BMW-Sauber's new 'multi-level' diffuser produced 'promising' results on its first day of use during free practice for this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul, with both drivers reporting an improvement in performance and Robert Kubica winding up fourth-quickest at the close of play.
The Bavarian outfit – widely tipped as a title contender before the season began, off the back of a 2008 campaign in which it had broken its grand prix duck in Montreal and at one stage threatened to bid for overall glory – has endured a rough ride in the opening six outings of 2009, with just half a dozen points to its name courtesy of a somewhat fortuitous second place for Nick Heidfeld in the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang and seventh position for the experienced German in the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
In Monaco last time out, however, both Heidfeld and Kubica languished embarrassingly down the order in 17th and 18th respectively on the starting grid, and the duo's race day pace – or rather lack of it – was little better. A significant boost to the aerodynamic side of the underperforming F1.09 was needed in the utmost urgency – and the initial signs are that it may just have been delivered.
“Today we worked on the set-up of the car and tried to understand the two tyre compounds Bridgestone have brought to Istanbul,” reported Kubica, barely two tenths of a second shy of the top spot on the end-of-day timesheets. “Additionally, this was the first time we have had the double-diffuser on our car.
“We did a couple of different tests so as to understand how it works and what effect it has on the car's balance. It is too early to say if it works well, as the difference between Monaco and Istanbul is too large.”
“My lap time doesn't look good,” countered Heidfeld, 16th on the list but less than half a second away from Kubica so tightly-packed was the field, “but I still have confidence in our new aero package. Actually the balance of my car wasn't right, but Robert's lap time is quite promising.
“On the positive side, the bad balance of the car has indicated the direction we need to go in, so we can work on it. We didn't make major changes in the second session because we had to do some important comparisons.”
Kubica's front-running form in the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser in Melbourne aside – with the Pole challenging for the runner-up spot in the closing stages, before colliding with Red Bull Racing rival Sebastian Vettel, removing both from contention and from the podium – there has been little joy for BMW this year to-date, and the Munich and Hinwil-based concern's head of engineering, Willy Rampf, is aware that time is fast running out to salvage respectability.
“We used the double-diffuser for the first time today, and it looks like this is a step forward,” summarised the German. “However, we still have a lot of work to do, because it's quite difficult to find the right balance with both tyre specifications.
“Between the morning and the afternoon sessions we changed the set-up of the two cars quite a bit to make the new aero package work. In the afternoon, as usual, we did our race preparation and the pace looked quite promising.”