Q&A with Force India's James Key
Following last week’s initial test in Jerez, Force India moved to Barcelona this week, where Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil aim to put further miles on the VJM02 as the team prepares for the first race in Australia. We asked technical director James Key for an update on how the test program is going.
Q: What is the plan for the Barcelona test this week?
‘To carry on from where we left off in Jerez and get as much running in as we can. We hope that the weather will be good, and we are able to continue the program we started in Jerez, namely to get into a flow of set-up changes and directions. We need to learn more about the tires and we’ve got a few new bits to put on the car as well. We are starting a bit later, so we’ve had to compress our program a bit.’ Q: What are your first impressions of where you stand?
‘One thing that strikes me is how close everyone seems to be. No one is streets ahead, and no one is miles behind. It’s impossible to know what other people are doing, but we’ve run very honest fuel levels. I’m sure a lot of people are keeping their cards pretty close to their chest at the moment!’Q: Were you satisfied with the way things went in Jerez last week?
‘As always with a new car we had a few little issues to deal with. Although it gave us some down time, we found solutions to the issues we had, so that was the positive thing. In terms of the running we did do, the drivers were very happy. Fisi ran the first day and felt the car was a good step, that the stability was improved, and the balance more consistent, which is something we kept a careful eye on with this car. It responds to changes in the way that we expect it to, and when he hit the track Fisi was immediately in the 1m21s, which for a first run in low grip conditions was good. I think we were pretty encouraged. It’s a good platform to develop from.’Q: What are the priorities this week?
‘We still have to get a better understanding of the slick tires, because they are quite different to what we’re used to. There are a lot of nuances in getting them to work quickly and giving them an easier time over a long run. There’s still a lot of work to do, but initial signs are fairly good.’
Q: Jerez was your first chance to work with the Mercedes engine and McLaren gearbox. How is that going?
‘The guys are excellent to work with. With new suppliers you’ve got new procedures, and in Jerez we needed to make sure the cooling worked as this is one of the things with a new engine. The Mercedes is very good, there’s no doubt about that. It went fairly smoothly and the gearbox ran fine. It did what we hoped it would do, and the drivers were very happy.’
Q: Adrian in particular mentioned tire graining issues in Jerez. Is that something that’s inherent in the 2009 package?
‘To a certain extent it is inherent in the tires. The prime and the option are two quite different tires. One has a low working range and it comes in quickly, the other is high working range, and is a bit more durable. So there are two strategies; I think the softer low working range tires will grain, and you’ve got to manage them to a certain extent. I think it’s the same for everyone. Some of Adrian’s concerns were because we are still at a very early stage of learning how to use the tires and set the car up, and the drivers still have to understand where everything fits with tires, set-up and so on. So that’s what we need to attack in Barcelona this week.’
Q: How did things go in the wet, bearing in mind there’s less downforce this year?
‘It wasn’t really an issue for us. All credit to the drivers really, they got used to the feel of the car very quickly. In the dry there is a grip increase, so it counteracts the reduction in downforce a little bit, but in the wet, the loss of downforce didn’t seem to be a problem. We didn’t have to migrate a long way from the dry set-up, which is I think a good sign.’
Q: You have not run KERS yet. Does that allow you to concentrate on the rest of the package?
‘The priority for us is to just get the car itself running, and cover all the basics. We have to get the tires sorted, understand where the ride heights need to sit, understand the spring rates and weight distribution and all the fundamentals. When the KERS comes along we should be in good enough shape to make the best use of it.’Q: Do you know when you will race with it?
‘The car is fully designed for KERS, but since November we’ve had to do a huge amount of work, and the priority really has been getting the car on the track with the new engine and gearbox, a different wheelbase from what we’d planned, and all the other complications that resulted from the change of supplier.’Q: When will you test with the adjustable front wing?
‘This week, we’ll be finalizing some data in the tunnel. The system was on the car in Jerez, but it wasn’t operable at the time.’Q: Do you have any more running after Barcelona?
‘We have a final private test at Silverstone before Melbourne, which is effectively a shakedown for the second race car.’