Ferrari toil flat out to close gap at Silverstone

There’s no pausing for breath in this hot summer of Formula 1. Even though the situation in both championships is not what was hoped for back in the winter, work goes on flat out at Maranello on developing the 150° Italia with a view to making up the performance gap that has developed over the past few months.

The European Grand Prix produced Ferrari’s best result from the first eight races of this year, which is obviously a good thing, but it is definitely not the end product. Fernando Alonso’s second place and Felipe Massa’s fifth confirmed what was already clear from the two previous races in Monaco and Montreal, but it is still not enough, as the next challenge is to try and have a car that is equally competitive at tracks where aerodynamic efficiency is the key factor, such as Silverstone which hosts the next event, the British Grand Prix which is the ninth round of the season.

The Scuderia will bring a few updates of an aerodynamic nature to England, but it would be unrealistic to expect these to overturn the current rankings. There is no magic wand, no one has one, so the recipe is the same for everyone, work, work, work. Silverstone will see the change of rules applied by the FIA concerning the use of exhaust gasses: for now, no one can be sure if this will be significant factor and the situation will only begin to get clearer on Friday during the two free practice sessions.

In the meantime, everything possible is being done to be as well prepared as possible for this round, working on every area of development. The drivers will also be on the front line, adding their input in technical meetings and at the wheel of the simulator: today and tomorrow, Fernando will be at the factory with Felipe taking over in the second half of the week.

The Valencia race threw up some interesting points: for example, for the first time this year it paid to stick longer with used tires rather than bring forward the pit stops, when it was a case of switching from the Option to the Prime. That was clearly the case in the duel that was one of the highlights of the afternoon, between Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber, with the Spaniard gaining over a second and a half on the laps when he still had the Softs, while the Australian had just fitted a new set of Mediums. The job was completed by the Ferrari mechanics who produced a perfect pit stop in 2.9 seconds, with an overall time including driving off of 3.2.

On the subject of pit stop times, it is worth noting that there are various factors which have a significant influence on them. For example, the times shown over the television pictures come via a photocell buried in the road surface within the pit stop area: when the car stops, the photocell links up with FOM-supplied transponder fitted inside the car and the timing then begins.

Clearly, depending on the position where the driver stops, the link between transponder and photocell can be less than perfect and that can give rise to a difference of up to half a second, either plus or minus, from the real time.

It goes without saying that all teams time their own stops themselves to try and analyze every aspect of the operation in the minutest detail in order to improve and to find the tenths of a second that can make the difference.

Another useful element in having an objective view of what the mechanics do, is to watch what is going on in the neighboring garages at the time of the pit stop. For example, at his first stop yesterday, Fernando had to hit his mark while the Mercedes and McLaren mechanics were also out in pit lane on the left and right sides of the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro pit. This obviously led to a slightly longer 4 second stop from the car coming in to going out.

There is also an undoubted advantage in having the first garage, which comes as a reward for winning the previous year’s Constructors’ title, or the last one in pit lane. There is one final point that can be used by observers and that is the overall time spent in pit lane, a parameter that can be influenced by factors such as traffic. Looking at yesterday’s race, the total time spent in pit lane for the top three finishers are all within just over one second: 1.01.151 for Webber, 1.01.778 for Vettel and 1.02.164 for Fernando.

Of course, in Maranello, there is an awareness that improvements must be made so that incidents like a broken left rear wheel nut that cost Massa four seconds are not repeated: in this case it was a reliability problem, not human error.

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