Features - Technical
JANUARY 1, 1997
BY JOE SAWARD
Although there have been major changes in the ownership of the team in the last few months - with a consortium led by Flavio Briatore taking over the holding company of the team - the racing team itself has remained largely unchanged under Giancarlo Minardi and his French sporting director Frederic Dhainaut. The technical team is much as it has been since technical director Aldo Costa and chief aerodynamicist Rene Hilorst left the team for Ferrari and Sauber respectively in the summer of 1995.
The responsibility for design at Minardi has been shared ever since by a three-man "design committee". This includes the team's chief engineer, 39-year-old Gabriele Tredozi, who has been with Minardi for the last nine years. He is assisted by Mauro Gennari, who is in charge of the drawing office at Minardi's Faenza headquarters. He has eight engineers working on CAM computer systems. The third member of the committee is Argentine aerodynamicist Mariano Alperin, who was trained at Europe's foremost aerodynamic school, the celebrated Ecole Nationale Superieure de l'Aeronautique et de l'Espace in Toulouse.
Alperin started work on the M197 concept in midsummer, working in the Fondmetal Technologies 40% rolling road windtunnel at Casumaro, near Ferrara, in Italy, where Minardi traditionally rents windtunnel time.
The tunnel was built by the Govoni company in 1990 and has been used in the past by Ferrari. It is a good facility and in recent years Minardi chassis have also proved to be aerodynamically effective. The team's major problem has been that it has not been able to find a cost-effective engine deal. It came close at the end of 1994 but Mugen Honda were then convinced to join Ligier instead.
Alperin and his new assistant Davide Colombo, who joined Minardi from the Durango Formula 3000 team, have concentrated on trying to find more downforce and claw back some of the losses caused by the FIA's continuing restriction of wings. The pair have come up with some interesting new ideas, although in general terms the car follows the same basic aerodynamic themes seen on most of the modern generation of F1 cars.
Since the aerodynamic work on the Minardi M197 was completed Fondmetal Technologies owner Gabriele Rumi has become a shareholder in Minardi's holding company and it is therefore likely that Fondmetal's technical director Jean-Claude Migoet - a former Renault, Ferrari and Tyrrell aerodynamicist - will play an important role in Minardi aerodynamics in the future.
The mechanical design work on the M197 was delayed in the autumn because of the late nature of the decision to use Brian Hart's V8 engines. This was unavoidable but it meant that the designers did not get confirmation of the engine that would be used until the first week in November. They then had to work flat out in order to get the car finished in time to be able to do significant testing before the season begins in Melbourne in March. Fortunately this year money was not a problem as the team was able to finalize its 1997 budget in November - which is the earliest it has been done in recent years. It has nevertheless been a rush to produce all the parts in the time available.
The decision to use the Hart engine caused a lot of work because the V8 is smaller and lighter than the Cosworth V8 engine which the team used last year and it also has a lower centre of gravity. This enabled the Minardi engineers to lower the entire rear of the car, which should mean a better aerodynamic flow to the rear wing. This involved the design of a new engine cover, a completely new gearbox and a revised rear suspension.
Although there have been aerodynamic gains the Minardi engineers reckon that the biggest step forward in 1997 will come from the Hart V8 engines - which will feature pneumatic valves this year. They are also hopeful that the new Bridgestone tyres will make the Minardi package a lot more competitive than in recent years.
It will certainly help that the team now has a considerable budget from Japan Tobacco's Mild Seven brand as a result of agreeing to sign Ukyo Katayama. This financial stability will certainly help the team which remains one of F1's smallest operations. Minardi currently employs 70 people, but despite this does all its design work in-house and manufactures 85% of the parts of the car.
"The M197 is a completely new car. Everything has been changed: the engine, the chassis, the gearbox and the aerodynamics. Everything. We have also had to change the electronic systems as well as we have been working for a long time with Magneti Marelli while Hart has been working with TAG Electronics.
"In terms of the basic structure of the chassis we haven't made any major alterations, apart from what we have had to do because of the changes in the regulations. We have done a lot of work on the detailed design - particularly the aerodynamics - and we think there is some improvement in this. We have managed to find a little bit more downforce to make the car more efficient. There is no doubt that some of the changes have been influenced by last year's Williams.
"We have a good collaboration with Fondmetal Tehnologies, but the M197 is completely a Minardi car because the agreement with Mr Rumi did not happen until after the concept of the car was decided.
"The biggest step forward for us is the engine. We think the Hart V8 is a very good engine and we are looking forward to seeing what we can do with it. The engine centre-line is much lower than on the Cosworth so we had to change the engine mounting considerably. We also had to design a new gearbox, which we have done in cooperation with XTrac. It is a Minardi gearbox but it uses Xtrac internals. We will start the year with a standard six-speed gearbox but later on in the year we are planning to introduce a new seven-speed unit.
"We hope that we will also be able to get good performance out of the Bridgestone tyres but we will not really know that until we start testing.
"We think the changes will enable us to be more competitive this year."