The Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team have had little chance to enjoy their unprecedented early World Championship win at the French Grand Prix as round 12 of the Championship follows on just one week later at Hockenheim, Germany. Michael...
The Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team have had little chance to enjoy their unprecedented early World Championship win at the French Grand Prix as round 12 of the Championship follows on just one week later at Hockenheim, Germany.
Michael Schumacher may be arriving to race in front of his home crowd as the newly crowned 2002 World Champion, the fifth world title of his career, but it will be business as usual as he tries to add win number 62 to his growing list of records, just as Rubens Barrichello will try and win his second race of the year. In fact, it will be a much tougher Friday morning than usual when practice begins in Hockenheim, for he and the rest of the team have to learn all about the revised track which, other than the traditional stadium section before the pit complex, has now been considerably shortened and much modified.
"There is a lot we already know about the new track layout, but there is also a lot we don't know when it comes to setting up the car for this race," points out Ross Brawn. "The track has now gone from being low downforce to high downforce, which should make things a bit easier from one point of view. Before the emphasis was on high speed performance in order not to lose places on the straight, which meant that the low speed stadium section was very much a compromise and the drivers were on tip-toe as regards the handling of the car for that part of the lap," he explains.
The team have carried out their usual computer simulations to arrive at the basic set-up like ride heights and downforce settings, but there is a lot the team will not know until they run the cars on Friday morning, things like bumps in the track where the new track meets the old and the grip and wear characteristics of the new surface.
They have also had to guess the sort of tyre compounds Bridgestone will need to bring this race. In previous years, the team had to be quite conservative on tyre softness because of the high speeds, but this year they can run a softer tyre. There will be a lot of calculations to be made before qualifying to establish the likely tyre degradation and the possibilities of a different pit-stop strategy, the number of laps now increased to 67 with the shorter lap distance and what will probably a bit heavier fuel consumption for the race than in the past.
The new track layout is expected to provide more overtaking opportunities, but it will also be tougher on the car's brakes, thus temperatures in the traditionally hot race could now also play a critical factor in the car's performance.
While the team might have the drivers' title already sewn up, they have still to clinch the constructors' championship as well as try and move Rubens Barrichello back into the number two spot following his disappointing electrical problem that prevented him starting the last race.
"Of course it is great to have clinched the title so early in the season, but we all be working just as hard to win the next six races as well as try and get Rubens into second place," says Ross. However, the luxury of having the title sewn up so early in the season will also allow the team the opportunity to experiment with all kinds of developments towards next year's title challenge.
Development has already been switched to next year's car for several weeks now so the only notable changes to the current car in future races will be a revised aerodynamic package for Monza and the other high speed circuits before the end of the season. The team will also have the opportunity to race test some new ideas and parts for next year's car before they are finalized, now free to focus even more on repeating their impressive 2002 performance in 2003, while mopping up what honors remain for the rest of this year.