Sam Michael Q&A: 2010 aim to re-establish Williams as top team 10 Nov 2009
Seventh in the championship, with two fourth-place finishes and a haul of 34.5 points, is not a bad season, but when 2009 got underway Williams had hoped for so much more. 2010, however, will usher in a fresh era for the British stalwarts, with a new race line-up in Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg, and Cosworth replacing Toyota as their engine supplier. For technical director Sam Michael its an exciting time
Q: Thinking about 2009, what are your overall thoughts about the teams season?
Sam Michael: 2009 was a good step forward from where weve been in previous seasons, particularly from an aerodynamic perspective and in terms of consistency of the car across different tracks. It was a very competitive season this year with only a second covering the field at some races, so it was also satisfying when we were getting an extra one or two tenths out the car at those tracks. Overall, this year was a good step forward, but we didnt end it where we wanted to be.
Q: What were the highs and lows?
SM: I think the high points in terms of performance were when Nico (Rosberg) was leading in Malaysia before the rain came and then Singapore before the white line incident. The cars much stronger performance at Silverstone also upped our credibility as well.
Q: And how do you feel Nico and Kazuki Nakajima performed?
SM: Nicos done a great job for the team and scored all of our points this year. Hes come a long way as a driver since he joined us four years ago and we wish him all the best. Kazuki certainly improved as a driver this year and did a lot of work setting up the car over race weekends. If anything, he drove better this year than last. In 2008 he was scoring points, but in a car that wasnt as competitive. The difference was that this year the field was so tight and therefore the grid so penalising. If you were a couple of tenths off, you just didnt cut it.
Q: The teams three year partnership with Toyota has come to an end with the move to Cosworth. How were Toyota as an engine partner?
SM: Our relationship with Toyota was excellent. They did some great development work for us and they always went the extra mile. We have only good memories of our time with them. Its a loss for the sport that they have withdrawn, and we wish all the staff at Cologne well for the future.
Q: There were significant changes to the regulations for 2009 with the express purpose of improving the racing. Do you think they worked?
SM: I think that clearly the changes made the cars easier to follow, however, theres a lot of work that still needs to be done. One of the things that wasnt addressed in the 2009 rule changes was circuit design. If you look at tracks like Barcelona where no one overtakes and take exactly the same cars to tracks like Monza, Hockenheim etc, theres plenty of overtaking. The difference is circuit layout. Organisers need to look closer at creating slower speed corners which feed onto straights and at removing chicanes. If you look at somewhere like Abu Dhabi, there are some good aspects to the circuit, but there are fundamental mistakes. There wasnt good enough racing there and the organisers need to rectify that before next year. You cant keep blaming car design. The FIA are looking into this now and will hopefully solve the problem.
Q: Can you take us through the regulation changes for next season?
SM: There will be three main changes: narrower front tyres, no refuelling and a ban on wheel fairings. Narrower front tyres will shift weight distribution rearwards slightly, which will affect the aerodynamics and set-up of the car because of where the tyres position the wake. With no refuelling permitted, all the fuel will have to be carried at the start of the race, so the driver will have to manage brakes and tyres more effectively than theyve ever done. A ban on wheel fairings should also improve the wake behind the car, so drivers can get closer to each other. That should help to improve overtaking opportunities.
Q: Looking ahead to 2010, its all change at Williams, firstly with a completely new driver pairing. Can you explain the choice of Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg?
SM: We chose Rubens because he is a multiple Grand Prix winner and has a huge amount of experience; he also still has a huge amount of enthusiasm to win races. Hes quick and is the complete package. Were combining Rubens with Nico Hulkenberg, a rookie, but one whos won everything hes competed in since he started karting. Nico has great potential for the future. Combining youth with experience, we have what we wanted.
Q: What can each bring to the team and what are your expectations for them?
SM: We expect both of them to deliver at the level of the car and beyond. Rubens is already having a motivating effect and we expect him to keep bringing that to everyone at Grove. Nico has worked on the factory floor all year, so everyone knows him and is behind him. We want them both to drive the factory towards wins. Unless youve worked with a race winner, you dont know where that level is and that is something that Rubens will bring us which we anticipate will have a great effect on the team.
Q: The team is switching to Cosworth engines next year. Will they be able to compete against the likes of the Mercedes and Ferraris?
SM: Cosworth have a lot of work to do over the winter on the dynos, particularly on fuel consumption but, in terms of performance and reliability, it will be difficult to judge how competitive they are until we get out on track. They are an engineering-led company, theyre pushing hard and what weve seen so far is encouraging.
Q: How is winter development of the FW32 going?
SM: Its going really well. Its a big aero race over the winter to see how much downforce you can add and drag you can take off. Its also a matter of optimising all the different design parts and mechanical development as well. Both are areas of intense activity at the moment and were making good progress, but theres still a lot to do.
Q: When will the FW32 make its track debut?
SM: In the first week of February with the four, single car tests ahead of Bahrain.
Q: There is a young driver test coming up in December, who will the team have in the cockpit?
SM: We will be running Andy Soucek on day one as part of his prize for winning the F2 Championship and then Nico Hulkenberg will take over for the remaining two days.
Q: What are the teams ultimate objectives for 2010 and how will we achieve them?
SM: Our objective is to push everything to a much higher level from the solid base that we had with the FW31; from our drivers to the engines, chassis and trackside performance. Everyone in the factory is up for that and we want it to be a year about moving to the next level. We need to re-establish ourselves as one of the top teams and 2010 is our best opportunity to do that.