Technical directors: Jacky Eeckelaert (Honda), Sam Michael (Williams), Willy Rampf (BMW Sauber), Pat Symonds (Renault)

Q:
A question really for you all: obviously this year's engines have been homologated, their specification basically frozen. I wonder if you can give some indication of how you feel your specific engines are performing in comparison to the competition?

Pat Symonds:
I think that one of the interesting things about the homologated engines is that it was done at one of the few times in the history of Formula One when engines were remarkably even and that surprised me because it was a new formula, the 2.4 V8. It's the time when you might expect there to be more variation but I think that the fact that the 2.4 V8 is a very limited design anyway, in terms of its mass, its centre of gravity and a lot of principal dimensions, it probably meant that there wasn't a lot of room to manoeuvre anyway. Now when you couple that with an imposed rev limit, I think actually the engines are remarkably even, and probably more even than I remember for many years.

Willy Rampf:
I basically confirm what Pat says. With the same design, V8, everything is so specified: crankshaft heights, centre of gravity and I think the major part, the rev limiter, is the same for all the engines. I think there is not a lot of scope for a huge difference in engine performance.

Jacky Eeckelaert:
Well, obviously I agree but it's not only the limiting of the engine revs - of course, that is the factor that has been used in the past to increase the power of the engine - but also the stopping of all development of the internals of the engine, because you could imagine, let's say, rpm is limited to 19,000 but development allowed for the inside of the engine, which could lead maybe to different coatings, reducing friction which is then increasing horsepower, reducing bearing size by using different materials but all that has also been stopped. So I think, honestly, all the engines are very close to each other in terms of performance.

Q:
Pat, what has it taken to regain some of the ground that you seem to have regained in Monaco, and perhaps here as well?

PS:
A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of hard work, a lot of logical thought, a lot of honesty and what I mean by all of that, it's a question of going back, looking at your data, looking at your experimental result, both in the wind tunnel, on the track, CFD (computational flow dynamics), all of this and being very critical in your analysis of it, using that to narrow things down. I've said many times in the past, a lot of the early work was eliminating the impossible and being left with the possible. Then going through that and trying to understand it. We're well into that process now, and we are starting to see results. It's a very, very difficult process to follow when you're also trying to improve the car, and keep up with the huge rate of development that we see in Formula One. Aerodynamically, we would certainly hope to see four or five per cent improvement through the year. We're trying to make those improvements and at the same time, catch up with what went wrong over the winter. So it's just sheer hard work and a lot of honesty, I think.

Q:
How much is it going to take for you to catch the two teams at the front?

PS:
A lot, particularly McLaren. They really are showing class on every sort of track. I won't say it's impossible, nothing's impossible, but it will be very difficult to catch that back up during the course of this season.

Q:
And the tyre differences, have you got over that initial problem?

PS:
I'm not sure we had that much of an initial problem. It is true to say that when we first put the Bridgestone tyre on our car, we suffered in performance whereas some other teams suffered less and in one case, maybe even - in relative terms - improved. I'm certainly happy that we're using the tyre well as a tyre. I'm not completely sure we fully understand it aerodynamically, but I think we're pretty damn close now.

Q:
Can you just clarify that: aerodynamically? A tyre is a big black round thing as we're frequently told...

PS:
Exactly, it's a big black round thing, whizzing round in the air.

Q:
So what's the difference between last year's big black round thing and this year's big black round thing?

PS:
They are very, very different shapes. The aerodynamics of a modern Formula One car are incredibly subtle, as you see from the various appendages on the car. Certainly, with Michelin, we worked a lot on the aerodynamics of the tyres, with very, very small changes to shape, to shoulders, to sidewalls etc, to tune the tyre aerodynamics in conjunction with the car aerodynamics. Now we're dealing with a different animal.

Q:
Willy, you're obviously in a very difficult position; you're obviously trying very hard to make up the gap to the two teams in front but everybody behind you is aiming at you, they all want to be third. How does that feel from your point of view?

WR:
First it feels quite good, because it's the first time we are the third strongest team. We are definitely aiming to move even further forward and to see if with our development it is possible to beat one of the teams in front. They are currently maintaining the gap and McLaren is even pulling away a bit, but that still has to be our aim, to try to beat them.

Q:
Surely that would be a long way ahead of your target at the beginning of the season?

WR:
Over the winter time, the target was to improve from our fifth position in the World Championship to move forward. We saw from the beginning of the season that we are the third strongest team. We take this position and I don't think we should aim for just protecting P4. I think it is P3 currently and hopefully even better.

Q:
You must be fed up with being P4!

WR:
It would be a slight disappointment but there are also very strong and very experienced teams just behind us taking any opportunity to beat us.

Q:
Do you just work to be quicker - you surely don't look behind you.

WR:
Yeah, that's correct. Over the winter time, we had a development programme and I think it was the first time that we could do all the development we planned, because we have more people, we have more resources and we have more time in the wind tunnel. Basically, that is comparable to the six other works teams and I think we did quite a good job over the winter time, that we were even better than what we expected. We basically fulfilled our requirements and our targets over the winter time. Some teams might struggle or are struggling now but they will come closer to us.

Q:
Give us an indication of how important your state-of-the-art wind tunnel has been?

WR:
The wind tunnel, as everybody knows, is the most important tool in Formula One, but we have increased the amount of wind tunnel hours by a factor of, let's say, 2.5 from about one and a half years ago to now. Similar is the CFD: we have increased the capacity by a factor of three to four, which means we can do much more development in this direction. And also when we started with the wind tunnel, we were quite careful with all the calibration and everything to be 100 per cent sure that what we measured in the wind tunnel is what we see on the track, and up to now we have good correlation and that also helped us over the winter time by changing the tyre and still being ahead of the internal target of aero development.

Q:
Jacky, for you, very interesting to see the difference between Barrichello and Button, because Rubens really seems to be outperforming Jenson in many areas so far this year.

JE:
I think normally in qualifying and in the race their lap times are very, very close, which probably means that they are both pulling out the very last thing from the cars. But maybe, as you said, initially when we started testing in November with the old car on Bridgestone tyres, Rubens felt a bit more confident than Jenson on these tyres. I think Rubens drove on Bridgestones for a lot of years and they must have similar characteristics to what he's used to, but at the end, I think, for the moment, they both do similar performances with the cars.

Q:
So even though in straight statistics it seems Rubens is outperforming Jenson, they are very close.

JE:
They are very close, yeah.

Q:
You had some problems at the beginning of the season with stability; is that being overcome now?

JE:
Well, let's say that it's true that we had and still have problems of performance, for sure, but we had problems of braking stability, which was basically an aerodynamic problem of the car and we have understood now what was wrong. So we have a clear development programme and this braking stability has been solved now, so this aerodynamic problem has been solved, so that now we can go on doing the standard development of the car which is basically looking for more downforce and less drag, and more efficiency.

Q:
So we should see the sort of form that was shown in Monaco being shown in future races now.

JE:
Well yes, we have a continuous development programme with different steps that is very clear, and of course, at this race we run a car that is very similar to the Monaco car, apart from front and rear wings because there's a different downforce level. But then there is a next step coming on for Magny-Cours and another step for a few races later and so on, so there are still different steps coming on until the end of the season.

Q:
Sam, the first question I asked everybody was about the closeness of the engines; how close are they?

Sam Michael:
I think they are very close. If you look at the speed traps, the thing that's probably done this is probably more the 19,000 rpm limit rather than the engine homologation, but it's probably both of them. But I think the new 19,000 rev limit is the most significant one. It's always hard to know where everyone is but if you think back to two or three years ago, people were turning up at the track and saying 'oh I think such-and-such has got 40 more horsepower than me, and he's got 30 less.' The sort of spreads that were talked about were massive and that's sort of gone away with the engine homologation and 19,000 rev limit.

Q:
After last year, you must be very pleased with the general performance of the car this year.

SM:
It's better than last year but we have quite high targets for ourselves at Williams, but relative to where we were last year, it's a good step. But we rebuilt the team a lot in the last twelve months. A lot of the people in key positions have just started working well together and so our thoughts are really going into planning and putting a lot of effort into the 2008 car already. But I think our biggest change over the winter has probably been reliability. Our reliability last year was very poor and although we haven't hit a 100 per cent target this year, it's significantly better through all the changes that we made.

Q:
A lot of teams have decided against using their third drivers on Fridays, and yet you used Nakajima this morning; what was the idea behind that?

SM:
We use Kazuki for all the races where he doesn't do GP2, so he doesn't have another commitment. He's quite useful, for a young guy. He's consistent and you can see that in the lap times from practice as well. He's completely useable in terms of looking at tyre data and all the normal checks that you do on Friday morning and it lets him get a feel and understanding about how to go about a race weekend.

Q:
Now Nico has outqualified Alex five to nil so far. Quite often a driver who has had his debut season plateaus out a bit in his second season. It's quite a remarkable performance from Nico; what about his development?

SM:
I've had the opposite experience from good drivers. They go away over a winter and take a big step in their second year and I think Nico is no exception. He's gone away and thought about it and he's obviously doing a good job for us this year.

Q:
Why do you think he's better than Alex, when Alex has so much experience?

SM:
Well, obviously every driver is different and one of them has to be in front and at the moment it just happens to be Nico in qualifying.

Q:
Can you see Alex beating him?

SM:
We'll wait and see.

 

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