ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 15 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Technical Preview:
San Marino Grand Prix

Click here for a track map of Imola by Will Gray, England

The teams now head into Europe for the San Marino Grand Prix and with the heat and humidity now gone there is a new problem at the top of the agenda. The once traditionally low-speed, high-downforce circuit has now become littered with chicanes, separated by long straights, which leans a heavy importance on the braking efficiency of the cars. This will be the main technical challenge of the weekend.

The circuit has one second gear and three third gear chicanes, where the cars must drop right down to between 50 and 80 mph (80 and 130 km/h) from high top speeds which can reach 190 mph (305 km/h) on the straights. This can put intense pressure on the braking systems and the risk of failure, which would result in a dramatic race exit into the gravel at high speed. But even increased brake disk temperatures lead to brake fade and reduced performance that can leave the driver needing longer brake distances to slow for a corner, making him more vulnerable to an outbraking manoeuver.

Teams will reduce the risk of this by concentrating on their brake cooling systems. On every wheel there is a forward facing scoop - most noticeable on the front wheels - which collects the cool air from the forward motion of the car and forces it onto the brake disk and calliper, therefore reducing their temperature. But as always, with this comes a problem of sorts - this time in the form of aerodynamic efficiency.

The cooling ducts will protrude into the air stream and therefore increase the frontal area of the car and increase its drag but they also upset the air which flows onto the rest of the car, and that can lead to problems with the reduction of downforce. So once again it comes down to a compromise, and much wind tunnel work is put into the cooling ducts to optimise their performance.

Most standard systems scoop the air and channel it through the hub onto the brake disk, but perhaps the most innovative design this season has been from Ferrari, who have been using a duct which circulates the air around inside to improve heat extraction. This could help the Italian team in their quest to return to winning ways after their first loss in seven races in Brazil, and it is sure to be copied during the season if it proves successful.

As well as creating a braking challenge, the chicanes throughout the circuit make demands on other areas of the car, and the ability to turn in well, and to gain good traction out of the corners is essential - both features of a confidence-giving car. As has been the case so far this season, this will give the best hand to those who have achieved clever systems to improve traction. It will also demand a good-balanced aerodynamic set up, and Imola is now a fairly high downforce level circuit, such as Melbourne and Sepang.

Therefore, those who can achieve the highest levels of downforce will once again be at the top of the timesheets, and that means we could see more add-on pieces like those present in the first two races of the season, where even McLaren had to resort to inefficient downforce-increasing methods to improve their performance.

As a rule, the less extra aerodynamic tweaks a team uses the more efficient their overall aerodynamics package is, but both the top teams felt the need to innovate early on in the season. Imola, then, could see the return of McLaren's small delta-wing style nose wings and Ferrari's unusual biplane front wing, whilst other teams may also come up with similar ideas.

After the Brazilian race all eyes at the front will be on Williams, but it remains to be seen how much improvements they have been able to make on their aerodynamics package, which seems to lack the top-level downforce Ferrari were able to attain at the start of the season.

Benetton could improve at last because after three races of intense heat, cooling will now be less important - and that will come as a great relief to the struggling team. The massive cooling holes in the B201's sidepods in Brazil gave real clues as to the team's problems, and revealed that the Renault engine must run very hot. Such cooling holes make the car extremely aerodynamically inefficient and, with a reduced demand in that area Benetton may be hoping to see their cars a little higher up the field.

Meanwhile, life in the pit-lane will be a whole lot easier now because after the first three fly-away races, the transporters will roll into action once more and the teams will re-gain their home comforts. No longer living out of packing cases creates a much more comfortable environment for the teams because the transporters not only carry the cars and equipment out to the circuit in a much more organised set-up, but the back of these massive lorries house conference rooms which make race debriefs a much more pleasant experience. Although it may not make a team any faster, the extra time created by the improved organisation could. What will make them faster in Imola is how quickly they can stop!

Will Gray© 2007
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