A busy run of three races in four weekends ensures that May will be a hectic month for all the Grand Prix teams, not least because the last of the trio is Monaco, invariably the most logistically-complex race of the season. Leading up to that we...
A busy run of three races in four weekends ensures that May will be a hectic month for all the Grand Prix teams, not least because the last of the trio is Monaco, invariably the most logistically-complex race of the season. Leading up to that we have Barcelona and, to kick things off this weekend, the European GP at the Nürburgring.
Last week's Silverstone test allowed MF1 Racing to evaluate various options for the upcoming races. Meanwhile, Christijan's accident on the first lap at Imola caused a few headaches because it used up a lot of parts -- not good news with such a tight schedule of races fast approaching.
Technical Director James Key talks about the latest developments.
Q: You had a big test at Silverstone last week. What sort of progress have you been able to make?
James Key: "We had two and a half days in total. We continued with some control systems work that we'd begun the previous test at Silverstone, and we worked on our start strategy. We did a lot of work on tyres as well, and Bridgestone gave us a pretty good tyre programme to do. We requested various constructions that they've been working on recently, just so we could get a much better view of where they're headed. We haven't had quite as much testing time as the likes of Williams and Toyota, and we wanted to make sure we got a clear picture for ourselves."
Q: What did you learn?
JK: "We came to similar conclusions as the other Bridgestone runners who've already been through this process, so that was positive. I think we've got a clear view of what we're going to do for Barcelona, Monaco and Silverstone. We also tried some suspension modifications that we're keeping on the car. We had a couple of reliability issues on the last day with Christijan, but other than that, everything went according to plan. The back-to-back double-header is obviously going to be fairly busy, and then we've got Monaco to prepare for after that. So it's a busy month!"
Q: Any thoughts on the Nürburgring? It's quite a tricky circuit to prepare for...
JK: "It is a real mish-mash. The slow section after the start has changed the level of downforce a bit compared with the past, while braking into Turn 1 is pretty fundamental, as well. It's a good passing place, and a lot of time can be lost or gained there. And you've also got the chicane at the end of the lap. So there are quite a few bits and pieces that are quite unique, but you could equally consider it as what we'd term a 'normal circuit', as well. Downforce levels are similar to what you might run in Barcelona, for example, although the tyre choice is probably softer than there."
Q: It's been known to rain at the Nürburgring. Have you done much wet running recently?
JK: "We haven't done a great deal, actually. We did a little bit at Silverstone last week, but not to the point where we could run a wet tyre programme or anything. But we do have experience with the wet tyres that are on offer to us, so we know what to expect."
Q: You mentioned Barcelona. Does the fact that you've done some running there give you a little more confidence?
JK: "It does give us confidence, although we haven't done a test there since February, and the conditions are different in the winter. As I said, we did the tyre test at Silverstone last week, which, like Barcelona, is very hard on tyres in high-speed corners. Barcelona is probably the hardest on tyres, with Turn 3 and the last two corners. It's a really good reference track for how much progress you've made in the wind tunnel, and is popular for testing because it's got such a mix of high speed and low speed, and long straights. If you do a simulation, Barcelona is always a good track to run that against, because it's so general. I think it's biased slightly toward higher downforce than the norm, as well, which is good for us. I think we perform better at tracks like that than places like Bahrain, where you tend to go for slightly less downforce."
Q: Teams always have to make some special parts, especially high downforce aero bits, for Monaco. How busy are you, getting ready for that race?
JK: "It's going to be very hectic, especially for us, as we don't have test cars to use in between. We've got a few chassis mods to make for Monaco, and like you say, lots of new bits to go on, which are one-offs for that race -- steering geometry and that sort of thing -- because of the nature of the circuit. And after that, we have to turn the cars around for Silverstone..."
Q: Are you planning to test between Barcelona and Monaco?
JK: "The shunt in Imola didn't really help us out in that respect -- the chassis was OK, but we lost all four corners, the bodywork, and the gearbox as well. It set us back a bit, so we're leaving our options open, in terms of how things come back from Spain. But we may end up running across the road at Silverstone."
Q: Have you been able to test the Monaco spec yet?
JK: "Only in the wind tunnel so far, and that's really why we want to get a run in before Monaco. It's not a massive issue, though, because things like steering we do for Monaco year after year, so we know to expect with that. With the aero, it tends to be total downforce generating devices, so providing you can balance it with the front wing, it's not normally an issue."
Q: The key thing at Monaco is that you want to finish at all cost, because there could be some points up for grabs...
JK: "Absolutely, you have to have a clean race, not do anything silly, and finish. We're not regular points scorers, so we have to take advantage of any situations like that."
Q: Going back to Imola, how frustrating was Christijan's accident?
JK: "It was a real shame. Christijan didn't get away quite as quickly as he had hoped, and Takuma Sato passed him. I think he was probably on the most sensible strategy for the race, and we don't really know what could have come of his efforts. It was a frustrating weekend in many ways. The new aero bits we had on the car worked -- there was clear evidence of that in the data, and in the practice lap times, as well. Then, come qualifying, we had a few problems. And then obviously in the race we only had one car."
Q: We know that starts have been an issue of late, but are you now back to where you want to be?
JK: "Christijan got passed in Imola, but we'll be close to what we'd call an 'optimum start' in Nürburgring. There are a few further things that we tested last week in Silverstone which should be in place for Nurburgring and Spain, and that will get us back to where we know we can be with starts. The last thing we need is get stuck behind slower cars, and I think it goes without saying that you need a good start at Monaco!"
Q: Lastly, for Imola, you and your engineering colleagues had a new office to work out of. What do think of the team's trio of new transporters?
JK: "We have a very good facility now, with lots of space. We've got very clean working areas for the hydraulic guys and that sort of thing. So it's a big step forward over the facilities we've had for the past few years. We are making a genuine effort, and it would be nice if people noticed that and took more of a romantic view that we're a small bunch of guys at Silverstone up against these massive manufacturers. Which is what it's all about, really."