Q&A with Super Aguris technical director Mark Preston 13 Jul 2007
Super Aguri driver Takuma Sato stunned the field in Melbourne by making it into the top-ten qualifying shootout, then, at Mays Spanish Grand Prix, Sato went one better and brought his car home in eighth place to score the Japanese teams very first world championship points. Technical director Mark Preston reviews the teams season so far
Q: Mark, at the start of the 2007 season you stated your goals for the year. Have you achieved them yet?
Mark Preston: Almost all of them. Pre-season I had three goals for the team - firstly to get through to Q2 in qualifying for the first time, secondly to score the teams first point and finally to finish in the Top 10 of the constructors championship. What has actually happened is far beyond what we could have imagined a year and a half ago. In Melbourne, not only did we get through to Q2, but one of the cars reached the final session in qualifying! Our first point came in Barcelona with Takuma (Sato); it was a memorable event as the team could then say that it had officially joined the ranks of Formula One. A point signifies quite a lot and put us well and truly in the record books.
Q: And your third goal - what chance do you have of achieving that?
MP: Obviously the four points we now have will stand us in good stead for achieving the third goal; however France showed us how incredibly competitive F1 has become. When you think that there was a rule that disallowed cars that were slower that 107 percent two years ago, and in France most of the grid was covered by 102 percent; it has certainly tightened up!
Q: So do you have any new goals?
MP: With two out of three already achieved, the last one is probably the most difficult. We need to maintain our current level of competitiveness by adding more performance to the car. But, a simple goal that could be added to our list would be to maintain our current position in the championship. Now that will certainly be a challenge!
Q: Is that possible?
MP: It has become fairly obvious to us that unless you start in the Q2 section of the grid, in a position between eleven and fourteen to be exact, there is not much chance of scoring points unless there is an act of God! However, from this position on the grid a number of teams have proved that it is possible. The top teams do make it difficult to score points though due to their reliability.
Part of that process is working with Anthony (Davidson) to achieve a more consistent qualifying position. He has the speed to get through into Q2 and various mistakes made on both sides of the pit wall have meant that we have not delivered every time. This is an important focus.
Q: Why do you think that Super Aguri has been able to step up so quickly?
MP: The original group of engineers and managers that formed the team were very experienced. This combined with a highly motivated team that is keen to learn and develop has made it relatively easy! The experience of our team is very important as is the specialisation of the group members. We have been able to add a number of specialists to the race team to optimise further our race weekend package.
Q: But how does such a small team compete in the pinnacle of motorsport?
MP: Resource is obviously another important factor. Being small, people often ask how do you get more resource? Leverage is the answer. We work hard on our technical partnerships so that they deliver more than just the components that they supply. For example, our close working relationship with Honda in Japan affords us access to a vast array of experience and expertise. If we have a problem with materials we can ask a number of experts at Honda for ideas, effectively multiplying our materials workforce and expertise, but in an order of magnitude! This carries over into a number of areas. Another example is our use of the Honda gearbox which reduces our requirements for personnel and testing resource considerably.
Being smaller means that we are also more flexible and are still evolving our working practices and structures. A simple example was our communications at the race track. We were finding it difficult with our radio systems to communicate with the driver and the race engineering group, so in Barcelona all the engineers left the pitwall and sat in the cool, calm quiet of the office in the truck. The improved communication that resulted was instrumental in achieving our first championship point.
Q: You mentioned Anthony Davidson earlier, how do you think he is progressing?
MP: Obviously it has been a big step going from testing to racing; we saw this last year with Franck Montagny when he joined our team. He is fitting in with the team well, which takes time as the majority of us have been working together for a year. There are also a couple of special projects that he is working on to become more involved, such as our simulator project.
Q: Can you tell us more about the simulator project?
MP: This is only a pilot project at the moment and Anthony is working with the engineers to understand what areas of a simulator are useful and to develop our understanding of the pros and cons of such a system.
Q: How important do you think a simulator will be in the future?
MP: With testing being limited more in the future, a simulator becomes more and more important. But it is only a pilot programme at the moment. Basically Anthony is experimenting with the types of things that it may be useful and giving us feedback as to whether he thinks it is accurate enough to deliver useful data in the future. Interestingly, Fuji could be a good place to prepare for using a simulator this year with not many of the drivers having raced there.
Q: What other developments do you have coming up?
MP: As we showed last year, we will try and match the rate of development of the teams we are racing by bringing a multitude of aero devices. After the upgrade to the new Honda gearbox we were able to bring a new floor that optimizes the packaging advantages it provides. There will be the normal wing packages for Monza and a small high downforce upgrade for Hungary.
Q: Do you have anything special for the European Grand Prix, the next round of the 2007 Formula One World Championship at the Nurburgring next week?
MP: As I said before, we will concentrate on getting through to Q2 as this gives us the best chance to score more points, or at least race with our direct competitors in order to maintain our position in the championship.