would require a better day on Saturday than the team saw in Canada. Starting from well down the grid made it very difficult for the drivers to do anything remarkable: scoring good points at Indy will need something special on that one, critical lap, at least.
Drivers: If Nick Heidfeld's race pace has been enough to put Mark Webber on the defensive, his qualifying in the last couple of events seems to have taken the wind right out of the Australian's sails. Quick Nick was looking set for a podium in Canada before his engine failed, so a repeat would be apposite. To the point, it puts Webber into a situation he has not faced before: an apparently junior teammate who is running quicker in all areas. This is where Webber's metal is going to be tested, as he must retrieve the form that earned him the seat at Williams.
Objectives: finish with both cars in the points. Podium finishes are unlikely: must aim to beat Ferrari.
Despite the woes of seeing a driver disqualified in Canada, it was a very promising performance for the outfit, resulting in a solid win for Kimi Raikkonen despite the driver slowing down to protect the car. Montoya's strong performance was an solid indication that he is getting to terms with the car and ought to be something of a force for remainder of the season.
Indianapolis has not been the kindest place to McLaren over the years - they finished a lap down in '04 - but they are arriving as favourites this time. Leaving without at least a podium would be a disappointment.
Drivers: Having been disqualified from his last three North American races (brake ducts mispositioned in Canada '04, jumping in to the spare car too close to the start of the race in US '04 and leaving the pits under red in Canada last weekend) Juan Pablo Montoya has to be questioning whether there is a conspiracy against him. The disqualification leaves the Colombian amongst the first out for qualifying, which could cost a few places on the grid; however, a determined drive could see him finish on the podium.
Objectives: strong qualifying and podium finish - aiming for a race win.
Arguably driving the best race of his season, Felipe Massa's fourth place was a huge result for Sauber in Canada, and testament to the driver's strong defensive work. This illustration of the importance of being able to keep faster drivers behind on a circuit that lends itself to overtaking shows the increasing maturity of the driver, and the importance of getting him into a place that is worth defending.
Sauber's prospects for Indy are surprisingly good, considering they are running a strong engine and have decent race pace. If they can sort out their qualifying sessions, they are going to score points.
Drivers: Jacques Villeneuve needs to put together another near perfect lap in qualifying, but this time without the incident requiring a new nose at the start of the race. His pace overall is improving, so although prospects for the remainder of the season are not brilliant, he could be on the pace of his teammate. Massa on the other hand is looking for another error-free race: put a decent qualifying on the front, and points beckon.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten; score points - beat Red Bull.
Another double points finish for Red Bull in Canada underlined the progress the team made coming into the season. Their race was not easy, and the points were from cars ahead dropping out as much as their drivers remaining on the circuit, but even though it is expected to change, there is currently no arguing with the fact they have scored points at most of the races this season, whilst BAR remain pointless.
The car has respectable race pace, so the trick will be getting enough out of it in qualifying to have a position to defend, but scoring points in Indianapolis will still require another consistent performance from the drivers, and considerable luck with the teams ahead falling on hard times.
Drivers: David Coulthard's season continues to be a revelation; one of Formula One's highest scoring drivers ever, he has confounded his critics by continuing to bring home the points. Moreover, his team-oriented approach has proven a huge boon to his inexperienced teammates. If he puts in a solid qualifying, level headed racing could bring home more points. Christian Klien, after another respectable, point-scoring performance in Canada, will be hoping to outperform his more experienced teammate, and look to put the lessons learned so far to beating him on race day, too.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten, score points. Beat Sauber.
Toyota's luck in Canada was not excellent, seeing Jarno Trulli exit with a brake failure from a potential podium spot. On the positive side, Ralf Schumacher's sixth place finish was better than coming away with no points.
Although the car showed good progress at the start of the season, it seems to have dropped off the pace recently; the relentless improvements coming at McLaren and Williams have put Toyota on the back foot, so they are having to improve their strategy in order to score points. That said, the excellent engine in this car gives them a real chance to improve their showing in the States, though getting onto the podium would be a big result.
Drivers: Jarno Trulli's performance this season has been exemplary, setting a standard his teammate has struggled to match: he has made a habit of getting the most out of the package, which is all that can be asked. Heading to Indianapolis, he has to be looking to surprise the front runners once again, and put the car on the podium. Ralf Schumacher is returning to the scene of his huge accident last year; although the German cracked some vertebrae then, it is not expected to stop him closing in on the performance of his teammate.
Objectives: two points finishes, podium difficult: beat Williams.
There is little doubt not only that Jordan are struggling with their season, but that there is little respite in the offing as what focus the outfit still have is oriented towards their 2006 challenge. The team are still beating Minardi and ought to stay ahead over a race distance, but they are clearly going backwards (by standing still) relative to the rest of the entire grid.
Drivers: There seems to be trouble brewing at Jordan, with Narain Karthikeyan's relationship with the management deteriorating. The driver has been under pressure to further improve his performances, resulting in his crashing out of the last three races. Although the rumours of his imminent departure are certainly ahead of schedule, his only hope for a decent future relies on getting back on track, and returning to consistent ways. Tiago Monteiro, on the other hand, continues to pound around the circuit and run to the finish in consistent, but uninspiring form: more of the same can be expected at Indy.
Objectives: make a showing, beat Minardi.
Returning to the scene of their point in 2005, Minardi have to be looking for another tough race on their competition leading to retirements and another point. The long drag down to the first corner is again likely to see retirements at the start of the race, and there is a significant chance that the front runners will err in their pursuit of performance, resulting in blown tyres.
Although there is a reasonable chance of qualifying ahead of Jordan, it would probably be a result of running a light fuel load rather than outright performance, but there is no doubt that the team's new car has far better aerodynamics than its predecessor and they are closing the gap. Race day performance is not quite as strong, but the drivers can pound round consistently in search of a finish.
Objectives: complete race distance - beat a Jordan.
Michael Schumacher's dominant season was well under way when the circus arrived at Indianapolis, though there was some suspicion that he would be made to fight for a win after having to do so in Canada the race before. In the event, it proved an eventful weekend...
Rubens Barrichello put in an excellent performance in qualifying to slip in to pole position ahead of his teammate. Although there was little doubt Ferrari were the class of the field, the Brazilian was faster all weekend, and it at least relieved the tedium of another Michael Schumacher pole...
Shortly behind the Ferrari's, the BARs were close to the pace with Takuma Sato ahead of his team-leader on this occasion: the Briton had changed the setup on his car ahead of the final session in an attempt at pole that backfired.
Continuing the pattern, the Williams drivers lined up in row three, with the honours going to Juan Montoya over Ralf Schumacher; Kimi Raikkonen lined up in seventh, surprising himself as much as his team, who had expected him to be off the pace (David Coulthard struggled to get a clean lap out of his McLaren, finishing eleventh), whilst Olivier Panis' eighth place was a fair reflection of the outright power of the Toyota engine.
Renault had a miserable weekend to date, seeing Fernando Alonso leading their cars with ninth in qualifying after a torrid set of practices: they were hoping for a better race. Mark Webber rounded out the top ten.
The race started poorly for Montoya, who failed to start his car for the parade lap. Running to the pits, he climbed in to the spare Williams and started the race from the back of the grid.
When the lights went out, Barrichello and Schumacher slotted easily in to the lead, followed by Alonso, who made an unbelievable start, driving past six cars (and around the outside of Sato into the corner) off the grid. Further back, Klien ran in to da Matta, before spinning in to Pantano and Massa, eliminating them from the race. Bruni also retired at the first corner, and a Safety Car was deployed to allow the marshals time to clean up the mess.
On lap six, Michael Schumacher took advantage of the restart to pass Barrichello for the lead; the race proceeded for three more laps until Alonso's right rear tyre exploded at the end of the main straight, pitching the Renault in to the wall at close to 200mph; four laps later, Ralf Schumacher also came to grief as a deflating tyre cost him control of the car on the banked final corner, leading to his slamming in to the wall in a spectacular high speed incident that strewed debris over the track and leading to another Safety Car period. The incident injured the German's spine, leading to an absence from Williams; Michelin put both accidents down to damage from the carbon fibre shards on the track...
Over the ensuing ten laps it took to clean up the circuit, most of the drivers stopped, with Barrichello running slowly enough to make space for his teammate to stop and return in the lead as he himself came in to the pits...
On the race restart on lap 20, Sato was able to push Schumacher for a handful of laps before taking his first stop and dropping to tenth. Montoya was left splitting the Ferraris until his stop on lap 35, putting Barrichello back in to second place. Sato, meanwhile, was attacking well and passes a number of rivals to regain fourth place behind Trulli, who was led by Panis.
The next round of stops was uneventful, though Barrichello lapped blindingly quick to make up most of the ten second deficit to his teammate: having close up tight, though, he proved unable to pass despite a bold move down the inside in to turn four; his tyres were shot, and he could not risk taking Schumacher off the road.
Montoya, meanwhile, was black flagged as he completed his second stop - for jumping in to the spare car during the final 15 seconds ahead of the parade lap. Sato was on a charge, working up to and passing Trulli to earn a very solid third place behind the unchallenged Ferraris. Baumgartner, meanwhile, made the most of Fisichella's misfortunes when the Sauber driver had to stop with no hydraulic pressure; consequently, Minardi were able to celebrate their first point of the year!
Point Paying Positions
Pos Driver Team-Engine Time 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1h40:29.914 2. Barrichello Ferrari (B) + 2.950 3. Sato BAR-Honda (M) + 22.036 4. Trulli Renault (M) + 34.544 5. Panis Toyota (M) + 37.534 6. Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 1 lap 7. Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 1 lap 8. Baumgartner Minardi-Cosworth (B) + 3 laps Fastest Lap: Barrichello, 1:10.399, lap 7 Classified: 9 from 20 starters