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Buoyed by Tiago Monteiro's strong qualifying performance at Silverstone, MF1 Racing continues to forge ahead with its ongoing development programme for the M16.
As ever, it's hard to get onto terms with the works-supported cars, but there have been quantifiable signs of progress, and the next race in Canada presents the opportunity for a reliable, well-run package to get into the points. Indianapolis can also produce a few surprises, as we saw in 2005!
With that in mind, we asked MF1's Head of Race and Test Engineering, Dominic Harlow, for his thoughts on the trip to North America.
Canada is a race that often sees first-corner accidents, safety cars, and sometimes rain. Do you see it as one of the team's better chances to get into the points? Dominic Harlow: "Yes, for sure. Anything that introduces a more random element to a race is something where we can potentially benefit. At the moment, we can't expect to easily get there on pure race form alone. Canada is a high-attrition race, sometimes with a variable climate, and as a street circuit it's more prone to safety cars. So it is one where we could see ourselves making some capital."
We often see people make a huge jump in positions if there's some first lap carnage. Is the key to being there taking advantage and getting to the finish?DH: "Yes, and in Tiago, we've got one of the best drivers in the business at bringing the car home. Christijan is one of the more incisive movers on the circuit, as well."
We know Montreal is hard on brakes. What are the keys to getting the set-up right there?DH: "I think everybody agrees that it's the hardest race for brakes. It might be a little bit different with the V8s reducing the speeds a little bit, but we're under no illusions. It's still going to be very difficult, and we will have to do a lot of homework on the Friday to make sure we've got the brakes for the race. Other considerations for the set-up are based around the braking and traction, because you've got quite a high maximum speed, and a low minimum speed. So there's a lot of braking and a lot of accelerating in first, second and third gears from the chicanes. You end up with a set-up that's obviously biased towards stability under braking, but usually that gives you some understeer, so it's a trade-off between those two for the best set-up."
You mentioned straight line speed… Is Canada one of the tracks where it's even more important than usual?DH: "Yes, and the only places where you have any real chance of overtaking are on the two quickest straights, into the hairpin and back up to the final chicane. We tend to start with a slightly higher wing level when the track is green and try to decrease it as the grip goes up, trimming it out for the maximum possible top end for the race."
Have you been able to do much specific testing for Canada?DH: "We didn't go to Monza like nearly everyone else, but last week we were in Silverstone. Apart from the braking element, it isn't too different, and you can run Canada-spec wing levels there quite successfully. We actually surprised ourselves with how good the lap times were, relative to what we did when we were there racing. So it's not like we're running an untested Canada aero package this weekend, and in fact, we're fairly encouraged by it."
So it was a good test at Silverstone?DH: "It was generally a very good three days. We had a little bit of rain overnight before we started, but from then on it was good conditions. The circuit was not bad, having just been raced on, and it gives you a good reference. So from that point of view, it was quite productive."
Indianapolis follows straight on from Canada. How much testing carries over to that?DH: "Generally speaking, on the aero side, it will be a very similar package there. Indy is more like Silverstone in terms of braking: it's one of the lowest braking energy circuits, and so in that respect, the testing was a little bit more realistic. You also take a similar tyre to Indy as you do to Canada, although we didn't run them in Silverstone."
Are you happy with the overall package for those two races?DH: "It's obviously a bit of an unknown, running at a lower wing level, because these two are the first true medium-downforce circuits. But based on the rate of development that we've shown since Nurburgring, we have to be quite positive about these next two, and really try to carry on improving. There's a general feeling here that we can do more and more. If there is a safety car or whatever, I'm sure our time will come."
How encouraging was the qualifying in Silverstone, when Tiago made it through to the second round?DH: "That was tremendously encouraging, although we missed by five seconds or something at getting Christijan's lap in, as well. We just need to get used to doing it routinely, which is what we're aiming for."
Tiago beat several big names fair and square, but to some degree, you still have to rely on other people having problems…DH: "At the moment, yes. The four Red Bull cars are our closest competitors on pure pace, and they're not that far away in some places. If you jump one, you can almost jump them all."
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