From the tight confines of Monaco the F1 circus now heads for the high-speed circuits at Montreal and Indianapolis, two venues which require very different approaches from the street race classic. James Key reflects on the season so far and the upcoming races.
We are five races into the season, and of course everybody is working hard to close the gap to their rivals. What's your verdict?
James Key: 'We are trying to close the gap, and there is still a fair amount to do. As both Mike [Gascoyne] and myself have said previously, we were both aware that it was going to be very difficult for us at the beginning of the season, and that's proved to be the case. But having said that, we've seen some progress with the car. I think Monaco was a reasonable weekend for us in terms of pace, and it was probably the most competitive we've been so far. And we did have some new updates on for Monaco, so I certainly think we're heading in the right direction. The grid is extremely competitive this year, that middle group is incredibly large and it's very, very tight. That's where we've got to place ourselves, and that's where we're aiming for.'
Has it been more difficult than anticipated to adjust to the new tyres, bearing in mind your long experience with Bridgestone but your relative lack of winter testing?
JK: 'It was difficult. We couldn't do a lot of running in the winter, but our Bridgestone history did help, because we were able to talk to them in detail. They gave a lot of good feedback and we obviously had tyre models from previous years which we could compare this year's tyres to and get a bit of a feel from the experiences we've had in the past. But there's nothing like running on the track to really prove it. It wasn't ideal but we're pretty much there now and we've got as good an understanding as we could do. We don't suffer from the issues that we originally had when we were trying to get the tyres to work, and it's really just a case of tuning the car and for the drivers to learn how to use them as they are so different to last year.'
Christijan seems to have found it a bit harder to adjust.
JK: 'I think for Christijan the situation is quite different to Adrian, because he had a reference point from last year. The competition between Bridgestone and Michelin was very tight last year and Bridgestone did a really good job with the tyres as the season went on. The tyres were very grippy, and very forgiving. Obviously they are completely different now, so Christijan's reference point was from a very different type of tyre behaviour. It did take a bit of getting used to for Christijan, but he's certainly made it work a lot better now, and we've also done quite a bit of set-up work on the car to make it easier for him to drive in his style. I don't think it's unique to us or Christijan, I think a lot of drivers have that issue. But it's certainly better than it was.'
We're going to Canada next. How did you perform in the low downforce testing at Paul Ricard before Monaco?
JK: 'It was OK, but we only really got one good day there with Adrian on the last day. We got a good day's running, he put a good lap time in at that downforce level and we were fairly happy that we had pitched our wing levels at the right level. The speedtrap numbers were reasonable and we were quite encouraged, but you really don't know until you get to track.
Teams have traditionally struggled with brake wear in Canada. Is it the toughest race of the year in that respect?
JK: 'I think it is. We did have some fairly high temperatures at Monaco, and that seemed to be unique to this year. We didn't really suffer there at all last year, and we heard that other people had issues too. You don't get much opportunity to cool the brakes at Monaco, you're always dabbing at them, and with the low grip tyres apex speeds are slightly down so you've got more braking to do. So temperatures were a little bit higher than we would have liked to have seen in Monaco, but we've got a few little steps and modifications for Canada.'
So are you confident that it won't be an issue?
JK: 'At the moment we are. I think we've got to keep a close eye on it, as everyone will, but the difference from Monaco to Canada is that you've got long straights and plenty of opportunity to use your ducts properly, so at the moment we think we'll be OK.'
How does Indy compare with Montreal?
JK: 'It's different. Wing levels are quite similar, a bit less at Indy, because you have got that long straight. But then there's that twisty bit at the back of the circuit, so you've got to pitch your downforce levels right there. It's a very smooth circuit, so mechanically you haven't got the sort of kerbs and bumps you see in Canada either, so it's actually quite different in the way you use the car as you can use a stiffer set-up and set the car lower.'
They're both races where in the past we've seen safety cars, high attrition, and occasionally bad weather. Do you see them as opportunities to get a good result?
'Possibly. A bit like Monaco, any race that is slightly out of the ordinary – like Canada and Indy – we've got to treat as opportunities, because right now the best way we're going to score a point is using every opportunity we have. We'll go in with that in mind, and see what happens. I think we're quite looking forward to any wet weather situation – we caused a bit of a surprise in Monaco on Saturday morning! It was a very good effort by Adrian, and very good to see. Last year we struggled to get the tyres to work in the wet, and this year it's not the case at all. So we wouldn't mind a bit of rain in Canada…'