Ralf Schumacher has scored points in every grand prix this year and after setting pole positions for Williams-BMW in Monaco and Canada, the German feels confident about this weekend’s race at the Nürburgring.
Ralf Schumacher has scored points in every grand prix so far this year and after setting back-to-back pole positions for Williams-BMW in Monaco and Canada, the German feels confident about this weekend’s race at the Nürburgring.
After an unsettled – some might say uncompetitive - start to the season, Williams-BMW now has one victory on its scorecard, Juan-Pablo Montoya’s win in Monaco. Schumacher ascribes the Grove-based team’s success to an intensive aerodynamic development programme on the FW25.
“We've been working day and night shifts in the wind tunnel in order to improve aerodynamics. But not only aerodynamics count, there are also improvements to the whole package consisting of the car, engine and tyres - and we have made great progress in this respect," he said.
Compared with the beginning of 2003, Schumacher thinks Williams-BMW can now challenge for race wins in its own right: "At the start of the season we would only have won if the other teams made any mistakes… Now we are able to win because of our own strength."
Schumacher’s goal for the European Grand Prix on Sunday - and the rest of the season, for that matter - is “to win races again. And as long as there is still a chance for me to win the championship, I'll go for it."
A demanding circuit
"The Nürburgring has completely different characteristics to the circuits in Monaco or Canada. Aerodynamics will play a major role. Only if we (himself and Montoya) are among the top drivers there, can we say that we have a real winner's car again."
The track was revised in 2002 and there have been further alterations for this year. Changes to the final chicane and the exit of the Arena mean the length is now just over five kilometres and will be run over 60 laps.
The circuit is a mixture of long straights and corners and requires maximum downforce – but not too much drag. The two best overtaking places are the first corner after the pit straight and under braking into the back chicane. Traction and braking are important with the variety of corners, as is a strong engine, as 70 per cent of the race is at full throttle.
The smooth surface is less abrasive than some tracks and tyres tend to wear equally at back and front. The degradation is not too harsh so compounds from the softer end of the scale can be used. The weather is an unpredictable factor at the Nürburgring and altitude of the track results in a slight drop in engine power.
What to expect this weekend
Michael Schumacher was fortunate to win the last race in Canada after his Ferrari F-2003 GA and that of his team-mate Rubens Barrichello qualified third and fifth. However, despite Williams-BMW's front row lock-out, Schumacher seized the lead during the first round of pit stops and beat brother Ralf to the chequered flag.
As CARtoday.com reported at the time, Williams-BMW team boss Sir Frank Williams suggested that Ralf could have made a serious attempt to pass his brother and take the lead – but this week the five-time world champion rallied to defend his sibling’s performance in Montreal.
“I don’t feel happy if someone gets criticised for something that people shouldn't even make a comment about. At Montreal, it wasn't only Ralf behind me. There was Montoya behind him and there was Alonso behind Juan-Pablo and no-one could pass each other. I was behind Ralf before and I couldn't pass him either,” Schumacher said.
To this, Ralf added: “Wherever there is a chance to overtake I will take it. In Canada, there wasn't one and I never even came close enough. Michael had a higher straight-line speed and I was not even able to try (an overtaking manoeuvre). That is why I didn't and I would rather then take the eight points instead of trying to take the two of us out. And even for that I wouldn't have been close enough”.
Tough times for McLaren-Mercedes
McLaren-Mercedes will try to complete a damage-limitation job this weekend after both MP4-17Ds were outclassed in Canada. Kimi Raikkonen managed to salvage two points in Montreal, but the young Finn had to relinquish his lead in the championship to Schumacher.
To make things worse for the Woking-based squad, a McLaren spokesman this week admitted that its new MP4-18A had failed the mandatory FIA crash test and that the eagerly-awaited car might not make its race début until the Italian Grand Prix in September. This is much later than the British Grand Prix on July 20 – the date the team had planned to race its new car for the first time.
The Adrian Newey-designed car will not be allowed to race until it has passed the test. This follows from a difficult test at Jerez last week, where test driver Alex Wurz destroyed one of the machines in a huge shunt.
The McLaren spokesman told : "We failed the crash test but we have learned from the result and are confident the chassis will pass the next one. We are pushing the design to the limit which is a natural step to take during development."
With only three points between Schumacher and Raikkonen in the driver's championship, all eyes will be on the pair in qualifying – especially after the Finn fluffed his one-lap dash two weeks ago. Overtaking is not impossible at the Nürburgring, but not easy. Ferrari's pit stop strategies worked in the team’s favour at Montreal and McLaren will require David Coulthard to bolster his team-mate’s chances if he can.
Renault's Fernando Alonso drove a brilliant race in Canada and should be on form at the German track. Although the Nürburgring requires good top end engine power, something Renault has been struggling with so far this season, the team’s technical director Mike Gascoyne this week said that the characteristics of the R23 chassis should suit the Nürburging and Alonso and team-mate Jarno Trulli could challenge for a podium finish.