Japanese GP – Tombazis: “Ambitious targets”

There are now just five races to go in 2011, starting with this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix and, while remaining determined to try and win one or some of them, Scuderia Ferrari’s main focus is now squarely on next year’s championship. As is always the case at this time of year, whatever the situation in the current season, work is well underway on the Prancing Horse’s 2012 car, as its Chief Designer, Nikolas Tombazis explains. “We are currently at the stage of finalising the main components, the larger parts with a requirement for the longest production time. That means the chassis, the general layout of the car, the suspension and gearbox. Some of these components are now at the production stage, while others are at the final part of the design process. We are right in the middle of development for the aerodynamic elements and it’s fair to say we are now totally concentrated on the new car.”

Next year’s technical regulations are not that different to the present ones, so five more races represent five solid opportunities to test out new ideas for 2012. “Having accepted for a while now that this year’s championship titles are beyond our grasp, our main effort is aimed at next year,” admits Tombazis. “The technical rules have not changed that much, with general stability prevailing, apart from the area involving the exhaust system. Therefore there are areas on the 150º Italia that are relevant for next year. That means in the remaining races, we will be experimenting with this in mind. For example, we could try a new front wing that represents a different approach in terms of how it works. We can therefore try and learn as much as possible right away. Clearly, we also hope it will be beneficial for this year’s car too in the races that are left. Even on the exhaust side there are lessons to be learned from what we have done so far, because any in depth study also brings benefits. Our rivals were ahead of us in developing this area and that gave them a big advantage. The lessons we have learned from this and other similar situations in the past, always have a benefit for us in the end.”

There has been a lot of talk about a new more aggressive approach adopted by the Scuderia when it comes to design and development and Tombazis explains what this means in practice. “I hope the results will speak for themselves when we launch the car and more importantly, as we tackle the first few races on the calendar,” he says. “A more aggressive approach has come about as the result of the analysis we carried out of the defeats we suffered over the past few years. We realised we had been a bit too conservative and had closed our minds to some strands of development. So for next year’s car, we have sanctioned a much more aggressive approach on the aero front, which has required a much closer working relationship with those developing the structure of the car. It might make it harder when considering other aspects of the car, but it allows more room for aerodynamic development. The other element of the new approach is in how we make use of the wind tunnel: it involves not just developing and optimising what we have, but also introducing to every wind tunnel session some new concepts, which sometimes might not work, but sometimes can produce interesting results.”

Tombazis is rather coy when asked to describe what the 2012 Maranello challenger might look like, although he does offer this taster: “I think that visually, the new car is fairly different to its predecessor but if it has a wow factor, as our team principal Stefano Domenicali thought, when he first saw the model, then I hope the wow factor will also be evident from the results. We have set ourselves ambitious targets, which we intend to maintain and so, on this front, I am quite optimistic.”

The first of these five opportunities to prepare for 2012 comes at one of the most impressive race tracks on the calendar and, if testing is on the Scuderia Ferrari agenda this weekend, then it is appropriate, because Suzuka was originally designed as a test track for Honda cars. This means it is incredibly challenging and demanding for the drivers, engineers and the cars. Of the 22 times the Japanese GP has been held here – on four occasions it was staged at Fuji – a Prancing Horse car has been first past the flag seven times. Fernando Alonso is the only driver to have won at both venues, in 2006 at Suzuka and 2008 in Fuji, although neither time was at the wheel of a red car. As for Felipe Massa, his best result here came in 2006, when he started from pole and finished second to…Fernando.