Analysis - Ferraris sleight of hand 13 Sep 2004
Why their rivals rightly thought they had a chance...
It wasnt until the 37th lap of the Italian Grand Prix that Ferrari truly got their claws into the race, which makes their one-two result all the more impressive. Some people say that F1 is boring, but there was nothing boring about todays race, winner Rubens Barrichello declared. And he was right. It was one of those races, like Spa, that emanated interest right down the order.
For Ferrari it was another brilliant affirmation of power and strategic thinking, that ability to react during the heat of battle and to grab success from the jaws of defeat. Of course they have the best car in the business, most likely allied to the best tyres by the time the track had dried, but they also drew heavily on the ability of their drivers and the pit crews, so everybody could justifiably take pleasure in the outcome. It was their 13th win of the season, and one of the best and most satisfying.
Its tempting to believe, as the circus heads for China, that Monza was one of those tracks that really let Ferraris F2004 show its true potential. The opposition was simply decimated.
For a while BAR starred, as Jenson Button once again led a race in convincing style, and their eventual third and fourth places were only a disappointment because they had dared to dream of theirs and Buttons first victory. Their haul of 10 points was just what they needed to jump ahead of Renault to take runner-up position in the constructors championship. That will be a timely marketing tool as they head to China in search of additional funding for 2005.
For Williams, fifth and seventh places were disappointing, especially after Montoya seemed to have the same pace initially as Button and Alonso before gearbox gremlins again intervened. But they scored more points which helped them to pull away again from McLaren after the latters Spa triumph had closed the gap rather worryingly. On top of that, Antonio Pizzonias fastest lap was far and away the best of the non-Ferraris. The red cars managed 1m 21.046s (Barrichello) and 1m 21.361s (Schumacher), whereas Pizzonia lapped in 1m 22.246s to Montoyas 1m 22.929s. The BARs lapped in 1m 22.660s (Sato) and 1m 22. 671s (Button).
There was celebration again in the Sauber camp, as Fisichella staged a great fight through from 15th on the grid to eighth despite running a low downforce car with dry weather tyres and a heavy fuel load in the early going. He set the races fourth fastest lap, in 1m 22.615s, which made the cars from Hinwil competitive with everything but the Ferraris. There were strong times from Felipe Massa too, whose race was hampered by the short life of his initial choice of intermediate tyres which surrendered after taking him from 16th to sixth after four laps, and later by a brush with Heidfeld which lost him his front wing after he slid into the Jordan after encountering a damp patch.
Those were the happy teams, but for Renault Monza was a disaster. Fernando Alonso led, chasing Button very strongly and keeping Montoya and Raikkonen at bay, but dropped it with a mistake in the second chicane on lap 41. His failure to score, allied to another weak showing from Jarno Trulli, left Renault trailing BAR by three points with three races left to run, 91 to 94. Trullis showing was of special concern as he lapped up to three seconds off the pace for much of the race, before posting the seventh fastest lap of the race on the 52nd lap.
Ron Dennis was in a good mood on Saturday afternoon, and said quietly when congratulated on Kimi Raikkonens Spa success, I think we can do quite well again this weekend. The Finns engine problem on lap 13, when the water temperature began rising dangerously, was thus doubly frustrating. It was a race several people could have won, and Kimi was one of them, Dennis said. Meanwhile, David Coulthards race was compromised right from the start when he swept into the pits at the end of the grid formation lap to switch from intermediate Michelins to full dries. That necessitated a one-stop strategy, but he was able to salvage three points.
The two Jaguar drivers staged a good opening performance, as Christian Klien drove with feistiness and a chasing Mark Webber gave Schumacher a preview of the form he hopes to take to Williams in 2005 as he defended eighth place against ultimately insuperable odds. Both the team and Webber deserved a point.
Toyotas day began badly when Panis went off in the second chicane on the opening lap after understeering into Pizzonias car. Ricardo Zonta struggled through to finish 11th, complaining of low grip throughout.
Like McLaren with Coulthard, Jordan put Nick Heidfeld on a one-stop strategy as he started from the pit lane, and he got the most out of the car and survived the attack by Massa. Team mate Giorgio Pantano crashed heavily at Parabolica, but was unharmed. So, too, were several Minardi mechanics who were engulfed in flames when Gianmaria Brunis pit stop on the 30th lap went awry. The reason for the conflagration-causing fuel leak is not yet clear, but after Bruni experienced breathing difficulties after inhaling fumes, he had to retire. This was a shame as the Italian made a great start and was momentarily in the top 10 before the track dried out. Fortunately none of the mechanics was harmed.
With three flyaway races left, the principal interest apart from the identity of the individual winners, will centre on the fight for second between BAR and Renault, the battle for fourth between Williams and McLaren and Jaguar and Toyotas scrap for seventh.