San Marino GP preview

IMOLA, Italy, Thursday, April 12, 2001 - After races in Australia, Malaysia and Brazil, the Formula One world tour continues with the first European round of the season - the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy. In all, this season consists of...

IMOLA, Italy, Thursday, April 12, 2001 - After races in Australia, Malaysia and Brazil, the Formula One world tour continues with the first European round of the season - the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy. In all, this season consists of 17 events including the SAP United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis on Sept. 30.

The tiny county of San Marino, located in the mountains of Italy, does not have space to host a Grand Prix so it stages its race in Imola, Italy, at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, the track named after the legendary founder of Ferrari and his son.

As the name implies, this is Ferrari country. The Ferrari factories where both the road cars and Formula One cars are built are located near Imola in the community of Maranello, a suburb of Modena.

While there may be 22 cars and drivers competing in this weekend's San Marino Grand Prix, most of the sellout crowd of more than 100,000 will be cheering for only two - Ferrari teammates Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Known as the "tifosi," the ardent Ferrari fans turn the hillsides and grandstands of the Imola track into a sea of red with their Ferrari banners, flags, shirts and caps.

Schumacher says he really enjoys racing in front of such fans but during the race itself he is concentrating so hard he does not notice his surroundings.

"When you sit in the car you are pretty much alone," he said, "and you concentrate so much on the situation that you don't really realize where you are. I have said in the past that it (the fan support) gives extra motivation, but you always try your best." Schumacher said the real enjoyment is when he celebrates a Ferrari victory with the tifosi, just as he has at the San Marino Grand Prix the last two years.

"That is the greatest moment," he said. "It's great to see the faces of the tifosi and celebrate together."

After winning six consecutive races, Schumacher finished second in Brazil two weeks ago behind the victorious West McLaren-Mercedes driven by David Coulthard.

"You can't win all the races," Schumacher said, "that's impossible." While he has two wins and a second place in the first three races of the season, Schumacher said the competition between Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-BMW is close.

"Our performance in the first two races was not us being so strong," he said. "It's more that the others had not achieved the maximum. They had a step forward in Brazil, and we will see races where we look better and other races where we look not so good. Because the competition is so tight, it is all up to how much you maximize your car's performance."

Although he won in Brazil, Coulthard said that the San Marino Grand Prix is a completely new challenge.

"The only thing you can carry from another race is confidence," he said. "If you have had a good race then obviously you feel up. But there is nothing else you can carry in terms of momentum. It's a different track and a different challenge, and therefore the performance of all the cars relative to each other will vary slightly.

"It was clear in Brazil that the Williams are very strong and that the pace is still being set by Ferrari," Coulthard added. "We are still coming from behind. We have made some improvements (in recent testing), but just how competitive we will be here we will have to wait and see." Between them, Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes have won all of the last 22 Grand Prix races. The last time one of these two teams did not win was the European Grand Prix in September 1999 when Johnny Herbert took the victory in his Stewart-Ford.

After Ralf Schumacher qualified on the front row for the Brazilian Grand Prix and his Williams-BMW teammate Juan-Pablo Montoya led for the first half of the race, Williams-BMW proved that it is the closest team to breaking the domination of McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari.

Asked of a win is possible, Montoya said, "If the car is capable, and we do a good job on a weekend, why not? But at the moment I have not even made my first pit stop yet. There is a lot more to come and a lot more to learn. I still make loads of mistakes, and there are still places to improve. One of the biggest things, for example, is the braking. You can say that it is quite good, but with these cars if you make a little mistake it costs you a lot of time and it's quite tough really."

Brakes play an important role in this particular race because with its long, high-speed sections of track interspersed with tight chicanes, the 3.065-mile (4.933-km) track places high demands on both horsepower and braking.

"It's a power circuit," said Willy Rampf, technical director of the Red Bull Sauber-Petronas team. "It is also very heavy on braking because of all the slow chicanes and it requires good braking stability for the down hill section braking into the Rivazza turn. High braking performance in these days means pulling more than 4G on deceleration for our drivers Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Raikkonen. In Imola, you can win or loose the race on the brakes."

FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK

Where to watch: Qualifying will be shown live at 7 a.m. (EDT) April 14 on Speedvision. The race will be telecast live at 7:30 a.m. (EDT) April 15 on Speedvision.

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Champion turns 30: Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula One World Champion and winner of the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in 1995, turned 30 years old on April 9.

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That's racing: Juan-Pablo Montoya said he was not frustrated after Jos Verstappen knocked him out of the lead of the Brazilian Grand Prix two weeks ago.

"That's racing," he said. "It is the same as if there is a technical problem. If this happens I am not going to kick the car and kick everybody in the team! That is where you have to learn to be on top of your game. I was so happy with the job that I had done. Being put out of the race was disappointing, but it was another step forward for me. If I had won 10 races, I'd be livid if that happens. I would go ballistic, and going ballistic is something I used to do in the past!

"I remember when I got out of the car in Brazil I could hear the fans screaming. I lifted my hand to wave to them and they went crazy. I felt really good because I knew I had done a good job. I didn't spoil it. I didn't do anything silly, so I was very pleased with that."

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Flying car: The Swiss-based Red Bull Sauber Petronas team has signed a deal with the Pilatus aviation company to fly team members, equipment and cars to test tracks around Europe. The Pilatus PC-12, a single-turbine engine aircraft with a pressurized cabin, can take off and land on short runways and be configured in a number of different passenger/cargo combinations. It carries the same colors as the team's F1 cars. "We think it is important to reduce the absence of the team from the home base to an absolute minimum," Peter Sauber said. "At the same time, as much of our budget as possible is to be pumped into the performance of the car."

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Rahal predicts drop in lap times: Jaguar Racing Chief Executive Officer Bobby Rahal believes that the tire war between Michelin and Bridgestone will result in a new qualifying lap record at this year's San Marino Grand Prix.

"I would not be surprised if the circuit record is smashed this year," said the 1986 Indy 500 winner. "The tire development war is certainly making its presence felt."

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Last race before rules changes: The San Marino Grand Prix is the last race before traction control, fully automatic gearboxes and other electronic aids, which have been banned since the beginning of the 1994 season, become legal again. ABS antilock brake systems will still not be allowed, however.

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Surprise party: The Mild Seven Benetton-Renault team held a surprise birthday party for team director Flavio Briatore at Imola on April 12.

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Montoya's five laps: F1 rookie Juan-Pablo Montoya had never seen the tracks in Australia, Malaysia and Brazil until he raced on them for the first time this year. The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner does, however, have some limited experience on the Imola track.

"I race here in Formula 3000," he said. "I cannot say that this is the most familiar track to me because my race lasted about five laps before I crashed out!

"When we go to Barcelona, Silverstone and places like that, I will be a lot more competitive from the start. Normally I lose a lot of time in the first practice because I am getting used to the track. I am always a step behind, and it's quite difficult to catch up."

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Contracts renewed: The FIA International Formula 3000 Championship has renewed contracts with its main suppliers through the 2004 season. Lola will continue to supply the chassis and gearboxes, Zytec the engines, Avon the tires and P.I. the data acquisition equipment. The rules require that all competitors use the same equipment.

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Hakkinen still a threat: Although two-time World Champion Mika Hakkinen only has scored one point after three races compared to the 26 points earned by Michael Schumacher and the 20 by David Coulthard, both of the latter drivers insist that Hakkinen is still a threat in the battle for the World Championship.

-IMS

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Ralf Schumacher , Jos Verstappen , Johnny Herbert , Michael Schumacher , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Jacques Villeneuve , Kimi Raikkonen , Bobby Rahal , Flavio Briatore , Peter Sauber
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Jaguar Racing