Synopsis AT&T Williams returned home from the European Grand Prix at Valencia with a seventh consecutive point-scoring finish courtesy of Nico Rosberg's fifth place following another strong weekend in which the FW31 further proved itself as...
AT&T Williams returned home from the European Grand Prix at Valencia with a seventh consecutive point-scoring finish courtesy of Nico Rosberg's fifth place following another strong weekend in which the FW31 further proved itself as strong on a fast and flowing street circuit as it is on tight and twisty tracks such as Budapest. Friday's practice sessions ran smoothly, (albeit commencing on a green track and under extreme humidity levels which remained for the rest of the weekend), with the team working through routine set-up work and tyre compares on varying fuel loads. Despite some minor tyre graining issues, Nico closed the day in P4 and Kazuki in P5.
The team entered qualifying optimistic of easing both drivers into top ten grid slots and, for the 10th time this season, Nico drove his FW31 into a place in Q3 and to seventh on the grid with the heaviest fuel load alongside Webber. Meanwhile, Kazuki's afternoon was over before it had begun when he suffered a technical problem during his second Q1 run. Eliminated in Q1 for the first time this season, Kazuki was left in P17 and on the dirty side of the grid for Sunday's race.
Lining up down the order allowed the team to opt for an aggressive one stop strategy on Kazuki's car. Fuelled longer than those around him, Kazuki's assertive opening lap promoted him three places up the order and into 14th by the end of the first lap. While running in 13th place and racing for 11th after pitstop correction, Kazuki picked up a left rear puncture. Although only two stops ahead of schedule, the additional stop time cost Kazuki ground on track and left him at the back of the pack when he re-joined. Concerned that damage caused by the puncture could cause potential damage to the gearbox, the team retired Kazuki two laps before the end of the race, thereby ending a frustrating weekend.
Raceday proved more successful for Nico. With KERS of little advantage going into the first corner, and on the clean side of the grid on the prime tyre, Nico was able to make up a place off the line to run in P6, and then P5 courtesy of Vettel's retirement, before the first round of stops. The team's strategy to fight for fourth against Raikkonen was, however, short lived when Nico lost time during his second stint. Despite Alonso gaining ground after the second round of stops, Nico held him at bay to cross the line in P5. Sunday's result consolidates the team's sixth position in the Constructors' and Nico's fifth place in the drivers' table.
Q&A With Rod Nelson, Chief Operations Engineer
Q: How did the high temperatures in Valencia affect the performance of the FW31?
RN: Although it felt very hot in Valencia, temperatures weren't actually that high; it just felt extremely hot due to the high humidity levels. As a comparison, air temperatures at the Bahrain Grand Prix reached 39o.C with just 10% humidity, while temperatures were just 31o.C in Valencia but humidity levels hit 60%.
Q: Were there any tyre wear issues on either car?
RN: We didn't have any significant tyre wear problems, no. We experienced a little graining on the front left tyre, but it didn't have any significant impact on performance.
Q: How much did the track conditions change over the course of the weekend?
RN: Although the circuit wasn't too dusty, the track was quite green in the early stages of Friday's practice session because there wasn't any rubber on the track. We were running the softest Bridgestone tyres which laid plenty of rubber down and that certainly helped increase grip levels. On average, that improved the lap times by approximately one second per lap in each session.
Q: What caused the technical problem on Kazuki's car during qualifying, and where could he have qualified without it?
RN: We had an issue with the throttle control system on Kazuki's car during his second run in qualifying. We have a safety system in place which shuts the engine down if it detects that the throttles are not following the driver's demand, so this kicked in and stopped Kazuki out on track. Both Nico and Kazuki were close all weekend up to this point so he should certainly have made it into the top ten. It's very difficult to be accurate when the grid is so tight, but I estimate he should have qualified between sixth and ninth.
RN: KERS wasn't a big issue at the start for two reasons. Firstly, turn one isn't always taken flat out at the start of the race (particularly if you are on the dirty, left-hand side of the track (where Raikkonen was), so the KERS cars can't use the additional 80 horsepower anyway. Secondly, it's also then a relatively short distance to the first serious braking point for turn two.
Q: Nico finished less than a second behind Heikki Kovalainen. Was fourth place ever really on the cards for him?
RN: We were aiming for Nico to finish ahead of Raikkonen and that was achievable. However, in the early part of Nico's second stint, we unexpectedly lost some performance for about 10 laps and that consigned us to finishing not only behind Raikkonen, but also behind Kovalainen as well.
Q: What caused Kazuki's puncture on lap 39, and why wasn't he able to finish the race?
RN: When the tread of the rear left tyre was returned to us we saw a large cut which we believe was the cause of the tyre failure. Grosjean apparently had similar damage to one of his tyres. It seems likely that the damage was caused by something on the track, a kerb for example. We saw on the telemetry data that there could have been possible damage to the gearbox caused by Kazuki driving back to the pits with the punctured tyre. As we didn't want to have a potentially dangerous failure out on-track, we retired the car.
Q: Looking ahead, how do you think the FW31 will perform at Spa next weekend?
RN: We've seen over the past few races that the FW31 is pretty competitive at most types of track. We are also introducing some new aero components for Spa which should help us to maintain our relative competitiveness so we are optimistic for a good result.