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Archive for the tag “Sauber”

2014: what the drivers will feel

There are a lot of unanswered questions out there when it comes to 2014. We can go on for as long as we like about the technical details but it’s difficult, at this point, to know exactly how it’s all going to settle. The teams aren’t sure, which means the drivers aren’t sure – which means that we, the fans, can’t be sure either.

We can but push, however, and to this end I sat down last week with Rob Wilson to talk about the driving fundamentals that may or not be relevant to 2014. We were joined on line by Tom McCullough, the very talented pit lane engineer who worked in IndyCar and then at WilliamsF1 before joining Sauber towards the end of 2012. Having helped to turn that team around mid-season, and secured some consistently strong results with the driver he first met at Williams – Nico Hulkenberg – Tom is now joining Nico at Sahara Force India for 2014. Here’s how the conversation went:

The ups of Sauber, the brilliance of Mike Conway…

…and the tough past few races for Sahara Force India

On this week’s edition of The Racer’s Edge I managed to catch up with the loquacious Tom McCullough of Doncaster, otherwise known as the Head of Track Engineering for the Sauber F1 Team. Tom joined Sauber late last year after several years on the pit wall with Williams and quickly made his mark.  He knew Nico Hulkenberg from his Willliams days, of course, but the rest of the challenge was all new:  new country, new people, new methodologies.  As I hope you will hear in the interview, Tom is one of those engineers who adapts quickly and loves his craft. It’s no surprise, indeed, that he has helped to convert Sauber’s mundane start to the season into one of the big talking-points of the past few weeks. The only question I didn’t ask, to be sure, is why Williams let him go in the first place – but I guess that’s another subject for another day. I also quiz Sahara Force India’s Chief Operating Officer, Otmar Szafnauer, about his team’s corresponding fall from pace. It’s linked to the mid-season change in Pirelli tyre constructions – but Otmar talks, too, about how F1 needs to retain it’s “unique” quality. “It’s done a good job of this in the past,” he says, “but now is the time to develop that further. F1 faces competition from a lot of other sports and entertainments. If we are going to continue to develop sponsorships for teams up and down the grid, we need to ensure that F1 sustains that ‘unique’ feel.”

I was also able to talk on-line with the brilliantly-talented Englishman, Mike Conway. Back in 2006, Mike seemed destined for F1 stardom. He dominated F3 not only during the season but also with wins at Pau and Macau. Think opponents like Romain Grosjean (and Lewis Hamilton in Formula Renault) and you have an idea of the standards about which we’re talking. His GP2 seasons dragged a little…and suddenly the momentum was lost. Mike turned his attention to IndyCar – and in 2010 he was very lucky to escape with recoverable injuries from a huge accident at Indianapolis. Mike, though, is a fighter who loves his craft just as much as Tom McC above. Despite shaking the US racing fraternity by announcing at the end of 2012 that he was no longer prepared to race on ovals, Mike this year has finally achieved the sort of results worthy of his skills. He scored a win and a third in the two Detroit IndyCar races and he’s just won the last two LMP2 races at Interlagos and Austin in an Oreca-Nissan run by Alan Docking. (Oreca is owned by Hughes de Chaunac, who used to run Martini in the days of Rene Arnoux.) Mike’s versatile, he’s quick, he’s now a globally-successful racing driver who is paid to do something he enjoys –  and he’s just bought an old, 1960s VW Beetle, complete with white sidewall tyres and roofrack.  Need I say more.

Episode 32 of The Racer’s Edge.  Enjoy.

Watching from La Rascasse (Part 2)

In Part 2 of Watching from La Rascasse, we look at some of the other drivers who were out on Thursday afternoon at Monaco.  Sadly there was no Romain Grosjean when we were camera-ready:  by then, he had hit the Ste Devote guard-rail.

Paul Di Resta (below, top) looked extremely good here, with a decisively-early approach, a clean rotation from a stable mid-corner and an effectively clean exit.  Adrian Sutil (below, bottom) was all of that but a shade wider, and thus a shade more conservative, on his approach. Both drivers looked excellent; the difference between them was smaller than the difference between the Mercedes boys.Dir

SutilFor all his cool headgear, Jean-Eric Vergne (below,top) is much more Jean-Pierre Jarier than he is Francois Cevert.  A wide, soft approach. Lots of aggression with the brakes, the steering and the release of same.  Lots of car-control, of course, but none of the straight lines that typified Francois, particularly in 1973.  Daniel Ricciardo (below,bottom) exhibited a slightly shorter corner and more seamless transitions.  Like McLaren, Toro Rosso have two “long corner” (but very skilful, very spectacular) drivers.JEV2

RicPastor Maldonado, as stated earlier, was almost scary to watch at Rascasse, if only because his Alesi-like turn-in (and feel) leaves him absolutely no margin at all in terms of the inside rear and the apex. With Grosjean, you’re always thinking “exit oversteer”;  with Pastor (below, top) it’s “early commitment”.  He looked knife-sharp from where I sat – and up at Casino Square, where he was blindingly late on the brakes, he was jaw-droppingly fearless – the more so because the Williams is still a difficult car.  This was the best Pastor has looked so far this year.  Valtteri (below, bottom), by contrast, was for me a bit disappointing – if only because one’s expectations are always so high with this guy. A relatively wide and frequently brake-locked approach was compromised by minimum speeds too high by far:  the back end would judder out, Walter would have to lift, opposite lock would be applied…and finally he was out of there. It was uncomfortable to watch and probably not much fun to execute.  I’m sure it’ll be better by Sunday…MAL

BOTSauber’s pair, by contrast, were surprisingly different from one another.  Nico Hulkenberg (below, top) had more initial steering input than, say, Romain Grosjean, and a longer corner than Daniel Ricciardo.  He played with the throttle early and, like Alonso, always gave himself a touch of oversteer before  main rotation just beyond this photograph.  He gives the impression, in other words, of asking quite a lot from the tyres and, of course, from the car.  Esteban Gutierrez (below, bottom) was for me probably the most surprising driver of  the session.  He was neat, composed, early into the corner, and displayed lots of good handwork and mid-corner patience.  He wasn’t the quickest guy out there, of course, but this was a good way to start a Monaco weekend.  From here he has a useful platform from which to build.HUL

GUTJules Bianchi (below, top) was much tighter on approach than Max Chilton (below, bottom); indeed, Jules was as early, and as rhythmic with his hand- and footwork, as Paul Di Resta.  Despite that sort of talent alongside him, Max Chilton has nonethless chosen to go the long-corner way. Yes, it leaves him more margin for error, particularly on a circuit like Monaco;  no, it isn’t as efficient.BIA

CHII couldn’t see much difference between the two Caterham drivers, Charles Pic (below, top) and Guido van der Garde (below, bottom).  Charles was pretty neat and tidy through the fourth-gear esses in Malaysia but here he was definitely giving himself a nice, soft corner entry with plenty of initial steering input.  Likewise Guido, which must be a bit frustrating for the engineers.PicJEV

Notes from the Sepang paddock

  • After the beauty of the AGP 60th anniversary celebrations at Albert Park, it’s a shame that not more is being made of this being Sepang’s 15th F1 birthday. I know it’s not a major milestone but, so far as modern supercircuits go, Sepang has done well to get this far. It has none of the carnival atmosphere of Melbourne; it’s hot and debilitating; but it does boast some incredible corners and it does have the Malaysian government full-square behind it, despite relatively small crowds. Personally, I love Sepang. I just wish the weekend as a whole had a bit more AGP-style gift-wrapping.
  • Speaking of great corners, I spent Friday watching our aces through the very quick left- and right-handers they call Turns Five and Six. I’m particularly fond of this section because there are about three different solutions to the problems posed by high-speed changes of direction. You can really lean on the right rear as you go in, then ask a lot of the car as you pivot it back to the left rear for the dive into the right-hander (as Mark Webber, Romain Grosjean, Paul di Resta and Sergio Perez were doing); you can compromise the left-hander a little and move the car way over to the left for the right-hander that follows (as Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button were neatly doing); or you can ride a very narrow line of perfection by finding the tiniest of “neutral” zones for the change of direction between the two corners (as Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Adrian Sutil were doing).  The last group also tucked in a little earlier to the apex of the right-hander (Turn Six), thus shortening the corner.  All this in a flash of a second – but easy to see from the elevated vantage points both on the inside and outside of the corners.  Best through this section? Kimi, by a car’s width or two, although Lewis never really looked as though he was on the absolute limit.
  • Then it rained.  For the second race in a row, plaudits must go to Sauber’s new signing, Esteban Gutierrez, who looked very relaxed and supple in the semi-wet. There was about a five minute period of reasonable consistency, weather-wise, in FP2, and Gutierrez for this little cameo was right up there with Romain Grosjean, Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso.   He was fastest, indeed, on my stopwatch. Romain had a big moment at the aforementioned high-speed esses but – unlike Melbourne – Esteban kept it all nicely on the island.  Sauber didn’t have the greatest of days in the dry (fire extinguisher and cracked exhaust issues) so this should have cheered them at least for ten minutes or so.  Also impressive in the wet (as in Melbourne) was STR’s Jean-Eric Vergne.  Unlike Kimi (who should know better) JEV also kept his car nicely to the right-hand side of the finishing straight all day whilst accelerating through the gears.  Kimi, for some strange reason, was running diagonally across the straight over to his braking point for Turn One.
  • It was good to see Daniel Riccardo juggling a trio of tennis balls as he walked to his garage this morning.  I’m sure most F1 drivers are able to juggle if they put their minds to it, but it’s not often you actually see the skill in motion in the F1 paddock.  Ross Cheever, the mega-quick American, was also a serious juggler and we know that both Lewis and Nico are mono-cyclists of some repute.  Then there’s Kimi.  I’ve seen him balancing a motionless mountain bike for well over a couple of minutes.  Again, I’m sure he’s not alone.  Why don’t we organize some sort of “circus” day for the F1 stars?  It’s one thing to see them plying their skills at 280kph.  It would be quite another to seem them displaying their co-ordination, balance, timing and eyesight in ways that we can all understand.
  • I may be wrong, but I suspect – I say I suspect – that still nothing has formerly been done about the pre-race national anthems.  Certainly it looked to be the usual shambles in Melbourne.  The AGP Corporation, like all organizing bodies, went to great lengths to execute the anthem with a local singing star and with suitable respect for their country – “Please be upstanding for the National Anthem of Australia”, said the circuit PA – but the F1 world, from what I could see, just went on about its business on the starting grid, sucking drink bottles, looking at watches (sorry, “timepieces”), checking tyre warmers, downloading data and generally milling around.  There was no observance whatsoever, in other words, of the local national anthem.  Can it be that hard for the F1 industry to set itself a new standard of behaviour?  We can’t expect the drivers to stand to attention – or even sit to attention if they’re already in their car – but why isn’t it de rigour for each team to nominate a representative to stand to attention at the front of the grid whilst the anthem is played?  Is the opening anthem any less important than the post-race podium anthems?  Pre-race, the TV cameras could pan along the row of uniforms, rugby-style, and commentators could stay quiet for a minute whilst the anthem is respected.  It would be a poignant, respectful moment.  A moment that at present we don’t have.  And that, I think, is wrong.

Anyway, time for dinner.  I’m staying at an amazing hotel called the Golden Palm Tree.  Our cottage is on stilts;  the water shimmers beneath us; and the circuit is but a 40-min adventurous ride away in a battle-scarred Proton. This weekend the locals are due to set fire to elaborate paper decorations they’ve been keeping specially for the occasion.  Should add nicely to the general heat and haze.    As I say, I love Sepang.S2360003

Willem Toet at the RAeS – an F1 aerodynamicist’s journey

F1 Testing Barcelona 1 - Day 3Willem Toet, Sauber’s Head of Aerodynamics, has worked wonders with the sidepods of the new C32-Ferrari – which in some ways is no surprise: at Hinwil, Switzerland, he has created one of the best wind tunnels in F1.  A regular guest on my weekly show, Willem has never been shy about his chosen profession – or about his love for his chosen profession.  When Willem was therefore approached last year by the Royal Aeronautical Society about giving their prestigious Lanchester lecture  (named after Frederick Lanchester, arguably Britain’s first great aerodynamicist), he readily agreed.  It’s not often that we have the opportunity to hear pre-eminent F1 engineers talking freely about their work, so here, with the kind approval of the RAeS, is a link to the downloadable podcast of Willem’s lecture:

One new F1 car after another…

All the teams (bar Williams) launched their 2013 F1 cars prior to this week’s first test at Jerez.  Here, courtesy of the ever-concise Craig Scarborough, are some additional, brief thumbnails:


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