Ferrari evolution continues on the route to Valencia

After the always popular North American interlude in Montreal, the European season now gets into full swing, with the remaining seven Grands Prix on the Old Continent all running concurrently through to the Italian event in September. This weekend’s European Grand Prix takes place at the newest of those seven venues, the Valencia street circuit, which will be hosting its fifth Formula 1 race on Sunday. When the track was opened, it was touted as a “Spanish Monaco” and it matches the Principality with its harbour setting and even has competitors running over a swing-bridge, which is as unusual a feature as Monaco’s tunnel, while the team garages location is suitably picturesque, located in a former fish market. However, the track characteristics are quite different: the barriers are further from the track side, some corners have run off areas and cars run less downforce, while being a new venue, the track surface, although abrasive, is much smoother, with fewer bumps than in Monte Carlo. However, the street circuit staples of slow corners and the need for good traction are found here in abundance.Not long ago, traction was in short supply on the F2012, but as was clearly seen in Montreal, a circuit that should not have suited the early-season Ferrari package, progress has been made in this area. “It’s all down to a huge amount of work, from a large number of people, with particular emphasis on aerodynamics, design and production,” said Nikolas Tombazis, Scuderia Ferrari’s Chief Designer. “It’s been intense over the past few months resulting in a big improvement in car performance. We have worked with determination to deal with all the negative points we picked up right from the first test in the winter.”One of the most obvious changes to the F2012 in Canada was a return to an exhaust configuration that resembled the one seen on the car when it was first launched. “The exhaust layout in Montreal was a cousin of the one we tested in Jerez at the launch,” was how Tombazis explained its design. “The former one was more complicated and created various problems for us which meant it did not contribute much in terms of lap time or making the driver feel it was a benefit. We therefore abandoned it, while addressing other weaknesses on the car, until we reached the first major change which came in time for the Spanish Grand Prix. That had a different, central exhaust configuration, at a point when we had effectively reviewed the entire car, from its front wing, the diffuser, the rear wing and turning vanes and brake ducts, producing what was in aero terms effectively a new car. However, we kept working on the exhausts to develop a more robust and simple system, but it still related to the original one and that is what we introduced in Canada.”

The progress from a car with which our drivers struggled to get into Q3 to one that now seems capable of challenging for the front row of the grid and the top step of the podium has been dramatic, but Tombazis still wants more. “At the moment, we are reasonably satisfied with the point we are at now, given where we started from, however, we cannot be totally happy, as we are not in a position to dominate races, or indeed to win all of them, which is always one’s objective,” affirmed the designer. “We have very strong competitors who are also continuing to develop their cars and we feel this technology race will continue to the end of the season. Our work is continuing at the same intensity and, our plan is to introduce developments at every race, starting with Valencia: this weekend we will be experimenting with the front wing and the floor, while having further evolutions of the exhausts. We already have other updates in the pipeline for subsequent races and I believe this will continue right through to the very last race.”

Top speed is not a priority at the Valencia track, but nevertheless it is an area that was a weak point for the Scuderia and one on which it continues to work to improve. “Top speed in F1 is now more complicated than in the past, because of the DRS system, as it has changed the optimum level of drag for a car for any given circuit” explains Tombazis. “Therefore it’s not just a case of producing a wing that generates a bit less downforce and drag to deliver higher speeds. We have had to work on the DRS itself and the drag generated by the rest of the car body. We have made improvements in this area, but not yet quite enough to close the gap completely to the best in the field in this area.” Tombazis and the rest of the Ferrari workforce have never been afraid of hard work, but the designer admits that recent progress has made their jobs easier. “Rightly or wrongly there is an expectation that, as Ferrari, we must be winning every race and always be competitive,” he maintains. “At the start of the season we were in an uncompetitive situation, which was a big shock for me personally and for my colleagues. It has been a hard few months, but we put our heads down and tackled the problem calmly and I think the last few races have been a morale boost for all of us: it has made us believe we can get the job done.”In the very early days of the Formula1 World Championship, existing rounds of the series would be nominated as the European GP, as an additional honorary title. Since it became a race in its own right, it has been held twenty one times, starting in 1983, with breaks from ’86 to ’93, after which it missed 1998, before running every year to the present day. Valencia is its fifth home, following Brands Hatch, Nurburgring, Donington Park and Jerez. The Scuderia has a good record, with a Ferrari driver having hoisted the European trophy on six occasions, which is more than any other team. Our current drivers have also gone well in this event, as Fernando Alonso has won it twice, with other teams at the Nurburgring, in 2005 and ’07. Felipe was victorious at the wheel of a Prancing Horse car, starting from pole here in the maiden race at Valencia in 2008. The Brazilian has repaid the hard work of everyone in Maranello, by getting to grips with the F2012 and delivering much more competitive performances in the last couple of races. The Valencian event has rapidly established itself as a popular fixture on the calendar, with many spectators coming not just for the racing, but also for the Summer Solstice festival that sees everyone flock to the beach near the track to celebrate the longest day of the year. Inevitably though, even with the arrival of a new Spanish F1 team, the main attraction is our own Fernando Alonso. The man from Oviedo can be credited with making what was previously a minority interest sport on the Iberian peninsula into one of the most popular and it’s not by chance that the Valencia street circuit was built the year after he secured his back to back world championships in 2005 and ’06. Having finished second in his first home race in Barcelona just over a month ago, Fernando will no doubt be hoping that a more competitive F2012 will allow him to stand on the top step of a Spanish podium, whatever the actual name of the Grand Prix.

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