Formula One - On And Off Track Week 29

Formula One - On And Off Track Week 29

Briefly: By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • The off-throttle diffuser, the race is on
  • Ferrari not resting on their laurels
  • Webber, Ricciardo, Perez and Massa

The off-throttle diffuser, the race is on

After an eventful weekend at Silverstone the ban of the off-throttle blown diffuser has been undone again, albeit teams are no longer allowed to change engine mappings between qualifying and the race. For some teams a relief, as they have partly build their car around the blown diffuser, for other teams a pain in the neck, because they now will have to develop and build their version of the nifty device to keep up with the rest.

The race is on to make the most of the off-throttle blown diffuser
The race is on to make the most of the off-throttle blown diffuser

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A quick round through the Formula One field reveals what teams are planning for the remainder of the season. Red Bull is of course relieved they can keep using their system, a system that blows the hot exhaust gasses from the back of the car into the diffuser. Which is the opposite of what Lotus Renault does, they surprised all teams with their radical solution to lead the exhaust pipes to the front of the side pods, and the exhaust gases are led into the diffuser from the front. But the team is not really happy with their setup, and have plans to change it.

Team principal Eric Boullier revealed the team will now test a different, Red Bull-like exhaust concept during free practice next week at the Nurburgring. Lotus Renault have made an analysis of their recent performance and have decided to change their approach after they failed to make progress after a great start of the season. “We may now have to change a little bit the strategy because we cannot deliver, so that includes changing the exhaust configuration, which we are going to try in Germany now,” Boullier said.

Mercedes GP already used a new exhaust system at Silverstone, and were happy with the results. “The new exhaust system is quite encouraging because we are seeing greater levels of potential with the new system than we saw with the old system,” team principal Ross Brawn said. “We can see potential in the system, but more important we have things coming which will take more and more advantage of this technology and this approach.”

The new exhaust system is quite encouraging because we are seeing greater levels of potential

Ross Brawn

McLaren’s under par performance was contributed to the off-throttle ban, but McLaren has certainly not given up on their championship ambitions, and if one team is strong in developing new parts, it is McLaren. The British team had a bad season start, decided to radically change the setup of their car, and Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have both won a Grand Prix. According to team principal Martin Whitmarsh, the performance at Silverstone was a temporary ‘ blip’, and he is adamant McLaren will bounce back. “No one likes being second or third, and if you are fifth or sixth it is even more painful. We have to make sure we maintain our momentum, we have to make sure we know what we are doing as a team, and that we push forwards,” Whitmarsh said.

Williams also had a new exhaust configuration at Silverstone, and with the ban now lifted, can now freely develop and maximize the off-throttle diffuser. So far, like several other teams they have been reluctant to invest money in a system that will be banned next year, but with still ten race to go, a well working diffuser is simply a ‘must have.’ Williams has, like HRT, together with their engine supplier Cosworth, developed an exhaust blown diffuser and it is expected with the ban now lifted, the development will continue.

Force India also has an off-throttle system, but according to Adrian Sutil the team never managed to maximize the benefits of the system. “With the blown diffuser, we couldn't get out everything we planned and sometimes the numbers in the wind tunnel told us much better than what worked on the circuit, so it didn't translate really to the circuit,” the German said. Which means there is still a lot of work ahead for the Indian team.

A lot of work ahead for the teams
A lot of work ahead for the teams

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Both Ferrari and Sauber were in favor of the ban, but nevertheless Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali insisted disposing the ban was the one and only real solution for the sport. “This thing was not really good for anyone. We need to draw a line and look ahead or else where are we going? I don't agree with the process that was taken, but I think for the benefit of the sport, we took that action,” the Italian said.

Like we have seen in previous seasons with the double diffuser, the F-Duct and the blown rear wing, the development race is still on, there is much at stake, certainly for the top teams, the championship has still not been decided and every tenth of a second is precious, hence a flawlessly working off-throttle blown diffuser is still on top of the list, and teams have really no other choice then to join the development race.

Ferrari not resting on their laurels

The great win of Fernando Alonso at Silverstone has just come in time, as his Ferrari team was getting desperate and had run out of ideas as to how to beat the fast Red Bulls and the always opportunistic McLaren team, who are always in front to pick up the points when the others fail to do so. The British Grand Prix was important for Ferrari, and also the last chance to turn around the season in their advantage. In many ways it was now or never, and with a new aerodynamic package and the dogged determination of Alonso, it finally became now, and not never.

Or did Ferrari get a little help from above when Vettel’s most important pit stop went pear-shaped? “Honestly, today the race pace was good. Even without that mistake ... we could have won the race in any case. Today we were very strong,” Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali stated after the race. There was a little luck involved according to McLaren’s Whitmarsh. “I think it was a little bit lucky, to be honest, we aren't on the pace of Red Bull and nor are Ferrari at the moment,” the Briton said.

Ferrari celebrated their 216th win since 1950, and Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo was proud and relieved at the same time. “At last! Hearing the Italian national anthem being played at Silverstone, the same venue at which we won our first ever Formula One race, was something I found particularly emotional. This is Ferrari, a team that never stops fighting, never throws in the towel, at the top level for sixty years,” he declared after the race.

But the celebrations are now over, and Domenicali reckons there is still a lot of work ahead, “We were expecting an improvement, for sure. That it was so big, to be honest we need to be cautious, we need to understand the data, we need to understand what the others were doing. We need to bring home race-by-race the result, and try to understand because maybe it will be different for the next Grand Prix.”

Ferrari must keep their feet on the ground says Luca di Montezemolo
Ferrari must keep their feet on the ground says Luca di Montezemolo

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Montezemolo also praised all the team personnel after their Silverstone victory. “We managed to win and that is down to you and I want to thank you all for it,” he said. And continued, “You have done well and have shown, every single one of you, how to react at a difficult time. You did not lose heart and you managed to improve in all areas.”

But he also urged his team not to get carried away after this great win, and to keep both feet on the ground. “Now however, we must keep our feet on the ground, which is something we are used to, given that we know what it means to win.” From now on Ferrari should go back to ‘business as usual’, because as Montezemolo put it, “We must take another step forward, because we want to win again this year: to succeed in that, you must all try and do your best in your daily work, trying to achieve a personal pole position.”

Domenicali also warned Ferrari isn’t out of the woods yet, “We have got back on our feet thanks to you [the team], but there is still a long way to go.” And indeed, Ferrari and Alonso still have a long road ahead, Sebastian Vettel is 92 points ahead of Alonso and 80 points ahead of Mark Webber, which means Vettel can go on holiday until September 11, the weekend of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and he will still be leading the championship …

Webber, Ricciardo, Perez and Massa

Mark Webber was very critical of the team order given to him at Silverstone, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner pretended he was very surprised about the Australian’s attitude and hinted he should be more of a team player. Even Italian manager Flavio Briatore dropped his protégé and claimed he should just have done what his team asked him to do. “If you're playing for a world championship, you have to take decisions and drivers need to understand that it's not your car and it's a team of hundreds of people. They need to respect that,” the from Formula One exiled Italian reported on Monday.

After the race Horner announced he would discuss Webber’s attitude and his future at the Red Bull team ‘in private’, but privacy is a word relatively unknown in Formula One. After Horner hinted Webber should be ‘fine’ with the team’s strategy, Webber immediately responded by saying he was ‘absolutely not fine with it’.

There have been a lot of rumors about Red Bull’s 2012 driver line-up, and another Australian, the young and promising Daniel Ricciardo, was ‘lent’ to HRT for the rest of the season to learn the ropes, and many believe he could even replace Webber at Red Bull. Even Kimi Raikkonen has been mentioned to take Webber’s seat, but today the boss of Toro Rosso and Red Bull Dieter Mateschitz ended the gossip and confirmed Webber will stay with the Austrian outfit next year.

Mateschitz: Webber would be a bad racer if he did not try
Mateschitz: Webber would be a bad racer if he did not try

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Mateschitz was quoted by the German news agency SID, "There is still no doubt about Mark's contract extension. He feels comfortable with us and within the team is very popular.” And he added, “He can not get a better car, and we can not get a better driver from the market.” About Webber’s reluctance to obey team orders the Austrian billionaire said, “I understand that he wanted to come further forward; he would be a bad racer if he did not try.”

Another rumor was that Sauber rookie Sergio Perez could replace Felipe Massa next year, and much to everyone’s surprise, instead of denying the rumor, Ferrari instead announced the Mexican will be testing for the Reds later this year. Perez will participate in Ferrari’s Driver Academy (FDA) according to FDA director Luca Baldisserri. Asked about the future plans of the FDA, Baldiserri replied: “We will be back on track in September, at Mugello or Fiorano. It will be a very interesting test, because we will be putting Jules Bianchi and Perez up against one another. I think they will both be very motivated and for us it will be the perfect opportunity to assess both drivers.”

Whether this means Massa could be ousted next year remains to be seen, Montezemolo has always protected the Brazilian, and perhaps this arrangement is just to get an evaluation of Bianchi and Perez, to see who’s the strongest candidate, and to see if either of them would have a future at Ferrari to begin with.

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 28

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Mark Webber , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Luca di Montezemolo , Ross Brawn , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Flavio Briatore , Sebastian Vettel , Adrian Sutil , Sergio Perez , Daniel Ricciardo , Luca Baldisserri , Jules Bianchi , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Sauber , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams
Tags alonso, bouman, ferrari, massa, off-throttle diffuser, perez, webber