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Interview with Super Aguri’s Mark Preston 28 Jul 2006

Tim Preston (GBR) Super Aguri F1 Team Chief Technical Officer tells the media about the new Super Aguri F1 SA06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Hockenheim, Germany, 27 July 2006

This weekend will see the first race outing for Super Aguri’s new SA06 car. At a press conference held in Hockenheim on Thursday, chief technical officer, Mark Preston shed some light on the new car’s pre-race performance and discussed the team's chances for the rest of the season...

Q: How did the car perform on its first shake down test in Silverstone last week?
Mark Preston:
We had our first shake down of the SA06 last week and everything went quite well. We ran through a number of issues as you do with any new car and everything was fine. We had a few problems that we were able to sort out overnight and then we continued with the second car on Thursday at Santa Pod where we just checked out a few of the things we'd fixed overnight. We were therefore mainly making adjustments to get the right settings on the car and those sorts of things. On the whole the shakedown went quite well so we're reasonably happy.

Q: Could you please explain about the new car and the changes you've made?
MP:
It is hard to describe because - as you know from when Toyota started etc - it's an ongoing development. This development really has focused on the rear end of the car which has a new quick-shift gearbox from Honda R&D. It seemed to be working quite nicely during our first running last week. Wth the new gearbox comes a lot of integration. You've probably seen that the previous car had a lot of compromises to get the gearbox to match up with the engine, for example. he rear end is now a lot neater; the gearbox is obviously made for the engine, to fit with the hydraulics etc. Added to that, obviously the SA05 had suspension from 2002 and tyres have moved on a long way since then, so the rear suspension needed a lot of attention. We did an amount of analysis at the start of the year and, with running the SA05, we could at least see the areas that we needed to change and we completed a lot of work with Bridgestone and have developed a new rear suspension. Coming with that, integrating the gearbox and the engine together in a more efficient way, we've also saved a lot of weight, so we now have a reasonable amount of ballast on the car, a reduced centre of gravity and all those things that come from the integration of the two areas. This should give the race engineers a bit of room to play with weight distribution which, as you know, is quite important for the tyres nowadays. So there are a number of things that have been modified in that area.

Then moving on you may have seen things like the rear lower main plane on the car - the rear lower wing is very boring on the previous car, but we didn't have time to come up with something interesting, so now we're onto the twin pylon arrangement which has allowed the lower main plane to become much more aerodynamic which has then in turn allowed changes to the floor and changes to the top bodywork. We have done a lot more work on aerodynamics and you can see now the SA06 has new sidepods, new style radiator inlet ducts, we've got new top body, the heat shielding across the gearbox now integrates properly with the engine …so underbody and overbody flow is a lot better because of the changes to the rear end.

Q: What is the downforce gain from the old car to the new car?
MP:
Downforce gain I think is in the realm of 10 percent. I'd have to check my numbers but I think that's right. Other areas - we've got about 20 kilos more ballast so we've got a fair bit of room to play with now where as we were very restricted in the SA05. Moving forward to the front of the car, the monocoque is heavily revised because we're going to have new front suspension, but that’s not available until Turkey. The reason for that is when we started doing work on the front suspension we found not only were we obviously doing gains for the tyres, but we had some aero gains and those aero gains knocked on to some mechanical changes that we had to make and we therefore decided that it was better to wait another race or two to bring the more optimised package. The monocoque is revised such that it can take new front suspension when it arrives for the Turkish Grand Prix. In short, we have achieved weight reduction, optimisation for the tyres and aerodynamic developments all over the car.

Q: Will it be still on a twin keel concept?
MP:
No, it will be a zero keel. The car has been modified so you can do that.

Q: What is your estimation in gaining in actual lap times?
MP:
That's a hard question to answer right now. Obviously I could do all sorts of simulations that could tell you anything from half a second to five seconds depending on what you want to believe, but obviously it's not going to be five seconds! What do I believe? I'd rather wait and see on Friday but we haven't even got the full new package on tomorrow. We'll obviously still be optimising the car, as you saw from the start of the year. We've been analysing our percentage from the front of the grid and looking at our performance over the season and you'll see that over the first eight races we slowly increased our performance relative to the pole. I think that the same thing will start to happen from Friday. We'll obviously be dialing in the car, understanding the aerodynamics, understanding the set-up's, understanding if the wind tunnel is completely correct or if we have to do some adjustments - so I think the time will come in, probably all the way up to Turkey where we get the front suspension. We'll be optimising as we go, so I think that it will be difficult to see what the actual lap time gain is because everybody else is moving forward as well. Renault and Ferrari aren't letting up, so they're obviously moving forward at a fairly impressive rate so any easy lap time comparison will go out the window because everyone else is moving forward so fast. So if I said five seconds, if they've moved forward a second then that will be irrelevant.

Q: After all that work, would a one second gain be fairly disappointing for you?
MP:
We'll have to see. At the last race we made a big gain because we had the right tyre choice, so there's still a lot in optimising the tyres, the temperature. This weekend we will be slightly more conservative on tyre choice because we do not know the SA06 car well yet. We haven't been able to test it properly so that could have an effect as well, so there's a bit of time still to be had out of the car. We shall be working extremely closely with Bridgestone over the weekend to see how everything is going and to see how we might make different tyre choices for Turkey and future races.

Q: When is the third car due?
MP:
The third car is proposed for Turkey, as there has not been enough time to get another SA06 ready by next week. We've brought an SA05 with us as a back-up plan, just in case we have any problems.

Q: The monocoque has been revised for the new front suspension package in the next race. Has the monocoque itself has been revised in terms of weight?
MP:
Yes. We have completed new homologation tests for the FIA and there has been weight reduction and a reduction in the centre of gravity.

Q: And how about the shape of the monocoque itself?
MP:
Aerodynamically there was no need to change the shape.

Q: When did you start with the design work for SA06?
MP:
We've known about the possibility of using this gearbox since last year but we weren't able to utilise it for the SA05, but I suppose you could say that we've been thinking about it since the very start. Obviously we had to see how the new Bridgestone tyres worked, so it took a race to two to understand that and what we needed to optimise them for our sort of set-up regime. We've been working on it, I suppose since we finished the SA05 and it went off to our first race in Bahrain. We could then concentrate on the new car so that was back in March. But a lot of the concepts have been waiting for the new gearbox and now that it is ready, we are able to introduce things we wanted to bring into the team earlier but could not.

Q: Did you have some technical support from Honda?
MP:
Yes, the gearbox is designed by Honda R&D and they have been supporting us in the manufacture. We've had a number of Honda personnel over at the factory working on the suspension with us - Honda R&D in Japan has been great.

Q: What's the plan for next year?
MP:
I cannot tell you that yet! We have still got to get the new suspension on the SA06 and then we'll figure out what to do next year! Make it go faster?! I think that we really have to see how our thoughts on say the rear suspension design, aerodynamics, all works with this new car and see if we're going in the right direction. If we're going in the right direction then we'll continue down that road. If we believe that we haven't, then we'll obviously have to go in a different direction. But a lot will depend on the results from this weekend and what we're building up to for Turkey and so we'll see after that.

Q: Does that mean, for next year, you're going to start with a revised version of this year's car and then you're going to have the new car in the middle of the season?
MP:
No, no, a new car. We're finally ahead of the game. We were behind the 8-ball when we started this season and so we're just struggling to catch up - and I think we're almost caught up now - so we can then go forward and produce a new car.

Q: Did you have to complete the FIA tests for SA06?
MP:
Yes we did. For the monocoque and rear impact obviously because the gearbox is aluminum and brand new. They all went a lot more smoothly than when we did them the first time because we are a lot more organised now I suppose.

Q: How difficult was it to have two cars ready for testing last week?
MP:
Very difficult, as you know I have not been present at the last couple of races. It required me to be back at the factory just to help guide and set the plans down. Obviously I was involved with McLaren when we tried to do it with the 18A and even a big company like that found it difficult to handle, so we had to be very, very careful about our outlook. We said to ourselves ‘you have to go with two cars, don't try and bring a third otherwise you'll make a mistake’. It is better to take the performance gain a little bit later, but not stop the car’s introduction because the gearbox is obviously going to be better, the aerodynamics are obviously going to be better, the weight etc. So we shall keep bringing new parts to the car as fast as we can, like we did for the first few races this season. We now have almost full-time access to the BMT wind tunnel therefore our aero guys have been sending us information through over the last couple of days so I hope that we will be able to do even more than we did in the first races and bring a continuous string of performance changes to the car. Next week in Hungary there'll be upgrades again, so the guys are going to have to work pretty hard next Tuesday and Wednesday to make the changes.

Q: How much work have you done in the tunnel?
MP:
Ten weeks or so, so double the amount of time for the SA05!

Q: How much concern do you have about the reliability of the car after just two days testing?
MP:
Hopefully it should be okay but you can never predict things like that. I don't think I can give a prediction because if I knew the problems I'd prevent them beforehand. We'll have to see and work very hard over the first two free practice sessions and overnight if there are any issues. But because the car is a lot more integrated, I'm a lot happier with the quality. I think if you look at the car you'll see the difference in the quality. You will see that we have not just done work on straight performance gains. We've also done a lot of work on making our internal systems a lot better so the quality of the manufacture of the carbon parts etc and now we've got our own composites facility in-house, we can bring a lot of the work back inside, so I think the game has been upped in all areas and therefore hopefully the reliability.

Q: Have you changed the control system of the gearbox and other areas?
MP:
Well obviously they had to change for the quick shift so the control systems have been a continuous development process. We are finding our feet with the control systems, the code and the electronics, which are supplied by Honda, so we're now getting into more of a routine of being able to say ‘Can we have this changed to the traction control? Can we have this changed to the diff?’ And our processes are working better between the two groups, so we will continue our development on the control systems and hopefully have an even better launch, so we'll see how we go.

Q: Are you confident about how the car will perform in the hot weather races ahead?
MP:
We are continuously receiving information from the wind tunnel on heat control. It is hard to make a judgment like that because we have only tested the SA06 on the Stowe circuit at Silverstone and at Santa Pod, so at fairly low speed. We shall have to see how that translates here at Hockenheim but using previous experience, having the guys sending through info from the tunnel, if there are any adjustments that need to be made, we've got our plans laid out about how we'll handle that situation.

Q: Do you have a testing programme?
MP:
We are going to ramp that up now as well and will finally have a testing programme in place. The first test is in Monza for the Monza race and we shall also run a fourth car at that test. The test team should be up and running soon to operate independently from the race team, which will be another big step forward for us.

Q: Will there be a test engineering department?
MP:
At the moment it will be handled by the race engineering department and we'll look at how we deal with that in the future.

Q: You have experience as an engineer, you are running a reasonably small team with a reasonably small budget and at the same time designing and making a new car! What do you think when you look back over the last few months?
MP:
I've enjoyed every minute of it, even though it's been very hard. I think there's gains to be had as well because we can't waste money on things that don't make the car go faster, so when I am in the design office you will often hear me saying ‘But if it won't make the car go faster, leave it’ or ‘Don't change it unless you can tell me how it can make the car go faster!’ I think that it is hard to get the right balance between coming to the race tracks and staying at the factory. I have to decide whether I am going to come to every race or whether it's every two races and that kind of thing, because even though we have email and phones there is nothing like walking around the factory and physically being present when developments are happening.

Q: What are your objectives, where do you want to be?
MP:
The objective is that we want to be racing with Midland and finish in 10th place in the Championship.