Ferrari's chief designer, the South African born, 59-year-old Rory Byrne, probably will not know what happened in the race debut of his latest creation, the Ferrari 2003GA, at the Spanish GP, May 4th, until after you do. He will be on a plane ...
Ferrari's chief designer, the South African born, 59-year-old Rory Byrne, probably will not know what happened in the race debut of his latest creation, the Ferrari 2003GA, at the Spanish GP, May 4th, until after you do. He will be on a plane returning from Mauritius with his wife and 2 year-old son following a week of much needed rest and relaxation after the hectic months of conceiving the latest challenger for yet another historic chapter in Ferrari's illustrious racing history.
'I look after four separate working groups; design, structures, aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics and I am also involved in the research and development program. We know from all areas of the car that we have made improvements and that the whole combined 2003 package will be a good step forward in performance on the previous car, even before it has turned a wheel.'
So he has no sleepless nights that the car will not perform well, his only worries are any mechanical issues that might occur due to all the changes. 'We can calculate and simulate all the load factors for every part of the car based on the worst case scenarios, like riding kerbs in Monza or taking Eau Rouge in Spa, but there are always small problems that crop up because of different materials being used or different mounting methods or even human error,' explains Rory referring to the two nasty shunts that test driver Luca Badoer had at Jerez and Mugello during the early test sessions with the new car which began running on February 11th.
The design team soon corrected those problems and is now confident that the new car will be as successful as the 2002 chassis, which won 15 out of its 19 races including the first and last race of its short career. It was the first of those wins that was the most special to Rory. 'We raced the car earlier than we wanted and Michael drove a great race. I don't think we could have won that race in Brazil without the new car,' he says.
It was originally planned to give the 2003 car its race debut at its home race in Imola, but before the race the car had only completed one full race distance. 'With the new points system now making reliability so important, we preferred to wait until we had done some more miles,' explains Rory, the 2003 now going to Spain with three more successful race distance runs under its wheels and the team optimistic about another debut victory for the new car despite it being a very different concept from the 2002 chassis.
'The chassis construction is similar, but the side and rear crash structures are completely different as there is less room than before. The aerodynamics and weight distribution have been improved with the new type-52 engine, which was created especially for that purpose and not uniquely to find a few extra revs and a bit more power. The aerodynamic efficiency around the turning veins has been considerably improved, while the gearbox is a refined version of last year's box. Every area of the car has been improved and we are sure it will be a significant step forward,' explains Rory.
While Rory enjoys a well earned break in Mauritius, his thoughts as he lies on the beach will probably already be on next year's car, which he will begin working on in May or June provided he knows what the future rules are likely to be. 'For sure, had we known the new rules when we built this car, it would have been quite a bit different. We would have made a smaller tank, changed weight distribution and probably a lot of other things after a long involved process of design simulation amongst the different working groups,' says Rory.
Any contentious issues like rule changes that could affect fuel capacity or aerodynamics for the new car will first be discussed between Rory and Technical Director, Ross Brawn, before any decisions are made. Otherwise, it's Rory who makes the day-to-day design decisions that have helped make Ferrari the strongest team in the paddock over the past few years.
Already the working group is hard at work developing the new 2003GA in order to cope with the current rules, which now allows only a front wing adjustment to the car between qualifying and the race. 'It presents a whole new set of problems that requires a different approach than last year when we could change the set-up of the car as much as we wanted between qualifying and the race.'
The paddock is a place, on race weekends at least, where you do not see a lot of Rory Byrne. 'I will visit the races in Italy because I can drive there for a day to see what's going on, but I do not really have a role to play at the races. That's Ross' job to handle the technical side at the races. I go to quite a few test sessions which is all I need to do at the race track,' points out Rory, who has to be amongst the world's greatest Formula One designers along with one of the lowest profiles of them all.
Of the many services Jean Todt has done to motor sport in general and Ferrari in particular during his own career in the sport, surely convincing Rory Byrne to give up F1 retirement and a scuba diving business in Phuket to join Ferrari after it had parted company with John Barnard must be the most significant of them all. What has now become known as the 'dream team' in Formula One certainly owes a lot to their unsung hero and chief designer, Rory Byrne.