Monday, 4 June 2007

Analysis (Part 2): Mixed results for the Scuderia

In the second instalment of Christopher Hayes’ season review, Hayes assesses the battle at the top between Ferrari and Mclaren

As the rivalry between Alonso and Hamilton intensifies, the other battle front making the 2007 championship one of the most exciting in recent times is that between Mclaren and Ferrari. The Scuderia got off to a solid start after Kimi Raikkonen romped home to victory at the Australian Grand Prix with little competition from the Mclarens. Such was the dominance of the Ferrari that Raikkonen wryly admitted after the race that he had almost fallen asleep and had to be given a wake-up call by his mechanics.

How quickly the mighty can fall in Formula One.

Two races later at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona and Raikkonen was spotted leaving the circuit de Catalunya before the race had even finished after an electrical problem forced him to retire. And a brush with the armco at the swimming pool complex two weeks later during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix forced the Finn to start from the rear end of Sunday’s race grid, eventually finishing a lowly eighth. As Alonso, ever the one for mind-games, was quick to point out after the race, Raikkonen is on the brink of becoming out of touch with the championship fight.

While Raikkonen’s season has deteriorated his team-mate’s has blossomed. Felipe Massa, a clear favourite – and something of a protégé – of former seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, got off to a miserable start in Melbourne after a gearbox problem forced the Brazilian to start the race from the back of the grid (he eventually finished sixth). And a sloppy overtaking attempt on Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia scuppered his chances of a podium finish on a day when Ferrari should have outclassed Mclaren. But two dominant wins from pole position at Sakir and Barcelona reaffirmed the raw pace of both Massa and Ferrari.

As I mention HERE, I am not a huge fan of Massa. He is super quick but has yet to impress under pressure. Like Hamilton, I have doubts about how he would cope in the latter stages of a season when a championship is at stake. That said, on paper, he has outperformed Raikkonen which is a credit to his raw speed, especially since many were tipping the Finn to blow him away at the start of the season.

A strong performance in North America is a must for Ferrari after their trouncing at Monaco. Raikkonen in particular must win at least one of the flyaway races if he is to re-establish himself in the team and quash the criticism levelled at him in recent weeks that he lacks commitment. All the signs suggest he is in good shape to do so. The Ferrari F2007, which suffered around the twisty street circuit of Monte Carlo – due to, as some have suggested, its comparatively longer wheelbase – should be well suited to the ‘straight and brake’ characteristics of Montreal and Indianapolis. Indeed Raikkonen topped the time sheets at last months Paul Ricard test in France once the circuit had been configured to simulate the characteristics of Montreal. Personally I think the explanation for Ferrari’s apparent lack of pace is that Massa is just generally not as quick around Monaco as he is around other circuits. And with Raikkonen unable to demonstrate his true speed because of his grid penalty I think the Ferrari could have been quicker than it appeared.

Nevertheless, as Mclaren have been quick to point out, its advantage Ferrari this coming weekend. More mind games from the Woking based squad? Ferrari may have the edge come Sunday but just because Montreal is a radically different circuit to Monaco it does not necessarily follow that Mclaren won’t be as strong.

Incidentally, at Paul Ricard, Mclaren left testing responsibilities to third driver Pedro de la Rosa after the circuit was switched to its Montreal-like 1E V2 SC (Short) configuration. The Spaniard’s fastest time was some six tenths a drift of Raikkonen’s time. With no disrespect meant to Pedro de la Rosa, I reckon Hamilton and Alonso on their day are a good half a second quicker than him, if not more. So by no means should we expect a Ferrari white wash come Sunday. It’s going to be tighter than Mclaren are letting on.

Analysis (Part 1): The Hamilton Show
Analysis (Part 3): BMW best of the rest

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

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