Bahrain GP: Ferrari preview
10 March, 2010
Mar.10 (YF1) This weekend sees the start of the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship and for the sixtieth consecutive year, Scuderia Ferrari will heed the call to arms, with this year’s car, the F10 and its two drivers, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. Having recently arrived in Bahrain, the team and drivers will see firsthand the new lengthened track layout at the Sakhir circuit tomorrow, Thursday.
For the second time in its seven year history, the last time being in 2006, the Bahrain Grand Prix has the honour of raising the curtain on a new season and the venue has proved a profitable one for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. Michael Schumacher won the first ever GP to be held in a Gulf State in 2004, while Felipe was first past the flag in 2007 and 2008. Fernando has also proved his worth in the desert, winning here in 2005 and 2006. Starting the season at a venue where they have both won twice will be an encouraging factor for them for different reasons. In the case of Felipe, who made his debut with the Prancing Horse here in 2006, it marks his return to competition after missing out on the second half of last season, following his accident in qualifying at the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Brazilian might not have been racing since last summer, but his contact with the team has been constant throughout that period. Fernando, who dons the famous red race suit for the very first time at a Grand Prix, has integrated himself into the ways of the Scuderia in a remarkably short space of time, over the winter testing period.
Ferrari can approach the season in a confident frame of mind, lining up the cars in the same configuration last seen at the Barcelona test at the end of February. However, even though the car ran competitively and showed good reliability at the tests, there are still several questions to be answered for all the teams at the desert track. The main one concerns the behaviour of the tyres in much hotter conditions. While there is plenty of data on the subject from previous events, this year will be the first time the tyres will have to deal not only with the heat, but also with the constraints of much heavier fuel loads of up to around 150 kilos, since the banning of race refuelling. The engineers also face the additional challenge of preparing for the race with one less set of tyres than last year, even though the job sheet is longer, because during the course of free practice, the car must be evaluated in several different configurations to get an understanding of how it reacts to different fuel loads. Tyres have now taken over from fuel loads as the governing factor when it comes to pit stop strategy. The drivers too will have to bear this in mind, as tyres must be managed carefully and flat-spotting one because of a heavy fuel load in free practice will affect the programme for the rest of the weekend. The desert location of the Sakhir circuit will not make this analysis any easier at the opening round of the season, because of wind blowing sand across the track and the fact the surface is inevitably very “green “ on Friday. Fewer tyres and more items on the agenda means that team-work between the two drivers will be important, as they have the possibility of sharing the load, assessing different variables to produce a complete picture at the end of the day.
With no refuelling, wheel changing, which in the past was invariably completed several seconds before the fuel was taken on board, now becomes the key to a quick pit stop and therefore another vital strategic element. Over the winter, the pit crew has trained hard at the factory and during testing, as fractions of a second can win or lose a place on track. Additionally, the team has developed a new “traffic light” system, more sophisticated and safer than the one used previously. Therefore this is an additional option for releasing a driver back into the race. It is not only the pit crew who have had to adapt to a new work method, because in Bahrain, the teams will all discover how to operate in the heat of battle with a reduced workforce, as regulations now limit the size of the team that can actually work on or around the car to 45. This restriction places additional emphasis on the engineering staff who monitor all track activity in real time back at the factory. However, the core of the track engineering team remains the same, with Andrea Stella switching from race engineering Raikkonen to Fernando and Rob Smedley continues his relationship with Felipe.
The Bahrain Grand Prix is the first step in a very long season, with nineteen races between now and the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi. The race cars and equipment have embarked on a journey that will not see them return to Maranello until mid-April, after the fourth round of the championship, in China. Nevertheless, the development of the F10 continues, with the aim of bringing on line updates and improvements for every race.