After a three week break Formula One returns to racing at the San Marino Grand Prix, the traditional start of the European season. Testing work was ongoing during the break and many teams usually introduce new packages and upgrades at Imola....
After a three week break Formula One returns to racing at the San Marino Grand Prix, the traditional start of the European season. Testing work was ongoing during the break and many teams usually introduce new packages and upgrades at Imola. Renault is currently the team to beat, after winning all three of the early flyaway races, but the French squad is well aware that rivals will be snapping at their heels.
The Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari is home ground for Ferrari and no doubt the team is hoping to improve its fortunes at the track. The circuit is anti-clockwise and has high kerbs to ride, while the straights and several chicanes make it something of a stop-and-go nature. With a few uphill sections it's demanding on the engines and after the heat of Bahrain there will be a considerable temperature drop.
"With track and air temperatures much lower than we experienced at the first three races, getting good tyre warm-up will be important, particularly in first qualifying, to help get a good aggregate qualifying position for this race where it is very hard to overtake," said BAR technical director Geoff Willis.
Fernando Alonso, Renault's championship leader, thinks Imola is an aggressive track to drive. "Imola is a very tough circuit for the suspension: we hit the kerbs hard, and the car needs to be able to cope with that," he explained. "The drivers must be aggressive through the corners, which I like, and it is impossible to relax: if you get the line wrong over the kerbs, you will be in the gravel trap or the barrier."
Alonso's teammate Giancarlo Fisichella said Toyota has been Renault's main competitor but he believes Ferrari will come back strongly at Imola. "I think they will be very, very competitive -- we already saw that in Bahrain when Michael was close to Fernando," he said of Ferrari. "Now that they have had to time to develop the car, for sure we will have a tough job to stay ahead."
Toyota is second to Renault in the constructors' standings and, while Imola has not previously been a good track for the team, technical director Mike Gascoyne believes they will continue to do well. "I honestly do not see any reason why that level of competitiveness should not continue in Imola and beyond," he commented.
"We have understood how the car works with the Michelin tyres. We just have to ensure that our tyre choice for each race is correct, which was perhaps not the case in Melbourne, but if we can do that I do not see why we can't perform at the same level throughout the season. Imola does not hold any particular fears or worries for me."
McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya will miss a second race, as his shoulder injury is not recovered sufficiently for him to be back in the cockpit this weekend. After Pedro de la Rosa stood in for the Colombian in Bahrain, tester Alex Wurz will get his chance in competition at Imola. De la Rosa will return to the third driver role on Friday.
"I am really happy to have the opportunity to race MP4-20 this coming weekend at Imola," said Wurz, who last raced for Benetton in 2000 and has been McLaren tester since 2001. "I am looking forward to getting back to competitive action and hope I can secure a good result for the team."
Nick Heidfeld was the victim of an engine failure in Bahrain so may use a new BMW engine in his Williams this weekend, which gives him a little more peace of mind. "I will have a brand new engine for the next race, unlike many of the other drivers, which makes me a bit more confident for the upcoming weekend," he remarked.
Vitantonio Liuzzi will make his race debut for Red Bull and, naturally, is thrilled to be competing in his home country. "It will be awesome and I am very excited about driving my first grand prix in Italy," he enthused. "I don't feel under pressure, because Red Bull Racing has always shown confidence and belief in me, but I'm sure my heart will be beating faster than usual on Sunday afternoon."
Sauber struggled in the first races but things are starting to look up for the Swiss team. Felipe Massa picked up two points in Bahrain and is hoping to add to his tally on Sunday. "We have tested recently in Barcelona, where we tried some new parts which we will use in Imola, so I am optimistic that we can do well there," said the Brazilian.
Last year Jenson Button was on pole position and went on to finish second to Michael Schumacher. BAR has had a difficult start to this season and not yet scored a point, but the team worked hard in testing after Bahrain and is confident of improvement this weekend. It will also be the first event for newly-appointed sporting director Gil de Ferran.
"After very successful tests of our new aerodynamic package at Barcelona and Paul Ricard, we are looking forward to the first round of the European season at Imola," said Geoff Willis. "We had a very good race weekend here in 2004 and we expect the car to perform well again over the kerbs, which is important at this circuit."
Can Ferrari return to the top step of the podium on its home turf? It would be unwise to dismiss the idea but it won't be easy. Should the tyre wear and reliability issues be resolved for the Scuderia, it still has the strength of rivals to contend with. Whatever the outcome, the San Marino Grand Prix will hopefully give us another entertaining race.
"This year, the start of the European leg of the season is also somewhat of a new beginning for us: we want to begin fighting for the championship title again now, and we believe that our chances are quite good," said Schumacher. "I'm confident that we can fight to win -- and I'm absolutely sure that everyone at Ferrari will do their best."