Inside line: Q&A with Sauber
When Peter Sauber unveiled his team’s new C29 – named, like all Sauber designs since the original VW-powered C1 after wife Christina – in Spain last week, it was not without trepidation. Here, after all, was a team which arose from the ashes of the BMW Sauber F1 Team after the car company cut its losses in August, and until early December had no confirmed grid slot. To complicate matters, the chassis, designed for BMW power, had to be rejigged to accommodate customer Ferrari units.
Yet, on the first official three-day test session in Valencia the car was never out of the top two, and, in fact, topped the time sheets for much of the first day – shading such as Michael Schumacher and Mercedes despite ‘only’ having Pedro de la Rosa, who last raced in 2006, in the cockpit. The team’s second driver is Kamui Kobayashi, who has just two grands prix under his belt, having subbed for Toyota’s Timo Glock in the final two races of 2009.
The car clocked up exactly 1001 kilometres over the three days – virtually equal to three full grand prix weekends – without a major problem. A year ago, in the wake of Honda’s withdrawal, the Brawn GP, which arose from the ashes of the Japanese team and similarly needed to be revamped to accept (Mercedes) customer engines) proved equally impressive, then went on take both titles. Déjà vu?
After the team had taken stock and analyzed the test results, the Sauber press office issued the following interview with Willy Rampf, Technical Director of the team and no stranger to South Africa, having spent many years with BMW SA:
Q: How happy are you with the reliability of the BMW Sauber C29 after the first test?
WR: “All in all we can be satisfied with the reliability of the car. We completed 1,000 kilometres over the three days without encountering any major problems. Of course, we have to make some adjustments and modifications, but that’s what tests are there for.”
Q: Are these all things that can be rectified ahead of the first race of the season in Bahrain (10-13 February) or even before the next test?
WR: “We will have worked through most of the points before the next test in Jerez. There’s nothing we need to be seriously concerned about. For example, the rear of the engine cover was singed by the exhaust gases, so we’ll be using a different material for that.”
Q: How are things looking in terms of the car’s performance and competitiveness?
WR: “That is even more difficult to assess this year than in previous years. All we can say is that our car is delivering the performance expected based on our simulations and measurements in the wind tunnel. Vastly differing fuel loads make it impossible to draw an absolute comparison with other teams’ cars.”
Q: What are the drivers telling you about the handling of the C29?
WR: “The drivers’ comments have been generally positive regarding factors such as braking stability, traction and the car’s responses under widely varying fuel loads.”
*Q: The fuel load of the car – and therefore its weight – will vary hugely in 2010. Has car set-up been a problem?
WR: “I wouldn’t call it a problem, but it’s certainly a challenge. The cars will run a minimal fuel load in qualifying and then line up for the race with a full tank, but changes to set-up will not be allowed. Finding the right compromise here will be absolutely critical.”
Q: What has changed as a result of the slimmer front tyres (Narrower by 25mm)?
WR: “Generally speaking, their effect is less pronounced than expected. It’s clear the cars have a greater tendency to understeer, which we can balance out to a certain degree by shifting the weight further back and making the necessary changes to chassis set-up.”
Q: How is the working relationship between the drivers and the team?
WR: “Both drivers are new to the team and so we’re all still getting to know each other. However, the working relationship between the drivers and team has got off to a very good start. With Pedro you can see that his vast well of experience has given him a broad base of technical knowledge, which is extremely valuable for all involved. Kamui gets his impressions across very quickly, which means he can give the engineers the information they need to work out the changes required. All in all, the drivers and engineers are already working together very productively.”
*Refueling is banned in 2010, although stops for tyres will be compulsory