It hardly seems like yesterday when the F1 powers that be were scrambling for ideas to make the Championship Series " more interesting", which we all knew at the time could roughly be translated into "how do we halt the Ferrari domination?" Well, what with the new qualifying regulations, sprinkled with a little changeable weather, there were certainly cheers all round when the provisional overnight "pole" on the preliminary front row went to the Minardi Team, in which Jos Verstappen was a full 7secs. in front of Michael Schumacher!!. Yes, really. He was closely followed by Justin Wilson ( and didn't he go well?), who was regrettably disqualified and relegated to the back row after the post practice weigh in when he was discovered to be 2.5 Kg. underweight, an oversight which was eventually blamed on the final tyre choice.
"More interesting" indeed, but it was nice to see that F1
has a sense of humour after all.
The weather was excellent for the whole of the session, the track was dry and fast, and it was immediately apparent that the anomalies of the previous day were going to be ironed out as the session got under way. Both Michelin and Bridgestone were very concerned about their heavy tyre degradation, and it was obvious from the very start that tyres were going to be the key to the final grid positions, with Michelin seemingly having gained some advantage over the Bridgestone runners.
Justin Wilson was first away, he managed a creditable 1:19.619, with the commentators already predicting that a low 1:16.000 would be necessary to get a favourable start position. How right they were, and by the end of the session, Ralf Schumacher in his Williams BMW was on pole with an absolutely flying 1:15.019, with his team mate Montoya not very far behind, with an equally impressive 1:15.136. Michael Schumacher was third with a 1:15.480, then the two McLarens with Raikkonen just ahead of Coulthard, and with Barrachello as far back as eighth. Of the twenty runners, six were under the magic 1.16 mark, the promise of a start line scramble being very much on the cards for the following day.
Sunday - The French Grand Prix.
The cars assembled in perfect weather conditions, with a dry track, and with a forecast which did not include rain. It was an excellent start, with R Schumacher into the first corner, closely followed by Montoya, with Kimi Raikonnen managing to outfumble Michael Schumacher to get third and fourth respectively. The whole grid followed in an orderly but very quick procession, with not a single coming together anywhere further down the field. At the start of the second lap, Rubens Barrichello unfortunately managed to drop it entering the pits straight with a bout of over enthusiasm, which allowed the whole of the field to overtake before he could take up his position as last, but at least he had managed to keep his engine running so that he could continue the chase.
As the race settled down, it was obvious that the present Williams BMW package has been honed to a very fine cutting edge, the combination of chassis, engine and tyres quite clearly giving the drivers a distinct advantage over the other runners. Both Ralf Schumacher and Montoya began to ease a comfortable lead over the other runners, and it really was a joy to see just how quickly these cars could be made to go. Michael Schumacher was clearly having to use all of his infinite driving skills to the limit as he struggled to keep up, and was running fifth behind the McLarens for the most part of the race. Rubens Barrichello was systematically picking off the tail enders, as he drove hard to get into the points.
The race continued, with a demonstration of flawless driving from the front runners. All the cars were on a three stop strategy, and it was during these stops and his subsequent flying laps, that Michael lifted himself to third ahead of the two McLarens, a position which he was to maintain until the end. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be able to laugh at the pit crew antics in the McLaren pit, particularly during the luckless Coulthard's third stop. They managed to not remove the recalcitrant petrol nozzle even at the second attempt, Coulthard did manage to get the nozzle operative under his rear wheel at the behest of his lollipop man, but thankfully without injury, and finished up doing a stop -start with the hapless crew man laying on the ground alongside the car shouting "Go, go go". Or words to that effect.
I think it might well be time for all the re-fuelling mechanisms to be given a serious redesign, as the fault- to- effectiveness ratio must surely be under scrutiny from all the teams in light of their own experiences.
The race at the end was almost processional, with the second Williams BMW one - two in a row, and congratulations must surely be in order for the terrific show put up by Ralf Schumacher, Sir Frank Williams, and the whole Williams BMW Team. The hard charging Juan Pablo Montoya was an excellent second, and it was interesting to see that with fifteen laps to go, his pace was such that he was in a position to threaten his team mate's lead having closed right up to less than a second on the clock. Now, we all know that there shall be no Team Orders, but having said that, Montoya having threatened, then slowed visibly over the closing laps so that he was over 13.0 secs behind at the flag, clearly having made his point, but I suspect having been warned off on this occasion.
Michael Schumacher was a good third despite his substandard package. Rubens Barrichello managed a very creditable seventh, so that the Ferrari team scored 8 pts. in the Constructer's Championship, keeping Ferrari ahead (just), and Michael still maintaining his Driver's Championship lead.
I got my line wrong at the new chicane at the end of the first lap, as I was unsighted because I was following Alonso’s Renault in front of me very closely. When I turned, I went up on the kerb, the car didn’t want to respond and all I can say is that it was my mistake. My chances of a good result ended at that moment. For the rest of the race, I tried to climb back through the field, making the most of the change to a two stop strategy. I managed to do just that and at least I picked up a couple of valuable points for the Constructors’ championship.
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