Last year Ferrari and McLaren took every race victory on offer and, more often then not, filled the top three. On only five of 51 occasions did we see a driver in something other than McLaren or Ferrari overalls on the podium.
But we also saw the two teams dominate at different types of track: Ferrari’s stomping grounds were circuits with a medium to high aerodynamic demand: Catalunya, Spa-Francorchamps, Magny-Cours and Silverstone. McLaren did better at tracks with lower speed corners, regardless of whether the majority of the track was fast or slow, which is why they were just as dominant at Monza as they were at Monte-Carlo.
Will that pattern continue this year? Here’s a few of my thoughts along with some interesting data that BMW collected last year.
BMW published some interesting statistics on the 15 tracks from 2007 that F1 will return to in 2008:
Tight, twisty Monte-Carlo comes out as the shortest track with the lowest top speed. Spa has the longest unbroken flat out section, with the drivers keeping their foot buried for a full 24 seconds, covering over 1.8km!
The two new venues, Valencia and Singapore, are unknown quantities, but BMW technical director Willy Rampf reckons the cars will exceed 300kph in more than one place at Valencia. This video simulation lap of the circuit certainly backs up that impression.
BMW also grouped the tracks according to tyre wear, brake wear and downforce levels required. Here’s what happens if you separate the tracks by downforce levels and colour the tracks in line with which team won there last year (Ferrari in red, McLaren in silver):
(Admittedly I’ve been a little devious and slightly optimised the arrangement to fit my theory, but bear with me…)
The Ferrari F2007’s strength was aerodynamic efficiency. On circuits that demanded a compromise between downforce for cornering speed and low drag for straight-line speed, they were untouchable.
McLaren excelled on the extreme tracks that demanded very high or very low downforce settings, where efficiency was less important than just having the fast car in a straight line or around a corner.
So over the winter both teams have been working on achieving the exact opposite of each other.
McLaren need the MP4/23 to be kinder to its rear tyres over race distances – not easy when traction control and engine braking are gone and your lead driver is the tail-happy Lewis Hamilton.
Ferrari need the F2008 to work better over bumps and to change direction more quickly in low-speed complexes. The demand is particularly tough for them as both F1’s new circuits this year are street tracks – and that means bumps and slow corners. On top of that, the long-radius bends of the Nurburgring (where McLaren only just snatched victory from Ferrari last year) have been replaced by the Hockenheimring’s sharp Hermann Tilke bends.
Testing so far seems to have confirmed that McLaren and Ferrari are closer to each other on pace this year. But will we see a repeat of 2007, where each team dominated on alternate weekends, or will they have produced two much more similar cars, raising the prospect of a tooth and nail battle between the two every weekend?
Photo copyright: Ferrari S.p.A.
Read more about the 2008 F1 calendar