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Full steam ahead to Indianapolis

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Full steam ahead to Indianapolis

After the dramas of Canada F1 hardly has time to draw breath before the next race is knocking on the door, namely the US Grand Prix. Montreal gave us plenty of thrills and spills, although we could have done with a few less of the crashing...

After the dramas of Canada F1 hardly has time to draw breath before the next race is knocking on the door, namely the US Grand Prix. Montreal gave us plenty of thrills and spills, although we could have done with a few less of the crashing variety, and Indianapolis is another circuit where unusual events are known to happen. The North American rounds rarely give rise to complaints about a lack of interest.

Downtown Indianapolis.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The historic 4.19 km Indianapolis has one of the longest straights on the F1 calendar, approximately 23 seconds at full throttle. Throw in some banking and a slow, twisty infield section, it's a combination that requires some compromises in set up. High downforce to help with grip on the infield or low for speed on the long straight? Lap times are similar whichever configuration is used so the choice depends on individual teams.

"Indy is a place where theoretically you could go with a very different downforce level," said Toyota's senior chassis manager Pascal Vasselon. "For the race you have to add another parameter, which is the capacity to pass or avoid being passed, because there are definitely overtaking opportunities. You have the banking on to the long main straight with a very real overtaking possibility at the end of it."

Tyres for the upcoming weekend will be the medium and soft compounds. "There is the infield where you need high downforce, good grip and a softer tyre," said Bridgestone's Kees van de Grint. "Then there is the main straight and the banking where the teams try to reduce their car's drag to have a very high top speed. With the setups used, the cars will suffer a little bit from lack of downforce in the infield which they try to make up with tyre grip, which means softer compounds."

Montreal threw just about everything it could into the equation last weekend but it wasn't enough to prevent McLaren's Lewis Hamilton taking his maiden F1 victory. It helped Hamilton to be at the front and out of the way when all the chaos was happening behind him, but he put himself there in the first place so it was a deserved win.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes, MP4-22.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"The Motor Speedway is another tough circuit on the cars, I hope we are as competitive, but until we get out on the circuit on Friday we can't really predict how it is going to go," Hamilton said. "I am really excited to be racing at Indianapolis. It is such a legendary venue, you can't escape the history here and I am looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere for the first time."

After McLaren's dominance at Monaco many thought Ferrari would bounce back in the North American races, usually events where the Scuderia goes well. However, it wasn't the case in Montreal; Kimi Raikkonen lost ground at the start and never really recovered, while Felipe Massa could have been a contender for a podium finish but got black flagged for exiting the pits under a red light.

It's been suggested that Ferrari is suffering from the loss of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and technical director Ross Brawn, who was renowned as a tactical wizard -- both left the team at the end of last season. But team principal Jean Todt made his opinion clear when asked, after Canada, if that was the case.

"I could understand the question if we hadn't scored any good results since the beginning of the season," he commented. "But you must see the facts, and I think that since the beginning of the season we had four pole positions out of six races, we've won three Grands Prix so I don't think you can say it's a disaster for Ferrari."

Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1 Team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

For BMW Sauber, last weekend was one of mixed emotions. Robert Kubica's horrific-looking crash shook everyone and the fact that he escaped with no more than concussion and a sprained ankle is a tribute to the safety standards that F1 enforces. The Pole is eager to race at Indy but will have to wait for a decision until he has been examined by the chief medial officer on Thursday.

Once motorsport director Mario Theissen was informed that Kubica was more or less intact, he could enjoy the rest of the Montreal event as Nick Heidfeld went on to score BMW's first podium of the season. Heidfeld's second place was earned on merit, as he ran in that position most of the race and did not gain anything from the chaos behind. For the German and BMW it was a very strong performance.

"Our form is very much on an upward curve," said Theissen. "Six races into the season we have collected two points more than in the whole of 2006. We achieved our aim for the season for the first time in Montreal in what was the best overall result so far for the team. But this should not be our only podium finish of the season."

The safety car periods in Canada helped out Williams and Renault, with Alex Wurz taking a podium place in third for the former and Heikki Kovalainen fourth for the latter. Considering they started 19th and 22nd respectively, and taking into account previous results, the on-track madness did them no harm at all. That's not to detract from their driving, as both did well to cope with the continuous disruptions.

Alexander Wurz, Williams F1 Team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Wurz is hoping to add to his points' tally this weekend. "I am really looking forward to the race and of course I come here feeling very positive after scoring some more points in Canada, but of course the US GP is another clean sheet and a new game," he remarked. "My goal is to ensure I qualify in the top ten and of course fight hard for some points in the race itself."

As F1's sole American driver, Scott Speed hasn't had a great time at Indianapolis. Last year the Toro Rosso man never got further than the first corner, taken out in an incident that involved several cars. Naturally Speed is aiming for better this year at a track he describes as "quite a bit different" to the other circuits.

"It's such a long straightaway and such a slow and slippery infield, so you are forced to take off wing to go down the straight, but you slide around a lot more in the infield than you do anywhere else in the world, so from a driver's perspective it's quite fun to drive, because the car moves around quite a bit more than normal and it's not the worst for passing either because it's such a long straightaway," he explained.

Amongst all the other startling things at Montreal -- crashes, disqualifications, ground-hogs (evidently Anthony Davidson had a hard job distinguishing it from a beaver when it was spread all over his front wing) -- there was unusual sight of a Super Aguri overtaking a McLaren. Takuma Sato was on a charge towards the end and Fernando Alonso barely put up a fight as the Japanese driver swept past to score sixth place. It wasn't fun for Alonso but the crowd seemed to appreciate it.

There were no less than 10 retirements in Canada and, to be honest, it wouldn't be a surprise if Indianapolis produced an equally high rate of attrition. It would be more remarkable if nothing much happened at all. But there are a lot of drivers out there who have scores to settle and points to make -- in more ways than one -- so, in theory at least, we should be in for another interesting weekend.

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