Friday race preview - Schumacher confident 12 Sep 2003
Welcome back to the Italian Grand Prix weekend at Monza.
All day yesterday the paddock was buzzing with talk of the tyre situation, after the post-Hungarian Grand Prix controversy concerning the tread width of Michelins' front tyres when they were new (which is when the official measurements had previously been made) and when they were worn. Ferrari and Bridgestone have pointed to the fact that Michelin's tyres have developed a wider tread through normal race wear, arguing that this has conferred a performance advantage. After much argument the FIA clarified its relevant rule and the tyres must now be measured after they have been used.
As a result, Michelin has played safe by introducing some slightly different tyres. It has responded very quickly and was able to bring them to the big test at Monza last week where, as was reported previously, McLaren was not so happy running them but Williams, Renault and Toyota all reported improvement.
Making new tyres at such short notice is far from easy, but Michelin inserted a filler into its production moulds which effectively narrowed the tyre tread in the right places.
The other talking point was Ralph Firman's exclusion from participation. He had undergone preliminary examination prior to flying to Italy, but knew that he would be subject to a final examination by FIA medical delegate Professor Sid Watkins. Together they decided that Firman should not race after all as he is still suffering some residual effects from his 150 mph accident during the Hungarian Grand Prix meeting three weeks ago.
Last night Zsolt Baumgartner was confirmed as Firman's replacement for the weekend and began running in private testing this morning.
Firman has decided to stay at the circuit until Saturday morning and will then return home to England ready to continue his training programme in anticipation of restarting his Formula One career at the Silverstone test on September 17/18 prior to the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis.
"Although I feel extremely well and absolutely fit physically, I have an inner ear imbalance which prevents me racing this weekend," Firman explained. "But Professor Watkins said it should be fine in time for testing and the last two races."
Yesterday Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya indulged in a mild game of one-upmanship as each played up his race chances.
"Basically we had a good test last week and we feel that the car suits this type of circuit better. We have taken some good steps forward aerodynamically, so I'm feeling reasonably confident," Schumacher said. Asked if it was an advantage to have been in the situation before of fighting for the title, he replied: "We'll find out, but it's not that big advantage, and those other guys are good enough to do the job too otherwise they wouldn't be here. It's no big thing that translates into lap time, but maybe it could work in strategic situations."
Montoya also knows about the pressure of championships, having won titles in F3000 and ChampCars. "We changed our tyres, the FIA were happy, and now we are happy with the new ones," he summarised. "We did a lot of very long runs with them and we think we are very competitive."
Williams strongly believes that the revised Michelin tyres will have no detrimental effect at all this weekend, but expects that Ferrari will be closer on this type of track.