Expecting a tough fight Maranello, 22nd April 2008 - In theory, Formula 1 has enjoyed a long three week break since Felipe Massa took his F2008 to victory in Bahrain. In practice, it has been a busy time both on track and in Maranello: back...
Expecting a tough fight
Maranello, 22nd April 2008 - In theory, Formula 1 has enjoyed a long three week break since Felipe Massa took his F2008 to victory in Bahrain. In practice, it has been a busy time both on track and in Maranello: back at the factory, all the data acquired at the first three races of the season has been carefully analysed, while the Vairano facility was the scene of an aero test. The aforementioned Massa, along with Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen all took part in a four day test at the Catalunya circuit, which hosts this weekend's fourth round of the World Championship.
Although it is Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's stated aim to introduce small improvements to the car at every round of the championship, the changes which will make their race debut in Barcelona can be described as a new aerodynamic package and the most visible element of change is the slotted nose. Media reaction to this component has met with much amusement within the factory as tales of an investigation into how the press found about this part are very wide of the mark. News of the slotted nose design has been around since last December and the team never denied the rumours that something unusual in the design sense might be on the agenda at some point in the season. The idea that this nose is Ferrari's championship winning "secret weapon" is also an exaggeration. "The influence on car performance of the slotted nose has been greatly over emphasised," says Chief Designer Nikolas Tombazis. "You cannot measure the effect of one component in isolation and the nose is just one part of a bigger package and in fact, its effect is not that big. Overall, we expect the new aero package to produce some improvement in performance, but it would be wrong to call it a race winning item." However, the nose itself is of interest for purely technical reasons. "The main challenge with this part was its design and manufacture," continues Tombazis, "as we effectively had a part which, by virtue of the slot, has less carbon fibre, less material and yet still had to conform to all the usual FIA crash tests, which it passed successfully. This was a big challenge for the people involved in producing it."
As to the actual purpose of the slot in the nose, the simplest explanation is that it improves air flow around the floor of the car. With a conventional nose, air remains trapped at that point under the floor of the car, whereas the slotted nose allows some of this air to escape, thus allowing the floor to perform more efficiently.
Last week's Barcelona test was focussed on three key points: development of the car, specific preparation for the Spanish Grand Prix and overall reliability. In general, the results of the test were positive. Felipe Massa had two productive days, declaring himself happy with the balance of the car. Running on the final day, Kimi Raikkonen had less time at the wheel, as the day was rain affected. He only managed one dry run, but was also pleased with the work carried out by the team. On the Wednesday, that well known motorcycle racer Michael Schumacher got behind the wheel to evaluate three different types of experimental Bridgestone tyres, aimed at the 2009 regulations and the return to slicks. The F2008 had been modified with the removal of aerodynamic appendages such as winglets and turning vanes, in order to replicate as closely as possible the downforce levels that will be the norm in 2009. Apart from altering the downforce levels to test these tyres, they were also tested with and without the benefit of having been pre-heated in tyre blankets.
The race in Barcelona signals the start of what the F1 community still refers to as "the European season," although with the Spanish event followed by a round in the Asian side of Istanbul and Canada just two races after that, the European season would seem to be more of a nostalgic name than a realistic one. However, Spain does signal the return of the colours and spectacle of the team trucks and motorhomes and on this front, there is nothing new to report in the Ferrari camp. Before the world championship circus sets up camp at the Catalunya track, the quieter environment of Fiorano will be the scene this Wednesday for the final shakedown of the two F2008s that Felipe and Kimi will use this weekend and, as usual, that task will be carried out by the Scuderia's official test driver, Luca Badoer.
"We come to Spain with every reason to be optimistic, after wins in Malaysia and Bahrain," says Stefano Domenicali. "Testing here went well and we hope to keep our momentum moving forward. However, our rivals have not been twiddling their thumbs either, so we can expect a tough fight which we will tackle as usual with maximum concentration at every stage of the weekend."
Last year, Felipe Massa was the winner in Spain, setting the foundation for victory by taking pole and then fighting off a very strong challenge from Alonso through the first two corners. Kimi Raikkonen was lying third when, on lap 9, an alternator problem saw him retire, resulting in one of just two zero points finishes in his Ferrari career.