2021 was meant to be the year of the big technical rule change, but that was delayed by a year. Was this past winter quite different to usual because of that?
JE: “With the changes to the aero regulations targeting a reduction in downforce, we have been presented with a number of changes we have got to make to the floor, the diffuser and rear brake ducts and this has required a lot of work to re-optimise around these changes. The work which has been undertaken to develop our car for 2021 goes far beyond compliance with regulation changes and has involved changes to nearly all aero surfaces and also development and repackaging large parts of the car, which are hidden, in order to achieve these changes. We have spent a lot of time working to recover the aero losses as a result of the regulation changes, while also focusing on increasing and improving the cars aerodynamic operating window. This activity will continue into the season, with the split of resource between the 2021 and 2022 projects reviewed and adjusted as required to maximise the potential of both projects.”
Have Covid restrictions impacted anyhow on your internal normal procedures?
JE: “As soon as the full extent of the Covid situation became clear we modified our working practices and methods, it’s a process under constant review – especially as we are working across a facility in Italy & also the UK – however, I believe we have adapted quite well as a team and it’s something we are learning to live with. An increase in remote working has been part of strategy but it’s been well implemented and people have reacted well to the challenge this presents – as a team everybody has been working hard to adapt to the situation as it evolves. Another aspect of the changes, due to Covid, has been the fact that we were required to stop activity on what was at the time the 2021 car and have only been able to restart this since January 1st 2021 – as a result we have adapted the resource planning accordingly. Additionally, we have recently transitioned our wind tunnel testing from our Bicester 50% wind tunnel facility to the Red Bull 60% wind tunnel facility, which is a further major project to deal with. However, it was important to make the jump to a 60% model and the team working out of Bicester have managed this transition very well, so far limiting any disruption as much as possible. One key part of developing the 2021 car is deciding how best to split the permitted fixed amount of aero development across the 2021 and 2022 car projects. The rolling development approach we have taken in the past couple of years provides flexibility but you must also be efficient with your aero testing, therefore resource allocation across projects is going to be a big focus in 2021.”
Another change brought about by the regulations, is that the amount of permitted CFD and wind tunnel time varies from team to team according to where you finished in the previous year’s championship. What effect has that had?
JE: “You are subject to this sliding scale of how many aero runs you can complete. Finishing seventh last year means we are at a notional zero point, so that anyone who finished behind us gets more time and those ahead of us get less. We support this system and believe it’s a sensible step in trying to bring the field closer together – it pushes teams to be as efficient as possible with each and every aero run which in turn is pushing us to find ways to extract as much information as we can from each run and develop our methodologies to try and extract even more going forwards.”
AT01 seemed liked a pretty good car, so it must have been a good starting point for this year’s AT02.
JE: “Yes, I really believe the AT01 was the best car to be produced by the team. The STR14 was not a bad car but the AT01 developed very well through the season and its performance was a credit to the hard work of everybody involved in the project. For 2021 major changes to the car require the use of ‘tokens’ and each team is limited to just 2 tokens, as such we have elected to carryover the Safety Cell. We believe the chassis and power unit provides a good baseline, so we are happy to have spent our tokens elsewhere for 2021.”
One important change for this year is that Pirelli is providing a new specification of tyre. What impact has that had on the design of the new car?
JE: “The changes Pirelli have elected to make come from what they learned last year regarding tyre durability. It must not be forgotten that the 2020 tyre was essentially a 2019 tyre and in this period the cars have developed quite a lot, so it’s not unexpected that changes would be made. We have tested with these tyres and we believe we have a good understanding of how they operate compared to the 2020 tyre. The construction is different, and this should allow Pirelli to give more freedom in terms of the minimum tyre pressures we are permitted to run. That’s a good thing, as tyre pressure is always a very sensitive topic.”
The current “customer team” rules are very specific in terms of what you can and cannot do in terms of using components produced by another team. What synergies with Red Bull Technologies have you been able to exploit in producing the AT02?
JE: “The use of Red Bull Technologies supplied gearbox, rear suspension and some front suspension components is now in its third year for us but for 2021 we have elected to continue with the same rear suspension & gearbox design as we used in 2020. We’ve elected to use our two tokens for a new nose and also redesigned the outboard front suspension, as a result of this we have elected to update some Red Bull Technologies supplied steering components to 2020 specification, as permitted by the Technical Regulations.”
The change to the aerodynamic regulations is partly aimed at slowing the cars down. How do you think the new cars will perform in terms of lap time compared to their predecessors?
JE: “The headline aero numbers have been affected by the aero change, but we have been working really hard to recover the lost performance and also improve the aero dynamic operating window for the car. How fast will our car be? It’s not something I would want to put an exact number to just yet. Overall, taking everything into account, I would say we will probably see a performance level similar to that seen mid-2020.”
On the topic of the Power Unit, what can we expect from Honda in its final season in F1?
JE: “Effectively, Honda is giving us a new Power Unit for this year and have taken the opportunity to develop the packaging around it. Honda is very determined to push right to the end of 2021 and we are sure the power unit will continue to provide all that is required from it.”
Scuderia AlphaTauri will continue to use Honda Power Units – after their withdrawal from F1 at the end of the season – through the establishment of Red Bull Powertrains Limited– what does this mean for the team?
JE: “We’ve been very happy with the Honda Power Units supplied to us over the last few years and I believe we can continue to race competitively using them, so this announcement is really great news for the team. It’s a huge commitment from Red Bull to make but it will allow both Scuderia AlphaTauri and Red Bull Racing to remain competitive by using a PU that we’re already very comfortable with. As a customer team you often have to make compromises – such as to the chassis – that can inhibit the true performance of a car, so retaining the PU in-house through Red Bull Powertrains Limited allows us to maintain the best possible package.”