Maranello, 15 April – The Formula 1 season has been rushing along at a hectic pace since the curtain raiser in Melbourne, with no less than three Grands Prix taking place in the space of three weeks. The data base of information available to the Scuderia Ferrari engineers has grown since the first race of the year and the numbers generated have been poured over, picked at and used to drive simulation programmes back in Maranello. However, despite the advances made in virtual car development, there is still no substitute for real track time and so Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are looking forward to getting back on track at the Shanghai International Circuit for the fourth round of the world championship.
That’s particularly true given that the Bahrain Grand Prix proved to be the most difficult race so far for the Scuderia. It was no surprise given that the desert track was always going to highlight the weak points of the F14 T, without ever playing to its strengths. “Since the Bahrain race, it’s been a very busy time for us, as we examined all areas of car performance from the power unit to suspension configurations and aerodynamic improvements,” commented Ferrari’s Engineering Director Pat Fry.
All three races so far have been won by the same team and therefore Fry is realistic about the Scuderia’s short term goals. “We are naturally working as hard as we can on closing the gap to the top teams, with Mercedes having a reasonable lead over the rest of the field,” says the Englishman. “Currently, our first priority is to establish ourselves as the second best team. We are looking at all areas of the car – power unit, aero, suspension. We are trying to make as big a step as we can for each and every race.” As for the challenge presented by 56 laps of the 5.451 kilometres of the Shanghai International Circuit, Fry sees it as typical of the modern breed of race circuit. “China’s an interesting track with a good mix of corner types. It begins with the long slow speed corners early in the lap, then a mix of high speed ones in the middle sector, plus a very long straight, about 1.3 kilometres worth, where you need to tune the cars for maximum top speed. However, even with this straight, normally in Shanghai, you find yourself running more towards the top end of the downforce range and with that long straight providing the one real overtaking opportunity, I’m sure everyone will be looking to trade off speed to make sure you can both attack and defend.” There are other challenges in China starting with the long straight, which will ask questions of the still relatively new power units. The brakes will have a much easier time than in previous races, however tyres, particularly the rears, need careful looking after because of the loads imposed by all the very long corners.
It’s proving hard to make predictions this year – at least when it comes to who can challenge the current leaders – so the Scuderia Ferrari crew will approach the Shanghai weekend in its usual methodical way in the hope that lessons learned so far will see the F14 T run more competitively. In his usual blunt way, Kimi Raikkonen sums up perfectly what lies ahead for the Prancing Horse. “We know what we have to do. The people are pushing 100 per cent, but it takes time.”