Ferrari pin title hopes on reshuffle

ferrariFerrari have restructured their factory and trackside operations in a bid to get their 2009 campaign back on course after a disastrous start to the season.

Costly mistakes at the opening two races of the season, allied to general under performance from the Ferrari F60, have left the Italian team without a single point to their name going into next week’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.

Following crisis talks at Maranello and pressure from Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo the team have re-organised their operations with technical director Aldo Costa spear heading a new Working party focused specifically on fast-tracking improvements to the car.

Current team manager Luca Baldisserri will be responsible for ensuring that the development of new technologies at the factory are translated onto the car and tested at the track “as fast as possible.”

“The goal is to anticipate as much as possible the introduction of new technologies to reduce the performance gap as fast as possible, which, apart from the question of the diffuser, seems to be there,” the team said in a statement. Baldisserri’s trackside role will now be covered by chief track engineer Chris Dyer.

Ferrari have already made significant changes to their car and will be bringing new upgrades to Shanghai including a modified front wing.

The outcome of the International Court of Appeal hearing in Paris tomorrow to debate the legality of the controversial double decker diffuser design could also see Ferrari use the new working group to adapt their existing design.

Ferrari’s Byrne says diffusers are illegal; one day to go to find out

Ferrari design consultant Rory Byrne has said that he believes the three ”double-deck” diffusers, run by Brawn, Williams and Toyota, are illegal. The widely respected South African, one of the architects of Ferrari’s early 2000s period of dominance of the sport, believes that the three teams have broken the spirit of the rules and an interpretation of the rules set many years ago.

Byrne told Gazzetta dello Sport that for more than a decade, no-one interpreted rules as the three teams have done in this situation.

“It’s a rule set at least 14-15 years ago, and that for many years everyone interpreted in the same way,” said Byrne, who worked alongside current foe Ross Brawn during Ferrari’s glory years.

He is referring to specially crafted holes drilled in the Brawn car, which improves airflow over the diffuser, thus maximising its aerodynamic usefulness. Holes drilled in the chassis are illegal, but Brawn maintain the ‘holes’ are simply gaps between the step and reference planes of the car.

The final judgement will come tomorrow as the FIA convene to decide. The arguments are good from both sides, but the decision is likely to take into account the potential damage to the sport if the results in Australia and Malaysia do not stand. Having said that, the teams arguing the ‘anti-diffuser’ case are expected to bring reams of analysis to the table to prove the illegality of the three teams’ arrangements.

Sutil: Hamilton punishments could be racism

Adrian Sutil has spoken out in defence of Lewis Hamilton, saying that the punishments he receives could be a manifestation of racism. The Force India driver wrote in his weekly column for a Dutch magazine that he was mystified by the number of penalties the world champion appears to get.

“I have no idea how he (Hamilton) has got so many punishments. Slowly you start to ask yourself why it always happens to him. Is it his skin colour?” reads the article, in the Dutch magazine ”Formula 1 Race Report”.

Sutil is himself of mixed race parentage, like Hamilton. In raising the question, Sutil is controversially putting forward the idea that the sport’s governing body suffers from institutional racism. It is not the first time the powers-that-be have been accused of being soft on racism – Bernie Ecclestone’s response to racist treatment of Lewis Hamilton in Spain last season was that it was ”probably a joke.”

Although Hamilton fans will seize on Sutil’s words as evidence of a conspiracy, there is unlikely to be either an internal or external FIA enquiry into racism in the sport. The issue is delicate, as Hamilton critics would argue that not penalising Hamilton when he had been found to have done wrong would be favouritism.

Chinese GP: Williams and Toyota Preview Quotes

Nico Rosberg (Williams): “We may not have finished where we would’ve like, but it was another strong weekend for us. We qualified well and then taking the lead at the start was great. It was just a shame circumstances didn’t go our way as I was looking good for another podium.

Shanghai’s a driver’s track. There’s a great mix of corners and then there are those two long straights so plenty of overtaking opportunities around the lap which will be good for the racing. Sepang showed that the team seem to have fixed the problem we had last year on these types of circuits so it’s now looking like we have consistency. I’m confident that we’ll have another competitive weekend in China. Top eight for sure.

“I enjoy visiting Shanghai. Experiencing a different culture is always very interesting and there are some great places to go, like the malls for shopping or the restaurants and bars in the evenings. The fans are also very enthusiastic which is nice!”

Kazuki Nakajima (Williams): “Even though I qualified out of the top ten, I was looking to make some progress through the field as I was on a good strategy. Unfortunately, the rain completely compromised that. Starting the race lower down the grid, I was alongside a lot of the KERS car who are able to make better starts so my aim is to improve my qualifying position in China.

“Shanghai is definitely a challenging circuit, but at least I’ve now had some experience of it so it’s not new for me anymore. Last year, we struggled on tracks like China, but now our car is looking quite strong. It’s well balanced in the high and low speed corners so I’m hoping we’ll go much better there this year and I can score my first points of the season.

“Like Nico, I like this part of the world and for me it’s close to home so I get to enjoy something similar to my own culture for a little longer.”

Jarno Trulli (Toyota): “I am really optimistic about the Chinese Grand Prix because we have started the season very strongly. It shows how much progress we have made since last season that in Malaysia I was a little disappointed with fourth because I wanted to finish on the podium and fight for the win. Last year in Malaysia I finished fourth and that was more than we expected.

“We are second in the Constructors’ Championship so it’s clear we are one of the top teams and both Timo and I have consistently been fighting at the front which is great. So the goal for me in China is to fight for the podium again and I think we have a really good chance. China is one of those circuits where I have never had much luck and it was the same last year when I was hit from behind at the first corner, so I’m determined to have a better weekend this time.”

Timo Glock (Toyota): “Malaysia was a crazy race but it was a great result for the team and it gives us a lot of confidence for the Chinese Grand Prix. We were really competitive in all conditions which is a good sign because it confirms we were right to be optimistic before the season started.

“We have had both cars finish in the top four in both races so far this season so we are definitely aiming to challenge for the podium again, but of course it’s pretty close so we will have to do another good weekend. It seems strange to be going to China in April because it has always been later in the season; the weather looks like it could be a bit cooler than usual. I quite enjoy racing at Shanghai because it’s an interesting track. Last year I went well there and scored points, but I’m hoping to get more than seventh place this weekend, that’s for sure.”

Pascal Vasselon, Senior General Manager Chassis (Toyota): “Shanghai is a track which offers a very wide range of cornering speeds so you cannot optimise the car just for high-speed or low-speed corners; you have to find a good balance. The unique aspect to the Shanghai track is its very long corners; turn one and turn 13. It is extremely important to get the balance of the car right in turn 13 because it comes out on to the main straight and you want to exit at the highest possible speed.

“These two corners and the specific lay-out in general are also demanding on tyres so overall Shanghai is quite severe in terms of tyre wear. If you have a compound which is too soft it is likely to have graining issue. So it will be interesting to see how the super soft and medium compound tyres behave this weekend.”

Bridgestone Chinese GP Preview

The highly technical and challenging Shanghai International Circuit hosts the third round of the FIA Formula One World Championship where Bridgestone tyres will once more be seen in action after just a week’s break from the last race.

Changes to the calendar mean that the Sinopec Chinese Grand Prix takes place just six months after the last event here. That race was won by Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton using a hard-hard-medium tyre strategy. This season the move to slick tyres means new tyre allocations for races, so China will see the medium and super soft tyres allocated – the same tyres as used in the Australian Grand Prix – giving the teams and drivers a tough challenge for tyre management.

Shanghai has two long straights and sixteen corners of varying types over its 5.45 km. Heavy braking, extreme lateral loads and high demands on traction are just some of the factors that Bridgestone’s medium and super soft compound Potenza tyres will encounter.

Turns 2 and 7 are likely to induce tyre graining, whilst the high lateral G-force generated through the sequence of turns 7-8 will place strong demands on the tyres’ construction and heat durability. A two stop pit strategy has been the favoured option in the past, as running with a heavy car as required for a one-stop strategy is likely to be very detrimental to lap times and cause heavier wear to the tyres. There is an element of gradient changes over the course of a lap as well as an element of banking in turn 13.

Hirohide Hamashima – Bridgestone Director of Motorsport Tyre Development, said:

What are the challenges of Shanghai?
“Shanghai International Circuit is severe on tyres. There are very high lateral forces and we expect to see graining on the front left tyres, especially caused by the increasing radius turn two and the banked turn thirteen. We could also see graining on the rear tyres here too. The circuit layout means that a medium downforce set-up will be used, as there are two long straights, but a large percentage of the track is also very twisty and technical. For the teams and drivers, finding the correct set-up to make the best use of their tyres will be a big challenge.”

We will see the super soft compound in use again, how difficult will tyre management be?
“In Australia there was a particular challenge of graining on the super soft tyre, however this graining varied across the teams between the front and the rear, which means that the correct compromise setup for these new cars is still being found. For this reason we would expect less graining in China as the teams now have better understanding of their cars than at the first race. Also, Shanghai is a permanent race track so the track surface should be better than we saw at Albert Park where racing only takes place once a year.”

Stats & Facts
Number & Spec of tyres brought to China 1800 (Medium & super soft dry. intermediate/wets)
Pole position time 2008: 1min 36.303secs (Hamilton)
Fastest race lap 2008: 1min 36.325secs (Hamilton)
Top three 2008: Hamilton, Massa, Raikkonen

Kubica hoping for “lucky” Chinese GP

Robert Kubica says he his hoping for a bit of “luck” at next week’s Chinese Grand Prix after a dismal track record at the Shanghai circuit.

The BMW Sauber driver, who saw his title dreams go up in smoke with a poor qualifying effort at the track last year, has only scored points in one of his three visits.

And with the race taking place at the beginning of the season this year – making heavy rain a real possibility – the Polish driver is expecting another lottery of a weekend.

“It’s the first time we’re going to Shanghai at this time of year, when there is a high chance of rain,” he said. “That can have a major impact on the whole weekend, of course.”

“The circuit is very challenging with long straights and hard braking. Plus there are several high-speed corners, for example the slightly banked right-hander you take at almost full throttle and that leads onto the back straight.

“It’s one of the longest straights on the whole race calendar. And, of course, the combination of turn one and two with the blind apex and the long braking is a real challenge.

“So far Shanghai hasn’t brought me any luck, but I’m hoping that will change this time round.”

Kubica has yet to score a point in 2009 after colliding with Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix and retiring with a mechanical problem in Malaysia.

Coulthard expects diffusers to be legal

Ex-Formula One driver turned pundit David Coulthard is confident that the controversial double-decker diffuser design on the Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota cars will be declared legal at next Tuesday’s FIA International Court of Appeal hearing in Paris.

“I am not an engineer, so I have to rely on the judgement of the FIA technical people,” Coulthard told Austria’s Laola1. “They said in Melbourne that the cars were legal, and I think the FIA will confirm that judgement on the fourteenth (this coming Tuesday).”

Coulthard expects the other seven teams, including his former team Red Bull Racing, to develop similar diffuser designs in light of the enquiry.

“The other seven teams are probably going to have to change their cars,” he said. “Doing this may be expensive for them with the economic crisis, but it does not mean that the diffusers are illegal.”

“You shouldn’t necessarily be punished because you have interpreted the rules differently, and thus taken an advantage; those three teams also spent money to develop their aerodynamics, so that money would also be wasted (if the devices are classed as illegal and therefore banned).”

“Formula One is not just about saving money, it is also a championship!” the 13-time race winner quickly added.