Q&A with Pat Symonds
Q: Talk us through the highlights of the 2012 season so far from the Marussia F1 Team point of view.
Pat: I think our season has been one of continual improvement. We can certainly say that the start of the season was very difficult for us and from that we have experienced a lot of new heights - getting our wind tunnel program working, delivering performance to the car in a cost-effective way, improving our procedures. It is important to remember that we’re a very new team, and therefore there is an awful lot to be addressed. But I think rather than a single highlight there is just a continual improvement - a slow march forward towards the leaders and our direct competitors. Those are the things that give us some confidence in where we are heading.
Q: What about the season generally? One of the best ever perhaps?
Pat: I think in terms of the racing, the unpredictability we’ve seen this year has certainly provided an exciting season for the spectators. We’re 11 races down out of 20, and it is still difficult to say who is going to emerge at the end of the year as world champion. That’s a very unusual situation, and one that I think both the casual spectator and hardened fan are enjoying in equal measure. So yes, I think it has been an extremely good season so far.
Q: Are there any areas where the team has fallen short of expectation?
Pat: I don’t think so. We’re very realistic and therefore our expectations, while ambitious, are not set beyond what we feel we can achieve if we stretch ourselves. That said, our performance on the faster circuits has been a little bit disappointing. Our focus has been on trying to improve the performance of the car on the higher downforce circuits and our limited resources have not allowed us to do everything we wished to do. But we have no particular regrets at this stage.
Q: The latest upgrade was described as the Marussia F1 Team’s ‘first proper wind-tunnel generated upgrade of the season’. Tell us about the significance of that?
Pat: The wind tunnel program commenced at the end of last year. It takes quite a long while to build the very sophisticated models that we use in a Formula One wind tunnel, and therefore the influence of that program was not really felt in the first iterations of the MR01. As we progressed through the early part of the season, we were able to bring relatively small upgrades to the car as a result of the wind tunnel program, but our first major upgrade was the one we introduced at Silverstone. Just to give some examples of that, we had a new nose, which had a preliminary release from aerodynamics towards the end of May, having been in the tunnel in the third week of May. The sidepods and the exhaust were developed at a similar time. The rear wing, which was totally new, began even earlier and we saw the preliminary aero release of that towards the end of April, the May wind tunnel session providing the opportunity to tune that. So really, by the end of May, we’d defined our Silverstone upgrade and we spent June on the detailed design and manufacturing the hardware that we needed for the race at Silverstone.
Q: Has the upgrade delivered everything you had hoped?
Pat: Yes, it certainly has. We’re very pleased with the correlation we’re seeing from the wind tunnel. We’re using the McLaren Applied Technologies wind tunnel as part of our technical partnership and, generally speaking, I think our predictions from that are being seen on the circuit, both in the measurements that we take on the Friday during free practice and indeed in the improved performance that we are seeing on the car.
Q: What additional upgrades do you plan to bring to the car during the balance of the season?
Pat: We still have a number of upgrades that we can bring to the car this season. We are fortunate in a way that the 2013 aerodynamics regulations are quite similar to the 2012 regulations and therefore components that we are developing now can be common to the end of this season and indeed the start of next season on the 2013 car. So while certainly our focus now is on 2013, we have improvements for Spa and more coming for Singapore and indeed I’m sure that won’t be the end of our developments.
Q: How is the 2012 driver line-up working out? Timo and Charles have proved to be a strong pairing.
Pat: I think they are. There’s a good blend there of youth and experience. I think we’re very lucky as a young team to have a driver with the experience Timo has. He certainly helps guide us in our development as well as really getting the most out of the car on every occasion. So I think that our driver pairing is everything we could have hoped for.
Q: Charles seems to be relishing his debut season so far. Have you been pleasantly surprised by his performance?
Pat: Yes, absolutely. Charles is only 22 years old. He’s had a couple of years in GP2 and a fourth place in that series last year, but some very impressive showings in Formula Renault 3.5 as well. I think this year he has matured in his approach in Formula 1. There is no doubt that he’s fast; he has proven that on a number of occasions, and I think race by race he learns more about the nuances of the tires in Formula 1 and indeed the way one approaches a Grand Prix weekend.
Q: It has been 18 months since you joined the team. How much has the team grown in that space of time and are you where you expected to be?
Pat: 18 months ago indeed, but it was very much on a part-time basis. It’s really only a year since it has become my major ‘pre-occupation’. In that time we’ve been trying to build the team up month by month as we go along. We wanted to achieve steady progress in terms of growth, but what I think is more important than the expansion is the improvement in the organization, bringing everything under one roof and really building ourselves up into a credible team. We have been putting the team in a position where we can move up the grid over the course of the next few years.
Q: How is the MR02 program progressing and what are the timescales for the rest of the year?
Pat: The MR02 is on schedule. As always, it’s a tight schedule, but that’s the way it should be if you want to bring maximum performance to the car. There are some reasonably significant changes, but in many ways it’s a progression of the MR01 - the lessons we have learnt from that car, from racing it now for half a season and some of the things that we wanted to do to that car that we simply didn’t have time to do last year. So everything is on schedule and we are looking forward to a productive winter of testing and a strong start to the 2013 season.
Q: What is your powertrain plan for 2013?
Pat: We will continue with the Cosworth engine. We are happy with the work we are doing with them and I think that we are working together to try and improve the areas that we are able to under the regulations. We are concentrating on improving the drivability of the engine and enhancing its performance as a unit with the car.
Q: We understand you are planning to implement KERS. Who will supply that and how readily will you be able to adapt the package?
Pat: Yes we will be using KERS next year. We plan to adopt the system that has been developed by Williams, which was used by them with the Cosworth engine last year and is currently with their Renault-engine car. Our 2013 unit is a development of this. We’ve been very impressed with the engineering, the efficiency and the weight. Williams are also a pleasure to work with both technically and commercially.
Q: What about the next 18 months? In which areas can the team improve over that period of time?
Pat: We need to improve in all areas. A team is only as good as its weakest part, so we need to bring everything on together. But in terms of performance our primary target is to improve the aerodynamics of the car. I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made aerodynamically in the last few months and I have every reason to believe we can continue that. Our aim for 2013 is to build on this strong foundation as we expand our aero department to try and bring yet more performance to the car, while at the same time not neglecting the mechanical aspects. We are also faced with getting KERS working well and understanding all the nuances of that and how to go racing with it. There are therefore many areas where I think we can make substantial improvements through the course of 2013.
Q: How are you personally enjoying the challenge?
Pat: I’m thoroughly enjoying it! It’s difficult but also very challenging. It’s very different to what I was doing over the last few years but not that different to work I was doing a couple of decades ago. It really is a pleasure to see the team growing, and to work with them. There’s a great atmosphere and just bucket loads of enthusiasm. More exciting than that is what we can go on to achieve together.
Q: You’ve undertaken some restructuring/recruitment this season in order to put all the right people in place for the future. What have been the benefits of this to the team so far?
Pat: The team is all about people. Equipment is important, but you can go and buy equipment - it’s just a question of money. People you can’t buy. You have to have the right people and we want people who are very individualistic, who are creative but who will work together well as a team. We are building that now. We don’t want to build it too fast because we want the organization to grow in a structured and controlled manner. We’ve got some very high quality people in the team now and it our intention to continue in that vein.
Q: Generally speaking, what are the benefits of working for a young ambitious team like Marussia F1 Team that is still in its infancy. What can you offer that is attracting such good candidates right now?
Pat: I think the main thing that we offer is involvement. In a small team like Marussia F1 Team one does get involved in all aspects of the business rather than being shut away in some small department in the corner and forgotten about. Our people learn as we learn, they will enjoy our successes as we achieve those successes and I think that everyone who works at Marussia F1 Team feels that they make a significant contribution, because they really do.