VTEC.NET HF1 Prixview for Canada
It's time for the first North American race of the season. That's right, Canada is here! Running on the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve in the heart of Montreal, the F1 circus will be arriving later this week to begin preparations. Traditionally a very exciting, action-packed race, the Canadian GP should see an even tighter battle this year! With the Ferraris having the edge over most teams on a one-to-one car basis, it would be easy to assume that they would run away with the event. However, as we have seen throughout this season, much of the result will come down to the performance of the Bridgestone tires!
Last year was a rough race for the Honda teams, with three of the four cars not making the finish and only the Jordan-Honda driven by backup driver Ricardo Zonta making the finish line! Among the current Honda quartet there are five podiums in Canada, with Jacques taking a second place in his inaugural race, in 1996. The balance of the podium finishes are held by Giancarlo Fisichella, with two second place finishes (1998, 1999) and two third place finishes (1997, 2000) to his credit.
Jacques at Montreal 2001
Plaguing last year's efforts were repeated brake problems. Aside from Villeneuve's broken driveshaft, which forced the French-Canadian out on lap 35, all the other Honda cars had brake troubles. Two of those drivers, Olivier Panis and Jarno Trulli, were forced to retire after their brakes failed. This was made more painful for both Honda teams as Panis and Trulli had been running in 4th and 5th for much of the race! Panis pitted and retired on Lap 38, while Trulli's braking system gave up the ghost on lap 66, just three laps from the end!!! To his credit, displaced driver Ricardo Zonta put in a solid drive to finish 7th despite his own braking system being on the verge of failure for most of the last few laps of the race. The teams will certainly be hoping for better brake durability for this year's race!
Olivier Panis - Monaco 2002
As expected, Monaco was a difficult race for the Honda teams. Giancarlo Fisichella put in a great drive to land a deuce in 5th place. Panis and Sato were both involved in extra-curricular activities with Jensen Button and the Armco barriers, respectively. Olivier had been fighting hard within the midfield for much of the race when an over-confident Button decided to use a NASCAR passing tactic... Unfortunately for Button and the innocent Panis, F1 cars don't tend to survive block passes.
Sato had a decent start and made some very brave moves on the narrow Monaco track. He made up five places on the start and managed to pass Toyota's Mika Salo later. Sato later got past Fisichella when Giancarlo got slowed up momentarily. Once Fisichella got sorted and back on pace, Jordan realized that he was substantially quicker than Takuma on each lap. Therefore, they called Taku over the radio and asked him to pull aside to let Giancarlo get past. Takuma must have thought they meant "move over NOW" as he tried to make room on the exit from the tunnel. This is a bad place to get off line as it is very dusty and requires a smooth line to successfully navigate. Taku's car lost grip and pushed into the wall. It then spun out across the track and nearly took Fisichella's car down in the process!
Taku at Monaco 2002
Villeneuve's race was effectively over at the start, with a stall on the grid relegating him to last place after being restarted from the pits. His car died under him on lap 44 from what the team are calling "control software issues." Whatever that ultimately meant, at Monaco it meant that Jacques was finished for the day. Thankfully, none of the failures were engine-related.
On a brighter note, Giancarlo ran another solid race weekend with good reliability from his Jordan (FINALLY!) and sufficient pace to land himself in the points! The EJ12 looked solid and balanced all weekend. If Giancarlo had been given better qualifying tires from Bridgestone, he probably would have qualified four spots higher on the grid! He also might have finished fourth over Jarno Trulli's Renault. As it was, he ran Jarno to ground over the last few laps of the race.
Fisichella at Monaco 2002
This past week, at Silverstone, Jordan and BAR were running intense testing sessions to prepare for the upcoming races. BAR ran four cars for four days at two different testing venues. Villeneuve and Patrick Lemarie (BAR test driver since the team's inception) worked on suspension, setup, and tire programs at Silverstone whilst Anthony Davidson and Olivier Panis evaluated the new BAR004 package at Paul Ricard.
During the test at Ricard, BAR tested a newly designed aero package (diffuser, barge boards, sidepods, etc.), a new rear suspension, and a new transmission assembly. The aim here was twofold: Firstly, fix a clutch/transmission problem that has plagued the team since the preseason; secondly, find additional downforce and grip! One of the effects of these changes is a change in wheelbase of the 004. This will require some tentative initial laps from Jacques when he drives it at Canada during the first practice, as it changes the cornering characteristics of the car.
During the testing days, the team also was able to take the new RA002E engine out for some initial testing. The second day of Olivier's testing duties, when he ran with the new engine, saw him set an unofficial lap record of 1m 35.353s. This bodes well for the team in the coming month. It would have been interesting to see the times for the car with the standard package they ran last weekend back to back with the new package!
Patrick Lemarie - Silverstone
Jordan, meanwhile, were testing at Silverstone this past week. They also were running with the revised RA002E engine and reported it to bear a significant top-end horsepower improvement. Overall, they found the engine to be a significant improvement but not very driveable at the present. This will take additional testing time for proper calibration. During their test, they performed aerodynamic and chassis setup work, engine mapping, and a tire development program for Bridgestone.
Despite the favorable reports from the teams during testing, Honda has decided to not deploy the new engine this coming weekend at Canada. The reasoning for it has not been publicly mentioned but, in speculation, it probably has to do with minor integration problems with the chassis. Whatever the reasons may turn out to be, Honda have decided that the engine is not ready for use in this weekend's qualifying session, where they'd planned to use it at Canada. This is a bit of a disappointment for Honda fans that have been holding out hope to see the new mill run on a high-speed track!
2001 Honda F1 Engine - RA001E
Instead they will supply the teams with an engine based on the qualifying spec used in Austria. We know from Fisichella and Villeneuve's performances that the spec used in Austria is certainly not weak! It should give the teams a good, reliable powertrain for the course of the race.
The Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Montreal is another difficult track for finding a good car setup. Unlike Monaco or Hungary, where you crank on all the downforce you've got or Monza, where you put horizontal plates on the car in place of wings, you have to balance your setup between straight-line speed and cornering speed. Including the three chicanes, one hairpin, and the sweeping corners at the beginning of the lap, this track requires decent balance, moderate downforce, and quick turning response (though the car must be directionally stable at high speeds).
I'm a little disappointed to see the new engine being delayed after testing. I can only guess what their difficulties are, not actually knowing what's happening. My opinion is that they wanted more time for calibration and electronics, based on Takuma's statement that the engine was "not really driveable" at the present. This can make the difference on a racetrack as a "jumpy" engine that doesn't smoothly rev up and down in its powerband can totally unsettle a car. That being said, I'm optimistic for the race.
I think that BAR has suffered silently in ignominy with a poorly designed car for the first half of this season. Geoff Willis entered the fray at the first race of the season. This is now three months later, and about time for his ideas to begin to have an effect on the car. It seems that he took the team apart and scrutinized its plans and personnel. After making that analysis, I'd bet that he scuppered a number of development programs and left a few in place (based on merit). Taking that windfall of manpower and resources that he freed up, he then concentrated on fixing the issues that were plaguing the team and costing them running time.
The teams constantly talk about getting reliability so that they get track time. Consider this idea for Canada. The teams do NO testing before running their cars at Canada. There really aren't many tracks that are like it available for testing, either. This means that any reliability problems that cost them laps in practice diminish the amount of time they have to develop the setup of the car. On a track like Canada, if they can't spend the time filling their experiment matrices with data, it can leave them lost as to how to set up the car!
Jacques Villeneuve - Monaco 2002
As for the teams this weekend: I think BAR will look much, much better this weekend! The new package on the car will provide a much-needed update for a number of the aerodynamic surfaces on the car. A new diffuser, sidepod, bargeboards, transmission, and rear suspension geometry is a major change, indeed! Here's hoping that they get lots of running time for Jacques, as he didn't get a chance to run the new package at Paul Ricard! Olivier should once again be the unofficial setup technician for the French-speaking duo.
Jordan should be in good shape, with the parts they've introduced at the last couple of races and a solution to that darned hydraulic gremlin! I'm looking for Jordan to lead BAR home again, but I think that over the next few races this gap will decrease a bit. Climbing out on a limb, I think all four cars will finish this time around and one from each team will be in the points. This bad luck streak HAS to end soon for Olivier and Takuma!
US TV Coverage: All times given are Daylight Savings Eastern Time
Friday - Speed TV Live! 2PM
Saturday - Speed TV Practice Replay 12 Noon
Saturday - Speed TV Qualifying Live! 1pm
Sunday - ABC Live! 12:30PM
June 16th - Speed TV Replay 8pm
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