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Britain analysis - snakes and ladders 12 Jul 2004

Race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari celebrates in Parc Ferme.
Formula One World Championship, British Grand Prix, Rd 11, Race Day, Silverstone, England, 11 July 2004 Third placed Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/19B makes a pitstop.
Formula One World Championship, British Grand Prix, Rd 11, Race Day, Silverstone, England, 11 July 2004 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Sauber Petronas C23 makes a pitstop.
Formula One World Championship, British Grand Prix, Rd 11, Race Day, Silverstone, England, 11 July 2004 Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams BMW FW26.
Formula One World Championship, British Grand Prix, Rd 11, Race Day, Silverstone, England, 11 July 2004 Mark Webber (AUS) at the Grand Prix Party.
British Grand Prix, Grand Prix Party, Silverstone, England, 11 July 2004

The lessons to be drawn from the Silverstone race

Sometimes it is tempting to think that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari could win with no stops, one stop or six, such is their apparent superiority. But you get the feeling that had Kimi Raikkonen managed to get his McLaren ahead at any time the champion would have had to fight very hard to get back in front.

The key, however, was their different strategies. Schumacher managed to make a two-stop work, and in some ways that may have flattered McLaren’s performance because at critical times when they were fighting on the track, the red car was heavier.

Nevertheless, the Finn’s performance in taking the third pole of his career, and then pushing hard enough to beat Rubens Barrichello for second place in the race, showed just how much progress McLaren have made with the MP4-19B. There were murmurs about low-fuel qualifying in both France and Britain, but the race showed that McLaren no longer have to resort to any sponsor-pleasing showboat tactics to keep their chin up. The new car is a genuine contender, and most of its performance leap lies in generating much better downforce.

That was something that BAR could have done with in Jenson Button’s home race. They have gone round Silverstone a lot quicker than they were able to at the weekend. And Button complained of oversteer in the race which hurt his chances of another podium finish. This was more a case of set-up rather than anything inherently lacking, and it shows just how far the team have come in 2004 when a fourth place finish is a disappointment. A year ago they’d have been delighted with that. Takuma Sato had a subdued race, rather like Fernando Alonso, trapped in the midfield from which he could find no escape.

Juan Pablo Montoya said that he was happy that Williams got the best out of their situation to pick up fifth place, but admitted that at Silverstone the FW26, which had been so fast in pre-qualifying in Magny-Cours the previous week, simply wasn’t quick enough. Team mate Marc Gene had another race in the midfield, however, and finished only 12th.

Peter Sauber could rightly feel aggrieved to see his cars finish only sixth and ninth, for the Sauber C23 made a giant leap forward with its new lowline engine cover. But for the glitch with his engine’s air pressure (which runs the pneumatic valve actuation system) and the need to replenish it in the final stop, Giancarlo Fisichella would comfortably have beaten Montoya, and the Italian raved about his car on his way to the race’s fifth fastest lap. Felipe Massa, too, was delighted with his car’s grip and balance, but a software problem in his final stop initially denied him first gear and left him trapped behind Mark Webber.

There were signs of improvement from Jaguar, with Webber fighting hard to score a much-needed point. As other teams have used their greater financial firepower to develop their cars further, Jaguar have lost ground following their great start to the season, so Webber’s eighth was an important result and the Australian was pleased with his performance. Christian Klien was always in a fight with somebody, be it Alonso or Pantano early on or da Matta at the end, and finished 14th.

After their stunning showing with Fernando Alonso in France Renault came to Silverstone with high hopes, but half of these were dashed when the Spaniard’s engine needed changing on Saturday and he lost 10 grid places. Trapped in the midfield in a car that is believed to lack sheer power, he was always going to have a difficult afternoon. Jarno Trulli fared better initially after qualifying fifth, but Schumacher moved quickly at the start to block the usual Renault super-start, so he had to be content to run fifth ahead of Coulthard and Montoya until losing a place to the Scot during the first stops. He was down in eighth place, recovering from his second pit stop, when the rear suspension broke at 270 kph (167 mph) while he was going through Bridge corner, and he was lucky to climb unhurt from the sizeable accident that ensued at Priory. The race thus marked only the second time this season that neither Renault has finished.

For Toyota, the Gascoyne-developed TF104B cannot come soon enough (it is scheduled to appear at Hockenheim). Olivier Panis’s race ended prematurely when he went off into the gravel on lap 17 after his onboard fire extinguisher set itself off. In any case he was already regretting the gamble the team took on running Michelin’s softer compound tyres, which didn’t work as well as everyone else’s harder compounds. Cristiano da Matta was happier, believing that he could have fought for better than his eventual 13th place finish, but he lost a lap when the safety car came out for Trulli’s accident, so that stymied him.

On their home ground Jordan had little to be satisfied about, with Nick Heidfeld an unhappy 15th and Giorgio Pantano putting a wheel in the dirt at Abbey on the 48th lap while sitting right in his team-mate’s slipstream.

The British Grand Prix was a sad race for Minardi, whose sporting director John Walton, 47, succumbed on Friday evening at the St Thomas Hospital to three serious heart attacks that he had suffered the previous Tuesday while preparing for the F1 comes to Regent Street demonstration. Walton was one of the finest men in the paddock and a friend to many, and in honour of the former Toleman, Benetton, Arrows and Prost mechanic-turned-team manager, who was also Eddie Jordan’s first team member and Ayrton Senna’s mechanic in 1984, the two Minardis ran unbranded in the race. After the team held a minute’s silence in the morning, Zsolt Baumgartner and Gianmaria Bruni were determined to bring their cars to the finish as their own little tribute, and they raced each other very hard. Unfortunately Baumgartner’s stopped at Copse on lap 30 with engine problems, but Bruni made the flag in 16th place.

Ferrari are so far ahead in the constructors’ championship that it is hardly worth mentioning, but BAR are creeping up on Renault, and with 67 points to the Anglo-French team’s 79, the heat is on. McLaren have steadily been hauling in the points since Canada, too, and are moving up on Williams, while Sauber consolidated their sixth place and are comfortably ahead of Toyota.