After Rubens Barrichello and then Michael Schumacher had their first drives in the F2005 at Mugello last week, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro took the decision to bring two of the new cars to this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix. While each driver will...
After Rubens Barrichello and then Michael Schumacher had their first drives in the F2005 at Mugello last week, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro took the decision to bring two of the new cars to this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix. While each driver will have an F2005 as a race car, the spare will be one of the F2004 M, used in the season's first two races.
It is not just the drivers who have to adapt to dealing with a new car. The mechanics, for whom working on the F2004 became second nature last season, now have to adapt to the differences of the new single seater.
In order to make the transition as easy as possible, the race team mechanics were responsible for the initial F2005 build programme, which was planned to give them experience with the car and they were involved in the first assembly up until the moment of its first shakedown test at Fiorano. This ensured they know the base points of the car, although certain items have changed since then.
"For Malaysia, we actually left two members of the race team at home and brought two of the test team here," explained Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's Race and Test Technical Manager Nigel Stepney. "This gives the test guys experience of working at a race which will be useful if we need some extra people in the future and also gives the race team people some extra experience with the new car."
"The chief mechanic from the race team attended several early tests with F2005 so that he has a good working knowledge of the car. Therefore, now that we are introducing the new car there will be less surprises."
Input from the mechanics goes all the way back to the car's design stage. "Items on the old car that maybe gave us some problems or were difficult to work on are immediately modified for the new car and that is already happening from the 2005 car to the one for 2006 so it is a continuous process of evolution," reveals Stepney.
"Obviously the mechanics would like their working life to be as easy as possible, but of course you have to take performance into consideration and the philosophy and design of the cars. F1 machines are not the easiest cars to work on The main thing when you assemble a car for the first time is to try and pick up as many problems as possible as early as possible."
"Over the past years we have been very meticulous in this area and that pays off, because the F2005 was able to run for 300 kms on its first day of testing. It is very satisfying for the people involved not just in the race team but in all departments as it shows how we have improved procedures, technology and the way we work."
"Nowadays with CAD CAM design technology, the car is built on a computer in 3D and you can see the fitting problems straight away and the design office actually draws up any special tools needed to get to awkward fixings or nuts and bolts, for example around the exhausts."
The hardest area on any car to work on is the fuel system because of its complexity within the fuel cell. "But these days, we do very little repair work at the track," says Stepney. "We tend to operate by changing entire assemblies as this is quicker. All the components are so enclosed these days."
"For example, you can't change the spark plugs without taking the floor and the exhausts off, because of the design concept of the car. Essentially, there is no point compromising performance to make the car easier to work on."
Apart from the challenge of working with the new car, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, along with all the other teams, will also have to deal with one feature unique to the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain: the sand, which attacks every component on the car, including the engine.
"Last year, for the first Bahrain race, we saw a lot of stone damage to parts such as turning vanes and the leading edge of the floor where the stones get thrown up by the wheels," recalls Stepney. "It was wearing away the carbon. Last year, we made modifications to make the car more robust and this year they were incorporated in the design stage."
"Last year, we reacted very well in Bahrain and we won because we were the better prepared team in those conditions. We ended up working through the night on Friday, because with the parc ferme rules we could not have done anything on Saturday night. It involved the whole team, from the tyre men to the engine and gearbox guys working together, modifying brake ducts and repairing floors."
"It is one of our advantages that we have a group of people that can all work together. When they finish on the engine and gearbox they could help us with these extra tasks. We put stone guards on the radiator exits, because the rear tyres were throwing up stones onto the back face of the radiators and the small sand particles were damaging the radiator cores."
The combination of introducing the new car and preparing for the difficult track conditions in Bahrain, will present the Scuderia with a heavy workload. But Stepney is convinced the team can take it all in its stride. "Nobody is panicking and everyone will be working as methodically as ever, because at Ferrari, we know the importance of being strong as a group."