French GP: Ferrari preview

At the start of Friday practice for the French Grand Prix, Ferrari Managing Director Jean Todt will walk across from the garage to take his usual position on the pit wall, twelve years to the day after doing it for the first time ever, when his ...

At the start of Friday practice for the French Grand Prix, Ferrari Managing Director Jean Todt will walk across from the garage to take his usual position on the pit wall, twelve years to the day after doing it for the first time ever, when his first working day in charge of the Gestione Sportiva coincided with this same event.

He joined the Prancing Horse after a successful career with the Lion-badged Peugeot Sport company and a year later another Frenchman took the same path -- , Gilles Simon. Today, the man who hails from near Paris, is Director Research and Development, Engines for the Scuderia and will follow the French Grand Prix on television and via data links back in Maranello.

"Magny-Cours is a circuit that has one unusual characteristic as far as engines are concerned and that is a very low speed corner after a long straight," says Simon. "It can be quite problematic for oil pressure. One arrives at the corner with the engine using all its power and the oil temperature rises a lot. Then the driver lifts off the throttle for the corner and, at this point, oil pressure drops suddenly and oil temperature increases still further. In the past we lost an engine here because of that problem."

Events in the United States a fortnight ago add a further concern for the Scuderia's engine men. "Magny Cours follows on from Indianapolis which is one of the toughest circuits on engines and ours have already done around 600 kilometres on a very tough track," continues Simon. "Our rivals, who did not complete the last race will therefore be able to adopt a more aggressive plan in terms of distance covered by the engines and engine revs at Magny Cours. I would class it as a tiny advantage for them as our engines will be on their second race."

The step of making an F1 engine last for two entire race weekends instead of just one, as was the case in 2004 has been one of the biggest challenges facing all the teams this year. "It was certainly a bigger change," maintains Simon. "The first move to a one weekend engine was less of a strain, because our engine was already able to do around 400 kilometres to be safe for a race and then it had to manage around 700."

"But the 300 additional kilometres were kilometres of free practice which meant we could lower power and revs for those sessions and run at lower temperatures to safeguard the engine. We had a few problems nevertheless but we were able to resolve them. The move to two race weekends meant doing twice the more difficult 400 kilometres of a race. It presented us with really difficult challenges to surmount. But it was a very interesting task."

However, come 2006, the three litre V10 engine will become a museum piece, as the rules change yet again. "Our 055 engine had its first evolution for Indianapolis, but the fact we are now working on a 2.4 litre V8 engine for next season has slightly limited development work on the current V10," admits Simon. "Today we are still working on small modifications which might be used around the time of the Italian Grand Prix in September."

For many years, the V12 was Ferrari's "signature" engine and currently the rules only allow a V10 configuration, so a move to a V8 might be seen as a retrograde step in technology terms. Simon disagrees: "The new generation of V8 is very small, very compact but still very complex. No one in our engine department had any experience of working with a V8 racing engine."

"So it was a very interesting technical challenge to understand the problem of dynamics of a V8 at racing revs. We were very surprised by the behaviour of a V8 engine at very high revs. No one had explored the area of the 18-19 000 rpm range with a V8 and we are seeing some very interesting results.

"In the past, when V8s were used in F1, the technology did not exist to make them run at such high speeds. The V8s which we and our rivals are preparing are really true F1 engines. And I have to say that the noise it makes is not so different to a V10. It will sound nothing like the old V8s. A V8 naturally vibrates a lot more."

"The people who pioneered the old V8 found its vibrations would knock everything apart and it was very uncomfortable to drive for the driver. I think we will find similar problems, but there will be some differences, because we will be going much quicker and the levels of vibration transmitted to the chassis are likely to be 30% higher than those of the old V8."

This phenomenon will impact on electronics and hydraulics and all components that are rigidly attached to the engine. "It will involve a lot of work once the new engine first runs in a car," agrees Simon. "We will analyse everything and react accordingly. It will be important and interesting work as these are by no means simple problems to resolve."

It has been suggested that current engine restrictions and the downsizing to a 2.4 litre power unit next year means the engine is no longer such an important component in Formula 1. Again, this is not a view shared by Simon. "The compromise between engine, aero and chassis performance is always measured in terms of lap time. I believe the engine is still important especially in F1, although maybe no longer just in terms of pure power."

"When you have a balanced car, it means that some choices have been made correctly in terms of the position of the engine, its compactness, low weight, integration with the chassis and rigidity and this is part of the very important work carried out by our engine department. I am actually pleasantly surprised at how much interest has been generated at the thought of a 2.4 litre engine. The engines will be very small and will seem like miniatures compared to those from the past. It is a very compact engine and a lovely piece of engineering."

The French Grand Prix does not hold that many memories for Simon. "F1 has been an interest of mine since I was a child, but even then, I felt the French GP lacked some of the appeal of the famous circuits such as Monaco, Spa and Monza," he confesses. For the first time since 1966 there will not be a single French driver on the grid for the home race, however there is still a strong Gallic influence in the paddock and not just in the Renault team.

"There are many French engineers scattered around the F1 paddock with a variety of teams," insists Simon. "There are some at Ferrari and also in the English teams and one of our rivals has an aerodynamics group which is almost entirely French! It is a technical sport and France has good technology. And let us not forget Mr. Todt either, who has raised the profile of Formula 1 in France."


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Series Formula 1
Drivers Jean Todt
Teams Ferrari