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Analysis - Williams revival in vain 14 Jun 2004

Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams BMW FW26 leads at the start.
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, Race Day, Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada, 13 June 2004 Formula One World Championship, Rd8, Race Day, Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada, 13 June 2004 Jenson Button (GBR) BAR Honda 006.
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, Race Day, Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada, 13 June 2004 Formula One World Championship, Rd8, Race Day, Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada, 13 June 2004 Formula One World Championship, Rd8, Race Day, Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada, 13 June 2004

Bombshells ruin Williams' and Toyota's day

Unfortunately for Williams the biggest story of Sunday’s race came five hours after Michael Schumacher had led brother Ralf, Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button and Juan Pablo Montoya over the line.

Ferrari winning and displaying perfect reliability was to be expected, but Williams had made some clear progress on qualifying and race pace and were thus stunned when their cars were excluded when their brake ducts failed technical inspection. Toyota suffered a similar fate, while the failure of either Renault to finish was also noteworthy.

For Ferrari, of course, it was another brilliant triumph. Schumacher admitted that the team knew that it could not run for pole, because of Michelin’s single-lap advantage, so they focused instead on race pace and also developed a flexible strategy that would enable them to run either a two- or a three-stop plan.

“We knew that with the strategy we had decided on prior to yesterday’s qualifying we could be in the running, even without starting from the front, and we were proved right,” managing director Jean Todt said.

Indeed they were, but what was also interesting was that Schumacher and Barrichello opted for a different tyre choice. Their mid-race duel was a high point, and Schumacher admitted that his team mate probably made the better selection. This time there were no real brake problems, as there were for Michael last year, except for Rubens when he was pushing so hard behind Michael. “I could feel the brakes getting hot because the pedal went spongy,” Barrichello admitted, and after his final stop that was what caused him to cut across Turn 9 and lose the five seconds that probably cost him second place. His fastest lap, and Ferrari’s win, proved that the Ferrari/Bridgestone package still has an advantage in race trim, although in Montreal it was down to four-tenths of a second over Williams as Ralf’s fastest lap of 1m 14.040s compared favourably with Barrichello’s 1m 13.622s.

The pace of Williams was the surprise of the weekend, both with pole position and with Ralf and Juan Pablo Montoya’s race speed. There were a lot of brake problems for the German in practice, and the Colombian suffered an irritating fuel leak then, but the team got its act together when it mattered and a 12 point haul for second and fourth places would have suddenly made BAR’s third place in the constructors’ championship look a lot less secure. The Anglo-Japanese team’s high hopes were not quite justified in Canada, though fourth place for Button was nevertheless a useful result. “Fourth place may be seen as disappointing, but the reality is that we just didn’t have the pace on the day,” team principal David Richards admitted. And when the team most needed to finish both cars in the points, Takuma Sato had a terrible afternoon and blew another engine. It certainly helped that neither Renault finished, so that BAR were now within 10 points of the Anglo-French team (51 to 61), and Williams were closing in with 48. Then both Williams were disqualified, so the team slumped back to 36 points while BAR got an extra one to climb to 52.

Jenson Button’s main problem all afternoon was oversteer, and after his first stint it finally killed his chances of a podium finish. It was the same problem that he has been complaining about in qualifying for the past two races. Another podium finish was thus a real bonus.

Canada was a disaster for Renault, with Trulli not even getting to the first corner and Alonso stopping on lap 45. It seems that identical driveshaft failures - which the team have never previously experienced - were responsible for the debacle.

Sauber again had a bitter-sweet race. At the start Fisichella’s anti-stall device activated itself, but the ensuing delay actually helped him avoid the Klien/Coulthard first corner melee. After that his car was well balanced and he was able to fight up to an eventual strong sixth place on his two-stop strategy. Felipe Massa was much less fortunate. He had technical problems all weekend and after passing several rivals lost time with a left rear tyre problem in his first pit stop and later had electronics problems from his steering wheel. His heavy accident at the hairpin was the result of some sort of suspension breakage which is still under investigation by the team. The Brazilian was lucky to emerge unhurt from a very heavy head-on shunt into the tyre wall.

Again, the exclusions handed out a bonus of another three points, with Fisichella finishing fourth not sixth, but the fact that Raikkonen and Coulthard also scored more actually eroded Sauber’s lead over McLaren. From 13/7 the respective positions became 15/12, much less healthy.

McLaren made some progress in Canada and Raikkonen should have been sixth. Instead he had to make a stop to replace the steering wheel on lap 61 because of an electronics problem, and also lost time because of a drive through penalty for crossing the pit lane exit white line. Coulthard was the innocent victim of the first corner tangle, which ruined his race, but he recovered well to finish ninth. The post-race events gave them fifth and sixth places respectively, so things were not quite as bad as they had seemed initially.

Toyota had an unremarkable run to collect another point for eighth, until the post-race drama, but the real focus here is on the TF104B which will arrive for Hockenheim. Jaguar had an awful afternoon with Klien taking out team mate Webber in the first turn. Exit the Aussie with damaged rear suspension and some philosophical words.

Chez Jordan refueller Mick Gomme had an unfortunate repeat of his Melbourne troubles during Nick Heidfeld’s lap 21 pit stop, and was dragged to the ground as the German was told to leave before the fuel nozzle had been detached. The resultant delay cooked his brakes and appeared to have cost a feisty Heidfeld the chance of points after he made up plenty of ground in the first lap incident. Team mate Timo Glock finished a good 11th initially on his Formula One race debut, fighting understeer from front wing damage in that incident, and a loss of engine power from the second lap. He was thus absolutely delighted to learn he had really finished seventh to score two points first time out, and Heidfeld certainly wasn’t going to turn his nose up at another point, either. Their joint score of three pushed Jordan back ahead of Toyota, into seventh place.

Minardi lost Bruni with gearbox problems, and Baumgartner soldiered on to finish 14th and last, four laps down.

In the end Ferrari won, but it was a strong race with a lot of interest and Todt is right when he warns about getting complacent in the face of a growing challenge from what he describes as “well organised rivals”. It’s hard to see anyone beating Ferrari at Indianapolis this week, but the signs are that Williams in particular are going to be trouble later in the year. You can bet they won’t make any more costly slip-ups like that one that ruined their day in Montreal.