Spanish Grand Prix - news from the circuit. Thursday 01 May 2003
Welcome to the start of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend here in Barcelona, which may be the first race of the 2003 season that truly begins to outline the form we can expect for the remainder of the season.
Of course, the biggest talking point is the first scheduled race appearance of Ferrari's new car - the long-awaited F2003-GA (the GA standing for Fiat patriach Gianni Agnelli, who died earlier this year).
The machine has been testing before the season began in March, but after two accidents thought to have been caused by suspension failures, and subsequent poor weather during crucial sign-off tests just before the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, its race debut was postponed. As Michael Schumacher proved in Imola, the F2002 is still highly competitive, but Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn says: "The old car has come to the end of its development life, whereas we are just at the beginning with the F2003-GA."
On Tuesday, test driver Luca Badoer shook down the brace of F2003-GAs that Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello will race this weekend. At Mugello the Italian covered 18 laps, recording a best time of 58.926s though the session was purely for shakedown purposes and he was not actively seeking times.
As you can read in an exclusive photo-spread in the May issue of Formula 1 Magazine, this is the car that an almost speechless Schumacher described as
"unbelievable", while Barrichello admits that "I couldn't take my eyes off it."
Many pundits believe that the Ferraris will run away and hide this weekend, but McLaren Mercedes and BMW Williams are quietly confident of putting up a strong fight.
McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh points out that the team's copious test mileage there will enable it to optimise its cars quite early in the running, an important factor under the new regulations, and says that last week's test of the MP4-17D in Mugello was positive. "Although our primary focus is obviously the final stages of the MP4-18A, we are continuing to work on additional updates on the MP4-17D, there is no
complacency with this car, we are not standing still."
Ralf Schumacher admits that he is still going through a tough patch following the recent death of his mother, but Juan Pablo Montoya is fit after his heavy shunt testing at Silverstone last week. Chief operations engineer Sam Michael says the team spent last week honing the chassis around its new aerodynamic components and that this confirmed the upswing in performance first evident in Brazil.
Since the Circuit de Catalunya has predominantly medium and high-speed corners, and sees cars at full throttle for 58 percent of each lap, every team has been focusing on aerodynamic fine tuning prior to the race, intent on maximising downforce while minimising its associated penalty, drag.
And the man on whom all local eyes will be resting is Renault star Fernando Alonso, who is having a great season so far (Brazilian accident notwithstanding). The firm darling of the crowd, he says of his home race: "For me, this is obviously a very important race; it's a special feeling to be racing in front of my home fans. It means a lot to me to know that people around the circuit are concentrating on me, and I always get great support from the crowd in Barcelona. A good result here this weekend would be very special indeed."