Exclusive Q&A - Giancarlo Fisichella
For several seasons, Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella has confidently predicted he has the drivers’ title in his sights. But after being eclipsed by former team mate Fernando Alonso for two consecutive years, 2007 could well see his dreams finally turn into reality. With recent test sessions suggesting the Renaults have adapted well to the switch to Bridgestone tyres - and with many of his immediate rivals having to make the transition to new teams - the Italian is brimming with confidence… Q: The Renaults have performed well during the final 2006 tests, improving considerably from Barcelona to the second Jerez session. What was your impression of the team’s progress? Giancarlo Fisichella: The 2006 tests were only good for the drivers to get accustomed to the new tyre and to try behaviour changes by changing the set ups. We will not know how good we are until the first event in Australia, but I guess we will know more as soon as we drive the new R27 in January. Q: At the moment, there is much talk about which of last year’s front-runners will have the advantage in Melbourne. Flavio Briatore pointed out that despite the switch to Bridgestone tyres, Renault is by far the most stable team when it comes to staff continuity. What do you believe will give Renault the edge? GF: The team is quite incredible and they have done a great job in 2005 and 2006 so I do not see why we should do badly in 2007. The championship though is going to be much more even - making it more interesting for the fans. Q: There has also been much talk about this season possibly being your last opportunity for world championship glory… GF: I am under pressure because I have to lead the team. I am comfortable with pressure and I have lived with it all my life so for me it is just another challenge, that's all. Q: You have expressed confidence that 2007 could be a title-winning year for you. You have obviously analysed your situation and that of your competitors, so what is it that gives you this confidence? GF: I say so every year because in 2005 and 2006 I have been driving a very good car. Then things turn out differently, but in retrospective I have made a very few mistakes. Q: Heikki Kovalainen will be your team mate next year. During the two recent Jerez sessions, Kovalainen was almost always quicker than you. Although nobody should read too much into these times, it was surprising… GF: Yet I was faster then him in the first Jerez session. You see at the tests we do our job and we never chase lap times. Sometimes we have different set-ups or work on different programmes. Badoer was quicker than Massa at Ferrari. Do you think that Luca is going to replace Felipe just because he was quicker at the test? Q: Will there be a driver hierarchy in place from the start of the 2007 season or will the results of the first races decide who the team’s ‘number one’ is? GF: We know I start as the leader because I have more experience, but we will both have the same equipment, no doubt. Other than that only performance will tell. Q: The new car will be officially presented at the end of the month, but there are test sessions in mid-January. Will you test with the R26? And if so, can you afford to start testing the new car so late? GF: I think everyone will be surprised!
Technical analysis - the big freeze
For the Formula One teams the 2006 season is now a distant memory. Instead, their focus is very much on 2007. The rules for the new season were originally intended to be little different to last year’s. However, all that changed with the agreement to bring in a freeze on engine development - originally intended for 2008 - a year early. The thinking behind the move? Why spend a year working on developments only to have to then abandon them for the following season. Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes were reportedly among the freeze’s strongest supporters. Others, such as Honda, Toyota and BMW, had more reservations. One concern, expressed by fans and engineers alike, is that it could harm Formula One racing’s reputation as the very pinnacle of automotive technology. But, as the teams prepare to start the new season with the same engines with which they finished the old, does ‘freeze’ literally mean ‘freeze’, or will some development still take place? “The rule for freezing engine development at the end of this season for a three-year period has to be defined in detail,” BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen told the Italian media late last year. “It is not correct to think that the engine technology will keep a status quo for three years, without any degree of development. In this case this would not be F1 anymore.” Indeed, there will still be a certain degree of freedom for the engineers this season. Of course boundaries will be tight, limiting any development to certain components and areas of the engine, but some performance gains should still be possible. Most of the allowable modifications will be in the engine’s upper section, but even in the lower section, although key parts such as the engine block and camshaft cannot be changed, there is scope for developing some ancillaries, such as water and oil pumps. This is not insignificant, as increasing the fluids circulating for cooling and lubrication purposes allows the engine to rev more freely and helps keep component temperatures and wear under control. Combined with permitted changes to things such as valve profiles and conrods, one already has an idea of the extent of obtainable results. With the engine freeze bringing so many limitations, the engine’s electronics will be used to adjust its working parameters accordingly. In fact, we can expect engine mapping to become even more sophisticated this season as the teams seek to optimise those parameters. This prompts the question: when universal ECUs are implemented in 2008, how will teams retain the level of efficiency and reliablity made possible by the current bespoke electronics? Well, first of all, it is important to underline that the universal ECU essentially refers to the hardware of the system - the software will still be compiled by the engine constructor. Of course there will be a far more limited number of parameters the engineers can alter and these will be closing monitored by the FIA through multiple cross checks. However, within the lines of the programs, it should still be possible to at least mimick current code, hence allowing teams to retain ‘control’ of the engine. As mentioned earlier, Renault have been one of the main proponents of the engine freeze rule, and given their 2006 performance it is not hard to understand why. “Thanks to the points advantage accumulated at the start of the season, it was possible for us not to run flat out in most of the races,” explained engine technical director Rob White. “We were able to back off a little bit in terms of peak revs, which we reached only in a couple of events.” That means Renault can head into 2007 in confident mood, safe in the knowledge that the basic structure of their engine is already capable of higher revs. This combined with the small developments permitted next year should mean the RS26 is capable of running well within its reliability limits, while still remaining competitive. Ferrari will be in a similar position - in other words, the top engines from 2006 should maintain their momentum of success longer thanks to the engine freeze rule. But will the rule really cut costs? The teams will have already invested plenty in ensuring their final homologation units for this season are the best possible. That will have meant an awful lot of dyno testing and a lot of broken engines. Quality control parameters will become even more stringent, which again needs funding. Nevertheless, without the constant ongoing development, engine-specific investment requirements will be less. The other key question is whether the freeze will make teams further down the grid more competitive. As mentioned above, those teams who already have an engine advantage are likely to retain it for the time being at least. That means their rivals must close the performance gap in other areas. No one is likely to have a significant tyre advantage, given that Bridgestone are now supplying all 11 teams. The implication of all this is that aerodynamics will once again come to the fore, with teams spending a considerably larger portion of their budgets in the windtunnel. On this very subject, BMW’s Theissen commented: “Currently we work in our wind tunnel on two shifts, but by the end of 2006 we will work on three shifts, to increase our aero testing capacity and accelerate the car’s development. Aerodynamics and simulations are very important elements for performance gain.” So could this season really be a case of everything changing to remain the same, or will the engine freeze allow some of the grid’s dark horses to shine in other areas? As the teams prepare to resume testing in the build-up to March’s season opener, it will be fascinating finding out.
The Formula One drivers’ Christmas list
They all must have included a Formula One drive on their Christmas wish-list at some point. But now they have what thousands of others dream about, what do the Formula One drivers hope to find under their tree this Christmas? Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault: "I do not believe in Santa, but my kids do, so I must stick with the tradition. I would like Santa to give me the best Formula One car in 2007, I'll do the rest!" David Coulthard, Red Bull: "That Michael (Schumacher) doesn't change his mind and return to racing!" Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: "My wish for my Christmas stocking, or rather, in this case, parked in my garage, would be a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorana." Ralf Schumacher, Toyota: "Of course, I hope the best for Toyota and our team but even more important for me is my family - Cora and my five year old son, David. He is now starting school and I want to spend as much time as I can to be with him and help him to develop into a strong personality." Jenson Button, Honda: "I've got everything I want. I have my whole family joining me for Christmas and spending time with family and friends is all I need. You can't ask Santa for a podium or a win. You've got to do that yourself." Jarno Trulli, Toyota: "My Christmas wish is for my family and the people around me to be fine. If they are happy and healthy, then I am happy, I don't wish for anything more than that." Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: "For me Christmas this year was in August. So I don’t have any wishes left now." Rubens Barichello, Honda: "A very fast car for 2007 and maintaining our good level of reliability from 2006." Vitantonio Liuzzi, Toro Rosso: "My wish from the stocky man in red velvet? To see very soon my new baby - meaning the STR2!" Franck Montagny, test driver, Toyota: "My Christmas wish is for Toyota to win a race in 2007. I will join the team in January and I am pleased to be joining an ambitious team. They have set themselves a goal of eventually winning races and fighting for the championship so my wish is for them to be successful in that as soon as possible." Alexander Wurz, Williams: "I have two wish lists, one from Santa and one from the team. From the team, lots of downforce with low drag, than the rest comes automatically. From Santa, new climbing shoes and that Santa changes his schedule so he comes a bit later than now, because it’s not funny if the kids jump on you at 6am..." Sebastian Vettel, BMW Sauber: "I wish that all in my family are well. I don’t have any special or material wishes - I already have everything that I ever wanted: a great team and a fast car." Scot Speed, Toro Rosso: "I wish the SRT2 will kick a....!!" Christian Klien, test driver, Honda: "It’s a quite intensive list so I hope that Santa doesn’t mind. My first wish goes to my family and friends - that they all stay well. The second wish goes to my team - that 2007 will be the best year for Honda and that I can contribute to pushing them forward. The third one is for me, that health and success stick with me. " Mark Webber, Red Bull: "I’m looking forward to find a K1 Kajak under the Christmas tree...." Nico Rosberg, Williams: “To be honest I can't think of anything materialistic so I just hope that maybe you could give us a little support that we can have a great time and that my family are healthy and happy."
Happy holidays from Formula1.com
It has been a memorable year for Formula One racing, not least for Fernando Alonso’s historic second title and Michael Schumacher’s emotional farewell. As 2006 draws to a close, we would like to thank you for your support over the past season and wish all our users the very best for the holiday period. Needless to say the first month of 2007 already looks set to be a busy one as the teams gear up for the opening round of the new season in Australia. Already several of them have confirmed plans to launch their new cars in January. Toyota are due to kick off proceedings on Friday, January 12, when the wraps will come off the TF107 in Cologne, Germany. Valencia in Spain is the venue for McLaren’s and BMW Sauber’s launches, which take place on successive days, on January 15 and 16 respectively. Meanwhile, world champions Renault have chosen Dutch capital Amsterdam as the backdrop for their new car’s official unveiling on January 24. Of course, there will also be plenty of testing activity following the mid-winter break, with the majority of teams expected to track debut their 2007 machines in mid to late January. We will, as always, be keeping you informed of all the developments from the world of Formula One racing, so stay in touch with Formula1.com in the countdown to Melbourne on March 18 for the latest updates. In the meantime, have a great holiday season and a very happy New Year!
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