In his latest column, Tonio Liuzzi talks about the new hard tyres, the benefit of off-throttle blown diffusers and how to be quick around Monaco
We've been pushing hard with our upgrades since the start of the season and I think we made another step forward at the Spanish Grand Prix. We're still waiting for the biggest upgrade but we're not sleeping in the meantime, and I think everything is coming together and resulting in a better pace every time we hit the track.
For my first stint in the race on Sunday everything was running really well and I was able to make the most of another strong start. Of course it didn't take long for Rubens Barrichello and Nick Heidfeld to get past, but that's normal because their pace is massively faster and we weren't really racing them.
More importantly, I was ahead of both Virgins and I started to push pretty hard because I expected them to catch us. But the balance of the car was good and we actually started to pull away from them over the first stint. I think the gap was about five or six seconds by the first pit stop, so that was very satisfying.
The pit stop all went to plan but then we started to have issues with the upshifts and the problem just got worse and worse. We lost quite a lot of pace and eventually I had no choice but to stop. It was a shame because we were in a close race with the Virgins and it was the first time this year that we were able to fight so competitively.
We were also struggling quite a bit with the new hard compound tyres over the weekend. You can feel they are harder than the old ones and they have a tendency to struggle with warm up and then overall grip. For me the previous compound worked better because if you lack overall downforce like we do, you struggle to put the necessary load through the tyre to get it working.
Last year the track evolved over the course of the weekend and that helped with those kinds of grip problems. But these tyres don't put as much rubber on the track and you can actually see that the black racing line isn't as distinctive. This year's tyres tend to clean the track, which means grip improves on Friday, but because the rubber is not going down in the same way, you reach the limit by Saturday morning and the grip level doesn't really improve for the rest of the weekend. But the tyres are the way they are and we have to accept it and find a way around it.
Another talking point over the weekend was off-throttle exhaust-blown diffusers. To be honest the advantage it gives in lap time is hard to pin down - it can vary from no advantage at all to about 0.6-0.7 seconds depending on how well it's working. When I tested it with Force India last year, it took us until the last race of the year to understand how to make it work and the rest of time we struggled to gain any advantage from it. It's true that once it works it makes a big difference, but you really need to tune it properly because it's not an easy tool to use.
Right now I'm about to leave my home in Lugano for the drive down to Monaco. I love racing between the guardrails at Monte Carlo and hopefully we can get a good result. At Monaco the key to a fast lap is in the driver's confidence and that's not something you can buy, you need to learn it. Once you feel connected to the car and you can predict its every movement, that's when you will be really fast. Of course that won't be easy this year because we don't have such a high grip level in this car. But we will work on it over the weekend and I think we will be on top of it in qualifying, even if the race won't be so easy.
We have a few little upgrades for the race, but when you are a small team you cannot waste too much money on adapting the car for a one-off track like Monaco. There is no point in investing heavily when you have wider and bigger projects aiming for bigger overall gains in the future. Everybody is really pushing to bring this team forward at the moment and that is making me feel all the more motivated.