Toro Rosso chief engineer Laurent Mekies describes the unique nature of setting up an F1 car for the Singapore Grand Prix.
During the gradual migration of F1 to the Far East, the Singapore Grand Prix has become a firm favourite with the crowds, the bright lights and stunning backdrop pulling in tourists – and tourist dollars – from all around the world. But it isn’t necessarily a favourite of the engineers and mechanics, for whom setting up a racing car to tackle the city streets presents something of a headache. Toro Rosso’s chief engineer Laurent Mekies explains why.
'In Singapore we have a unique ride-height setting'
Laurent, what’s so different about Singapore?
The first time we came to Singapore it definitely threw up a few surprises. In generally you know what to expect from a street circuit: you know to set the car up with the highest level of downforce for the slow corners, and have a soft set-up because of the bumpy surface. But, when we first raced here we realised there was a lot of big bumps. It’s nice to watch of TV because you can see the F1 cars are genuinely racing on normal city streets, but for the teams it’s really difficult to ride those bumps as it has serious implications for the ride-height of the car. In Monza we have a unique low-downforce rear wing that doesn’t appear anywhere else: In Singapore we have a unique ride-height setting. The track forces you to run the car softer than you would like. Any twisty layout forces you to have a soft car – but it’s the surface that kills you here: it makes you run the car far softer than you would like to. And then there are a couple of artificial kerbs that create chicanes. You have to decide whether it’s possible to ride those or not and have to adapt your set-up accordingly.
How do you prepare over the weekend for racing at night?
We have the practice sessions on Friday in the evening at the same time as the race on Sunday to simulate those conditions. It gives the drivers an opportunity to get used to racing under the lights. For them it’s important; for us in the garage, it’s not a big deal.
Does the high humidity affect the car at all?
Not really. The engines will be tuned for it and we’ll get a different level of power, but there isn’t anything we can do about that and at the end of the day it doesn’t really affect the car, you just factor it into your simulation.
Do you bring more spare parts to a street circuit race, given the greater opportunities to damage the car during practice and qualifying?
Not really, it’s just a risk you accept. We will maybe bring a couple more front wings, because this is an easy place to leave a front wing on the side of the street, but for the rest of the car we have the usual number of spares. Apart from the bumps it’s a Monaco-style track with one very high-speed corner. Like always on a street circuit we try to give the drivers a car that they can have confidence in straight away – that’s very important here because one mistake can be very costly.
'It is very hot and you will see mistakes happening when the fatigue sets in'
The racing here has been a little on the processional side in the past – will the DRS change that?
Overtaking around Marina Bay has been very difficult in the past and I don’t expect it to be very different this year, even with the DRS. However, you still get plenty of excitement because it is very hot and you will see mistakes happening when the fatigue sets in.
Will the lack of overtaking opportunities mean going back to a situation where qualifying suddenly become crucially important again? Will you gear the car for qualifying rather than the race?
It does and we will. We will spend more of our time focused on qualifying during the practice sessions. This means doing more low-fuel running, letting the driver get used to running with a light car and helping us find a set-up that is optimised for qualifying. Compared to what’s been usual this year it requires a mindset change in the garage.
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