2001 FIA Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix - July 1, 2001 In last weekend's Grand Prix of Europe at the NÃ¼rburgring, a few centimetres cost Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team/Michelin) the chance to wrap up an intense, 28-lap...
2001 FIA Formula One World Championship
French Grand Prix - July 1, 2001
In last weekend's Grand Prix of Europe at the Nürburgring, a few centimetres cost Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team/Michelin) the chance to wrap up an intense, 28-lap battle during which he had tussled with elder brother Michael. Fans were denied seeing an outcome to the showdown because, shortly before half-distance, the driver of Williams FW23 number 5 was handed a stop-and-go penalty for crossing the white line that separates the pit lane exit from the track. That opened the door to his team- mate Juan Pablo Montoya, who took second place for the English team after a race in which he amply proved his speed and consistency.
Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier said: "Apart from picking up another podium finish, we derive a great deal of satisfaction because Ralf Schumacher proved to be clearly quicker than his brother for about 15 laps. And the fact that Juan Pablo Montoya set fastest lap was also very encouraging."
Flying in the face of convention
Turning his mind to this weekend's French GP at Magny-Cours, he added. "I keep hearing people in the paddock telling us that Magny-Cours will be easy because we are racing on home soil. But that's just a figure of speech. None of our partner teams hail from Nevers and Frenchmen are in something of a minority among our team of engineers and drivers. The crowd will be French, but will they be able to choose between the Schumacher brothers any better than the Germans at the Nürburgring were able to?"
"But henceforth our partner teams might be able to deploy an alternative strategy," Michelin's motorsport director suggests. "Eddie Irvine (Jaguar Racing/ Michelin) proved at the Nürburgring that you can get away with making a single pit stop. So should teams opt for one or two stops at Magny- Cours? Should they choose hard or soft tyres? From now on, anything is possible.
"Nowadays an F1 car's performance is considerably affected by its weight, and therefore by the level of fuel on board. Every 10 kg of fuel can equate to a handicap of three- to four-tenths of a second per lap. As an example, a car with 100 kg of fuel on a one-stop strategy could lose 1.6 seconds per lap against a car loaded with 60 kg of fuel that plans to stop twice."
"In a theoretical case where there is no drop in tyre performance, a car that sets off with 100 kg of fuel will ideally be four seconds per lap faster at the end of a stint than it was at the start. But in reality the tyres do wear and degradation differs according to how the chassis is set up. The track changes, some cars fall one lap behind and it becomes difficult to make overtaking manoeuvres consistently. That's the cocktail we have to cope with.
"Do you gamble with two stops on soft, quick tyres or choose harder rubber that is more consistent, but ultimately slower, and make just one stop? You have to bear in mind that every pit stop costs between 22 and 28 seconds on track.
"As far as Magny-Cours is concerned it's a question of hard or soft and 1, 2 or 3 stops. Will there be any overtaking at the Adelaide hairpin. I'm having a few problems working out the ideal strategy."
Things are somewhat easier in terms of supply and organisation, although this home race poses at least as many problems as any other grand prix as Michelin F1 crew manager Henny de Zeeuw confirms. "There is only one week between the GP of Europe and France," he says, "so we barely have time to breathe. The trucks and personnel will return from the Nürburgring on Tuesday morning with 1400 tyres to unload and the same team sets off for Magny-Cours on Wednesday morning with the same number of tyres on board."
Past records indicate that the French GP has shone kindly on Michelin, which has won the race 5 times in 7 attempts. Aficionados will recall Jean-Pierre Jabouille's maiden win with the Renault RS11 in 1979. That race was memorable for Michelin's first 1-2-3 in a GP and the epic battle between Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari) and René Arnoux (Renault) who finished 2nd and 3rd. At Dijon in 1981, Alain Prost (Renault) scored the first of his 51 GP victories which remains the all-time record. Arnoux (Renault, 1982), Prost (Renault, 1983) and Niki Lauda (McLaren, 1984) completed the Michelin set. The demands of F1 in 2001 are much greater than they used to be, however.