The European Formula One season kicks off in Italy this weekend with the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Last year's race was a rather processional affair but this year, with the new format, it promises to be just as exciting as the first three ...
The European Formula One season kicks off in Italy this weekend with the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Last year's race was a rather processional affair but this year, with the new format, it promises to be just as exciting as the first three events of 2003.
The turnaround between Brazil and Imola is always quite tight, with just a week for the cars to be stripped, repainted, rebuilt and transported to Italy. This year a freight delay meant that B*A*R had less than half the usual time, so the team's Brackley Operations Centre has witnessed some frantic activity over the past few days. However, the return to Europe does see the welcome arrival of the transporters and motorhomes, which makes life much easier for the teams and provides them with more favourable working conditions.
The changeable spring weather often throws up a few surprises at Imola but the Brazilian Grand Prix and a largely wet test in Paul Ricard last week should prove ample preparation. The legendary Tifosi will also be out in force to create that exhilarating Imola atmosphere.
B*A*R has experienced mixed fortunes at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari over the past four seasons. The team missed out on points in 1999 but Jacques Villeneuve crossed the line in fifth place in 2000. The last two races there have seen the team finish just outside the top six, so this year the team have set their sights on points placings for both drivers.
"Brazil was a very hard race for everyone. Almost anybody could have ended up in the wall and almost anybody could have won. We were more competitive than we expected in the wet, particularly when the track started drying, when we were very quick. Then of course, the red flag made it a gamble for everybody, so I'm very happy that we came away with points. This has probably been one of the best starts that B*A*R has had to a season and to get this many points after the first three races is a very positive step.
"Imola is not one of my favourite tracks, but things have always gone well for us here and we've been quite competitive. It has often been our most competitive race of the year, in fact. We also had a very good test in Imola during the winter. The car was quick on one lap as well as on the long runs so, since the beginning of the season, this is the race I have been looking forward to the most. We could hopefully have a shot at the podium. We'll have to wait and see what happens though because not all of the teams were testing when we were there."
"The kerbs on this track are very different to any other track. I think it would benefit other circuits if they copied them because they work very well. Imola has quite a mix of different types of corner and there are also a few chicanes. There are some semi high-speed corners where you brake while you are turning. It's not the best track to race on though. Once you get stuck behind a line of cars, there is no real overtaking area because a lot of the braking is not in a straight line."
"Imola has a fantastic atmosphere which is almost electric, so it's always enjoyable to race there. The circuit itself is quite challenging. The track is narrow and slippery with some tricky corners - Piratella, the quick downhill left-hander, and the Variante Alta really stand out. The track runs anti-clockwise but we've just had the best kind of training for that - the Brazilian Grand Prix! The kerbs also make this a tough circuit - you have to crash over them, which is not instinctive but your confidence with them gradually increases.
"I had a good result in Imola last year so hopefully this year will be good for me too. We have the latest engine for this race and reliability is good, so I think we can be quite competitive here. There's always a chance that the weather can mix things up a little but we should be prepared for that after the last race! I'm looking forward to it - it should be a good weekend for us."
David Richards, Team Principal:
"We are pleased to be back in Europe and, in many ways, this is where the season really gets into its stride. The first three races are always unpredictable and this year has been no exception, but the great thing is that each one has provided real excitement for the fans.
"We are encouraged that the car's pace this year has firmly established us in the top half of the grid. Honda are making constant progress with each new race and test, and it is particularly comforting that some of the worries we had about engine durability in pre-season testing have caused us little concern. Our reliability is good and we completed more than 860kms again at Paul Ricard this week. Both of the engineering teams and drivers are really starting to work well together, and we are developing some great collaboration. All of these factors are extremely positive.
"The first few races have put a great deal of emphasis on tyre performance and this will continue to be one of the critical factors in determining the performance differential between the teams. Clearly the racing has been very exciting, but it is difficult to know how much of that has been down to the rule changes. By the time we get to Austria, I'm sure we will have a much more considered view on both of these factors."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director:
"It's good to return to Italy for the start of the European season. For this race we have the latest specification engine from Honda, which we successfully tested at Paul Ricard last week. We were very competitive in testing at Imola before the start of the season and the drivers are feeling confident with the car, which is good over the kerbs and stable under braking - two very important factors for this circuit.
"As always, the weather will be another major consideration but we expect the Bridgestone tyres to be well suited to the conditions and lower temperatures here. Our race reliability has been good, so with each driver having scored points in one of the last two races, we now set our target on a two-car points finish."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Engineering Director, Honda Racing Development:
"I'm really looking forward to getting the European season off to a competitive start, following an eventful and challenging first three races. We're introducing a new spec engine for Imola, which we've been testing all this week at Paul Ricard, so I'm confident we'll be able to continue our run of points-scoring finishes."