British GP - A challenging race-track Silverstone - Just one week after securing Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's first one-two finish of the season, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa will be in action again for the ninth round of the world championship at the Silverstone circuit. For Massa's race engineer, Rob Smedley, this means a trip to his English homeland.
"As usual, Silverstone is a great challenge for drivers and for the engineers especially, as there is such a disparity between some very high speed corners and some low speed sections," says Smedley of a circuit that he knows so well. "It is both a challenge and a headache, but if you get it right you get the rewards. Silverstone is a reasonably high downforce track because there are so many corners, but you have to find the right compromise over the weekend and its character actually changes very slightly over the course of the three days, so you have to make sure you have the right settings on the car at the right time."
During the year, Smedley does not get home very often, but this weekend is his second trip to the UK in three weeks. "We tested at Silverstone prior to the French Grand Prix and tried a new aero package, which we ran in France and will now use in England with some further modifications to suit the more high speed nature of Silverstone," he says. "The test was very encouraging and very positive, especially after the results of the races in North America. Since then, we have also changed some of our preparation aimed at getting the most out of the car on a first timed lap on new tires and that has helped, while the characteristics of Silverstone circuit are also more predisposed to helping us to get a strong first lap."
The weather is often a talking point in England and indeed the long range forecast predicts a high chance of rain. "It is a reasonable track to deal with when it rains, but the added factor in wet conditions can often be the wind that has brought the rain," explains Smedley. "It can make life tricky as, on top of the obvious lack of grip in the wet, you can also get quite high cross winds in the high speed corners that can put you in trouble in terms of how difficult the car is to drive. This can push you to change set-up and even strategies of how you run the car. Felipe is really good in the wet and I also think that his driving style is particularly well suited to the Bridgestone rain tire. In addition, we know how to give him a good car to run in wet conditions and we know what kind of car he likes. We are usually in good shape in the rain as we have seen during winter testing, although we have yet to see this in race conditions this year."
Smedley has worked with Massa for two years now, so is their working relationship and understanding almost perfect? "Oh yes, we communicate using just our eyes," jokes the Englishman. "But seriously, we struck up a good relationship almost immediately. I think we are similar in some ways in that we are both ambitious and want the same things. In the first few races working with a new driver, you work hard to understand the driver's feedback. This is one of the most important factors: turning his feedback into engineering actions. We do not agree on everything, but we always find a compromise and usually we manage to give him a good car and he does a very good job with it. At the moment, he is driving very well, so I was disappointed that in the North American races, we were unable to give him a car in which he had full confidence. Once he has that and knows he can push with the car, I think he is doing an absolutely fantastic job at the moment."
Tackling his home grand prix is something Smedley enjoys. "I like going there," he affirms. "If you don't like going to your home grand prix it probably means you did not have a very happy childhood! The fans are great and are very good towards the English people at Ferrari. It is also very nice to see people whom you worked with when you first started out in this business, still working there, involved in all the various support races that take place this weekend. You see guys you worked with and learnt from. And I can also get some time to go and see my family, which as a race engineer at Ferrari is not something you usually have much time for." Ferrari F1