With low drag circuit characteristics demanding less aerodynamic focus and resource because of their relative scarcity on the calendar in 2009, it was perhaps no great surprise that the form guide in Spa would show a number of discrepancies from...
With low drag circuit characteristics demanding less aerodynamic focus and resource because of their relative scarcity on the calendar in 2009, it was perhaps no great surprise that the form guide in Spa would show a number of discrepancies from the usual order. However, so many leading teams appeared to be struggling on Friday and the AT&T Williams team was no exception, managing no better than P12 in an unrepresentative wet morning session.
The loss of the morning session to the weather meant that the team didn't become fully aware of its lack of competitiveness until late on Friday, and this in itself precipitated a late night of engineering consideration to ensure some ground could be recovered in P3 and Qualifying.
A number of significant aerodynamic modifications were made and the team also made a number of tyre compares which led them to feel that the prime tyre might, uncharacteristically, provide better single lap performance for qualifying. This view was validated by a tyre compare in Q1, with the harder prime tyre offering an advantage of 4 to 5/10ths, but only after 2 or 3 laps of use. As a consequence, the team had to maintain its nerve to base its qualifying hopes around a single long run in order to record a competitive time. Although Kazuki had succumbed in Q1, Nico Rosberg's final lap pace in Q2, with a purple time in the all-important long sector 2, saw him transit to Q3, a significant achievement by driver and engineers alike considering the team's competitive position only 24 hours before.
Having secured a top ten position, the team then focused on Sunday's needs and fuelled Nico on almost the heaviest load of the two stoppers, with only Sutil carrying more. The tactical need for the start was to keep Lewis Hamilton's KERS-powered one-stopping McLaren behind him and if Nico failed in this requirement, his race would be over in the first lap. In the event, an accident on the first lap accounted for Hamilton, and much to the advantage of the long first stint two stoppers and the one-stoppers, a safety car was deployed for three laps.
Nico climbed to P7, but lost the place he had gained from Vettel and ran eighth until his first stop. The race promised more for Rosberg on occasion, not least in the dying stages when Barrichello's ailing Brawn appeared to have what might be a terminal problem with oil losses. However, with no fall off in performance, the conclusion was quickly reached that Nico would not be gifted another point and in the event finished the race in the final points scoring position of 8th. Team-mate Nakajima had an uneventful run to P13.
Q&A with Sam Michael, Technical Director
1) How would you sum up AT&T Williams' Belgian Grand Prix?
Our car wasn't strong enough. Of course the gaps are very close, with our qualifying and race performance within 0.5 seconds of the fastest, but in the current competitive field that means being just inside the points.
2) Nico ended Friday Practice 19th and finished eighth in the race. What caused this turnaround in performance?
We really struggled during Friday practice. We changed a lot of the bodywork on the car for Saturday and the car improved.
3) Your cars were slowest through the speed trap in qualifying, yet Nico also set the fastest time through sector 2. Please explain why this was the case.
Our low drag performance is not strong enough. Sector 2 is predominantly about downforce and the FW31 has always been strong through sectors like that. Of course Nico did well to get the best out of it in qualifying and race.
4) When Barrichello's engine started to smoke in the race, did Nico receive any messages from the pitwall?
Yes. We told him to be careful in case Barrichello's engine was about to let go, but then we quickly noticed that his top speed and laptime was not that different so we assumed it was an oil tank problem rather than an engine issue.
5) Your thoughts on Kazuki's race weekend?
Kazuki struggled with the car during the weekend - and looking at how difficult it was for Nico to squeeze a point out of the race it wasn't too surprising. He's still pushing hard and he should have a strong finish to the season.
6) Why was the tyre situation so critical for many of the teams at Spa? The two tyre compounds were quite close through Friday and Saturday. At
Williams we favoured the prime tyre for the race, but in reviewing our choice post-race we perhaps could have been using the option tyre earlier as the car was most competitive on the softer rubber on Sunday.
7) What can Williams do to ensure they are more competitive at Monza?
We've got some work going on in the wind tunnel. We don't expect to be very competitive there, but we'll do our best to be respectable and look to returning to strong form for the final four races of the season that are in the traditional lift to drag region.