Renault's Fernando Alonso can't wish for much more than a repeat performance of Canada at this weekend's US Grand Prix but the rest of the grid will no doubt be hoping for better for themselves. Not only that, Formula One in general is certainly...
Renault's Fernando Alonso can't wish for much more than a repeat performance of Canada at this weekend's US Grand Prix but the rest of the grid will no doubt be hoping for better for themselves. Not only that, Formula One in general is certainly hoping for a better event at Indianapolis than the fiasco of 2005. We know the story so there's no point rehashing it, but F1 owes Indy a race.
Like Silverstone and Montreal before it on the calendar, Indianapolis is a fast circuit; it has the longest straight of the season with 22 seconds at full throttle down the start/finish stretch. Combined with the tight, twisty infield it's a track of contrasts, which makes set up a difficult task. Downforce, like Montreal, will be medium to low settings.
"The circuit has conflicting demands that lead to impossible compromises for both aerodynamics and tyres," said Toyota's Pascal Vasselon. "You would like to run a Monza low downforce configuration for the banking, which features well over 20 seconds of full throttle. Then as soon as you enter the infield you would like to be in Monaco high downforce configuration."
Naturally the long straight is demanding for the engines and the two different aspects of the track also puts a strain on the tyres -- the infield requires good grip and the fast part of the oval needs stability and good braking performance. The tyre loads and track camber at the banked turn 13 caused all the problems last year and Michelin will be under a lot of scrutiny this weekend.
The drivers are well aware that not only do they need to put in a good performance for themselves and their teams, but also for the Indianapolis fans. "We enjoy going there; we all know what happened last year and I think (this weekend) we will put on a good show," said championship leader Alonso.
Michael Schumacher won the event in 2005 but it was a hollow victory. That aside, Ferrari is more competitive this season and the German is not expecting any problems. "It is not very easy but we have always done well here," he commented. "The title challenge is not over and until it is, we will do all that we can to change the current situation."
McLaren seems to be on a steady, if slow, improvement curve and Kimi Raikkonen is optimistic after the performance in Canada. "At Montreal, we were able to show the step forward we have made with the MP4-21 and hopefully this week in America we will be able to challenge for the top step of the podium," said the Finn.
Honda remains fourth in the constructors' standings despite not picking up any points in Canada. It's a frustrating time for the team; Rubens Barrichello retired from Montreal with an engine problem and Jenson Button struggled with a lack of grip. He hopes different tyres this weekend will solve the problem.
"I generally prefer fast flowing circuits but you can overtake around here which should make for some exciting racing for the fans," Button remarked. "We will be using different tyres at Indy to those we used last weekend in Montreal so I am hoping that we can have a better race there."
BMW Sauber has been attracting a fair amount of attention recently for its allegedly too-flexible rear wing -- if allegations of an unfair advantage are not being levelled at one team it's bound to be another -- but so far the FIA hasn't deemed it necessary to intervene. Meanwhile, third driver Robert Kubica will have his first taste of Indianapolis this weekend.
"I am looking forward to seeing the Brickyard, as obviously I have heard a lot about it," he said. "It will be interesting driving a Formula One car on banking, but it will not be a totally new experience as I have driven on banking in F3. From what I have heard other drivers say we are doing speeds in excess of 300kph and get fairly close to the wall."
He may not be fighting at the front of the field with the top three but Toro Rosso's Scott Speed will no doubt be a favourite of the fans. "I expect that I am going to have a lot of support from my countrymen and I hope we have a good race to give them something to watch," said the only American racer on the grid.
One driver who could be forgiven for not being a fan of Indianapolis is Toyota's Ralf Schumacher. The German crashed in practice in 2004 and 2005 -- both times at the last corner -- and had to miss the races (although Toyota didn't take part last year anyway). However, Ralf is looking forward to actually getting a race this year.
"The organisers have done a good job with the circuit at the Speedway and the challenge is to set up the car for good speed along the oval section while retaining stability through the twisty infield," he said. "The atmosphere is usually great at Indianapolis and I hope it will be similar again this year."
Renault still looks to be the strongest team out there but Ferrari and McLaren are perhaps not so far behind as previously. Alonso and Renault have a gap of over 20 points to their nearest rivals but it can't really be said to be a comfortable one. It will be interesting to see how the fight develops on Sunday but F1's biggest challenge is simply to give the Indianapolis fans a good show. They deserve it.