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Brawn: Spain win 'a minor miracle'
Ferrari tech wizard gives the inside line on Barcelona 1-2

Michael Schumacher won his 75th grand prix from 200 starts at Barcelona on Sunday, but his Ferrari wasn't quite 100 per cent for a large portion of the race due to an exhaust problem. Technical director Ross Brawn told autosport.com's Adam Cooper exactly what went wrong with Schuey's car, and how they changed his strategy to beat off the early challenge of Renault's Jarno Trulli.

Ross Brawn is not the sort of guy who takes anything for granted, and even when Michael Schumacher is miles out in front the Ferrari technical director never relaxes until the German star crosses the line.

In Barcelona last weekend Ross had very good reason to be a little concerned, because for once the car was not running like clockwork. You didn't need to be looking at the team's telemetry to know that there was a problem. From a little under a third of the way into the race, it was clear that the car didn't sound quite right, even to the untrained ear.

A broken exhaust (the left primary, according to Ross) isn't usually enough to put a car out, but the problem is that it tends to blow heat into all the wrong places, and modern F1 cars are pretty tightly packaged round the back. In Monaco in 2000 Michael was heading for a comfortable win when his rear suspension failed after being cooked in this way. At the time a Ferrari insider told me that at 200C the glue in a carbonfibre component starts to break down, and he estimated that the part had had been blasted to 400C.

The odd touch on the barrier may also have contributed on that occasion, but the nightmare of that afternoon hung over Ross in Spain. He might also have recalled Barcelona 2001, when Mika Hakkinen had a problem right at the end, and Michael scored perhaps the luckiest win of his career. It ain't over until it's over.

Despite the safety net of having Rubens Barrichello in a safe second, ready to pick up the pieces, Ross was more than relieved when Michael finally crossed the line.

"We had a broken exhaust on Michael's car from about lap 20, which progressively got worse," he smiled right after the podium. "To be honest, we didn't think he'd finish, so it was a minor miracle! You don't want to give too much away, but it sounded horrible, and you could hear it on the straights, so I'm sure our opposition knew we had a problem.

"It didn't really affect the performance of the car, that's the strange thing. We were just that we were worried about the reliability. The packaging in the car is so tight, we probably got a lot of burned bodywork."

The curious thing is that slowing down was the worst thing Michael could have done.

"We didn't want to do too much that was different, because it puts the exhaust temperature up. So he had to drive perfectly normally and not come off the throttle early or do anything strange, because that's when the exhaust temperature gets high.

"After Monaco [2000] we have temperature sensors on the suspension, and we were watching them. If we'd get excessively high temperatures, maybe we would have had to call it a day. But we had no problems."

The race might not have set the pulse racing, but at least Jarno Trulli made it a little harder for Michael by getting ahead at the start and giving Ferrari something to think about. In fact the Italian might have stayed ahead into the second stint, had Ferrari not reacted with its customary speed.

"We changed our strategy right at the last minute, when we saw how quick Michael was on his in lap. We decided to try and go short and beat Trulli. So that was a fairly late call, and the guys did a fantastic job. It made it interesting for a while, that's for sure."

In both Malaysia and Imola Rubens has found himself caught in the pack, and seemingly has been unable to do anything about extracting himself from trouble. In Spain he tried something quite different, qualifying with a heavy fuel load and running a long first stint, something that only the Bridgestone runners could contemplate (it also propelled Giancarlo Fisichella to a superb seventh place). Even Brawn couldn't tell if you if Barrichello would have finished second had he qualified on his team mate's strategy, but at least it added some intrigue to the event.

"It was perfect. Of course he had to keep a straight face after qualifying, when everybody was asking him what went wrong! The tyres were fantastic. I'm very happy to have first and second he wasn't second in the last race. The two stop went exactly as we expected, but the problem is unless you can put two cars on the front row, with the tyre performance we have, we end up spending half the race with one of the cars stuck. It seemed a reasonable idea, and it worked out. Rubens drove a great race."

Monaco is next, and it promises to be an interesting weekend. It might not be quite as straightforward, even allowing for the car's superior performance.

"There's less capacity to do things with strategy, so that's tricky. And obviously we need to improve our starts. Monaco is a completely new set of challenges. You can have by far the fastest car, but if you're not on the track in the right place you're wasting your day. We've got to think much more about qualifying, much more about some strange strategies to try and get in front."

Nevertheless, Michael is pretty good round Monaco, so it could well be another successful step on Ferrari's mission to win all 18 races this year.

"That would be something very special, but we're keeping our feet on the ground..."