Following Michael Schumacher's fourth win of the season in Spain, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team had worked hard testing last week in a bid to ensure their best chances of a fifth victory in the sixth round of the Championship in Austria, May...
Following Michael Schumacher's fourth win of the season in Spain, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team had worked hard testing last week in a bid to ensure their best chances of a fifth victory in the sixth round of the Championship in Austria, May 12th.
The A1-Ring circuit is a fast track, which presents a tough challenge for the team's engineers. "The general aspect of the track means a medium to low down-force aerodynamic set-up combined with a low grip, smooth surface, that offers less grip under heavy braking for what is one of the toughest tracks of the year on the brakes," explains Ross Brawn.
The smooth surface means that tyre wear is not a problem in Austria and the cars will be using one of the softest tyre compounds of the season. "Unfortunately, we cannot test at the track before the race and there is no other circuit which has a similar surface, so we have to project what we are going to need for the race, something which is not as difficult as it is for somewhere like Monaco," explains Ross.
With the two main overtaking points being the first corner after the pit straight and another slow corner at the end of the following straight (where Schumacher was pushed off by Montoya last year) it is very important to have a good straight line speed to be in a position to overtake. "It can mean a compromise on the best set-up for the corners to ensure that we have the straight line speed, while the qualifying position also makes a difference to the way we set up the car for the race," points out Ross.
Friday is usually spent working on brake wear and temperature checks with a heavy fuel load as trying different tyre choices. It is not until Saturday morning that the drivers begin to look for the ultimate performance for qualifying, by which time the track conditions are also improving as the rubber goes down.
"Although we do not have the chance to test before the race, the cars are pretty well set up when they arrive at the track thanks to our race simulation program before the race. We can project the speeds and what aerodynamic load that will be produced on the cars and from that we know how to set up the ride height and which way to develop the mechanical set-up of the car."
"The new car has many of the characteristics of the old car, so we can draw on a lot of existing data from the 2001 car as a base line and combine it with the growing data bank we are building from the new car. Normally the program is now so well sorted that we need to make only minor changes like one stop up or down on the aero set-up throughout a race weekend as the track conditions vary," reveals Brawn.
There are separate set-up programs for both qualifying and the race based on different fuel loads and different performance needs. "The amount of fuel carried in the car has the biggest effect on performance and the time lost per lap with each 10 kilos of fuel carried is easy to calculate for the best performance in qualifying and the race. All that is also fed into the computer to evaluate the best race strategy from a lap time aspect, although that strategy can change in the race for a lot of reasons and which cannot be predicted before hand, like the weather or traffic."
The Austrian Grand Prix, normally run in August, can sometimes present temperature worries with the car's systems, particularly the oil, but that's something that is unlikely to be a factor in early May. "The cars are designed for an average temperature throughout the season of around 25 degrees, but anything up to 30 degrees is not really to much of a problem," explains Ross. "Anything above that and we have to start making additional cooling arrangements for the race as was the case Malaysia this year.