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Analysis - McLaren streets ahead 23 May 2005

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren talks to his race engineer Mark Slade (GBR) 
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 19 May 2005 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF105.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 22 May 2005 Mark Webber (AUS) Williams celebrates his third position on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 22 May 2005 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2005 and Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2005.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 22 May 2005 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R25.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 22 May 2005

Renault rattled, Williams do well and Ferrari fastest!

A lot of people could have, and some even should have, but the Monaco Grand Prix was not a race that necessarily rewarded everyone according to their just deserts.

McLaren got what they deserved, and that was 10 points for Kimi Raikkonen and a bonus four courtesy of Juan Pablo Montoya, who should have started well up on the grid but didn’t because of what many saw as his inability to control his temper in practice.

As we saw in Imola and again in Barcelona, the McLaren MP4-20 is currently the best overall package, and in Monte Carlo it was so kind to its tyres that the team managed to run their softer Michelin option without any horrid lap time penalty of oversteer as the race progressed. That’s a significant factor in the car’s success.

The way in which Raikkonen was able to use it to build a lead until the lap 24 incident which necessitated the safety car, and then open it up again after that, was indication of just what a good car McLaren have produced. Forget the traumas of the flammable MP4-18A which never raced, and the poor initial performances of the MP4-19; this one is a gem.

What was interesting is that there was another car in Monaco which was quicker, and it was red and used Bridgestone tyres. This was Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari. On lap 40 the champion set the race’s fastest lap in 1m 15.842s. This was faster than he went in qualifying on Saturday, when he lapped in 1m 16.186s in relatively dirty track conditions. The difference lies in the performance of the car and its tyres in circumstances other than one lap in qualifying and with low fuel loads. When Michael went so fast he was 16 laps into a 34-lap stint, so he was carrying a significantly higher amount of fuel than was Raikkonen at that stage of the race, when the Finn set his fastest lap (1m 15.921s on lap 41).

What does that mean? Well, it suggests that Bridgestone’s tyres work very much better when they are well heated on a long run, but it also suggests that more work needs to be done to the car so that it does not need weight to help make it go quickly.

However, it is probably safe to assume that Raikkonen was not pushing his car as hard as he needed to even while trying to open up a big enough lead to make his pit stop.

All of this must be food for thought for Renault. After Imola and Barcelona they rationalised their situation to themselves and figured that things were not quite what they seemed, either because Alonso was running an engine for the second race (Imola) or because of blistered rear tyres (Barcelona). The latter was a warning sign, because in Monte Carlo neither Renault was kind to its rear Michelins. The team had gone for the harder tyre option, but this was a bit softer than the tyre Williams chose and, as engineering chief Pat Symonds admitted, their tyre wear exceeded even their most pessimistic predictions. Clearly, there is some work needed here, but Renault’s reliability remained good.

As technical director Ross Brawn said of the Ferrari, meanwhile, the F2005 clearly has huge potential and their problem is to figure out, together with Bridgestone, how to unlock it. When they do, they will be right on the pace the way they were in cooler conditions in Imola.

A last note on McLaren: high fuel weight is usually deleterious in terms of tyre wear, yet Montoya suffered no ill effects in running as long as the 46th lap on his hefty fuel load after starting at the back. The MP4-20 really is a good chassis.

And so to Williams, where a two-three result caused both relief and a little confusion since BMW have been linked with a possible split with the British team. The key to their race was making the right choice of tyre in recent testing. They tried Renault’s harder (but slightly softer) option and decided that it didn’t work for them, and that was a crucial decision. The FW27 looked good all weekend, and ultimately had the pace to do a very strong job. As technical director Sam Michael said, Monaco is a track that rewards cars with a lot of downforce and an ability to look after their tyres. This was a well deserved result, and even though Raikkonen eased off at the end which meant that the 13.8s gap between him and Heidfeld was misleading, it was a clear sign that the Grove team had made some good progress here. Their tally of 14 points from the weekend matched McLaren’s.

Sixth place gave Toyota their ‘worst’ result since Australia and lost them second place in the constructors’ championship to McLaren, and they were one of the teams that rightly expected more. Jarno Trulli ran as high as second after the Christijan Albers incident and was still fifth after refuelling on lap 39, and his move on Fisichella at Grand Hotel on lap 64 was an excellent bit of opportunism. But then he got the chicane wrong and lost everything. He pitted at the end of the lap complaining of a handling problem, and it was probably the result of his car landing heavily after going over the kerb at the hairpin while overtaking Fisichella. Despite not doing much overtaking Ralf Schumacher came from the back of the grid to sixth place, but it was a close-run thing as brother Michael was only 0.046s adrift at the finish line. So this was a poor race by the team’s newly defined 2005 standards, but even in adversity they picked up another three points.

In the Sauber camp all anyone wanted to speak of afterwards were five lost points that would have made a serious dent in direct rival Red Bull’s advantage, because Peter Sauber was convinced either Felipe Massa or Jacques Villeneuve could have challenged for fourth place by the finish. Instead, Villeneuve’s optimistic move on his team mate at Ste Devote on lap 62 lost both of them everything. However, Massa’s rear tyres were in the same condition as Alonso’s by the end, though he did manage to claw his way back up to ninth ahead of Fisichella by the flag. All in all it was a disaster for the team, after they had reacted so well in pitting Massa immediately after the Albers spin. As Peter Sauber said, “What happened today is the most depressing thing that a team can experience.”

Jordan had something to be pleased about: they beat Minardi after the latter had given them a drubbing in practice and qualifying. They lost Narain Karthikeyan after the Indian clobbered a wall and damaged his car’s hydraulic system, but Tiago Monteiro plugged on for 13th ahead of Albers. Patrick Friesacher didn’t finish after his car twitched into a nasty spin at the chicane on lap 30 and walloped the inner wall. The Austrian said that the handling had felt odd after the safety car had gone in, and thought a tyre might have been deflating. Possibly he picked up some debris.

The other big losers in Monte Carlo after Sauber were Red Bull, who had a massive presence all weekend. These people know how to use the sport to market their product, but they had no luck at all. Had David Coulthard not been hit by Michael Schumacher he would have been in the thick of the fight for fourth place, but the collision broke his rear suspension and that was that. It was of course the second time that DC had been clobbered from behind this weekend, which made it all the harder to take. Tonio Liuzzi’s rear tyres succumbed almost from the start to his heavy fuel load, and he eventually retired on lap 60 after tapping a barrier while Michael Schumacher was climbing all over him.

The championship battle is heating up nicely as a result of this gripping race. Renault still lead the constructors’ table with 63 points, but McLaren clawed back nine and are now second on 51. Toyota have 43 and Williams are moving again with a 14-point jump to 35. Ferrari have 21. And there are still 13 races to go.