Williams finding answers to its F1 2013 woes - AUTOSPORT analysis
|By Jonathan Noble||Friday, March 29th 2013, 17:29 GMT|
Williams might have been surprised by its early season struggles, but the team is upbeat that it does at least have some answers as to where it has gone wrong.
After a return to form last year that peaked with its Spanish Grand Prix victory, the Grove-based outfit came into 2013 feeling that it was well-placed to build on the momentum.
Instead, it was left baffled by a lack of performance in Australia, where Pastor Maldonado labelled the car 'undriveable' and said the team was back to its dark days of 2011.
Technical director Mike Coughlan suspects that the biggest issue is sorting out the exhaust area of the car.
Having only started experimenting with the in-vogue Coanda exhausts at the final race of last year in Brazil, Williams came late to the party. And the difficulties even a manufacturer team like Mercedes had with the concept showed that getting it right is not the work of the moment.
"We didn't have Coanda in 2012, but we ran it in Brazil," explained Coughlan. "We could see the potential, but I was very nervous about it as there was a lot of work to do."
One of the difficulties in getting Coanda to work properly is that the area of hot exhaust gases is so complicated and can only be mastered with top level computer simulation facilities.
"It's not something you can do particularly well in the windtunnel because you have to understand the transition from low [car] speed but high exhaust flow, to high speed and low exhaust flow.
"You certainly see huge potential there because sometimes you are checking floor pressures and you think 'wow'. But then out on track the tyre is moving around, and the yaw rate is changing.
"But we can see a direction and I think we can enhance it in time for the next race."
Coughlan has already admitted that the team may consider the radical step of reverting to its 2012 exhausts until it masters the Coanda.
And the steps forward that will come from getting on top of exhausts go beyond simple downforce points - because it is as much about driver confidence under braking and cornering as well.
"We need to go away and get a more consistent platform for the driver," said Coughlan. "As soon as you have a situation where there is a loss of downforce on corner entry, then the driver is a bit spooked, so he corners at low potential.
"Although you can show him he has a lot more grip now, the problem is he doesn't feel confident. We have given the drivers a difficult platform to use."
While sorting out the exhausts is unlikely to be the work of the moment, Williams does at least have some time to get it sorted.
It has already pencilled in some aero testing, and despite its issues it sees no reason why it cannot be a regular challenger for points in a campaign where the top four teams appear to have stepped clear of the midfield.
"We have a straightline test booked before Barcelona for two days which we will do, and we are gearing up for some tests which will open up what we are talking about," explained Coughlan.
"We have seen enough pointers here and in the tunnel to know that if we can fix something we will open up a great deal of potential. We think fundamentally we have a car that can be in the lower reaches of the top 10."
While such a target may not be as high as it had hoped over the winter, it is at least a step away from the doldrums that Maldonado feared at the very first race.