Thursday race preview - San Marino 22 Apr 2004
Imola to mark passing of Senna and Ratzenberger
After the excitement of new horizons in Bahrain, the past will be firmly in focus in Imola for this weekend's San Marino Grand Prix. This year marks the 10th anniversary of one of Grand Prix historys most traumatic weekends.
The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix took the lives of Austrian racer Roland Ratzenberger, following a crash on Saturday, and the legendary Ayrton Senna after his accident in Sundays race.
The ceremonies will be more a celebration of Senna's life, however. Formula One drivers, led by Michael Schumacher (who went on to win the 1994 race), will compete in a charity football match against 1994 Brazilians such as Jorghino, Bebeto and Rai. They dedicated their World Cup victory that year to Senna. Proceeds from the match will go to the Senna Foundation, which is run by Ayrton's sister Vivienne and raises funds for the impoverished children of Brazil.
There will be other celebrations, in the form of local concerts and exhibitions, together with memorial services, while on track, Senna's former McLaren team mate and friend Gerhard Berger will demonstrate one of Senna's Lotus Grand Prix cars. And the main grandstand at the Autodromo Dino e Enzo Ferrari is to be renamed in his honour.
Imola, of course, is Ferrari's home track and Michael Schumacher will be looking for a fourth consecutive 2004 victory. The team have been testing non-stop since their Bahrain one-two, and ominously say they have made yet another big performance step.
The team that Ferrari are watching most closely are BAR, fastest again in recent testing at Barcelona and Paul Ricard courtesy of on-form Jenson Button. They have an even stronger and more powerful Honda engine and the team are on a roll with a car that seems to work everywhere. Hopes are very high in this camp.
Williams, the other main rival, have been doing more aerodynamic work since Bahrain, where their challenge was hampered not just by Juan Pablo Montoya choosing the wrong - softer tyres, but also the gearbox gremlin that cost the Colombian third place. There's been plenty of work in that area, too.
Renault also have a more powerful engine, and Jarno Trulli described it in testing recently as "a significant step forward." The Italian says the team need to get more out of their car all through a race weekend, but with the power increase it should be better on Imola's point and squirt track.
It's difficult to say how McLaren will go, but this is not a team that will accept its current situation. It remains to be seen, however, how long it will take it to turn things around. There are new aerodynamic parts here, too.
Jaguar have done more work on the mechanical and software sides, and have some new aerodynamic components. Like Renault, this is a car at its best on the really quick corners, and there aren't any at Imola. But the R5 also has good traction, so Mark Webber and Christian Klien should be strong.
Sauber will use power-steering again, as it did at Bahrain, and local star Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa will be grateful for that at Imola. They will also have some more components from the new wind tunnel that is now fully operational again at Hinwil, and will thus have more downforce.
Toyota have a revised version of the TF104, complete with lower seating position, while Jordan and Minardi have also made improvements in their quest for their first points of the season. The former conducted their first test since the pre-season preparation at Silverstone recently, where Nick Heidfeld said they made progress setting up the EJ14. Bridgestone and Michelin naturally both have new tyre choices for their respective teams.
Imola is a track that demands good traction and brake stability - it is even heavier on brakes than Melbourne. But you also need power to climb up the hill from Acque Minerale, and cars must be able to ride the high and hard kerbs to get the best lap times.
One factor that has arisen from the new sporting regulations this year is that three-stop refuelling strategies seem to be better. That has had a big impact on strategy and car set-up. With three stops of course you can run the car lighter, which in turn means you can opt for softer tyre compounds and thus go quicker still. This could be a key factor at Imola.
The temperatures are likely to be lower, too, after the three warmer-clime opening races. That is likely to play in favour of the Bridgestone teams again, as the lower ambient and track temperatures on raceday in Bahrain demonstrated.