FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
Within 24 hours I received an unconfirmed story about Ferrari and also a news story concerning Ferrari and I have the feeling that they may be connected.
The news story that a date has been set, 26th April, 2006, for the hearing of a case against Angelo Santini and Mauro Iacconi for the disclosure of confidential material. The two men had both worked for Ferrari in 2002 and then moved to Toyota. The nub of the story is that the 2003 Toyota TF103 bore genetic similarities to the Ferrari 2002.
Neither man now has a connection to Toyota.
An original, and much more serious, charge that they had stolen Ferrari software, has been dropped. Of course there is a difference between something being true and being able to be proven in court. I had a source within Toyota who told me he had seen fabricators working from Ferrari plans; he had seen Ferrari documents in the hands of one of Toyota's most senior engineers; and then there was the internal email telling people to destroy anything connected with Ferrari. My source named names as well.
Stories at the time (November, 2003) spoke of co-operation between the Italian and German police and it seemed to be the case that Santini had not obeyed the instruction to destroy his part of the evidence.
At the time Dave Richards, then head of BAR Honda, said in a newspaper interview that he had been approached by two men who offered to sell him secrets of their current employer. He did not name the men or the team they worked for, but it was unlikely to have been Minardi.
As a matter of general principle, if guy working for Team Terrific approaches Magic Motorsport, and Magic accepts the offer, then Magic is going to make sure he never gets near any of their secrets. When the guy realises he will never get far up the ladder at Magic, it may dawn on him that the greatest asset he has is what he still knows about Team Terrific and, even though that grows less valuable by the day, he may decide that, since it is all he has, he is not going to destroy it.
Angelo Santini claimed that the information could have been of no use to Toyota since the 2003 car ran on Michelin tyres and the engine was different. As we will see, that argument is irrelevant.
The fact remains that the TF103 was the spitting image of the Ferrari F2002. When it comes to the shape of the body, that is something in plain view, but it is one of the few things on an F1 car which is. If a team brings out a new diffuser, photographers in the pitlane will have it emailed to whichever team is a client of theirs and rivals will be examining it before the car has turned a wheel.
All the teams build cars which are under the minimum weight limit, and by up 100 kgs. The trick is then to place the ballast where it most helps the handling. One example is that the sump on a Cosworth engine is made of solid brass. There would have been a time when Cosworth would have built the sump from tissue paper if they could .
Then there are the computer systems. Consider the sophistication of the kit you can buy at your local store, as a PC, digital camera, cell phone, games console, DVD, anything, and look at the performance per clam shell and think what similar kit was like just three or five years ago. What Joe Average buys in the high street, a serious geek would not give houseroom.
In 1986 I did a feature on an outfit which pioneered the setting up of suspensions for the club racer. Their computer was a Sinclair Spectrum which had a memory of 64K though you could buy an add on which brought it up to a mighty 128K. Furthermore, you needed a tape recorder so you could load the programs, which were on tape cassettes. The outfit did good business and had a good reputation Motoring News gave it an entire page, broadsheet, not tabloid.
Sauber has just installed, at a cost of £2.25 million, a computer simply to assist wind tunnel testing. It has one terabyte of memory and 11 terabytes of hard disk space. This his high street stuff compared with what Ferrari has, and Ferrari has had years of experience of using computers.
The story I have heard, and I believe the source to be sound, is that since about 2000 Ferrari's mapping of each circuit has been so sophisticated that its electronics know precisely where the car is on the track. Take this one stage further and the electronics can be tuned to alter the differential, locking it where appropriate, and even change the setting many times in a single corner. Using the same information, the brake bias can also be changed, again for an individual corner, or even a section of it. Likewise the optimum throttle settings between corners, for it might be more advantageous not to hit maximum power, but to be able to brake a fraction later. A good driver can estimate by about a tenth of a second, but on board computer systems react in time so small it is impossible to comprehend.
The programs must be immensely complicated, they have to take in account such factors as weight of fuel and tyre wear until 2005 and the 'one tyre' rule, when did any driver change tyre pressures during a pit stop? I don't think that even Mario Andretti could have made that calculation.
In the 1980s, McLaren developed different sidepod apertures to be fitted according to the ambient temperature so as to keep the engine running at its optimum temperature. That was a huge step forward, they looked at a thermometer and fitted a slightly larger aperture if race day was hotter than qualifying.
If you are going to squeeze every last ounce of performance, and you have massive computing power at your disposal back at base, plus up to 100 kgs of spare weight. Then your on car systems should be able take account of ambient temperature, track temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed, and so on. Cars wait on the grid and all those measurements could be taken then, and probably are. In fact, it would perfectly legal to take all those measurements at many points round a circuit and feed them by a laptop on the grid.
If someone in F1 thinks there is 1/100th second advantage in being able to take account of the fact that the cross wind at a certain corner is stronger, then that time will be sought. It may be only a case of moving a small amount of ballast from one side of a car to the other.
My source reckons that Ferrari's period of superiority was mainly due to its advances in electronics and that it was actually disguising problems with Bridgestone tyres. By the beginning of the present season, McLaren and Renault had caught up and that would explain Ross Brawn's cryptic remark about Ferrari's problems in 2005 were partly car and partly tyres,
There might also be a connection between the software theory and the trial next year of two former Ferrari employees. After all, you do not need industrial espionage to learn the secrets of a new wishbone, any of the photographers in the pitlane will sell you a set of pictures. A way into Ferrari's software, that would be worth having.
It leads to a seemingly unrelated incident, the fact that Adrian Newey is to leave McLaren, apparently because Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh no longer believe in the 'Superstar Designer'. The experienced, brilliant, engineer, who has leadership and management skills, yes, 'Superstar Designer', no. It has been years since any Technical Director in Formula One has understood every aspect of his car in detail.
The 'Superstar Designer' now needs Supercomputers and teams of bright graduates to use them. I visited BAR a couple of years ago and the design department had about 100 engineers, small fry compared to McLaren and Ferrari. The McLaren MP4 was designed largely by John Barnard, though Alan Jenkins joined him during the project. That was the 1980/1 McLaren design team and Barnard, I think, became the first to be called a 'Superstar Designer'.
To check out previous features from Mike, click here