Q+A with Sauber's James Key

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Sauber's new technical director, James Key has been questioned about his arrival at his new team. Key is optimistic about moving up the grid this season, but at appears already obvious that more work will be put into the 2011 car to ensure a better showing next year.

Question: What are your first impressions of the team? “The first impressions are very good. We have an excellent group of people here, and the expertise and the knowledge are at a very high level. And, of course, the facilities are state-of-the-art. There is enormous potential. Everything is here that needs to be here to ensure the team can move forward. On the other hand there is also much work to be done. The team is still recovering from its uncertain situation in the second half of 2009. It requires a slightly new approach to the way certain areas work to make better use of the size the team is now.

Where was your main focus in the first month with the team? ”My main focus in the first week was to get around and meet as many people as I could in the technical group to understand where they felt they were, how they operate their departments and how they fit in with other areas. I’m a strong believer that, particularly in a small team, you have to be able to read into how the operation ticks and how it works and fits together. I asked them questions about where they see things heading at present, and what they think their department’s strengths and weaknesses are. All that allowed me to piece together a picture of the team.

“The second part was to focus on where we are with the current car. The race weekend in China really helped, because I was able to see the car running and talk to the drivers and people at the track in more detail. From all of that I am forming a plan of the way we go forward, which fundamentally is attacking our known weaknesses and investigating areas we don’t understand so well yet. The good news is the team is well aware already of some of the deficits that the car has compared to where it should be. I’ve been able to reinforce that and introduce a few other directions and ideas as well.”

What will you change in the short term? “In the short term there is going to be a small restructuring within the technical group, which I have just started instigating. This should allow the team to be more in tune with the smaller organisation it is now, particularly in terms of the efficiency of its operation. In addition to that, we have a plan being developed of what exactly we are going to do this year to attack the known issues we have, and to give ourselves a chance to realise some decent steps later in the season.”

What are your plans in the longer term? ”There are many things to do in the longer term. One is to adapt the shape of the company according to our budget and goals for the future, as well as possible regulation changes. Part of the restructuring I will be doing will be designed so we have a better capability within the current size of our technical organisation to soak up longer 2 term changes to regulations. This will also allow us to start work on next year’s car much earlier than perhaps would be the case in the past. So, for example, I expect to sit down and start the 2012 car design process before this year has finished.”

Is it realistic to move up the grid in the course of the 2010 season? ”I believe it is, because we now know what we need to do with the current car. However, for some issues there are no quick fixes. Some current characteristics of the car need to be developed to produce new characteristics, which takes time. So we will work as quickly as possible to turn that around. Targets have been set and they are very ambitious. It’s certainly possible to move up the grid, but the competition is fierce so we have to do everything we can to develop quicker than they do.”

When will you start working on the 2011 car? “Work on the 2011 car has started already. Different layouts are being evaluated, and we have a long list of ideas and things we want to look at. The team has already done quite a bit of background work in various areas to start looking at the implications of the regulation changes we know about for 2011. In addition, we have ideas where we should improve from this year’s car. That process is already underway. I have a schedule in mind of how we need to split the balance between the development of this year’s and next year’s car, which fits the structure of the team. I think we should gain momentum over the next few weeks. However, much is still subject to any further regulation changes and the tyre situation, which we have to keep an eye on.

“We have got a fairly aggressive set of goals for its development to make sure that we meet deadlines, and also have the possibility to investigate as much as we can on the fundamentals of the car at this early stage.”