James Robinson Q and A – Engineering The Dream London, England – A1 Team Great Britain celebrated a return to the podium last weekend as a trademark performance from Robbie Kerr around the streets of Durban captured second place for the team in Round 8 of the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport.
Kerr’s Feature race podium has so far proven to be the highlight of the 2007 leg of the nation versus nation series as a run of bad luck and mechanical failures has blighted the British team’s championship aspirations. Kicking off the year in New Zealand, contact in the Sprint and a mechanical retirement in the Feature left the team pointless with only a solitary score for tenth place following at the next round in Australia.
Throttle and gearbox problems throughout Friday’s practice and Saturday’s qualifying sessions dogged the team last weekend in South Africa. Despite this Robbie Kerr rose to the challenge, qualifying eleventh on the grid for the Sprint before going on to race from ninth in the Feature all the way to second for the team’s first Feature podium since Round 4 in Indonesia – Great Britain currently holding fourth in the Nations Standings.
For the team’s Chief Engineer, James Robinson, Robbie’s podium was a welcome relief and a just reward for the hard work put in by the squad over the course of the weekend. Robinson, with an impressive career record boasting engineering success in Formula One and Le Mans, took time out following the South African event to give his thoughts on Robbie’s performance and the demands of A1GP competition.
Q: Were you surprised at Robbie Kerr’s second place podium finish in South Africa given how challenging the weekend had been up to that point?
James Robinson (JR): “Yes I was surprised! Given our normal level of performance we were obviously disappointed with what had happened in qualifying, sitting outside the top-ten is definitely not the norm for us. Robbie scoring the podium was surprising but very rewarding at the same time.”
Q: With Robbie qualifying on the front-row in Durban last season, why was the team unable to replicate that level of performance in qualifying this year?
JR: “Put simply the level of performance in A1GP has moved forward dramatically from last season. The professionalism of each of the teams has improved over the course of time and that’s impacted results. Our fastest lap time in qualifying this year in South Africa was seven tenths of a second quicker than the time that helped Robbie snatch a front-row slot last year but due to the increased levels of performance across the board it was only good for eleventh this year!”
Q: Given the problems with the British car over recent weeks, what can be done prior to the next round in Mexico City to prevent further dramas?
JR: “Well the team is always striving to achieve the maximum performance and reliability from the package we have from A1GP and as such we have to operate within those limits. We try to maximize the things that we can do to guarantee the most successful weekend for A1 Team GBR.”
Q: How important is the Rookie Only Session on Friday mornings in terms of engineering the car and the role undertaken by Oliver Jarvis?
JR: “The Rookie Only session is very important to us! It’s a vital part of the weekend, it allows us to do our homework, bed in brakes, work on set-up and engine parameters, gear ratios and so on. It also provides an important aspect to the future of A1GP and in our case the future of A1 Team Great Britain by allowing rookie drivers the chance to mature in preparation for taking over the race seat down the line.”
Q: A1 Team France dominated proceedings last season with A1 Team Germany currently doing the same this year, is there one area with the engineering of the car they seem to be getting right compared to other teams?
JR: “A1 Team Germany has enjoyed continuity from last season with the same team running things therefore they have a degree of maturity internally as well as all the data records and information to draw upon from last season. That, linked with the fact that they have a very promising up and coming driver, showcases a level of performance that everyone else has to try and match and raise their game to.”
Q: If you had complete control over the technical regulations in A1GP, what would you change and why?
JR: “I think A1GP operates a very close set of regulations which allows each driver to show their potential without too great an influence on things like budget and team background. As a result I’d change very little other than increasing the support with systems and spare parts reinforcing what’s already in place.”
Q: What’s been the single biggest challenge you’ve faced this season engineering the British car?
JR: “The diversity of tracks, linked with the huge climatic changes we face from country to country, even from hour to hour or day to day in some cases, is probably one of the biggest challenges of competing in A1GP! As an example, the conditions faced in Indonesia last season sum up the challenges we face but you have to cope with them and do the best you can throughout.”
Q: The team’s still chasing that elusive first A1GP win, do you think anyone can stop the German steamroller with three rounds remaining and how do you rate Great Britain’s chances of becoming the first team to score a ‘home’ win with the final round hosted at Brands Hatch?
JR: “The beauty of A1GP is that on any given weekend any individual has the capacity to take pole position and win the race, such is the quality on offer in terms of the competition, so the German team might not have it all their own way as the season concludes. I see no reason why the British team can’t score its first win before the end of the season and again why we can’t potentially be successful on home soil at Brands Hatch next month.”
Round 9 of the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport sees a trip across the Atlantic to Mexico City and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Friday 23rd – Sunday 25th March – www.a1gp.com
A1 Team Great Britain is partnered in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport by Visit London, VisitBritain, Quintessentially and Oakley.