Designing, manufacturing and assembling a car for 2001 has not stopped Ferrari from considering the future. Ideas are encouraged, and the team will entertain developing anything which could improve the performance of its cars and drivers.
For Melbourne, which is notoriously hot in March, Ferrari are considering introducing a water cooled vest to make the driver's lives more comfortable in a cockpit that can reach close to 50 degrees. There is a compromise to be made, however: any water-cooled device has a fair element of mass, which obviously is not optimally placed in the car. Unless Ferrari have a significant advantage in testing, neither driver will be wearing anything other than standard racing issue for qualifying.
The last time a water based driver cooling aid was used in Formula One was when Williams driver Keke Rosberg wore a water cooled cap under his helmet at the Dallas Grand Prix of 1984. He won the event, but the device was not used again – the extra weight under the helmet multiplied the effect of cornering on neck and shoulder muscles, ensuring even the tough Finn did not relish a repeat performance.
There are some devices, which have not made it off the drawing board. Or at least, not yet.
A heads-up, or rather helmet mounted, information display is planned for testing later this year. If the weight can be brought under half a kilo, and made to fit within the confines of this year's helmet, then time will be spent testing to see if it can be made readable under high vibration conditions. The difficulties associated with projecting onto a visor have been tackled once by McLaren already, and there is a very fine balance to be drawn between making the information visible, and blocking the driver's sight.
The mass of the device is very important. Under cornering, a half kilo device in the helmet can give the drivers neck up to five kilos of effective mass to struggle with – something that a race distance would make uncomfortable. Then again, there is the question of what information to display. All the current crop of drivers are exceptionally skilled, so a visual of anything other than the "right" moment to change gear is unnecessary – they drive by feel and need only see the road ahead otherwise.
On the other hand, there is some information that could provide a competitive advantage on track. For example, warnings from the electrical system, engine diagnostics, such as operating, oil and coolant temperatures, and other information that currently makes it to the driver only via the radio after diagnostics are pumped to the pits each lap. The driver being more informed than the engineers would be a nice change! Information from the pits cannot be pumped back to the driver, as things stand, as the onus would be on the team to prove that there was no change to the car's configuration – strictly prohibited except by the drivers manual intervention outside the pits.
Ferrari are also modelling a revolutionary new undertray on their computer. It makes the most of the FIA's new ruling, which now allows them to be curved. Technology has moved forward a fair way since the under car plank and flat, stepped bottom was introduced in 1994, and the new device could be worth as much as five percent in downforce without any cost in drag.
Minardi running on empty
As the run up to the 2001 season continues, European Minardi are looking very closely at their position, and the shape they will be in, come qualifying in March.
The team is certain to make it to the event, even if qualifying is in doubt. The transport fees are paid for, courtesy of finishing off the bottom of the Constructors' Championship last year, and sponsorship payments are based on getting the car on-screen – with something like a third of the budget still unaccounted for, making the most of exposure is vital.
However, the car is in uncertain shape. Modifying a 2000 chassis was impossible, as the 2001 regulations require fundamental changes to the monocoque. Similarly, last year's engine, whilst hardly the most powerful on the grid, was not legal for this year, thanks to a beryllium dependency. Adding to the problem, not knowing what engine to design around, or even that the team would definitely be running this year, has put the program right back...
The design team has been able to get on with some things from the end of last season, though. The front of the car focuses on known issues: accommodating the monocoque changes, raised front wing, and side impact requirements. Rough dimensions for the engine could be guessed at – but knowing the mass was important for optimising the weight distribution of the new car, and a big unknown to design around.
The new chassis complies to the 2001 regulations, and has already passed the crash test – which is a massive relief – it's all too common for teams to have a chassis go for testing even as they ship to the venue for the opening event, which can make for an early exit. Unlike most of their rivals in the pitlane, Minardi have not recovered their pace from last year – and know it before turning a wheel. The chassis is competent, and the engine a known, if dated, quantity. The team have worked hard on a new undertray which, alongside the revised front wing and nose, should permit downforce to be much the same as last year – though the component might not be properly ready until the circus returns to Europe, as testing is going to prove awkward.
Stoddart admits that Minardi are running a tight schedule, claiming they have a "day to spare" preparing for Australia. His statement appears innocuous enough, but smoothly covers the limit of the team's position. If all goes to plan, the car runs properly from the outset, and no mishaps occur, then there is a day to spare from the planned schedule. However, no new car is perfect from the outset, and even established engines fail.
That said, the engineers at Minardi are a dedicated bunch, with years of working around problems behind them. Things will certainly not be perfect in Melbourne, but if sheer effort and determination is worth anything, there will be a should of Minardis in the grid.