Over the past few years, the Italian Grand Prix weekend has been a time of celebration for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and a chance to say thank you to the home fans as another season approaches its finale with both titles already in the bag. This...
Over the past few years, the Italian Grand Prix weekend has been a time of celebration for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and a chance to say thank you to the home fans as another season approaches its finale with both titles already in the bag. This year the landscape is different and Ferrari will be hoping that Monza might signal the start of a late flourish with five races still remaining in the championship.
However, some aspects of Monza remain the same: the support from the tifosi and their red flags, the atmospheric venue, the high speed nature of the famous track and the need for minimum downforce and maximum power, on what is the last remaining true high-speed circuit on the calendar.
With top speed being a key, the 055 engine in the back of the two F2005 comes under a lot of strain at this circuit with its "duty cycle" being the highest of any track, as full throttle is used for 70% of the lap. Both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello have their own group of engine specialists looking after their needs at the track and in charge of the German's group is Luigi Fraboni.
Born in Medicina, Bologna in 1969, Fraboni first came into contact with Ferrari while studying Mechanical Engineering, as he did his thesis with the Maranello marque. "It was a great experience, then after military service I got the chance of a job with (automotive electronics specialists) Magneti-Marelli in Bologna," recalls Fraboni.
"After a year, I moved to Ferrari Gestione Sportiva in the calculations department before switching to the design side. After three years, I felt I wanted to do something a bit closer to the on-track action and so I was given a position working with our customer teams." A two year stint with the Scuderia's test team followed and as of last year, Fraboni has filled the role of Michael Schumacher's engine engineer at the races.
His work can be split into two general areas: performance and reliability. "On the one side I am specifically looking after the engine for one driver," says Fraboni. "On the performance front I am looking to optimise all the engine mapping to get maximum power, to get it to suit the specific track layout and also the driver's needs and driving style. We look at improving driveability in each corner and how to make the best use of other parameters such as torque and engine braking. We discuss all aspects with the driver in order to optimise the car and that is always a compromise between getting maximum power with maximum reliability."
"Fuel consumption is another important area, as we are always striving to consume less during the race and we have the possibility to alter various parameters to achieve this. The other side is reliability, particularly important this year with the engine having to last for two races. We follow all the telemetry data in real time, checking things such as the temperature of the exhausts, bearings and con-rods."
By studying the data, the engineers can make changes to the engine management if it is felt necessary to ensure the engine lasts for the two races. Fraboni's work does not end at the track, as every race weekend is effectively a further test session for the engines and all data acquired at the track is then analysed in depth back at the factory to help with further development and design work.
As we have said, this weekend's race at Monza is very demanding on the engine, but adding to those demands is the fact that the engine that Rubens will use in the Italian GP must then completed the following weekend's Belgian event. It will be different for Michael: after he failed to set a qualifying time in Turkey, thus starting at the back of the grid, the team decided to change the engine in his F2005, which would normally mean that this same engine will be used in Monza.
"At both these circuits, engines spend a long time flat out at full throttle at very high revs," confirms Fraboni. "Therefore they are the hardest tracks. However, Spa is located at relatively high altitude, so the atmospheric pressure is lower and this makes it kinder on the engines. We prepare for these races in a specific way, doing long runs on the engine test bed before going to the track."
"We have also done long runs at the Monza circuit itself during testing, so we have a full set of data from the track as well and from these we can plan a specific series of strategies for this type of circuit in terms of fuel carburetion and also the revs. Obviously Monza is a very important track for us and we will have a new step on the engine for Monza, which will be the last evolution for this year."
Even with all the modern technology, driver feedback is still a vital weapon in the armoury and Fraboni and his colleagues have the advantage of working with a seven times world champion. "Michael is very precise and therefore those of us who work with him have to live up to his expectations," says the engineer. "We must pay great attention to everything, presenting a complete rundown of all the data and obviously this makes the work very enjoyable."
"From a professional point of view it is very stimulating, as we look at every aspect of engine together. On the human side it is exceptional because he is very good to work with and in all situations we have a great personal relationship. He is never stressed which is marvellous. He is a winner on the track, but he also has a winning personality. We can tell from what he asks that his understanding of what the engine does is very good."
"There are many things that can be changed on an engine during a race, using three or four buttons. During the race Michael is already changing these parameters even before we have asked him to make any changes. He feels when a change might be necessary. For example, as the tyres degrade the engine characteristics can be changed to improve driveability or there might be other changes that can be made that are specific to individual corners."
Of course, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro runs two cars in every grand prix and although Fraboni's work is centred on Schumacher's car, he also knows exactly what is happening in the Barrichello camp. "Just as the chassis engineers swap information between the two cars, so too do the engine engineers," he confirms. "The engine group is very united and all the information from both cars is centralised. If we find anything on one car that is good we put it immediately on the other car. The only exception to this rule concerns changes that are specifically related a driver's own style of driving."