Sunday's race at Indianapolis was incident-filled, but didn't necessarily completely show who was quick and who wasn't. Here is a more detailed look... Michael Schumacher won last Sunday's race, his eighth victory of the season, by 2.9 seconds...
Sunday's race at Indianapolis was incident-filled, but didn't necessarily completely show who was quick and who wasn't. Here is a more detailed look...
Michael Schumacher won last Sunday's race, his eighth victory of the season, by 2.9 seconds from team-mate Rubens Barrichello, but in reality the Grand Prix was won in just a few short metres, when Schumacher swept in the first corner ahead of his team-mate on lap 52 as the Brazilian's Ferrari emerged from his second pit-stop. The key to the Ferraris' winning margin was undoubtedly the decision to pit immediately when the safety car came out after Ralf Schumacher's accident on lap 10, when the leader managed to pit, refuel and change tyres before the cars that stayed out on track could get past the wreckage.
In the end, though, the man with most reason to be disappointed was Takuma Sato: his team failed to bring him in when the safety car came out and because he was slowed by debris from the Williams accident, Schumacher's Ferrari retained the lead in spite of pitting. Sato made his first stop on lap 35, and the process cost him 26 seconds relative to Schumacher, more if one includes the time it took Sato to pass traffic afterwards. He finished the race just 22 seconds behind...
For Renault, the race proved to be a case of damage limitation, with Jarno Trulli's fourth place ensuring the team maintained its championship position. The Italian raced strongly from the back of the grid after problems in qualifying, but a combination of quick strategic thinking and a consistent pace brought him five points. He lost a position in the final stint to Sato, but could this have been prevented? Let's find out...
The best guide to a driver's speed over a race distance is undoubtedly the average lap time, although in Indianapolis, this was complicated by the intervention of the safety car on two occasions. However, the numbers show that the Renault was, last weekend at least, the third fastest car on track:
MSC -- 1:11.829
BAR -- 1:11.899
SAT -- 1:11.914
TRU -- 1:12.480
PAN -- 1:12.484
The longest individual runs completed by a driver also prove interesting reading. Both Ferraris did stints of 30 laps at different stages of the race -- Schumacher at the end, Barrichello between his two pit-stops. On average, Barrichello was half a second faster over this period -- an average of 1:11.667 compared to Schumacher's of 1:12.125. However, it is worth pointing out that by the time Schumacher made this long run, the race was won and his team-mate had stopped challenging him directly, easing the need to drive flat-out.
Sato indeed was faster than Schumacher, on 1:11.961 -- astonishingly close to his average race lap given the traffic he had to negotiate. As for Jarno, he proved a model of consistency on a race split evenly into two 26 lap stints after the safety car period. Thus, the first stint saw an average lap of 1:12.202, and the second -- when one eliminates the delays caused by Sato's overtaking manoeuvre -- in 1:12.222.
The table of fastest laps bears out the relative pace of the front runners. Barrichello set the fastest race lap in 1:10.399, followed by his team-mate Schumacher in 1:10.412, then Sato (1:10.727), Panis (1:10.933), Button (1:11.025) and Trulli (1:11.187). The gap between the Renault and BAR once again establishes itself at around half a second, with Panis' Toyota also surprising by setting the fourth-fastest race lap.
When one compares this fastest lap to the driver's ideal lap -- the combination of the three fastest sectors -- it can give an idea of how close a driver came to drawing the full potential of his car in a given race. Thus, for Barrichello, the difference is 0.232s, for Michael 0.126 and for Trulli 0.168 -- all would appear to have driven close to the limit of the machine at their disposal. Most impressive of all is Panis, whose ideal lap was just 0.059s quicker than his fastest, but Sato's difference was significantly higher at 0.498s.
The other key at Indy is top speed down the straight, and once again Jarno's Renault did not disappoint -- with the fourth fastest trap speed at 355kph, just 1 kph down on Barrichello's race best. The other factor that weighed in Jarno's favour, as usual this season, was the speed of the team's pit-stops: of the two-stopping finishers, Jarno made the fastest average stop in 23.408s, followed by Sato in 24.289s, Michael Schumacher in 25.2s, Panis in 25.24s and Barrichello in 26.358s. The Renault mechanics also set the single fastest stop, on lap 46 when Trulli was sent on his way in just 22.855s!
So, on the surface, the US Grand Prix was just another Michael Schumacher win, but when one looks a little closer, it could have been very different for both Barrichello and Sato. Jarno drove an immaculately consistent race to fourth from twentieth on the grid, although he was unlucky to lose position to Sato in the final stint -- but in the end, the quicker car made it through on a circuit where overtaking is relatively easy.
As for Fernando, his puncture robbed us of a potentially impressive drive. His start alone, passing five cars to jump from ninth (effectively eighth with Montoya in the pit-lane) to third, was a candidate for start of the season. As for the man himself, he called it "the best of my life." Once again though, speculating on what might have followed is the old indulgence of what might have been...