By Craig Scarborough, England
Autosport-Atlas Technical Writer
With no time to test between Monaco and the Nurburgring, the teams did not bring many technical advances to Germany for the European GP. Craig Scarborough analyses the few changes seen during last weekend's race and reviews the cars' performance
A mere five days after the end of the Monaco GP all ten Formula One teams once more started practicing at the Nurburgring in Germany for the European Grand Prix. This back to back race was eased by the short overnight drive between circuits and the high downforce demands of the Nurburgring, but the short gap allowed teams to merely rebuild the car and complete a brief shake down. No major tests occurred and no major development appeared on any cars.
As a circuit the Nurburgring has quite complex demands - it is effectively a track on the low speed end of the scale, where slow and medium speed corners abound, with a single fast section and two short straights. The chicanes take a toll on brakes, and the tight turn-ins on the smooth surface invite understeer; as a result the Monaco set ups used the previous weekend were back in use. The large wings aid grip, but still the slow speed corners demand mechanical grip, so a softer set up is used.
Usually the weather up in the mountains where the track is situated is cold and damp - this, allied to the slow, gripless nature of the track, means the tyre suppliers bring soft compound tyres to the track. For this year's race weekend a heat wave across Europe brought the temperatures up into the 30s, and the track temperature in the high forties, yet the teams were still able to run the softer compounds and make them last in the heat.
After yet another failed qualifying format, this weekend saw the return to a single session on one laps runs. In many respects the change in format made little change in the race weekend strategies.
The lack of a second qualifying session saved the tyres from another hammering qualifying lap, but took away the sight of the whole field taking low fuel qualifying runs. In the two session format run in the first six races teams were able to run the first session light and then run a much heavier fuel load for the second session to allow a long first stint. With the luxury of the lap time buffer created in the first session now gone, instead the teams have to gamble how short or long the opening stint needs to be.
Make it too short and the advantage in qualifying could be lost, as the chasing cars lap faster and gain track advantage after the stops. Likewise, put too much fuel in to qualify and the poor grid position leaves too much work to do, leaving the driver prone to midfield incidents. Only teams gunning for pole position and planning to run off and create a gap in the opening stint can now afford to run light.
Team by Team
With the short gap between races Ferrari ran with the same revised chin wing and be-winged brake ducts seen in Monaco. Consistent with the teams more troubled season, Friday was not a clean day for the team, with Rubens Barrichello running off track at turn 1 and Michael Schumacher sitting in the pit for part of the second session with an electrical problem, but their pace seemed to match the front runners at this stage.
Barrichello was slightly up on Schumacher's pace over the opening sessions; his qualifying lap was hindered by an error in turn 1, countered by a good second sector. Schumacher went out next and struggled on his lap, picking up understeer and again looked to the race for an improvement.
Their middling grid positions saw them caught up in the Webber-Montoya fracas, with Barrichello getting blocked and Schumacher having to come to a complete halt amongst the broken cars. With the cars now even further down the order, Barrichello coming in as early as lap 11 for fuel seemed to be an end to his competitive weekend, but the three stop strategy proved to be a coup, as he was able to keep up with the troubled front runners through to a final third place.
Schumacher meanwhile had a more lacklustre race, two stopping amongst the rest of the pack he was able to show the same mid race speed and long opening stint that had served him so well earlier this year.
After a five week gap BAR returned from their ban. Before the weekend there were signals from BAR; the team announced a range of new aerodynamic developments, while on the negative side the Honda engines were still the ones used in Imola. The engines gave Honda concern on two counts; firstly they were an old spec that has missed out on the passed week's development, and secondly they were in parc ferme conditions since then; the team were only able to inspect the engines with out any dismantling.
The concern centred around two areas - the plastic seals degradation, and corrosion affecting fasteners inside the engine. Honda had already seen an engine failure in testing, where a bolt made of a different material to what it was screwed into had corroded and then failed in use - this is a common problem of joints between different materials, while the primary choice of material is down to performance reasons. The secondary problem of corrosion is usually avoided through regular strip downs. Notwithstanding these worries, the team suffered no failures this weekend, albeit probably with a rev limit imposed for the weekend.
Aerodynamically the car saw several developments. The rear wing endplate (inset) now uses gills to control the tip vortices as previously described. The board layout drew some attention; the footplate (yellow) on the front pair of boards now used a stepped arrangement, up to now there was a curious pleated arrangement. The small boards just in front of the sidepods have been removed, replaced by a larger fin sprouting from the floor. At the rear the diffuser has been revised with some detail changes to the outer tunnels; whether the alteration is closer to Ferrari's approach to maximising the available width available either side of the central tunnel or the Williams flap is unclear from the views available.
Only installation laps were completed in the morning session with an eye on engine preservation, and the lowly times in the second session were completed with fewer laps than average. Saturdays free practice sessions saw the drivers post more competitive times, but these weren't repeated as the pair went out first in qualifying, with both drivers reporting a lack of grip creating understeer.
At the race start it was Takuma Sato who came off worse in the pile up; his front wing was damaged and he needed to make a stop for a replacement. Both drivers were on two stop strategies, coming in along with the main pack but struggled with a lack of grip. The eventual tenth and twelfth results were disappointing for BAR, but at least they will be better placed than Sauber, Jordan and Minardi in qualifying for Montreal.
Monaco's revised flip ups and diffuser were in use once again for this race. As is the norm the team did not complete flying laps in the opening session ahead of running almost the most laps in the second. Saturday was more representative, with top five times set. Going into qualifying Giancarlo Fisichella ran quite early in tenth and suffered a poorer time as a result, while Fernando Alonso went out seven cars later and found a better grid position with sixth.
As the grid formed for the start Fisichella's car stalled; his car refused to select neutral and needed to be jacked up and removed from the grid before being forced to start from the back of the grid. Going into the first corner Alonso was hit by Ralf Schumacher, emerging undamaged. Both drivers pitted at similar times to the rest of the field, on laps 22-23, with Alonso having some rear tyre pressure adjustments. Alonso pushed in the last stint to pressure Raikkonen's failing McLaren to take the lead, while Fisichella struggled through the field to get sixth place.
As mentioned in the Monaco technical review, Williams have taken a leaf out of Red Bull's book and added a small flap above the diffuser tunnels. Seen in the image below the flap (yellow) is as high as the regulations allow, which is as high as the old diffusers used to be. The flap interacts with the tunnels to create more downforce, and its shape is warped so the middle tunnel works closest with the flap while the innermost tunnel uses a gurney flap to pull the air out from under the floor. Williams also raised the floor to create a third outer channel.
As usual the cars ran very few laps in the opening session before setting top times in the second, only to have an early spin and a transmission failure for Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld respectively. Limited laps on the Saturday practice sessions were matched by good lap times going into qualifying. Their excellent Monaco finish sent them out last before Kimi Raikkonen; Webber went first and set an aggressive lap time, beating the previous best by 0.3, before Heidfeld went out and also set fastest sectors times to end up nearly 0.3s faster again to gain his first pole.
Away from the second start Heidfeld lost his lead to Raikkonen while Webber made an even worse start and was swamped by other cars, hitting Juan Pablo Montoya as he braked too late for the first turn and setting off a chain reaction back up the field. Webber retired further around the lap, leaving Heidfeld on his three stop strategy (on laps 12, 31, 49) fighting through the race to end up second again at the flag.
A small change to the McLaren was the adoption of a small fin to the trailing edge of the bargeboards, similar to the axe heads in use by other teams. Alex Wurz in the third car completed the major mileage in practice while the race drivers completed very few laps, proving the car was as competitive as it has been for the past few races. Saturday saw the race drivers trade fastest laps up until qualifying, when good laps from each driver were eclipsed by the Williams of Heidfeld.
It was Montoya's fast start around Webber that triggered the first corner incident; Montoya had his floor damaged and rejoined the track at the back of the field, leaving him to fight to an eventual seventh place. Meanwhile Raikkonen had made the lead his own and by his first stop (lap18) had nearly a clear pit stop in hand.
Eleven laps later Raikkonen was off the road and rejoined; thus began his problems. He locked a wheel passing Jacques Villeneuve and flatspotted his tyre; he then ran the final fifteen laps with a severe vibration on the front left wheel. This was clearly evident from on board footage, and the McLaren team jointly agreed to race on for the win; over the final laps he was losing over a second a lap to Alonso, the worsening vibration making the front wing shake disturbingly on the straights.
Eventually under braking into turn one the suspension failed, somewhere along the wishbones; from the carbon fibre flexures at the chassis to the bonded titanium clevis meeting the upright, failed spectacularly, sending Raikkonen spinning off the road and narrowly avoiding Button's BAR while throwing debris all over the track. The failure was easily predicted, and the driver and team accepted the risk, but the danger to the other cars on track must surely be questioned, should such a problem occur in the future.
Potentially the sporting rule of running a car in an unsafe condition could lead to black flags, or enforced pitstops could be brought into play. McLaren's dilemma was whether to bring Raikkonen for a stop and a subsequent drive through for changing a tyre - the rules allow damaged tyres to be replaced, but the damage to Raikkonen's tyres was self-inflicted.
Raikkonen could have possibly completed his pair of pit stops and still come out ahead of Coulthard's Red Bull, gaining some valuable points, albeit with the gap in the Championship lead increased by a small margin; instead McLaren had the lead opened out by ten points and now Raikkonen must qualify early in Montreal.
The Saubers were unchanged in format from recent races; the drivers appear to prefer different format front wings and endplates, with Villeneuve racing the newer curved triple element wing and Felipe Massa running the flatter two element wing.
Friday was all about race preparation, and this was reflected in the lowly lap times, while on Saturday Villeneuve's earlier qualifying run was hindered by a poor third sector; Massa went out later and had an excellent third sector for eleventh on the grid, albeit aided by a lighter fuel load than Villeneuve.
Villeneuve was involved in the first corner melee and ended up behind the Jordans, while Massa pitted very early for fuel on lap19. Later in the race Massa started to experience vibration from his front left Michelin; on lap 51 the tyre started to fail and a strip of the carcass broke out from the tyre, ripping the front wing endplate off. After a stop for a new tyre and wing Massa was able to finish the race, one place behind his teammate in 14th.
Again no visible changes were noted on the Red Bulls. Friday started poorly; Christian Klien ran off the road, Vitantonio Liuzzi had a hydraulic problem, and David Coulthard stated that the team would be uncompetitive. Qualifying confirmed this feeling; Coulthard's lap was smooth with a good third sector but he ended up just ahead of the BARs, while Liuzzi lost his time in the third sector after a promising sector 1.
From their poor grid positions both drivers went to the inside at the first corner and avoided the worst of the accident; this put Coulthard in a strong and competitive position, but his haste to get a good result in led him to speed in the pitlane trying to jump past a Minardi. The resulting drive through penalty cost him time to the leader in what could have been a podium finish. Liuzzi meanwhile struggled with understeer and was racing with several chasing cars; his finish in ninth was a good result for himself and the team.
Along with the new aerodynamics introduced at recent races Toyota have a new diffuser, which sports two fences (yellow) in the outer channels over the more normal one. This effectively creates three channels; the splitting of this area improves efficiency at different attitudes, preventing flow leaking across the diffuser.
With Ricardo Zonta setting times amongst the fastest the race drivers were bang in the middle of the field after two uneventful Friday sessions. Their pace picked up in Saturday's session leading into qualifying; Jarno Trulli went out first and set the first truly fast lap of the session, and then Ralf Schumacher's lap showed him struggling with poor balance and understeer. His lap was a lot slower in the second sector, and put him nearly seven tenths down in eighth against Trulli's fourth.
Both drivers were again hit by bad luck; Trulli's mechanics failing to leave the gird in time, earning him a drive through penalty, while Schumacher was involved at the first corner incident, hitting Alonso and losing his front wing. With both cars consigned to the back of the field the race proved to be hard work, especially with Trulli's light fuel load seeing him pit fourth on lap 18. Schumacher only came in on lap 26 for his first stop and, after spinning while chasing Sato, ended up in the gravel. Trulli finally brought the car home for a point after Raikkonen retired.
Unchanged at the start of the weekend after the Monaco revisions, Jordan needed to cut out sections of the chimney to aid cooling; the shape was reminiscent of the Red Bull cut outs, rather than the more dramatic cut-out chimney seen on the Jordan in Malaysia this year.
Friday shaped up well for the team with new third driver Franck Montagny setting 17th fastest time, but he had used six sets of tyres in the process, two more than allocated. The FIA were not pleased and have penalised Jordan; they are not allowed to run a third car in Montreal.
In qualifying the car looked a handful; the improving Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan both looked to have rear end stability problems on new tyres. In the race the teammates diced after both drivers recovered from the first corner shunt, but Monteiro missed some blue flags and was issued a drive through penalty, pushing him behind his teammate, who he finally passed for fifteenth.
In similar fashion to most other teams the Minardi has sprouted a small crash box wing, to aid rear downforce. Friday's second session was lost for Patrick Friesacher with clutch problems, leaving Christijan Albers to complete the programme alone, splitting the Jordans.
For qualifying Friesacher's more physical driving saw the better time, compared to Albers' smoother work at the wheel; the pace from Friesacher put the car ahead of the Karthikeyan's Jordan once more. The cars were hindered in the race with gear selection problems and oversteer for Albers and a penalty for ignoring blue flags for Friesacher; these problems put the team's race results behind Jordan.