James Allison: “The entire concept of the R31 differs considerably from any car this team has ever produced”
After a busy winter, the team’s Technical Director talks about the challenges faced during the design phase of the R31 and how the team has adapted to the new regulations.
James, tell us about the R31 and how it varies from its predecessor…
Words like ‘aggressive’ and ‘innovative’ are very much in vogue in Formula 1 at the moment, but where the R31 is concerned we feel that those adjectives are appropriate. It’s true to say that the car has been designed in an ambitious manner and a quick glance at the layout will confirm that its entire concept differs considerably, not just from last year’s car, but from any car this team has ever produced. Those changes represent our attempt to extract the absolute maximum aerodynamic performance from the regulations, which have changed quite significantly for this year, and to further develop the concept of using the exhausts to blow the floor.
So it’s fair to say the R31 is a significant step forward compared to the R30?
It is very difficult to compare the two cars in a meaningful way. 2011 is a different year with a new set of regulations and that’s why the R31 is a very different car. For example, KERS is back this year and the car has been completely re-engineered to accommodate that system in an efficient way. We’ve also chosen to change the layout of our rear suspension by opting for a pull rod system for the first time in decades. And, as I said before, anyone can see that the treatment we have given to some specific areas is completely new compared with anything we have done previously. All of those things are aimed at trying to maximise the R31 under the 2011 rules.
How has the team handled the design and build phase of the new car – has it been a relatively straightforward winter?
It’s never straightforward – that’s the honest answer – but it has been made particularly tricky this year by having major additional components, such as KERS and the adjustable rear wing to incorporate as well. Developing the wing, for example, added considerable workload in the design and production stages, rather than simply making a refinement of the previous year’s design. It meant starting with a completely clean sheet of paper. The same was true of the areas around our exhaust system where we had to begin from scratch.
What more can you tell us about the adjustable rear wing and how it will affect the cars…
The straight-line speed gain from adjusting the wing will not be the same for all cars and whoever gets the most benefit will depend on who has designed the most efficient version. Every team will be looking for a wing that delivers the optimum compromise of downforce in the corners, while shedding the maximum drag down the straights – the better your wing can do that, the better your lap time will be in qualifying and the more competitive you will be in racing conditions. In terms of how powerful it is, the gains from adjusting the rear wing will be more significant than the gains we saw last year using f-ducts. But, like the f-duct, it’s far from straightforward aerodynamically and we’ve spent a great deal of time in CFD and the wind tunnel to make sure our concept delivers the best compromise.
Where do you think the R31 will sit in the pecking order when the season gets underway?
With every season that goes by, the professionalism of the teams that are competing becomes even more intense. There are many teams that know how to produce a good car and we’re under no illusion about the scale of the challenge facing us in 2011. I think that last year we perhaps exceeded the expectations of some people in the pit lane, but we certainly didn’t outperform our own expectations. While we were happy to be moving back in the right direction, we would be frustrated if we started 2011 operating at the same performance level we showed last year. That means we want the R31 to be competitive right from the off and in with a chance of scoring podiums or better from the first race. Considering the tremendous effort that has gone in at all levels to produce this car, that would be a fitting reward for all concerned.