• Mike Coughlan Q&A

'We've come here to concentrate on performance'

ESPN Staff
February 20, 2013

Williams technical director Mike Coughlan faces the press after his team became the last to launch its 2013 car at Barcelona

Mike Coughlan wants Williams to deliver on its potential in 2013 © Sutton Images
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What was the biggest challenge when you designed this car?

Several challenges. One is obviously maintaining aerodynamic performance, and then secondly saving weight - it's a continual process to enable you to lower the centre of gravity - and the new front wing tests. The front wing tests was quite difficult because you've got the new torsional offload and ensuring that you don't compromise performance and throw a lot of weight at it, same as every year.

Given that your car was actually quite quick on some occasions last year but not consistent, how much work went in to making sure that level of performance was kept?

As I said in the press release we've made significant progress; we make progress in the wind tunnel all the time. We have targets, weekly targets, that we generally meet. One thing we didn't do last year is Coanda and we spent a lot of time doing Coanda studies and ensuring that we understood the compromise between power and downforce; I think we've done a good job there, and that's obviously helped an awful lot by Renault and Renault's understanding of engine mapping and engines so we're very pleased, and that does give us a significant step forward.

What went wrong last year with the Coanda? What have been your particular problems?

All we were cautious of - and maybe too cautious - was the loss of power. You have to remember that last year a lot of people spent a lot of time doing that work. We didn't and perhaps should have done, I think we could have raced Coanda - we tested Coanda in Brazil - maybe we could have brought that a little earlier but it was just a loss of power. You'll notice Lotus were the same: very wary of the loss of power.

Lotus said they have halved the power loss from last year to this year, have you made a similar step with your Coanda?

Yes, yes slightly better. And I'm sure they've done slightly better too; we're endlessly looking to halve the deficit and that comes through just testing and a knowledge of what's important. I would imagine that everyone will get to the point where even for a small exhaust pipe you will have similar powers, maybe not the same but similar.

On the exhaust side you rather went the McLaren way than the Red Bull way - Red Bull blows on a sort of ramp on the inside - why did you do it and did you also follow the other solution?

Yes, we've looked at both and we spent a lot of time ensuring that we understand; we're not here to copy, we're here to understand what makes the car goes faster and then trying to implement that in to the best method possible. So we looked at both.

Was the development work in any way disrupted when Mark Gillan left?

No, because Mark was operations. Mark struggled with the work toll that is very difficult now in Formula One with so many back-to-back aways. But Mark had no influence on development direction, that's done by Jason [Somerville] and his team.

In Jerez you tested both the step on the chassis and without the step on the chassis; this car doesn't have a step at all, did it give you better aerodynamic performance?

We see very low sensitivity to the nose step, very low sensitivity. It's not a major factor in the aerodynamic performance, not at all.

Mike Coughlan says there is only a slight benefit to not having a stepped nose this year © Sutton Images

One of the features of your car is the small gearbox and the very low rear part of the car, it looked to me to be even smaller and lower than last year…

It's a refinement. We've packaged it better because we realised to get flow in to that area is important, and we concentrated on getting it as tidy as possible, but the concepts are very similar. Slight weight decrease too.

As the only team to bring your new car at the second test is it especially important to you that you get eight trouble-free dry days?

We tried to change it round. To track test for reliability is a thing of the past, you've got to get to the point where you're pretty confident that what you're bringing to your car is safe and reliable. I genuinely don't really think so; first of all the first test at Jerez is very cold, very aggressive on the tyre, a lot of people are system checking and we said if we can be pretty confident about our systems we've got the same amount of testing as everybody else. So we've come here to concentrate on performance.

When you look at your Coanda, there's a little horizontal piece on top of it a little bit like at Caterham at Jerez. Some engineers of the competition said that might be illegal, what is the rule there?

I know the fuss about the Caterham one, for me the Caterham one is clearly not allowed, but ours is OK, because if you look at ours it's actually not a single piece it's two pieces. The rule is an aperture size, and ours is an aperture size; ours is one aperture because it's joined by a small piece in the middle.

You're governed by total aperture size, but singular aperture, and ours is a single aperture joined by a very small slot. So it's actually two pieces, if you look closely you'll see.

Last year took the teams more than half a season to figure out the tyres; what can you do to speed up that process this year?

I think in all cases when you actually have a better understanding initially of the tyres you migrate more quickly towards a solution. To begin with we didn't plan to do Jerez at all, we only did Jerez because Pirelli were bringing their new tyres and we felt it would even be better with the old car so that we had a known platform. I'm sure a lot of people who went to Jerez with a new car, new driver and new tyres, got lost. We didn't.

You have a new driver who isn't really a new driver to the team, what are your expectations for Valtteri's [Bottas] first full season?

Valtteri is very disciplined, he's very focused, he's worked very hard over the winter; he's lost some weight and done some strength work. The way I'd sum it up is that last year we had several opportunities we didn't close out. I think ultimately as a team - including the drivers - what we need to do is focus on maximising our performance and delivering on it when we can.

Would you rather have a season where you've gone close to maximising the potential at each race but perhaps not had the high such as you had here [in Barcelona] last year?

I don't know. We aim to win every race we participate in; that's what we're focused on. We're trying to do it in a methodical, engineering-biased way. You're up against a lot of very clever people and it's not easy. We concentrate on our own performance, we do our own programme, we say 'this is what makes our car go faster, let's work on it', we get the drivers understanding where we're going, we've used Susie to do aerodynamic work at Idiada and we've come here to really understand our car in terms of performance.

The Williams exhaust exit solution has already come under scrutiny © Sutton Images

You had two weeks more development time than the others but missed the test in Jerez, so why have you chosen this way rather than the other way around?

Let's go back to the beginning. A lot of the early testing is system testing, but if you believe that track testing is the way you're going to get your car reliable then what do you do the rest of the year? So you've got to put the mechanism in place to say 'this works, this is performing, let's do this' otherwise you've got no tests during the year. So we said 'OK, Jerez is a very unique circuit, very aggressive on the tyre, very cold weather, we won't learn a great deal there with the new car. Let's ensure our new car rolls out here and is on the pace straight away'.

So was the circuit a major deciding factor?

Absolutely. If it had been Barcelona we'd have gone. But it's Jerez and Jerez is unique; very high degradation, really aggressive, very rear limited. You have to ask yourself is it worth it? We don't even go to a track that's similar and in the same weather conditions, so you have to say 'do we learn a lot?' We came away with a very good understanding of the tyres and what we can do with pressures and cambers. With the current breed of rear suspension it's very difficult to do damper changes and bar changes and spring changes, so it gives you an opportunity to prepare lots of things - different types of damper and things like this - so we went away and concentrated on things that you can't do in session because it takes too long when you're trying to understand the tyres. But you are right, if it had been three Barcelona's we'd have done all of them with the new car.

What would you like to see next season in terms of tracks used for the tests?

I think we're happy with Barcelona. We all have lots of simulations of the Barcelona track. Barcelona's fine, it's very easy to get to, cheap flights, good hotels, it's a nice city, I'm happy with that. I'd like to see three in Barcelona.

How much is still to come before Melbourne? We saw already a new front wing here, some people are waiting with the new wings…

Every race we'll have something. We took 35 floor upgrades to 20 races last year. Your aim is always to make sure you are system checking at the factory and such so that you are able to take developments straight to the circuit, but when you've got a new car you always aim thinking the last couple of days in Barcelona should be run in Melbourne-spec, so you'll see us in Melbourne with a step forward as you will at every other race. Obviously Malaysia is a tiny bit difficult but we'll take an upgrade to every circuit, and we did last year; we were able to stay with most of the teams around us in terms of pure performance.

There's a lot of talk about objectives and ambitions at this time of year; how would you frame your objectives?

To deliver on our potential. Deliver on our potential which we didn't do last year. And that's a team thing for us, we had problems in the race where we could have been better; Pastor's drive towards the end of the season was tremendous. People didn't realise the problems he was carrying in the car, he had a great performance. To deliver on our performance really, and on our potential.