Whatever the situation in the Drivers' and Constructors' championships, it is clear that Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro is still as keen as ever to win races and although his rivals often comment on Michael Schumacher's seemingly endless enthusiasm for...
Whatever the situation in the Drivers' and Constructors' championships, it is clear that Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro is still as keen as ever to win races and although his rivals often comment on Michael Schumacher's seemingly endless enthusiasm for victory, the fact that this weekend is the reigning world champion's home race, adds some extra spice to his weekend.
Michael can count on the full support of the entire team, particularly those members directly involved in his car. The most obvious point of contact between driver and team is his race engineer, however, as the amount of telemetric data available has grown over the years, the driver and race engineer now work with a vehicle engineer, who is one step removed from the action in the pit garage, as it is his job to analyse all the data coming off the car. In Schumacher's case that role falls to Andrea Stella.
"My job and that of the race engineer are complementary," he says. "While the race engineer lives in the garage or on the pit wall, I am glued to the computer screens studying the telemetry data to understand how the car is performing, what are the handling issues, the braking performance and the traction of the car. Having studied all the data, I then have to correlate it with our driver's comments."
"It is a two way communication between me and the driver. Together we try and assess the overall situation with the car, looking to find areas where we have to improve the set-up, both mechanical and aerodynamic. Another important part of my job is to set up the traction control and engine braking and the differential, which are the "active" systems that we have running in the car."
Based on this analysis, Stella then discusses his findings along with Michael's race engineer, Chris Dyer. "It is a team job and Michael is very open to suggestions and to discussion," maintains Stella. "Most of our solutions come from discussion within the team and that is a very enjoyable way of working." The fact that Schumacher has a fearsome reputation for getting involved in every last detail of car set-up and performance is an added plus for Stella and his team.
"Michael has a very good understanding of the car and this makes our life much easier in a way, because he can give you not only the feeling he has from actually driving the car, but also the feeling on which direction we should go in terms of setting up the car. In fact, I think he could almost engineer his own car!"
For Hockenheim, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro will be introducing a new aerodynamic package for the German Grand Prix. "This proves that Ferrari is still pushing with the development programme on the F2005 and we have certainly not given up," maintains Stella. "For every race we usually have something new because we are still fighting to win, whatever the current situation in the championships."
"In this situation, when we have new components, I have seen all the data produced from testing with them. We have a lot of very specialised engineers to look after specific areas on the car, while my job is more related to the overall car-tyre-performance package."
So, from behind the telemetry screens, what will the Hockenheim track serve up for the Ferrari engineers? "In a way the old Hockenheim, with its very long straights, was more challenging technically, but the current circuit also has its own interesting points," begins Stella. "To get a good lap time here, you need good braking, good traction and cars that possess these characteristics will perform very well. There is an overtaking opportunity, at the hairpin, so this makes the racing interesting here.
"The track surface gets very hot, which makes life tough for the tyres. This is a constraint that prevents us running a tyre that is softer, which ideally is what you want for good braking and traction. The Stadium area is still very interesting for the drivers and also for spectators. The set-up you now use for the complex is actually similar to the rest of the track, whereas in the past, you had to face the big challenge of getting the cars to work in the Stadium with the very low downforce you had to adopt for the long straights.
I like the last two corners, which is effectively one long corner, as it is very important for a good lap time. The drivers never seem to tackle it the same way lap after lap. In some corners, drivers take an identical approach for every lap. With Michael, it is definitely different each time as he has a tendency to improve every lap, which is one of his trademarks, improving all the time, getting nearer and nearer to the limits of the car."
All drivers are keen to shine at their home race and Stella reckons Schumacher will be no exception to the rule this weekend. "This is the third year I have worked on Michael's car, having started at Monza in 2002. I think for sure, he wants to do very well in Hockenheim, because it is his home race and also, because he still wants to win every race he enters. One can also consider that, earlier this year, he did not have a good race at the Nurburgring and he would like to make up for that."
Whether or not Schumacher feels any additional pressure at his home grand prix, Stella is looking forward to another weekend working with his driver. "Working with Michael is always a pleasure, because not only does he have a good understanding of what the car is doing, but also he can give you feedback while driving round the track," claims Stella.
"He can talk you round a lap in great detail as to what the car is doing, but the lap time will be no different to when he drives a lap in silence. I have the impression that while most drivers need nearly all their brainpower to drive the car and can only use a tiny percentage to analyse what the car is doing, Michael can perform at his maximum using only 50% of his brain, leaving the other 50 to think about what the car is doing and to analyse it."