Williams technical director Mike Coughlan has revealed that, had the first F1 group test taken place in Barcelona rather than Jerez, the FW35 would have joined the rest of its 2013 rivals on track.
Speaking to the media following the new car's unveiling in the pit-lane at the Circuit de Catalunya, Coughlan admitted that Williams would prefer a scenario where all three pre-season gatherings took place in Barcelona, as the characteristics of Jerez do not compare to the majority of venues that the F1 circus will visit during the year.
“I think we're happy with Barcelona,” he reasoned, apparently on behalf of all eleven teams, “We all have lots of simulations of the track, and Barcelona's fine - it's very easy to get to, cheap flights, good hotels, it's a nice city. I'm happy with that, [and] I'd like to see three [tests] in Barcelona.
“If [the first test] had been Barcelona, we'd have gone [with the new FW35]. But it's Jerez and Jerez is unique - very high degradation, really aggressive, very rear limited. You have to ask yourself is it worth it? If it had been three Barcelonas, we'd have done all of them with the new car.
“We don't go to a track that's similar and in the same weather conditions, so you have to say 'do we learn a lot?'. We came away with a very good understanding of the tyres and what we can do with pressures and cambers. With the current breed of rear suspension it's very difficult to do damper changes and bar changes and spring changes, so it gives you an opportunity to prepare lots of things - different types of damper and things like this - so we went away and concentrated on things that you can't do in session because it takes too long when you're trying to understand the tyres.”
Despite taking an updated version of the 2012 car to southern Spain, Coughlan insisted that there wasn't a sense that Williams now had to play catch-up on the teams that have four days of running with their new cars.
“To track test for reliability is a thing of the past, you've got to get to the point where you're pretty confident that what you're bringing to your car is safe and reliable,” he noted, “A lot of the early testing is system testing, but if you believe that track testing is the way you're going to get your car reliable then what do you do the rest of the year? You've got to put the mechanism in place to say 'this works, this is performing, let's do this', otherwise you've got no tests during the year.
“So we said 'okay, Jerez is a very unique circuit, very aggressive on the tyre, very cold weather, we won't learn a great deal there with the new car. Let's ensure our new car rolls out here and is on the pace straight away'. If we can be pretty confident about our systems, we've got the same amount of testing as everybody else. We've come here [to Barcelona] to concentrate on performance.”
With that in mind, Williams is already planning the list of developments that it wants to take to Melbourne for the season-opening grand prix on the weekend of 17 March.
“Every race, we'll have something,” he pointed out, “We took 35 floor upgrades to 20 races last year. Your aim is always to make sure you are system checking at the factory, so that you are able to take developments straight to the circuit. When you've got a new car, you're always thinking the last couple of days in Barcelona should be run in Melbourne-spec, so you'll see us in Melbourne with a step forward - as you will at every other race. Obviously Malaysia is a tiny bit difficult, but we'll take an upgrade to every circuit. We did last year and we were able to stay with most of the teams around us in terms of pure performance.”
Among the new features on the FW35 is Williams' take on Coanda exhaust thinking which became a part of the F1 lexicon last season. He admits that the team would have liked to have introduced its own system in 2012, but had reservations.
“All we were cautious of - and maybe too
cautious - was the loss of power,” he explained, “You have to remember that last year a lot of people spent a lot of time doing that work - we didn't and perhaps should have done. I think we could have raced Coanda - we tested it in Brazil, and maybe we could have brought that a little earlier. Lotus were the same, very wary of the loss of power.
“[Since then], we spent a lot of time doing studies and ensuring that we understood the compromise between power and downforce. I think we've done a good job there, and that's obviously helped an awful lot by Renault and Renault's understanding of engine mapping and engines. That does give us a significant step forward, [so] we're very pleased.”
Ironically, it is the exhaust that has caused the first controversy of Williams' season, with the FIA ruling that the exit channel is in contravention of the regulations [ see separate story