The Good Old Days

By Karl Ludvigsen, England
Atlas F1 Senior Writer

These are the good old days. That's what I like to remind people when they're bemoaning this or that in their lives. In years to come we'll all be looking back on 2004 as a twelvemonth to remember. And, believe me, that'll be especially true of Formula One.

We were treated to a festival of speed and skill at Monza that will not soon be forgotten. First of all, it's such a pleasure to watch racing on this historic circuit. The Lesmo bends, the Parabolica, even the Ascari bends where poor Alberto was killed in 1955 they all bespeak a tremendous tradition in motor sports that, happily, is still very much alive. The same of course was true of Spa two weeks ago, where we were also treated to some magnificent racing on a circuit which, emasculated though it's been, is still a picturesque and daunting challenge to man and car.

At both Spa and Monza the Formula One cars of 2004 not only were fast, they also looked fast. In spite of every effort to slow them down, from flat bottoms to narrower tracks and grooved tyres, their designers have kept eking out more speed on both straights and corners. At Monza, of course, with wings feathered to reduce drag, they were rocket ships. Configured with more downforce at Spa they made mincemeat of some of the most demanding corners the Circus has to offer.

And we have drivers to match the cars. J.P. Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen both showed fine contempt for the challenge of Monza. What a team they'll make next year! With a lap average of 163 miles per hour in pre-qualifying, Juan Pablo raised the hairs on the backs of our necks, as did Rubens Barrichello's 162 mph carrying more fuel in an outstanding qualifying lap. Those two gentlemen from BAR-Honda, Messrs. Sato and Button, also demonstrated that they know what to do with a fast car. Fernando Alonso, too, was showing the pace of his Renault until the Monza curbing caught him out. In a dangerous spot as he was, he should have been pushed back into the fray by course workers.

Yes, okay, we could do with more depth in the field. Toyota are disappointing, Jaguar are depressing and Jordan, once so full of promise, are a spent force. The only bright spot is Sauber, who seem to know what to do with their new wind tunnel. Meanwhile McLaren-Mercedes, Renault and BMW-Williams are showing us that their claims of a strong thrust toward leadership are not entirely hot air.

As for Ferrari, what can you say? Gorgeous cars, beautifully balanced, hell for quick, raced with a strategy that could overcome both the early fading of Rubens's intermediates and a rare slip by Michael on a drying track. It's taken a decade, but Jean Todt has broken down the barriers between working groups at Maranello and quashed the blame culture that crippled the Scuderia for so many years. Now Ferrari fights the Japanese by using the best of their methods, concentrating on tactical and strategic improvements instead of the fruitless politicking and backbiting that cripples so much effort in Europe's auto industry.

We're getting closer now to knowing what package of rules changes will slow down next year's cars. One way or another, we know they won't be as quick. That's why I say that these are the good old days. We are seeing the fastest road-racing cars in history being stretched to their absolute limit by drivers who are as skilled and committed as any who've ever held a steering wheel. At their apogee, of course, is Michael Schumacher.

Michael is still as good as ever and that's bloody good. He has seven world titles to prove it. Even Michael, however, admits that all the machinery doesn't work quite as it used to. I believe that the 2005 season, when he'll be the oldest driver, will find him more vulnerable to his attackers than he's been for a long time. That's why I don't expect Schumacher to lighten his pressure toward victories during the rest of this season. He doesn't want to get in the habit of accepting less than outright success. But, that said, it would be great to see Rubens win one in Brazil.

About the author:
Long time columnist at Atlas F1, Karl Ludvigsen is an award-winning author and historian who managed racing programs for Fiat in America in the late 1970s and Ford of Europe in the early 1980s. He is the author of seven books about racing drivers and numerous books about classic racing cars and engines, all of which draw extensively on the many images in his Ludvigsen Library in Suffolk, England.

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Volume 10, Issue 37
September 15th 2004

Atlas F1 Exclusive

Interview with Martin Whitmarsh
by Will Gray

Interview with Norbert Haug
by Will Gray

The Woking Timeline
by Will Gray

Bjorn Wirdheim: Going Places
by Bjorn Wirdheim

Ann Bradshaw: Point of View
by Ann Bradshaw

GP Review

2004 Italian GP Review
by Pablo Elizalde

Technical Review: Italy
by Craig Scarborough

The Good Old Days
by Karl Ludvigsen

The Frantic Quarter
by Richard Barnes


Qualifying Differentials
by Marcel Borsboom

by David Wright

Charts Centre
by Michele Lostia


Season Strokes
by Bruce Thomson

On the Road
by Reuters

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

The Weekly Grapevine
by Dieter Rencken

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