Spyker F1 technical director James Key is hard at work in the factory as the team readies the Ferrari-engined 2007 car for its launch next year. The team website asked him for his thoughts on how the team performed last season, as well as on the...
Spyker F1 technical director James Key is hard at work in the factory as the team readies the Ferrari-engined 2007 car for its launch next year. The team website asked him for his thoughts on how the team performed last season, as well as on the year ahead.
Q: Firstly, how would you sum up the 2006 season?
James Key: Mixed, I suppose! Obviously it was disappointing not to score a point, because I think we deserved one by the end of the season. But it was very competitive, the V8s were very reliable, and the rate of development for everyone was very high. I guess it's indicative of how competitive the grid is now. But equally it was positive in that we did make quite a bit of progress during the season, considering where we started from and where we were in 2005. In terms of turning things around and getting us started on an upward slope, I think it was good. And it was all home grown stuff, as we did it ourselves. It was very positive in that respect.
Q: Was a rebuilding process still going on?
JK: We called 2005 a transitional period between Jordan and Midland, which it was, and there was a lot of rebuilding during that time in preparation for the M16. And that rebuilding really went on into '06, so that transitional period actually spread further. It was the first proper new car we'd had out for a couple of seasons, and much of it was designed by people new to the team, so it was a building year. But the fact that we were able to make the steps that we did was a very good effort from all concerned.
Q: The occasions when you got a car into the last 16 in qualifying must have been highlights. Do you agree?
JK: Yes. The first really competitive performance was in Monaco. There was the problem at the start of the race, but our lap times were strong, particularly in the race, and we just sat in a long queue of cars. That suggested that we were catching up. And then at Silverstone we got a car into the top 16, and really after that we expected to do it, and we did it fairly regularly. So that was pretty good. What was frustrating was that our start performance wasn't the best, and we'd lose positions, which meant we didn't do our qualifying positions justice. Our race pace always tended to better than it appeared, but we lost places and we were sitting in a queue! That was frustrating.
Q: The team has new owners in Spyker, and new investment. How encouraged are you by developments?
JK: It's good to have that stability. Spyker have made their intentions clear, and they want to succeed, which is what we want to do as well. They are very enthusiastic people. We've got a good long-term opportunity ahead of us, and we've got to treat it as long-term as well. They understand that we won't be able to flick a switch and qualify in the top five.
Q: You have more resources to put into the new car than this time last year. What difference does that make to the way you've approached the winter?
JK: It's going to make a massive difference. Budgets are obviously improved, and we're better able to go through a system controlling how we plan things. So investment wise it has got better, and of course we've got the wind tunnel upgrade that will be completed in the early part of next year, and various other plans that require more investment.
Q: Are there things that you had to put on hold last year, and now you're in a position to pursue them?
JK: The options have certainly opened up. We've still got to be careful about what we do, and make sure our priorities are right, but there are more options available that we can pursue. Again, we're thinking longer-term, and we are putting things in place now which will perhaps have an impact later on.
Q: How is the new structure working out, with Mike Gascoyne now on board?
JK: Mike has been here for a month now, and it's been very good. We have a pretty good working relationship, and he's in a position where he can take a step back and take a long look at things, because he's fresh to the team. That works fine. I'm still doing the nuts and bolts work, and he has a kind of overview. It's obviously a different situation for him compared with Toyota, so he probably has to work in a slightly different way.
Q: Have you been relieved of some of the routine responsibilities that you had previously, such as administration and so on?
JK: Yes. I had a lot of planning and paperwork to do -- essential parts of the job, and being a small team, somebody's got to do it. I'm still in that situation, but I've got someone I can discuss it with now in technical terms, and that makes life easier. My desire is to get much more back to the technical side on a day-to-day basis, which is beginning to happen now. And some of the very big decisions, which were on my shoulders, and I can now share. Mike can give a guiding hand, or make those decisions himself, as necessary. It certainly helps a lot from a personal point of view in that respect, but I'm still very, very busy!
Q: Has it been interesting dealing with the new engine supplier?
JK: It has been. We've been over to Maranello a few times for various meetings, and they've been very accommodating and very flexible. They understand that our time scale has been short because of the relatively late agreement, but they've understood that situation and been very supportive. They are a huge, championship-winning team, and I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's been very good.
Q: What can you tell us about the new car?
JK: We're taking a reasonably conservative approach at the start of the year to allow ourselves to make bigger gains at a later date. We don't expect to go out there and make a massive step forward straight away. Again, longer-term planning has come into play, with Spyker being on board and Mike being here. We're following some of the philosophies we set up with the M16, but we're improving them. And obviously we have a new engine installation, and we have to do all the cooling. So there will be quite a few visual changes.
Q: The other teams started testing this week. Are you a little bit envious of the fact that they are out there running?
JK: We're not going to test before the launch of the new car, simply because the Ferrari engine installation is so different from the Toyota. An interim car would have had to be almost completely new, and doing that while designing the new car would have been quite tricky. It would be nice to go out and test, but we're happy getting on with things in the factory and concentrating on the new car, so all our efforts are going in one direction. We know Bridgestone, and while the tyres will be very different, it's not like we're coming from Michelin.
Q: Does the late start of the season take a bit of the pressure off?
JK: I think that's what allows us to do things a bit later. You've potentially got tests in March, shakedowns and so on, so there's still plenty of time.
Q: Next year there is one tyre supplier and an engine freeze. Do you think that will give you a better chance?
JK: I think the tyres will level the playing field, and there won't be so much variability there. It's going to make qualifying perhaps a little more representative of where people are, because before one or other of the suppliers might have a better tyre for qualifying or the race. Everyone will be on the same compounds now. And it's much the same with engines, especially with the 19,000rpm limit. Overall I think it's good for us.