THE RACE TO IMPROVE
As I write this, between the Malaysian and Chinese Grands Prix, we can draw some initial conclusions about how each team has fared in the opening races.
During the season a comparator is available to each team every two weeks or so, but for about four months this comparator is missing. Each team is just working as hard and effectively as they are able to adapt to new rules and make performance steps on every parameter but have little or no knowledge in how they compare. Some idea of competitive position is realised from viewing the cars and testing in February, but it’s not until the first races that the pecking order becomes clear.
No rocket science is required to deduce that the combination of Sebastian Veffel and the 2011 Red Bull is outstanding. Red Bull have apparently moved seamlessly from 2010 into 2011, and it will be very interesting to see whether they can turn this into a clear points gap before the European season starts in mid-May.
McLaren are closest, a surprise after a troubled pre-season, but they have a remarkable capacity to recover and should never be underrated. Ferrari were disappointing after strong preparation but were a little closer in Malaysia. The car is reliable and Fernando Alonso is formidable, but I was expecting more. Sauber look to be well prepared, and their scrutineering problems aside, should have a strong season. Petrov in the Renault was outstanding in Melbourne. He improved strongly through 2010, and is now in the team on merit despite his spectacular mistake in Malaysia. Perez had a strong first GP, and surprised many with his single pitstop. Mercedes did not show strongly after their improvements at the last pre-season test, but I expect them to bounce back.
As for Williams, we’ve shown promise rather than achievement which is pretty galling for the guys who have been working their balls off on the new cars. Rubens made some errors in Melbourne which I am sure will not be repeated, and in the race we suffered some unreliability in the driveline, which did not occur prior to the season. In Malaysia our performance wasn’t good and then an ignition coil failed on Pastor’s engine, while Rubens had to drive a full lap on one driving wheel after a left rear puncture, which unfortunately put too much energy through the differential and damaged a hydraulic seal. That meant all the hydraulic oil came out and went into the gearbox.
Much of our testing was affected by sorting out the Williamsdesigned and developed KERS. I think we are the only team to have designed our own system, which has run totally reliably and contributed to the numerous overtaking manoeuvres by Rubens in Melbourne.
We have been pleasantly surprised by the new Pirelli tyres. Wear is high but degradation over distance is not as bad as in testing, in particular at Barcelona. The hot track and long fast corners were, however challenging for the tyres in Malaysia and we saw some teams making as many as four stops for fresh rubber.
It will be interesting to see how the teams view the value of KERS as the season progresses all teams are running on tight budgets, and KERS adds considerably to their costs. The lack of KERS application in 2010 was by agreement of the teams only, in the light of difficult financial times. I wonder whether the teams will consider it to be an asset to F1 by the end of 2011. As an engineer it is extremely interesting technology which has relevance for road vehicles, but added value for racing may be questionable.
So, no glory for Williams thus far, but we have some very good people at all levels on our race team, and I was doubtful that I could add to our work there. But the unreliability problems are something we should not have, and I suspect I can contribute more with the engineers and technicians in our factory to help eliminate these. So I will probably be less present at the track this year. I shall be taking a keen interest in our progression.