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Friday, March 17, 2006

Sepang Friday press conference - Part I

With Head, Howett, Theissen & WillisFollowing the first day of practice at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Patrick Head (Williams), John Howett (Toyota), Mario Theissen (BMW Sauber), and Geoff Willis are the guests at the FIA Friday press conference.
Q: Geoff, you have a new driver this year in Rubens Barrichello. What has he brought to the team? Geoff WILLIS: I think he brings a lot of experience of how to win. He’s won nine races, I think. He’s been with a championship-winning team for many years. Certainly, he strengthens our driver line-up hugely, and he brings that experience, that knowledge of what it feels like to win and makes us a stronger team, so it’s been good working with him. Let’s see how we do this weekend.
Q: Does he tell you much about Ferrari? GW: Certainly, he’s used to working in a slightly different environment, how they operate certain technical aspects of the car. The driver can often explain what the car feels like, the way he thinks it operates and other bits about the car, but generally the teams don’t tell the drivers an awful lot about the cars that other teams might be interested in, so it’s really just his experience, how he feels the car and how he wants to work on the car.
Q: You have a third driver again, having not had one last year but having had one the year before that. Is it more of a benefit now than it was two years ago? GW: It’s certainly very useful this year because, unlike in 2004, when we had just one engine to last just one race weekend, we have an engine to last two race weekends, so even more we are biasing the running on a Friday to the third driver. Anthony’s been with the team for a long time, he’s very quick, very consistent and our race drivers have got a lot of confidence in reading what he says about the car. So it’s certainly very useful for us.
Q: You certainly did a job with him today, getting him back out again at the end. GW: I’m not quite sure how the car came back so quickly, but we got a call from Charlie Whiting to say we would get it back so we were well prepared.
Q: Was there any damage to it? GW: Only after I think the marshals got to it and they pushed it into the gravel, and we had quite a lot of gravel to take out of it which wasn’t there when Anthony left it.
Q: We’re seeing fewer and fewer laps from the drivers on the Fridays; do you think there is a case for making Friday an unlimited test day?

GW: I think it would be very difficult to make it a useable test day. Typically, on a test day, we are getting quite a lot of cars going round, we’re running six or seven hours. We can probably achieve 500+ kilometres. It is also difficult coming to a race track, where usually there hasn’t been anything on the circuit for at least a week, if not longer than that, so the circuit conditions are fairly poor on the first day. So I think there is not an awful lot that we would learn and part of the reason why a lot of the race drivers don’t go out in the first session on Friday is just because the circuit conditions are not really very useful. Q: John, today Jarno Trulli was eleventh. Was this a little bit of relief after last weekend? John HOWETT: Well, yes, I suppose you can say a slight relief but obviously a very disappointing start to the season, and not really where we expect to be or want to be. So we have to work a lot harder. We are getting a bit more temperature into the tyres here so it’s helping, but still we have to work hard. It’s clear that we’re not where we need to be and how competitive we should be. Q: Was it tyre choice or a little bit of how the chassis used the tyres? JH: I think it’s the way the chassis is utilising the tyre. We can’t condemn the tyre because we clearly had very similar rubber to both Williams and McLaren in Bahrain and it’s the way we are actually utilising the rubber. Q: We talked about the third driver; you don’t have one this year. Are you missing him? JH: Yes, clearly. It did help a lot last year (having one) but I think it’s part of the route to the top and you just have to learn to cope without that. As you notice, we did a lot of laps today with both race drivers. Q: Have you had to build that factor into the race engines this year? JH: Well, I think we have a strong engine but obviously we hadn’t planned that sort of mileage on a Friday, so we have to see how the engine stands up to the pressure it’s had today in a fairly hot environment. Q: Now Mike Gascoyne is still back in Germany, I believe. Was that a knee-jerk reaction from last weekend? JH: Not knee-jerk. He’s here tomorrow but he’s obviously stayed in the factory an extra two days just to keep the pressure on and look for further improvements. Q: You’ve got a massive build programme as well, haven’t you? JH: Yes, that’s correct. That’s part of it. Q: Mario, your third driver, Robert Kubica has been impressive this year; what are your thoughts on him? Mario THEISSEN: Yes, absolutely. Obviously we watched him last year and on that basis we contracted him, but we didn’t know too much about him. He’s only 21-years old, he hadn’t seen these overseas tracks before: Bahrain and Sepang were both new to him, and we couldn’t expect him to be so quick on pace. He didn’t make any mistakes. Over the two days he has accumulated a lot of mileage, always did his programme perfectly and he’s even quite good at reporting to the engineers, so very useful data. I think he’s a very promising guy. Q: After Jacques Villeneuve’s engine failure in Bahrain, are you worried about the same thing happening to Nick Heidfeld here? MT: It’s true that Nick’s engine is built to the same specification as Jacques’. On the other hand, the failure had never happened before, this type of failure. So far, we can only assume it was one faulty part in the engine, and so we don’t feel a reason to change Nick’s engine, we will see. Every engine manufacturer is concerned about engine life here, especially in Sepang, where a V8 goes into the second weekend. It’s a hot race and I think we will see something over the weekend.

Q: You’re building up a new team from the basis of Sauber; what still has to be done? Is there a huge amount still? MT: Yes, of course. I can say that I’m proud of what the team has done over the past eight months, but that was only the start to a programme of several years. We have decided to take on more than 100 additional people. The team is really small compared to our competitors. We started last summer with 275 people in Switzerland. Now we have 320, still one to two hundred fewer than our competitors. We have decided to expand the factory, which will only start this summer, so I’m happy if we have everything in place by the end of ’07. Q: Patrick, a lot of people see you as an independent team again, therefore they see your performance in Bahrain as very praiseworthy. What were your impressions? Patrick HEAD: Obviously it was encouraging to get two cars in the points, and both cars ran reliably through the weekend. In developing our transmission, a lot of it had to be done at the track because we didn’t have the facilities to do it on the dyno. So we spent rather a lot of time in the garage looking shrapnel round the back of the car over the winter, so that rather interrupted our winter testing which wasn’t ideal, but I was happy. I don’t think we’re ever going to get too excited about a sixth and a seventh but it was very pleasing to see Nico’s charge having made a mistake at the beginning of the race and unfortunately to Nick Heidfeld’s detriment but it was very encouraging. Q: Last year, we saw you doing few laps in practice, thinking it was conserving the BMW engine but it seems that that continues with Cosworth. What is the thinking behind that? PH: Particularly with a new engine, obviously we’ve done a number of double race distances or double race simulations and things over the winter, but I doubt that anybody has really done enough to say 100 percent that they know exactly where they are in their engine life. I think Honda, as you will have seen from the testing mileage, have done easily the most and even they have probably not been absolutely 100 percent. So the best thing, particularly with the opportunity to run a third car on the Friday, the best thing is to limit the amount of running and get the best out of it in qualifying the race. Q: But how much does Nico suffer from that, particularly on the circuits he doesn’t know? PH: He was due to do a few more laps this afternoon but we had a small fuel system problem that shouldn’t have happened but it did. He seems quite happy with the track and knowing the track. He doesn’t think he’s at a disadvantage. Q: A general question for you all on the testing agreement; could someone clarify 1) if it’s been signed and 2) what is consists of? GW: I’m not sure I can clarify how many have signed it, whether it’s completely signed. PH: It’s signed by everybody now. GW: It’s very similar to the testing agreement that was agreed by nine teams last year. The number of days is slightly more and there’s a little bit of detail tidy-up about how you use… you can nominate your home circuit and on those conditions you can count for a half car day rather than if you use a single car on that track. So certain teams have circuits which they can only use one car on and so we’ve agreed that we can all nominate one circuit that allows you to count – if you only run one car on it – half a day. So in general I think it’s pretty consistent. It gives a realistic target cap on distance per day, the number of days per year, so I think it’s fairly well understood that it will keep us in a sensible position on testing.

PH: Yes, I think it’s an outer perimeter on testing but I think the most significant thing is that we’ve at least got back to a common agreement between all teams, so it’s a good platform to work on. Q: This is a question I’ve been asked to ask about the measurement of rear wings: is there another way of measuring rear wings, the flex that might appear, that you would want to see, that you would be happy with? GW: I’ll have another go at it. The issue about the flexibility of rear wings is a difficult one because clearly all engineering structures do deflect. The question is whether you are allowed to make performance benefit from that, and the FIA – Charlie Whiting – has clarified on several occasions that you are not. The difficulty is what sort of test you come up with that is safe to perform in parc ferme conditions because the rear wings do have very significant loads on them that you probably wouldn’t want to place on the car in parc ferme in case they fell off and hurt somebody. The designs of the wings that people have used in the past and certainly have either allowed what we call the slot gap – the gap between the first element and the second element of the wing to either close up or to open up and by doing so change the drag and the lift on the car, and you can see that in the past a number of teams have gained extra top speed from that - that’s been tightened up a certain amount by regulation changes in the last year or so or more stringent application of certain stiffness tests. I think we probably still need to see a change in the regulation there to see that that geometry has to remain constant all the way across the speed, and one way to do that is to make sure that the physical arrangement of what the rear wing is like is consistent with not being able to change that gap.


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