Maranello, Italy —Known for doing things with style, Italians have also been artisans of technology since the Roman Empire. Few places is this more evident in modern times than in the Ferrari-built cars admired around the world. Last year, Michael Schumacher, driving for the company's racing team won the Formula One (F1) drivers' championship for Ferrari, the first time in 21 years the operation took top honors. Ferrari also captured the F1 constructors' title (total team points) for the second year in a row, it's tenth such victory.
F1 is considered by many experts and fans to be the world's premier racing class—driven by advanced technologies as well as large infusions of cash (see DN 12/4/2000, p.67). Before the season began, Design News was invited to take a peek into Ferrari's sanctum sanctorum during its unveiling of this year's F1 contending design, the F2001.
Forza Ferrari! "Up with Ferrari" was the mood during the new car debut, along with the challenge of now having to defend the two titles won last year. Added to the pot for the 2001 season are new safety-inspired regulations, and the prospect of electronic traction control, that have forced major car design changes. Here's how design engineers for Ferrari, and its technology partners, responded to the new design rules, while incorporating new technology, and meet challenges that crop up once out on the track.
To begin with, Ferrari is unique among the 11 competing F1 teams in that it makes the entire car, from the engine to the chassis. All other teams use an engine from another builder (including Ferrari). According to Paolo Martinelli, F1 engine director, with such vertical capabilities, Ferrari can tightly specify components. "We want the best technologies and use key suppliers for different technology areas," he says. "The main components are machined in house and it is a two-way street with our partners in requesting and being offered [technologies we need]" (see sidebar).
But more than the ability of a car to negotiate a race circuit is involved. Martinelli adds, "The speed of F1 is also a fight against time to improve [the car] and get results in a short time." He highlights the compact in-house engineering team that has to have "quick reaction time" for any changes needed during the racing season, because only two weeks are scheduled between races staged around the world.
In engine development, Martinelli says, "It is a long story of continuous optimization to improve performance and efficiency, such as volumetric combustion, and lower friction losses. [Such means] are the only way to increase engine revs." This year's engine is completely new, thanks to a new proprietary casting process. "The engine has a new [aluminum] block, heads, and crankshaft and is more compact and lighter by 8%," he notes. That means reduced moving-component inertia and friction losses.
To avoid tipping off the competition, the builders give out as little information as possible. What is known is that an F1 engine produces upwards of 800 hp, while capable of revving more than 18,000 rpm. Regulations only stipulate displacement (3 liters) and number of cylinders (10).
Aero is king. The most visible changes on the F2001 involve aerodynamics and safety (see side bar), according to Technical Director Ross Brawn. To cut aerodynamic downforce and thus force drivers to slow more in turns, the F1 ruling body, the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, Geneva, Switzerland) has mandated that front wings on this year's cars must be raised 5 cm (2 inches) from last year's configuration. This takes the wing farther out of the "ground effect" that deflects air upward. "The flow field now changes all the way back along the car," notes Brawn, "and everything [involving aerodynamics] has to be reoptimized." During that reoptimization, the design engineers try to cut drag as much as possible but mainly look to steal back the downforce they are losing to get a speed advantage in turns over the opposition. Everything from body contours and side pod shapes, to cooling inlet flows, are fair game for change.
Similarly, rear wings on the cars are also downsized this year, being reduced to only three upper flap "elements" whose relative positions are less variable.
Ferrari's current Formula One car, the F2001, incorporates a completely new engine, revised aerodynamics, and a cockpit having a wider opening and beefier side-pod composite structure compared with last year's world championship car. New regulations to reduce aerodynamic downforce (to slow the cars), as well as further protect drivers with more crash absorbing structure, dictated the extensive changes.
In looking at the 2001 F1 cars, many teams have more or less kept the same nose configuration, essentially raising the wings mounted below them to comply. Ferrari, on the other hand, raised the wing and simultaneously lowered the nose profile, which brings it down closer to the wing surface. While Ferrari is secretive in not giving away the store as to all the aerodynamic effects taking place with this swooping-nose and higher-wing design, suffice it to say that the company heavily emphasizes its aerodynamics research, as typified by the investment in its upgraded and dedicated racing wind tunnel (see sidebar). And just from an aeronautical engineering point of view, the body shaping of and flow field around an F1 car are probably more complex than those on most aircraft, requiring astute design and analysis.
How well did Ferrari do with the F2001 in using its new engine and new "grippy" Bridgestone tires within the aero box laid out by the FIA? In his first runs with the car at Ferrari's Fiorano track, Michael Schumacher set a new track record. By press time, the team went on to secure the pole and outside pole slots as the two fastest qualifiers for the first two races of the season—The Australian Grand Prix, which they proceeded to win (Schumacher) and place third (team- mate Rubens Barrichello), and Malaysia, where the pair improved to first (Schumacher) and second. And as a testament to the quick response and preparation of Ferrari's crew and engineers, the car with which Schumacher nailed the pole in Australia flipped several times the day before when he entered a gravel overrun, with parts flying and a wheel detached (but still tethered to the chassis). A late-night effort kept the car a winner. In light of such events, Brawn notes, "Luck is preparation waiting for an opportunity."
Safety. New rules for head protection mandate the roll "hoops" in the structure ahead of and behind the driver need to be 60% stronger than last year. All cars must also have twin, as opposed to single, Kevlar tether cables to retain suspension components and wheels with the body during a collision.
The car's side pods are larger and stronger for greater side impact protection. Brawn notes, "The car must meet a new side impact test. Originally a single, 'flat' impact was done from the side which the crush structure on the floor could easily meet regulation—but there [was limited] protection higher up. The new test stipulates four zones—upper and lower, front and rear—in which every zone must be capable of absorbing 15 to 30% of an impact's energy for more effective protection for the driver."
Can't beat 'em, join 'em. The most controversial rule change this year, however, is the requirement for electronic traction control beginning with the fifth race of the season in Barcelona. Similar to what is available on many production automobiles via throttle cuts, selective brake application, and even differential control, such electronic reduction of wheel slippage has been banned since 1993. Since then racing electronics and software coding have become more and more sophisticated, and its use is harder to detect. "The electronic 'strategy' is just so complex now, involving engine, gearbox, and transmission," says Brawn. Rumors abounded of illegal traction control use last year—so the FIA decided to level the playing field.
Debate also stems from the argument that traction control lessens the driver skill involved in racing—particularly when the cars take off from a dead stop at the starting grid. But Rory Byrne, Ferrari F1 chief designer notes, "The maximum 'grip' of the car will stay the same, but traction control will keep you there longer." Michael Schumacher says, "I like to drive close to the edge. Anything that keeps the car near the edge, I like." Brawn adds that the drivers will be able to modulate the degree of electronic control.
Challenges and feedback. Brawn notes that in the F1 design process some of the important tradeoffs are not so much weighing design parameters but more of allocating engineering team resources. "We start the process by looking at the previous season's car for reference," he says. "The difficulty is continuously developing that existing product (car) and trying to win a championship while producing the new one [for the next season]. With development going on all year on the old car, and conflicting demands, we have to keep finding the resource balance between the programs."
In the process, the Grand Prix drivers and test drivers are continuously involved in practicing and testing changes before the season and in between races. Brawn says, unlike in the past, driver feedback is less critical in design because technologies, such as simulation and data monitoring, are so good today. "The test and racing drivers are used in parallel with the design effort," he notes. But rather than give qualitative, anecdotal feedback, "A driver can now look at some data and then tell you the reason for a certain characteristic," speeding the design process.
Interestingly, Michael Schumacher downplays his importance in the design process. When Design News asked him about his input to this year's design, he offered, "I'm not a designer at all. With my experience with driving, I may ask for some 'comfort' item, but it is up to the designers to build the fastest car they can—so that I can make it the fastest [on the course]."
The Ferrari team gave him a winner last year. This season, with an even faster car, you may not want to bet against them to repeat.
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