It was a case of 'good news/bad news' in Germany for MF1 Racing: the good news being that after a series of frustrating problems -- including an engine failure that put Christijan Albers to the back of the grid -- the team put in a strong race ...
It was a case of 'good news/bad news' in Germany for MF1 Racing: the good news being that after a series of frustrating problems -- including an engine failure that put Christijan Albers to the back of the grid -- the team put in a strong race performance with both cars. Most impressively, Christijan set a 15th-fastest race lap that was less than a second off Fernando Alonso's best, and only about 1.9s off the best overall lap time of race winner Michael Schumacher.
Unfortunately, both cars were disqualified by the FIA following the race, as the rear wings were deemed to allow "excessive flexibility" in their lower elements. The flexing problem occurred not because they were designed to move -- as demonstrated by the fact that there had not previously been a problem in scrutineering with the same wings - but because the parts concerned had probably stayed on the cars for too long.
The team website asked Technical Director James Key for his thoughts on the wing issue, the rest the Hockenheim weekend in general, and the design of next year's car.
Q: Firstly, what can you tell us about the disqualifications in Germany?
James Key: "It was a disappointing end to the weekend, really. We had a pretty open discussion with the stewards, and they weren't too happy with the stiffness of the lower rear wings. We went through it and I made it clear they are non-structural components, so they are designed to be very lightweight. They asked a few questions and I put our case forward. They came back to us and made some points that we've taken on board, and we'll address those for the next race, so we won't face the same issue again. Some of the points made by the stewards weren't correct, but it's a simple fix that's not going to affect performance anyway. I think it's best just to let it rest and carry on."
Q: So what was the exact problem?
JK: "We've always been happy with the wing, but I think looking at the parts at the end of the race, I have to admit they were relatively old, and they weren't in particularly good condition -- they had softened up quite a bit. They had done a lot of miles, and they tend to be subjected to a great deal of hot exhaust temperatures and that sort of thing. We are a small team, and we can't always make lots of new bits for all the cars. But, to be honest, with the benefit of hindsight, we should probably have made some new bits a while ago, as that's really what caused the problem. It's unfortunate, but we took on board what they said, and we'll have changes in place for the next race. It's not going to affect the performance of the car in any way; that wasn't part of it at all. We'll just go away and correct it, either by modifying the existing bits or by producing new parts in time for Hungary. Either way, we will have wings which will avoid any of these issues in the future."
Q: On the plus side the race, the team's race performance in Germany was strong. How did the weekend go?
JK: "We went there with some new developments on the aero side, and they were actually worth quite a bit, even though they were simple parts. They helped close the gap a little bit more. We didn't seem to see that on Friday with either of the cars, which surprised us, frankly. Markus did a great job in the third car, but we didn't really set the world alight, which was a shame, because we've been up in the top 10 on Fridays recently, which has been good. Then on Saturday, not being clear on where we really were, qualifying just didn't go our way. We had a certain number of issues, and Christijan got knocked to the back of the grid by the engine change, anyway. There was a lot of analysis on Saturday night to find out why the pace wasn't there, and we came up with some reasons. Going into the race, suddenly the pace was there again, and we were less than two seconds off Michael's quickest lap, which is as good as it's ever been. The race pace was much better."
Q: What did you think of Christijan's race?
JK: "It was very good. From the back of the grid, he got past Sato after a few laps, then he caught up with Speed pretty quickly and just took the race to him. At one point, he was catching Coulthard and Liuzzi, who were just ahead of him. It was a very encouraging performance, but he developed an issue with the engine at the end, which led to being overtaken by Speed again. But he put in some good lap times and was battling with the teams ahead, which was great to see."
Q: At recent races, the drivers have been able to get through to the second round of qualifying. How encouraging is it that you've been able to make that sort of progress?
JK: "The intention was always to design a car that would be a platform upon which to continuously develop, which is what the M16 represents. We knew what we needed to do to close the enormous gap that we had at the end of last year. Nurburgring was when we first really began to improve things massively, and it's been getting closer and closer since. It was a shame not to get into Q2 this past weekend, because we're expecting to do that regularly now. But, again, the race pace in Germany was very encouraging."
Q: Which circuits play to the car's strengths?
JK: "I think a lateral-force circuit like Silverstone or, to a certain extent, Magny-Cours, seems to suit the car. It would appear from analysis right now the sort of circuit where there's a little bit more straight line is where we've got to concentrate on now. That's perhaps why last weekend wasn't so good."
Q: Will the Hungaroring in Budapest suit the car?
JK: "You never really know, because there are so many factors. Hungary could be better because it's not a stop-start track like Hockenheim. It's high-downforce, and aero efficiency is somewhat less important there. These are all things that suit our package, and it doesn't have long straights, which is good for us. As for Turkey, we'll have to see. That's a high lateral track as well, so that could be good."
Q: Ferrari's results are a clear indication of Bridgestone's current performance, and MF1 seems to be benefitting from that, as well. Are you pleased with the tyres?
JK: "Yes, the Bridgestone tyres were great in Germany and they were good in Magny-Cours, as well. They're certainly doing a good job at the moment. It seems that we tend to have a better race tyre than the Michelin runners, but they come out with good qualifying performances and also quick laps after their pit stops. So the strategies are perhaps different, in that respect."
Q: What about the upcoming summer test ban -- will that help you catch up a bit because other people can't improve?
JK: "It does and it doesn't. We've done about a quarter as much testing as some of the teams we were catching in Germany. The testing we do is very specific and very controlled, so we do make good use of it. A ban actually hurts us a bit, because in one day at Silverstone we can learn quite a lot. But we have still got some new things to come onto the car. Obviously, everyone is concentrating on their 2007 programmes now, so maybe the few steps we can make in the remaining races will close the gap a bit more."
Q: The team has been adding a lot of updates on the car recently. Does that process inevitably slow down as the season nears its end, due to a law of diminishing returns?
JK: "I think it does, and the new car is already on its way now, obviously subject to engine decision. When the M16 first came out, the front end was not as developed as we would have liked because of the time we had in which to design it. So a lot of the components that have come out recently have been focusing on that area. As a result, we've still been carrying on with the winter development rate. That's now coming to an end, but there are still quite a few bits coming along. Monza is probably the last time that we'll see an aero update, but that's only three races from the end of the season."
Q: You mentioned the 2007 engine... When do you need to have a definite decision about which way the team is going?
JK: "We needed to know yesterday, really! Naturally, you want to know as soon as possible, because it affects so many different areas of the car. The sooner you have that decision, the sooner you can start exchanging information with the new supplier, and the more you can optimise the systems around the engine. It affects pretty much every aspect of the engineering disciplines throughout the car."
Q: What sort of things does it affect?
JK: "Obviously, there's the architecture of the car. When you're a team that's used to having the supplier change every couple of years or so, you tend to build a little bit of redundancy into your systems, so you can soak up those things. The architecture of the car will change, obviously, but it tends to be mostly around the design of the chassis' back end and the front of the gearbox. As such, it affects the gearbox casing and the chassis, two major items with long lead times. They are the first two mechanical things that you need to pin down. Then you've got the cooling -- the airbox design, the sidepods, and so on. So that has a big aerodynamic influence, as well. That, in turn, has another effect on the tub. So with aero, you need to know things as early as possible. And of course, there's all your engine installation, the exhaust design and so on. The longer the decision-making process goes on, the longer these things can't be defined."
Q: The Toyota engine won't be available after the Brazilian GP, so the team will need a new engine to go testing with, won't it?
JK: "Exactly. If you want to go testing in December, as soon as you've got engine information, you can then make decisions on whether you can install it into your current car. There's a lot you can do for 2007 in December, and you can't do that if you can't get your engine in because it's too late. But I'm pretty sure we'll be making a decision shortly, so everything should work out pretty well. We'll be looking to take another step forward next year."