Technical director Nick Chester believes the team have now moved ahead of Toro Rosso and McLaren in the pecking order, and expects even further gains as they prepare a series of substantial upgrades, starting this weekend in Barcelona...
Q: Describe the Chinese Grand Prix from a technical stand point?
Nick Chester: We made some good steps on engine mapping. The car was a lot more driveable due to a much better torque delivery, which helped the drivers make a big step. On top of that we completed a lot of running on the Friday, particularly with Romain, which meant vital set-up work could be undertaken and we also confirmed aerodynamic improvements on the car. These combined factors helped us to be more competitive, including P9 during the second session. In third practice we were pretty quick in the wet, and then again in qualifying we showed improved pace. Our race performance also improved, moving us ahead of Toro Rosso and McLaren in Shanghai. We have made steady progress in terms of closing the gap to all of the leading teams since Australia.
Q: Where might Romain have finished?
NC: We were unfortunate to miss out on a point or two with Romain due to the gearbox failure in the race. It was a new and rare issue but we've made preventative measures to avoid a similar scenario in the future. Pastor's (Maldonado) weekend was hampered a little by his mistake on Friday and an issue on Saturday, which necessitated a change of power unit. As a result Pastor lost most of FP3 and all of qualifying, putting him on the back foot for the race. Although we've improved the drivability of the car, Pastor wasn't quite as happy with the chassis balance as he had been in Bahrain. So he wasn't as comfortable in the car as Romain, but that may simply be due to missing out on so much track time.
Q: Was there time to assess all of the new parts?
NC: We had a huge amount to get through because we hadn't run much in the Bahrain test. We assessed over half of the new parts which is a positive and we have a lot more lined up for Barcelona.
Q:Tell us more…
NC: We've got further improvements on engine mapping, which should give us another step forward. We've got a new cooling and bodywork package coming - quite a big upgrade - plus some updates to the rear wing and various other bodywork parts. All of the developments that we've brought for the car so far have been an improvement, which is highly satisfying and validates the hard work being done back at the factory. We also received more horsepower from Renault Sport F1 in China and I hope we'll get a further step-up in Barcelona, which will make a massive difference.
Q: Where can more performance be found?
NC: There are a lot of aero improvements we want to bring to make the car more predictable for the drivers. We also want to do more work on tyre temperatures. The latest generation of tyres are quite hard in compound and it can be difficult to keep them in the optimum operating window. On the other hand braking is definitely better now. We've made some good improvements in terms of how the drivers can control the brakes and manage the power unit during braking.
Q: Last year we finished in second place after a three-stop strategy. What will be the way to go this year?
NC: It is difficult to say because the tyre constructions are different this year and also a lot depends on temperatures. The E21 was very kind on tyres as we know, the E22 we are still really discovering so it is difficult to know for sure. What is certain is the fact that the left hand fronts at Barcelona will be key because of the long constant radius Turn 3.
Q: Barcelona and then Monaco: two very different tracks, will they suit the E22?
NC: They may look very different, but they are both handling and downforce-dominated circuits. Power is always important; more so in Barcelona than Monaco, but it plays a smaller role than at other circuits so we are expecting to be reasonably competitive at both events.