Toyotas Pascal Vasselon on the demands of Singapore 23 Sep 2009
The inaugural Singapore Grand Prix may have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks, but the drivers and teams cant wait to return to Marina Bay this weekend. With a mammoth 23 corners, the peculiar schedule, and variable temperatures, the street circuit is a real challenge. Here Toyotas senior general manager (chassis) Pascal Vasselon looks ahead to the race
Q: Were there any surprises last year in Singapore with Formula One racing's first night race?
Pascal Vasselon: We took it very seriously and we had very solid preparation for this night race, including illuminated pit boards, additional lighting around the garage and other precautions like changing the team schedule. In the end the event ran smoothly without any particular problems associated with the timing. The only point to mention is something that both drivers commented on after the race; it was more tiring for them to drive under the lights because of the visual effect of driving so quickly underneath hundreds of lighting units.
Q: How does the different timetable affect the team in general?
PV: You are totally out of synch with local life in the city which is a very unique experience. The whole team stayed on European time and this worked very well with no problems at all but it is quite a strange situation to be in. You end up looking for a restaurant for dinner at 2am and going to bed when the sun is rising. Luckily I can sleep quite easily so that was no problem; it is just unusual to be wishing people 'good morning' in the middle of the afternoon!
Q: Is there any issue with track temperatures falling during the sessions?
PV: It does have a little effect and this anticipation of ambient conditions is embedded in our tyre management processes. We set tyre pressure and temperature targets for each session and to achieve these we reference with the expected ambient and track temperatures. In Singapore the temperatures generally fall as the sessions progress and if you don't take this into account then of course you will not necessarily have the tyre pressures or temperatures you expect. But we are used to taking factors such as this into account to manage our tyres so we are familiar with it and it didn't create any special circumstances.
Q: Can you compare Singapore with Monaco?
PV: It is difficult to compare any other city track to Monaco, despite the initial similarities in terms of location. Monaco has the history and the legends going back all through the history of motorsport and a new track can never replicate this. It's hard to be impartial when you compare any other venue to Monaco because you have this emotional background. But I have to say Singapore last year was a complete success and I was very impressed. The place is fantastic and the new experience of a night race was a great one for everyone involved. It was an unforgettable event but it's not fair to compare it to Monaco; it is special in its own right.
Q: Tell us about the bumps...
PV: It was incredibly bumpy last year to the point that it became a main focus of set-up during the weekend to develop the suspension to cope with the bumps. It meant we needed to use some quite unusual suspension settings and I doubt we were the only team facing that issue. But we have been told by the promoter that they understand the problems caused by the track profile and they have carried out some resurfacing. Hopefully this has reduced the bumps but we will see for sure in Friday practice.
Q: What are the other characteristics of the Singapore track?
PV: It is a high-downforce circuit where drivers play a very special part. You have a lot of corners, 23, and it is extremely important for a driver to find the right rhythm. Typically for a street circuit, they need to get as close to the barriers as they can without touching them and that is very demanding in terms of concentration. We saw last year that Singapore is one of those circuits where a driver can make a bigger difference to lap-time performance as part of the whole package than a more average track. The other factor to consider with Singapore is that it is extremely hard on brakes. We had some question marks prior to the event last year in terms of brake life limits but in the end, we had no major issues.
Q: Did any part of the track stand out for you?
PV: There were several interesting corners but the one which I particularly remember is Turn 10; the chicane with the big kerbs. This was a very unusual corner which was very slow but extremely unforgiving because if you hit those huge kerbs the car would just take off and you would end up in the wall. The drivers certainly had to concentrate through there.
Q: Does the team have new parts for the Singapore Grand Prix?
PV: We will bring some upgrades to our car for this race and in fact Singapore will be the last package of improvements to the TF109. We have been concentrating on the major performance items of the car and we have found improvements in several areas. We have upgrades to the front wing and to the rear end, the rear wing and so on. We will see a couple of new items coming on to the car after Singapore but this is the final package of upgrades for this season.