By Craig Scarborough, England
Autosport-Atlas Technical Writer
Craig Scarborough reviews the new Minardi, the BAR and Toyota controversies, the technical performance and various changes introduced by the team in the San Marino Grand Prix
Imola is a difficult track for the teams, but one that will be a good indicator for the slower European tracks coming up over the summer period. As a track it is devoid of fast corners and long straights - this both makes overtaking difficult and does not show how good a car's aerodynamics are, but it does reward power traction and good brakes.
The three week break since the Bahrain race has given the teams the chance to return the chassis to their factories and also to go out testing. Despite this there was not the expected amount of updates on the cars, possibly because a lot of parts were already rushed out to be put on the cars for the opening races. With the next race in Spain it is likely the track will be a better debut for aerodynamic parts.
Testing has showed itself to have been productive, with most teams showing a greater level of pace compared to Renault, most notably Ferrari, McLaren and BAR. Sauber also declared good progress with their new aerodynamics, while Minardi presenting their completely new car. Yet the pace of development has not brought sufficient levels of reliability, with most teams having some failure in the race costing them vital points in what is likely to be a close Championship.
The New Minardi
As a small team with restricted budgets and limited resources, Minardi have been fielding a car that has been a development of the PS02 for over three years - the much anticipated new car is the first all new Minardi since then. While some family resemblances remain, the car is a major overhaul of their previous designs.
Led by technical director Gabrielle Tredozzi, the car is most notable for its shapely sidepods. The aerodynamics was worked on in the British Lola windtunnel by Minardi's own staff, albeit with much less tunnel time than the other teams enjoy. The chassis is new too, while keeping some of the basic likeness to the PS02-04B monocoques, with a deep single keel, square nose and curved roll structure. A lot of weight has also been taken out of the monocoque, freeing up Minardi to use more ballast to tune the car.
Attached to the rear of the monocoque, the engine is a major leap for the team; Cosworth are now supplying current model and spec CR6 engines to Minardi. The 90-degree two-race engine is the same as provided to Red Bull, with only the details altered to suits Minardi's installation. This engine provides a leap in power of over 60bhp and a drop in weight, quoted as 97kg with ballast (believed to be a brass sump plate). The new engine has necessitated a revised cast titanium gearbox and cooling package featuring compound angled radiators to fit inside the curved sidepods.
The aerodynamics are potentially a major gain for the team. From a wide nose the new front wing uses a curved centre section and flicked up tips with new endplates. Two panel bargeboards collect the flow and pass it around the single keel and towards the sidepods. The deeply undercut sidepods use triangular inlets, and the floor beneath them is perfectly flat, providing Minardi with some useful space for Sponsor stickers. The undercuts blend in to meet the chassis and encourage the flow passing low around the chassis to sweep around the sidepods and under the flip ups.
The cooling outlets are in line with the current trend of large chimneys exiting sideways ahead of a winglet, as well as a fairing around the exhaust pipes. The winglets use a novel bi plane arrangement (yellow), while the sidepods drop steeply down from the leading edges, leaving the exhaust pipe protruding through the duct. The engine cover is very slim, with the tall airbox snorkel for the Cosworth engine requiring a bulge to clear it.
This leads onto the rear wing, which appears to be similar to the recent Minardi models, with a flap featuring a small lift in the middle and endplates with a vertical slot.
Once sorted this car has the potential to keep the team in contention with the rest of the pack. The limited resources that went into its design will unfortunately hinder its subsequent development, and are unlikely to allow Minardi to push ahead of their rivals, but at least they have made a jump from the poor competitiveness of the recent run of cars.
Imola was the scene for a few rule infringement and clarifications. The first of these actually followed on from the Bahrain GP, where protests were raised regarding what appeared to be flexing in rear wings of certain teams. This flex is not the simple wobbling of the wings as the car rattles over the bumps; it would be impractical to make wings so stiff that they would not move at all with the forces being exerted on the cars; this flex was carefully designed in elasticity in parts of the wings in order to cap or even reduce drag on the straights.
This flex has of course been banned in principle for a long time, since teams designed their lower wing beams to twist allowing the whole wing assembly to lean back and effectively present a smaller wing to the airflow at speed, meaning the wing would be upright at lower speeds and hence giving more downforce when cornering, while as soon as the driver would drive flat out the wind resistance bends the wing back, preventing downforce and as a result drag increasing.
The FIA introduced a test to pull the rear wing back by its endplates to stop this flex, so instead teams made the flaps flex; BAR were caught out by TV cameras last year when their rear flap flexed, closing the slot gap and stalling the wing to cut downforce and drag. The FIA then brought a test to pull the wing back from the trailing edge of the flap, instead of the endplates. This year it is believed that the lower edge of the flap or the main plane itself now flex to alter the slot gap.
Rear facing onboard camera footage was analysed after Bahrain by the teams, and slot gaps appeared to alter with speed. Protests were lodged, and a new test was introduced to pull the whole flap backwards, effectively negating any loophole. As yet no test has been applied to the front wing, an area where teams are known to be using flex.
The other rule infringement was the post race weighing of the BAR of Jenson Button. When weighed at race end the car was above the minimum weight limit, but when the FIA drained the car of its remaining fuel it was several kilos underweight.
Unfortunately the rules are vague in what constitutes proof that the car was running underweight and if fuel needs to be accounted for in the weight. Two minimum weights need to be observed over a weekend; at most times 600kg is in effect, with 605kg in parc ferme after qualifying in order to allow for some fuel on board (both these weights include the driver). However, the rules are not specific as to whether any fuel can or cannot form part of the 600kg weight. The other rule states that the car must not run underweight at any stage over the weekend.
So in theory a team could sneak into the race with a car at less than 600kg without fuel, run the middle stints underweight and at the last pit stop top up with the extra fuel required to meet the 600kg minimum at the races end. However, when BAR were seen to be potentially underweight in Imola they were able to explain to the stewards that in fact the car had never run underweight, and the balance was made up from extra fuel.
Without detailed statements from either the team, the stewards or the FIA, to judge what actually happened would be pure speculation, but BAR have been known to take very literal interpretations of the rules for competitive advantage. They are also probably not the only team to be in this position, merely the only ones to be questioned on it. I would expect another clarification from the FIA as to what weight of fuel can be allowed for in the minimum weight calculations.
Team by Team
After a mammoth, and somewhat controversial, testing programme in between races Ferrari appeared with new aero parts on the car, most of which seem to be minor details. The two reliability issues from Bahrain were proven to be unconnected, and each had a solution in place for Imola. Despite Michael Schumacher's retirement from the last race his engine was re-used for this race, to allow a fresh unit for Spain.
The opening session saw Ferrari rack up more laps than the other race teams; Bahrain's retirements meant the engines had surplus mileage to use up. The session went cleanly for both drivers, who posted strong times. Going into the first qualifying session Ferrari used a new Shell engine oil, which is thinner than the usual race oil, thus freeing up some power at the cost of greater wear. But the team only had to run the oil for few qualifying laps before it was changed to the slightly heavier race oil in parc ferme.
With an early qualifying lap for both drivers track conditions hindered their pace, with Schumacher doing a better job than Rubens Barrichello, who lacked a perfect balance on his car but still completed his lap less than 0.7 slower than Schumacher; unfortunately, with lap times so tight, he was eight places down the grid. The second qualifying session produced poorer results for the team, with Schumacher's error through Rivazza dropping him to fourteenth and Barrichello improving, but only to tenth place.
During the build up to the race Ross Brawn was not too stressed by the poor grid positions, citing a strategy in the middle stint to pick up places. The opening stint of the race did not bode well for the team, with both drivers getting caught behind other cars. Barrichello pitted first, being brought in early as he was stuck behind a group of slower cars; on his out lap the car developed an electrical fault and he returned to the pits to retire next lap around. Meanwhile Schumacher was released from traffic when his brother pitted, and was then able to run on a clear track and, with a heavy fuel load, he was able to run extraordinarily fast laps all the way through to his late pit stop.
Part of the reason for his error in qualifying was he was pushing hard on a heavier fuel load, which was part of a strategy to beat the lighter fuelled Renault and McLaren, both aiming for front row qualifying. Again Schumacher's middle stint saw laps 1.8 seconds faster than the opposition; his top speed was not as great as some of the cars he passed (at only 308kmh), but the car's grip under braking allowed him to get by Button and close up to Fernando Alonso. His middle stint ended earlier than expected, and he came out behind Alonso.
Despite Alonso's poorer turn-in he was unable to get by; Alonso posted a top speed on the last laps of 311kmh, and displaying far greater traction out of turns. At race end Schumacher remained second, a good result for Bridgestone whose tyres were still clean and grooved after the 68 laps, but Ferrari still need to be concerned about reliability.
Testing since Bahrain has given BAR an insight into the problems of the initial versions of the 007. Critically the aerodynamic problems limiting downforce, especially at the front, have been understood, and revisions are in place to cure the issues, which are understood to be related to the underside of the front wing.
BAR's aggressively curved front wing was suffering from flow separation; this problem was not visible in CFD analysis or windtunnel, which goes to show there are still some factors that have not been included in the simulations. The problems lay with the complex flow structure passing under the wing; with the surface so curved in all three dimensions, the flow can actually pass across the wing as well as along it. The deep spoon section also has a long chord which is prone to separation.
BAR's test results created a revised wing, outwardly identical to the old one, but without the sensitivity problem. After non engine-related failures in Bahrain Honda opted to replace both engines for Imola, while Takuma Sato's previously repaired chassis was replaced with a new one, which is much more to his liking.
One novelty on the cars was a new tail lamp wing; the simple device, shaped like an open book (yellow), aids the flow passing up underneath the rear wing, creating downforce and improving the main wing's effectiveness. At the front the revised front wing was augmented by a small additional bargeboard fastened to the usual arrangement.
Friday saw an immediate improvement in pace, with Jenson Button finishing up second fastest; both drivers completing a huge number of laps in the afternoon session. Again the Saturday sessions saw Button close to the front of the pack. This was realised in the first qualifying session when Button went fifth fastest on a lap he was disappointed with, while Sato was only 0.4 seconds slower but down in tenth.
Sunday's qualifying session saw the drivers go even better with, admittedly, a lighter fuel load than most, with Button up to third and Sato in sixth. In the race both drivers were on the pace and reliable, with Button slotting in behind Alonso for the majority of the race until passed by Schumacher, and Sato finishing fifth.
As seen in testing Renault arrived with the dramatic new front wing endplates, which take familiar looking endplates and turn the top front edge around to form a triangular flap above the normal wing. Supported at the inner edges by a small strut, these integrated endplate flaps act like a bi-plane (or cascaded) rear wing. The extra flap produces its downforce efficiently, as it is in the shadow of the main wing, so producing very little drag. The endplates and the flaps themselves are very carefully designed, with the outer part of the flap working the hardest and, by not having an endplate, sacrifices some downforce for less turbulence sent around the front wheel.
With Giancarlo Fisichella's engine failure in Bahrain he was able to have a fresh unit installed for Imola, while Renault pulled out all the stops to get a B-spec motor ready for the race; these units were originally scheduled for the Spanish race in two week's time.
Neither driver competed in the opening practice session; while Alonso only toured a paltry ten laps in the afternoon, albeit setting fifth fastest time (third fastest race driver), Fisichella ran twice as many laps with his newer B-spec engine. The Bahrain retirement meant Fisichella was out early to qualify, and an unexplained problem with locking brakes left him down in fifteenth. Alonso went out last and only just failed to beat Kimi Raikkonen's time. The second session saw Fisichella recover some places to end up thirteenth on the grid, while Alonso remained in second.
Fisichella's poor run of luck in races continued, with a probable mechanical failure seeing him lose control of the car in turn 2 and sent him off the track, while Alonso kept his second place at the start and was promoted to the lead when Raikkonen retired. He paced himself throughout the race to keep clear of second placed Button, but when Schumacher was chasing him down his lap time still remained consistent; it transpires there was a problem detected on the engine before the race weekend and Alonso had to manage the engine for whole weekend.
This restricted his potential race pace and forced him to drive tactically to keep Schumacher from passing, by slowing up mid corner and using the Renault's greater traction to get out of the corner clear of the chasing Ferrari. Even with the power capped Alonso was able to top the speed charts, probably through a combination of low wing settings and use of the over-rev option on the straights when required.
Despite announcing that they would be running new aero parts, the Williams was visually unchanged in San Marino. The car appeared uncomfortable around the track with a stiff set up, a trait attached to the team since the twin tusk car last year. The belief is that the car prefers less movement under braking and cornering to keep the wings and under floor in better relation to the ground; this comes at the cost of mechanical grip and, judging by the drivers recently announced injuries, it compromises comfort as well.
Nick Heidfeld's retirement in Bahrain meant a new BMW was installed for the weekend. Friday and Saturday practice sessions went well for both drivers, posting top ten times but notably running very few laps compared to their rivals. In the first timed session Heidfeld's earlier lap posted a slightly slower time than Mark Webber's lap to grab provisional fourth. The second qualifying session retained the order, with Heidfeld down in ninth and Webber keeping fourth.
Both cars struggled at the start losing places; Webber managed to re-pass Sato on the opening lap and was then caught behind Jarno Trulli. Neither Williams' were able to make progress in the race; Webber's engine was turned down towards the end of the race and both finished out of the points on the track, although a protest about a pitlane infringement by Ralf Schumacher against Heidfeld may bring a point for both Heidfeld and the team.
Despite waiting until the Spanish Grand Prix to release their next major update to the car, McLaren nonetheless had a few developments visible on the car. Adopting a simple extension to the tail lamp, McLaren have formed a ramp to create a small amount of downforce and curve the flow up between the diffuser and wing. The solution makes the crash structure passing over the tail lamp reach upwards with a wide flat surface, adding a Perspex cover over the lamp to smooth the upwards flow from the diffuser. The winglets on the sidepods also received a modification, with the top half of the endplates being cut back to be flush with the wing.
The race drivers ran limited laps on Friday, leaving the bulk of the running to Pedro de la Rosa, who topped the times in both sessions. Raikkonen posted third fastest in the second session, while Alex Wurz had a small technical problem on his car. Both drivers also used fewer laps in Saturday's sessions, with the comparative pace between Raikkonen and Wurz remaining static, while the qualifying session saw the McLaren's usual qualifying handicap upturned with Kimi taking pole by just 0.003 seconds with Wurz a creditable eighth considering his lap was so early in the session.
Their improved running order, and no doubt light fuel load, allowed both drivers to improve their positions; Raikkonen stretching the gap to Alonso to over half a second, with Wurz improving to seventh. Raikkonen's car underwent some repairs in parc ferme, including a new oil tank, gearbox sensor and, significantly, his left rear upright/driveshaft.
Raikkonen retained his lead at the start of the race, soon opening up a large gap to Alonso, but his race was cut short when the newly replaced driveshaft failed, leaving him to limp around the track to retire in the pits. Wurz meanwhile had a less spectacular time than de la Rosa's Bahrain race, but still brought the car home fourth.
Sauber have worked through a series of developments to the car's aerodynamics, the most notable being the addition of Toyota-like gills to the rear wing endplate. This simple solution reduces drag created by the vortices trailing from the rear wing.
As with most retirees from Bahrain, Jacques Villeneuve had a fresh engine installed for Imola. Friday saw the drivers on a similar pace, with Villeneuve just behind Felipe Massa, but problems detected on Massa's engine led the team to change the unit overnight, suffering a ten grid position penalty. Massa was able to put a qualifying lap good enough for seventh, with Villeneuve only 0.4 seconds behind in thirteenth; overall Villeneuve was much more confident with the car with its aerodynamic, electronic and mechanical changes.
With race fuel levels Massa dropped to eighth before his penalty put him down in eighteenth, while Villeneuve moved up to twelfth. On the grid Massa couldn't select a gear and was left at the lights; this cost him any chance of passing in the opening lap, and he had to settle into the traffic queue, Later having two incidents while trying to pass David Coulthard, the first necessitating a pit stop for a new nose. Villeneuve was more combative, fighting with Webber for position to end up sixth.
Red Bull announced they had some small aero parts for this race, but no visual changes were apparent; the lack of development saw the cars lose pace compared to their rivals. More important was the announcement that they are to run Ferrari V8 engines in 2006, dropping long time partner Cosworth.
Trouble free opening practice sessions led up to qualifying, where Vitantonio Liuzzi went out first and put in a clean lap with some understeer into turn 1, while Coulthard was cautious to avoid problems in the first turn, going quicker to finish fourteenth. Second qualifying brought the drivers closer; Coulthard dropped a place and Liuzzi pushed to within a tenth behind him. The race was also disappointing for the team, with Coulthard involved in two tangles with Massa, damaging his floor in the first incident and upsetting his aerodynamics, leaving him with oversteer. Liuzzi also suffered a lack of grip, but was able to finish two positions ahead of his team mate in eleventh.
Toyotas technical director Mike Gascoyne mentioned in Bahrain that a new engine cover and diffuser would be ready for Imola, with new wings prepared for Spain. The engine cover was not evident, but the floor did feature some subtle changes. The trailing edge of the floor next to the rear wheels now featured a Sauber-like curved diffuser section, rather than the flat version seen in the races so far. Some strengthening was added to the body work, with a small strut supporting the flip up on the sidepod and the rear wing using two strengtheners over the previous one.
Trulli did not complete a flying lap in the Friday morning session and Ralf Schumacher completed only four laps, while third driver Ricardo Zonta set the pace on his tyre evaluation programme. The afternoon session saw the team running more laps, albeit further off the pace than at the opening races. Both drivers were happy the Toyota's usual reluctance to run over kerbs has been improved, but they were still unhappy with their overall pace. Saturday went along similar lines, with Trulli putting in some faster laps in preparation for qualifying.
Trulli's lap was fast enough for sixth, while Schumacher's more tentative first sector left him down in twelfth. Both drivers improved one place in Sunday's session, despite Trulli changing his set up and finding unwanted oversteer on his lap. In the race a combination of problems slowed the drivers up, mostly Schumacher's poor start and Trulli's bad set up. However the team were able to record two points finishes subject to an appeal on Schumacher's 25 second penalty for exiting his pit too close in front of Heidfeld, gaining a place in the process.
Appearing with yet more detail changes, Jordan had a new chimney for San Marino, which is now longer and slimmer, while the revised nose mentioned in the Bahrain analysis was in use again. The new nose features a drooped chin section, similar to the Ferrari F2004M. It has been suggested that the influence of the nose over the front wing improves the cars balance, so Jordan are seeking more balance while other teams (notably Renault and Williams) have very little interaction between the nose tip and the wing
As a result of his retirement at the last race there was a new engine installed for Narain Karthikeyan. The free practice sessions saw several spins, one causing the session to be stopped. Qualifying left the drivers in their usual 17th and 18th positions, with Karthikeyan ahead of Tiago Monteiro. Second qualifying kept the cars in the same relative positions, but a poor four seconds behind the Red Bull car of Liuzzi. The race saw Narain Karthikeyan at least able to keep the Red Bulls in sight, but a troubled second pit stop for Narain Karthikeyan and a puncture to Monteiro delayed their progress to complete the race in fourteenth and fifteenth.
As described in the opening section Minardi brought two new PS05's to San Marino, while the spare car was still a PS04B. As a new car at a race weekend the cars had to be scrutineered for both technical and safety aspects, the drivers having to demonstrate the cockpit exit time and their knee clearance to the scrutineers satisfaction. Both cars passed without any issues.
During Friday the cars potential remained locked away; the first session saw the team working through set up improvements affecting handling, gearbox and braking, and then an electrical problem keeping Christijan Albers from any running in the second session. Again the lack of testing exhibited itself with the cars kept in the garages for Saturdays second session with mechanical problems.
Driver error slowed Albers' qualifying lap to put him less than a second behind Monteiro's Jordan, with Patrick Friesacher just a half second behind him. Second qualifying saw the team handicapped on the damp but drying track; Friesacher managed to post a time, but Albers spun at the chicane and didn't. In the race gearbox woes accounted for both drivers, leaving the team to develop the new car at the next test session.