James Key (Technical Director):
We felt this track would suit us because of the good downforce characteristics of the STR11. With the possibility of high temperatures, the new track surface was the big unknown for everyone, along with new kerbs.
Free Practice sessions
We didn’t find answers to those unknowns on Friday! I should add here that we had a big change on the car, running a completely new engine cooling layout. The factory did a great job to get everything ready for that and one of the big tasks on the first day was to ensure that the new systems worked properly which I am glad to say it did. However back to unknowns, we suffered, totally unexpectedly, with a lack of grip and balance right from the start. We made many setup changes but the problems were not easily solved especially on the short runs on Friday and this carried through to Saturday morning, we were a long way off what we had expected in terms of the car performance and way behind our direct competitors. It meant we got hardly anything out of Friday and nothing out of FP3 on Saturday morning – something was clearly very wrong. We looked at the situation in a lot of detail after FP3 and uncovered what seemed to be the problem just in time – it was then a case of getting on top of it as fast as possible.
We therefore approached qualifying not knowing if we had done enough to rectify this issue. Then the weather reset the situation, because of the elevation changes at this track you get areas that stay quite wet and we had to monitor that carefully as the new track surface meant we were not sure where the standing water would be. It was an interesting prospect in the rain. The way the FIA managed the situation, delaying it when appropriate, was the right thing to do. We were in trouble initially in Q1 as we were caught out by the two red flags and had not got a lap time in, but towards the end of Q1 we did it and were comfortably through to Q2. At this point the track was drying rapidly. Traffic management was difficult and Carlos put together a good lap to go to Q3 but Daniil was caught by traffic and that stopped him from progressing. In Q3, we took a gamble with Carlos and went for a single lap and then we went for a “push” lap, a cool down lap and another “push” lap and so we got a lap in the middle of the session thus avoiding the yellow flags that happened at the end of the session to end up P6.
We thought it was possible to get Daniil home in the points from starting P12. Unfortunately, the start didn’t go well and we are looking into the reasons for that. It put him in heavy and slow traffic and despite our best strategy efforts, the difficulty in overtaking here meant his race was over before it had begun really. With Carlos, it was a race to be the best behind the top three teams and we were in that race with McLaren, Force India and Williams. Raikkonen came on string during the race as expected and we lost a place to him by the end of the race, more importantly for us there was Alonso who got a better start than us from just behind on the grid and managed to pass Carlos into Turn 1. It meant he finished P8 when we had hoped for P7 at least so not the result we wanted, it was a case of tracking Alonso’s McLaren for the whole race at a track where it is very difficult to pass. It was a clean and well run race from Carlos and the team, but we just missed our target so came away only 50% happy in the end, for Daniil we need to find some more luck with him and give him a better chance to show what he can do – both cars in the points has to be our target from this point forwards.