Pat Fry previews Malaysian Grand Prix
The first round of the Formula 1 World Championship was supposed to have answered many of the questions thrown up by winter testing, however the race in Melbourne over a week ago probably left many of them unanswered: this was partly due to the untypical cold conditions encountered in south east Australia and partly because the Albert Park circuit is a strange mix of street and permanent venue which does not provide the best test bench for the cars.
These anomalies have therefore made even more complicated the work of the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro engineers in preparing for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, as Deputy Technical Director Pat Fry explained. “After the opening round in Australia, we have spent a lot of time analysing all the data acquired in Melbourne and one clear fact is that our race pace there was definitely better than the one we had in qualifying,” stated the Englishman.
“Much of that was down to how our car uses its tyres, so a major part of the analysis has focussed on looking at our one lap performance, when compared to long run performance in the race. In addition, we have looked at that other important factor, aerodynamics, to see in which areas we can unlock more of the car’s potential. The results of all these studies have provided us with the basis of a test programme which we will be working through in Malaysia.”
As for the much talked about moveable rear wing, or Drag Reduction System, Fry believes it is an interesting development for the sport, although its benefits are not yet fully clear. “After testing through the winter, most of the teams are all closing in on a similar level of drag reduction so the increase in speed provided by the system is delivering between 20 and 25 kilometres per hour,” he said.
“I think it has made overtaking slightly easier, particularly when you are stuck in traffic, trying to get past backmarkers, but as we saw on the main straight in Melbourne, it is still difficult to overtake cars with a similar overall performance level to your own. You need to be somewhere in the order of three tenths of a second behind another car going into the final corner before the DRS zone, to stand a chance of pulling alongside them by the end of the start-finish straight.”
It is another very useful addition to your lap time performance
KERS, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, was already used to good effect by the Scuderia back in 2009, but this time round, the majority of teams have adopted the technology, which changes its strategic use during a race. “It is another very useful addition to your lap time performance and its use seems to vary from team to team,” confirms Fry. “Some are using it just in qualifying and at the start of the race, while others are using it properly all the time.
It does help with overtaking, as you can use KERS to close the gap to the car in front and then the DRS to go further still. It becomes a tactical game between two cars, with the car that is behind using both aids to try and overtake, while the car in front can only use the KERS to try and pull out a gap early on going down the straight. It is interesting, but I feel it is good that it has not made overtaking too easy, even if the slight increase in passing chances has improved the show and the tyre situation has also made it more exciting. We are seeing the necessity for more pit stops, so the race result is not as clear cut as early on in a race as it was in 2010.”
There is no doubt that the biggest technical change concerns the switch to Pirelli tyres and after a winter of predicting the need for many pit stops to complete a race distance, again Melbourne did not provide a clear answer, possibly because of the cool conditions. “It meant that many people, ourselves included, were struggling a bit with the tyres especially in qualifying, as we tried to get the most out of them, particularly the hard tyre on a single lap,” confirmed Fry.
“I think the situation in Malaysia will be very interesting, as we can expect a 35 degree ambient temperature and a 50 degree track temperature, much higher figures than in Australia. Pirelli has told us that, as the circuit gets hotter, the performance difference between the two types of dry tyre will get smaller, but we have no experience yet of running in these temperatures. Finding out more about how the tyres work in these conditions on short and long runs will be a key element of Friday’s track programme in Sepang.”
A two week break between races might not seem long enough for much to have changed on the cars, but modern Formula 1 is all about constant technical development, so once the track is open for business on Friday morning, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro engineers will start dealing with a very long job sheet. “After analysing qualifying and race data from Melbourne, there are already things we plan to change and improve for Malaysia,” revealed Fry.
“These will be added in to an already busy pre-planned test programme with further aerodynamic updates that were always planned for this race. But we have also added a further three or four test items and probably there will be even more new parts to test arriving in the few days between the Malaysia and China races. It’s a case of constant development throughout the season.”
Your car must have a sensible amount of cooling because of the high temperatures
Any testing of new components at the Sepang circuit has to take into account the unique weather conditions, featuring high temperatures and humidity that characterise this venue. “The most obvious requirement is that your car must have a sensible amount of cooling because of the high temperatures,” explained Fry.
“But you do not want a situation where you achieve this by opening apertures in the bodywork, which although effective in cooling the car mean you lose a lot of downforce. Therefore, you need a car that cools well and has a reasonable amount of downforce, particularly to deal with the high speed combination of corners at the start of Sector 2. Another important factor is keeping an eye on when the rain showers are due to arrive: normally it is late afternoon, just in time to make qualifying or the race more exciting!”