Formula 1's pre-season testing has left onlookers in little doubt that Ferrari will be returning to the fight at the front of the field this year, even if it is too early to predict exactly how good a season the team will have. Although the Maranello-based squad itself is keeping its optimism in check, you can sense that the team is excited by what the F10 has produced so far.
We caught up with Ferrari's chief track engineer Chris Dyer to reflect on the winter progress, get his verdict on testing form and ask for his opinions on the opposition.
Q. Has the winter program gone the way you would have hoped?
Chris Dyer: Yeah, I think overall we're pretty happy with the way things have gone. The biggest problem has been the weather – that's quite comforting in terms of how things have gone with the car that we've had nothing more serious to worry about than the rain.
Q. So do you feel fortunate that you've come out of the blocks well, as you haven't suffered like you would have in this situation with last year's car?
CD: We have been very good on the reliability front, which really makes a huge difference in the winter test program. We're extremely limited now on testing days, and you can't afford to lose too many hours with the car stuck in the garage. We've been very happy with the way that's gone this winter.
Q. What were the benefits of stopping development of the '09 car rather than developing it and carrying that over to this year's car?
CD: It's a little bit of a trade-off. You can say that in developing the '09 car we would find things that we could put on the new car. But I think even though the regulations have been pretty stable over the winter, the big issue was not rule changes this winter, but the things that happened earlier in the year with the double diffuser.
Really, that forces you to go back to a very clean sheet of paper, and that's where part of the advantage in the decision we made, was that by starting the new car earlier, we could really optimize the car around the double diffuser concept which, with the old car, was never going to be possible because of the basic architecture of the car.
Q. How would you gauge your performance in race trim from the Barcelona test?
CD: I think so far this week we've seen that it's extremely close. We've got four teams at the front of the time sheets here, and the situation seems quite close whatever the fuel load. High fuel, medium fuel, low fuel, we're always there or thereabouts. Sometimes one day someone seems ahead on low fuel or high fuel, the next day the situation changes a little bit.
I think it's so close between the teams that we start talking about how much the track improved, which way was the wind blowing, was someone running 10 kilos more, to try and decide where we are. It's really difficult to draw anything more than the conclusion that it's very tight at the front.
Q. Does the fact that it's so close at the front mean it's more important than ever to start the year well?
CD: When the competition is tight, you can't afford to make any mistakes. The drivers can't afford any mistakes, we as a team can't make any mistakes, we can't afford to have any reliability issues. There's no margin, and it becomes very difficult to recover when everybody is so close.
Q. Has this been the most difficult winter to gauge everyone's performance?
CD: Yeah I think so, because of the situation with the fuel levels. We've seen a much bigger spread of fuel loads now than we've ever seen before in testing. That just makes the job of trying to decipher that all the more difficult.
Q. Does Ferrari have more updates for Bahrain?
CD: I would say there's always things in the pipeline, but we don't have a big upgrade planned.
Q. What about the McLaren improvement over the last few days of Barcelona?
CD: I've thought right from the beginning that all of the cars were very close together, and I think from each test we've seen a very similar conclusion. I don't really see signs of anybody that's put on a package here – I think everybody has added performance at a similar rate. I don't think we've seen, within the difficulties of trying to work out everyone's performance, anything that has changed the relative performance of the cars.