By Craig Scarborough, England
Autosport-Atlas Technical Writer
The French Grand Prix saw most teams introducing notable technical updates to their cars, debuting changes that will be seen in most of the remaining European races. Craig Scarborough analyses the changes seen during last weekend's race, and reviews the cars' performance
The teams have made the most of the short break between Indianapolis and Magny Cours to finalise their specification for the forthcoming rush of classic European tracks. Since the two American races were slightly unusual, in that they are high speed, low drag high braking tracks, they tend to see a similar technical set up adopted for both races; this set up will now only be run again at Monza.
The forthcoming tracks tend to be more focused on fast to medium speed corners where higher downforce is required, and rewards the more aerodynamically efficient cars. Spanish testing across several tracks allowed the teams to gain mileage on their new aero, engine and tyre packages; as a result the French Grand Prix saw a great number of developments.
The circuit as Magny Cours is a fairly typical circuit, with a nice mix of flowing chicanes and some fast corners, although it does have a few idiosyncrasies. Firstly the track surface is very smooth; this is good for the cars aerodynamics, as the cars can be run very low to improve the diffusers efficiency without fear of the planks wearing out. But the lack of grip from the smooth surface and the hard-hitting kerbs leads the teams to run a lot of wheel travel to provide some compliance over the kerbs and induce some mechanical grip in the chassis.
The track does punish tyres, but not in the same way as perhaps Barcelona's rough surface does. Instead the shiny tarmac tends to make the tyres hot and degrade, but without wear; at the end of the race most teams had all their grooves intact, and little rubber stuck in the grooves. Yet these tyres were way past their best, such was the hard work they were put through in and out of the corners.
Team by Team
After statements from Ross Brawn that development has been ceased on the F2005, the changes seen in France can be expected to be the last until the V8 car runs next year. Although highly visual the changes were quite small, aimed at optimising existing parts rather than a more fundamental change in design.
At the front two pairs of fins shape the flow off the front wing; the front pair angled quite steeply just in front of the upper wishbone are aligned with the front wing flap, they from a cascade with the front wing, effectively making an extra element in addition to the three part front wing (plus the chin slat). An offset to these devices is that the flow will tend to spill up higher over the car.
The second pair of fins on the sidepods probably help in leveling off the up wash to aid flow to the rear wing, which otherwise would be compromised. The placement of these sidepod fins are reminiscent of the mountings to the shoulder wings adopted by BAR and Toyota. Perhaps for the higher downforce races (e.g. Hungary) these fins could sprout winglets.
At the rear a new diffuser carries on the theme from the launch version of the F2005, with two extra side channels, but Ferrari have now revised the footplate of the centre tunnel to make it sweep upwards slightly. Universally this has been flat previously, where there is no actual requirement in this area for a flat bottom.
The flow out of the diffuser and through the wing is directed dramatically upwards to a near vertical flow just behind the car; the swept footplate should be sympathetic towards this flow, introducing less unwanted turbulence and still acting to seal in the low pressure in the centre tunnel. Married to the new footplates are revised gurneys, now with a small tab in the corner and a triangular tab above the tunnel.
As usual the Friday programme saw the drivers concentrating on race set up in the morning, before the afternoon session saw faster times for Michael Schumacher, with Rubens Barrichello not yet fully happy with his set up. Sitting out the third practice session after the Friday night rain, the drivers were again well up the time sheets.
Qualifying after the one-two finish gifted to them at Indianapolis gave the drivers the last two qualifying slots; they then ended up in similar positions to that in practice, with Schumacher's time good for fourth (promoted to third after Kimi Raikkonen's penalty) and Barrichello, who had a bad last sector on his lap, was in seventh (corrected to sixth).
At the race start both drivers made good starts, with Barrichello able to jump ahead of Takuma Sato. From there Barrichello's race went awry; his brakes were out of balance and he struggled to keep up with his rivals, eventually ending up a lap down in ninth. Schumacher was unable to pass Jarno Trulli off the line and followed him all the way through to the first stop, where Schumacher's small fuel load allowed him out ahead of Trulli. He was caught by the McLarens, who passed him on their two stop strategy, and with the delays in traffic and no sign of blinding pace Schumacher ended up in third, nearly a lap down.
A major test between races allowed BAR to make some sense of the Nurburgring performance which, being so similar to Magny Cours, was crucial to the team's return to form. A new specification engine was produced by Honda, and some minor aero updates were introduced with another specification front wing. The new high downforce set up was working as Sato went fourth fastest in the morning, with Jenson Button a few slots behind him.
The afternoon focused on race tyre evaluation, and both drivers' lap times were accordingly slower. As with most teams, Saturday's morning session was sat out in the pits, with Button completing only six laps. Qualifying saw Sato put in a great lap to end up around a quarter second off pole, with Button just two tenths further back.
In the race Sato's poorer start kicked off a series of problems; starting with a badly judged maneuver on Trulli, losing him places and upsetting the balance of his car, before a later incident lead to Sato going off track due to another car throwing gravel on track; this nearly saw Sato end up in the barriers. His eventual eleventh was a disappointment from his qualifying position. Meanwhile Button soldiered on with his race, and after three stopping he crossed the line for fourth.
Development has been continuing on the diffuser, and Renault have their own unique interpretation of the new rules. To maximize the lower side channels and make the most of the larger central tunnel, Renault has designed the car with very different suspension geometry, placing the lower wishbone in closer proximity to the side channels. This allows the shaped wishbone to interact with the side channel and mimic the effect of last years taller channels.
The centre tunnel sweeps up aggressively in two complex curves; such is the height of the centre channel just behind the axle line that the low placed wishbone cuts through the centre tunnel. This, in principal at least, is a bad thing as the wishbone interrupts the flow, but clearly Renault have been able to offset the penalty of the wishbone blockage with more overall efficiency as a result of the taller tunnel.
At this stage of the season there is little that can be done with suspension geometry, as it would necessitate a new gearbox casing, so Renault are unlikely to alter this set up and no other teams are able to copy the low wishbone. Renault have two formats of diffuser featuring this layout; one using squarer edged side tunnels and streamlining inside the centre tunnel, while the current version uses shaped outer channels.
For France Renault adopted a new crash-box wing, along the lines of most other teams. Their previous winglet was a low mounted single element; now the winglet is mounted higher up with two tall endplates and two aerofoil elements. Lastly Renault dropped the small wings on the top of the nose for this race.
Friday saw the cars on the pace and the drivers happy with their set ups; this speed carried through to Saturday, with Renault even topping the wet first practice session. A clean qualifying lap put Fernando Alonso on pole, while Giancarlo Fisichella was on a good lap until he went wide out of the last turn to lose time.
Fisichella's poorer qualifying lap translated into bad luck in his race; his fuel rig failed at his first stop, his diffuser broke during the next stint, and at his last stop the engine died and took time to restart; ending up sixth was remarkable in the circumstances. Alonso, meanwhile, had a much easier race, pulling away easily from Trulli, then maintaining his lead when the McLarens took up second and third places.
Although development has continued at a great pace at Williams, the sidepods and the cooling layout has been an item long overdue for revision. Williams took a different strategy this year by adopting very low sidepods, with small radiators and a hotter running engine; this approach gained the air a cleaner line to the rear wing, and reduced drag in the process.
The hotter, early races were difficult for Williams, and ever since the chimneys have been amongst the largest seen on the grid, somewhat offsetting the gains from the lower sidepods. The new layout makes use of different radiators, thicker and re-angled slightly within the sidepod, while the cooling outlets are now formed by large chimneys and a multitude of slots at the rear of the bodywork. There are also two cooling slots on the main sidepod, and a louvered effect on the exhaust fairings.
Along with the revised cooling outlets are the winglets and flip ups ahead of the rear wheels; these have been complicated by the extra winglet seen in Monaco, and now have two elements and requires an extra strut to mount it to the outside of the sidepod. These changes saw the shelf wing missing from the rear wing; this may not be a permanent absence.
Friday saw the team evaluating the new aero package in addition to the usual tyre selection work. Several versions of the sidepods were tried, with the team finally deciding on a version with fewer slots in the bodywork. It was clear on Friday that the team lacked pace, being well outside the top ten and over two seconds adrift. The team did run in the Saturday morning session, and reduced the lap time deficit to the leader to less than two seconds.
Qualifying ended up with both drivers on the seventh row, around one and half seconds behind the pole time. The weekend's poor performance carried over into the race, with Mark Webber suffering burns in the cockpit and Nick Heidfeld suffering a problem with his differential. Initially this was thought to be a tyre or suspension problem; several pitstops were required to diagnose the problem, and eventually the team asked Heidfeld to keep running as it would improve his qualifying order for Silverstone.
No major alterations have been seen on the McLaren in recent races, apart from new rear brake ducts which are still large like the versions in last week's mid season review. Initially these appeared to be cut back versions of the existing design, but now the boxy trailing edge is below the toe link, whereas previously the link passed through the box section.
The teams are allowed a larger rear brake duct, as the rules allow more space than around the front wheel; this frees up the teams to make the most of the duct's shape to turn the airflow around the rear wheels and form aerofoil cross sections to turn the flow ahead of the diffuser and rear wing.
Friday was good and bad for McLaren; all three drivers proved to be amongst the fastest drivers, although Raikkonen suffered an engine failure on his first lap out of the pits in the second session. Qualifying was going to be a challenge, with both drivers running early and Raikkonen having to recover from his ten position penalty; his lap for third position was amazing considering the fuel level he was running; fortunately Magny Cours does not punish heavy fuel loads as bad as other tracks.
In the race both drivers soon started to make progress, with their two stop fuel load allowing them to lap faster as the three stoppers made their first stops. Ending up second and third after the first rounds of stops, both drivers started to make inroads into Alonso's lead. However, Juan Pablo Montoya started to suffer with his power steering, and then his gear and throttle as the hydraulic system failed; eventually he retired out on track on lap 46. Raikkonen ran reliably throughout to finish in second.
A fairy normal aero set up was in use at Sauber. The team is now preparing for the 2006 season as a part of BMW; what will happen to the team's technical staff, and to Willi Rampf in particular, in unconfirmed. It would be a sad loss to see Rampf or any of the senior technical staff depart the team, having achieved so much with the team's limited resources.
Although ending up out of the top ten the team were happy with their pace on Friday; this fed into Saturday as Felipe Massa qualified in tenth, just ahead of Jacques Villeneuve. Villeneuve had the better race to finish eighth, while Massa suffered hydraulic problems leading to a lengthy pitstops to try to repair the problem; when this failed Massa had to retire the car.
The team announced some updates to the cars, but these were not visible to my eyes, with the car appearing in its normal format in all but detail. Friday started badly with Christian Klien ending up in the barriers, while David Coulthard was in tenth and quite happy with the car's pace.
In qualifying Coulthard's early run cost him badly, as he found the track slippery and was pushed down to the fifteenth. Klien qualified only a tenth behind, closing a disappointing qualifying session for the team. In the race Klien's bad luck continued, with a fuel pressure problem stopping the car in the opening laps, while Coulthard was mired in traffic but able to move up to tenth.
A technicality not covered in the recent updates was the adoption of a small fin shaped brake duct. This initially appeared in Canada, but was refused by the stewards on the grounds that it served no purpose for brake cooling as it had no holes to allow flow to pass within the duct; the duct was revised for Indianapolis with a small hole to allow some "cooling" flow.
These ducts have been used by Renault and McLaren for several seasons; they are thinly disguised aerodynamic aids working in conjunction with the front wing endplates to shape the flow around the inside face of the wheel. When Ferrari produced their fairly contentious winglet duct at the Nurburgring, Toyota felt a precedent had been set. The FIA have clarified to the teams what they would expect to see in space allowed for brake ducts, as this has been a relatively free area and not much exploited by the teams until now.
Friday went according to plan, with the choice of race programme not clear by the end of practice and the debate carrying on through to the evening. Saturday saw both drivers well up the timesheets; Trulli was still unhappy with his set up and made changes through the morning. Ralf Schumacher, having to do his qualifying lap first, made an error into the hairpin and lost time; Trulli, meanwhile, had a much better lap with his new set up and was placed second on the grid.
Trulli made a good start off the grid and held back his teammate up to his first and longer pit stop; it was clear the Toyota did not have the pace of the cars queued up behind him. Trulli reporting a lack of grip, with the car sliding around a lot; changes at his pitstops eased the problems and fifth place meant only the McLarens made it past Trulli during the race. Schumacher meanwhile fought back from his poor grid position; also suffering with the car sliding a lot, Schumacher moved to a two stop strategy to end up seventh.
The two race cars were normal EJ15s, while the third car of Robert Doornbos was the EJ15B seen briefly in testing; this interim car will see the team through to the end of the season. Such was the rush to prepare a car to the 2005 rules and Toyota engine, many areas were left undeveloped; this update sees the sidepods and gear casing as key area of change. The sidepods now feature deeper undercuts, shorter Toyota-style shoulder wings, re-sited exhausts and a notched engine cover. The new cars lacked mileage, and will probably debut in Germany.
Friday saw Tiago Monteiro go off over the kerbs and damage the car, while Narain Karthikeyan had a cleaner run. Karthikeyan qualified ahead of the Minardis, while Monteiro was two places down suffering from his lack of running on Friday. In the race it was Karthikeyan's turn for problems, with his gearbox losing third and fifth gear his pace was compromised, but he was able to post the all important finish to aid his qualifying next week. Monteiro completed yet another race finish in thirteenth.
The weekend started badly with a gearbox failure for Christian Albers, albeit changed in a remarkable twenty minutes by the mechanics. Patrick Friesacher then had some gear selection problems on his qualifying run, but he still managed to split the Jordans, while Albers made too many errors and ended up last.
In the race both cars retired with deflated rear left tyres. After the issues at Indianapolis this caused concern; the fault was not with the tyre but rather the valve caps not being refitted after the second pit stop, allowing the tyres to lose pressure and fail. Albers failure sent him off the track more violently than did Friesacher's failure.