Next 3 races will be crucial - Bell
The Renault F1 Team’s Technical Director, Bob Bell, talked about the state of play on the eve of race 8 of the 2006 season. It is a special Grand Prix for the team as it is the 200th one. Of course the whole team hopes for a birthday present of Alonso.
Bob, are you satisfied with the Renault F1 Team’s start to the season?
"How could I not be?! Five wins from seven races is a fantastic result. I am very satisfied with the team’s performance, and that of the R26. For the moment, things are looking good – but the competition is very tough."
At the start of the season, four teams seemed to be neck and neck. Now, things have stretched out a bit…
"It’s true. Renault, McLaren, Honda and Ferrari could barely be separated during the opening races. Things are different at the moment. I think we have maintained our level of performance, and Ferrari have caught up their deficit. The balance of power between them and us is very tight. McLaren is a little behind, but they have made a good step forward. And I don’t know why, but Honda seem to have lost ground."
A few races ago, there was a lot of debate around supposedly flexible wings. What is the situation now?
"The situation is better, but not completely resolved. The Technical Working Group is still working on the topic. We need to be absolutely certain that everybody is respecting not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the regulations."
Visually, the cars up and down the grid do not seem to have evolved significantly to on outside observer. Would you agree?
"Yes. I think it is because the aerodynamic regulations have been stable for two years, and that means the gains to be found are smaller and smaller. However, all the major aerodynamic elements of the R26 have evolved since the first race: front and rear wings, diffuser, endplates… If the two cars were side by side, you would see the differences immediately."
Will that remain the case until the end of the year?
"Well, there are some things in the pipeline that will be a little easier to spot."
Mechanically, have you made major changes to the R26?
"Not really. First and foremost, we have concentrated on making the car reliable, then on tuning it for each circuit. We have improved stiffnesses, taken weight out… On the mechanical side, the major developments tend to come during the off-season."
F1 will be arriving in Montreal in two weeks’ time – a circuit where the Renault team has not had much luck in the last two years. Are you worried?
"We really want to put an end to that bad streak – and hammer home our advantage during the North American races. After all, we had a difficult race at Monaco in 2005 and we won there this year… From a strategic point of view, Montreal and Indy will be important for the championship: it’s the time when rivals will decide whether to continue pushing hard on development, or to economise resources. If we leave Indy with a good lead, then we will have a concrete psychological advantage. The next three races will be crucial."
So there’s no question of managing your lead?
"No. We’ll start doing that once we have won the championship!"