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Exclusive Rob White Q&A
19 March 2014
It was a heck of a pre-season for you but I imagine an even more stressful two weeks between the end of the final test and Melbourne. Just how difficult has it been?
It's been a hard slog, but not just the couple of weeks before the first race. There's no escaping that there's a mounting intensity and the race is the acid test of where everybody is relative to one another. Particularly coming off the back of a pre-season test campaign that wasn't at the level of achievement that we wanted it to be at then inevitably it is backs to the wall, a lot of work to be done in the lead up to the race. It didn't start two weeks ago and it hasn't finished yet.
Was there a sense of trepidation coming in to the Australian Grand Prix weekend over how it was going to pan out before the cars hit the track on Friday?
Of course we're confident in the work that has been done but also conscious of the work that remains to be done. I don't really feel like trepidation was the order of the day. We knew that we'd made a decent step in terms of the way in which we would operate the power unit in the cars in first and second practice; we obviously didn't know how that would be perceived by the drivers and how it would be paid back in terms of on track performance … the important thing is to be heading forwards and there's still plenty to be done.
The first test was brought forward to allow engine manufacturers to get an earlier handle on their new power units, but with another supplier in Pirelli struggling with the lack of testing last year, is this a case of F1 shooting itself in the foot a bit with the lack of testing that is allowed?
No I don't think so. I think there is no hiding from the fact that we accumulated some lateness in the build-up to testing which meant that the systems and integration testing validation that we needed to finish was barely started. The outcome we've now observed I don't think there's anything to really say about the testing calendar. I wouldn't say we had complete 100% visibility of it but what turned out was exactly what we expected. So, although formally the dates weren't published and there was some discussion about will it be a bit later or earlier, what actually came true was perfectly aligned with our central planning assumption.
Not being ready for that was a pretty major miss-hit relative to our internal objectives and our internal project management milestones. We knew that we had consumed all of the headroom in the programme and we knew that in order to deal with new problems then we were creating compromise and that's unfortunately the way you have to deal with it. Clearly now the task is to continue to recover what comes down to a period of lateness. All performance difference; performance in the broadest scope whether that be horsepower, kilowatts if you prefer, reliability, the ability to finish races, driveability – whatever performance metric you take then we will improve in time. Our competitors improve in time and whatever the metric is then you can measure it in tenths of a second round a lap or in kilowatts or whatever but it also translates in to a time period. Our challenge of course now is to make sure that the progress is rapid; the amount of improvement that we can deliver in a given time needs to be quite a steep slope.
Can you quantify in time how far behind you feel you are compared to the targets you had at the start of the year or maybe compared to your competitors?
I don't want to discuss the details of the amount by which we think we missed, it's just a bit tricky without describing what the project milestones and things are. It's not that everything is late by the same amount. The other thing to say is that we're not well-equipped to say what other people's project milestones look like.
Looking at specific teams, when you've got a deal in place with Red Bull how closely have you had to work with them compared to the others? Because obviously that partnership is slightly different in terms of terminology and its make up…
It's impossible to overstate the importance of the relationship between the chassis group and the engine group during the design and development of the racing car. Clearly the relationship with Red Bull is extremely strong, extremely close, it's a relationship which has been going on for many years and of course more recently has grown. The new power unit and the new car is the first time that we've done all of that from scratch with Red Bull, and therefore it has been enriching and it has been a genuinely good experience.
We are extremely proud of the relationship with Red Bull. They are an extremely demanding outfit but that's seen as a strength it's not seen as a problem. We equally want our power unit to be competitive in the other cars of the other teams with which we work. Clearly we have also had a long-standing relationship with the Enstone team – Lotus as it now is – and they've been with us throughout the design and development of the new power unit.
Toro Rosso is a new relationship for us and so at the same time as learning about a new group of people then there's been a new car to build. In that case it's a little bit different, it's more a case of communicating what the power unit is or will be in order that they can build a car to suit it rather than the other way round, arriving relatively late in the process. And of course Caterham sort of somewhere in between. So there are differences in personality if you like between the teams.
Of course we have the same fundamental power unit in all four cars, the nature of the Red Bull relationship is different in that they're the works team with whom we work most closely, but the differences with the actual power unit that goes in the other cars are extremely minor.
Throughout testing generally it was Caterham who was getting the most out of it and Red Bull the least, and on Friday in Melbourne it flipped round. When you're looking to make progress and you have to work closely with one team, as it's Red Bull you have to work closest with can that indirectly impact on teams further down?
Maybe talking about the number of kilometres in a day there are some things that are car specific ad there are some things which are not. Most of what is to do with the power unit is not car specific, a couple of things that are at the border between the chassis and the power unit are car specific but lost track time in one place due to a power unit reliability or operating difficulty is almost certainly independent of the breadth of the engineering effort that goes in to the design and development of the car and engine. So no, I don't think there is a direct link between those two things.
You were saying you're still playing catch-up to other manufacturers; do you see a possibility of being able to get to the same level of them this year or could it take longer to reach that point?
We've been in Formula One a long time, we know a lot about going racing, we're in Formula One to win races and we won't be satisfied until we're winning races. Formula One is an extraordinarily difficult competition in which to succeed. We are determined to get back to where we need to be. It's completely obvious for both our internal stakeholders – our parent company – and our external partners, it's not acceptable to be uncompetitive and therefore we have to get ourselves back.
We shouldn't underestimate the competition; Formula One is difficult for everybody. Everybody was setting out to shoot at us previously and we want to get back to where people are asking the question in the opposite sense.
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