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The Second Brazilian – Nelson Piquet

Those Brazilians have a pretty good record in F1. Apart from their world champions, there have been others, such as Carlos Pace, who were good but never had a car that was capable of winning consistently. And today Barrichello and Massa continue the tradition of quick Brazilians.

Nelson Piquet was the second Brazilian to win the championship, the first being Emerson Fittipaldi. And he was second too behind their greatest champion, Ayrton Senna.

Nelson Piquet

Nelson Piquet

Or was he? I have mentioned before that Piquet’s car control was phenomenal and there is a short video that proves it. Interestingly, the man he is fighting for position in this clip is Ayrton himself – and guess who wins. Piquet is in the white and yellow Williams, Senna in the black Lotus. The video quality is poor (and I must apologize for the Rolling Stones soundtrack) but one can still see Nelson do something in a be-winged F1 car that isn’t supposed to be possible – slide it through a corner.

It happened during the Hungarian Grand Prix of 1986. Have a look.

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Hungarian GP Qualifying

Well, well, everything suddenly becomes very interesting in Hungary. With Fernando Alonso incurring a two seconds qualifying penalty yesterday, it looked as though the race was being handed to Michael Schumacher on a plate. But this morning Michael was given an identical penalty and, in spite of being the fastest man on the track, will start from 11th spot on the grid. Fernando is down in 15th after taking his medicine.

So fortune and the stewards have ensured that there will be some desperate battles in tomorrow’s race. And the fact that Kimi Raikkonen grabbed the pole from under Massa’s nose makes things even more interesting. Felipé is still in a good position (2nd) to help his team leader, however, whereas Fisichella’s 7th means he is unlikely to be of much assistance to Alonso.

Kimi

Kimi Raikkonen

Things are further complicated by Jenson Button being demoted from 4th to 14th as a result of his engine change yesterday. That puts him behind Michael but ahead of Alonso and his speed at this track will make him very difficult to pass. I can see Fernando being bottled up behind the Brit’s Honda while the Ferraris recede into the distance.

So it looks as though we are set for a lot of overtaking tomorrow and this on a track renowned for its lack of passing places. It has the potential for heroism and tears as some force their way through and others overdo it. If the FIA are genuinely meddling with the championship in an effort to make it more exciting, as suggested by Flavio Briatore yesterday, they couldn’t have done a better job.

Realistically, the race still seems to be between the Ferraris and Raikkonen. Ferrari have retained much of their advantage over the rest and were able to set times a second quicker than the others in most sessions. Kimi will have his work cut out to stay ahead of Massa and I have no doubt Schumacher will surge through the field in customary fashion, with Ross Brawn’s tactical brain gaining a few places in the pit stops as well.

This race must surely be one of the most severe tests yet of Alonso’s ability.

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Hockenheim Thoughts

The war of words continues in the run up to the German Grand Prix this weekend. Both Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso remain bullish in their public statements, talking of winning races and the championship. Yet I detect a change in the air.

There are signs of nerves in the Renault camp. Alonso has been muttering about the need for his teammate to provide more assistance and Flavio Briatore talks of tires and urges Michelin to provide the goods. Meanwhile all seems well at Ferrari, with Massa enjoying the approval of the team after his defense of second place in the first stint in France, and Lauda asserting that Schumacher’s determination will result in his being champion again this year.

Helmets

Face-off!

Renault have been through this movie before. In 1983, they were so sure that Prost had done enough to be champion that they concentrated their development efforts on next year’s car (which turned out to be a dog anyway). This allowed Piquet in the Brabham BT52 to sneak through and steal the championship at the last. It’s no wonder that sweat is beginning to break out on the Renault forehead.

The most galling thing for the team must be that, to a large extent, their fate is not in their hands; as Flavio has hinted at, much depends upon Michelin continuing the development of their tires right up until the final race of the season. Although they deny it emphatically, there remains the thought that they might ease up now, knowing that they will no longer be in F1 next year. Renault must hope that Michelin’s desire to leave on a high note remains strong.

The performance of Fisichella also depends on the tires. In races where the Michelins have been competitive, Fizzy has been equal to the task of assisting Alonso’s drive to the championship, usually finishing ahead of Massa. But, when Bridgestone get the upper hand, Fisichella seems to suffer more than Alonso and he can end up fighting with the Toyotas rather than the Ferraris.

So all eyes are upon Michelin this weekend. Will they be able to catch Bridgestone or even pass them? It remains to be seen. But in the meantime, some words of comfort for Renault: if disaster happens and Alonso has to retire from a race that Michael wins, he will still be in the hunt for the championship; if Michael fails to finish a race, he can forget being champion this year. Fernando remains the best bet.

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French Grand Prix Qualifying

With the two Ferraris taking the front row of the grid at Magny-Cours, it looks as though Bridgestone’s sudden leap in performance at Indy was not purely the result of Michelin’s going conservative for that race. The Toyotas’ fourth and sixth grid slots confirm this.

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher

If Bridgestone really do have an edge now, Alonso will have to make sure that he finishes every race for the rest of the season. He did a good job today, hounding the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher and swapping places with it in his efforts to secure pole, but it wasn’t enough even to contain Felipé Massa. We should have a good race on Sunday.

The final qualifying session also vindicated the FIA’s decision to reduce the time allowed from 20 minutes to 15. From the moment Alonso shot ahead of Michael at the start, things remained hectic and exciting.

Away from the battle for pole, other interesting things were happening too. Pedro de la Rosa kept a cool head and qualified his McLaren eighth, only two slots behind his team leader, Raikkonen. And David Coulthard showed that there is life in the old soldiers yet, making it into the final ten in the Red Bull.

The big disappointment was the lack of performance from the BMW Saubers; after being fastest in the morning session, Villeneuve was out after Q1 and Heidfeld followed soon after. Jacques explained that they had gambled by using the soft tires and it hadn’t worked out – he and Heidfeld now face a long race from poor grid positions and on rapidly-degenerating tires.

Some are suggesting that the other cars will soon sprout vertical wings like the BMW’s but, on this showing, there isn’t much (if any) advantage to be gained from them. I suppose there may be some truth in the claim that they make the BMW a little more stable under braking – which says to me that BMW thought they had a problem in that area. Not everyone else does.

Finally, Scott Speed managed to haul the Toro Rosso into Q2, beating his highly-rated teammate, Vitantonio Liuzzi, in the process. Understandably however, that was as far as he could go and he ended up in 15th place on the grid.

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