Interview: Caterham’s Tim Wright
In any form of racing, the man behind the wheel is the one who ultimately wins or loses a race, but the engineer on the other side of the radio also plays an important role in helping his driver’s cause.
These hidden heroes are only heard through muffled radio calls and written on transcripts after the race, but they play such a huge part in determining a race. A stroke of genius on the pit wall can be as important as any overtake or defensive move.
Richland F1‘s Alex Goldschmidt spoke with Tim Wright, who currently is Kamui Kobayashi’s race engineer at Caterham, about his work, the level of data that he now has to deal with, the power units and getting help from Renault.
Alex Goldschmidt: Tim, looking back to Austria, we saw that a lot of drivers that were struggling to switch on the hard tyres, which was a big concern for you guys at Caterham. This is more the case when you don’t have the same downforce levels as Red Bull or Mercedes, for instance. How difficult is it for Kamui to be able to switch on the tyres within their peak working temperatures?
Tim Wright: It’s a common problem and something that we contend with most circuits and tyres compounds. Even though the tyres are changing such as coming here and working with the hard and medium, they’ve been selected for the circuit. Despite the fact that they are a different compound, it is general that there are issues during warm-up.
It tends to be more the front axle when it comes to a rear-wheel drive single seater. Although, generating wheel slip doesn’t actually help when it comes to heating up the core of the tyre, which is what we need to do.
AG: I spoke with Romain Grosjean after Friday practice about the brake-by-wire system. How has Kamui’s confidence in the system progressed as we are now at the half way point of the year? Especially when the drivers have to judge braking distances a bit differently with the new system, and there have been teething problems.
TW: It’s not a big issue when it comes to that aspect of it. What we had in Melbourne was just a systems error, which was a bit of an isolated incident. In general terms, the system really just gives us a further layer of modulation on the brake balance.
When the car is going through any particular corner, brake balance is required to optimize and really use the grip that you have available. That requirement is changing, as it lets us match our brake balance to the grip balance that we have.
There’s not a huge difference in feel, so it doesn’t become a completely wooden system, because the front of the car is still a passive system, whereas the rear uses an active system to modulate where we are between engine braking and actual pressure.
AG: So in some ways, it shares a correlation to an anti-lock braking system to an extent?
TW: It does in terms of being an active system.
AG: When it comes to where both Marcus and Kamui are at the moment when it comes to grid position, is this where they are both potentially losing a lot of time? Romain also explained to me about the constant adjustment that needs to be made to maximize the potential, but also said that the rears were locking up lot as well.
TW: It is common on all the cars, I think. It’s a very different car from what we had with the V8s. We’re recovering a lot of energy through the rear axle and have a lot less down force, that is an extra parameter.
It’s an extension of what we were doing with KERS, so when that was introduced, it was a smaller amount that we were having to recover via the rear axle and gave us problems to contend with.
Now this is much more of an intrusive system, but the regulations have moved that we have this powered brake system that we can do something about that. With any issue that you have on a racecar, the more grip you have, the easier it is to overcome these things.
For teams like us who are at the back, because we don’t have the same levels of grip and down force as those at the front of the grid, it is going to hurt us more, whether it be warm up or systems on the car which make it more difficult to drive and handle.
AG: How have the lead times dropped when it comes to carrying out repairs on the power units and has that dropped significantly since the beginning of the year, due to the complexity of the systems?
TW: From our side, this was something that was a big change, as it was a lot more complicated due to the car not be being built for serviceability. All teams that try and design their own cars will try to overcome any potential problems, but they aren’t going to compromise in terms of performance.
When it comes to the mechanical side of it all, they do try to make things easier. Anyone doing an operational side of the job, you get better at how to do it, in terms of procedures. So yes, the lead times have dropped.
All the guys in the team are switched on and experienced, as things are getting better. There were just a lot of mistakes in the beginning, due to the complexity of the systems. The difficult thing is that when you have got a lot of jobs to do, which are all in series, it is a case of the right people being in the right place at the right time for the next job.
On Friday nights, it wasn’t always apparent to those not working in the garage on an operational side, just how long things would take. We’d do a full day’s work, including practice sessions and leave at around 1 o’clock in the morning.
Its like another full day at work and it is about getting those that are working on the car a lot tighter in terms of repairs being done, as overlapping the work operations is where we tend to make the most gains in time.
AG: In terms of data that a race engineer like yourself has to go through when it comes to issues on the car and with strategy, how much has that increased when it comes to the new Energy Recovery Systems that are in place?
TW: It is a lot more in terms of the operational side, with regards to the race and performance engineers trying to maximize the car’s potential. It’s increased a lot on strategy as we have the energy recovery management. In qualifying two or three years ago, a fast lap was a fast lap, so it is very different now.
We didn’t have to plan ahead like we do now, where you have a set of tyres that you have to warm up before doing a sequence of laps. We have to make sure that is in tune with the energy management, as you just can’t go and use what we would call the “energy management swing” every lap, as it’s just not possible.
In comparison to what we had originally with KERS, that has now been amplified because the majority of the power coming from the power unit is through energy management, which has shifted that balance. For everyone working directly at the engine and the systems have even more to look at, as from an operational side, we now have a bigger overhead.
AG: Finally, Tim, there have been some comments made by Christian Horner about how Renault Sport should have just focused on Red Bull from the very start of the season. How has the support from Renault been with regards to the major shift in regulations, when it comes to updates, fuels and lubricants?
TW: As normal, everyone is trying to push forwards in terms of performance, with the engine manufacturers having to bring in this major change in regulations straight to the table. They are also looking to move forward and they are looking to better the performance. They’ve really also increased their level of support to help everybody.
So just because planting your foot down on the throttle is more of a science that what was a case of going as fast as possible to get to the finish ahead of your rivals, people like Tim are invaluable to the future of the sport, when it comes to managing the best of any given situation and maximizing the full potential within very stringent limits.
Richland F1 would like to thank Tim for talking to us, as well as Caterham’s Tom Webb for making the interview possible.
Images © Caterham F1 Team
Alex Goldschmidt, a man with a view all his own. For the last 25 years, Alex has witnessed the talents of great drivers, such as Senna, Prost, Mansell and Schumacher, and enjoys the intrigue, scandal and confrontations, that occur both on and off the track. Alex also has an interest in the technical side of Formula One, as well as nostalgic moments in history, championing such people as John Surtees and Sir Jackie Stewart. With a view to making his career in motorsport journalism, he looks to provide original content to the masses, and to have great future success in his rapidly progressing career – as a reporter.