John Iley is the Performance Director for the Caterham F1 team. He’s in control of all the aerodynamic and computational fluid dynamic (CFD) aspects of development as Caterham work hard to mix it with the established mid-field teams.
John started in F1 with Jordan in 1995 and worked his way up to chief aerodynamicist in 1998. He then worked at Renault during their double world championship glory days before moving to Maranello. He worked for 6 years at Ferrari as a chief aerodynamicist before briefly joining McLaren.
His vast experience with the established and multiple championship winning teams makes his insight and input extremely valuable for an upcoming team like Caterham. It also makes his insight into F1 incredibly fascinating and one that I’m proud to be able to share with the readers of my website.
Q: You joined Caterham this year from McLaren. What are some of challenges of going from the likes of established teams McLaren and Ferrari to a new team and how has your experience been at Caterham so far?
Fundamentally resources. In larger teams there are normally tools, software, people and infrastructure that has been built up over decades that are just there, but with a brand new, from scratch, three year old team you are starting everything from the very beginning. This is part of the appeal to build the right foundations with the right people the right way, but you have to appreciate what the most critical items are in order and who is going to cover them as you do not have the luxury of relying on ‘others’ to pick things up. The experience so far has been really really good. Support, enthusiasm, dedication, teamwork, humour and clear signs of progress everywhere both at base and the track. It is a pleasure for me to be part of it.
Q: You introduced a massive upgrade package (more than 21 parts!) at Silverstone but unfortunately had a tough grand prix. How much of a step forward you believe you’ve made from the period of on track testing you’ve had?
After the upgrades we made at Valencia, the Silverstone package was another very large revision, more than 21 areas and no I am not going to tell you how many! I sit here with time to be answering as we have just had the third postponement of our Kemble aero straight line test, twice for rain and once for an unfortunate aircraft accident. Therefore the only full scale comparison data we have was from those soaking FP1 & FP2 sessions on Friday at Silverstone, enough to get clear direction on the package and options, but not good enough to fully map and confidently measure the difference. Our development tools indicated it was at least half a second a lap improvement, but you have to correlate and deliver these at the track. With lack of dry running, set up time and incidents on the to grid lap (PET) and turn 6 Lap 1 (KOV) in the race we still need some more time and more luck to show the progress we are making.
Q: This year Caterham procured Renault engines and gearboxes from Red Bull Racing. How helpful has that been? My theory is, for a new team, using trusted mechanical parts would mean less resources spent worrying about mechanical reliability and thus could be dedicated to aerodynamics, where I believe most of gain in performance lie?
Both of these are the best suppliers, reigning World Champions and current Championship leaders, it allows us to concentrate on other key areas knowing you have the optimum benchmark in the car already. By the same token you know car aerodynamic performance has already been carefully considered in the architecture and layout of these components so adding more performance in this and other areas will have the strongest baseline.
Q: How long does it take for a component to go from idea to production? Do some parts get rapidly prototyped and skip some usual protocols in order to get them to the car?
It depends what it is….. I was once testing a component at 3am on a Wednesday morning in a wind tunnel and it was on the car full scale on Friday in FP1 in Italy, and that was @14 years ago. Manufacturing techniques and particularly rapid prototyping has changed aero development considerably over the last decade, the biggest benefits being seen on brake ducts and the ‘furniture’ on these legality corners of the car. For larger composite items like floors or wings the dependency shifts to FE analysis and geometry complexity or how many tools are required. For these you are normally looking at weeks and not days again depending on the magnitude of the change. In a perfect world you would like to sign off components making sure they had covered a race distance in testing or practice before actually racing them, but often if the gain is large enough, the lead time and the sign off can change….. By the way that part all those years ago was carbon!
Q: What is the process involved in deciding which upgrades the team should develop? Do you have a specific design path / schedule or for a team like Caterham is it more a case of follow the leader and develop additional upgrades around that path?
There is a specific design and upgrade path, but with flexibility built into it. Some circuits and certain times of year have to be covered by upgrades: drag level, cooling, braking, aero balance, etc. As we are all manufacturers you need to develop your car and your package, what you need to improve. However you often see what I would call “pit lane fashion” where a near identical geometry is on two different F1 cars despite their differences. At that point you must lose your pride and be quick as that device is almost certainly F1 car transferable and fairly soon every car will have one. Eg. Barge boards, Side pod forward vanes, wheel drums, etc, etc. In summary we have our own path, but we keep our eyes and options open.
Q: You’ve gotten into Q2 a couple of times with Heikki and were running as high at 10th during the safety car period with Vitaly. How important are performances in boosting the morale of the team and providing motivation to keep working on closing the gap?
For us it is now a question of when and not if. We still have the challenge of a Factory move next month, another important point on our path, but we are encouraged and can see and feel the progress being made. It will come, we just have to be patient for a little bit longer, for 2012 realistic goals, upgrades that deliver, two cars into Q2, then our first point, but also enjoying being part of the journey. It’s a momentum thing, once you get the ball rolling it tends to pick up speed, motivation from that is quite easy.
Q: Looking back, if you could have any innovation from F1′s past return what would you choose?
A very interesting, but difficult question…. One which is coming is turbo charging, more power from smaller engines is an opportunity for both better packaging and energy recovery, however in my opinion we should have gone for an in line 4 rather than V6 configuration, simply because I feel this is the direction the motor industry is going. As an aerodynamicist I would also welcome the return of ‘ground effect’ or perhaps more correctly now ‘floor performance’. Why? Because as the most efficient part of the car for generating down force and if geometrically done right one of the least effected by running in wake, this would move us favourably in two directions of car performance.
Q: Lastly John, any tips for young university students (like my flatmate) who aspire to one day become involved in the technical aspect of F1?
You have to remember F1 is so so competitive, very hard to get into and then despite its glamorous image massive amounts of hours and work, truly survival of the fittest. Clearly choice of course and University is important, but F1 teams receive many many applications from very talented students from the right schools, so you need something extra that helps you stand out. I find practical experience, putting all that hard learned studying into practice is a good differentiator. Have you race engineered a slicks and wings car, often for free on your own initiative showing abnormal levels of commitment, have you built a prototype in your garage and raced it, how much effective practical application of your motor sport technical skills have you demonstrated? Strong exam results and grades are important, but the ability to turn that into design or technical problem solving when a pit lane closes in five minutes or you must pass a crash test to race is something else entirely.
John was very gracious to answer the questions in such great detail and I can personally say his answers were a joy to read. They give a great insight into the challenges faced by a new team and clearly show the dedication Caterham have. I love it how John says it’s simply a question of “when” not “if” that they’ll start mixing it up with the midfield teams. It’ll be great to see them fighting for points and I was certainly cheering when I saw Petrov running P10 in Valencia. I feel it’s important for F1 to be receptive to new teams and for them to be able to succeed. It’s great to see Caterham’s development and I hope HRT and Virgin follow suit.
I’d like to thank John for giving me this incredible opportunity to share with you all. I’d also like to thank Tom Webb, the Head of Communications at Caterham for making this possible.
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