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24 Aug 2004 08:25
Are Ferrari and Michael Schumacher on a cruise this year? It is a conclusion that is difficult to resist during a race when you see Ross Brawn, Ferrari’s technical chief, sitting at the pit wall thoughtfully chewing a banana while Schumacher is driving the wheels off his car at 320kph.
The truth is that Brawn’s brain is whirring as fast as Schumacher’s engine, while neither give the impression that the internal equipment is being taxed unduly.
Contrary to the impression created by the end result, however, the intricate machinery and the mental processes were stressed to the limit as Schumacher won 11 of the 12 races held so far.
Brawn, who is in overall charge of every technical aspect of the team, has full knowledge of the effort put into races, some of which, the Englishman admits, Ferrari had no right to win. Or, put another way, Ferrari would not have won without Schumacher’s relentless genius at the wheel.
“It’s a little unfortunate that spectators and television viewers can’t always be aware of what’s going on behind the scenes,” says Brawn.
“We are at the pit wall doing all the calculations and we have had situations where we knew we were very marginal ... People think it’s a cruise; it’s not. There have been a few races this year where everything had to go perfectly for us to win and they’ve been satisfactory because everything did fall into place.
“I think we all accept that Michael is an exceptional driver of his era,” says Brawn.
“The problem for Rubens [Barrichello] is that he is trying to beat him in the same equipment. He knows he can’t blame his car or anything else. Rubens has the toughest job in formula one and he copes admirably.
“It’s said that Michael often wins races he shouldn’t and Indy was a perfect example of that. Rubens should have won, but Michael took a couple of opportunities that presented themselves and bang — that was it.”
The San Marino and Malaysian grands prix may be other examples of Schumacher’s stealth bringing victory, but these two races — and, it must be said, most of the remainder — have been united by an extraordinary catalogue of failure and missed opportunities for McLaren and Williams, the two teams that Brawn expected to give Ferrari a hard time. Brawn is too tactful to list some of the embarrassing moments for the British-based teams since he knows how tenuous the grip on success can be.
“It is a very fragile thing,” he says. “When some of the best teams in formula one have problems, you find yourself saying, ‘There but for the grace of God ...’ I don’t want to be too critical because this business is very fickle, very delicate. You have got to have all your people pulling in the right direction and doing the right things. Sometimes, under the pressure of trying to make up the deficit, you can actually make the situation even worse.
“That’s all I can assume because we are talking about groups of very competent people and it’s strange that they are not able to do a better job than they are doing now. It’s played into our hands to a certain extent.
“Our main opposition has come from Renault and BAR-Honda, which we didn’t expect. The problem for these teams is that one weekend it is Renault doing the challenging and, at the next race, it’s BAR. It’s not consistent and that has gone a long way to making the first half of the year very rewarding from our point of view.
“But we are aware that Williams and McLaren are making continual improvements and this could also be a threat. The results for Ferrari may look good on paper, but we know better than anyone that it wouldn’t have taken much to tip the balance.” — Â
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