Williams technical director Sam Michael has been looking back on the 15 days of pre-season testing that concluded for the Oxfordshire-based team on Saturday – a period that was affected by some reliability problems, including notable issues with KERS.
“We had a few reliability problems during winter testing but none of the problems we had were major, except perhaps those on KERS that have now been addressed,” said Michael. “Some small faults caused some downtime, but that is the result of having such tightly integrated systems on F1 cars now.
“Encouragingly, we haven't had any issues with the new conceptual areas that we pushed the boundaries on, like the driveshafts. We have successfully completed 4969.2 kilometres during winter testing.”
Those KERS problems hampered the team throughout the test sessions, most notably in Barcelona on Wednesday, where Pastor Maldonado completed just 29 laps after the KERS had to be disabled. “We had a problem with the inverter, which is located between the battery and the Motor Generator Unit (MGU),” explained Michael. “The main problem was that when we had a failure the inverter didn't isolate effectively. We have therefore put in place design changes to give that isolation, and avoid the fault happening again. We have a full solution to allow us to race KERS in Melbourne.”
No team will be drawn on their performance levels before the season gets underway, but Sam Michael does seem confident that the field will be better matched than last season, adding that the new FW33 is fundamentally a good car.
“The teams are closer now as a result of the new regulations, which is what they were designed to do,” he said. “There are a lot of cars within half a second of each other which means if you bring two or three tenths, either from an aero upgrade or some other mechanical component, it could make a significant difference this year. The FW33 has been a good car from the beginning, but in terms of performance we will have to wait until the racing to really see where it stands.”
Turning to the new regulations, the Williams technical director thinks that the most significant of these – the driver-adjustable rear-wings – will have a big effect on car performance, and he is optimistic that it will actually do what it is designed for: improve overtaking chances.
“In qualifying it will be worth about half a second per lap,” said Michael. “During the race, I think it should achieve what it is supposed to, but it may take two or three races for the FIA to fine tune the usage of the system. It should not get to the point where a driver can just drive past another car with ease, but rather it should be a device that gives just a bit more to an already ambitious overtaking attempt.”
Another significant difference for 2011 is the switch from Bridgestone tyres to Pirelli rubber. A lot of time has been spent collecting data on the various compounds, and teams are still finding it difficult to predict how they will perform in racing conditions.
“Degradation was high in the initial tests but in the latest test it started to improve,” said Michael. “This is probably because we've increased the downforce on the car and Pirelli have worked on compound changes. I think it will change again when we go to the hotter races because in testing it is relatively cool compared to some of the races.
“Pirelli have done a good job in the short amount of time they have had and they will keep getting stronger and stronger. In the first two or three races there may be one extra pitstop compared to normal, but I think that will stabilise fairly quickly.”
Williams were very happy with the contribution from Rubens Barrichello last season as the Brazilian used his unrivaled F1 experience to help develop the FW32. Michael said that he has continued to give valuable input over the pre-season period for the FW33.
“Rubens is always reserved with his critique of the car, he never gets excited because he wants us to keep pushing, but he knows how to balance that with motivating the team,” commented Michael. “With the FW33 he has been instrumental to our set-up direction and helps us to understand where we need to improve. He is happy with the directions we are taking, and we've also fixed a few small things like vibrations that were distracting for him and the team last year. Getting on top of those small things helps us concentrate on the big picture.”
The team welcome Pastor Maldonado to their driver line-up this year, with the current GP2 champion replacing the highly-rated Nico Hulkenberg. Sam Michael praised the Venezuelan for his testing performance, and described him in two words:
“Both determined and talented,” he said. “Of course it is early days, but he shows a good level of maturity when dealing with the people around him. He is also good at articulating what the car is doing. Xevi Pujolar and Andrew Murdoch have worked well with Pastor over the winter and those relationships with his engineers will pay dividends when we go racing.”
Maldonado has had his track time cut short on a few occasions over the winter testing period owing to some reliability issues. However, Michael still thinks his new driver will do well once the season gets underway.
“You will never really be ready as a rookie, but you just need to get out there and do it,” he said. “Pastor is talented, so what I want to see now is how he deals with the pressures of a race weekend, especially qualifying. He hasn't had as much running as I would have liked him to, but he is someone who we'll support and give space to. His testing performance in the wet was definitely impressive.”
And finally, Michael is asked if the team is prepared for the first race in Australia. “Definitely,” he replied unequivocally. “We would have been ready for Bahrain as well, that is the nature of Formula One. We are always ready for whatever we need to be ready for. It will be good to get the season underway now as it feels slightly strange not to be racing already at this time of the year.”