Nurburgring: Can Ferrari or McLaren Beat Red Bull?
The Formula One deck has been reshuffled once again. That isn’t news by now to most who follow the sport. All the teams, for the remainder of the 2011 season, can continue to pursue their blown diffuser setups with one exception: They cannot change the engine mapping from qualifying to the race. What affect will that have on the top teams such as Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren? You have to examine several factors that will impact them including the full use of the blown diffuser and its off-throttle over run.
Even though Ferrari, or more appropriately Fernando Alonso, was blindingly fast at Silverstone, the Red Bulls were still more than competitive. That’s what happens when you build a balanced car along with a backdoor plan of action in case such a ruling occurs. I’ve said before: Don’t build something you can’t defeat. In Red Bull’s case at Silverstone it was a matter of Ferrari technically catching up and Red Bull being somewhat hamstrung with the reduced off-throttle/over run rule.
In last weeks British Grand Prix at Silverstone, tires, or the degradation thereof, helped Ferrari in the pit stop strategy. In Red Bulls scenario, they threw away seconds in the pits, at least enough to put Alonso where he wanted to be. The Nurburgring, however is slightly different. Lets break it down:
The tires that Pirelli is presenting for Nurburgring may be more suited for Ferrari than McLaren or Red Bull. The corners at Nurburgring aren’t as high speed as Silverstone but more medium when carried through. Ferrari fought the hard compound tires up until Silverstone and even then they weren’t optimal. Nurburgring should be different giving Ferrari a slightly more comfortable opportunity. Pirelli will test a different soft compound tire in Friday’s practice, but it won’t be used in qualifying or the race. Advantage: Ferrari.
The reinstated off throttle blown diffuser rules will benefit the Red Bull team as the car was built around that technology. It may also benefit McLaren, whose diffuser development was making measurable progress before the Silverstone “adjustment”. Advantage: Red Bull and McLaren.
Where this gets interesting is in the engine mapping. Just how aggressive Ferrari, McLaren and several of the second tier teams choose to be might make the difference between a very fast car and an exploding hand grenade. The more aggressive the engine mapping, the less reliable the engines will be. No one knows who is going to choose what, but if you look at the lead Red Bull has, if you’re Ferrari or McLaren why not go for it or at least split the difference. Advantage: Unknown.
The weather will play a role in what happens to the tires and the degradation issue. If the race is much cooler and in racing terms, it will be, that will affect the choices of medium or soft tires and at what stage of the race they’ll be employed. Pirelli is offering the same compounds used at Valencia, but Nurburgring isn’t as difficult on tires as was the case in Spain. The engine mapping will be adjusted for the cooler temperatures. Advantage: Ferrari and McLaren. If it rains…all bets are off.
Williams are bringing new front and rear wings to Germany. That shouldn’t be news as all the teams are kitting up for each race but have had ample time to prepare for the rule reinstatement. Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari will also have new toys. Advantage: Who knows?
Finally consider the use of KERS and the DRS system. Webber had problems with his KERS again at Silverstone. Have they resolved this issue yet? Only the race will tell that story. It’s the DRS system that may play a key role in this historic race. Will it make a big difference? It entirely depends on all of the other changes that have been stated earlier. You have to be within one second of the car in front to activate it and the designated DRS zone at the Nurburgring means the back straight, which is launched onto from a high-speed corner. That may be difficult, or not.
Add all this up to who really has an advantage? Not me, I’ll go with the history of the season to date. Red Bull.
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