Analysis – McLaren’s uphill struggle

Team boss remains philosophical on title hopes

“Of course the mountain is now a bit higher and steeper to climb, but our commitment to the challenge remains undiminished – it’s more difficult but not impossible.”

You have to hand it to Ron Dennis and McLaren. The German Grand Prix brought the sharp pain of a race lost, but they have not given up their quest for the drivers’ championship, and nor will they until the mathematics finally spell finis.

And for all that Fernando Alonso might have suggested that Renault were not far off McLaren’s race pace on Sunday, the fact remains that Kimi Raikkonen alone dipped into the 1m 14s with a fastest lap of 1m 14.873s. Alonso was second fastest with 1m 15.235s, but McLaren had this one sewn up until that loss of hydraulic pressure stymied the Finn on the 36th lap.

The figures say that Juan Pablo Montoya’s fastest lap was ‘only’ 1m 15.878s, but you have to remember that, with pit stops on the 27th and 56th laps he was running heavier than anyone else. Right now, the McLaren MP4-20 remains the class of the field, but its reliability is not a match for the Renault’s.

If the drivers’ title chase looks more and more a slam dunk for les bleus, however, they cannot relax in the the constructors’ title chase. They have 117 points after Alonso’s win and Giancarlo Fisichella’s strong recovery drive to fourth place, but McLaren are still only 22 points adrift and that is too close for comfort.

Fifth place was nothing for Ferrari to shout about, as Michael Schumacher’s glum expression testified, but he is now only four points behind Raikkonen, and Ferrari have 78 and thus also remain dangerous. That cannot disguise the fact that the F2005 failed to make much of a step forward despite a revised aerodynamic package. This time the Bridgestone tyres failed to maintain their effectiveness, which left Schumacher unable to fend off either Jenson Button or, later in the race, Fisichella. A lot further back, after being pushed into Jacques Villeneuve’s Sauber on the opening lap, Rubens Barrichello’s miserable season continued as his harder compound front tyres went off.

For BAR, there was much to celebrate, not the least Button’s podium – effectively the team’s first this season. This put them ahead of Sauber with seventh place in the points stakes, 15 to 14. The other encouraging thing was Button’s third fastest lap of 1m 15.843s, which just beat Montoya’s. Button had gone to Germany hopeful at least of fighting with Ferrari in the wake of McLaren and Renault, but in the end it was no contest as he left Schumacher trailing.

Toyota had mixed fortunes. Jarno Trulli’s race was compromised from the start as Sato pushed Webber wide in Turn One at the start and Trulli was obliged to go wider still to avoid the Australian. That helped him to pick up a puncture in his left front Michelin and he lost a lot of time pitting. Subsequently he fell foul of blue flags and was given a drive through penalty for ignoring them. At the end, his engine suffered a problem with the pneumatic pressure that controls the valve actuation, so he was obliged to stop. Ralf Schumacher, however, looked stronger than he has for a while on his way to sixth place, right on his brother’s tail. Toyota thus clung on to their fourth place in the championship.

An aggressive opening lap helped David Coulthard score two more points for Red Bull Racing, and like Schumacher Jnr he was right on Michael’s tail by the end. Team mate Christian Klien was also in good form, but said his RB1 felt very nervous, especially after each new fuel load. The two cars sandwiched Felipe Massa’s Sauber, which scored the final point. Like Coulthard, Massa made a great start and was a lot happier with his C24 after an over-adjustment of the front wing which had given him oversteer was alleviated for the race. Team mate Jacques Villeneuve had a torrid race, however, losing heaps of time in separate incidents with Barrichello, Robert Doornbos and Tiago Monteiro. Subsequently an incurable vibration obliged him to ease off near the end.

For BMW Williams, this was another highly disappointing outing, despite the promise of their high starting positions earned via the team’s three-stop strategy. Heidfeld made the sort of quick start you’d expect with a lighter fuel load, but subsequently suffered because his stops dropped him back into traffic. Webber had that Turn One problem with Sato which damaged his right rear suspension and cost him 11 laps in the pits. Not a happy race for the Anglo-German alliance.

Nor was it for Minardi or Jordan. Christijan Albers had a relatively uneventful run to 13th but was not happy with his Minardi PS05’s handling, while newcomer Doornbos lost time getting off the grid due to a problem with his launch control and had to do a manual start. Then Villeneuve ran into the back of him at Arena on the fourth lap, which obliged him to make a precautionary pit stop. Narain Karthikeyan, meanwhile, blistered his rear Bridgestones after 15 laps as quirky handling overtaxed them, then received a drive-through penalty after failing to see a blue flag waved as Heidfeld came up to lap him. A spin also delayed him on his way to 16th place. That was one better than birthday boy Tiago Monteiro, who was happy with his EJ15’s balance despite falling to last place after getting pushed off the track in the early in-fighting. He benefited from quick pit work to get past both Albers and Karthikeyan, but then failed to see Villeneuve’s Sauber and lost time having the car checked after their tangle on lap 27.

The summer test ban comes in soon, but before then everyone travels to Budapest in Hungary later this week, where they will do it all again.


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