27 January 2014
Key: Toro Rosso F1's STR9 still a 'work in progress'
Toro Rosso technical director James Key has has tempered the excitement of the STR9's unveiling with a caution that it's very much a work in progress.
Scuderia Toro Rosso technical director James Key has said that just because the STR9 has been unveiled to the press and media in Jerez on Monday ahead of the first four-day test session of 2014 didn't mean that the technical package was race-ready yet.
"As far as the team is concerned, the summary is: it's a work in progress," he said. "It's developing very much in the direction it needs to be right now and we're making good progress."
All the new technical regulation changes mean that everything has been up for grabs, with aerodynamics one of the main areas of focus for Key over the last year. "The chassis and bodywork regulations have gone through quite a big change as well and the cars look quite different this year in some areas," he explained.
"A big part of the chassis development has involved redeveloping the aerodynamic philosophies in line with the new regulations and getting them to work with all the other challenges that come along for 2014," he continued. "Although certain areas of the car will not look particularly different the subtle changes with the 2014 bodywork regulations have had a surprisingly big effect, so we have had to re-evaluate some significant areas of the cars aerodynamics
With that in mind, Key has made an expansion of Toro Rosso's aerodynamics capabilities his top concern in the last year. “The aero side was by far our biggest priority, as we wanted to put that department into a much more current and competitive shape.
“Over the past twelve months, we've been working on increasing the size of the aerodynamics department," he explained. "It's grown significantly, and we now have many new people with very relevant F1 experience.
"We have more people joining us this year too, so I would describe it as a work in progress, but the group is developing very well and becoming increasingly close to the blueprint that we have in mind of what an aero department of a team of this size and budget needs to be. It's been a big project, helped by the arrival of a new head of Aerodynamics in Bicester, Brendan Gilhome last June."
But the regulation changes are only part of the technical challenge facing Key and his team this year. Toro Rosso have also independently opted to change engine suppliers, and this year will move to the same Renault power units that their sister Red Bull Racing team utilises.
“Changing your engine partner is always a bit of a step into the unknown for both parties, until that working relationship is established and everyone understands how best to operate together,” admitted Key. "To switch from a process where you've got a well-established and understood way of working with the previous engine supplier to a situation where you have not only a new engine supplier but also a totally different type of power unit that we're not familiar with at all, is quite a big leap.
But Key has been happy with the way the transition has been handled: "I have to say, Renault has been excellent at recognising that and helping us out a great deal. They are very proactive and we have daily discussions between our design team and theirs. We have already built up a good working relationship with them."
The decision to change to Renault power is driven by the desire to more closely align Toro Rosso with the world championship winning Red Bull team.
"It makes sense, given that fundamentally we are under the same ownership, to have the same power unit as Red Bull, particularly with the arrival of such a complicated new set of regulations,” agreed Key. “Immediately, there's a synergy there because we are using the same power unit, we've been able to join with Red Bull Technology in using their gearbox internals.
"They have a well-engineered solution to 2014 regulations for these components, so again, it makes sense for us to join with them in using those common internals while running the same power train," he added. "Otherwise, obviously, the rest of the car is entirely an STR design."
Once all the pieces finally fall into place, Key says that he is optimistic of a big step forward in performance for the team last year - and pointed out that the technical package had already been stronger and faster than it was commonly perceived to be by the end of last season.
"We were quicker than the points scored suggested in 2013 if you could look behind the numbers, but we didn't make the most of our opportunities," he said. "Therefore we're putting all our efforts into ensuring we have a better situation for this year."
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