The Weekly Grapevine

By Tom Keeble, England
Atlas F1 Columnist

* Williams Changing Gear

Closing down Ferrari's Championship lead has proven very satisfying for Frank Williams and Patrick Head, so seeing the gap open up again on Sunday has led to greater pressure to improve over the remainder of the season. Fortunately, the development program is running flat out, with the team expecting improvements to three key areas over the next few races: the car, the tyres, and the drivers.

A Williams in actionIt is little surprise that the aero design process that has improved the car by over a second a lap already this season, still has parts coming through. These are mostly targeted at the particular challenges of Hungary, which demands Monaco-like levels of downforce, and Indianapolis, that requires high downforce for most of the lap, but penalises heavily for it on the huge main straight. A big step is also planned for the engine at the US GP, with 'soft upgrades' (tweaks and optimisation of the engine management systems) in Italy and Japan. The program is aggressive, but striking the balance between getting going on next season's car and maintaining the work developing the current model is something Williams have traditionally done very well.

Ferrari's form at Silverstone showed that the Michelin advantage has been eroded. Whilst Michael Schumacher may not have been able to get the best out of his package on the day, Rubens Barrichello very ably demonstrated that the machine had the legs on everyone under all circumstances, excepting only the first couple of laps as the tyres came up to heat. Ferrari are making the most of the chance to race on development tyres that have not even been offered to the other Bridgestone runners to test, whilst Michelin's approach of non-discrimination between Williams, McLaren and Renault makes their program somewhat unwieldy in comparison. Then again, being able to leverage the feedback from three performant teams is arguably the source of the Michelin advantage in the first place!

Lastly, the team are looking for better results from their drivers. Results through the season have been more mixed than they expected: both are world class when on form, but each has bad weekends. Considering the machinery is identical, they are expected to finish qualifying and races fairly closely matched: it's no accident Williams have scored a brace of one-two finishes, following a second and third result. Getting Frank Dernie to engineer Montoya was the first step, which immediately paid dividends at Silverstone, so it is continuing to improve support for the drivers is clearly "a good thing". Quite how to accomplish it is a more difficult question - but it is something that the team can get straight on with, whilst waiting for the test ban to pass.

* Toyota Rue a Lost Chance

Having seen their cars lead the Silverstone Grand Prix, Toyota are frustrated to come away with only two points - after leading the event for nearly a third of the total distance: the only mitigating factor is that, in the normal run of events, neither car would have come close to the front.

Cristiano da MattaIt speaks volumes for the team not only that they were able to produce good speed at Silverstone - enough for Cristiano da Matta to qualify sixth, ahead of the Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya on merit - but that they were disappointed with the final result, after yielding places to Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard. With hindsight, there was little the team could achieve with Olivier Panis once he was passed by, then fell behind Kimi Raikkonen: that ten seconds deficit meant that the second pitstop dropped him to the back of the midfield, where the traffic stalled further progress. That was the biggest lesson for the day, as the loss of those ten seconds at a critical time arguably cost five places.

On the other hand, there were a lot of positives - chief amongst them is that the team are starting to look like one of the most professional in the pitlane. They reacted swiftly to the first safety car, and at each stop turned their driver around in short order. Strategy wise, the right calls were made at the right time. The drivers drove well, with da Matta in particular showing consistent pace throughout - especially impressing whilst holding off the charging Kimi Raikkonen.

This year, the development that has gone into the car through the season is revolutionary, though it is nothing like the level expected for next season. After spending last year working only to eliminate the worst problems, putting most of the effort looking towards designing this season's car 'right,' Toyota had intended to use this year as a proof of process for in-season development moving forward. Initially, that is all the development was - identifying problems, developing solutions, testing them and getting them onto the car, proving the processes work. However, it appears that as the season has progressed, and the main issues in these processes have been pinpointed and resolved, resulting in better results than originally anticipated - though some of that is down to the biggest particular problem being ironed out: from the start of the year, Toyota have been particularly struggling with the rebound characteristics of their suspension - the underlying issue with their problems riding bumps. Resolving this issue has been key to getting at the real potential of the car: running around curbs costs a surprising amount of time.

Additionally, the team are pleased with the results of the engine program, which leaves them arguing an edge against Honda: indeed, depending who you ask in the paddock, the unit is delivering between ten and thirty horsepower off BMW and Ferrari, putting them close to Mercedes. Although fuel consumption and driveability still need work, they are recognised for developing the fourth best engine around, and are clearly still making strides.

As the season comes to a close, the fruits of tightening up their development cycle, combined with at least two more scheduled engine releases, leaves Toyota looking at finishing the season with performance closing on Renault's, making them the fifth best outfit on the grid. However, reflecting that in the World Championship standing, assuming the orders remain otherwise, requires Toyota to score eight points more than BAR, which is a tall order when the front four are so reliable.

Little wonder they are looking a little askance at two points lost to Schumacher and Coulthard at Silverstone.

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Volume 9, Issue 30
July 23rd 2003


Interview with Chris Dyer
by Timothy Collings

Rookie at the Ring
by Thomas O'Keefe

Ann Bradshaw: View from the Paddock
by Ann Bradshaw

2003 British GP Review

2003 British GP Review
by Pablo Elizalde

Tilting at Tilke
by Karl Ludvigsen

The Arnie Magic
by Richard Barnes

Stats Center

Qualifying Differentials
by Marcel Borsboom

by David Wright

Charts Center
by Michele Lostia


Season Strokes
by Bruce Thomson

On the Road
by Garry Martin

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

The Weekly Grapevine
by Tom Keeble

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