(Ferrari) There are now just over twelve hundred racing kilometres to go – 1227.241 to be precise – until the end of this year’s Formula 1 season. With the championship balanced on a knife edge and several contenders still in the running for title glory, including Fernando Alonso, the F2012 which he and team-mate Felipe Massa will drive in the remaining four Grands Prix will still be evolving and hopefully getting better race by race all the way to the final curtain in Brazil.
“As we are still in the fight for the championship, we therefore have to continue with the development of the car,” confirms the Scuderia’s Chief Designer Nick Tombazis. “And because we don’t currently enjoy an advantage, either in terms of performance or as far as the points situation is concerned, we cannot defend, we must attack and adopt an aggressive approach to car development for these four races, bringing updates to every one of them to close the gap and fight for the wins and hopefully bring home the titles.”
This strategy comes into play right from this weekend, when the Buddh International Circuit, in Greater Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi, hosts the second running of the Indian Grand Prix. At the end of the maiden event, Scuderia Ferrari was able to add one trophy to its collection, after Fernando Alonso finished third on the podium. It’s fair to say that the F2012 has had a tricky time of it to be competitive this year, with peaks and troughs along the way.
“I’d say I have mixed feelings about how development has gone over the course of the year, but as a whole, we can be pleased, as we are still in the fight for the championship,” affirms Tombazis. “There was a period when our development was better than that of our rivals, which allowed us to make up for a very poor start to the season and we can take satisfaction from that too. However, in the last few races, our progress has not matched our expectations and various components which we expected would make our car more competitive did not do so. As a result, we are lagging behind our competitors. This doesn’t mean we did not move forward on development, but we had been expecting something more.
“One element that slowed our progress was the difficulty we encountered in the correlation with data from the wind tunnel and that from the track. The wind tunnel can only ever be a model of what things are like in reality and can never be completely real. The data we saw in the wind tunnel did not match 100% the data we were getting from the track. We had some unpleasant surprises from some of the updates we brought to the last couple of races, so immediately, we wanted to fix that and understand where it had gone wrong. Therefore we have had an aero test prior to heading off to India, where we ran control tests on these updates to really understand what the problem was. We got some very interesting answers which we believe will allow us to recover from those problems and so, our aim in this forthcoming Indian GP, will be to make up the ground we have lost.”
Tombazis is forthright when it comes to explaining why the Scuderia’s wind tunnel, a beautiful Renzo Piano design on the outside, did not deliver the necessary results. “There are many reasons why the wind tunnel is not perfect,” he says: “it can come from a problem of scale, because the model used in the tunnel is much smaller than the real car and it can come from the fact that the wind in a tunnel is different to running the car in the open air and the way the air flows over the car can also be a factor. The way aerodynamics works on a modern F1 car is hyper-complicated, based on the interaction of various components and very small details, therefore it is easy to make a mistake. Correlation cannot be seen in black and white terms and you cannot expect a wind tunnel to deliver perfect results in all areas. We have had problems in some areas, but that does not mean that all our work in the wind tunnel has been worthless.”
Pinpointing this difficulty with data correlation has at least allowed the Scuderia’s aerodynamicists to move forward, but more radical steps are required for the future. “We have taken the decision to make some significant modifications to our tunnel to upgrade it and bring it to the point where it is state of the art,” reveals Tombazis. “Compared to those of some our opponents, ours is older and therefore in some areas it is not operating at the highest level. The work will involve temporarily closing our wind tunnel here in Maranello and during this period of several months, we will use an external wind tunnel, so that our development programme can continue without interruption, until ours is suitably updated. In an ideal world, if one has a wind tunnel that gives you all the results you need, then having just one tunnel is much simpler than using two. However, when, as is the case with us, we have had some doubts about the data from our facility, it will be useful to see what we find out by using another tunnel, to compare the results.”
Back to the short term and the remaining quartet of races, the tracks all share similar requirements in terms of downforce levels. “Two require maximum downforce and the other two slightly less, but still high overall,” affirms the Greek-born Chief Designer. “Therefore there will only be minimal differences between them in terms of aero set-up and so, I do not foresee problems in terms of the adaptability of our car. Our aim is to bring, in as short a time as possible, all the developments we have tried in the wind tunnel to see how they work, confirming their performance, so that we don’t encounter the same problems as before. That way, for every race, we hope to get closer to those ahead of us so that we can fight for the wins.”
Of the four races, one of them, the Grand Prix of the Americas presents the additional challenge of a brand new venue. “In order to define the level of aerodynamic downforce required, prior to running at the Austin track itself, we work from a detailed map of the track and we can do all the mathematical calculations relating to the corners,” says Tombazis. “So we have done simulation work based on that, analysing how the car should be set-up. This allows us to find out how the car reacts at all the various points on the circuit. Our simulation tools are pretty good, allowing us to establish a baseline in terms of aero downforce levels and car set-up. When we actually get to the track, there will still be some aspects to be discovered and there will be some fine tuning to do to get it perfect, but the bulk of the work is already done.”
Normally, a late season title fight is anathema to F1 design teams, who want to be focussing all their attention on next year’s car. However, at the moment, it could be seen as something of a mixed blessing. “We have the good fortune that the rules remain basically stable for next year, which means we can carry on developing this year’s car without compromising the 2013 one,” says Tombazis. The work we do aerodynamically for this year’s car can be beneficial for both. We can work on improving the weak points on the current car which will help for next year, although the main structural elements of the 2013 car are already fixed: chassis, gearbox, mechanical layout, suspension and crash structures, with the car already in production. However, when it comes to its aero package, there is still plenty of work to do and as soon as we have completely wrapped up 2012 and these last four races, then we will be concentrating 100% on the next one.”
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