Ferrari: Valencia preview
This weekend's European Grand Prix marks the return to the race track after the short summer break and while the Formula 1 cars might not have turned a wheel since Sunday in Budapest, the Ferrari factory in Maranello has been operating normally, with Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro staff all hard at work preparing, not just for the race in Valencia, but also for the final part of the season in general. The race schedule between now and the Brazilian finale is such that there can be no let up until the final checkered flag.
As a brand new venue, preparation for this weekend is slightly different to normal, because the track itself is an unknown quantity, even if the route from Maranello to Valencia is a well trodden one, as the permanent circuit outside the city is a popular testing venue. Preparation for a new track relies heavily on the use of track simulation programs, using the Centro Ricerche Fiat simulator, to provide a solid baseline from which the team can begin work with the first free practice session on Friday morning. The simulator is an aid to the drivers, as it gives them an idea of what to expect and in its simplest form means they can learn where the corners are. It also helps the engineers produce a basic set-up for all functions and settings on the F2008 cars. Simulators are growing ever more sophisticated, however, one area where there is no real substitute for track time experience concerns the tires: the choice of Bridgestone tires is already known as drivers will run on the "soft" and "super soft" compounds which they have already used twice this year at other grands prix. However, how the tires will perform on the track surface cannot be predicted with total accuracy at this stage.
"The track looks very interesting, combining a variety of different corner types, as well as some sections with a high top speed, maybe slightly lower than those seen at the Montreal circuit in Canada," says Technical Director of the Gestione Sportiva, Aldo Costa. "We can expect high temperatures this weekend, which should not present us with any problems. After the high downforce configuration we ran at the last race in Budapest, we now return to a medium to low downforce configuration with some updates to the package that were already tested at Jerez in the week prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix."
On the logistical side, apart from the paddock and its facilities being new to everyone, the fact this is a "street" circuit should not make for any problems, as teams will operate out of a conventional paddock with their trucks and motorhomes. Nevertheless, the majority of the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro personnel will be making one concession to the novelty of the venue, in that they will arrive on Wednesday afternoon, rather than the more usual Thursday morning, thus giving everyone time to familiarize themselves with their "home" for the next few days, the layout of the facilities and the surrounding areas and allowing engineers to get a first hand look at the track itself.
In the past, the European Grand Prix was an honorary title given to an existing race, but as a stand alone fixture, it is a relatively new one, used to allow one country to stage more than one event per year, the first race dating back to 1983, when it was held at Brands Hatch. After two years in England it moved to the Nurburgring, which hosted the event on twelve occasions. Apart from these venues, Donington Park held one memorably wet race and Jerez de la Frontera was the location on two occasions. Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro has won the European GP five times, once with Rubens Barrichello and the other four with Michael Schumacher, although with the change of location, this cannot be considered in any way a guide to form!
While preparing for this weekend and the remaining races, this time of year also sees work intensify on the 2009 project. "We are entering the production phase for the main components of our 2009 car; parts such as the chassis and gearbox," reveals Aldo Costa. "Ferrari has the ability and resources to work on next year's car, without having to relax for one moment on continuing the development of the F2008 in a championship that is proving to be very tight between ourselves and our usual opponents. However, it is a very demanding challenge. Although it is a challenge we have faced many times before, it is particularly tough this time, as there are so many new elements coming into play for next season, such as the return to slick tires and the introduction of the KERS system. This makes the puzzle more complicated than ever, which is why we have to operate as efficiently as possible in terms of time management, commitment and energy, as we are now in a delicate phase with no way to recover from any mistakes. One step in the wrong direction could prove very costly. As for this weekend, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, our aim is the same as ever: to ensure that every element of our package and team works to its maximum as we strive to bring home as many points as possible and hopefully being the first to put our names on a Valencia trophy."