Formula 1: Abu Dhabi GP – Ferrari Working Towards Sunday Evening and 2012
Yas Marina – The eighteenth and penultimate round of the Formula 1 World Championship takes place at what is undoubtedly the most lavish facility on the calendar, the Yas Marina circuit. For Scuderia Ferrari it is a special weekend, given that the UAE is an important area for the commercial arm of the Prancing Horse and the circuit itself backs on to the incredible Ferrari World theme park. However, while team members might find a few moments of free time during the week to enjoy the scary experience of the world’s fastest rollercoaster ride, the real job as usual will be taking place in the paddock. No matter that the two championship titles have been decided in favour of another team and driver, the work of tackling a race weekend is the same as it would be at any previous point in the season. In fact, there is probably even more work to do as, with limited testing, these final races of 2011 are a last chance to test on the track ideas and components that could be used on the 2012 car.
The fact there are not so many changes to the technical regulations for next season, make this even more relevant. “The design office is now concentrating solely on next year’s car and that work is at a reasonably advanced stage in terms of mechanical components and the car’s bodywork,” revealed the Scuderia’s technical director Pat Fry. “As for what we are doing at these last two races, we will continue to work on developing new concepts for next year’s car. Some of the work takes as its starting point the very final development of this year’s car and some of it comes from the new design. This is valuable in terms of getting an understanding of different work methodologies and also gives us an early understanding, particularly in terms of the car’s aerodynamics and how to set up the car.” Asked to pick out a specific example of this crossover between the seasons, Fry singles out one major component: “I think the biggest addition we’ve made in performance terms in recent races is the new front wing which we first tried in Korea. We then ran it again on both cars in India. It is a very interesting development for us, as it does change the characteristics of the car and getting to understand how to get the most out of it is certainly an interesting challenge and in the short term it has helped our performance. We had some quality issue on one of the wings used in India but this solution will be in Abu Dhabi again, although after watching its behaviour at the last race, much work has been done to modify certain aspects of it before both drivers will try it this coming weekend.”
Abu Dhabi 2010 is still a painful memory for the team, given that it was here, at what was the final race last year, that Fernando’s very real chance of taking the Drivers’ crown evaporated in traffic. At the time, Fry experienced it one stage removed as he was not at the track. “I was in what we call the “remote garage” back in the factory last year for this race and I think that for me, as indeed for the whole team, to come that close to winning the championship and then lose it at the last minute was very hard to take,” admitted the Englishman. “Walking outside the factory that day I was amazed at the sheer number of fans who had turned up there to be close to us, supporting us in our disappointment. Personally, I always try and take each race as it comes and we will be trying to do our best there this year, while I regard what happened last year as history. Now we have to look forward, trying to do the best we can this weekend.”
The “remote garage” is the term for a facility within the Gestione Sportiva in Maranello, where engineers can follow the track action in real time, with access to all the data. “We try and use a group of engineers at the factory to support the race team by analysing the performance and reliability,” explains Fry. “From here they can analyse aero data, tyre data and so on and look at different set ups to ensure that the entire engineering team is focussed on getting the maximum out of the car over the weekend. That covers everything from aero and mechanical set-up and how to get the best out of the tyres. In fact it’s easier to do this back at the factory and is also the best way to comply with the regulations restricting the head count of those who travel to races. Another key area is strategy, as most of this work is done in the “remote garage” back in Maranello so it can have a decisive effect on our race on the Sunday, as well as during qualifying, when the engineers at home can, having studied more data, advise whether it is best to go out on a timed run at a particular point, or if it is more worthwhile to save tyres. So it has a significant effect on everything that happens at the track.”
In the course of the season, we have a late afternoon race in Melbourne, a night race in Singapore, while Abu Dhabi sits between the two, starting in daylight before the race reaches its climax under spotlights as night falls. Technically, this makes for the unusual situation of track temperature being higher at the start of the race than in the middle and end, which can have an effect on tyre behaviour. For this race, Pirelli is bringing its Medium and its Soft compounds. Like all the teams, Scuderia Ferrari has the previous two years of racing at Yas Marina on which to base its initial set-up work on Friday, so unlike India a fortnight ago, the work of preparing for Sunday and evaluating new elements for 2012 can begin immediately the green light comes on at the end of pit lane on Friday. “Abu Dhabi is similar to the last three tracks we have visited, even if there are fewer high speed corners,” says Fry. “As always, it is still a case of finding the right balance on the car. Last year, as we found to our cost, overtaking was very difficult at this circuit, however we have seen a big change this year thanks to several factors including the DRS. In some cases, it was found that the DRS zones were not long enough and this will no doubt be adjusted for next year, while at other tracks, it was relatively simple to overtake another car. So I’m sure that, with two DRS zone available, it will be easier this weekend than in 2010, but until we get to the track it is hard to say exactly how straightforward it will be. We will keep on pushing as hard as we can. In terms of what we can expect for this weekend, it will be similar to the last few races, which means that if we put everything together perfectly, as we did in India with Fernando we should have a reasonable chance of getting onto the podium.”