Sam Michael: F1 teams closer as a result of new regs

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarWednesday, March 16th, 2011

 
 

Williams are looking to make a significant impact on this year’s Formula One field as the new regulations bring teams closer together and create the conditions for upgrades or innovations to have a major effect on performance.

Even so Sam Michael, Williams’ technical director, warns that it won’t be until his outfit takes to the track in Australia that he will really know where it stands in relation to the other teams.

In a Q&A released by Williams, he said: “The teams are closer now as a result of the new regulations, which is what they were designed to do.

“There are a lot of cars within half a second of each other which means if you bring two or three tenths, either from an aero upgrade or some other mechanical component, it could make a significant difference this year.

“The FW33 has been a good car from the beginning, but in terms of performance we will have to wait until the racing to really see where it stands.

Asked about winter testing, and his confidence in the design of the team’s FW33 2011 car, he said that the reliability problems experienced during winter testing were minor – “except perhaps those on KERS that have now been addressed.”

He added: “Some small faults caused some downtime, but that is the result of having such tightly integrated systems on F1 cars now. Encouragingly, we haven’t had any issues with the new conceptual areas that we pushed the boundaries on, like the driveshafts.”

Michael says the KERS problem uncovered during the Barcelona test was caused by a problem with the inverter, located between the battery and the motor generator unit, not isolating effectively in cases of failure.

It has been solved with a design change and Michael adds: “We have a full solution to allow us to race KERS in Melbourne.”

He rates the new rear wing, designed to promote overtaking opportunities, as worth about half a second a lap in qualifying: “During the race, I think it should achieve what it is supposed to, but it may take two or three races for the FIA to fine-tune the usage of the system.

“It should not get to the point where a driver can just drive past another car with ease, but rather it should be a device that gives just a bit more to an already ambitious overtaking attempt.”

During testing problems with degradation of the new Pirelli tyre compounds started to improve – “probably because we’ve increased the downforce on the car and Pirelli have worked on compound changes.

“I think it will change again when we go to the hotter races because in testing it is relatively cool compared to some of the races.

“Pirelli have done a good job in the short amount of time they have had and they will keep getting stronger and stronger. In the first two or three races there may be one extra pitstop compared to normal, but I think that will stabilise fairly quickly.”

The team has spent the usual time over the winter on pitstop practice at its Grove factory with the mechanics testing on most days. Michael points out that the wheel nuts and guns are similar to last year, the front jack is the same but the rear jack is new.

On veteran Williams driver Rubens Barrichello’s reaction to the care, he said: “Rubens is always reserved with his critique of the car, he never gets excited because he wants us to keep pushing, but he knows how to balance that with motivating the team.

“With the FW33 he has been instrumental to our set-up direction and helps us to understand where we need to improve. He is happy with the directions we are taking, and we’ve also fixed a few small things like vibrations that were distracting for him and the team last year.

“Getting on top of those small things helps us concentrate on the big picture.”

And he has positive things to say about rookie Pastor Maldonado, calling him “both determined and talented.”

“Of course it is early days, but he shows a good level of maturity when dealing with the people around him. He is also good at articulating what the car is doing.

“Xevi Pujolar and Andrew Murdoch have worked well with Pastor over the winter and those relationships with his engineers will pay dividends when we go racing.

“You will never really be ready as a rookie, but you just need to get out there and do it. Pastor is talented, so what I want to see now is how he deals with the pressures of a race weekend, especially qualifying.

“He hasn’t had as much running as I would have liked him to, but he is someone who we’ll support and give space to. His testing performance in the wet was definitely impressive.”

Despite the uncertain start to the season, caused by the cancellation of the Bahrain event due to political unrest, the Williams outfit is as ready as ever to go racing.

“That is the nature of Formula One. We are always ready for whatever we need to be ready for. It will be good to get the season underway now as it feels slightly strange not to be racing already at this time of the year.”

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