There was hardly time to draw breath after the adventures in Monaco before Formula One did a quick turnaround to head for the European Grand Prix. After the N?rburgring there's the usual fortnight break then two more races back to back; it's a hectic few weeks. For the immediate focus, though, Europe has a tough job to follow up the thrills and spills of Monaco.
Near the Belgian border in Western Germany, the 5.1 km N?rburgring is a condensed, revised version of the famous Nordschleife. The layout is a mixture of long straights and corners that requires high downforce and it's a track that has some overtaking opportunities. The best of these is the section from the last chicane to the first two corners.
After Monaco's tight, twisty streets, Europe is a different challenge for engines. Approximately half the lap is run on full throttle and the altitude can cause a slight drop in power. The track surface is smooth, so tyres are likely to be at the soft end of the range but tyre wear is usually heavy due to braking under lateral acceleration. The weather at the N?rburgring can be notoriously changeable.
Jarno Trulli's victory in Monte Carlo was a very welcome one. The fact that Michael Schumacher can be beaten has raised many flagging hopes, not to mention the interest of a lot of the fans. Ferrari didn't do anything wrong in Monaco, Renault just did it better, as did BAR. It remains to be seen if they can carry it through to the next round.
If not for Fernando Alonso's crash in Monaco it was likely Renault would have come home first and second, so the team obviously had it all hooked up. Trulli is ready to start all over again at the N?rburgring. "This weekend we start again, it is a new challenge," said the Italian. "The circuit is different, the conditions are different, and we will just work as normal, trying to make the car as fast as possible."
"We made some improvements to the car before Monaco, but it was difficult to judge them accurately last weekend because it is such a strange circuit. The N?rburgring will give us a much better idea of how much we have improved the car's competitiveness, and so I am looking forward to starting practice."
Button continues his powerhouse performance but Honda really deserves a rap on the knuckles for Sato's third engine failure this season. Taku's did-he-or-didn't-he-jump-the-start bounce off the line in Monaco put him ahead of both Ferraris and it's a shame we never got to see what he could do with the rest of the race. Button never let up for a minute and his efforts in the closing laps to catch Trulli were worth watching.
"We are very excited about the European Grand Prix this weekend after a great race for us in Monaco," said Jenson. "We have a good car that should suit the N?rburgring circuit well. It's a track I enjoy, particularly because of its high speed corners and undulations. I have gone very well there over the last couple of years so I am really looking forward to it and can't wait to start running on Friday morning."
Both Ferraris were heavily fueled for the race so their grid spots in qualifying were not terribly surprising. Michael put in his usual exemplary performance in the race until his crash but Rubens Barrichello struggled with his car to finish third. Ferrari will obviously want to return to its winning ways in Europe and it would be foolhardy to bet against that happening.
"Tyres will play a very important role and the lap times between the drivers are usually very close at this track, so it should be another interesting weekend," said Barrichello about Europe. "We have a chance to be more competitive than in Monaco and I will be interested to see what the weather will be like up in the mountains as we are going to be there earlier than usual in the year."
Williams muddled around in Monaco like a team half as experienced -- an engine penalty, gearbox failure, and a general lack of performance saw the Grove squad lucky to have Juan Pablo Montoya in fourth. Ralf Schumacher won in Europe last year, leading Montoya for a Williams one-two finish. "I was absolutely delighted to win my home race last year," said Ralf.
"Such an event is an unforgettable highlight in a drivers' career, so a repeat performance would be more than welcome. I will obviously do everything I can to make it happen, although our package is not working as well as it was last year. I can promise, though, that we will keep working around the clock to return to form and compete with the front runners."
Toyota had a minor triumph to get both cars in the points last weekend, which is surely a relief to the team. Christiano da Matta is not hugely optimistic for a repeat performance in Europe. "We are heading to the European Grand Prix on the back of our successful points-scoring Monaco race, but I think it is unlikely that we will be able to repeat that performance this weekend. The N?rburgring is another maximum downforce, slow-medium speed circuit, which on paper should not suit us, so we simply have to keep pushing to extract the most from our TF104 race car."
Sauber's Felipe Massa, who stuffed his Sauber in the barrier on his first outing in Monaco in 2002, drove a fine race last weekend to score four points. "After our fifth place in Monaco we are obviously a little spoilt, but realistically I would be happy if I could be in the points," said the Brazilian in regard to the N?rburgring.
Nick Heidfeld also showed his worth, with Jordan's first points of the season. Of course, the misfortune of others contributed to some of these finishes but that's racing. One couldn't help but feel a little sympathy for Minardi; Zsolt Baumgartner's efforts to finish ninth were so near yet so far to those elusive points.
The form of Renault and BAR is obviously strong but while Monaco was not great for Ferrari, the scarlet squad was unlucky rather than unprepared. The N?rburgring is not a hugely technical track but the weather could provide unpredictability. Monaco is unique and one can't help but expect the status quo to be restored somewhat this weekend -- but let's hope for some more entertainment.