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MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX

How things can change in just twelve months. This year at Sepang it was hot, very bloody hot and at the end of the race there was not a Ferrari in sight. It was hot enough to turn the usually “cool” Flavio Briatore of Renault into a sweat soaked wet patch and hot enough to ensure that the Bridgestone tyres, that had such a good run with cooler than normal weather last year, were woefully off the pace. So much so that the only cars behind the Ferraris on the grid were the Minardis, Jordans, Saubers and stand in driver, Anthony Davidson’s BAR. Added to the heat were the “1000%” humidity, a smoke haze from God knows how many forest fires, two fairly vigorous illnesses (Sato & Trulli), one bereavement (Trulli) and one set of broken ribs (Webber). It all added up to a fairly uncomfortable weekend. Thank the lord it was a good race.

And unlike the Melbourne snooze fest two weeks ago this one was full of incident and actual overtaking. Not all the overtaking worked, admittedly, but many of the drivers have probably forgotten how to do it over the last few seasons. Fernando Alonso in the Renault, who had actually figured out how to overtake people at Melbourne didn’t need to refine that particular skill here as he was only ever headed during the pitstop sequences in an untroubled run to the victors flag, much like his team-mate Fisichella in Melbourne. Alonso was simply imperious, a driver on top of his game in the best car in the field and on the best tyres. From Saturday morning onwards it seemed inevitable that he was going to win the race and so it proved. Team-mate Fisichella on the other hand had the exact opposite type of weekend. Seeming to be overly cautious about his engine, he was a couple of tenths slower than Alonso in every session from Saturday onwards and apart from one lap in the lead during the first stops, was running an ever decreasingly comfortable third until his unflattering exit, taking out Webber’s Williams after having already lost third to it on the previous corner. For whatever reason, Fisichella had been in fairly serious tyre and handling difficulties from the start and was loosing whole seconds per lap, not only to Alonso at the front, but to the rather dramatic Webber, Heidfeld, Ralf Schumacher battle that was looming large in his mirrors. It is to Fisichella’s credit that he tried to fight back after having lost the spot, but very much an entry in the debit column for the application of that fight-back. To dive down the inside, on the very dirty line where there is so much rubbish and so little grip, on completely knackered tyres and brake so, so late was not just asking for trouble, but demanding it. He obviously believed that he had to retake Webber immediately to have any chance of a podium finish but with twenty laps still to go he should have realized that he really had no chance of holding Webber off for ever and tried to conserve his car for the best finish possible. That team boss Flav was in his ear on the radio all day telling him to speed up probably didn’t assist in a calm reflection of the situation but it was still a pretty serious case of brain fade from the likable Italian.

Webber and Williams were having one of those weekends where everything is going as well as can be expected and having qualified a very strong fourth, Webber was getting stronger as the race progressed. Apart from getting nurfed by Ralf Schumacher in the Toyota in the final turn, a very similar move to that of Fisichella I might add, but with less severe consequences, and almost losing his spot to team-mate Nick Heidfeld in the ensuing confusion, Mark was well on his way to his first F1 podium. He would not have caught Alonso or Trulli but he had already taken third from Fisichella when he got bitten by the brainless bolt of blue. This left Heidfeld to run comfortably to third in his place after a strong drive from his tenth place on the grid. Had he not made a mistake in second qualifying session who knows, he may have threatened Trulli for second.

Trulli in the Toyota had one of those drives that he is capable of when inspired, like Monaco last year, and the fact that he had lost a friend in the past week and had a nasty stomach bug that required medical treatment seemed to put him in the mood. He was on the pace all weekend, putting the Toyota on the front row for the second time in succession, and held a comfortable second for the entire race. He even led for a couple of laps after Alonso made his second stop. A brave and brilliant drive by the much maligned Italian. Not something that could be said for team-mate Ralf however. A competent performance that was not quite on Trulli’s level all meeting. The ham-fisted passing attempt on Webber could have cost him third or fourth as the bingle busted his barge-boards (well named in this instance) and he began to drop back immediately from the battle with Webber, Fisichella & Heidfeld. That he finished fifth is only thanks to Fisichella.

McLaren had another odd weekend. Both drivers chances were compromised by mistakes in qualifying although the cars again had the speed to be podium contenders. Raikkonen looked set for third at least after passing Webber during the first pit stop sequence only to have his right rear tyre disintegrate just after leaving the pits. This dropped him to 14th in front of only the Jordan’s and Albers’ Minardi but in typical fashion the Finn charged back through the field and just miss scoring the final point by 0.6 of a second. Montoya had a fairly quiet but effective race, steadily moving up through the pitstops and others retirements and finally passing Ralf for fourth place with fifteen laps to go. The Red Bull boys were at it again, proving that Melbourne was no weather induced fluke. Seventh and eighth on the grid, a full two seconds faster than the best Ferrari shows that they are a competitive little team this year. After dropping a couple of places at the start both drivers settled down and battled with the likes of Heidfeld and Montoya and kept the Ferraris behind them until Michael Schumacher jumped Klien at the final pitstop. Sixth for Coulthard and eighth for Klien was a great result and leaves the former Jaguar team in third in the championship behind Renault and Toyota.

Ferrari had another shocker by their recent standards. Actually it was a shocker but just about any standards. The Bridgestone tyres are simply not competitive at the moment. In the heat of Malaysia they were either too hard to be quick in qualifying or not hard enough to last the race distance. Schumacher chose the harder compound hoping for race pace but they were so hard that he could get no warmth into them, and hence no grip, for the one lap qualifying runs and end up in 13th place, a massive 4 seconds off Alonso’s time. His only problem then was that the tyres really had no race pace either and he had to fight hard initially to keep Felipe Massa in the Sauber in sight. That he ended as high as seventh was only due to the carnage in front of him. He passed no-one on the track and only picked up two places during the pitstops, those of Massa and Klien. Barrichello went the other way but had no more success. Qualifying 12th he ran as high as 8th after the first stops but then his tyres gave up the ghost. That and a chunk of rubber, probably from Raikkonen’s shredded rear embedded in his rear wing made the Ferrari undrivable and he finally gave up with seven laps to go.

Much to Honda’s embarrassment, BAR got just what they deserved after their cynical “retirement” on the last lap in Melbourne. After their unimpressive qualifying performance (Button was 9th and Davidson, subbing for the very ill Sato, 15th) both cars lasted just two laps before the Honda engines detonated. There was not much sympathy for the team but a fair bit for poor Anthony Davidson. After not being allowed to join Williams this year he would have been hoping to make a good impression in his first race outing in two years. Beginning practice only on Saturday, Sato had driven on Friday, he did reasonably well in qualifying and would have wanted to finish the race and put on a good show. It was not to be.

Sauber had another miserable weekend. Massa showed well early and battled hard with the Ferraris, even holding off Schumacher until the first stops but then faded to a distant 10th at the finish. Villeneuve had another very poor meeting being over a second off Massa’s pace in qualifying and lasting only 26 laps before throwing the car off at the first corner under braking. The less said the better.

The rookies could again hold their heads high. Karthikeyan had a better weekend than Monteiro in the Jordan just edging him out in qualifying but finishing a whole lap ahead in the race. Friesacher out-qualified Albers in the Minardis but he spun out on the Honda oil whilst Albers had a consistent drive through to 13th and last place. Not much more could be expected at this point.

RESULT/DRIVER CAR LAPS/GAP COMMENTS 1 Fernando Alonso Renault 56/1"31'33.736 Ave Speed 126.418 mph/203.407 kph 2 Jarno Trulli Toyota +0'24.327 - 3 Nick Heidfeld Williams +0'32.188 - 4 Juan Pablo Montoya McLaren +0'41.631 - 5 Ralf Schumacher Toyota +0'51.854 - 6 David Coulthard Red Bull +1'12.543 - 7 Michael Schumacher Ferrari +1'19.988 - 8 Christian Klien Red Bull +1'20.835 - 9 Kimi Raikkonen McLaren +1'21.580 - 10 Felipe Massa Sauber 55 - 11 Narain Karthikeyan Jordan 54 - 12 Tiago Montiero Jordan 53 - 13 Christijan Albers Minardi 52 - RETIREMENTS Rubens Barrichello Ferrari 49 Handling Giancarlo Fisichella Renault 36 Accident Mark Webber Williams 36 Accident Jacques Villeneuve Sauber 26 Spun Jenson Button BAR 2 Engine Anthony Davidson BAR 2 Engine Patrick Friesacher Minardi 2 Spun

FASTEST LAP Kimi Raikkonen 1'35.483

LEADERS Fernando Alonso 51 (1-21,25-40,43-56) Kimi Raikkonen 2 (23-24) Jarno Trulli 2 (41-42) Giancarlo Fisichella 1 (22)

POINTSCORE Alonso 16 Fisichella 10 Barrichello 8 Trulli 8 Coulthard 8 Montoya 8 Heidfeld 6 Webber 4 R.Schumacher 4 Klien 3 M.Schumacher 2 Raikkonen 1

Renault 26 Toyota 12 Red Bull-Cosworth 11 Ferrari 10 Williams-BMW 10 McLaren-Mercedes 9

Sam Snape

22-3-05

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX

The 2005 Australian Grand Prix was a wonderful triumph for one of F1’s nicest guys, Giancarlo Fisichella who finally got to stand on the top step of the podium (despite this being his second win) after a thoroughly dominant performance in his Renault R25. Unfortunately it was also a travesty for the spectators who handed over large amounts of their hard earned cash to watch three days of very little action due to a combination of badly thought out rules, the arrogance of some of the teams who don’t seem to give a toss about the race fans, the bloody mindedness of the FIA and a circuit that does not promote overtaking.

First, the good stuff. Fisichella had a superb race in the Renault, leading comfortably for all but 3 of the 57 laps. Only teammate Fernando Alonso and Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello also had turns in the lead when Fisichella pitted for fuel. The Renault’s testing pace over race distances in the past few months had had most teams concerned and it was confirmed with Fisichella’s relatively easy win and the climb by Alonso from 13th on the grid to third place at the finish. The pace in practice of the McLarens, until they got screwed by the rain in Saturday’s first qualifying session, and that of Webber’s Williams, who topped the final qualifying session on Sunday, gives us all hope that we are not in for another Ferrari dominated bore-athon such as 2004. In fact the only time that the Ferrari’s looked fast (when they bothered to come out) was in the wet Saturday morning practice which was a demonstration of Bridgestone’s continued dominance over Michelin in the wet weather stakes. Barrichello turned in some fine laps at the end of his fuel runs in the race but it was more a case of Webber, and to a lesser degree Montoya, being stuck behind Coulthard for the entire race that gave him his well earned second place.

Not that there was anything wrong with Coulthard holding up the others. In his first outing with the re-badged Jaguar team (now Red Bull Racing) DC was quick and aggressive all weekend. Fifth on Friday morning, 12th on Friday afternoon, 7th and 9th in Saturday morning’s practice and 6th and 3rd in the two qualifying sessions meant that he lined up 5th on the grid. A blinder of a start and a fair amount of tyre smoke at turn one saw him leap into third place in front of Webber, who was clearly faster but could not find a way around on a track bereft of overtaking places, and Jacques Villeneuve, who saw his surprisingly good qualifying position evaporate into a lacklustre 13th place at the finish despite a spirited dice with Alonso for 9th place in the early part of the race.

In fact, the entire Red Bull team performed well above expectation all weekend. Fellow race driver Christian Klien had a fine meeting and started in sixth place, drove intelligently and quickly and finished in seventh between the much faster McLaren twins of Montoya and Raikkonen. Friday tester Vitantonio Liuzzi showed his great promise by being fastest of all in the Friday morning session.

McLaren was another team that showed good pace for most of the weekend. Third driver Pedro de la Rosa was quickest on Friday afternoon and Raikkonen topped the sheets in Saturday’s second session. Their fine efforts in the wet in Saturday’s qualifying found them in 10th and 11th and the fastest of those who had to go out in the rain. Somewhere that pace evaporated during Sunday and the outcome was not helped by Raikkonen’s car stalling on the grid and having to start from pit-lane. He still had a brilliant 1st lap to be in 16th and right up Michael Schumacher’s tail pipe, but there ha basically stayed. Both he and Michael made up places during the pitstops and when Michael took himself and Nick Heidfeld in the Williams out with a truly crass piece of driving, Kimi ended up in 8th place to score the final championship point. Montoya in the other McLaren had much the same problem as Webber in that he was stuck behind Klien for the entire first stint. He finished some 20 seconds behind Webber in 6th place.

Apart from being held up behind Coulthard for most of the race Webber had a good weekend in the Williams. From Saturday morning onwards Webber was the quicker of the two Williams drivers and proved his class with the quickest time in Sunday’s qualifying run and started 3rd on the grid. He was right not to try and block Coulthard’s lunge down the inside at turn one as there was no way that Coulthard could have stopped and avoided an accident. Whereas Coulthard had nothing to lose in this manoeuvre, Webber had everything to lose. DC was gambling that he could get in front of Webber without damaging his tyres too much and Webber was hoping that DC’s tyres would be badly enough effected by the lock-up and possible flat spot that they would deteriorate so much that he could get past later in the race. DC 1 – Mark 0. Webber did briefly get past Coulthard only to pit at the end of the lap and see DC retake the place during the pit-stop sequence and there he stayed. Faster, frustrated and fifth.

Jarno Trulli in the Toyota had generally been quicker than his teammate, Ralf Schumacher and took advantage of some good luck weather-wise in Saturday’s qualifying to line up alongside Fisichella on the front row, a first for Toyota, and ran comfortably in second until the first fuel stop. Unfortunately as so often happens with Trulli his pace from then on was just plain slow. This time he blamed a rear tyre for his drop in performance and just after his second stop he dropped as low as 12th place before recovering to 9th. Ralf in the other Toyota had an even more dismal weekend never running higher than 12th in the race and being a whopping 2.1 seconds slower than Trulli in Sunday morning qualifying.

At the tail of the field it was a fairly good performance from all the rookies. Karthikeyan and Montiero, still driving an updated version of last year’s awful Jordan, both were consistent and sensible all weekend and proved that they deserved their places in the field. That the Minardis were there at all was a miracle and Albers and Friesacher did as good a job as anyone could have under the circumstances. Albers was the victim of the day’s only true mechanical retirement, suffering a gearbox failure on lap 16.

Now for the bollocks. The rule that states that teams must use an engine for two races may have resulted in Jordan being able to get a supply of reasonably cheap Toyota motors, as it was intended, but whoever the clot was that wrote them should be taken out behind a shed and given a thick ear. It was decided that there would be no penalty at the following race to any car that didn’t finish the present one, as not finishing one race was considered penalty enough. The fact that Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari used two engines this weekend and can have a new one in the next race in Malaysia without suffering any real penalty is just a bloody joke. He only lost one grid spot (not ten) for changing his engine after his failure to register a competitive time in the wet first qualifying and there was no major damage to his Ferrari after the contact with Heidfeld but as he had gone down a lap and was not likely to score points, the car was retired for no other reason than to get the fresh engine for Malaysia. That both BARs intentionally retired on the last lap (they were both well out of the points) and can therefore have new engines in Malaysia without a penalty is even worse.

The penalty MUST carry over to the next race if this rule is to have any clout. Perhaps it should be a penalty of five grid places at each of the two races per engine change. That way Michael still would have started at the back of the grid here and would lose at least five grid spots in Malaysia. If they elect to change the engine again after not finishing here then they would lose a further five grid places in Malaysia (a total of ten) and another five at the next race. That would have probably kept Michael in the race here and the BARs would not be looking at fresh engines in Malaysia.

I am quite happy with the aggregated qualifying idea but not in it’s current form. Sunday morning is just plain stupid. Many TV broadcasters are not covering it and if someone does have an off there is very little time to repair the car. Too little time to do a proper repair job is just not safe. It should revert to sessions on Friday and Saturday so there is adequate coverage and overnight suspense and if Bernie wants to have something else for the fans on Sunday morning, either bring back the morning warm-up or put on another race. A Formula 3 race on Sunday morning would keep most fans happy. Grid penalties that roll over to the next race for teams that did not bother to put in a proper effort in either session, such as those by Schumacher, Massa and Sato would also prevent another farce like the one we had here when only 16 drivers bothered to turn out (maybe less, Barrichello being three seconds off Webber’s pace was pretty dubious as well). Perhaps even scrap the single timed lap idea and go back to the old system of everyone going out when they want but having a minimum number of laps (say 12) that they must complete in each session. For every lap they fail to complete (baring accident or mechanical failure) they lose one grid spot at that or the next race. That would mean that even if one session was wet everyone would still be out and running and giving the spectators, you know, the ones that all that sponsorship is aimed at, value for money.

The Ferrari/FIA/Minardi fiasco was just crass bullying on the part of Ferrari and the FIA. Ferrari wanted to get its own back for Stoddard making them look like pricks over the test ban agreement that all the other teams have signed and the FIA was simply having a hissy fit because someone actually dared to question their authority. If the FIA were to ban racing in all countries whose legal system could overrule the authority of the FIA then it would be only holding races in countries that had no independent judiciary. What would happen if Stoddard decides to put his case to the courts in every country that the F1 circus visits and Max bans them? You could kiss goodbye to every European GP and those in the US, Canada and Japan as well for a start. A storm in a B-cup. Max Moseley and the rest of the FIA would do better to get on with fixing the current state of affairs than acting like spoiled brats.

As for high aero grip and grooved tyres, don’t get me started………….

Sam Snape

08-03-2005

ARE FERRARI FOXING?

The big question now arising from the “Winter World Championship” is, are Ferrari foxing or has Michelin really got the jump on Bridgestone in the tyre stakes. Despite apparently going for some quick, low-fuel runs on what Bridgestone techs believed to be their softest and fastest tyres Michael Schumacher could manage no better than fifth outright in the latest two tests at Valencia and Jerez. More damning was that Rubens Barrichello could not even break into the top ten in either test. Only time, and Melbourne, will tell.

Ferrari’s biggest problem is that they are now the only major team on Bridgestone tyres and therefore the major Michelin runners, B.A.R., Renault, Williams and McLaren, have been able to do vastly more testing and evaluation and seem to have come up with a better product. Both Renault and McLaren, in particular, have been both reliable and quick, getting at least one car into the top four in both tests. At Valencia it was the two McLarens of Raikkonen and Wurz followed by the two Renaults of Alonso and Fisichella with Trulli in fifth and Michael Schumacher in sixth, a whopping 1.2 seconds off the pace. BAR have been occasionally very quick, Button topped the times at Jerez, but the Honda engine has had a tendency to go pop at the least opportune moment. Even Toyota and Sauber, who recently swapped from Bridgestone, have been occasionally getting a car in front of the Ferraris although their speed has been a bit erratic. The only major Michelin runner to not show any great speed with their new car, unfortunately for Australian fans, is Williams, who more often than not were in the bottom half of the top ten in these two tests.

Williams started the test at Valencia in good form but as everyone else lowered their times, the Williams duo’s pace remained static. Things got worse at Jerez with, apart from a low-fuel flier from Heidfeld netting second on day two, Webber and Heidfeld were propping the lower half of the top ten or worse. Then came the comments such as; “lots of work to be done before Melbourne” and “we will have some new parts for Melbourne which should make us quicker”. One hopes that the hard work and new bits pay off. Imagine a season in which Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Renault and BAR are all constantly fighting for and scoring wins and Toyota is nipping at their heels. The stuff of dreams.

McLaren took one new and one old car to Valencia to do some comparisons. Wurz in the old car was fastest on the first two days but Raikkonen put in a blinder on day three to set the top spot of the test. They arrived at Jerez with three new cars for Montoya, Raikkonen and De la Rosa and although Raikkonen’s test was rather brief, he only ran on the fourth day, Montoya was delighted with the MP4/20. In a new aero tweak since Valencia, McLaren has added a large pair of wings off the airbox that can best be described as looking like Viking horns. Montoya called it his “Darth Vader” car.

Where McLaren are very quick over a short stint, Renault are very consistent and quick over a race distance. Alonso and Fisichella were third and forth overall at Valencia and second and forth overall at Jerez although both suffered from minor reliability woes at Jerez. BAR had mixed fortunes with Jenson Button topping the Jerez test but Sato had two huge crashes, one on the first day when a rear wing collapsed and another on day two whose cause still mystifies the team.

Toyota were able to put up times in both tests similar to that of the best Ferrari with Jarno Trulli finishing just in front of Michael at Valencia and just behind him at Jerez and even Sauber were able to put Felipe Massa at the top of the timesheets on day one at Jerez. Jacques Villeneuve, however, seems to be struggling in his comeback attempt and finished his test down in 21st place and over three seconds off the pace.

As Melbourne gets closer some of the teams are starting to show off their weird and wonderful aero tweaks with which they hope to claw back some of the lost downforce. Apart from the “horny/Darth Vader/Viking” McLaren, Sauber have showed off a bi-plane front wing which has a secondary pair of wings running from the top of the wing end-plate connecting to the bottom of the raised nose-cone. Ferrari have a small, two-plane wing connected to the bottom of the main front wing and protruding forward, making it a sort of tri-plane. More comments about the Red Baron and his Focker can only be a matter of time. Jordan, who ran both Tiego Monteiro and Narain Karthekian at Silverstone, have added large wings to the cockpit sides just in front of he top of the side-pods and Paul Stoddart has announced that the new Minardi, when it comes out sometime around the San Marino GP, “will look like nothing else on the grid”. Can’t wait.

VALENCIA FORMULA 1 TEST Feb 1-5

BEST TIMES

DRIVER CAR TIME 1 Kimi Raikkonen McLaren MP4/20 1'09.005 (3) 2 Alexander Wurz McLaren MP4/19C 1'09.201 (1,2) 3 Fernando Alonso Renault R25 1'09.992 4 Giancarlo Fisichella Renault R25 1'10.135 5 Jarno Trulli Toyota TF105 1'10.198 6 Michael Schumacher Ferrari F2004M 1'10.209(4) 7 Nick Heidfeld Williams FW27 1'10.336 8 Takuma Sato BAR 007 1'10.465 9 Mark Webber Williams FW27 1'10.538 10 Jenson Button BAR 007 1'10.559 11 Rubens Barrichello Ferrari F2004M 1'10.681 12 Ralf Schumacher Toyota TF105 1'10.777 13 Olivier Panis Toyota TF105 1'11.061 14 Anthony Davidson BAR 007 1'11.406 15 Pedro de la Rosa McLaren MP4/20 1'11.729 16 Ricardo Zonta Toyota TF105 1'11.841 17 Adam Carroll BAR 007 1'12.172 18 Enrique Bernoldi BAR 007 1'12.298 19 Marc Gene' Ferrari F2004B 1'12.744 20 Alan van der Merwe BAR 007 1'13.117 21 James Rossiter BAR 007 1'14.736

(-) best on day

JEREZ FORMULA 1 TEST Feb 8-12

BEST TIMES

DRIVER CAR TIME 1 Jenson Button BAR 007 1'15.680 (4) 2 Fernando Alonso Renault R25 1'15.732 (3) 3 Juan Pablo Montoya McLaren MP4/20 1'16.198(2) 4 Giancarlo Fisichella Renault R25 1'16.654 5 Michael Schumacher Ferrari F2004M 1'16.668 6 Jarno Trulli Toyota TF105 1'16.743 7 David Coulthard Red Bull RBR1 1'16.822 8 Felipe Massa Sauber C24 1'17.273 (1) 9 Kimi Raikkonen McLaren MP4/20 1'17.336 10 Nick Heidfeld Williams FW27 1'17.387 11 Mark Webber Williams FW27 1'17.421 12 Vitantonio Liuzzi Red Bull RBR1 1'17.439 13 Rubens Barrichello Ferrari F2004M 1'17.449 14 Christian Klien Red Bull RBR1 1'17.583 15 Ricardo Zonta Toyota TF105 1'17.719(5)16 Ralf Schumacher Toyota TF105 1'17.773 17 Pedro de la Rosa McLaren MP4/20 1'17.958 18 Takuma Sato BAR 007 1'18.150 19 Anthony Davidson BAR 006C 1'18.296 20 Enrique Bernoldi BAR 006C 1'18.585 21 Jacques Villeneuve Sauber C24 1'18.612 22 Luca Badoer Ferrari F2004B 1'18.687 23 Nelson Piquet Jr BAR 006C 1'20.835

(-) Best time on day

Sam Snape
16-02-05

HEIDFELD GETS THE NOD

As this site predicted, Nick Heidfeld was announced today as the second race driver for the Williams team for the 2005 season. At the launch of their new car, the FW27, Frank Williams named Heidfeld as the race driver and Antonio Pizzonia as the test and reserve driver. “We have decided, at the last minute, that Nick Heidfeld would be the team’s regular driver. It wasn’t an easy decision to make.

“There was little to chose between the two of them, and we were in a fortunate position to be able to chose between two drivers who would be a credit to any Formula 1 team. Ultimately, however, it is Nick who got our vote, but I am delighted that we have strength in depth with Antonio taking up the position of official test and reserve driver.”

Nick Heidfeld, predictably, commented; “I really wanted this job. Driving for Williams is the greatest opportunity of my career. I will do everything I can to show that I deserve this place and I’m counting the days to the first Grand Prix.

Mark Webber admitted that he was pleased to see Heidfeld become his team-mate. "It's been a fairly heavy fight for the seat and I'm happy to be Nick's team-mate. I haven't had any podiums like Nick has and I'm looking forward together with him to push the team forward."

Having a German in the second seat will not be disappointing for engine supplier BMW, either, who had been pushing for Heidfeld’s inclusion in the team for some months. It had been hoped that he may have tested the Williams last year with a view to replacing the injured Ralf Schumacher but this was blocked by Heidfeld’s then boss, Eddie Jordan who didn’t want to lose his star driver.

Sam Snape

01-02-05

HEIDFELD CLOSES IN

The battle for the number two seat has concluded with Nick Heidfeld again outpacing Antonio Pizzonia on the only day that they ran similar programmes. Heidfeld suffered an engine failure on the first day to finish half a second down on Pizzonia but on the second day, when they were both put on the same programme with identical fuel loads, Heidfeld edged out his team mate and topped the days times. Pizzonia set the overall second best time for the test on day three, however this was after Heidfeld had departed the test and the pressure was off. Pizzonia is a quick and promising driver but Heidfeld, with less experience with the team, settled in remarkably quickly, provided good feedback and has been generally the quicker of the two. I cannot see anything but Heidfeld being named as Williams’ number two driver on Monday.

Red Bull’s David Coulthard surprisingly topped the test times with a rapid 1’09.175 and once again Klien proved the quicker of the two aspirants for the second seat on the one day that he and Liuzzi ran together. Liuzzi set the forth overall best time, over a second faster than Klien, but this was after Klien had left the test. Klien startled everyone by being the quickest on day one. All in all a good test for Red Bull, despite the fact that they were the only team still using last years (faster) cars, after the turmoil of having both their popular team principal, Tony Purcell, and managing director, Dave Pitchforth inexplicably fired and replaced by Christian Horner and Gunther Steiner, who had previously sacked from the job when the team was called Jaguar.

One of the teams running their 2005 cars was Toyota who had Trulli, Panis and Zonta continuing to rack up miles in the TF105 with Trulli finishing 7th fastest overall. The new BAR 007 was a bit disappointing with both Sato and Button being off the Toyota’s pace and with more engine problems from the new Honda. Another two enormous engine failures during this test, makes it a total of four since the new car began testing just last week.

Renault were the fastest “new car” team at Valencia as they debuted their latest car, the R25. It was a promising start with Alonso, despite encountering hydraulic problems, finishing the test with the 6th best time ahead of Trulli and with Fisichella ending up just one tenth slower than the Toyota’s quickest time.

Meanwhile, at Catalunya, Ferrari turned up with the car that they will start the 2005 season, the 2004M. Michael Schumacher gave the car its first public outing and ended up second fastest to team-mate and test driver, Luca Badoer in the interim car. Despite an oil leak on Schumacher’s car on day two the Ferraris ran like clockwork and raced up a total of 402 laps between them.

Juan Pablo Montoya briefly ran the new McLaren, the MP4/20 on the first day and although putting in just 37 laps was only half a second down on Schumacher’s time. One expects that it will get faster once it has a serious hit out over a longer test.

Sauber were also on hand to test the reliability of their new car and although off the pace of the Ferraris, covered over 1400 kilometres on one engine before Jacques Villeneuve brought proceedings to a premature halt by having a big accident at the forth gear Campsa corner, completely destroying the right rear corner of the car.

VALENCIA

BEST TIMES DRIVER CAR TIME 1 David Coulthard Jaguar R5B 1'09.175 (3) 2 Antonio Pizzonia Williams FW26C 1'09.447 3 Nick Heidfeld Williams FW26C 1'10.079 (2) 4 Vitantonio Liuzzi Jaguar R5B 1'10.224 5 Franck Montagny Renault R24 1'10.252 (4) 6 Fernando Alonso Renault R25 1'10.398 7 Jarno Trulli Toyota TF105 1'10.597 8 Giancarlo Fisichella Renault R25 1'10.636 9 Takuma Sato BAR 007 1'10.803 10 Anthony Davidson BAR 006C 1'10.841 11 Christian Klien Jaguar R5B 1'11.241 (1) 12 Olivier Panis Toyota TF105 1'11.460 13 Jenson Button BAR 007 1'11.557 14 Ricardo Zonta Toyota TF105 1'12.676 15 Andy Priaulx Williams FW26C 1'12.790

(-) fastest on day

BARCELONA

BEST TIMES DRIVER CAR TIME 1 Luca Badoer Ferrari F2004B 1'15.446 (1,2,3) 2 Michael Schumacher Ferrari F2004B 1'15.902 3 Juan Pablo Montoya McLaren MP4/20 1'16.536 4 Felipe Massa Sauber C24 1'17.470 5 Jacques Villeneuve Sauber C24 1'18.108

(-) fastest on day

Sam Snape

31/01/05