BMW Sauber: Qualifying pace our Achilles' heel 30 Jun 2010
One of the European Grand Prixs most astonishing performances came courtesy of BMW Saubers Kamui Kobayashi. Kobayashi may have qualified a lowly 18th, but a strategic masterstroke combined with the C29s consistent race pace to gift him seventh place and his team their second haul of points of the season.
After qualifying went so poorly, the team gambled on starting Kobayashi on the harder Bridgestone tyre. So when the majority pitted, he was able stay out and climb as high as third. With the car performing well enough to keep the McLaren of Jenson Button behind, he stayed put until his very late pit stop. He came out in ninth, but was soon flying on the soft rubber, passing Ferraris Fernando Alonso and Toro Rossos Sebastien Buemi on his way to seventh.
Whilst team boss Peter Sauber was in awe of his drivers achievement, he has returned to the teams Hinwil factory convinced they need to improve their qualifying pace if they are to score more points over the coming races.
Signing a rookie is always something of a risk; on Sunday Kamui delivered confirmation that we made the right decision, said Sauber. These kinds of lap times are only possible if both the driver and the car are quick; there's no other way. The C29 has a huge amount of potential, but it doesn't make it easy for our engineers and drivers to fully exploit this potential every time. When I compare our qualifying performance in Valencia with the lap times in the race, I can't work it out.
The teams new technical director James Key is also determined to investigate why the C29 is so much stronger - and easier to drive - on a race Sunday than it is during qualifying.
The race showed that the car works when it's in the right conditions, but the question we have and we had for several of the last races is why the car is more competitive in race conditions than qualifying, Key explained. The drivers report that the car is easier to drive in the race, and tyre degradation wasn't a problem either, so we weren't particularly hard on the tyres.
We need to look into the data, now that both drivers delivered a competitive race after a qualifying that was not up to our expectations. We need to pin down the differences in how the car is feeling and handling and see how we can apply that to qualifying.
Kobayashi himself agreed the team must improve the cars qualifying pace if they are to score more points, and offered his own analysis of why the car seemed to work better during the race.
It's very clear that our weakness lies in qualifying, he concluded. If we can secure a better position on the grid for the races, we'll be able to score points more often. In Valencia, especially, there was a pretty big difference in track conditions between qualifying and the race. In the race, the asphalt offered a lot more grip, and that helped us. The track became more and more grippy and, at the same time, braking stability and traction improved as the car got lighter.
All three are hopeful that Silverstones mix of medium and high-speed corners should suit the C29 better than the Valencia circuit. The British Grand Prix weekend will get underway at the track from July 9.