By Craig Scarborough, England
Autosport-Atlas Technical Writer
With three flyaway races ending the season - two of them running back to back - the teams have been working out of freight boxes. Surprisingly, though, some cars features significant upgrades, and Craig Scarborough has all the details on the set-up, specs and design features of the Brazilian, Japanese and Chinese Grands Prix
Having been a tradition to end the season with a long haul race, this year saw a more punishing trio of races, including the two Asian Grands Prix held back to back.
The teams have effectively been working out of flight cases for these final three rounds. The cars were not returned to the factory in-between Grands Prix, and as a result there were no great developments anticipated. Nevertheless, some new parts were run, even a few significant upgrades. Furthermore, while some teams entered the final races with their Championship position secured, the winner of each title remained undecided and some key runner up places were left up for grabs. With this in mind, the teams adopted different approaches to development and strategy for each race.
End of Season Strategy
With this year being the first of the one-engine-for-two-races rule, teams had the phasing of their new engines to take into account of their end of season preparations. The majority of the teams had new engines for Brazil and China, allowing for perhaps the ideal cycle, leaving a fresh engine for the last race.
Also, the logistics of flyaway races affected the teams' ability to test and bring new parts to the races. But as is expected in this time of the year, the teams are already running dual development programmes. The 2006 cars are already demanding the resources of the design, testing and manufacturing teams at the factories. Engines aside, the aerodynamic, suspension and electronic developments for 2006 can be applied to the current cars in many cases.
Largely the focus of the media has been on the title battles between McLaren and Renault. For the latter part of the season, Renault's approach has been conservative to guarantee points if not wins.
With the Drivers' Championship decided in Brazil, Renault switched to a more aggressive tack. The car was revised at each race - the significant developments being the Japanese aero upgrade and the Chinese "E" spec engine. The former development was to increase the car's pace, but the weather prevented us from seeing the true gains of these changes.
But Renault's pace in China was clearly a step improvement, with the aero changes bolstered by the engine specification revised to suit a single race weekend. This specification was not a new engine, but used parts that had not been proven to run two races' distance.
Furthermore, since the engine didn't need to be managed (i.e. restricted) over two weekends, the unit could be run harder. In china, both Renaults had a new engine, while critically only Juan Pablo Montoya had a new Mercedes unit - his teammate Kimi Raikonnen's engine had already been pushed hard over one race distance in Japan.
Further down the grid, BAR tactically changed the engine in Takuma Sato's car in Brazil to get the "Suzuka" spec engine proven over race distance ahead of their home race in Japan.
Toyota debuted their "B" spec TF105 - the major structural changes to the front suspension being declared race ready. And, with Toyota's position in the Championships unchallenged, this allowed them to risk running the revised car, which was designed as a precursor their 2006 design.
Across the rest of the grid teams mainly brought smaller parts: for one, the Renault format front wing end plate, which was initially applied on the Jordan EJ15B, was by now adopted by two other teams (Williams and Minardi).
Switching from its usual early season appearance, The Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos was the 17th round of the 2005 Championship. The circuit is a challenge for teams and the drivers, and the bumpy track can effectively be split in two: the tight middle sector of the lap, and then the long drag on to the main straight towards the tight turn 1.
Slower speeds through the tight middle sector demand mechanical grip, while the haul onto the straight calls for engine power, which itself is compromised by the thin air owing to the track being well above sea level.
With the 2005 race running late in the year, the temperatures were lower than usual and the threat of damp weather was increased. This eased the pressure for drivers, but as the track is so bumpy and runs anti clockwise (one of only three tracks to do so) the race was in no way an easy one for the drivers.
Aside from the bumps, the track surface is quite rough, raising tyre wear issues - particularly for the two outside (right-hand) tyres, and especially the right rear.
As the pitlane is along the main straight and the track doesn't penalise laptimes for heavy fuel loads, strategy can be flexible - the choices being largely between one or two stops. This flexibility eased the worry of the damp start to the race and the threat of more rain.
Suzuka is rightly compared to Spa as a classic drivers' circuit, but also because of its particular set-up requirements. However the detail of Suzuka's layout is very different, a peculiar figure of eight, which combines super-fast corners, tricky sequences and slow corners.
Although the long pit straight allows the cars to rev to maximum speed quite early down the straight, it is the large amount of the lap spent in challenging corners that demand a high downforce set-up. It is these corners that also penalise laptimes on heavy fuel loads and degrades tyres.
The weekend's mix of weather conditions put the teams in a difficult position. The threat of wet weather for the race and a drenched track for qualifying would usually see the teams adopting a heavy fuel load in qualifying. But this would have penalised any team in the race should the weather remain dry. Therefore, it seems most teams risked a drier race and did not fuel as heavily as might have been expected.
The topsy turvey weather also contributed to exciting race with the top drivers fighting through from the back of the grid. The track's layout rewards driver skill, but in contrast to the modern Herman Tilke format of slow corner onto a long straight and then braking into a slower corner, Suzuka does not have the slow corner to allow the cars' braking differential to complete a maneuver.
Regardless, the slow triangle chicane ending the lap did allow cars to pass along the straight, with the speed differential provided by better line out of the chicane, better traction, or better top speed - the latter being a function of engine power and aerodynamic drag.
As a new Tilke track, Shanghai takes a lot of cues from Suzuka. As a result, the cars require similar set-ups, with high downforce and well-cooled brakes.
After the intense racing of Suzuka, the Chinese layout did not provide the same level of excitement, mainly as a result of the qualifying order following the comparative race pace of the teams. Instead, it was the safety car periods that affected the Chinese race result. Drivers running light fuel and stopping before either of the interruptions lost out.
The battle at the front was affected by the differing strategies of the teams and the impact of the safety car periods. Kimi Raikkonen was on a heavier fuel load, and being caught behind Giancarlo Fisichella in the opening laps, with little chance of a risk-free pass, sent McLaren on an economy run to eke out even more laps from the opening stint, recouping the lost time with blistering laps in clear air once the Renaults has pitted.
Equally, Fernando Alonso's early break relied on Fisichella holding up the McLarens to maximize the gap at his earlier first stop. As events unfurled, both drivers lost some potential advantage - Alonso's lead was lost despite Fisichella's attempts to hold back the pack as he headed to the pits, both interludes costing him a healthy lead.
Raikkonen also lost his chance to run a longer stint, obliged by the timing of the safety cars to also pit, his one advantage was being able to stop for a shorter stop, to get out ahead of Fisichella.
Team by Team
After the last of the European races precluded Ferrari running the new generation of Bridgestone's tyres, the less extreme demands of the final flyaway events allowed the Italians to take a different route in tyre development.
The latest batch of Bridgestones take some elements of the 2004 tyres, applying them to newer constructions. Rumours suggest Bridgestone has the ability to develop a stiffer Michelin-like tyre but hasn't the resources to make a weekend's worth of tyres for their three teams. Ferrari clearly preferred this range of tyres, and all three races saw them more competitive in races.
None of the weekends were easy for the team, though. Michael Schumacher appeared on the edge at each race, with spins and crashes at each weekend.
The F2005 didn't receive any obvious development in the closing races, although the more complex aerodynamic add-ons - which were dropped for tracks like Monza - had returned for the flyaways. This suggests the team saw the refocusing of resources on the F2006 as a bigger priority.
The V8 car has already been running - indeed two versions of the new engine exist, both being mated to revised F2005s, and the team have announced the new car will debut early in the new year to allow adequate testing in a chassis properly optimized for the engine.
Only two technical novelties were apparent in these three races. The Bi plane front wing was retained, but mated to a different format front wing adopting small flick ups at its outer most tips. Additionally, the front wing used different endplates, these now seeing cut-outs along the top edge and flared sections along the trailing edge. Both are aimed at re-optimizing the flow of the now much more complicated front wing to bring the much needed downforce.
On the engine side, stories circulating mid season about a Honda bid for a 1000hp engine for Suzuka appear to have been wide of the mark. There was a Suzuka spec engine, but not anywhere near the 1000hp, 20K rpm. This engine was brought to Brazil and was fitted to Takuma Sato's car for the race (he sat out qualifying), which gave the engine a race's distance to prove its reliability ahead of Honda's home race.
Jenson Button's qualifying performances continued to bring good placings but fading race performances through lack of grip hindered each of the races. Sato suffered suspension problems in Brazil's race after his back row start and retired from the Chinese race with gearbox problems.
Renault's final push for the Championships started in Brazil with a major aero upgrade with a new front wing, flip-ups and bargeboards. What as noticeable too was a new floor; this was followed by new suspension for Japan.
These developments certainly pushed Renault nearer McLaren. The Diffuser appears to be a refinement of the mid-season version. Renault are very aggressive with the initial ramp of the central diffuser tunnel, this shaping places tunnel in the way of the lower wishbone (as described in the French GP technical analysis).
This new version appears to use fairings (marked in yellow) moulded into the floor to streamline the inboard ends of the wishbone. Also, the floor is split to allow its removal, creating a small separate piece forming the hump over the wishbone.
China saw engine developments, and the "E" specification was brought in to maximize power for the final race. Rather than the usual compromise of power and reliability, the opportunity to have an engine last only one race - the final one - allowed the emphasis to be on power and not reliability.
This was achieved within the usual engine development programme, where the engine comprised parts only proven in testing to last a single race distance rather than two. Also, the way the engine was run over the weekend allowed full power to be used more freely than in a two-race cycle. Fernando Alonso confirmed he used full power in the qualifying and for the first race stint only, since under less pressure he was then able to ease the engine back to preserve reliability.
The combination of the new aerodynamics, suspension and engine clearly brought the pace needed to race McLaren to the flag. This was somewhat blurred by the safety car periods, but China saw Renault win on pace when the McLarens had been seen previously to be the faster car.
Excluding the disastrous weekend in Brazil (where both cars qualified poorly and crashed in the race), the team seems to have turned a corner in their pace. With the two final races being demanding on aerodynamics as much as mechanical set-up, this boded well as a sign off to a season that has seen the team struggling aerodynamically.
There appeared to be no major changes to the car, although the initially troublesome rear brake ducts made a return, These start out as conventional rear ducts, with a doughnut duct on the outer face of the disk and barrel-shaped duct around the upright.
Many team use a dished cover on the inner face of the disc to direct flow out of the wheel, but Williams have gone a stage further with this concept and actually extended the main duct around the doughnut to form a narrow circular opening to the air (marked in red) to flow through.
This set-up takes complete control of the cooling flow. From the point it enters the intake scoop to the point it exits through the wheel, any effect of the wheel rotating around it has been removed. Why Williams have taken this approach on the rear ducts, which have less impact on the car's aerodynamics than the front, is puzzling.
Japan saw the last noticeable aero development with the additional of Renault-like Bi plane front wing endplates. Williams haven't followed the Renault route, but instead had bolted a flap (marked in yellow) to the inner face of the endplate.
This is a less integrated set-up but will provide some extra downforce for little increase in drag or disruption to the flow to the rear of the car. It is also more adaptable as it fits standard endplates and can be removed easily.
In the races the qualifying pace seems to have been replaced with race pace, plus in the races themselves a quicker pitstop has got Mark Webber out in front of rivals. With the restriction in pitstop lengths being the amount of fuel being taken in, Webber must have a more efficient engine or he is driving more efficiently when leading up to a stop while following his rival.
Although McLaren stated some developments on the car for these races, the MP4-20 remains remarkably unaltered. While still overwhelmingly superior to the rest of the grid, the car's ability to qualify well with heavy fuel loads and maintain its tyres during the heavy opening laps is impressive.
However, the team have been hit by another engine failure for Kimi Raikkonen during Friday session in Japan, and this was attributed to a con rod failure, a part outsourced by Mercedes.
Equally, qualifying errors and Juan Pablo Montoya's drain cover incident in China have ended their Constructors' Championship hopes. The Japanese engine change also put Kimi on a different cycle of engines to Renault, leaving him with a used engine for the final race, and this unit was already pushed hard during his recovery drive to win in Japan.
There were no visible developments for the closing races.
Often the team split their drivers' strategy with Felipe Massa more often going to a light fuel load than Jacques Villeneuve. Their laps corrected for fuel are close enough but the resulting races only see one strategy win out. Why one driver is so consistently sacrificed for indecision in strategy is baffling.
Despite a summary reading almost like Williams's fortunes over the three race weekends, Red Bull have been very different in their approach to the season that Williams.
The car has been racing a very similar format to that brought to Australia for the first round of the year. The last three races saw no obvious alterations to the car or Cosworth engine.
Both drivers struggled in Brazil with poor qualifying and the first lap shunt with the two Williams drivers. Christian Klien stayed out of trouble and just missed the points, while at the remaining two races the cars were much more competitive, with points scored for one car at each race while the other finished just out of the top eight.
Having been strong in the early and middle part of the season, Toyota made great strides to gain some pace in the closing races of the season. Racing the B spec car this year was not a clear aim, but its early appearance at the pre Monza test and subsequent re-appearance at many tests suggests the team was determined to make its race debut this year.
As described in the Italian GP technical analysis, the TF105B is a major development to the normal TF105. While the TF105 has been a good car, the drivers found its handling in the race inconsistent. Part of the process to rectify this for 2006 was a reworking on the front end. What has resulted is a move towards the McLaren "no Keel" format; this raises the front wishbones upwards and closer together.
In doing this, Toyota have had to redesign the internal lay-up of the monocoque to cope with the different load paths. Equally wishbones are all new, the upper ones now passing the steering arm through a hollow fairing rather than externally.
The lower wishbones are now much shorter and require new mountings for the wheel tethers (usually to the front of the keel). Also, the steering rack had to be re-sited higher up. At their outboard ends, the wishbones mount to a new upright; the lower mount has to be higher while the pushrod now mounts to the upright itself (rather than the wishbone).
This drooped format of the suspension provides an unusual approach to the geometry required to match the tyre's camber requirements. Perhaps the upright mounting of the pushrod counteracts the unusual kinematics of the wishbone when the car is in roll and being steered. But, clearly McLaren have made this sort of design work well with the Michelins.
Whether the redesigned suspension is a result of aerodynamic or of geometry considerations, hasn't been explained by technical director Mike Gascoyne. A combination of both is likely, as the lower wishbone is moved into a more favourable location in respect to the front wing, while the potential removal of the keel is another obstruction cleared in the critical area under the nose.
Indeed, one of the drivers was not entirely happy with its steering.
As with Williams and Red Bull's adaptations of this idea, the flap works is at the maximum height for bodywork between the rear wheels and recovers some of the downforce lost by the smaller outer tunnel.
Brazil was the first retirement for Tiago Monteiro with engine failure, which halted his 100% record of race finishes this year.
A final development to the PS05 was the addition of new Renault-like front wing endplates (marked in yellow).