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Sam Michael Q&A: Williams are quicker than sixth 15 Jun 2009

Williams technical director Sam Michael Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW31.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 8 May 2009 Sam Michael (AUS) Williams Technical Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Turkish Grand Prix, Preparations, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Thursday, 4 June 2009 Kazuki Nakajima (JPN) Williams FW31.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 8 May 2009 Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW31.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 24 April 2009

In the hands of Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima, the Williams FW31 has shown some stunning pace this season - pace that Sam Michael feels is not reflected in the team's championship standing. The Williams technical director talks about their 2009 performance to date, their ongoing development of both mechanical and electrical KERS systems, and their prospects for their home race, this coming weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone…

Q: Are you pleased with how the FW31 has performed at recent races?
Sam Michael:
Our performance as a team is measured by our position in the constructors’ championship. We’re lying in sixth at the moment but I don’t think the FW31 is the sixth fastest car; I think we’re faster than that, as we’ve proved many times in qualifying and with the positions the drivers have run in during the race. If we look at our gaps to the fastest times in qualifying, we were 0.4s off in Melbourne, 0.6s off in Malaysia, Shanghai and Bahrain, 0.3s off in Barcelona and, in Monaco, the gap was down to zero. We didn’t run at the end of Q2 in Monte Carlo but, when we were on track, we were setting the quickest times. In Turkey, the gap reverted back to 0.4s, so we’re gradually getting closer to the front.

Q: How has Williams fared in terms of reliability?
Our reliability has been good. We had an issue with Kazuki’s car in Shanghai when a flat tyre caused a large amount of wheel slip and the differential failed as a result. We also had a problem with Kazuki’s engine in Bahrain but, apart from that, it’s been pretty good.

Q: How much of an advantage is the Kinetic Energy Recovery System?
At faster tracks, such as Silverstone, the car needs the right weight distribution through the quick corners. If by running KERS you hurt the tyres too much through these corners, you’ll lose out in the race, so the best track for KERS so far has probably been Monaco. We’re still pushing as hard as we can to get our KERS onto the FW31. We’re developing both the flywheel and the battery systems, but we’ve put more effort into the flywheel programme over the last 18 months and we’re making progress on reliability every week. We want to race it as soon as possible, but we’re not going to put it on the car until it’s fully reliable.

Q: How have Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima performed in the opening European rounds?
Most drivers improve year-on-year, whether they’re a rookie or a World Champion, and our drivers are no different. Turkey marked Nico’s 60th Grand Prix so he now has a considerable amount of experience to fall back on and he’s doing a good job. Kazuki is closer to Nico this year and he’s been unlucky to miss out on several Q3 opportunities by the narrowest of margins. He’s definitely improved since last year, but the field is much tighter now which means that even the smallest performance differential equates to a significant difference on the grid.

Q: Has the political situation distracted you from your job in any way?
In terms of my technical job, not at all. We spent a bit of time looking at the two tier regulations, but not a lot. We try not to spend too much time thinking about politics at Williams F1 because our focus is making racing cars.

Q: Do you expect to be competitive at Silverstone, the team’s home race?
We’re looking forward to the British GP. The whole of sector one at Silverstone is dominated by high speed corners and it’s a very quick track. The FW31 is a big improvement over last year’s car and now performs well in high speed corners so we should be more competitive there than last year. We’ll also be introducing some more improvements to the car, so hopefully we’ll have a good race.