Spanish GP - Now the season really begins In the past, when the Formula 1 calendar reached its first European event of the season, phrases such, "now the season really starts" and "this is where the title is decided" were commonplace.
Spanish GP - Now the season really begins
In the past, when the Formula 1 calendar reached its first European event of the season, phrases such, "now the season really starts" and "this is where the title is decided" were commonplace. However, these days, as in every world class sport, there is no time to relax, no warm-up period and no time for complacency. Therefore, although finally wiping the zero off the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro scoreboard, thanks to Kimi Raikkonen's sixth place in Bahrain, was an encouraging morale booster for the team, it by no means diminishes the huge task facing the Scuderia and those others whose early season performance did not live up to expectations.
At the Catalunya circuit this weekend, the Ferrari F60 will be fitted with a new aero package that was always scheduled to debut at the Spanish Grand Prix: it features new bodywork, with modifications to front and rear wings among other elements. In addition to the scheduled updates, the Barcelona package also includes some extra changes, originally scheduled for the Turkish and British events, but now brought forward. Of course, the most obvious aspect of the new package and the one that was not part of the original plans is the new diffuser. It is only a first attempt at designing a part that was not part of the initial design, but is now a required element following the new clarification of the rules governing this component, which emerged as a result of the pre-China GP Court of Appeal hearing and judgement. The new diffuser has only been on the car since last week, when it was tested on Saturday in Vairano, as part of the allowed aero test days, with Marc Gene at the wheel. Initial results inevitably show that the car now produces more downforce and will be quicker than in the early part of the season. How much quicker this will make the F60 when compared to the opposition that has been using this component for a while and those who, like Ferrari, are introducing it in Spain, is hard to say. The first indications will only come during Friday's free practice sessions when all teams run on the same track at the same time. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that, thanks to the new rules, this is the first major development on the car that has been carried out without the benefit of track testing.
Accommodating the new rear diffuser has been a complex task. The engineers have had to redesign much of the electronics and hydraulics systems at the rear end of the car, in order to relocate components to make way for the new diffuser. This redesign has been a more complicated procedure than designing, producing and fitting the diffuser itself.
In addition to these performance related modifications, a new chassis (number 279) will be used in Barcelona by Kimi Raikkonen. It is lighter than the existing chassis and the reason only Raikkonen will use it is that clearly, his natural physique and height means he weighs more than Felipe Massa and therefore it is more of a challenge to accommodate the additional weight of the KERS system on his car. This was part of a planned programme which began at the end of 2008. Making the chassis lighter has in no way compromised the safety aspect and indeed, the new chassis was put through a crash test, which it passed. And on the subject of KERS, this will be used again in Spain, after much work has been carried out on the reliability of the system since the last race. With temperatures expected to be much cooler than the extreme conditions experienced in Bahrain, it is hoped that reliability will not be a concern.
The Spanish Grand Prix takes place on the first circuit on the calendar where teams had a chance to test their cars over the winter. In the March tests, the Ferrari F60 was quite competitive, if one rules out the times of the team currently leading the series. However, the cars have evolved so much in the past few weeks that the test results should not be regarded as a clear indication of the current pecking order. The Circuit de Catalunya is regarded as the best track for evaluating aerodynamic performance and it is a truism that a car which performs well here will usually perform equally well at the majority of circuits. It is unlikely that there will be much overtaking during the race, once again emphasising the importance of Qualifying. As for KERS, this should be an advantage here for the F60, built to run with the energy system as an intrinsic part of its design, which means that, as was evident in back to back tests during practice in Bahrain, the F60 gains virtually no advantage in terms of car balance, when running without it. KERS can be a significant driver aid at the race start here, as the main straight is very long.
The team itself continues to work hard, aware it is having to play "catch-up" to the teams currently at the top of the points table. The Scuderia does not regard this fifth round of the championship as a make or break Grand Prix and even if the Barcelona race does not bring home a big points score, everyone including the drivers will be giving the European part of the season maximum concentration and effort.