At the launch of the Spyker F8-VII technical director James Key spoke exclusively to Motorsport.com about the new car and how the long-term development was key -- sorry for the pun -- for the future of the team.
Mcom: I believe you had a quite conservative approach for the beginning of this season, looking more at later development?
James Key: That's right. If you look at the design process from start to now, changes of ownership, it's all been happening. That makes it difficult to make decisions so there hasn't been a great deal of stability because everything has been changing. The thing we've had to aim for is a reliable, robust car. It's a step forward aerodynamically but with a view to the long term with Spyker we need to be a little bit conservative initially and make the mechanicals right and take a big step later on.
Mcom: Over the winter was the focus on the wind tunnel and aero development?
JK: Yes, we've had a change in our philosophy, which is probably the biggest change in the car, to be honest. So we had a lot of wind tunnel work until December, when the wind tunnel upgrade required the work to be stopped. But the car was defined quite early, which is why I'm saying there's a lot of potential there. There's an awful lot more to do.
Mechanically we've refined it; we've made it lighter, we've taken on board the weak points we had last year and made the quality of the car better. We've got a few new technologies in there as well but we always spoke of re-engineering some of the car as well because of the engine. A conservative approach is a reliable one."
Mcom: How does the engine homologation affect you? Because not only did you have to take that on board when designing the car, for a while you presumably didn't know what engine you were going to have?
JK: (Laughs) It was tricky. In general terms homologation makes a lot of sense. The F1 engines really are incredible, the engineering, but to keep pushing the revs up…I can't see the sense. It's a bit of a leveller because we're all going to have the same revs, the power levels have drawn closer, it's all going to be a little bit closer. It didn't really affect our design -- it's just a sensible thing to do.
Mcom: I think with the other people I've spoken to about it, they weren't necessarily against homologation, just perhaps the way the FIA pushed it through…
JK: Yeah, it was a year early really. It was intended for 2008 so it happened a year early, so you can understand that (the dissent), particularly from an engine manufacturers point of view. I think that looking purely from a small independent team perspective it's a good thing, the fact that it's come a year early.
Mcom: You knew Mike Gascoyne from Jordan, so what's it like having him back? Is he the same as ever?
JK: Yes! (Laughs) It's been fine. I was a data engineer when I was at Jordan so I was a junior engineer. We have quite a different working relationship now. Obviously we've know each other for a long time so I think it's working well. We've got split responsibilities and I think it's two people that are trying to move things forward an just getting on with it.
Mcom: Has Mike made many changes in the technical department, or is that for you and him to do together?
JK: Yeah, there's been a few changes. On the aerodynamic side, with Aerolab coming on board so quickly, which is our second wind tunnel, inevitably you've got to make some changes to cope with that workload. There have been ideas to discuss, we've changed the way we work in certain areas but it's not particularly different. We weren't doing anything fundamentally wrong but Mike came in with his experience and ideas and pointed out a few things.
Mcom: How much input has Mike had on this new car, because really it's your car isn't it?
JK: A little bit of decision making towards the end, some opinions on some of the final development parts. Like I said, we had a bit of a funny procession through the process, we were a bit cautious in where we were going to be. By and large it's the team's car and Mike's input is relatively small. But obviously now we're all going to get on with the updates through the season and Mike's quite involved in that.
Mcom: So what, generally, are the strengths of the car?
JK: (long pause) I think it's difficult to say. We've aimed for something that's reliable, the conservative approach is aimed for reliability. So I'm hoping, for the moment, that reliability will be our strength. The engine is a strength, that's clear as well, and the development potential of the car too. There's a lot of work still to do and we're not scratching our heads wondering what that work is, we know where we should be.
In terms of on track, the car is not so sensitive so it can cope with things like yaw and pitch sensitivity better and also we've left our options open with the tyres, we're pretty adaptable. Yes, there's going to be a certain trend but because the tyres are going to be very similar it's kind of a reverse situation to what we're used to. So I think the strengths will be in our understanding of the tyres, the engine and our understanding of the control systems. It should be a good car to drive.
Mcom: In regard to testing, it must be a bit frustrating to not have the drivers out there on track, because you can do all the bench testing and wind tunnel work you want but it's not quite the same as the drivers giving you track feedback…
JK: It's not. We've had to go down the route of doing a lot of simulation work and trying to figure out where things are going to go. To be fair, the work we've done so far seems to be pointing in roughly the right direction, we seem to have made the right decisions. Obviously we'd like to be out there to prove the engine and that kind of thing, because then you don't have just one hit at anything, you have the experience to know what the ratio levels are and make proper decisions. So to not test is not an ideal situation but we make the most of what we can.
Mcom: So what can you realistically expect this year? Initially it will be quite difficult but perhaps later on… ?
JK: I think initially, potentially it will be difficult because we haven't been able to make the progress that we'd ideally like to make in a more stable situation. I don't know what other people have done, it's all relative, and we'll have to see. Realistically, if we're reliable and putting in a decent performance over the year, that's as much as we can do. We're stepping back, we're giving ourselves time for aero development and mechanical re-engineering of the car so to adapt to the engine better, and the suspension as well. There's no reason why we shouldn't make some significant steps.
Mcom: Top ten perhaps, points?
JK: We need to be top ten for sure. We need to be in a position where we can pick up a point or two legitimately, not luck into it. We aim to be legitimately fighting with people for points so it's a step forward and in 2008 we aim for another step. It gets more difficult though, in that pack (of teams).
Mcom: What can Spyker bring to the team that perhaps Midland could not?
JK: Midland allowed the team to continue and that was very important. Eddie Jordan decided to sell up and move on and Midland allowed us to continue on that side of things. Spyker, though, have probably given us more of an identity.
Mcom: True. Nobody really knew who Midland were in relation to the sport.
JK: Exactly. Midland weren't synonymous with motor racing, so that wasn't obvious to anyone but Spyker are clearly more involved. They give us stability. What we've wanted to do for a long time is have a long-term plan and with Spyker we can do that.
Mcom: How long a plan? Three years, five years….
JK: Three years for sure. We've got regulation changes coming out in the next few years so it will probably be different in 2009 and we've got to be in a position to deal with that. Spyker can allow us to do that and five years down the line we want to be competitive, and hopefully we can do that.
Mcom: Thank you very much. You don't look old enough to be a technical director!
JK: Thank you (laughs). Sometimes I feel old enough!