Williams Chief Operations Engineer Rod Nelson talks about Yas Marina, the FW31, the 2009 season and the FW32.
Q: How much of a technical challenge was the new Yas Marina Circuit?
RN: Yas Marina has the layout of a street circuit, at least in sector 3, but the surface of a dedicated track, unlike its fellow street circuits, Monaco and Singapore. This means that you can run a relatively stiff set-up to optimise aero efficiency, as you would on a typical road course. While the tight and twisty nature of sector 3 suggests a maximum downforce set-up, it must be tempered to accommodate the relatively long straights in the first two sectors.
Q: How dusty was the asphalt and how much did it rubber-in during the weekend?
RN: Because the circuit is effectively in the desert it was covered in a very fine dust for the start of practice on Friday. Conditions were also fairly windy due to its proximity to the sea so, although the circuit cleaned up during running, much of the dust settled back on track overnight. That left us with relatively low grip levels again for the start of P3 on Saturday morning. We definitely saw an improvement on Sunday with the drivers remarking that they preferred driving the track with the heightened grip levels felt towards the end of the race.
Q: Did you expect the FW31 to be more competitive?
RN: With a more “normal” street track we might have expected the FW31 to be more competitive, as we were in Monaco, Valencia and Singapore. We were, however, still hopeful of a fourth row grid slot in qualifying, but we lost a couple of tenths on the final lap of Q3 which put us down the order for the race.
Q: Most cars struggled on the option tyre. Was that the case with the FW31 and, if so, why?
RN: The option tyre was particularly sensitive to the dusty conditions while the prime was more stable. The option improved somewhat during the race as the circuit rubbered in though.
Q: Did the heat cause any technical issues for the team?
RN: The absolute temperature didn’t cause any issues. However, because qualifying and the race were held in twilight conditions, track temperature dropped throughout both sessions. This affected tyre warm-up and car balance so we had to account for that with car set-up and tyre pressures.
Q: Was eighth place ever on the cards for Nico?
RN: The best chance for points would have been with an early overtaking manoeuvre in the first couple of laps. Strategically, there was not much more that we could have achieved.
Q: Please sum up the 2009 season for AT&T Williamsâ€¦
RN: Although the car was competitive at the start of the year, we had some difficult races with accidents in Melbourne and poor weather in Malaysia and Shanghai. The middle of the season saw consistent performances, with eight points-scoring races in succession. The consistency faltered somewhat with a poor performance at Monza's low downforce Autodromo, followed by a pitlane penalty at Singapore which robbed us of a good podium finish. We were once again looking likely for a podium finish at Brazil had it not have been for the gearbox failure, and we finished just out of the points at Abu Dhabi meaning we were unable to defend our position in the Constructors' Championship.
Q: What plans does the team have for the winter months? Which young drivers will you test
and when can we expect to see the new FW32?
RN: The design, development and manufacture process of the new car is well under way now so the entire factory is flat out. We have the three day young driver test that the FIA allows us in December during which we will be testing Andy Soucek following his victory of the inaugural F2 Championship, together with our new race driver, Nico Hulkenberg. The FW32 will be ready to run at the start of the February testing period.