Mark Gillan commenced his new role as the Williams team's chief operations engineer in Japan, taking over duties previously carried out by departing technical director Sam Michael.
Gillan's tenure got off to a tough start with a nightmare Friday practice for the team at Suzuka, but he is confident Williams has the potential to fight its way out of its current position. AUTOSPORT heard from him in Japan.
Q. What are the differences between your role and Michael's?
Mark Gillan: Obviously Sam was technical director, so he had overall technical responsibility for the team, my role as chief operations engineer is solely targeted against improving the performance of the racecar at the track. I look after the operations group, and also liaise with the head of aerodynamics to ensure we have the best aerodynamic and mechanical package - working with Ed Wood, Mike Coughlin just to ensure we optimise what we have got.
Q. Have any processes changed already?
MG: Some things have changed. Obviously I have only been in the job for two weeks, but it will take time and things don't change overnight. We have already implemented, I would say, better communication between the race team and the factory, and certainly I have worked with Jason [Somerville] for quite a few years and we have quite complementary skills. I've always been more interested in the track aerodynamics and Jason in the development of parts, so that works well.
Q. What would you say are the things to improve?
MG: There's a number of areas. First of all it's just a very simple one, getting quick and timely communication from the factory to the race team and vice versa to ensure that the factory, if we take aerodynamics, know exactly what is required, the operating envelope of the car, where we run it, where we would like to run it, so when we get a part to the track it's been optimised for that particular track.
Those are the things we are looking to improve, so to try and manufacture less parts but make a bigger impact when we bring a particular part to the track, so that when the driver tests it there is a clear performance improvement. I think in the past we have made a lot of things but not as big a jump as it could have been.
Q. You had a tough start in Japan...
MG: Not one of our finest moments, but I think we recovered well, all credit to both drivers and the team and particularly with Rubens [Barrichello]'s car it was quite a big rebuild for P3. Rubens wasn't happy with the balance all the way through P3 and we changed a lot in between P3 and qualifying so we did well to get out on time. The car was transformed, and I think where we finished is representative. Obviously it's not where we want to be, but it is representative, so encouraging. But a difficult Friday.
Q. What did you have to change after Friday?
MG: We kept the P3 programme similar to what we were going to do, mainly to keep things simple. We had a very detailed programme set out for Friday, and even despite the problems managed to get an answer for some of the aero bits we brought which were put on. We had a new floor running through Saturday, and with Pastor [Maldonado] particularly we just gave him lap-time because he hadn't been here before.
Q. What's the most important thing for Williams from now to the end of 2011?
MG: Obviously we need to do a better job with next year's car, and to do that we need the processes in place, but that doesn't preclude better performance on this year's car. There's a couple of things we were very late to the party with in terms of development, which we are still developing hard and still have updates coming certainly for the next few races. We aim to make a good jump in terms of points. At the moment we are on the cusp of getting into Q3 or not, it's very difficult. By the end of the season that has to be the goal. Moving forward we need to make a big change.
Q. How are the changes to the crash test rules for next year affecting lead times for new parts?
MG: On the lead-time side, going back again to how we approached the season, the aim really is to develop package updates to make significant improvements through the season. We are working closely, with separate release schedules, to ensure we have package updates through the season rather than drips and drabs through the season. In terms of release schedules not a huge change, just more packets orientated.
Q. Williams has lost momentum, how is the mood in the team?
MG: I have been really impressed. Coming in here it's very difficult to know what to expect with a new team, but I worked at McLaren, Toyota, Jaguar, and this is a very friendly, open team despite obviously not having the results for a while. There is an absolute hunger and desire to get back to where we should be, and there is an eagerness to push forward, take on new ideas and to really accelerate the development programme as quickly as possible. That's very evident even in two weeks. Where teams sometimes have problems you may see a breakdown in communication between say engine, aero and design side, which has happened. It's a very harmonious group, just a desire and hunger to do a better job.
We have the facility, the people and now the direction to do a much better job than what we have been doing, and I am quietly confident. Nothing is overnight, it just doesn't happen in this game, but given the time that we can be back where we should be.
Q. How much feedback have you had from Barrichello about the team's issues?
MG: If you take a very experienced driver... the driver is your most sensitive sensor in the car in terms of feedback. They are very, very sensitive to changes in the balance, and you need to listen to them carefully and understand where the car is efficient, where it needs changes, where we're making inroads. In the last couple of weeks we have been making changes to the cars in certain areas based on his feedback and Pastor's. You're dealing with the stability of the car, and your driver's feedback is the best measure of that.
Q. Does the car need more stability or a totally fresh start?
MG: You always need more stability. It's clear within the team where we need to improve, and in which areas we don't have the performance relative to others and that is being pushed hard. It takes time, and that's why I am saying I am quietly confident. The proof of the pudding is results, but the process, the technical knowledge is going in to improve things and the facilities are there.
Q. What do you expect from Renault engines next season?
MG: The Renault move is obviously very exciting. I have worked with Rob White previously, respect him hugely and that's something which I think going forward is part of the technical improvement we are looking forward to. Not just the engine, the whole control strategies, tyre performance, dealing with exhaust gases so it's definitely a very exciting time.