Tomorrow afternoon (Thursday) we will be in the pit lane in Barcelona closely studying the updates the teams have brought to their cars for the start of the European season.
It will not be as radical as last year’s first European event, when the race was on to fit a double diffuser as soon as possible to many cars. Nevertheless this year we will see some major aerodynamic and mechanical updates and F duct rear wings, the devices which ‘switch on’ at top speed to allow a car to shed drag on the straights, first pioneered by McLaren.
The Ferrari team conducted a a straight line test at Vairano over the weekend, permitted in the rules, to assess the new wing in a back to back test with the old one. The new wing will be in Barcelona and will be track tested on Friday during free practice. The drivers and team will then decide whether to use it for qualifying and the race. Ferrari has confirmed that the switch to turn it on will be driver operated, like the McLaren, whose drivers use their knees to close a vent – and that both drivers have already tested it out on the simulator. There is also a new position for the wing mirrors (see photo) after the FIA banned the outboard mirrors.
Also under close scrutiny on the Ferraris in Barcelona will be the engines, which have suffered some reliability concerns in the early races with Fernando Alonso now down to just six engines for the remainder of the season.
“The team requested and received authorisation from the FIA to make some changes within the framework of the current engine regulations and these modifications will be fitted to the engines to be used in Spain,” said a Ferrari statement yesterday.
The way the process works is that a team or engine builder must submit a report to the FIA about a part which has proved unreliable, together with photographic evidence of its failure and request a modification to that part.
This report is then sent out by the FIA to the other teams and engine makers and they have five days to voice any objections, otherwise permission to make the change is granted.
One weakness in the system is that teams are not obliged to prove that a problem occurred during a race weekend, so if a team wanted to make a performance upgrade they could deliberately cause a part to fail on the dynomometer or test bench in the factory and then request a change.
Engine builders tell me that it is very difficult for them to object to a change because they know that if a failure should happen to them later in the season, they are likely to be turned down, tit for tat, by the rival whose claim they rejected.
In Ferrari’s case they have clearly suffered failures in Alonso’s car at two Grand Prix events.
The problem Ferrari have been working hard to rectify relates to some of the moving parts of the engine, according to sources in Italy, such as the connecting rods and in particular the way they are fabricated, rather than their design, as I understand it.
As the engines are frozen in development terms the engine builder must have incorporated a reliability problem in the changes they made to the engine over the winter, ironically when supposedly chasing out a reliability concern from last year’s engine.
The team did have some problems on the valve system prior to the Malaysian Grand Prix and changed the system in parc ferme before the race. But Fernando Alonso recently denied suggestions that the valves were the item the team had requested the FIA to be allowed to change.