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Before F1 start: an interview with Toro Rosso Technical Director James Key

Toro Rosso
Interview with Toro Rosso Technical Director James Key
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From time to time it is said that other teams want to poach you . Wouldn't it be tempting to work for a top team?

K ey: Of course I would like to win and for championships fight. In a top team, you have to repeat successes and maintain the high level. So far I only know small and medium-sized racing teams. Like Force India, Sauber and now Toro Rosso. I enjoy growing with a team. Toro Rosso is not small either, with over 600 employees. But compared to Red Bull or Ferrari, yes. You rely on teamwork, you are flexible and open to all ideas. I like this working environment. I like to achieve something bigger than everyone thinks you can.

In September 2017, the change from Renault to Honda was announced. How big was the change?

Key: You usually start a new project in December, January the year before. So we were well advanced. Before the 2017 summer break, it became apparent that we could work with Honda. We knew that the engine's architecture was very different from that of Renault. But as long as the contract is not actually in place, you are in the air. When the deal was confirmed, we sat down at a table, talked about the requirements of the engine and how we can best continue the existing concept of the car with the new engine. Our designers knitted the car using the raw data they received from Honda. Based on the parameters that the engine requires. You would always like to have more time to design your car around the new architecture. Especially because we can coordinate directly with our partner. But we know about late engine changes. We can change plans quickly and still work effectively.

How many weeks did the engine change set you back?

Key: Between a month and six weeks. The engine requires completely different cooling. So we had to make changes. The gearbox and rear suspension are new. We had to adapt the chassis. Chassis and transmission have long lead times. You must also pass certain bench tests and crash tests. You want these components built and homologated around Christmas time. We had to do these thingspunch through between September and December.

Many are surprised that the Honda engine was so reliable in the tests.

Key: For us, the surprise is not that big. During our visits to Japan and Milton Keynes, we immediately noticed what great capacities they have. We discussed the problems. Some cleared them out in 2017. These were positive signals for us. For 2018, Honda placed great emphasis on the correlation between the test bench and the racetrack. That the results from the laboratory actually arrive. All manufacturers had to learn that. Not just Honda. We give them all freedom. We tell them: “Do what you need to be happy with your engine. Don't worry about the impact on the chassis. ”If that means a little more weight or bulk, we'll find a way to make up for it through the chassis. We just didn't want to put any pressure on them. The reliability was good in the tests. The drivability is good. I don't know how much better Renault has gotten. But we're not far from what we were used to in 2017. I think the performance differences that were flirted last year are a bit exaggerated.

Honda is known for its compact design. How does that help with chassis construction?

Key: In theory, we can build more radically. But the tight schedule didn't allow us to. As with Mercedes, the compressor sits on the front. This creates space around the transmission. The engine is also very tidy at the front. The installation allows for better packaging. For aerodynamic reasons and also for weight reasons, it would make sense to pull the fairing even tighter. But it is better to take the big step in 2018. Because we can then work with Honda to optimize both the engine and the chassis.

Do you manufacture the gearbox yourself?

Key : The innards are largely the same as with Red Bull. These parts are not listed. So why should we do the double work? The rest is from Toro Rosso. The Honda engine requires a new housing with different connection points for the rear axle.

Toro Rosso is now a works team. How does this affect the goals?

Key: We have to be realistic. The circumstances are not easy. We want to be as close as possible to the top teams. In the middle of the field there will be a punch and a jump. We'd like to lead it. Force India, McLaren, Renault and Williams want that too. We still have to recover a bit from last year. We suffered a lot at the end of 2017. Because of different reasons. The first season with Honda is a build-up year. In the second we want to consolidate, in the third we want to take the next step.

In 2017 the development of Toro Rosso stagnated. There are additional resources with Honda.

Key: We got off to a pretty good start. In the middle of the season we let opportunities slip by. From Malaysia and Japan we lost chassis performance. We struggle with development. The driver castling was not helpful for anyone on the team. With Carlos we lost our best point supplier. Pierre and Brendon recently joined them. The massive engine problems did the rest. That penalizes you twice if your drivers have to rely on every kilometer to familiarize themselves with the car. A hopefully stable pairing should help us develop the chassis better. We can communicate directly with Honda. As a customer team, we had to live with what the manufacturer gave us. There is a lot to do.

Your drivers have completed nine Grand Prix together. Is that enough to develop a car?

Key: Both drove in different series. Both are champions. Both have experience. We now have to adapt and fine-tune their knowledge and skills for Formula 1. We are used to working with young drivers. We have the tools and the knowledge to develop the car over the season. Even with a little less influence from the driver. But we don't work with novice drivers. Your technical feedback is already very helpful and useful. I don't think it's a big problem.

Stefan Baldauf
Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley contested 9 Grand Prix together.
Force India would not have built a new chassis without the Halo. You?

Key: I think in the second year of a new set of regulations you have to do it. We learned so much last season. It wasn't until the car was on the track that we knew exactly what performance and handling really were. Before, everything was just theory. You have to base your car on these findings in the second year. The installation of the engine, the weight, the position of the front suspension: this is a learning process. That's why you want to have as free a hand as possible. That is only possiblea new chassis.

Do you reach the minimum weight of 733 kilos?

Key: Our calculations say yes.

What about the wheelbase?

Key: We have lengthened it slightly. Because we expect advantages for aerodynamics, driving dynamics and weight distribution. You create more space between the front wheels and the side pods. You have more space with the underbody.

Red Bull copied Ferrari's sidepod trick. Why not Toro Rosso?

Key: We looked at all of the cars. Not just Ferrari. Your solution is sure to be interesting. There were other construction sites for us that we had to clean up. The shape of the side box inlet wasn't necessarily one of them. The area in front of it, with the many turning vanes and bargeboards, is a different matter. It's a very important area that affects the whole car. We explored various solutions. It was about getting the critical flow structure cleaner. And with aerodynamics it is often the same: The most visible parts of the car are often not the most critical.

The Halo costs aero performance. The elimination of the monkey seat, tail fin and T-wing too. Is the new car still faster?

Key: As engineers, we have to live with the negative effects of the Halo. That it deflects the flow, affects the air supply to the engine and even affects the driver's helmet. The structural challenges were huge. There were no references from previous years. We passed every crash and stress test at the first attempt. There has been a lot of talk about T-wings and tail fins over the past year. Because they are so obvious. The loss brings a small negative effect that you simply have to make up for elsewhere. That costs time and resources. We have work to do on the chassis side. In the tests we drove with the Launch Spec. We plan to take new directions with the car during the season.

Does the correlation between wind tunnel and route fit?

Key: We are not far from the results in the wind tunnel. There are a couple of areas that we need to look at and check the correlation. But that's normal at this point. Understanding the new tire compounds is what causes us all the most difficulty. We got a foretaste in Abu Dhabi. But that was in very warm conditions on smooth asphalt. It's hard to predict races like China. We have to drive on different routes first. With different asphalt, different weather conditions and curve types. It can take until Silverstone before we have the complete tire picture. Until then it canGive surprises.

What are the update plans?

Key: Maybe we won't be there at the start of the season be where we want to be. We'll see that in Melbourne. We are under construction. We have to make sure that the principles are right: reliability, tire management, the general direction. The update schedule depends on the circumstances. Big overall packages if you are chasing a backlog. Because you can clear the construction sites in one go. Smaller updates at a higher frequency, provided the basis is already correct. Maybe we will choose the middle ground.

Is the learning curve staying steep?

Key: The gap between midfield and top is big. That shows how much performance we can still find. Each team has a different approach and philosophy. Over the years we will all grow closer. Only then does the development curve flatten. I think that will only be the case after three years.


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