Q and A with F1 Technical Directors
Pat Symonds (Renault), Sam Michael (Williams), Adrian Newey (Red Bull), Willy Rampf (BMW), Aldo Costa (Ferrari).
Q. A question to all of you, the 2009 car. Can you tell us how important you feel that car is going to be? How advanced you are already and what are the significant points about it?
Pat Symonds: I am not quite sure what you mean by important. Every car is important every year. It is very interesting as it's the first big change we have had for a long while. I am sure everyone knows it is a big change to the aerodynamics and it's a replacement of grooved tires with slick tires which in turn means using different weight distributions and all sorts of things.
It is a very interesting challenge. It's, I guess, quite a difficult one. We do need to start on it early and we have started on it early. I am sure we are all the same. Obviously we have had models in the wind tunnel even though we are still discussing the finer details of the aerodynamic rules. It is a good project. I hope and believe that it will improve overtaking which is one of the main reasons for kicking it all off, so let's see what we get.
Sam Michael: I think the rules are quite different, especially aerodynamically for a start and getting rid of all of the majority of the appendages on the car - barge-boards, flip-ups, chimney. Physically from the outside the cars are going to look quite different with a very wide front wing and narrow rear wing.
The target which came from the TWG which was to improve overtaking and it remains to be seen how much impact we will have on that. It will definitely have some impact and that will be good. That combined with big tires and a big increase in tire grip. As Pat said everyone has started their wind tunnel programs and also CFD programs.
It is quite a difficult balance this year to balance how much you develop the current car, the 2008 car, and how much you develop the 09. Normally even if you have reasonable rule changes from one year to another they are not as fundamental as this one, so you can continue developing the car right to the last race and the bits you develop on that car can be carried over to next year's car but it almost doesn't apply now.
If you are still developing you car at the last race it will get thrown in the bin at the end of this season. It is probably harder for the three teams fighting for the championship, but it is equally hard for the teams that are fighting I would say to be the best of the rest at the moment, that fourth spot. There are three or four teams that are capable of running in that position and it is going to increase the pressure on them as well. We are all going to be doing that balancing act throughout the season.
Adrian Newey: It's a new challenge for the engineers which is great. I must admit my reservations. The biggest problem is a question of resource. As Sam said we are all in a position where we are all for our various different reasons desperately trying to improve this year's car but at the same time we are conscious that you have got to start researching a very different car for next year.
If you had limitless resources you would divide everything in two, you would go to four wind tunnels as I believe Honda are using at the moment and off you go and start research. If you don't have those resources then it is a much more difficult juggling act. The last really big regulation change we had was 2004-05 when the front wing was lifted considerably.
The great thing as far as I was concerned about that rule was it didn't really come out until the beginning of July by which time we had all done the bulk of our development for that year. We could all go off starting from the same place and do our best in the time available. This one is very different. We have known about it since November-December. As Pat says rules are still subtly changing but we have known the essence of it for a long time, so it really is a question of how we divide resources.
Willy Rampf: For us it is a very demanding rule change and quite different to the last years. In the last year we had always a fluent transition from the one car to the next one as the regulations changes were fairly small.
This is completely different now because we have to run the development project parallel which is not so easy because we have the one wind tunnel. It means we have to divide the capacity of one wind tunnel and currently we are doing a lot of work on CFD to sort out the basic requirements and then go into the wind tunnel.
Aldo Costa: Again, it is very interesting but it will be very difficult to measure change in aerodynamic. We have also got the KERS and the tires. This will require a rethink of all of the mass redistribution of the car. It will mean a lot of studies – not only aero study, but also a lot of research in the KERS area, a lot of research in the basic car layout, so it is very demanding, so strategic choices during this year will be to be focused more on this year's car or vice-versa. It will be very difficult to do.
Q. Another question to you all. Can you give us some idea of the modifications that you have made since the last Grand Prix? Pat, I think yours is the most obvious.
PS: Aerodynamic and suspension. A lot of aerodynamic changes and when you say most obvious, yes, it probably is. You will see a very different engine cover, some subtleties around the barge-board and the front brake areas. Changes to suspension, quite a lot of things. I think this becomes a general trend these days.
Most teams tend to cover the first three races with only minor changes, the sort of things we can get done and fit to the cars without extensive testing because we cannot really do that testing while we are out of Europe. Coming back to Europe there is a big back-log of things we are trying to get on the car. We had quite a good test here the other week although one day was spoiled by the weather, the rest of it we managed to get a lot of stuff done, so that's reflected on the cars here.
Q. Do you feel that you have made a step forward and that you have got closer to the opposition?
PS: It's difficult to say. The test was, of course, perhaps a little bit more difficult than usual and it is always difficult to see where you are in a test. It was a bit more difficult than usual because people were running different levels of downforce and of course the 2009 tires at times, so it wasn't always easy to see how people were approaching things.
Again, if you look at today, the mere fact we have been testing here means that the Friday program is a little bit different to usual. I think we have made a little bit of a gain relative to most of our competitors – not all of them but most of them – but the proof of the pudding will be know by Sunday night I guess.
Q. Sam, your modifications?
SM: A lot of ours are aerodynamic for this race. There is a new front and rear wing, diffuser, barge-board area. Because everyone is doing the same thing you need to find two-or-three tenths just to stay where you are. If you can find anything above that then you will close the gap to the guys in front. As Pat said it is fairly normal to get quite a big upgrade when you come back to Europe, so you have to try extra special to actually upset the order and then that can play into things like mechanical changes as well.
Q. Now you have got Kazuki Nakajima who is almost entirely new to the team and Nico is still young although he has got a couple of seasons under his belt. Do you feel they are still lacking in a little bit of experience?
SM: They are both young, you can't deny that. Nico has been driving F1 cars for four years now because he was a test driver for a year before he started racing. He has come on a lot but he is clearly not the same age as guys who have been driving three or four times as long as him. But he is doing a good job. Kazuki is obviously a rookie. We do have a very young driver line-up but that can bring benefits as well in terms of enthusiasm and ability to look outside of the box. But it means the race engineers and the people at the top need to inject the experience to tell them what to do and what not to do.
Q. So it is a balance between their inexperience and your experience.
SM: Yes, that's right. Throughout F1 you always get different driver line-ups. Sometimes they are positive and sometimes you just need to help them out more but so far they have done a good enough job with the car.
Q. Adrian, your modifications here?
AN: Obviously educating our rookies. Apart from that pretty much the same as Sam apart from that one. A new front wing and a few other aerodynamic bits and pieces. Same again really. The European season is the start of the first big upgrade. Traditionally now a lot of the teams are doing the same.
They will have a big upgrade just past the first race and then a further one for the first European. We didn't get all the parts we wanted tested in the test because of the rain on the last day and some of our parts didn't arrive until that last day, so as Pat hinted we may have done a little bit of evaluation this morning which we wouldn't normally do at a race weekend. But we have done loads of miles around here, so felt confident in doing so.
Q. Renault have been saying they feel they are a little bit down on power. I think that is fair enough to say, Pat?
PS: I am not sure who has said that but maybe it is fair enough to say, yes.
Q. So are you hurting in that area as well do you feel?
AN: We have obviously got the same engine as Pat has in the back. Other than that I wouldn't like to say. We are certainly very happy with the service Renault have provided us. We are a customer but we do not feel like a customer. They give us extremely good support in all areas and we are very happy with that.
Q. So the fact you haven't said no means it is a yes really?
AN: No, I didn't say that. It is difficult to judge really. It is very difficult to judge the relative power of engines installed in the car because you have got so many different factors. It is difficult to tell sometimes.
Q. Willy, what modifications have you made?
WR: We have quite a number of small modifications on the aerodynamic side, mainly on the bodywork. The most obvious parts are engine cover – basically a different fin – and rear wing mounted on a so-called centre strut which is new for us, which we have introduced here; basically tested last week but introduced here for the first time.
Q. I remember last year you stepped up the pace of development to have something new at every race. Have you done the same again this year?
WR: Yes. In principal we keep the same: bringing new components for each race and up to now we have been able to do so and we still want to do it. We don't think that waiting for a huge update to be ready and developed is the right thing for us. That's our opinion. We believe more in optimizing the car as it is because the car still has potential for further development.
Q. Aldo, modifications here?
AC: It's obvious that we have changed the nose, the nose concept is different, and then there are other small details from the aerodynamic point of view on the bodywork, on the diffuser, that we have changed for this race. So mainly the changes are aerodynamic parts.
Q. Why have you changed the nose if, as someone says, it's not a major change?
AC: It's one of the aerodynamic changes that we had on the way during the winter. It probably took a little bit more time because it's more difficult from the crash (test) point of view, so we decided to come here with the different nose. It's a program that we had to develop as with all the other aerodynamic developments that we are doing.
Q. We saw Felipe much quicker in the first two sectors today and yet he always seemed to lose time in the last sector. Is that something about this circuit or is it about him?
AC: He tested the car last week for two days, so he had very very good reference. This morning, particularly, he was not very happy with the grip of the hard tire in the slow speed corners of the last sector, so that's why he struggled but then, little by little, during the session, it went better and better and at the end he was OK.
Questions From The Floor
Q. (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Willy, can you tell us how Robert Kubica has developed as a driver from his first race through to the last two when he's been on the podium?
WR: Obviously he has gained a lot of experience and I think especially this winter, when we brought the new car onto the track, it was very important that we relied on and got very exact feedback from the drivers to develop the car, because if it comes to balance issues, it's not always so easy to see it in the wind tunnel or on the data. So here we were relying on the drivers, both drivers.
I think Robert did a very good job. His comments are quite precise and quite repeatable, and this is very important for us. For sure he learned a lot, he made a step up compared to last year but he also has much more experience than last year.
Q. (Mike Doodson) I'm interested to know if the changes made over the last three or four years have saved money and if they will save money in the future?
AN: It depends whether you are a customer such as Williams and ourselves or whether you are a manufacturer in the first place. Certainly in our case with Renault, it hasn't really had very much effect because what Renault charge us for is the manufacture, supply and operation of the engines, not the development. That they absorb within their works' effort.
For us as privateers, it hasn't really had very much effect. I'm sure for the manufacturers themselves it has had an effect, depending on how they've taken it. Some manufacturers have really cut right back and taken the intent of the engine freeze – which was to stop spending as much money on the development of the engine – to heart.
Other manufacturers have continued spending on smaller gains, accepting that whilst the gains will be smaller per euro spent, there were still gains available. I don't know if that answers your question. From now on, when there is a more solid freeze, then the cost to the manufacturers will probably go down as well. Again, there's no sign from the supplied teams, which you could argue are perhaps those who would most like the financial assistance, that it has actually made much difference.
WR: I don't know about a figure about overall engine costs but overall, the number of engines has gone down because with frozen engines, the development program is much much lower than it was before and for each modification we do on an engine, you have to do quite a few dyno runs.
It means that it's not only a development program but also for reliability reasons. To confirm it you have to run a lot of engines and this is not necessary any more. So for sure there is a significant step down in engine costs.
PS: I think that your question was about changing the engine, rather than the engine freeze. Obviously changing the engine, going from the V10 to the V8, did require a lot of money, change always does. The freeze is a different thing, and certainly at Renault we embraced the freeze and we took it in the spirit in which it was intended and it did save us a lot of money.
As Willy said, for every development that you do, you need to run engines on the dyno. They're not cheap, these engines, and I think that's one of the problems with the frozen engine. We've actually frozen an engine that is an expensive engine. It's an engine that we designed to run at over 20,000rpm and I think that if we had known at the time that the freeze was coming and it was designed, we would probably have worked harder at reducing the unit costs of the engine.
They are expensive engines, as I say. It depends whether they are test or race engines but they approach a quarter of a million euros an engine. But our engine-related budget has gone down considerably since the engine freeze, so it has been good for us. I don't think I'll talk numbers. Or percentages.
AC: Very similar situation for us also. For us, the rules have meant big cost reduction in engine activity in terms of development costs, in terms of costs of overall units that you produce in a year, and also it reduced the number of people involved in the engine department, really, so it was a bigger cost-saving.
As Pat said, we could probably have done more in terms of reducing the unit price of the engine and I have to add another point. We could have done more to increase the mileage of the engines before freezing, so instead of two races, we could probably have done something more, even better. But OK, we have to accept the situation as it was done.
SM: Just to finish on that point Aldo just raised, because that's also a significant point that changed two or three years ago, and that's going from the quantity of engines that we used to use. We used to go through twelve engines every two race weekends. We now go through two, so that's come down by a factor of six, because we used to change engines... engines used to do 350 kilometers, so you would change them every night on both cars. Notwithstanding what Adrian said, because he's right about the cost to private teams, but if you actually said right, you need to multiply the number of engines you need now by six, then that would be a pretty big number.
Q. (Michael Schmidt – Auto Moto und Sport) Question to Aldo Costa: It seems that Ferrari is playing down the importance of the new nose a little bit. To say it's just another aero development sounds a bit odd. I think it's a big effort to do that, bigger than just putting a new flap on, so it must be worth it.
AC: Yeah, of course you have to consider the performance gain versus the money you spend doing this development because we don't have an infinite budget. So performance development versus cost was something worth doing, for sure. As you say, it was probably a bit bigger in terms of advantage than a small flap or a front wing endplate. But in terms of performance advantage it's in the range of other car developments that we do during the year.
Q. (Daniel Garcia – The Press Association) A question to Pat: Can the Spanish fans be optimistic after today's results or do they have to wait until tomorrow?
PS: I don't think the results of Friday are ever a good indication of how everything is going to go throughout the weekend. As I said earlier, I am hopeful and reasonably confident that we've moved forward a little bit. To say that we've moved up to the front row of the grid would be incorrect, we most definitely haven't, so I think you just need to decide what level of optimism you're aiming at.
Q. (MC) Perhaps we thought that the return of Fernando would also be a return to the days when Fernando was in the team, but it doesn't seem to have happened. We all know there was a problem last year with using the new tires. Have you found the problem that is holding you up this year?
PS: Yes, I think it's well known that really our major problem last year was that we lacked correlation between the wind tunnel and the car, and it was something that as we looked into it, we traced back in fact to the end of 2006, it wasn't just the 2007 problem. Where we are now, I think, is suffering from the wake of that problem. It took a long while to identify it precisely and to understand how it had occurred and then to fix it and all that was time that we would rather have been developing the car and moving it forward.
So I would say that the car had a problem this year in the sense that it had a problem last year. What it suffers from is a little bit of a lack of development. When you're running your wind tunnels 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as pretty well everyone is now, and in our case it's a single wind tunnel, it's hard to find extra time. We stopped development of last year's car early, we released this year's car a little bit later than we have done in previous years, and all of that was to try and make up time.
It wasn't enough, and I think that where we lack now is simple aerodynamic efficiency, the sort of week on week improvements that you make. We just need a few more weeks to make them and it's very hard because it means that all the time you have to be improving at a greater rate than your rivals and these are pretty tough rivals sitting round me.
Q. (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Adrian, given that winglets are banned next year, would the temptation be to make the monocoque into winglets or would the rules prevent that?
AN: I think the answer is that the rules prevent it. The rules have an even more extensive set of exclusion areas where you can't put bodywork than we have currently, and on top of that there's a regulation where there's a minimum cross-sectional curvature from near the front of the side pod, all the way to the rear axle which is designed to try and prevent flick-ups and winglets and so forth.
In that sense, they are pretty thorough, they are quite complicated, they'll certainly create a much simpler looking shape, I think, in all cases. From a purely technical point of view, it's quite fun at the moment to have a new set of rules to get your teeth into and think about, but ultimately they will be a more restrictive set of regulations. It depends on your viewpoint as to whether you think that's a good thing or not.