Ferrari previews Korea
In a few days time, Formula 1 teams will take to the track for the first ever Grand Prix to be held in Korea. A new circuit always makes the headlines, but this week, everyone’s attention will focus mainly on the thrilling championship battle that sees three teams and five drivers all with a chance of lifting the crown in Abu Dhabi in mid-November.
The circuit in Yeongam , on Korea’s south west coast was only given final FIA approval to stage the event a couple of days after the Japanese Grand Prix. The logistics for any race outside Europe are complicated enough given the number of personnel and the tones of equipment required, but when a new venue is added to the equation, the unknown factors are multiplied with no previous year’s experiences to fall back on. Additionally, Yeongam and the nearest town of Mokpo have never seen an international event on this scale and teams have had to be very resourceful to find sufficient and suitable hotel accommodation.
For Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and the rest of the Scuderia, none of these potential problems must be allowed to distract them or impinge on their work over the weekend, as the Spanish driver and the team are locked in mortal combat with two other teams and their drivers for the championship crowns, with the Spaniard currently lying second, equal on points with Sebastian Vettel and fourteen behind the leader Mark Webber.
Therefore keeping everything running smoothly on the surface is even more important than ever and that responsibility ultimately falls to Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro’s Sporting Director, Massimo Rivola. He has now been with the Maranello based squad for almost two years, having spent eleven years working for that other Italian F1 team, Minardi, which then became Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2006.
“Working for Ferrari is a completely different job to what I used to do with Minardi/Toro Rosso,” he reveals. “I fully respect the team I used to work for, as I learned a lot there and I was lucky to get that experience, because when you work in a small team you have to be responsible for a wider range of activities. But I would have to say that on the organizational side it was very different because there were fewer people. One key difference is that, if it was the case that I used to dream of winning when I was there, now at Ferrari I still dream of winning but, the difference is that here I have to win! It requires a different approach and there is a lot of pressure but it’s the sort of pressure that you want to have.”
“In order to limit the possible nasty surprises to a minimum, as soon as a new Grand Prix venue appears on a calendar, then Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro sends out logistics staff to scout out the new circuit, the venue, the nearest towns, hotels and ground transportation,” explains Rivola. “Apart from these elements that are vital to allowing the team to operate with the minimum of stress, even if everything is new to them, there is also the track-related information to be gathered. This is twofold: first the side related to the actual layout of the garage space, the facilities provided in terms of power points, office space and so forth and finally and most importantly there is the side relating to the technical characteristics of the layout of the race track itself.”
For the first part, the teams receive support mainly from FOM (Formula One Management) but also from the sport’s governing body, the FIA.
“As soon as we hear that a new track is confirmed, we start asking the FIA for as much information as possible, so that we can build our simulation programs,” says Rivola. “The level of simulation today is such that we can gain an enormous amount of knowledge from this work. As a Sporting Director, information about the pit lane is very important, particularly the dimensions of the slow lane as this has an impact on the safety of the mechanics during an event, especially during the pit stops. Ensuring they can work in a safe environment is one of my main concerns.”
“The fast lane in the pits is also of interest as it will impact on how you release a car back into the race after a pit stop, as does the distance between the teams from one garage to the next. It is never easy to get this information, because although the pits and pit lane are often the first things to be built at a new circuit, the final details like where the white lines will go are often one of the last elements of a track to be completed. When we arrive at the track, I am sure we will find some minor differences between our simulation and the real thing.”
Indeed some of the team are already at the track, having stayed out in Asia since the last race.
“In order to cut down on unnecessary and tiring travel, we opted to keep a large number of mechanics and other operational personnel out in this part of the world after the Japanese Grand Prix,” continued Rivola. “The guys who are generally the last to leave a circuit, having completed the packing up are also the first to arrive at the next venue to build up the garages and get everything set up. Like this, they have not had to travel all the way back to Europe, simply to return to Asia a few days later. However, the engineers all returned to Maranello after the Suzuka weekend to continue development work on the F10 and to carry out the simulation work for this new track.”
Rivola’s role means that in between the races, he is one of the key contact points with the drivers, so he is well placed to tell us how Fernando and Felipe are feeling as they prepare for this event that could prove decisive in the championship fight.
“As soon as one race is over, Fernando likes to think of nothing but the next one,” reveals Rivola. “It is a tricky time for him right now, as he knows he cannot afford to make the slightest mistake, so he is totally focused on his job. As for Felipe, he has not had much luck in the last two races, but even so, his motivation has not taken a knock. We will give him all the support we can from the team-side, as we expect him to play a key role in the outcome of the championship.”
“I spoke to him a couple of days ago and he was in good shape, even if, as a driver he is disappointed he personally is out of the running for the championship title, but he is a true Ferrari man, which means he will never give up. The mood is also really good within the team and there is a feeling that we can do it and that we have a couple of drivers capable of delivering the result we are looking for. Of course we know it is a very difficult situation as there is still a car ahead of us in the championship that was quicker than us at the last race. However, the team’s philosophy is to never give up and that will be our attitude all the way to the end.”