This morning Williams unveiled its latest challenger, the Toyota-powered FW31. The 2009 car was rolled out in Portugal ahead of the group test that is now underway at the Algarve circuit.
After completing 17 laps this morning in the hands of Williamsâ€™ test driver, Nico Hulkenberg, the team was satisfied with initial progress.
Technical Director, Sam Michael, said: â€śThis morning has been full wet, but the weather hasnâ€™t really affected what we wanted to do, because our goal has been to get the car out on track, check all the systems work, be sure parts arenâ€™t touching each other, nothing is burning, and thatâ€™s all proved to be okay. It would be good to get some dry running, and the weather should allow this later in the week. In terms of first impressions of the car, we of course havenâ€™t spent any time on set-up or performance work yet, thatâ€™ll all come later, but so far the car is running fine.â€ť
The Williams-Toyota FW31 is the first major clean-sheet car design for perhaps 30 years, driven by a wholesale change in Sporting and Technical Regulations.
The new Sporting Regulations are intended to increase car reliability and further reduce costs, while the changes to the Technical Regulations have three objectives â€" reducing the role of aerodynamics in the carâ€™s performance, making overtaking easier and keeping lap times in check.
These changes have had significant implications both on the appearance of this seasonâ€™s race car and in shifting its performance baseline.
Michael reflected, â€śThe changes in the aerodynamic regulations are the most profound and will have the most impact on lap time. 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 â€" 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. Of course the re-introduction of slick tyres is another significant change as it has an influence on the overall dynamics of the race car. Finally, of course, the introduction of KERS is another aspect to the technical picture for the year ahead.â€ť
Michael went on to explain how the changes in aerodynamic rules, which see a much reduced rear wing geometry and conversely, a considerably wider front wing profile, with the front wing flap angle adjustable by the driver in the cockpit, would be the competitive focus for all the teams for much of the year ahead. â€śAerodynamics is likely to be the key to the first two thirds of the season ahead,â€ť he said, while rating the change to slick tyres as another significant rule change for 2009. â€śFinding the optimum weight distribution to optimise tyre performance will also be a high priority going into 2009 and KERS will be the next contributor to race performance." Michael confirmed.
The introduction of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) in 2009 is not an obligatory element of the regulations, but may provide an opportunity for teams to gain competitive advantage.
The amount of energy that can be recovered and used may increase in future regulations, but the level set for the technologyâ€™s introductory year, set against considerations of weight and reliability, make the initial advantages less than gains to be achieved through aerodynamics and mechanical dynamics.
Michael contextualised this view, saying, â€śKERS in 2009 could be worth between two and three tenths 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 Grand 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€ť
Hulkenberg, the first of the Williams team drivers to experience the FW31 felt confident in the carâ€™s abilities, but naturally reflected on the difference from its predecessors.
â€śStraight 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 driverâ€™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 â€" 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€ť
As the Williams team took to the track in Portimao, the results of its commercial activities over the winter were apparent. The team has renewed or upgraded over ten partners since last summer when Philips confirmed that they were upgrading their partnership with the team. With the whole of Philipsâ€™ Consumer Lifestyle division now party to the partnership, Philipsâ€™ branding appears on the front-facing rear wing and on the FW31 sidepods.
Dominic Reilly, the teamâ€™s Head of Marketing, commented, â€śPhilips has demonstrated, through its excellent track record of sponsorship execution, that their Formula One engagement has made a real difference to the bottom line. As a consequence, Philips have upgraded from the Shaving Division to the whole of its Consumer Lifestyle group. In consideration of this, Philips will have substantially increased livery on the 2009 race car.â€ť
Since announcing this new agreement in late 2008, a further nine agreements with existing partners have been signed, including Allianz, PPG, Oris, MAN and the recent announcement of another upgraded and extended agreement with Randstad, who now become one of the teamâ€™s senior partners as confirmed last week.
Adam Parr, Williams Chief Executive said, â€śWe are very grateful for the loyalty and steadiness of purpose of our partners. We never take anything for granted, but our 2009 and 2010 budgets are in place thanks to the support of our partners as well as the increased revenues from FOM and the work being done by FOTA and the FIA to reduce costs. It is now our responsibility to make sure that our partners and the many other people who support the team enjoy a return on that investment.â€ť
Turning to the prospects for 2009, Frank Williams said, â€śIt will be a very interesting year ahead. The new aero rules mean a different approach to the cars in a number if areas. However, by the time we get to Melbourne, I would expect the usual suspects to still be dominating the top two positions. More importantly, I hope Williams will have made a significantly large step forward with the FW31.â€ť
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