The Gulf state of Bahrain will play host to the opening round of this year’s FIA Formula One World Championship while the traditional hosts of the opening race, Melbourne, busy themselves with the Commonwealth Games. The race will be the debut for the team’s new recruit, Nico Rosberg, who in preparation has recorded close to 7,000km of testing over 27 car days since his appointment as a team driver last November. In addition, Alex Wurz, the team’s recently appointed test and reserve driver, will take up his Friday testing role for the team on the Sakhir circuit. The race is also the debut for a fundamentally new car from a fortified design team as well as representing the team’s new partnerships with Cosworth and Bridgestone.
Following the end of the winter testing ban, the WilliamsF1 Team commenced testing, initially with the interim FW27C chassis before the 2006 race car, the FW28, debuted at the end of January. Since November 28, the team has completed 42 days of testing at three circuits across Spain and covered a total of nearly 17,000kms. Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg, Alex Wurz, Narain Karthikeyan and Andy Priaulx all contributed to the team’s intensive development preparations with the five drivers jointly recording 126 days of track time.
Reflecting both a response to the widespread regulation changes for 2006 and to progress a clear design philosophy, the FW28 is a clean sheet design with little reference to its antecedent. The primary points of distinction aerodynamically are the zero keel layout of the front suspension geometry and the decambered rear wing tips, while from a drivetrain perspective, the new Cosworth CA V8 is clearly a step change not just in technology but also in an engineering partnership. Closely allied to the engine is a seven speed semi-auto seamless shift gearbox, now fully validated and race fit. Of course all onboard technology is reliant on the critical medium of the tyre, and here again a significant change has been made in the shift to Bridgestone rubber and the regulation alteration to re-sanction tyre stops for the 2006 season.
With the desert as its backdrop, Bahrain presents its own very particular challenge. Drifting sand poses one of the greatest variables over the weekend, with tailing cars sandblasted by those in front. As a consequence, heavy duty air filters are essential, despite compromising absolute aerodynamic efficiency. Grip levels are also affected by sand drifting onto the track, making the surface slippery off-line. All of this conspires to make good, stable set-up an important confidence variable for the driver.
5.412km in length, the Sakhir circuit comprises three long straights, joined by a complex mix of 15 slow and medium speed turns. The large number of resulting braking events, from speeds of up to 315kph down to first gear in some corners, demands strict brake wear management by the drivers and, critically, sufficient cooling capability. With 62% of each lap spent in full throttle, Bahrain is also one of the most testing tracks for engine reliability that the teams will experience all year.
“Usually the first race of the season is at home in Australia, so the start of this year’s Championship has a very different feel about it for me, and it’s certainly a much quieter start than I’m used to! After all the pre-season testing and guessing games, I don’t think there’ll be a driver on the grid who’s not looking forward to getting down to what it’s all about, and that’s pitching yourself against everyone else. Race weekends are absolutely brilliant, we have our practice sessions, qualifying and the race and there can be no excuses at the end of it. You just have to get the maximum result possible for your team and yourself.”
“The first race always has an extra buzz because it delivers the answers to those unresolved questions from pre-season testing. I’m looking forward to seeing where we’re at and to see what the first part of the season may bring for Williams. Bahrain can’t come quick enough!”
“After so much testing, its going be good to finally race and it will be very interesting to see where we are compared with the others teams. I’m very confident, though, as the recent tests have been going well for me and I feel very much at home in the car. I am looking forward to my first Formula One race, especially because it’s on a track that I really enjoy and one that I have had great success at having won the GP2 Championship there last year.”
Sam Michael, Williams Technical Director
“The first race is one of the most exciting for everyone, mainly because we all want to know how competitive everyone is. This year, in particular, has been even harder to predict due to the change to V8 engines. From our perspective, the FW28 has been competitive in testing and is well prepared for racing.”
“The Bahrain circuit has long straights and slow speed corners and this drives the importance of a good aerodynamic efficiency (i.e., load to drag ratio) to a higher level, even more so in 2006 with the V8 engine. While Bahrain is still a high downforce circuit, minimising drag is important and we should see around 315kph on the pit straight. Both times we have raced in Bahrain there was plenty of overtaking, so it is clearly a track that presents plenty of opportunities for exciting racing.”
“Once again, we have a new practice and qualifying system that will significantly alter race strategy. There will be less practice mileage, but much more running in qualifying with a new, unlimited laps knockout system. The first two segments will be run on low fuel and everyone will be balancing how many new sets of tyres they have to use to make it through to the next round, which is bound to be exciting the first time we do it! In fact, if all the cars are on the track at the same time there will be a car about every four seconds.”
“We have been working hard over the winter on gearbox reliability and also on the new V8 engine with Cosworth. Tyre issues have undergone considerable change, with tyre changes allowed during the race again. This has reduced the importance of wear rates and changed the tyre development direction that we have followed with Bridgestone.”
“Finally, our drivers are all well prepared. Mark is as fired up as usual and putting a lot of effort in, while Nico has covered the greatest distance out of all our drivers over the winter so he couldn’t be better prepared for his first season in Formula One. Alex has contributed an enormous amount to our programme over the winter and we will be relying heavily on him during race weekends to evaluate tyres and set-up change on Fridays.”
Simon Corbyn, Cosworth Head of F1 Race Engineering
“Cosworth has made significant progress with the development of the new CA2006 V8 engine since the initial dyno tests. Ambitious performance and reliability targets have been set throughout the V8 programme and everyone at Cosworth has been working flat out to achieve these goals. We have worked closely with Williams and have established a great relationship with the team during the demanding winter test programme. Bahrain will be the first opportunity to really see how Cosworth and Williams stand relative to the competition with the new generation V8s.”