THE PERFECT SETUP / FORMULA 1 /
the data that Lewis [Hamilton] is fantastic at controlling oversteer. He can have massive levels of steering correction – to the extent hat other drivers would be bitching like hell that the car was undrivable – and Lewis won’t even mention it. With a driver like that, you’re better equipped to push the boundaries to new levels. “A lot of the performance limit of a car is set by stability; if your driver can’t hang on to it, you have to introduce understeer in that zone. If you have a driver better able to deal with oversteer in zones that induce it, you’ll have a less understeery car elsewhere and therefore more total grip over the whole
Traditionally, drivers who can deal with “on-the-nose”
lap. The great drivers – Ayrton Senna, Nigel
These are typically variable in three parts, comprising corner
entry, mid-corner and corner exit. Greater locking of the diff
gives better traction but more understeer on entry, especially in
slower turns. Last year, the Lotus, HRT and Virgin teams all used
an inadequate hydraulics system that came as part of a package
with the Cosworth engine. Among its
many failings was that it could not
generate enough pressure to lock the diff
at certain critical loads, giving those cars
traction limitations as well as stability
issues in higher-speed corners.
handling will be quickest. See Mansell and Senna.
McLaren back in the winter of 2007-’08 and
working with Lowe in getting out of the
setup loop they had evolved over the years.
have chosen, just to limit the loads being put through the rears.
Mansell, Michael Schumacher – all had that
ability. Like-for-like, compared with other
drivers, they wanted more front end.”
A race stint invariably brings further
imperfections to setups mapped in the
perfect conditions of simulation. At the
Korean Grand Prix this year, Hamilton
was finding increasing understeer and
the team could see on the telemetry that
there was a 10-point reduction in front
downforce (measured by load sensors on
the car). The explanation was only
discovered post-race: the front wing slot
gap was partially sealed by congealed
rubber picked up from the track.
So elementary is Hamilton’s ease with
this trait, it caused McLaren to rethink the
range in which its car could be set up. Pat
Fry, now Ferrari’s technical director, was at
The way that Jenson Button’s feel allows him to measure out
tire life has also played its part in allowing him to be more
competitive with teammate Hamilton than was the case last
year. Hamilton’s setups induce more performance degradation
of the rear tires than Button’s who can thereby lap fast for
longer. This is what would have allowed him to beat Hamilton to
the checkered flag at this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix,
irrespective of Hamilton’s drive-through penalty.
Glock’s rally-like style allows Marussia-
Virgin a broader setup spectrum.
The balance changes through a race, not only through tire
performance but also the reducing fuel load. A full-tank car will
tend to understeer, moving toward oversteer as the fuel load
lightens. Obviously the setup has to take account of this as there
are only a limited number of ways the driver has of changing things
from the cockpit. The most significant of these are the differential
settings, varying the pre-load via controls on the steering wheel.
The aerodynamically crucial floors also
degrade in performance through a race as
their edges are rubbed on the track surface.
A lot of attention is devoted to smoothing
their extremities and they’re covered with
a silicon spray, making them more slippery
to the air. Typically, aero losses from the
floor alone from the start of the race to the
end are in the order of 15-20 points – a
difference of around 0.2sec per lap.
In a sport so machinery-dependent, we
never get a definitive answer on which
driver is actually doing the best job of
pressing the pedals and turning the
wheel. But achieving the optimum setup
is inextricably linked with that skill set,
the place where the visceral skills of the
driver and the cerebral qualities of the
engineer come together.
“We spent the whole of that winter changing the basic traits of our cars so that we’d no longer be so limited by understeer in slow corners,” recalls Fry, “and it took us all that time to get it to the point where we could run it like McLaren does now. “At Ferrari, we’re still in the same loop as McLaren was before we changed – and in 2011 that’s hurt us as the blown diffusers have become more powerful. They generate a lot more grip obviously, but it’s at the rear, so you need to have in your setup toolbox something that compensates for that, not just increase your understeer. And we’ve sort of run out of options at that end.” But while dialing in as much oversteer as the driver can cope with will make for quick qualifying laps, it’s not as simple as that once you introduce the complication of tire life to the equation and when the parc ferme regulations prevent you from having one setup for qualifying and another for the race. This year’s Pirelli tires are weaker at the rear than the front, and so they often need protection from the setup. The title-winning Red Bull RB7 has been particularly hard on rubber – mainly on account of going faster than the others! – and, in several races, World Champion Sebastian Vettel had to live with more understeer than he’d ideally
Button’s ability to look after his tires has
brought him to Hamilton’s level of race-
weekend performance in F1’s “Pirelli era.”
RACER.com JANUARY 2012 39