Canada Friday press conference Participating: Jacky Eeckelaert (Honda), Sam Michael (Williams), Willy Rampf (BMW Sauber), Pat Symonds (Renault)
Q: A question really for you all: obviously this year's engines have been homologated, their specification basically frozen. I wonder if you can give some indication of how you feel your specific engines are performing in comparison to the competition?
Pat Symonds: I think that one of the interesting things about the homologated engines is that it was done at one of the few times in the history of Formula One when engines were remarkably even and that surprised me because it was a new formula, the 2.4 V8.
It's the time when you might expect there to be more variation but I think that the fact that the 2.4 V8 is a very limited design anyway, in terms of its mass, its centre of gravity and a lot of principal dimensions, it probably meant that there wasn't a lot of room to maneuver anyway.
Now when you couple that with an imposed rev limit, I think actually the engines are remarkably even, and probably more even than I remember for many years.
Willy Rampf: I basically confirm what Pat says. With the same design, V8, everything is so specified: crankshaft heights, centre of gravity and I think the major part, the rev limiter, is the same for all the engines. I think there is not a lot of scope for a huge difference in engine performance.
Jacky Eeckelaert: Well, obviously I agree but it's not only the limiting of the engine revs - of course, that is the factor that has been used in the past to increase the power of the engine - but also the stopping of all development of the internals of the engine.
Because you could imagine, let's say, rpm is limited to 19,000 but development allowed for the inside of the engine, which could lead maybe to different coatings, reducing friction which is then increasing horsepower, reducing bearing size by using different materials but all that has also been stopped. So I think, honestly, all the engines are very close to each other in terms of performance.
Q: Pat, what has it taken to regain some of the ground that you seem to have regained in Monaco, and perhaps here as well?
PS: A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of hard work, a lot of logical thought, a lot of honesty and what I mean by all of that, it's a question of going back, looking at your data, looking at your experimental result, both in the wind tunnel, on the track, cfd (computational flow dynamics), all of this and being very critical in your analysis of it, using that to narrow things down.
I've said many times in the past, a lot of the early work was eliminating the impossible and being left with the possible. Then going through that and trying to understand it. We're well into that process now, and we are starting to see results. It's a very, very difficult process to follow when you're also trying to improve the car, and keep up with the huge rate of development that we see in Formula One.
Aerodynamically, we would certainly hope to see four or five per cent improvement through the year. We're trying to make those improvements and at the same time, catch up with what went wrong over the winter. So it's just sheer hard work and a lot of honesty, I think.
Q: How much is it going to take for you to catch the two teams at the front?
PS: A lot, particularly McLaren. They really are showing class on every sort of track. I won't say it's impossible, nothing's impossible, but it will be very difficult to catch that back up during the course of this season.
Q: And the tire differences, have you got over that initial problem?
PS: I'm not sure we had that much of an initial problem. It is true to say that when we first put the Bridgestone tire on our car, we suffered in performance whereas some other teams suffered less and in one case, maybe even - in relative terms - improved. I'm certainly happy that we're using the tire well as a tire. I'm not completely sure we fully understand it aerodynamically, but I think we're pretty damn close now.
Q: Can you just clarify that: aerodynamically? A tire is a big black round thing as we're frequently told...
PS: Exactly, it's a big black round thing, whizzing round in the air.
Q: So what's the difference between last year's big black round thing and this year's big black round thing?
PS: They are very, very different shapes. The aerodynamics of a modern Formula One car are incredibly subtle, as you see from the various appendages on the car. Certainly, with Michelin, we worked a lot on the aerodynamics of the tires, with very, very small changes to shape, to shoulders, to sidewalls etc, to tune the tire aerodynamics in conjunction with the car aerodynamics. Now we're dealing with a different animal.
Q: Willy, you're obviously in a very difficult position; you're obviously trying very hard to make up the gap to the two teams in front but everybody behind you is aiming at you, they all want to be third. How does that feel from your point of view?
WR: First it feels quite good, because it's the first time we are the third strongest team. We are definitely aiming to move even further forward and to see if with our development it is possible to beat one of the teams in front. They are currently maintaining the gap and McLaren is even pulling away a bit, but that still has to be our aim, to try to beat them.
Q: Surely that would be a long way ahead of your target at the beginning of the season?
WR: Over the winter time, the target was to improve from our fifth position in the World Championship to move forward. We saw from the beginning of the season that we are the third strongest team. We take this position and I don't think we should aim for just protecting P4. I think it is P3 currently and hopefully even better.
Q: You must be fed up with being P4!
WR: It would be a slight disappointment but there are also very strong and very experienced teams just behind us taking any opportunity to beat us.
Q: Do you just work to be quicker - you surely don't look behind you.
WR: Yeah, that's correct. Over the winter time, we had a development program and I think it was the first time that we could do all the development we planned, because we have more people, we have more resources and we have more time in the wind tunnel.
Basically, that is comparable to the six other works teams and I think we did quite a good job over the winter time, that we were even better than what we expected. We basically fulfilled our requirements and our targets over the winter time. Some teams might struggle or are struggling now but they will come closer to us.
Q: Give us an indication of how important your state-of-the-art wind tunnel has been?
WR: The wind tunnel, as everybody knows, is the most important tool in Formula One, but we have increased the amount of wind tunnel hours by a factor of, let's say, 2.5 from about one and a half years ago to now.
Similar is the CFD: we have increased the capacity by a factor of three to four, which means we can do much more development in this direction. And also when we started with the wind tunnel, we were quite careful with all the calibration and everything to be 100 per cent sure that what we measured in the wind tunnel is what we see on the track, and up to now we have good correlation and that also helped us over the winter time by changing the tire and still being ahead of the internal target of aero development.
Q: Jacky, for you, very interesting to see the difference between Barrichello and Button, because Rubens really seems to be outperforming Jenson in many areas so far this year.
JE: I think normally in qualifying and in the race their lap times are very, very close, which probably means that they are both pulling out the very last thing from the cars. But maybe, as you said, initially when we started testing in November with the old car on Bridgestone tires, Rubens felt a bit more confident than Jenson on these tires.
I think Rubens drove on Bridgestones for a lot of years and they must have similar characteristics to what he's used to, but at the end, I think, for the moment, they both do similar performances with the cars.
Q: So even though in straight statistics it seems Rubens is outperforming Jenson, they are very close.
JE: They are very close, yeah.
Q: You had some problems at the beginning of the season with stability; is that being overcome now?
JE: Well, let's say that it's true that we had and still have problems of performance, for sure, but we had problems of braking stability, which was basically an aerodynamic problem of the car and we have understood now what was wrong.
So we have a clear development program and this braking stability has been solved now, so this aerodynamic problem has been solved, so that now we can go on doing the standard development of the car which is basically looking for more downforce and less drag, and more efficiency.
Q: So we should see the sort of form that was shown in Monaco being shown in future races now.
JE: Well yes, we have a continuous development program with different steps that is very clear, and of course, at this race we run a car that is very similar to the Monaco car, apart from front and rear wings because there's a different downforce level. But then there is a next step coming on for Magny-Cours and another step for a few races later and so on, so there are still different steps coming on until the end of the season.
Q: Sam, the first question I asked everybody was about the closeness of the engines; how close are they?
Sam Michael: I think they are very close. If you look at the speed traps, the thing that's probably done this is probably more the 19,000 rpm limit rather than the engine homologation, but it's probably both of them. But I think the new 19,000 rev limit is the most significant one.
It's always hard to know where everyone is but if you think back to two or three years ago, people were turning up at the track and saying 'oh I think such-and-such has got 40 more horsepower than me, and he's got 30 less.' The sort of spreads that were talked about were massive and that's sort of gone away with the engine homologation and 19,000 rev limit.
Q: After last year, you must be very pleased with the general performance of the car this year.
SM: It's better than last year but we have quite high targets for ourselves at Williams, but relative to where we were last year, it's a good step. But we rebuilt the team a lot in the last twelve months. A lot of the people in key positions have just started working well together and so our thoughts are really going into planning and putting a lot of effort into the 2008 car already.
But I think our biggest change over the winter has probably been reliability. Our reliability last year was very poor and although we haven't hit a 100 per cent target this year, it's significantly better through all the changes that we made.
Q: A lot of teams have decided against using their third drivers on Fridays, and yet you used Nakajima this morning; what was the idea behind that?
SM: We use Kazuki for all the races where he doesn't do GP2, so he doesn't have another commitment. He's quite useful, for a young guy. He's consistent and you can see that in the lap times from practice as well. He's completely useable in terms of looking at tire data and all the normal checks that you do on Friday morning and it lets him get a feel and understanding about how to go about a race weekend.
Q: Now Nico has outqualified Alex five to nil so far. Quite often a driver who has had his debut season plateaus out a bit in his second season. It's quite a remarkable performance from Nico; what about his development?
SM: I've had the opposite experience from good drivers. They go away over a winter and take a big step in their second year and I think Nico is no exception. He's gone away and thought about it and he's obviously doing a good job for us this year.
Q: Why do you think he's better than Alex, when Alex has so much experience?
SM: Well, obviously every driver is different and one of them has to be in front and at the moment it just happens to be Nico in qualifying.
Q: Can you see Alex beating him?
SM: We'll wait and see.
Questions from the Floor
Q: (James Allen - ITV) Willy, I'm a bit confused with what you were trying to do with the strategy at Monaco because I thought you'd be quite aggressive and you did the opposite and opened the door for Renault and let them through. What were you trying to do?
WR: I think that the strategy that we used in Monaco was quite a risky one because it was based on the fact that the safety car might come in. It came in four times in the five years before and we said 'this is a chance to win the race if it comes in, in quite a wide range of laps." It didn't pay out and we lost a position to Fisichella at the end. It was quite a risky strategy not a conservative one and afterwards it is easy to say 'ah the safety car' but there was no safety car in Monaco.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) You have all seen the outlines of the rule proposals for 2011, what do you think of them? Is Formula One heading in the right direction with these rules?
WR: I think here the better person to ask is Mario Theissen because the engine and gearbox are developed in Munich and we are just investigating the possibilities, what can be done and in what timeframe.
PS: I think they are very interesting changes. They surprise me somewhat. It wasn't that long ago that we decided engines would not be a performance differentiator, we decided on homologated engines and limited development. And now it's been suggested that perhaps the only performance differentiator will be drive-train and chassis aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics is effectively put down a peg.
I find it a little bit strange that some of the things we are doing imminently will be changing again in 2011. We are working on kinetic energy recovery systems for 2009 that are very different for those that would be required in the suggestions for 2011, and can I make it clear they are just suggestions.
Similarly we are adopting a standard ECU next year which has been a lot of work to get ready. [There are] various restrictions associated with that and then again suggestions that in 2011 we open up the electronics to further development. So some surprising things, and I think my first question is 'do we need it? Is this what we want?'
I think Max is a very powerful leader and he has some very good ideas and there are many times when you need that powerful leadership because as teams we will tend to bicker and get nowhere. So I'm certainly not criticizing the power of his leadership, but I do wonder if we need to really say: 'Well Formula One is broken, let's re-invent it from stage one." I'm not sure we really need to.
I think that there are many things we can do to improve Formula One. I think we can improve the spectacle, I think we can be more ecologically aware. But I don't think that we need to tear everything up and start at zero again.
I think there are many things that can be adopted, many things that are of interest but above all I guess the thing I find hardest is that they are going to cost us a lot of money and the one thing I'd probably take issue with the FIA on is the idea that new rules should be relevant to road cars. That was not actually a mandate that I believe was ever agreed.
It was agreed that new rules should be helpful to society at large. Or useful to society at large. I think that's a slightly different thing because the lead-on from that is that if the new rules produce technologies that are road relevant then our parent companies will come in and pay for them. Well that is absolutely not the case with Renault.
Renault do not see Formula One as a technical exercise to make a better Clio, Megane or Laguna. It's a very different thing and certainly they are not going to put more money into Formula One than they do now and the so called road relevant research, the financing for that will not come from the Renault group.
SM: I think that a lot of the things Pat said are pretty valid. One of the things that I think was in there that I thought was quite understated was the savings made from going to the engine homologation and the engine life these days, the savings have been significant.
Maybe it's different costs for different companies but if you look at the number of engines that you use, and everyone did fight against it, but if you only go back to 2002 we used six engines every race weekend and now we are using two every two race weekends. So the changes have been massive and I think that was one of the reasons for doing it.
The second thing is that there are transfers of some things. Something that BMW mentioned was transfer of CFD technology to road cars and that is valid. It's not the fact that you go and develop a rear wing that you then go and put on your road car it's that you develop the understanding of aerodynamics and CFD that helps you better develop road cars.
But at the same time, it's not an unusual process for the FIA to publish a first position and then go through a series of discussions at TWG and team principle level to try and hone down what we really want to do.
JE: Firstly we support most of the drafted regulations. I think it will push the manufacturers to build more fuel-efficient engines because probably the fuel flow will be needed. So if you want to go faster with a given amount of fuel in a given amount of time then you need to make a very fuel-efficient engine and this will probably find some spin-offs in the road cars sooner or later.
On the other hand of course Honda supports the environmental position of the FIA. Especially in the case of the hybrid technology which also will be the case in 2012.
Q: (Rubens Yanes - Sinflash) It is a kind of weird question for an article I'm writing. Are there any constraints technically or physically for women to become an F1 driver?
PS: I think the simple answer is no. Really I don't think there is anything more to add to that. We have seen in many other Formulas some women drivers who are really quite competitive. I don't see any reason.
Q: (James Allen - ITV) The performance of the different types of tire that have been brought along this weekend, obviously the soft and the super-soft. Looking at the practice today, what have we learned? Is the soft tire the better race tire and the super-soft quicker on a single lap as we saw in Monaco or is there a variability in that picture?
PS: I think you'd have to wait until Sunday.
JE: What we can say is that these are the same tires as in Monaco, the soft and the super-soft and it depends on the track conditions. This morning the track was extremely green, I think everybody had problems with turning even with the prime tire which is soft, not to speak about the super-soft.
The track evolution changes the way you can use a tire. So if it is not raining, or not too much, we will have another track evolution I think on Saturday morning and from there on we will see and we will have to take a decision.
PS: I think you are possibly right it will be that way. Today was clouded a lot because of the very excessive graining. Here in Canada we often get real graining and it really destroys the performance of the car. One hopes it gets better over the weekend but I think we are expecting some rain tonight and it may well not do this week. Then the super-soft tire would be quite a job to manage in the race.
WR: I think it is a very interesting parameter for this strategy because you have to use the super-soft and then you have to decide which of them has the least damage.
PS: (to WR) I think you should do one stop Willy. And stop very late. (Laughter)
Q: (Rene Hoffmann - Suddeutsche Zeitung) To all four gentlemen. We today saw one of your competitors, namely Toyota, having some problems with the front suspension. Could you just talk in general about how easy or hard it is to fix these kinds of problems and whether you see a chance that we might not see a Toyota on the race track tomorrow and on Sunday?
WR: I don't think we have all the information. I mean we just saw it coming in with one wheel detached from the suspension. If it is really a major failure of the suspension then I think it is very, very difficult. I think there are few possibilities on the track to modify it. You might be able to reinforce it but I think this is all you can do on the track.
PS: It's quite difficult to know without having all the information. We don't know what bits failed on their car. As Willy said when it comes to things like wings and suspensions it can get very difficult. Most other things you can put in place for repair but as I said we don't really know what failed.
JE: I think that if the suspension breaks within a window of load switches then it is really something that has to be considered very seriously because as Willy says you cannot redesign or reinforce the suspension on the track. It is very difficult because you have to validate the parts.
But of course we don't know what happened. Maybe he hit the wall the lap before or a few corners before and this put a big load on, for which the suspension is not designed? Then it fails the next time you go over the curb. It is possible but we do not know that.
Q: (Rene Hoffmann - Suddeutsche Zeitung) Is the suspension load extremely high on this type of circuit?
PS: No, it's nothing abnormal.
WR: The highest risk is really touching the wall and then you don't know how the load affects the suspension. I think this is the highest risk here.
Q: (Fabritsio Lazakis - Four Wheels Magazine) A question to Jacky. You said you have identified the problems that you faced at the start of the season. Could you tell us some more details?
JE: Well it is difficult for me to give too much detail for obvious reasons but for sure we have quite a competitive car at the end of 2006. The second half of the season and I think at the end of the season, the two fastest cars on Michelin tires were the Renault and the Honda. We were clearly in front of the McLaren the last few races of the season.
Then five weeks later after the last Grand Prix when we went testing with them with the new Bridgestone tire, we had lost quite a lot of performance by switching tires. This was difficult to anticipate as the tire became available for all the teams on the same day at the end of October.
The interaction of the tire with the car is a very complex thing, not just mechanically but also aerodynamically. But I think the details from that, now that we understand it, are within our scope.