The 2004 European GP Preview

By Tom Keeble, USA
Atlas F1 Magazine Writer

The Nurburgring in Germany hosts the European Grand Prix. A good lap here requires excellent aerodynamics, mechanical grip and a drivable engine with plenty of torque, though like Monaco and Hungary, at this circuit, downforce is vital and passing almost impossible. There is some chance of showers during the race, but the rest of the meeting is expected to be dry.


By the time they arrived at the Nurburgring last year, Williams were well into their recovery of form, and demonstrated it with a one-two finish. Ralf Schumacher's reputation had been restored, and the team was back in the hunt for both Champion titles.

It is also a circuit that Michael Schumacher likes well, and where home advantage has been known to give him a lift – literally, last year, as the marshals and an errant fan pushed him out of the gravel trap, and back into the race, after he span out following contact with Montoya.

This year, the race is being run a month earlier than usual, which could upset the balance of power with the tyre suppliers. In Monaco, Michelin had enough cars able to make the best of their tyres in qualifying to give them a respectable race win; however, it is going to be cooler in Germany. This could make it harder for the Bridgestone runners to get their tyres up to temperature, or it could lead to their softer tyres being sufficiently consistent to run for a race distance... Michelin, on the other had, will not see any benefit from lower temperatures.

Last season, this race was clearly a two stop affair; however, raising the speed limit means that a couple of teams could attempt three stops: the downside of this approach is that overtaking is almost as hard here as in Monaco, so traffic issues make three stops considerably less attractive than the optimum race time would otherwise suggest!

Monaco is usually a good indicator of form for the Nurburgring, so it is expected that Renault and BAR will both be strong, and Ferrari should be right on the pace. Considering engine power is noticeably more important here than on the street circuit, so Jenson Button is looking to have an advantage on the Renaults; similarly McLaren are expected to fall back off the pace again, whilst Williams should improve.

However, if the weather favours Bridgestone, a return of service by Schumacher and Ferrari has to be favourite again.

The Nurburgring circuit

A Lap of Nurburgring with Alex Wurz

Powering along the start-finish straight at the Nurburgring you reach 181mph/290km/h in sixth gear, before braking hard for the entrance to the Mercedes Arena, which is a tight right hand hairpin that sees you drop into first gear. This is immediately followed by a long 180-degree left hander and a 90-degree right hander, which swings you back round onto the straight.

Powering up through the gears on the approach to the fast left of Valvoline Kurve, you brake from speeds of 165mph/265km/h in fifth gear to 110mph/177km/h in third gear to negotiate the sweeping bend. A short burst on the throttle takes you to the second gear Ford Kurve, this bumpy right hander is taken at 65mph/104km/h. On the exit you accelerate downhill up to 185mph/297km/h in sixth gear as you approach the hairpin, which is taken at 60mph/96km/h in second. It is crucial to take a good line through the hairpin so that you can push hard and early on the throttle on the exit.

Up the hill towards the Michelin Kurve you reach speeds of 175mph/281km/h, lifting slightly for the left-right flick of the chicane, before braking hard for Michelin, dropping down to 85mph/136km/h in third for the 90-degree left-hander. A similar right-hander, which is one of the most crucial corners on the circuit, follows and takes you onto the back straight. Taken flat-out, the fast, sweeping straight, with a slight right kink, sees you reach 190mph/300km/h in seventh gear as you approach the Veedol-S chicane, the main overtaking opportunity at the circuit.

This is another tough braking point as you drop from the highest speed at the Nurburgring to 60mph/96km/h in second to negotiate the chicane where you have to drive aggressively over the curbs in order to carry the speed through the corner. Accelerating out, a short burst on the throttle sees you reach 140mph/225km/h in fourth before dabbing the brakes for the final corner. Taken at 75mph/120km/h and using the whole curb as you exit, the right-hander flicks you back onto the start-finish straight to begin another lap.

Team by Team


Ferrari's GP Preview Quotes

Despite losing to Renault in Monaco, Ferrari must be considered a hot prospect here. Michael Schumacher at home is always tough to beat, and their package is recognised as the best in the field. Barrichello also goes well – he won two years ago – and shouldn't be considered a pushover.

Whilst Ferrari have the capacity to leave Germany with maximum points, they need to keep a weather eye on Williams, Renault, and especially BAR: if Bridgestone are not right on the pace, then all of these teams are going to be in a position to take points away.


Williams's GP Preview Quotes

Monaco was not as disappointing as Williams expected going in – they scored a fourth place and five points at a circuit where they were expecting trouble matching the pace of Ferrari, Renault and BAR. It speaks well of their chances in Germany, as the engine plays a larger part of the equation: for this race, Williams will be disappointed not to make life awkward for the other three teams at the front.

Realistically, Renault's form in Monaco was impressive, and Williams pre-Monaco hopes of being able to beat them cleanly here could be wide of the mark; they are looking to BAR and Ferrari to set the pace, despite the dominant performance they managed last year.


McLaren's GP Preview Quotes

Despite a relatively strong showing by Kimi Raikkonen in Monaco, there is little doubt that they will struggle to show the same form until the next car is brought out. In the meanwhile, the best they can do is look for points when they are available – fending off Sauber to pick up the scraps from retirements has become a regular pastime for McLaren this season.

Coulthard normally has a good race here, and is certainly hoping to show well – his future in the sport needs a couple of good performances this season – whilst Raikkonen has regularly demonstrated the capacity to make the most of any opportunity. If any of the front four teams make mistakes, McLaren expect to score points.


Renault's GP Preview Quotes

After an impressive showing in Monaco – which could so easily have been a one-two finish – Renault are looking to put together the same impressive weekend at the Nurburgring, where their excellent package should be strongly competitive. Alonso finished fourth last year, and both drivers are capable of putting together solid laps. Furthermore, their excellent launch control could be telling when it comes to making up places from qualifying.

There is another factor that could come in to play. It has long been established that success breeds success, so it would be no surprise to discover Trulli responding to his first win with an outstanding follow up performance. Considering there is a general expectation that Ferrari should bounce back here, it is something Renault would welcome!


BAR's GP Preview Quotes

Despite being pipped by Renault in Monaco, BAR believe that they should have the right package to challenge for the race win in Germany. The Nurburgring's characteristics are similar to Monaco, but more rewarding for sheer power – so the 920 bhp Honda unit ought to be a little more useful this time. The questions being asked are more about how effectively Ferrari will bounce back than Renault's potential.

Even though Button is the recognised team leader, and to date has generally been the faster driver, at his only visit, Sato put in some stunning laps on this circuit, and could be worth watching. There is no doubt that BAR bear watching.


Sauber's GP Preview Quotes

The Sauber team have to be encouraged by their showing in Monaco – Massa's points from fifth place were very well received. Fisichella goes well at the Nurburgring, and Massa seemed to get on well enough on his first visit, though Heidfeld overshadowed him at the time.

If Sauber can get their car set up effectively, they are getting on better all the time with their Bridgestone tyres, and they can start to make life awkward for the midfield teams. They are not quite in a position to fight for points at every event, but the Michelin runners now have to be more aware of what Sauber are doing, and plan accordingly.


Jaguar's GP Preview Quotes

After their dismal showing in Monte Carlo, Jaguar need a good weekend to demonstrate to Ford that things are not too far off track and that it isn't all downhill this season. The Nurburgring is not going to be the easiest place to do that, but frankly, just getting the cars through the weekend would be a significant step in the right direction.

Prospects for the weekend look limited, though. The car still chews its way through tyres quicker than the competition, making tyre selection a choice between qualifying position – important here – and overall race pace. And it doesn't help that the engine has not been especially reliable. Scoring points here will be difficult at best.


Toyota's GP Preview Quotes

There is some hope for Toyota here: they need the car to work well, which is perfectly possible, but scoring points will still require mistakes from the top four teams, getting on terms with Sauber is Toyota's challenge for the weekend, and after scoring points with both cars in Monaco, they can be expected to approach this weekend in buoyant mood.


Jordan's GP Preview Quotes

Jordan's woes could be helped if there is rain during the race – Bridgestone's wet weather tyres have not been tried this year, but few doubt that they still hold a general advantage. Qualifying could be an interesting affair, considering the car is lacking the massive downforce of the larger outfits; however, if the car is properly dialled in, getting to fifteenth on the grid is a possibility, and a good race might even yield a point.


This circuit is considerably easier to learn than Monaco, so the drivers are expected to be back within three seconds of the competition again. Doing more than that is going to require something very unexpected: scoring points will require a very high attrition rate in the race.

Flashback 2003

Ferrari and McLaren tussled at the front in the Championships, but Williams had been getting their act together for a while... though Ralf Schumacher arrived under a cloud, after failing to attack his brother for the lead in Canada the race before. However, after Montoya won in Monaco, this was an event the team was looking forward to.


Kimi Raikkonen took pole position with a matchless lap, that despite his fuel load was right on the money. It was his maiden pole position, and hugely reminiscent of the flying laps Mike Hakkinen used to produce. Taking the place by two hundredths from Michael Schumacher was the icing on the cake.

The reigning Champion had struggled all weekend, as his Bridgestone tyres were not on a par with Michelin's offering. However, heading into the qualifying session, it seemed that Schumacher had finally found a balance that worked, and it was reflected in an impressive qualifying lap: the cheers of the crowd were not the only time home advantage was going play a part in the weekend.

Ralf Schumacher lined up in third, continuing his impressive run of form. As it happens, third spot on the clean side of the track would be decisive on race day. With Montoya alongside, Williams were in good shape for the race. Barrichello lined up in fifth on a heavy fuel load, whilst Trulli showed that Renault were still making headway in sixth. Panis demonstrated that on a circuit without bumps, and a relatively low fuel load, the Toyota had decent pace.

Notable performances included Coulthard, struggling with the format, in ninth, Webber in eleventh on hard tyres and heavy fuel, Button in twelfth, and Heidfeld at the back with no time, after an engine failure in the warmup and a downshift problem on his flying lap that saw him spin into the gravel.

Race Highlights

The start of the race highlighted the importance of being on the clean side of the track at this circuit, as Michael Schumacher saw his brother's Williams slide easily past in to second place behind Raikkonen, whilst Barrichello had no problem passing Montoya to ease into fourth place. Alonso, Panis and Coulthard completed the top eight. Heidfeld started from the pitlane after his disastrous qualifying, taking the opportunity to adjust his fuel level.

Raikkonen set about opening a gap over Ralf Schumacher, who was being pressured by the Ferraris, but there was little action on the track. At the tail, Villeneuve was demonstrating how tough passing is here, by struggling to get around the Minardis – and when he finally put the move on Verstappen, a spin undid the hard work, and left him where he started. Similarly troubled, Panis was unable to make much of his grid position, due to an intermittent braking problem that caused him to spin and lose places.

Pitstops started around lap 15, with Trulli diving in from sixth. Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher stopped next. Barrichello, Montoya, Alonso and Coulthard stopped a lap later, leaving Ralf Schumacher out on his own. By the time the Williams driver stopped on lap 20, he had reduced Raikkonen's lead to six seconds – and promptly set about eating into it on his new tyres.

However, fate played a hand: Raikkonen didn't get a chance to defend his lead, as his Mercedes engine gave up dramatically a couple of laps later. Ralf inherited the lead, and made the most of it. Behind, Schumacher held the gap to four seconds, whilst Barrichello slowly lost ground: Montoya was on a charge and closing on the Brazilian. Alonso was losing ground, with Trulli and Coulthard close behind.

The Ferraris made their second stops shortly after, returning behind Coulthard, as Trulli retired with a mechanical problem. Barrichello's stop put Montoya into clean air, and he set about putting in quick laps. After Montoya stopped on lap 40, he returned to the track between the Ferraris – and over the next lap closed the two seconds to Schumacher. Unwilling to compromise on pace, he looked to pass the Ferrari on the outside, before Schumacher went wide and the cars touched.

In the event, the Ferrari span and landed in the gravel, whilst the Williams continued unimpaired. Ordinarily, Schumacher's race would have been over, but after quick thinking and the helpful shove of three marshals, he was restored to the track and went on in sixth place.

An otherwise eventless procession to the finish was enlivened by Coulthard pressuring Alonso and threatening to take fourth place– only to be forced into evasive action when the Renault driver brake tested the Scot, whose race ended when his evasive action sent him spinning spectacularly into the gravel.

So, Ralf led home a Williams one-two, with Barrichello third, Alonso fourth ahead of a rapidly closing Schumacher, with Webber and Button behind. The final point went to Heidfeld, rewarding his committed drive from the back with a point.

Points paying positions - pitstops

1. R.Schumacher  Williams-BMW Michelin 2
2. Montoya       Williams-BMW Michelin 2
3. Barrichello   Ferrari Bridgestone 2
4. Alonso        Renault Michelin 2
5. M.Schumacher  Ferrari Bridgestone 2
6. Webber        Jaguar-Cosworth Michelin 2
7. Button        BAR-Honda Bridgestone 2
8. Heidfeld      Sauber-Petronas Michelin 2

Classified: 15 from 20 starters

Fastest lap: Raikkonen, 1:32.621

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Volume 10, Issue 21
May 26th 2004

Atlas F1 Exclusive

Interview with Patrick Head
by Will Gray

Bjorn Wirdheim: Going Places
by Bjorn Wirdheim

Ann Bradshaw: Point of View
by Ann Bradshaw

2004 Monaco GP Review

2004 Monaco GP Review
by Tom Keeble

Technical Review: Monaco
by Craig Scarborough

Tunnel Vision
by Richard Barnes

2004 European GP Preview

2004 European GP Preview
by Tom Keeble

European GP Facts & Stats
by Marcel Schot

Stats Center

Qualifying Differentials
by Marcel Borsboom

by David Wright

Charts Center
by Michele Lostia


The F1 Insider
by Mitch McCann

Season Strokes
by Bruce Thomson

On the Road
by Garry Martin

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

The Weekly Grapevine
by Dieter Rencken

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