Friday race preview, Barcelona 02 May 2003
With the Jaguar, Renault, Jordan and Minardi teams already out for their two hours of private testing, the Spanish Grand Prix is officially underway, but not for Matteo Bobbi. The Italian was due to run again with Minardi, but is officially listed as "unwell" and is not taking part in this morning's private practice.
Elsewhere, Michael Schumacher brought his family along yesterday and appears relaxed as he looks forward to the long-awaited race debut of the new Ferrari F2003-GA. Yesterday technical director Ross Brawn had some interesting comments to make about the new car, and how introducing one at this time of the season can interrupt the smooth flow of a team's organisation.
"Reliability has been the real criteria over the car's debut," Brawn said. "As we did last year, we didn't start designing a new car until we had full confidence in the performance parameters we wanted to set for it, so the schedule meant that we would not have it for the first few races. Then we had a couple of unexpected problems in testing, and in any case the old car was still competitive. If that had lacked competitiveness, then that would have been a difficult judgement call. We had a very good test at Mugello last week - we did 3000 kms, including three race simulations without any major problems. What happens in that situation is that the old car gets no development and it slowly fades away, so it's important that we get running with new car as soon as possible."
The F2003-GA has shown itself to be quicker than the F2002 with which Ferrari dominated the 2002 season and which was still quick enough to win at Imola. But Brawn points out that the team still needs to learn the car inside out.
"You start to understand a car much more when you go racing with it, no matter how much testing you do you don't understand it as well. You have got to learn it in a bit more detail, but our expectations are that we will be competitive."
Brawn says he watched the video of last year's race last week, and is not expecting such an easy time, and besides the new rules the interaction of the different tyres will also play a key role this weekend. The Circuit de Catalunya is notoriously hard on tyres, especially the left front, so different performance and wear characteristics will be crucial. In this respect, Patrick Head warns that we should not take BMW Williams's performance in Imola at face value. He said: "We did not have a particularly strong result in Imola due to errors around our pit stops and inconsistency between the way that sets of tyres had been prepared. It's all part of understanding exactly the beast you have and the way it uses its tyres on different circuits. Our performance certainly was stronger there than shown by our finishing results in Imola."
So while on the face of it Ferrari might have the advantage with its new car, BMW Williams and McLaren Mercedes are also quietly confident. So are Renault and Jaguar. Renault's Pat Symonds says: "I think we have quite a strong chassis, we have quite strong aerodynamics. Barcelona is the sort of circuit where I think the aerodynamic efficiency of the car is probably the prime reason for getting good lap times and therefore I think we can be quite competitive here."
BAR Honda, too, is quietly expecting to go well with the latest specification V10 from the Japanese manufacturer. With perfect weather conditions, it seems unlikely that any external factors will interfere with teams' plans this weekend.