Rob Smedley has made quite an impact since becoming Williams Martini Racing's head of performance engineering back in April, with two of his car's drivers – Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa – finishing within the top ten of the championship season which culminated in Abu Dhabi last week.
With the Formula 1 season now over until March, Smedley looks back on the season just gone, how he hopes his team can improve for next season and what exactly happens in the world of F1 during the months the race tracks are empty.
How do you reflect on the 2014 season?
Ultimately, we’re very happy. The team has done what we needed to do. There are quite a few changes that we’ve made to the technical team, and the business in general is in quite a transient state at the moment but it all seems to have worked out. We’ve made good on what we were aiming for, which was around third and fourth in the championship. Now it’s simply a case of ‘where do we go from here?’
How early do you start thinking about next season?
It all started about six months ago. As soon as this year’s car was finished, we ran development on next year’s car. It goes from there really.
How far developed is next year’s car?
The first inception of the car is done. What we’re developing now is the first racing inception of the car – the phase two. We’re looking at the bodywork, as well as focusing on the main area of development for any Formula One car, which is aerodynamics. The performance of the car comes from the down-force; you’re looking to add as much down-force, which pushes the tyres onto the track with a stronger grip. However, you also want to reduce the resistance so that the car goes very fast but in a straight line. That’s where we are at the minute.
How do you go about organizing 20 races around the world?
We have a logistics department who are now working flat out on how to get us to and from the events. Of course, it’s not just the people; it’s the cars and the equipment too. You can be racing on different sides of the world within the same week. Logistically, that is massive.
How long do the drivers get to rest ahead of the new season?
Yeah, F1 drivers are a bit like footballers in that the season is very long and the off-season is a lot shorter. They do have time to rest, but I think it’s important for them to sustain their fitness regimes, building back up to the season. They have various stages of oncoming preparation, but added to that they’ve got all of their PR stuff also. It’s not really a very long break for them.
Do you at least get to leave the spotlight for a few months?
It’s pretty relentless, to be honest. It’s a sport that in the last few years has come very much to the forefront of the public eye, and people are becoming more knowledgeable about the technical side as well as the politics of it. Everything is much further scrutinised. It doesn’t really sleep. F1 has this air of exclusivity and glamour – super yachts, Monte Carlo, etc. – but whether that exists when you’re on the inside is another question.
What’s your own role over the coming months?
My remit is to be ever improving, to keep chipping away. When I joined the team in April, I did a lot of work to reorganise certain areas of the technical group, so it’s just more of the same really. We have a semblance of what is a decent technical group now and we’re able to exploit what is put in front of us. It’s all about guiding them onto the next stages. It’s a continuous improvement cycle to ensure that next season is an even more successful one.