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Belgium analysis - what a difference 30 Aug 2004

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/19B.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 27 August 2004 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2004 finished in third position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Race Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 29 August 2004 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault R24 is pitched into a spin at the Bus Stop Chicane by Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams BMW FW26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Race Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 29 August 2004 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Sauber Petronas C23 finished in fifth position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Race Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 29 August 2004 Jenson Button (GBR) BAR Honda 006 retired from the race after a spectacular tyre blow out on the run up to Les Combes.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Race Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 29 August 2004

Belgian race highlights the importance of the circuit

At the Hungaroring, nearly everyone finished, but Spa presented such a challenge to cars and drivers that, almost incredibly, Renault, BAR and Williams all failed to get any of theirs to the end.

Indeed, such was their dearth of points, and such was McLaren’s haul - 10 for winner Kimi Raikkonen, two for David Coulthard - that their 12-point leap puts them firmly in contention to catch Williams, who are only five points ahead (54 plays 49) for fourth place. Of course, Williams have had a number of disasters in the scoring department - Canada most readily springs to mind - but this also highlights the tremendous progress that McLaren have made since the dark days at the start of the season. Throw in Michael Schumacher’s admission that Ferrari were “not strong enough at crucial points,” on Sunday, and some light begins to appear at the end of McLaren’s long tunnel.

One thing is for sure, you can’t keep good racing teams down for long while they retain their will to fight, and McLaren have not given up for one minute to massage winning performance from the MP4-19 and the 19B derivative. “A tremendous result for the team, the whole day speaks for itself,” Ron Dennis said. Indeed it did.

The race was hardly a disaster for Ferrari, with Schumacher and Barrichello finishing second and third, and after the tyre failures for Coulthard, Button and Montoya, Bridgestone looked happier than Michelin even though the French company won their second race of the season. It will be a fascinating aspect of the final four races to see if Ferrari have started to come under genuine pressure from McLaren - remember how fast Raikkonen was in Hockenheim, too.

Sauber started the Belgian Grand Prix secretly hoping for a podium finish, and had Massa kept out of trouble on the opening lap they could have got it. Of course, a lot of other people could have laid claim to the same thing, but on the reality of the day’s situation the Swiss team nonetheless did a fine job in getting the Brazilian back in the running after his two opening lap pit stops to rectify rear-end damage sustained after Pizzonia pushed Button into his car at La Source. Fisichella, meanwhile, made a bad start and got rear-ended by Panis, and suffered the same problem as Massa: depleted downforce. This caught him out on lap 20 on the entry to Fagnes, and the resultant trip over the grass hurt his downforce even more. So neither C23 performed to its peak, but fourth and fifth places and a healthy haul of nine points left Peter Sauber reaching happily for another cigar.

Jaguar were happy too. Not that Webber had attacked the back of Barrichello at the start and compromised his race, but that Christian Klien kept on it all afternoon, attacked Fisichella with gusto at each restart, and held off Coulthard to score his first points for a decent sixth place after running a three-stop strategy. That hauled Jaguar into seventh place, a point ahead of Toyota.

Now to the unhappy teams. For Renault Spa was an unmitigated disaster, with the early lead fought for by poleman Jarno Trulli and fast-starting Fernando Alonso turning to ashes within 12 laps. Trulli pitted on lap 10, and two laps later leader Alonso had spun through 360 degrees at Les Combes before spinning into gravely retirement at Rivage one corner later. Renault blamed oil leaking on to his left rear tyre, and the fact that the Spaniard spun at all was indication of a mechanical problem. He’s not prone to many mistakes.

Trulli got delayed when Montoya bundled him off when a repeat of his passing move on Schumacher failed at the Bus Stop on lap 20, but the Italian was in trouble long before that as he lapped up to four seconds off the pace. He said his car was undriveable, as it had been in Hockenheim, and slumped to a ninth place finish. Renault were still checking the data as these words were written.

Then there were Williams. Antonio Pizzonia was driving extremely well and, having led a Grand Prix for the first time on lap 17, was set for a fine podium finish when his transmission engaged nothing but neutrals on lap 32. He stopped at the top of Eau Rouge, deeply distressed. Montoya was also unhappy to suffer a rear tyre failure on lap 37 which stole his podium finish, but at least he had the consolation of seeing his new team winning.

BAR lost Sato on the opening lap as he got squeezed into Webber by Montoya, but helped Button to recover strongly from losing his wing after hitting Massa by refuelling him as he stopped for repairs on the opening lap. The Englishman was very nicely placed for a podium challenge when he too suffered a rear tyre failure near Les Combes and wiped out Baumgartner’s Minardi. In its chase after Renault’s second place in the constructors’ championship, David Richards’ team desperately needed those points.

That incident brought Minardi’s unhappy outing to an end, so it finished as badly as it had started when Baumgartner and Bruni collided at Eau Rouge on the opening lap, triggering the Italian’s demise.

One of the few men who didn’t hit anyone all afternoon was Zonta. From being feeble in qualifying he rose to the challenge and was nicely placed for fourth when his Toyota suffered its first engine failure of the year on lap 41. The team scored a point for Panis’s eighth place, but the four they lost would have kept them ahead of Jaguar.

Finally, Jordan lost Pantano at Eau Rouge in the Bruni accident, and Heidfeld lost his front wing after rear-ending Pizzonia at the start. The German stopped for repairs, but was later trouble by an intermittent electrical problem and huge understeer, almost going off at Eau Rouge on one occasion.

What will Monza hold for them all in a fortnight? Since it is a power circuit, Ferrari, Williams and BAR will be strong, but whether anyone will be strong enough to beat the red cars on their hallowed home ground remains to be seen.