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Europe analysis - Forza Ferrari! 31 May 2004

Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2004 congratulates Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race Day, 30 May 2004 Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR Honda 006 gets it sideways.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race, 30 May 2004 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Sauber Petronas C23 leads Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault R24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race, 30 May 2004 Christian Klien (AUT) Jaguar R5.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race, 30 May 2004 The damaged and retired Williams BMW FW26 of Ralf Schumacher (GER).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race, 30 May 2004

World champions reassert their authority over rivals

BAR have modifications on the way, but for now the Ferrari F2004 remains the class of the Formula One field. If Monaco raised the slightest doubt of that, Sunday's Nurburgring race eliminated it.

Michael Schumacher’s victory in the European Grand Prix pushed Ferrari ever further ahead in the world championship for constructors, and the champion’s six-tenth margin of superiority in the fastest lap stakes suggests that nothing has changed since Barcelona.

That’s the way it is, but it may not be the way it stays. BAR have some Honda engine modifications up their sleeve for Montreal, which should push the Japanese V10 further ahead in the power stakes. There is talk of up to another 10 bhp, which will be useful. The fact that Ferrari completely changed their refuelling strategy in Germany is a reflection of how seriously they are taking the Anglo-Japanese challenge. Ferrari’s technical package remains excellent, but it is also backed by highly efficient teamwork, which is just as important a factor. The people who make the decisions at Ferrari have been working together for so long that it is almost second nature. BAR, meanwhile, are maturing nicely, and certainly seem happier than either BMW Williams or McLaren Mercedes. Both of these Anglo-German teams had horrendous weekends at the Nurburgring.

Regardless of blame, having both cars tangle in the first corner is every team’s nightmare, and Williams were not happy to take a single point after Montoya had to recover from an extra pit stop for a new nose. Though Ralf Schumacher hopes that the recent revisions to the team’s technical line-up will have a marked effect within “two to three races”, it will take longer than that according to new technical director Sam Michael, who says that there will not be any major changes on the cars in the forthcoming north American races.

McLaren, meanwhile, will test their heavily revamped MP4-19B sometime this week, and it cannot come soon enough. Big changes are afoot on the technical front here, too, with Werner Laurenz leaving Ilmor Engineering (a Mercedes-owned offshoot). Co-founder Mario Illien is expected to resume engineering control.

It was very obvious from the race that McLaren light-fuelled Kimi Raikkonen, and once the Finn’s Mercedes V10 had blown up on the 10th lap Takuma Sato was able to lap his BAR two seconds faster. A similar failure for David Coulthard completed a torrid race. Illien later said that it was suspected that piston failures had caused both blow-ups.

Renault were not happy to be bundled out of the way on lap one by Sato. BAR had the upper hand on performance this weekend, with the Renaults lapping almost a second slower than Sato and six-tenths off Button, whose 006 lacked grip. But Renault had reliability on their side. Once again both cars finished, giving the team a healthy scoop of nine points to maintain its second place in the constructors’ championship.

Sauber had another great race. Giancarlo Fisichella did everything he had to do in the cockpit, and the team’s strategy was perfect for his back of the grid start. It helped that the C23 has a bigger fuel tank than most 2004 cars, which enabled him to run 24 laps before his first refuelling stop. Three more points pulled the team further ahead of McLaren as Peter Sauber’s, much smaller, Swiss operation doubled the giant’s score.

The silver arrows also came under threat from Toyota at Monaco, but this time the red and white cars had a miserable weekend. Cristiano da Matta was a first-lap victim of the Williams contretemps, and Olivier Panis was unable to do anything about Nick Heidfeld’s well-driven Jordan, which operates on a fraction of Toyota’s budget.

The Nurburgring brought something for Jaguar to cheer about as Mark Webber scored two valuable points to jump back ahead of Jordan, but the transmission again let the Australian down at the start thanks to what was described as a ‘clutch engagement problem.’ Given how close Webber got to Fisichella near the end before backing off to finish - the gap between them was at one stage only 2.5s - that probably cost Jaguar an extra point.