Two weeks on from the street circuit of Monaco, the F1 circus now tackles another semi-permanent venue in the shape of the Gilles Villeneuve circuit just outside the city of Montreal. What kind of performance can one expect from the Ferrari 150° Italia in the hands of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa?
A difficult question in Formula 1’s current climate given that, aside from the fact one team is dominating the championship, the racing in general has been unpredictable over the first six events. Unpredictable is definitely the right word, when one considers that in the week that separated the Monaco Grand Prix from the previous race in Barcelona, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro car went from being lapped in Spain to just one second behind the winner in the Principality.
According to Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro’s Chassis Director, Pat Fry, this year car performance is very much track specific and also dependent on tyre choice. “Barcelona is a very challenging track, where downforce and car balance are key, and you need to develop good tyre temperature especially on the hard tyre. We have worked a lot on this factor and got a good understanding of it now and are working on fixing it for other circuits where this will be necessary. On the other hand, Monaco is a very unique track where you also need a lot of downforce, with the key difference being that car efficiency is not so important and also the driver does not need to attack on corner entry so much.
Therefore the 150° Italia went well there, because our engineers did a good job, getting on top of car balance. In qualifying we struggled a bit and although we had a good pace in the race, of course it would have been better if we had started further up the grid, because Monaco can be a procession where you struggle if you are not right at the front. Having the Soft and Supersoft tyre also helped our performance.”
Switching his attention to this coming weekend, Fry expects Montreal to present another interesting challenge. “The Canadian race can be a bit like Monaco in that it’s all about traction and braking, although brakes come under far more stress here,” he affirms. “Traction and how the car uses the tyres at corner exit will be the key to the life of the rear tyres. I expect we will have slightly less concerns about tyre wear than last year as the Soft and Supersoft compounds are now a little bit harder.
Brake performance is heavily linked to the aerodynamics (because the smaller the cooling ducts, the better the aero efficiency of the car) and so we always try and run the brakes very hot as this means you get more performance out of the rest of the car. Montreal is an extreme track on a par with Singapore in terms of being the hardest on brakes, so in the factory we run the brakes on special dynos in order to tune the cooling levels required, to see how much margin we have and how extreme we can afford to be.”
Apart from fine tuning the 150° Italia to suit the specific needs of the unusual Montreal track, Fry revealed there will also be a few updates coming for this weekend. “There is always a steady stream of updates coming through and this time we will have a few changes to the diffuser and rear wing, which will bring a reasonable performance step if everything goes to plan. Hopefully we are still closing the gap to those ahead of us, allowing for the fact that others are working too.”
There is always a steady stream of updates coming through
Apart from the actual car side of his job, Fry has also had to adjust to his new responsibilities following a restructuring of the technical department just prior to the Monaco weekend. “I’m a little bit busier than I was, which I did not think was possible!” quipped the Englishman. “It’s a great challenge, there are a lot of talented people here working very hard and if we can all come together to work out a sensible short term and long term plan, hopefully we can move forward very quickly.”
If the Gilles Villeneuve track is known to be hard on brakes, it also has a reputation for giving the F1 engines a tough workout. True, but also false according to Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro’s Head of Engine and Electronics, Luca Marmorini. “Engine performance and also fuel consumption have been concerns here in the past,” he confirms. “However, these factors are not as significant as they are at Monza or Spa. It is more like Malaysia and Brazil, in terms of load on the engine and similar to Barcelona as far as how long the engine has to be on full throttle. In terms of fuel consumption, although it is high, the concern actually dates back to the time when refuelling was allowed, when it was very important to be able to run the race making just one pit stop as late as possible in the race, which in turn required a large fuel tank. Now that refuelling is banned, this is less critical.”
Marmorini and his crew have plenty to work on this season, including the return of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System. “KERS is very important and good useage can give you an advantage of say 0.4 seconds per lap,” he says. “But when it comes to overtaking, it does not increase a driver’s chances that much. Even a boost of 80 horsepower for around six seconds does not give you so much more of a chance to overtake a car ahead of you. But the combination of KERS and the DRS works well for overtaking.
This year, KERS has also been very effective in preventing overtaking moves: we have seen drivers who make clever use of KERS being able to defend themselves from passing moves.” The other challenge for all F1 engine specialists is the fact each driver still only has eight engines to use for the entire season. “I think today every F1 engine has been designed to complete at least three races, even if individual strategies might see a power unit used for only two or as many as four Grands Prix,” explains Marmorini. “With the Ferrari engine, the drop in terms of performance from the first race to the third is very low, which is partly down to the work we have done with our partner Shell in terms of fuel and lubricant development.
The driver will not usually feel any difference by race 3. However, engines also have to last for the following grands prix in free practice and we work on reducing engine loads in this situation so that the engine can complete around 2000 kilometres and, therefore, only during free practice sessions, the driver will actually feel some performance difference.”
On Friday morning when free practice begins in Montreal, the drivers are usually more concerned with the lack of grip from the “green” and dirty track surface, which evolves throughout the weekend. On eleven occasions a Prancing Horse has been first past the post in Canada, the earliest victory dating back to 1970 when Jacky Ickx won, on one of only two occasions that the race was held in the ski resort of Mont Tremblant. The race that cemented Canada’s love of Formula 1, especially in Quebec, came here in Montreal when, in 1978, at the wheel of the Ferrari 312 T3, local boy Gilles Villeneuve won the first ever Grand Prix to be held on the Ile Notre Dame circuit that would eventually be named after him.
Another popular victory in this French speaking part of North America came in 1995 when Ferrari’s Jean Alesi took his one and only Grand Prix win, while, almost inevitably, the most successful driver in Montreal is Michael Schumacher, seven times victorious, on all but one occasion with the Scuderia. Indeed, his 2004 win was the last time a Maranello driver stood on the top step of the Canadian podium, although Fernando Alonso was victorious with another team in 2006, having started from pole. Last year, the Spaniard also made it onto the podium in third place. As for Felipe Massa, the Brazilian’s best Canadian result is a fourth place dating back to 2005.
There has always been plenty of support for Ferrari in Montreal, a city with a European feel and a large Italian community and this weekend, the Canadian tifosi will have plenty of Ferraris to cheer and admire, because apart from Fernando and Felipe in their 150° Italias, there will be full grids for races in the North American series of the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli, the very successful one-make series. At the same time as the Scuderia will be tackling the seventh round of the Formula 1 World Championship, across the Atlantic, a host of Ferraris will be lining up to tackle the most prestigious endurance racing event in the world, the Le Mans 24 Hours, proving that Ferrari is truly committed to motor sport at all levels, from amateur gentleman drivers to the pinnacle of Grand Prix racing.