Q & As :: THE BEST QUESTION EVER

Question: A question now to you all: you’ve all done a fantastic job in your various teams to make the cars incredibly reliable, as we saw here a couple of years ago: 22 cars finished; as we saw two weeks ago when 21 cars finished. But it does mean that, as Pat is very fond of saying, you spend two days trying to put the fastest car on the front of the grid, it’s very difficult for anyone to overtake and if you start 14th, you’re not likely to get any World Championship points. Is there any engineering challenge, is there a balance somewhere where perhaps engineering is more challenged to make better racing, to make more interesting racing, to give everybody a chance of winning points? Is there an engineering challenge to perhaps shake up the order during the race itself?

Pat Symonds (Renault): Well, it’s interesting that you say ‘is it an engineering challenge?’ because the link between the sporting and the engineering challenge is often a very interesting one. The engineering challenge can be simplified to producing the car that’s going to win races. It’s a very simple thing to say but actually if you look at it in a little bit more depth it’s perhaps not quite as apparent as it may seem.

At the moment, if you consider, for example, the aerodynamics of the car, we all spend a great deal of time in our wind tunnels and with our computational fluid dynamics to make a car that has the best possible aerodynamic efficiency because we know that that will give us the best lap time and at the moment, winning races is all about having the best lap time from your car.

Now if you imagine a situation where you had sporting regulations such as they have in GP2 where, if in your first race you produced a car that was fast, you won the race and that meant then that you were placed further down on the grid (for the second race), then the sporting challenge, and the sporting regulations would lead you to develop your engineering in a slightly different way. In other words, you wouldn’t spend all your time in the wind tunnel, just trying to get the best possible efficiency and making the car achieve a minimum lap time.

You would actually spend some time looking at overtaking because you would know that no matter how successful you were at making your car fast, you were at some point in the weekend going to have to do some overtaking, and therefore you had better study it, you had better find out how to make it happen. So I think part of the answer to your question is that the sporting regulations will perhaps determine how the engineers approach their problem, and maybe that’s the way to think of these things.

Geoff Willis (Red Bull): Well, to answer your question directly: do I think that the very high levels of reliability – and I wish our team shared those high levels of reliability – but does higher reliability lead to bad racing? I think the simple answer is no, it doesn’t. I think it’s disappointing to people watching a race if half the cars don’t finish the race.

For example, MotoGP is very successful with very high levels of reliability. I think the problem is – and I’m making an additional point to Pat’s point – I think the problem is that the cars are too easy to drive in that the drivers are able to drive at pretty much 95-99 percent of their one lap potential and they do that for two or three stints throughout the race, so there are very few mistakes being made and that is one of the reasons why we are seeing such processional races.

If we could make the cars harder to race so that you often found yourself in a position of running wide, going off the track, having to come back, having to pass the person in front, then, as Pat said, we would be starting to think about designing our cars to do more than just race against the clock.

So there is something in the way that we… I think it’s a regulation thing. If we can think of making the cars fundamentally harder to drive, mistakes happen more, drivers simply can’t drive at 100 percent because it’s too risky for them, then we can see more mixed up and probably better racing.

Mario Almondo (Ferrari): I have to say firstly that I share what my colleagues said because starting from the sporting rules, I have to say that the sporting rules gives you the boundaries of your technical problems. Then, once these rules are clear enough, you have to develop and do your engineering in order to achieve the fastest car.

So this is the first thing. I think the second step then is that you have to do your best job in terms of technical effort, investing your money in the direction that is defined in the sporting rules. Secondly, probably it’s better to say that once you have your clear direction, everything is related not only to the reliability, because having reliable cars is just giving you in reality the possibility to see a race where all the cars are reliable and finishing the race.

The point is that also in this case probably the sporting rules have to be more difficult in order to give the possibility to everyone to be reliable. If you, for example, impose a rule that is all the weekend long with a car that can be, in a certain way, changed or parts changed, I’m sure that the reliability, as aside from the engineering point of view, is more difficult and then the reliability will have another level, so it’s something that is always a two-way problem.

Willy Rampf (BMW Sauber): I think it’s correct that this year most of the overtaking is done with the pit strategy, basically, when you’re coming in for your pit stop, and the reliability of the cars is very high. But I don’t think that it’s correct just to make some rule changes to make a penalty for a quick car and he has to move back or some artificial penalty, just to mix up the grid.

When we look forward to next year, there will be no traction control, so for sure it’s more difficult to drive the cars and the year after the car concepts will be quite different and I think then racing will be quite different as well because of a completely different car concept with much less downforce. Teams will take different approaches to the development of the car and I think there will automatically be more overtaking with the rule changes.

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