Williams Technical Director Sam Michael expects teams to chase gains in aerodynamic performance relentlessly in the first half of 2009 with the impact of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) coming into play later in the season.
The first major test of the year kicked off at the Algarve Motor Park circuit in Portugal today with the teams putting crucial mileage on their new 2009 spec cars before a ban on testing comes into force.
Michael, who oversaw the track debut of Williams’ new FW31 today, expects changes in the aerodynamic regulations – which include a much reduced rear wing geometry and conversely, a considerably wider
front wing profile with an adjustable wing flap – to trigger something of an arms race in the first two thirds of the season, with the impact of KERS only coming into play once performance in this area has begun to converge.
“The changes in the aerodynamic regulations are the most profound and will have the most impact on lap time,” he said. “(It) is likely to be the key to the first two thirds of the season ahead.”
Explaining the impact of the aerodynamic changes on car design he said: “There are many immediate visual changes, but also many smaller reductions around the car through new regulation wording and exclusion zones.”
“Starting at the front, the front wing end plate design has changed as the interaction with the front tyre is completely different, and important to control. There are no longer large barge boards although we managed to squeeze a small one in.”
“The engine cover no longer has the traditional chimneys and louvers on top for cooling, and that has forced a higher and wider exit at the rear in order to provide an effective exit for hot air.
Michael expects Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) to be a more significant factor in the latter half ot the season once the teams have exploited the possibilities in aerodynamic development.
“KERS in 2009 could be worth between 2/10ths and 3/10ths of a second per lap. However, once aero performance converges, KERS could start to become a greater performance differentiator and if the regulations give more scope to the technology, it could be worth anything up to a second a lap and it will be needed to win Grands Prix.”
“The key decision for us with our system is to carefully balance the potential performance advantage with our ambition to improve an already strong reliability record from last season.â€
The sweeping new regulations could play into Williams hands providing a more level playing field in 2009. Williams test driver Nico HÃ¼lkenberg, who was first to try out the new FW31 was buoyed by the car’s first run and reported no major problems.
“Straight away the new car feels okay, I feel comfortable in it and for a new car, we have also had a trouble-free morning technically, which is important.”
“Of course everyone will want to know how it compares to the 2008 car and what the impact of the rule changes are from a driver s point of view. In truth, I cannot say too much after a few laps, because the track is 100% new to me, I have never run here and also it is pretty wet, so I have no baseline for comparison if we were at Jerez or Barcelona in the dry, I could be a little more specific.”
“But the important thing for today is simply to make sure we run through all the checks of the basic systems on the car and confirm everything is working as it should. So far that is the case and we can be happy.â€