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Race analysis - Ferrari close the gap 03 Jul 2006

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248 F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006 Race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.06 has a huge barrel roll at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26 makes a pit stop.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006 David Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull Racing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Indianapolis, USA, 1 July 2006

Renault still in the points, but Ferrari are dominant in America

Sometimes you just get a feeling about the way things will turn out, and that was what happened in Indianapolis. All through practice on Friday Ferrari looked strong, and the team didn’t disappoint either during qualifying or during Sunday’s race. Game, set, match and 18 points to Maranello and tyre-manfacturer Bridgestone. The result came just in time for the team to do something about Renault’s runaway progress. After Canada the scores in the constructors’ championship were 121 to 87, with Renault 34 points ahead. But they left Indianapolis on 131 and 105 respectively. The least convincing performance of the season by Renault and Michelin thus reduced their advantage to 26.

There was, of course, jubilation in the Ferrari camp, and rightfully so. Bridgestone were also pretty pleased. No doubt the running they did here in last year’s race helped.

At Renault there were long faces, though long-term this may simply prove to have been a case of Bridgestone getting the tyre situation absolutely right and Michelin being a little too conservative. Certainly, for the first time this year, Renault’s R26 lacked its habitual poise and balance. While Ferrari enjoyed the maximum result, ‘les bleus’ had to be content with a haul of only 10 points, for third and fifth places. On this occasion factors worked in Giancarlo Fisichella’s favour; the Italian had the latest engine whereas Fernando Alonso’s was a little tired, and Fisichella was happier with his car’s set-up. It wasn’t a great weekend for either of them, but equally it wasn’t the end of the world. Most other teams fared a lot worse and, for Renault, the United States Grand Prix was probably just a glitch.

Look at McLaren, both cars wiped out in the first two corners. Or Honda, who lost Jenson Button in the same incident. Or BMW, Red Bull, Williams, Toro Rosso or Super Aguri who also lost a car apiece. This was undoubtedly an expensive start to a race.

Let’s look at how the first incident evolved. First of all, five or six cars tried to go into Turn One abreast. There was the inevitable funneling and bottling effect, as Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Nick Heidfeld, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Speed all got caught up behind the group comprising Rubens Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve. On the inside, Raikkonen had to brake. At the same time Button was looking for a way round him in the middle of the track, with Heidfeld on the outside of him. As Raikkonen braked, Montoya struck the back of him. Both spun. Montoya caught Button, who in turn flipped Heidfeld into his series of rolls. Speed couldn’t avoid either Button or Raikkonen.

Further back, Klien overcooked it under braking and took out Webber before brushing Albers, and an innocent Montagny couldn’t avoid hitting Klien. The result was immediate retirement for Raikkonen, Montoya, Heidfeld, Speed, Klien, Webber and Montagny, while Button retired after three stops to investigate damage sustained.

Not long afterwards, the second Super Aguri was out of the race after Takuma Sato’s inside passing move sent him into the side of Tiago Monteiro’s Midland. The Japanese driver was out on the spot; Monteiro made a series of stops before retiring with bodywork and radiator damage. Team mate Albers had earlier sustained bodywork damage, and eventually succumbed to a transmission problem.

After Heidfeld’s early retirement amidst the carnage of Turn One, BMW Sauber’s chances were ruined when Villeneuve exited the fight for fourth place thanks to engine failure.

It’s funny how some races see nearly everyone finishing, and others witness carnage. Six cars started here last year and all six finished (equalling the 1961 Dutch Grand Prix when all starters made it home); whereas this time only nine cars finished out of the 22 that started.

Behind the Ferraris, and splitting the Renaults, Toyota’s Jarno Trulli had a great day that he could never realistically have expected after starting the race from the pit lane. His Toyota TF106B had required some new rear suspension parts and Trulli had been put to the back of the grid by the officials; a long first stint hoisted him well up the depleted field, and he easily stayed ahead of the troubled Alonso to the flag. Toyota’s only disappointment was Ralf Schumacher’s demise on lap 63, but their five point haul brings them to 16 points, only three away from BMW Sauber’s fifth place.

Honda had something to cheer about as Rubens Barrichello brought his RA106 home sixth. Generally, this was a better weekend for the Brackley team despite the early loss of Button. The Brazilian reported that his car was pleasant enough to drive in, and the resultant three points helped increase their cushion over BMW Sauber in the constructor’s championship.

Red Bull and Toro Rosso had something to celebrate, too. David Coulthard must have grown very tired of seeing Vitantonio Liuzzi right on his tail for the first half of the race. The Italian exploited his new engine for all it was worth but still suffered poor straight-line speed which denied him the chance to attack going into Turn One. Eventually Liuzzi stopped for fuel before Coulthard, and the Scot’s ability to run over eight laps more before pitting (47 to Liuzzi’s 39) settled the issue of seventh place firmly in his favour. Liuzzi drove a blinder to haul in and pass Nico Rosberg’s Williams, and scored his first point of the season and Toro Rosso’s first ever when Ralf Schumacher retired. Rosberg, meanwhile, struggled with a poor-handling car, and to make matter worse for Williams, Red Bull’s two points took them ahead of them in the constructors’ stakes.

So that’s Formula One racing’s North American leg over, and once again it was beneficial to Ferrari as they scored 30 points. But Renault took away 25, and they will be back strongly at Magny-Cours as they seek to beat the Ferrari team on home ground.