Monday, 4 June 2007

Analysis (Part 3): BMW best of the rest

In the final part of Christopher Hayes’ season review, Hayes takes a look at the teams vying it out behind Mclaren and Ferrari for third place.

BMW Sauber have been quick to get their hands on the ‘best of the rest’ title this season after a Nick Heidfeld put a string of fourth place drives together in the season’s opening three races. A stunning overtaking manoeuvre on Fernando Alonso at Bahrain was a notable highlight while a bodged pit stop at the Spanish Grand Prix cost the German dear.

Robert Kubica in the sister BMW had a difficult start to his season after a gearbox problem and an excursion into the gravel trap ruined his Australian and Malaysian Grand Prix respectively. But the Pole displayed the kind of form he had shown on his debut last year after he produced solid fourth and fifth place finishes in Spain and Monaco.

BMW have hauled a hefty 30 points from the first five races placing them third behind Mclaren and Ferrari and 14 points clear of fifth place Renault. But the team’s success has given team principle Mario Theissen something of a dilemma. He is keen to promote to a race seat, his third driver, 19-year-old Sebastian Vettel, who has been extremely impressive in testing – and incidentally, is also the quickest driver to get a fine in F1, having been fined $1,000 nine seconds into his career, after speeding in the pit lane. The rejuvenation of Nick Heidfeld has put an end to speculation, for the time being at least, that Theissen is looking to replace the German with fellow countryman Vettel. But by keeping Vettel as a test driver, BMW risk the German getting snapped up by other teams, quite possibly Red Bull racing which already have contractual ties to the 19-year-old. Theissen has yet to announce whether he will be renewing Heidfeld’s contract.

In my view Theissen would be mad to break up the Kubica-Heidfeld relationship which has been so fruitful for the team, Kubica being one of the key reasons for Heidfeld’s renewal.

Despite predictions from Kubica that BMW will have closed the gap to Mclaren and Ferrari come Montreal, I think they are going to find themselves under increasing pressure from Renault and possibly even Red Bull. A strong showing from Renault’s Gincarlo Fissichella at Monaco last week – the Italian finished fourth ahead of the BMWs – indicated that Renault are back in business. Fissichella seems to be finding his feet again after a disappointing couple of seasons in the shadow of Alonso. The Italian went second quickest at last months test at Paul Ricard in its lower downforce configuration suggesting that Renault could mount a serious challenge to BMW in Montreal. Heikki Kovalainen too is looking increasingly racey. He was denied a strong points finish in Barcelona due to a fuel rig problem and then severely compromised in Moncao when David Coulthard balked him for almost an entire lap on his qualifying run.

I’m still not quite sure what to make of Kovalainen; is performances in Australia and Malaysia were dismal. And he is going to have to start beating his team-mate if he is going to gain the respect that other rookies such as Hamilton and Kubica are enjoying.

Red Bull is another team that seem to be on the brink of a break through. But any performance gains the Adrian Newey designed car has made has been masked by reliability issues. The RB3 has failed to finish on five out of a possible ten occasion and the gearbox is quickly becoming Mark Webbers Achilles heel. On a more positive note, a revitalised David Coulthard has shown that there’s still life in the old dog after some impressive drives at Bahrain and Barcelona, the latter resulting in an excellent fifth place and four championship points. I think it will be pretty evenly matched between Renault and BMW come Montreal with Red Bull nipping at their heels. And don’t rule out Nico Rosberg for Williams springing a surprise challenge. After a disappointing end to 2006, the young German has delivered some solid points finishes and is one of the few drivers not to let a bad grid position spoil his Sunday afternoon.

Analysis (Part 1): The Hamilton Show

Analysis (Part 2): Mixed results for the Scuderia

Analysis (Part 4): 2007’s losers (to be completed later this month).

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