Hi everybody...

F1 heads stateside this weekend and I think it is going to be a fantastic event.

Everybody is fully aware of what needs to be done and, as things stand at present, we still have three guys that are in contention in terms of the drivers' championship. There is a small margin there for Michael Schumacher, while Juan Pablo Montoya really has everything to go for and nothing to lose. Kimi Raikkonen is still in the battle too, but his hopes are slim compared to the other two.

As for Indianapolis itself, it's a huge place. It is one of the biggest sporting arenas the US has to offer and Formula One sounds incredible when it goes there. Just listening to the cars inside the arena of Indianapolis Motor Speedway sends shivers up your spine.

The fans are pretty much made up of a lot of supporters from around the world, particularly from Canada and places like that. The US F1 contingent, although very a solid group of people, is not that big in numbers. However, the ones that are there are quite highly educated.

The whole event has a good atmosphere. Indianapolis is a racing town full stop and, whenever a big race comes into town - whether it is Formula One, NASCAR or Indy - the place lights up.

Ferrari was obviously pretty strong two weeks ago, taking a 1-3 finish at Monza, and they should be good again this weekend. They fought back at Monza, although a lot of people reckon that things will very different at Indianapolis and Suzuka. I, myself, think that they will still be very competitive for the last two races.

Ferrari seems to have managed to do what everybody dreams of doing - that is drop out some aerodynamic drag and still have some fantastic performance on the mechanical front and a car which is not disintegrating its tyres by running with less downforce. They gained the efficiency of straight-line speed, the efficiency of slightly better fuel consumption and still have low speed mechanical grip. So for me, the combination, if they can maintain that throughout the last couple of races, means they are in good position.

There's no doubt though the gap is going to be slightly smaller and BMW WilliamsF1 will certainly have a good crack at the race win this weekend.

I think the maturity of Juan Pablo Montoya showed in Italy. I think, in days gone by, he would have been a bit more 'trigger happy' to try and put a move on Schumacher in some way or another as the race went on. But, saying that, I think he didn't quite have all the tools under him to do the job, in terms of winning anyway, and not as good as what Michael had.

I think combination of the Williams, BMW, Montoya and Indianapolis will be a good one, and I think also Ralf Schumacher will be a strong contender as well.

Marc Gene did a very good job at Monza, stepping in for Ralf. He stepped into a situation that is not ideal by any means, did himself a huge favour - in terms of saying, 'look I'm still here and I'm good enough to get the kind of results people are looking for. I've stepped in, I've delivered what Williams asked me to do, if not a little bit more'. He didn't make any fuss about it, he got on with the job and I think that is going to stand him in good stead.

Can he race next year? Quite possible, although the downside for him is that it looks like all the seats that are still available require funding - so that might be a tough one. But Spain is on the up with interest in Formula One, and it might be a little bit easier to get some funding together.

What about Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren, are they on the back-foot? I don't know whether it is that bad. I think they are just in a slightly more restrained position, especially when compared to how they were a couple of races ago. They really don't have anything to lose now, and can just go flat out and try and get everything they can get from each individual race, and maximise their attack on the world championship for Kimi.

It's going to be a tough task, but McLaren is not a small team with any kind of issues. It is not about to give up the ghost, and will be giving 100 per cent whatever the case maybe.

David Coulthard's retirement last time out is obviously a bit worrying. I think that is something that will have been looked at, and spoken about after the event very closely. There really shouldn't be any issues with mechanical failures, whatever the case might be, at this stage of the season. It is quite disheartening for a lot of people to go through that side of things. Formula One does have its problems, its stresses and strains on machinery, and people, and sometimes they give up. They're not supposed to - but such is life.

Renault is going to be back in contention at Indy in my view, even though that front-stretch speedway pit-straight is there to confront the R23's engine. I don't think the team will be quite as disadvantaged as it was at Monza on straight forward horsepower. I think mechanical-chassis balance will be quite evident and, overall, the team should be a little bit better off.

Fernando Alonso drove very well at Monza - to go from the back of the grid to finish eighth was no mean feat. In terms of keeping his head down and getting on with it, he did a sterling job, but he did make a couple of mistakes, which could have been costly.

I'm sure the car wasn't the best to drive, with the aerodynamic parts missing off of it at the end, but you know, that all stemmed from a qualifying situation which, as we understand it, saw a traction control problem which was beyond his control. It just shows what can go wrong, and the penalty you have to pay for it.

The battle for fifth place continues to hot up. BAR-Honda was very strong at Monza, with Jacques Villeneuve coming home sixth. I think Jaguar might be a little better off this weekend and I think that there will be a big battle between those guys to try and get some firm footing in terms of fifth place in the constructors' championship.

I think Jordan can pretty much be counted out. I don't think it has got the strengths to compete at Indy, and seems to have other issues on its plate, particularly in terms of what its future stability is and who is going to be involved.

What about Toyota, I hear you say?

Well, I really don't think Toyota is going to be strong enough to finish off with enough points to beat BAR - and Honda - at this point. I think BAR is going to a couple of circuits that will suit the 005, and I think it will be the stronger combination.

Also, as much as the progress of Toyota has been impressive, I think the finishing rate has been a little bit low in comparison. The team has looked outstanding on many occasions, especially on a Friday, and sensible on a Saturday, but it just hasn't quite come together when it comes to the race, and I think that is still going to be the story for the rest of the season.

I don't expect much from Sauber either. I can only repeat what I have been seemingly saying all year long, in that the Swiss team won't get much this weekend. They are hard at work on things for next year, although that doesn't mean this year is a dead loss. In some ways, it is still vital to understand what changes need to made for 2004. In that respect then, the pressure on them to deliver is still pretty big.

Minardi, too, is the same again - no change in performance. We know they tested the Arrows A23 last week, but that is pretty much a year behind in technology anyway, if you look at it one way. There might be some things they can learn for future but, at this moment in time, there is nothing to really say in terms of whether there is going to be any change in performance.

Is the comparison a shot in the dark? I think it was good for them to do that, to give them a baseline and a comparison. If you have got that opportunity available, why not go and try and see what is does, and compare with what you are working with a present, to give you some indication, some headway on what needs to be done, and how far off you are. But if that is the comparison, you can only imagine what it is like when they have to go up against a Ferrari or a Williams or a McLaren, to see how tough a job it is.

My final predictions then... I think, as a whole, Michelin will be the stronger combination this weekend and, as a result, I reckon Montoya will take the win, edging out Michael who will have to make do with second. Alonso will be third, followed by the McLarens - with Kimi fourth and DC fifth. Ralf might be sixth, with Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button finishing off the top eight.

Here's to some good racing, and hoping the battle for the title goes right down to the wire in Japan...

MB.

 

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