With a tight infield section followed by a banking and straight that demands 22 seconds at full throttle, Indianapolis could be the venue where Michael Schumacher wins, or Juan-Pablo Montoya seizes the initiative in, the championship on Sunday.
With a tight infield section followed by a banking and straight that demands 22 seconds at full throttle, Indianapolis could be the venue where Michael Schumacher wins, or Juan-Pablo Montoya seizes the initiative of, the championship on Sunday.
Ferrari’s five-time world champion could claim his sixth title at Indianapolis this weekend if he wins the race and main championship challenger Montoya finishing lower than fifth. But most F1 fans are hoping that the Colombian, a former Indy 500 winner, will extract the maximum potential out of the power of the Williams FW25’s BMW engine and keep the championship alive until the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix on October 12.
The twisty infield demands that F1 cars run medium to low downforce and the straight demands aerodynamic efficiency. Reliability is a crucial factor at Indianapolis as the combination of the long full throttle period followed by the infield punishes the competitors’ engines. Turn one is a favoured overtaking spot and slipstreaming is possible down the straight.
The fast part of the circuit generates a lot of heat and the banking increases the vertical load, so the strain on tyres is heavy. Also, the surface on the banking tends to be abrasive and the infield is smoother. The medium to soft range of compound is likely for compromise between these two sections of the track.
Ferrari: The team of the moment
Ferrari was the in-form team two weeks ago and finished first and third at Monza. Many reckon that things will very different for Ferrari at Indianapolis and Suzuka, but former F1 pilot Mark Blundell thinks the Scuderia “will still be very competitive for the last two races”.
“Ferrari have done what everybody dreams of doing - drop out some aerodynamic drag and still have good performance on the mechanical front and a car which is not disintegrating its tyres by running with less downforce,” Blundell said of the F-2003 GA.
“They gained the efficiency of straight-line speed, slightly better fuel consumption and still have low speed mechanical grip. So for me, the combination, if they can maintain that in the last couple of races, means they are in good position,” he added.
In addition, former F1 commentator Murray Walker wrote recently that Schumacher was “better equipped to deal with the pressure (of the championship battle) than any of his come-lately rivals because he's been there and done that, whatever it is.
“He's got the right car and the right back-up, he's tough and ruthless and he really wants that record sixth championship," Walker added.
Williams-BMW: The ones to watch
Most F1 observers believe that combination of Williams, BMW, Montoya will be a good one at Indianapolis and Blundell adds that the Colombian’s team-mate, Ralf Schumacher could also be a strong contender this weekend.
Ralf has completely recovered from the concussion that ruled him out of the last grand prix. Now out of the running for the championship, he arrives in the USA with an eagerness to help BMW Williams win the constructors championship.
"I feel pretty well. I haven't been in the car since Monza so we'll have to see how I feel tomorrow, but I guess there shouldn't be any problem," Ralf said this week.
The German added that Williams-BMW would be the team to beat at the Brickyard. "I think we have the best car in the pitlane, so we've got a very good chance to win here," he said. "My role is the same as usual – to try and score as many points for the team as possible and to do a good job."
But there is no doubt that most of this weekend’s attention will be on Montoya. “I think the maturity of Montoya showed in Italy. I think, in days gone by, he would have been a bit more 'trigger happy' to try and put a move on Schumacher in some way or another as the race went on,” Blundell said.
The Colombian knows exactly what is at stake and won’t take any rash chances: "I am not feeling any extra pressure. I am not going to say I am going into Sunday's race aiming to kill Michael. I will just be pushing as hard as I can. If I push and win that's great, but if I finish second then so be it."
"If Rubens Barrichello is leading, I am second and Michael third, then I won't be going for it. But if Michael is first and I am second and I can go for it, then I will. It all depends on whom I am up against," Montoya said.
But don’t write of McLaren-Mercedes’ Kimi Raikkonen, the Colombian hastened to add: “If Kimi wins on Sunday then everything will changed around again. We are all fighting for the championship and nobody wants to give anything away”.
McLaren: Nothing to lose
Raikkonen is now seven points Schumacher in the drivers’ championship race and regarded as an outside bet to win the title, but that may not be a bad thing. Blundell said: “I think McLaren-Mercedes is a slightly more restrained position, especially when compared to how the team was a couple of races ago. They really don't have anything to lose, and can just go flat out and try and get everything they can get from each individual race, and maximise their attack on the world championship for Kimi”.
"Monza (where the Finn finished a distant fourth) was not a track that was particularly suited to us and so I did the best I could do. I am now looking forward to the US Grand Prix, where the characteristics of the MP4-17D will be more suited to the track and we should perform better there," CARtoday.com quoted Raikkonen as saying earlier this week.
Renault: Better poised than two weeks ago
Fernando Alonso, regarded by many as the find of the season, drove well at Monza to go from the back of the grid to finish eighth. His team, Renault, could be back in contention at Indy, even though the long straight could expose the R23's engine lack of grunt.
“I don't think the team will be quite as disadvantaged as it was at Monza on horsepower. I think mechanical-chassis balance will be quite evident and, overall, the team should be a little bit better off,” Blundell said.
“In terms of keeping his head down and getting on with it, Alonso did a sterling job, but he did make a couple of mistakes, which could have been costly,” the Briton added.