Exclusive interview - BMW Saubers Willy Rampf 20 Feb 2008
With several new regulations to contend with, the launch of the F1.08 car in early January and a rigorous programme of testing, BMW Saubers technical director Willy Rampf has been kept very busy of late. In one of his short breaks, however, he found time to talk exclusively to Formula1.com about the German-Swiss squads progress and their prospects for 2008
Q: Its no secret that the F1.08 hasnt performed as well as you would have liked over the winter, with balance reportedly the main problem. Have you pinned the troubles on one specific area, or are the cars issues more widespread?
Willy Rampf: We have thoroughly analysed all the data from the first tests and we identified several areas where we can improve. Its not a single part, its the interaction of the different areas that we need to look at. There is no doubt that the F1.08 is considerably quicker that the F1.07, but it is more difficult to exploit its full potential at any given time and condition. We still need a better understanding of the car, and we are learning every day. However, I have no doubt that we are getting there.
Q: The team have understandably been hard at work improving the car. What parts have been introduced and what gains do you believe have been made?
WR: Since the launch of the car we have worked on all areas: suspension, mechanics and aerodynamics. As usual, most of the modifications were aero parts like the side-pod wing, the nose wing and numerous small modifications to the body work.
Q: The new stag-like nose fins have been the most visible changes to the F1.08 since its launch. Why were these added to the car and what benefits have they brought to its driveability?
WR: The nose wing may look quite spectacular, but actually its just one of several deflectors that help to control the airflow and by doing this improve the overall efficiency of the car.
Q: You described the new car as a radical evolution at its launch - what areas of the F1.07 did you want to keep and what parts did you want to improve?
WR: The F1.07 was a good car, therefore there was no need for a revolutionary approach. The F1.08 is based on a very similar basic concept as its predecessor with regard to wheelbase and weight distribution. However, in order to make a step forward our engineers pushed it to the limit in many different areas like aerodynamics, suspension, cooling, brakes, steering feedback and others.
Q: With hindsight, do you wish youd been less radical with your approach?
WR: No, this approach is the only option if you want to close the gap to the frontrunners. You dont get to the top just by being conservative. The benchmark in Formula One is on a level that forces you to take calculated risks. And thats exactly what we did. For us as a team its a new experience to work on such a level and we are going through a learning process which will make us even more competitive.
Q: Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica have both said they like driving without electronic aids, but are the 2008 rule changes still giving you any trouble from a technical perspective, in particular the standardised ECU?
WR: We have invested an incredible amount of time and a lot of money to adapt our car to the requirements of the SECU. We are now finally getting there in making things work. By the first race in Melbourne we should be able to cope with all requirements, but there will still be a learning process going into the season.
Q: Last season the team suffered just four retirements, but all four were related to gearbox and hydraulics issues. Are you concerned about the new four race gearbox rule or are you confident that these problems have been solved?
WR: The gearbox we are using this year is a completely new design. We analysed the problems we had last year very carefully and made the necessary changes. We are convinced that we understood and solved the problems we had in the past, and so far we are very happy with regard to reliability.
Q: Mario Theissen has said the team is targeting a maiden win this year. Do you believe the F1.08 can be a race-winning car in time for Marchs season opener in Melbourne? If not, when?
WR: Our goal is in fact to close the gap to the frontrunners and win our first race in 2008. This is our ambition not just for one individual race but for the whole season.
Q: You recently signed Christian Klien and Marko Asmer as testers. Given the pretty restrictive testing limits for 2008, how do you plan to utilise them without robbing your race drivers of valuable track time?
WR: From a sheer testing perspective one test driver is definitely enough. However, there are other aspects to be considered. If your reserve driver needs to jump in the car at a race weekend its obviously better to have an experienced driver who knows exactly how to do a race start in a Formula One car, how to approach the first corner and how to do perfect pit stops. Another aspect is developing a young talent to be a potential future Formula One driver. With Christian and Marko we are covering all these fields.
Q: There has been a great deal of discussion lately about cost efficiency in Formula One racing. Budget caps and limits on wind tunnel testing have both been proposed. What would be your preferred route to reducing costs?
WR: I fully support the initiative of the FIA to reduce costs. From an engineers point of view its much more interesting to have a budget cap than very restricted technical regulations. A budget cap leaves you the freedom to set priorities and be creative. You decide yourself where you invest the money available. Efficiency will also play a very important role. This is an area where our team is particularly strong, because in the former Sauber days we had very limited budgets that forced us to be very efficient.
Q: Looking at your rivals for 2008, what developments made by other teams have you found particularly interesting?
WR: The regulations have been stable for quite a long period. As a result, there is no room left for any revolution. The challenge really is to produce the best possible package with best detail solutions in every single area. Ferrari seems to be doing a very good job at that.
Q: Finally, looking ahead to 2009 and the introduction of KERS, can you tell us what form BMW Saubers system is likely to take and what power gains you expect to realise?
WR: We will be using an electrical system, however, we dont talk about the power gains at this point in time.