Why every world championship point is golden...
The Swiss team's technical director on their best result of the year in Spain, the benefits coming from their recently-opened wind tunnel facility, their prospects for the remainder of 2004 (and beyond) and how he rates Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa.
Q: How do you rate your seventh place at Barcelona?
Willy Rampf: This classification gives all of us a great deal of satisfaction, as it has become very difficult to score Championship points. On the one hand, there are seven works teams, and all of them are making enormous efforts, because they've got to win races. On the other, the reliability of the top teams has improved significantly. We're hardly seeing any more cars retiring due to technical failures. So, each point is literally worth its weight in gold.
Q: As far as you're concerned, what was the most positive aspect about this Grand Prix?
WR: I really wouldn't want to single out anything in particular. For one, in terms of the car's performance, we already took a major step forward at Imola, and for the other, at Barcelona, our two-stop strategy worked out perfectly as well. The consistent performance of the Bridgestone tyres helped, too. And, last but not least, both of our drivers did a super job. Their performance throughout the race was both aggressive and consistent.
Q: Sauber now have three points, with Toyota and Jaguar lying in wait behind you, while, in front, McLaren seem to be within reach as well. Are you aiming to secure your sixth place, or are you now even going to attack McLaren?
WR: We continue to see Jaguar and Toyota as our direct rivals for this season - this has not changed in any way. In sport, however, you always have to focus on who's ahead of you, and that's why we're currently focussing on McLaren as well. Nevertheless, I expect that McLaren-Mercedes' pluses in budget, manpower and technical resources will be making a difference during the course of the season.
Q: Barcelona, so far, had been anything but one of Sauber's favourite circuits.
What's the reason for this clearly improved performance?
WR: There are several factors involved in this. For one, the interaction between our two new drivers and the race engineers is getting more and more efficient and, for the other, Bridgestone have made major strides as well. The biggest advance, by a long shot, though, we've achieved in the field of aerodynamics. Before the race at Imola, we were able to clearly improve downforce and aerodynamic efficiency, and for Barcelona we achieved another small improvement.
Q: Are these the first fruits from the new wind tunnel?
WR: Yes, absolutely. With each week we're working in the new tunnel, we're gaining new insights. In terms of dimensions and speed, we actually ventured out onto new terrain. In other words, we had no experience factors to draw on. This wind tunnel is a highly complex tool, and it takes time until you can use it perfectly. Above all, the importance of being able to measure a full-size car has become clearly evident. Nevertheless, CFD development, as well, which we're performing hand in hand with our wind tunnel work, plays a role that shouldn't be underestimated.
Q: Does this mean that Sauber can be expected to attack the front runners in the near future?
WR: No, we still have quite a way to go until this happens. And, what's more, one shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that advances in the wind tunnel could happen overnight. All of this takes time, but I'm absolutely convinced that we're able to improve in the midterm.
Q: What does this mean concretely?
WR: This means that we'll be able to achieve some tangible progress this year, but that the effects of the wind tunnel will only truly show with the C24.
Q: Where do you see the greatest short-term improvement potential for the C23?
WR: Our major weakness, no doubt, is Qualifying. It's difficult for us to drive a very fast lap. The Bridgestone tyres showed very good consistency in the race at Barcelona, but in the first fast lap, which is so important for the grid position, we're having difficulties compared to the Michelin teams. That's why, in the end, we opted for a conservative Qualifying approach with heavy fuel load and a two-stop strategy at Barcelona.
Q: How can this problem be solved?
WR: Bridgestone know our requirements and are working on them. Our tyre partner has made major progress particularly in terms of consistency as well as resistance to high track temperatures. Now, they're working on further improving tyre performance with regard to a fast lap as well.
Q: From a technical perspective, how satisfied are you with your two drivers?
WR: Giancarlo is delivering exactly the kind of performance we expected of him.
He's been in Formula One since 1996 and, of course, has lots of experience. He's shown that last weekend, to be sure. Felipe has greatly benefited from his year as a Ferrari test driver. Since he drove for us in 2002, he's made major strides in the technical arena. His feedback is very detailed, and he's making personal suggestions on how to improve the car. What's more, his performance in the race has become a lot more consistent. After all, he's always been quick.