Tombazis unveils the F2007 project philosophy
Greece has never hosted a grand prix, nor has it produced any F1 drivers, but aerodynamics seems to be something of a forte for Greeks, including Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's Chief Designer, Nikolas Tombazis. Passionate about motor racing, a seven year old Nik watched his first grand prix on television. "From then on, I was hooked!" he says. "In 1978, when I was about ten years old, I was fascinated by the aerodynamic aspect as this was the era of the ground-effect cars. I used to read all the racing magazines and as I was quite good at Physics and Maths at school, I decided it would be worth going for an engineering degree in the hope of getting a job in motor racing. So I went to England to study and then found my first job with Benetton in 1993, moving to Ferrari in 1997. Then I took a short "sabbatical" from Ferrari for a couple of years but I am back now!"
Making a rare trip to a grand prix in Melbourne, Tombazis had the pleasure of seeing the car whose design he oversaw take its maiden win in great style courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen. We got him to open up about the F2007 design philosophy and how it was specifically adapted to this year's new sporting and technical regulations. "You always have to start with the previous year's car as a basis, as every car contains the accumulation of many years of details that we have learnt as we go along and you cannot ignore that knowledge," began Tombazis. "So, in many ways, this F2007 is an evolution and in other areas we have taken big steps forward. Aerodynamics is still one of the primary performance factors of the car so this is the area that guides the whole project. The most upstream process is therefore the aerodynamics which usually starts around over a year prior to the first race of the season." Apart from the aerodynamic criteria, tires are another crucial area that stamp their mark on the basic concept of the car and for this year, with Bridgestone returning to a supply monopoly situation, that meant a step into the unknown. "This year the tires were not known to us until very late in the process, as Bridgestone had a new specification of tire to supply the entire field and did not want to give any team an advantage by letting them know the specification any earlier. We had to leave a bit more margin in some areas of the F2007's adjustability in order to be able to adapt to that." With just one tire company and more restrictive rules regarding engine performance, one could assume that all cars should produce very similar levels of performance, but Tombazis does not feel the situation is quite that straightforward. "Tires are a constant this year, but how people manage their tires is an important factor and clearly aerodynamics does also have an effect on the tires. On the engine side, the level is frozen, but that does not mean everyone has the same power, although aerodynamics is still the biggest differentiator between the cars. In general, I think every engineer would like to have much less restrictions than we have at the moment, in fact no restrictions at all. But if this was the case, Formula 1 would be totally unmanageable with cars that were much too fast and dangerous. The rules are much more restrictive than back in the 70s, but we can do much more within them, as our understanding is so much greater."
While technologies have evolved considerably since the 70s, the very basic technique of playing with the weight distribution of the car is as important as ever. "As all the cars are built under the weight limit, we use ballast to distribute that weight to the optimum level," explains Tombazis. "Then we try and find the best compromise between front and rear tire degradation, braking stability and traction through corners, so these also influence optimum weight distribution." This factor has influenced an aspect of the F2007 design that caused considerable interest when the car was first revealed, namely its length. "It's true we have lengthened the car and aerodynamic considerations have been taken into account in doing this and it has been done in full combination with studying weight distribution and other parameters such as moments of inertia and the car's centre of gravity," continues Tombazis. "You have to put all these factors in a pot, find which are the most and least dominant and thus find the best compromise. You can lengthen a car in three ways, either by moving the front wheels forward or the rear wheels backwards or a bit of both. If you move the wheels backwards, you move weight distribution forwards, and if you move the front wheels forward, you move the weight distribution backwards. You can tune it to your heart's content!"
This weekend's second round of the championship in Malaysia traditionally provides the sternest test of a car's ability to keep its major components cool, while still maintaining its aerodynamic integrity. However, Tombazis is confident that the Scuderia has got its sums right with the F2007: "Some parameters are very predictable so the engine side of cooling and how much you need to open up your bodywork depending on your radiator size is very predictable and fairly feasible to calculate with a good degree of precision. Unless you have underestimated the heat generated by the engine, in theory you should not have to open up the bodywork in an excessive way. You will see we won't have any excessive openings in Malaysia."
Apart from providing the engineers with a chance to verify their cooling calculations and prepare the car for the Malaysian GP, last week's test at the Sepang circuit was also the first session to be run under the new agreement that means a car can only use one car for tests held during the season, which are also restricted to just three days. In fact, this session was extended by one day as the new regulations allow for an extension in the event of rain, which did affect the third day of the test. The restrictions have altered the Scuderia's approach to on-track testing. "When we take a new development of a car to a race, we want to be very certain a new component is performing as expected and is a real step forward, therefore we need to test it first," says Tombazis. "So the new testing agreements have focused our approach within the limited number of kilometres. We try to be as efficient in testing as at the races. In the past we would not think twice to have a few more test days to test even the minutest detail and we tended not to think about the efficiency of our testing. Now we need to have as much of it worked out before the start of the test and now it is best to sort out car and systems reliability on the test bed."
Nik Tombazis will only attend a handful of races this season as he is kept busy back in Maranello, but this is of no consequence to him. "The part of my job that I enjoy most is the design of the car and for me it would be impractical to go to all the races. Work plus family keep me quite busy. I enjoy coming to a few and in an ideal world, I would like to have a couple of clones of me, so that one could be at the races, another back in the factory and another on holiday in the Bahamas!"