Post-Abu Dhabi Q&A with Williams' Rod Nelson 04 Nov 2009
For Williams the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a disappointing finale to a successful season. The British team scored more points this year (34.5) than they have since 2005, but their ninth and 13th place finishes for outgoing drivers Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima at Yas Marina were far from representative of the FW31s pace over the course of 2009. Rod Nelson, chief operations engineer, discusses what went wrong in Abu Dhabi and looks ahead to the winter break and 2010
Q: How much of a technical challenge was the new Yas Marina Circuit?
Rod Nelson: Yas Marina has the layout of a street circuit, at least in Sector Three, but the surface of a dedicated track, unlike its fellow street circuits, Monaco and Singapore. This means that you can run a relatively stiff set-up to optimise aero efficiency, as you would on a typical road course. While the tight and twisty nature of Sector Three suggests a maximum downforce set-up, it must be tempered to accommodate the relatively long straights in the first two sectors.
Q: How dusty was the asphalt and how much did it rubber-in during the weekend?
RN: Because the circuit is effectively in the desert it was covered in a very fine dust for the start of practice on Friday. Conditions were also fairly windy due to its proximity to the sea so, although the circuit cleaned up during running, much of the dust settled back on track overnight. That left us with relatively low grip levels again for the start of P3 on Saturday morning. We definitely saw an improvement on Sunday with the drivers remarking that they preferred driving the track with the heightened grip levels felt towards the end of the race.
Q: Did you expect the FW31 to be more competitive?
RN: With a more normal street track we might have expected the FW31 to be more competitive, as we were in Monaco, Valencia and Singapore. We were, however, still hopeful of a fourth row grid slot in qualifying, but we lost a couple of tenths on the final lap of Q3 which put us down the order for the race.
Q: Most cars struggled on the option tyre. Was that the case with the FW31 and, if so, why?
RN: The option tyre was particularly sensitive to the dusty conditions while the prime was more stable. The option improved somewhat during the race as the circuit rubbered in though.
Q: Did the heat cause any technical issues for the team?
RN: The absolute temperature didn't cause any issues. However, because qualifying and the race were held in twilight conditions, track temperature dropped throughout both sessions. This affected tyre warm-up and car balance so we had to account for that with car set-up and tyre pressures.
Q: Was eighth place ever on the cards for Nico?
RN: The best chance for points would have been with an early overtaking manoeuvre in the first couple of laps. Strategically, there was not much more that we could have achieved.
Q: Please sum up the 2009 season for Williams
RN: Although the car was competitive at the start of the year, we had some difficult races with accidents in Melbourne and poor weather in Malaysia and Shanghai. The middle of the season saw consistent performances, with eight points-scoring races in succession. The consistency faltered somewhat with a poor performance at Monzas low downforce Autodromo, followed by a pit-lane penalty at Singapore which robbed us of a good podium finish. We were once again looking likely for a podium finish at Brazil had it not have been for the gearbox failure, and we finished just out of the points at Abu Dhabi meaning we were unable to defend our position in the constructors championship.
Q: What plans does the team have for the winter months? Which young drivers will you test and when can we expect to see the new FW32?
RN: The design, development and manufacture process of the new car is well under way now so the entire factory is flat out. We have the three day young driver test that the FIA allows us in December during which we will be testing Andy Soucek following his victory of the inaugural Formula Two championship, together with our new race driver, Nico Hulkenberg. The FW32 will be ready to run at the start of the February testing period.