Ahead of the final race of the year, James looks back at the R31’s exploits throughout the year and plots brighter times ahead in 2012
What are your musings on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
A tough weekend for us, but given the nature of the track, we had expected these difficulties. A host of second gear corners and traction issues exposed the worst aspects of the R31.
Interlagos is quite a rollercoaster of a circuit - what are its biggest technical challenges? The run up the hill to turn 1 is quite long, and there is an opportunity for overtaking here, so it is important not to set the straight-line speed of the car too low. However, the corners in the middle section of the track are all quite long and slow, demanding higher downforce. It is important to set the correct compromise between the two. The track is also pretty bumpy which makes the correct compromise of mechanical setup very important. It often rains at Interlagos, and the rain can fall without warning from clouds that don’t appear to be threatening; this always keeps the race team on their toes.
What has been the impact of Pirelli’s tyres, DRS and the return of KERS in 2011?
That’s quite a big question! Overall, the mix of these three elements has led to some very interesting racing in 2011. Dealing with them in turn:
• The Pirelli tyres have been very interesting to deal with. At several races the degradation has been such that the race has been a frantic affair, with small differences in tyre consumption between teams giving rise to huge on-track performance differentials. As the year has progressed, the tyres have been better dialled into the surfaces, but they have still provided an interesting strategic challenge owing to the normally quite large performance differences between the prime and the option rubber.
• In my view, DRS has had a positive effect on the spectacle this year. The FIA have been generally canny in their selection of DRS sectors with the result that DRS has made overtaking possible but far from a formality at tracks where it was previously impossible. Early on in the year, much of the overtaking was as a result of huge tyre degradation, but as the season has progressed, DRS has become more and more important in preventing processional racing.
• KERS is more evident by its occasional absence than anything else. There is no relative benefit when a KERS-equipped car fights another KERS-equipped car. However, once the unit fails then the difference is quickly evident. A failed KERS unit quickly causes significant lost lap time and makes a car very vulnerable to attack from a car whose KERS is functional. This was most evident early on in the season when Red Bull had some teething troubles with KERS that left them vulnerable on occasion.
I regard it as a bold, but ultimately failed experiment
Looking over the year, how would you evaluate the R31?
I regard it as a bold, but ultimately failed experiment. We were the only team to adopt a forward exhaust layout, and we did so with high hopes, buoyed by very strong wind tunnel numbers. We came out of the blocks adequately well, although it was clear from the first test that the delivered downforce was not as high as we had expected. The season which followed has been difficult for everyone at Enstone. The layout which had promised so much (and which, had it delivered, would have been almost impossible to copy) proved very tricky to develop and had a fundamental weakness in slow corners that has been an albatross around our neck all year. We look forward to moving on in 2012 with all-new exhaust rules and a chance to wipe the slate clean.
What’s the schedule for the team in the build-up to the 2012 season?
This time of year is frantic. It is very busy right now, but the intensity of the new car will build steadily to insane levels as January approaches. There is always way more to do than time to do it, and yet somehow each year it all gets done in time to put the new car on the track for winter testing. A change for this year, which requires all teams to have passed their FIA crash tests before they are allowed to take part in pre-season testing, adds even more tension to an already difficult period.