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Friday, March 17, 2006

Sepang Friday press conference – Part III

Following 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: (Anthony Rowlinson - Autosport) Patrick, how long can an independent team continue to be competitive against a manufacturer in the current era of Formula One? PH: I suppose it depends on how good they are at generating their funding and whether they spend their money wisely. I think if you looked at the Renault budget for last year, both engine and car, you’d find it probably only the fourth, fifth or sixth biggest budget out there, so efficiency is a very important part and equally, it’s fairly well known, the sort of magnitude of money that we’re paying Cosworth for the engine this year, it’s certainly very much less than 20 million Euro, and I mean by a long way, and I would have to say that I’m very happy to be running a Cosworth engine. I think it’s fully competitive and relative to some, a more than competitive engine and Cosworth are not making a loss on that engine. But as testing gets limited more, which inevitably it will, it will put more emphasis onto the simulation tools, both virtual and physical that you have within your facility, and some of those simulation tools are pretty expensive and I mentioned beforehand – I’m not complaining about it but we had to de-bug our gearbox out on the track.
It would have been much more efficient and much more clinical if we could have de-bugged it on a more sophisticated transmission dyno than we have available to us. These sort of facilities will certainly, in the longer term, be very useful, but to be precise in terms of saying how long, I suppose it depends if Max (Mosley, FIA President) is successful on what he has been talking about which is to try and reduce the slope of spend against performance. Q: (Niki Takeda - Formula PA) Question for all of you: honest and frank thoughts on a standard ECU, please? JH: It’s a difficult one. I think in principal, most of the manufacturers would prefer freedom with the ECU, at least the actual cost of the ECU itself is not of an extreme magnitude. OK, one would probably need to be more draconian in restricting electronic capacity to significantly reduce the cost area. I think there is an issue of actually ensuring that there is no artificial aids which are intended to be eliminated, such as traction control in the future, and therefore by having a standard ECU it may make it very easy to police and avoid any rumours of a certain team having this capability or not and I believe that’s one of the reasons that the FIA wishes to integrate the actual standard ECU, but I think as a preference we would prefer to keep freedom.

GW: Not really my area to comment that much apart from the fact that in both road car engine design and in race car engine design the engine hardware and the controller is very much thought of as a complete package, so it’s a thing where an engine manufacturer, a car manufacturer would always normally want to be developing engine and ECU together so in that sense, it’s something we would rather keep and not go to an independent third party. The other issue from the team side is that changing ECUs and changing all the integrated code with it and the software the team uses is a very big challenge and there’s not a lot of time between now and the beginning of 2008 and none of us would want to be starting on January 1, 2008 with a new system. We want to be trying to test it earlier so I think there’s a pretty tight timescale. PH: I’m not convinced that it automatically follows that if you have a standard ECU that there’s no more possibility of some sort of power modulation but if we all get put to a standard ECU then those of us, few of us, with devious minds will turn their attention to other means. I did actually…Niki, I lost the ‘and’ between your first two words. I thought you said ‘honest Frank’ and I thought, who’s this? (Laughter) But you said ‘honest and frank.’ But it’s a change and I can understand that a lot of people like BMW, building their own ECUs, it’s an interesting challenge for them which I’m sure has some relevance and some knock-on to their road car development and it must feel very uncomfortable for engineers to be told ‘no, you can’t do this, no you can’t do a job in that area’ and be given what will probably be a fairly middle-of-the-road type piece of hardware, it doesn’t feel very Formula One-ish but anyway, that’s what we’re told we’re getting and it seems it’s still Max and Bernie’s game so that’s what we’ve got to play. MT: As we understand, the original aim was to rule out artificial driver aids and we fully support that, even if road cars have it, we want to see the best drivers out here and want them to cope with the car at the limit and that is certainly more exciting without driver aids. We have had talks between the manufacturers and some teams, I think it was a year ago – at least a year ago – about how to achieve that, and we came to the conclusion that it should be possible to do that with a controlled section, accessible to the FIA, to make sure that there are not artificial driver aids. We would prefer to go along this route because, as Geoff said, today there is not the mechanical parts, components, development on one hand and the electronics components on the other hand. Virtually everything comes with its electronics and virtually every functionality is controlled electronically. So in order to have the possibility to test new functionalities, we would need to have access to the electronics and then you are immediately down to the question: what is standardised? Is it a certain area of the hardware, is it the basic software as well, even, as the application software? It’s quite a difficult and tricky area, so, as I said, we would prefer to have a common standard which ensures that there is no driver aids and it cannot even be perceived to be there but then to do our own stuff in order to use the same stuff for testing and racing. Q: (Niki Takeda - Formula PA) Mario, can I follow up on that? What is currently the definition of a standard ECU then? MT: There is no precise definition, especially not when it comes to software.


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