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The Spanish Grand Prix always represents a second round of hope and despair for Formula 1 teams. The first race in Australia is riddled with anxiety to see how quick the car is out of the box and then it is down to minimizing damage should you be off the pace for the next three races. When the series takes a 3-week break to get the gear back to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix, a raft of upgrades, updates and uplifting commentary often accompanies the event.

McLaren are hopeful, Ferrari are sure Kimi Raikkonen will get on top of his poor form so far and Mercedes is seeking to take their domination even a step further. This leaves Williams and Force India mumbling things about staying on top as long as they can and how they hope to hang on to a top 5 finish for the season. Sauber has put their C33 chassis on a gluten-free weight loss program in order to find some performance and Toro Rosso has a few aces they’ve secured up their sleeve for the European round of 5-card draw.

For Red Bull, it’s much the same except this return to Europa will see an entirely new chassis for struggling 4-time champion Sebastian Vettel. The German has had to pull over twice to let his teammate pass in the fly-away races and that’s not sitting well. The team released a nice Q&A on their website today with Chief Designer Rob Marshall to explain:

How often do teams upgrade their cars?
RM: The cars are upgraded almost every race, some of the upgrades can be large and some small, such as little tweaks on the front wing, some details of the bodywork or upgrades to the car’s cooling system. The Spanish Grand Prix is probably the first opportunity for teams to bring a big upgrade to the car during the season. The cars have been on the other side of the globe for the first quarter of the year and teams’ R&D departments will have been busy coming up with large upgrade packages to bolt on the car for the first time in Spain. They will often compromise whole body work packages, so the floor, engine cover, front wings and rear wings, potentially new suspension components and various other bits and bobs.

Is the upgrade times planned at the beginning of the season?
RM: There are a couple of races that stand out as being obvious ones for a major upgrade. That’s the first European race for logistics reasons and also the last European race, as it’s the last opportunity we have to bring performance to the car without having to fly it out around the world.

We’ve heard Sebastian will get a new chassis for this race?
RM: Sebastian will get a new chassis for Barcelona, which was scheduled at the start of the season and then the next one will be for Dan at some time around Silverstone.

What does it mean when a driver gets a new chassis?
RM: The chassis is the tub that the driver sits in – it’s basically the survival cell that the engine and suspension bolts to, that’s the bit that’s new. All the external body work is the same.

Is it a benefit?
RM: It shouldn’t be, as the idea is that they are all the same. Drivers don’t always want to change them – they can get attached to a particular chassis and when they are on a good run they like to hang on to it for as long as possible! From our point of view we’d rather give them one or two new chassis during the season that we have been able to check out in the factory using various testing methods.

How often would drivers get a new chassis throughout the year?
RM: Normally we make four or five chassis during the year, maybe six, so it wouldn’t be unusual for each driver to change at least once or twice during the year. Normally they would use at least two.

Can you tell me about any specific upgrades that the team has for Barcelona?
RM:Not yet! All the teams will have updates and we can see what they all are in a few days.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Rapierman

    Thing is: If Daniel’s chassis is so good, why would they bother to change it? Hasn’t anyone heard of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

    • Yeah but what if it’s better, Paul? :)

      • Rapierman

        Then it would be like me switching from Windows XP to Windows 7 instead of switching to Windows 8: The first one was better. The second wasn’t better and would be worthless if I didn’t have a touchscreen monitor (which I only have on my new laptop).

    • Tom Firth

      Sorry bit of a side note –

      Fernando Alonso reverted from Chassis number 296 to 295 after the Italian Grand Prix in 2012.
      Whether that was due to damage sustained from Grosjean flying over it in Spa the race before and it was changed for precaution after Italy, or if it was preference. I aren’t sure but from what I have, Ferrari didn’t change the chassis in the immediate aftermath of that incident according to chassis numbers anyway.

      Massa swapped from 293 to 294 for the Malaysian Grand Prix onwards. Only used 293 for one race and I assume that only two chassis where available per driver that season. Basically because the team thought 293 was the issue with Massa’s opening race performance.

      I was interested as to which ones are used so I wrote them down throughout that season.

  • If there shouldn’t be a benefit of a new tub, then what is the point of changing it for the sake of doing so? The “ain’t broke” thing applies to that as well. I think if Vettel’s was broken, that would have been communicated instead of giving him one for the hell of it.

    Also, if drivers get attached to a chassis when a new one really doesn’t have any benefit (okay, if it were steel, it would obviously have deflection after so many hours, but CF is different) then does that just suggest they are very superstitious?

    • I may be way off, but I read this as Seb isn’t happy at all with the way his car handled and it didn’t compliment his driving style so they made a new car that will…hopefully. Nice to have those kinds of resources.

  • MIE

    Most components will have a service life (calculated from the stresses they will see and allowing for a suitable factor of safety). I suppose the tub Vettel has been using is older than the one allocated to Ricciardo (possibly having been used for the pre-season testing), so it is due to be changed first.
    I suppose eventually the tub will lose stiffness as it ages.

  • jiji the cat

    Vettel is switching to the chasis used during the testing.
    As far as drivers getting new chassis’, well its nothing new, in fact every driver gets new chassis’ throughout the year. I guess they have a shelf life due to racing stresses.