By Craig Scarborough, England
Autosport-Atlas Technical Writer
Monza's demanding speeds and Spa's unpredictable weather presented unique challenges to the Formula One technical staff, and also the opportunity to introduce some modifications to their cars, before the final three flyaway races of the season. Craig Scarborough analyses the cars' performance in the final two races in Europe
Unusually this year, despite having just run the 16th Grand Prix, the World Championship still has three rounds left, each at a challenging circuit (Interlagos, Suzuka, Shanghai). So there is a lot more racing, more points to be scored and the teams will still have some developments to reveal.
The Monza race weekend saw the expected low drag aero setups but no major updates, while Spa saw even less technical novelty - although the wet weather may have prevented some parts being run.
For those used to the usual order of races, Spa following Monza in back-to-back races seems a strange pairing. The two tracks are both classics but with totally different atmospheres and layouts.
Monza now stands as the sole circuit dedicated to top speed, and although chicanes have been added to slow the cars around the lap it remains a circuit that demands a one-off setup. With three chicanes and only one real fast corner, the cars can sacrifice downforce for top speed, and at over 350km/h the cars have to brake for the chicanes with hardly any downforce to press them safely against the track. Drivers describe this like "floating", as the cars move around so much.
In order to cut drag (which costs top speed), the teams had to forgo the detail aerodynamic parts that can be afforded at slower tracks. The front and rear wings need to be trimmed out as much as possible. The final downforce setting that the teams settle on is as much what the driver can cope with as it is his control that keeps the car straight. Only the faster Parabolica corner sees the driver cornering as fast as aerodynamic grip allows.
Last weekend was not the hottest that Monza had experienced, but air/track temperatures of 44/30Â°C still cause problems for the strained engines and brakes. For this race weekend, over twelve drivers had fresh engines, with the latest spec to power the cars along the straights, but they have to retain some engine life for the challenging Spa race.
Tyre carcasses get a tough time in Monza from the high speeds, but wear and degradation are not a major issue. As a result, softer compounds can be used to give grip in the slower corners. Rain overnight on Saturday was thought to have changed the track, but unusually the cleaner track caused no real problems for any driver.
The weather perhaps shaped the Belgian Grand Prix's weekend more than the track's design, and the teams had to rely on driver skill and consistency rather than on setup.
Although Spa has long and challenging corners, it is not a high downforce circuit like most of the fast/flowing European tracks. The teams brought quite low downforce wings to the track, although not as extreme as Monza, with the rear wing profiles being more twisted and front wings shallower than at Silverstone, for example.
For engines, Spa provided a stern challenge - not only because of the climbs and long uninterrupted straights (although still curves), but also the G-forces being exerted on the oil system. Through the climb out of Eau Rouge, oil is literally being lifted up out of the bottom of the oil tank by reverse gravity, leaving the pumps devoid of oil to run the engine. To this end, most teams ran revised oil tanks and some used auxiliary oil tanks to ensure a constant supply to the pumps.
The weekend was dominated by the weather, Friday saw few runs in the morning and no real lap times being set in the afternoon. Again on Saturday, despite dry weather, the sessions were quiet until the last twenty minutes and far fewer laps were run in comparison to a typical weekend.
Going into qualifying, all teams agreed that the race was going to be wet, but how much they sacrificed in a dry qualifying session for a race expected to be wet was a challenge. The quandary was how much downforce to add, how much to soften the suspension, and how much to fuel the car to give the teams the flexibility and pace for Sunday. They needed to be at the front to be free of first corner shunts and spray, but also the fuel-load to get the pit window as near as possible to the expected onset of rain.
For the race, the morning rain had subsided, but the track was waterlogged and rivers of water were draining across the circuit. As no rain was falling at the race's start, the track was not wet enough to warrant extreme wet tyres, only the increasingly versatile wets ("intermediates") were run (Minardi excepted). Teams were expecting more rain around thirty minutes into the race, but were fearful a dry line could appear within just six laps (less than twelve minutes) if no more rain was seen.
The heavier rain never appeared; instead, the forested hills provided a heavy mist that kept the track consistently damp. This rare occurrence (usually the track either dries or gets wetter) meant the teams were less than clear what direction to go on mid-race tyre choice. Only in the closing laps were dry grooved tyres an advantage - earlier in the race they were unable to shift the water from the track and maintain temperature.
Intermediates proved to be the ideal tyre, as this tyre is a compromise between the surface area of a dry grooved tyre and the water-clearing treads of an extreme wet tyre. The tyre, however, tends to go off as the tread blocks lose their sharp edges and no longer cut through the water film on the track's surface.
Also, as the track dries, the 'intermediates' overheat and wear out - although the latter characteristic was used to good advantage by those teams who kept the intermediate tyres on the car and allowed them to wear to a near slick tread. Despite the wear, the tread blocks were still intact, and this both cut through the damp and kept heat in the tyre.
Toyota Development chassis
In the pre-Italian Grand Prix test at Monza, Toyota went quietly about testing a new development chassis. Chassis 09 featured one of the biggest mid-season structural changes seen in F1: the chassis no longer uses the almost universal single keel setup and instead follows McLaren's "no keel" practice, whereby both sets of the front suspension mount directly to the chassis. This alteration completely changes the way the front of monocoque is made, as the immense loads now pass through the carbon fibre at different points.
Theoretically, the "no keel" set up is lighter and better aerodynamically. Although this layout will be described as radical, it is in fact the standard method for mounting suspension to the front of racecars. Single and twin keels were developed simply as solutions to mount the wishbones with conventional geometries to high nose racecars. McLaren have proven that the compromise in the suspension's layout, where the wishbones have to be closer together and droop to reach the wheel, can still provide the geometry to make the tyres work.
Toyota's development car can be seen to have the suspension mounted higher up the chassis, the upper wishbone in line with the top of the pushrod and the lower (and now shorter) wishbone mounted to the bottom of the nose. This removes the bulky single keel from under the nose, leaving a clear path in which the front wing's wake will form.
To achieve this new layout, Toyota had to develop a new chassis, new wishbones and a new upright. In initial testing, these parts have proven unreliable and Jarno Trulli has been openly critical of the development path.
However, whether the new chassis makes its racing debut this year or not, the development can be viewed as a precursor to the TF106.
Monza was approached with some pessimism in the Ferrari camp, having been outpaced in the previous week's test and without the better Hungary spec tyres, which were unsuitable for this circuit.
However, Ferrari did make changes to the car, and with a revised rear wing endplate, the trailing edge now returns to being vertical, and the leading edge gained a square extension.
Elsewhere around the car, the front wing flap was much smaller, with two versions featuring differing trailing edge profiles (one smaller, one larger).
Amongst the items removed from this race were the Canard fins in front of the front suspension, the underslung chin wing and the crash box wing.
After his Turkish Grand Prix qualifying spin, and resulting engine change, Michael was one of the few drivers without a new engine for this race.
Ferrari's pessimism was well founded, as Schumacher had both a small and a larger off during the Friday sessions. The second spin involved light contact with the barrier and prevented the German from running more laps. Rubens Barrichello meanwhile stayed on the road but was unhappy with the car's balance. Regardless, their pace was not good, only really bordering on the top ten.
After setting second fastest time on Saturday morning, Schumacher then went off again in the later session, while Barrichello struggled again out of the top ten.
Schumacher's problems in the Turkish race forced him to qualify early, but he managed to put in a good time, despite a lock-up into turn one and an aggressive line through the second Lesmo chicane.
Barrichello was still not happy with the car, having to run a very low downforce setup in preparation for the race (hence his speed trap figure of 355.2km/h!) and qualified next to Schumacher. Their times were flattered by their cars' fuel load and in the race both drivers pitted early, just 13-14 laps into the race.
With the drivers pushing hard for points, Barrichello suffered a slow puncture thirteen laps to the end and had to pit for a replacement, while Schumacher spun and lost ground. Both drivers ended Ferrari's race out of the points, in a disappointing show on home ground.
Ferrari were again pessimistic with their performances on Friday and Saturday, even though they had no problems, aside from understeer on Friday and an off for Michael Schumacher on Saturday.
Qualifying saw the car's set up with more downforce and wet biased setup. Barrichello seemed to be struggling with the car, getting it turned in on the brakes into the slower corners, whereas Schumacher's lap was smoother. With a second between their qualifying times, it was suspected that Barrichello's was on a longer fuel strategy.
In the race, both cars completed clean opening laps but lacked pace despite the wet setup. The safety car period prompted the team to select dry tyres for Schumacher and this was clearly wrong as he struggled on his out-lap, even at safety car speeds. He re-pitted next time around and then rejoined only to be punted out by Takuma Sato at the restart.
Barrichello was running on intermediates and kept the same set on for his second stop on Lap 31, but as the track dried in the closing laps, his tyres were overheating and going off. The Brazilian pitted for dry-weather tyres but struggled with them for the remaining four laps.
Barrichello's sole fifth place was not the reward expected of the team that has dominated wet races for so many years.
For Monza, Renault introduced a new rear wing - ironically taking the endplate used for the high-downforce Hungarian race. This flat endplate does not use the curved joint with the flap and also did not use the slots seen in Hungary. Equally, the front wing did not use the extra flap moulded into the endplate.
Despite fresh engines, both cars hardly ran in the Friday morning session, preferring to leave the setup work for the afternoon. In the later session both drivers reported their dissatisfaction with the car and would need more work on setup before Saturday. This work paid off, as Saturday's sessions saw the team right up with McLaren, albeit split by BAR.
Giancarlo Fisichella's qualifying lap was not a clean one; he braking too late for turn one and running a wheel over the gravel in the second sector. At the same time, Fernando Alonso's lap was error free.
In parc ferme, both cars had exhaust systems and shadow plates replaced under FIA supervision.
After other teams, such as Jordan and BAR, have adopted multiple flaps on their front wings, Renault have surprisingly dropped their complex endplates again for Spa. Why Renault have given up this extra downforce is not clear, as there seem to be no other developments on the car to recoup or balance the losses.
The team were confident that their pace would be improved around Spa; Friday's wet weather never allowed the team to prove this. For qualifying, the team opted for a riskier dry setup with less downforce. This should still have allowed the cars to pass through top speed rather than corner speed, and this low downforce was proven in qualifying when their speed through Eau Rouge was clearly fastest, at 317km/h.
Giancarlo Fisichella's grid position was marred by an engine change penalty, after a change made during the morning. Nevertheless, his lap was well judged and he posted the third fastest time. Alonso, going out next, had a worse middle sector, despite taking a grippier line through Rivage, leaving him third on the grid (after Fisichella's penalty).
Although the Italian's engine failure was not explained, the replacement of the auxiliary oil tank on Alonso's car for the race (in parc ferme) suggested oil feed problems may have been to blame.
During the race, Fisichella lost the rear end through Eau Rouge and violently spun into the barriers. He was unharmed but the incident brought out the safety car. The accident may have been due to the low downforce setup, and Alonso later reported that the rear-end being light through high-speed corners. The Spaniard said that this behavior slowed him earlier in the race.
Monza saw BAR with only revised front and rear wings, the front wing sporting an unusual tapering flap, making the outer most section the most efficient, in contrast to other teams who try to ease off the pressure at the wing tip in order to reduce drag around the front wheel. This wing was run both with and without fences underneath, although both drivers raced with fences.
Differing combinations of existing bargeboards were tried too, but the usual setup with a small vane mounted to the sidepod fin and triangular horizontal fin between the suspensions was raced. The sidepods came in for some trimming, with the shoulder wings, flips and winglets being removed.
BAR were the sole team to run old engines in both cars, leaving the new development step for Spa and Brazil. As a result, Jenson Button sat out most of the Friday morning session while Takuma Sato proved the team's pace. The slow laptimes in the afternoon session were a result of longer runs to evaluate race tyres.
Saturday followed a similar pattern until qualifying, when Sato put in a great lap, flying through Lesmo 2 to top the times, until his time was eclipsed by the last runners - including Button, whose smoother lap (especially through the Lesmo's) to post third fastest ahead of Sato and was promoted to second by Raikonnen's engine failure.
The start of the race was dramatic for BAR. Button's engine was smoking on the dummy grid (although this cleared up) and Sato lost his place to Trulli into the first corner only to retake it around the first lap. As the first of the leading group to pit (around laps 16-17), the team's pace started to fade.
Sato's first fuel stop saw a failure on the fuel rig's electronics. Unbeknown to the team, he actually took on board a full tank of fuel, but he had to re-pit for the team to check what fuel was added to the car. This extra stop and long middle stint fuel load (he ran 25 laps in his second stint) wrecked his race, and the weight of fuel punished the tyres and brakes, leaving him to finish down in sixteenth.
BAR were one of two teams with visible developments at Spa. After a new front wing for Monza, the front wing was revised for Spa with a second flap above the main pair. This design has been tried by several teams in testing, but BAR are the first to race it.
The three-element layout is often termed a bi-plane arrangement, but more correctly it is cascaded. The upper element acts as a wing on its own, creating downforce, but being in close proximity to the other wing creates less drag in doing so. Despite the middle section of the wing being almost flat, BAR seem to have loaded this wing much more than the Renault format of having a flap on the endplate; this forces the team to run the wing across the full width of the nose to pass the loads into the nose cone.
Sato ran his qualifying lap after the Minardis and Jordans with the track not in the best condition. He only equaled the tail enders in his opening sector, but opened up a bigger advantage in the middle and last sectors, and the time held up for an eventual tenth place.
Button ran later but struggled with braking points and ended up half a second and two grid positions ahead of Sato. From these positions, it was Sato who had the pace in the early laps, running ahead of his teammate, who was struggling with oversteer at this point.
At the safety car period, Button was called in for dry-weather tyres, and as with other drivers who made a similar change, this necessitated another stop for intermediates.
At the restart, Sato ended his race by misjudging his braking behind Schumacher's Ferrari and retired on the spot. Button meanwhile was finding his tyres improving and better balanced due to a front wing adjustment. He only took on fuel at his last stop and ran the final eleven laps on his worn intermediates, being promoted to third at the races end.
After bringing a lot of new and untried parts to Turkey, including their tenth front wing, Williams had new front and rear wing variants for Monza.
The front wing still uses three elements but with a shorter shallower flap. The rear wing uses a twisted profile to make the outer tips shallower and matched to endplates without the usual slots.
Highlighting Williams's deficiencies in aerodynamics was the retention of the complex flip-up arrangement on the sidepods, and only the crash box wing and mid wings on the roll structure were deleted in favour of top speed. As has been the norm, the large chimneys were also retained, albeit partially blocked off with a crescent shaped plate at the front of the duct to control cooling.
No images have yet been released of the new rear brake ducts, but they appear to include the usual inner drum-shaped duct and a doughnut-shaped outer duct, now joined to enclose the brake disc. Usually the inner duct feeds air to the brake disc and inside half of the calliper, while the doughnut outer duct feeds air to the outer half of the calliper, the resulting heated flow ejecting from the rim of the disc and out through the outside face of the wheel. If Williams are enclosing the disc as well, then the brakes would remain cooled but retain some heat in between braking zones, keeping the brakes ready for the next application.
Friday at Monza went well. Mark Webber popped in a very fast time in his limited laps in the morning, while Nick Heidfeld all but matched him in the afternoon. Overnight, the German's migraine headache - as a result of a testing accident - worsened and he withdrew from the race. Third driver Antonia Pizzonia stepped in and took part in the two Saturday practice sessions, running more laps than Webber but still a very limited number of laps in comparison to other teams.
The Brazilian was first to qualify in the afternoon, his lap set on heavy fuel load. He set an impressive 352.5km/h top speed. Webber was next out and was compromised as the track improved through the session, ending up fourteenth.
Into the first corner of the race, Webber was caught up in the jam that the first chicane created. He hit David Coulthard's car and had to pit for a new nose and was then caught up in a fight with Coulthard as they chased the rest of the leading pack.
Later in the race, Webber left his pit early to race Sato out, his inside line allowing him to take the first corner ahead in a risky move for fourteenth.
Pizzonia put in a fighting race on a single fuel load to end up seventh.
Despite announcing new development at the rear of the car for this race, only the twisted profile rear wing on the Williams car appeared to be unfamiliar.
Webber went out to qualify first, and the car appeared to snap sideways under power and lacked speed through Eau Rouge. This made the conclusion on his setup puzzling. Pizzonia's qualifying lap was blemished with errors through the long fast Pouhon corner, pushing him back down to fifteenth.
When the team pitted during the safety car period, dry tyres were fitted to both cars. This meant the cars were back a lap later for intermediates.
Webber ran his set of intermediates until lap 38, when he had dry-weather tyres fitted, and he was able to make use of them, regaining positions through a massive speed advantage.
This success brought Pizzonia in, with the well-worn intermediates changed to dries with only four laps to go. Also with a speed advantage, Pizzonia tackled with Montoya in a misunderstanding on track position, ending his race on the spot. Webber, meanwhile, finished in a creditable fourth.
Eschewing their standard adoption of the Viking Horns and three-element front wing (one main plane and two flaps), McLaren had a very different setup for Monza.
A low downforce/drag front wing used the familiar main plane, but only one flap. The front wing's geometry appears to use a lot more camber and chord than the other teams, thus the outer spans appearing to be more draggy and not attempting to reduce the tip vortices as other teams employ. A fence is employed under the wing to separate the harder working outer tip from the mid span. This front wing was matched to a rear wing with a twisted profile as adopted by other teams.
The Viking horn's absence was a curious development; their use has never been adequately explained. Their possible benefits could form yaw resistance, flow conditioning in a vertical and horizontal axis for the rear wing, or most likely a combination of the two. Either way, their absence suggests their benefits do come at the cost of some drag.
The Italian weekend turned sour for Kimi Raikkonen when an inlet valve problem was detected on his engine. McLaren were forced to change the engine and accept the ten-grid position penalty for the third time this year. In parc ferme, more parts were changed: Juan Pablo Montoya had new drive shafts; Raikkonen had a new clutch; and both cars had new rear wing endplates.
Raikkonen's race was upset by a tyre problem only three laps after his first stop. While the right front tyre looked grained at his pitstop, it was his left rear tyre that suffered a problem. A piece of the tread forming the outermost groove detached form the tyre, and the Finn was forced to pit and replace the tyre.
Later in the race, Montoya also suffered the same tyre failure. This is believed to have been caused by McLaren's camber set-up of the rear suspension overloading the tyre. However, with five laps to go, Montoya chose to stay out on the failing tyre to preserve his lead and the team's Championship chances.
Friday saw limited running because of both the weather and a problem with the new engine installed in Montoya's car. A legal loophole, which only recognizes the engine as being used once it starts running on track, allowed the team to replace the Colombian's power unit without any penalty.
Teams can run up the engine once installed in the car (not in between races, unless under FIA supervision), and from there the engineers can inspect the engine's running surfaces by either simple strip downs (such as cam covers or access panels) or via endoscopes to reach more difficult areas. At this race, after just such an inspection, the cams displayed signs of wear and the team suspected the surface treatment on the cams was faulty and this forced the change.
Jacques Villeneuve had to last the weekend with an old engine, whereas Felipe Massa's engine failure in the Turkish Grand Prix allowed him to have a fresh unit fitted. Despite one fresh engine, the team only did installation runs in the first practice session on Friday, running nearer twenty in the afternoon.
Sauber selected differing set-ups for each driver at Spa. This compromised Villeneuve's qualifying lap with heavy fuel load and a lack of rear end grip, upsetting cornering and braking. Massa had a much better low-fuel setup and was extremely fast through the Eau Rouge speed trap, at 312.5km/h, and set good opening sector times for eighth.
In the race, Villeneuve stayed out during the safety car period and rose to the front of the field, baulking Alonso until stop on lap 20. He kept going well on intermediates through to the end, staying in front of Ralf Schumacher for sixth.
Massa also promoted himself up the order but at his second stop opted for dry-weather tyres and struggled to get them to work on the still damp track, dropping from a potential third to tenth at the flag.
With the Red Bull team spending most of the year with few visible developments on the car, Monza brought out a host of changes and some solutions not adopted by other teams.
The team had an interesting delta shaped rear wing: the main plane used a pointed delta shape, with the outer tips lower than the middle. This makes the camber of the wing greater and the chord shorter at the tips, than the middle. Potentially the wing could produce the same lift/drag across the span due to the differing chord/camber ratios.
To ease the drag produced at the tips, the flap features small steps for the few centimetres before the endplate. This increases the slot gap and equalizes the pressure above and below the wing (which would otherwise form a drag inducing vortex).
At the front, the new wing uses a very short chord across the middle of the span only lengthening towards the outer spans. Large fences are used under the wing and quite close to the endplates; these prevent pressure passing from the more heavily loaded mid span to the relatively lower loaded tips. Curiously, Red Bull still use double flip-ups on the outside face of the front wing end plate, while most teams have dropped these this year and even fewer were run in Monza.
David Coulthard's Cosworth engine failed for the first time this season. As this happened along the start/finish straight, without a convenient service road, the Scot was forced to trail oil awkwardly around the hairpin.
Christian Klien meanwhile had a reliable race and was one of the few to take on dry-weather tyres at the last pitstop and make use of them, but he was unable to break into the points.
In common with all teams, Toyota had a revised front wing and rear wing for Monza. The front wing used the usual stepped main plane but a very narrow chord flap. The flap featured unusually long outer chords, spanning only a few centimetres, and this would be used to produce some form of change in the air-flow's direction, probably to enhance the brake duct, which has an unusual upward facing inlet.
A lot of the aero paraphernalia was removed, including the shoulder wings, leaving a small vestigial fin behind. In the race, it could be seen that the rear wing was wobbling about its supporting strut. This is because the wing's load is passed through the strut and not through the endplates into the lower beam wing. This makes the assembly lighter but more prone to instability; but this was in no way a performance-enhancing flex.
In the race, Ralf Schumacher was the first of the front-runners to make a pitstop - critically before the safety car. He remained ahead of Kimi Raikkonen after the safety car came in, until his second stop on lap 24, when he prematurely opted for dry-weather tyres, and with a spin on his out-lap came straight back in.
Jarno Trulli was also having a good race until he took on dries in his first stop, and the extra stop to refit intermediates pushed him down the grid. The Italian also had a bizarre accident, when he accidentally set off the pitlane speed-limiter and hit the rear of Tiago Monteiro's Jordan, losing his wing and going off into the barriers.
Having run the new car in testing and as the third car at recent races, Jordan finally gave their EJ15B its race debut at Monza.
The revised car sports the new gearbox case as well as new aerodynamics. The aero revisions have been made to add downforce and further development to the car since its first runs and include new front wing endplates and winglets atop the chassis.
As explained in our interview with Jordan designer John McQuilliam, Jordan lack the development budget to find a front good enough to warrant the investment in making it. As a result, Jordan have ingeniously mated the old front wing remains to a new end plate, adopting a Renault format integrated flap (used on both cars). This adds downforce with little drag or turbulence and costs less than a completely new front wing moulding.
The revised front wing on the EJ15B also used scuttle winglets as Renault, Williams and Toyota have adopted this year. Other revisions include engine cover where the undercut section now forms an outlet to cool the engine bay. This is trailed by a small vertical strut, and the purpose of this strut must be to meet the minimum bodywork regulations in this area.
Lastly, for Monza, the rear wing was reduced by a single element, and since the wing is run so flat there is no need to use a slot to maintain the flow under wing, as the slot costs a small amount of drag.
Narain Karthikeyan retained his Turkish GP engine for its second race while Tiago Monteiro received a new engine. The Portuguese driver was also running the new car, and its stability under braking has been much improved over the EJ15 of Karthikeyan.
With two EJ15Bs for Spa, the weekend boded well for Jordan, but the limited running prevented the team perfecting the car's setup.
Jordan chose a wet-weather orientated set-up, and in qualifying this compromised the team. Karthikeyan struggled with understeer, while Monteiro exhibited oversteer and had to lift through Eau Rouge, posting only 302km/h in the speed trap.
This compromise in qualifying, along with the Bridgestone intermediates - which seemed to work well for Jordan - gave them a fighting chance in the race, and when the flag dropped, Monteiro found himself in eighth place for a well deserved point.
Unlike Jordan, Minardi ran a two-piece rear wing and simply reduced the centre span of the normal front wing to a minimum. Christijan Albers ran his old engine for the second race. After a rare testing appearance, the three cars ran reliably on Friday and lead into qualifying, where Albers made an error in the second Lesmo chicane, which cost him time. Robert Doornbos had a clear lap to split the Jordans.
In the race, Albers kicked off contact between the four cars going into the last corner; he also was given a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags.
For the race, Minardi sent their cars into the pitlane for the start - one car at the pit exit already shod with extreme wet tyres, while the other was waiting to take on a one-stop fuel load in the pit.
The strategy relied on wetter weather arriving soon, but this didn't work out and the cars were the first to pit after only six laps as the drier line appeared. Their better qualifying was lost due to their risky race strategy, and the team ended up last of the runners.