Renault's latest challenger, the R26, has been amongst the front runners in pre-season testing. Chassis Technical Director Bob Bell and Engine Technical Director Rob White talk of the build up to Bahrain and the new technical package.
Interview with Bob Bell, Chassis Technical Director
Bob, how has the winter gone for the Renault F1 Team?
"It has been a tough winter, with some very demanding engineering and logistics tasks. The programme with the new car was very tight, to get it completed before Christmas. We then had to get two chassis running very early, but the strong performance in winter testing has given everybody a lot of motivation. After an intensive winter, we genuinely believe we have a strong chance of successfully defending our championships."
What have the drivers said about the new car?
"They are both pretty optimistic. They like the car, they find it easy to drive, to set up and to extract maximum performance from. That should mean it is a good car to race, which is the ultimate test. I think they are both ready to go out and win races, with the aim of bringing back a drivers' championship."
You have introduced a major aero upgrade for the first race. Tell us about it…
"We are constantly honing all areas of the aerodynamics. This package includes a new floor, modifications to the front win and nose, modified suspension components and the addition of two small chassis winglets. Altogether, that represents several tenths in lap-time."
Will the team be working to develop the R26 throughout the year?
"We intend to push even harder than we did for the R25, and we are gearing up for that. In concrete terms, that means developments at every race. Furthermore, we will be working with more capacity than last year. Our wind tunnel is now operating 24 hours a day, and we have made other changes to streamline our working methods. All of that means we will be able to add performance to the car even faster this year."
Do you expect the R26 to suit Bahrain?
"So far, we haven't seen any indication that the R26 is circuit-dependent. We have run at three very different tracks, and the car has performed well. Bahrain will represent a big test of the cooling and braking systems in particular, and we feel very comfortable with our developments in these areas."
Other front-running teams have already tested in Bahrain. Will this be a disadvantage for you?
"I don't think so. The testing Honda were able to do has provided Michelin with good direction on the tyres, and that will benefit all the Michelin teams. Furthermore, last year we were able to set the car up very quickly and we didn't lose running time optimising set-up. I think the R26 is even better in that area, so while the other teams have had the advantage of extra track time, I don't think it will be a critical factor."
Who will be the team's rivals?
"Looking at the winter testing times, and especially the long runs, then it's obvious that Renault, Honda and McLaren are right up there at the front. I am sure come Bahrain, Ferrari will be much more competitive than last year. It is hard to judge exactly how much at the moment, but you can never write them off. I think Toyota will also move further along, and show themselves to be more competitive."
Does the 2006 season mark a fresh start for the team and Formula 1?
"Here at Renault, we don't think so. We have maintained the momentum from winning the championships last year, and we intend to maintain an even higher level of performance in 2006. Our feeling is that the first race in Bahrain, is almost like race twenty of the 2005 season."
So are you going to Bahrain to win?
"The most encouraging indicator from the end of last season, was not just winning the championships, but the fact that we were clearly the strongest team at the final race. The developments we put in place then have carried through in one form or another to the R26, and as we approach Bahrain, I am confident we have the performance to challenge for the win."
Interview with Rob White, Engine Technical Director
The 2006 Bahraini Grand Prix sees the debut of new 2.4L V8 technical regulations. Is it the beginning of a new era?
"2006 is clearly a new beginning because all the engine manufacturers are obliged to introduce new engines at the same time. It is important to note that the new V8s are genetically very similar to their V10 predecessors when it comes to their design and technology, but of course, the different interpretations and circumstances of each manufacturer could alter the pecking order."
Do you expect major performance differences at the start of the season?
"It is reasonable to expect that at the beginning of a new rules cycle, the varying levels of maturity of the engines may lead to performance differences. This is likely to be followed by a period of catching up, and after that, the evolution in performance will depend on the means and efficiency of the development groups. At Renault, we are in a strong position to attack the 2006 season, with the aim of defending our titles."
Inevitably, there have already been attempts to isolate and rank the performance of the engines. How useful is this exercise?
"It is extraordinarily difficult to accurately determine the absolute performance of a Formula One engine, and impossible without extensive measuring equipment. Estimations and comparisons of engines in the cars should always be considered in this light: there is inevitably significant uncertainty in the results. We seek to make use of the data available to gauge our progress relative to competitors, but "engine only" comparisons are of limited real value. Ultimately, there are no championship points for engines on their own. We take a car-wide view of performance in order to optimise the race result on Sunday afternoon."
Last year's race in Bahrain saw Renault's sole engine failure of the 2005 campaign. Have counter-measures been taken with the new engine?
"Last year's problem was a result of the extreme temperatures experienced at the start of the race. We diagnosed it quickly, and implemented counter-measures during 2005. It also led us to modify the specifications of the RS26 accordingly. This aspect has formed part of our preparations, and we are optimistic there will be no repeat of the same problem."
Will the team's approach to the first race weekend with the V8, be any different to previous years?
"There is nothing intrinsic in the change from V10 to V8 that would cause an abrupt change. Simulations are a significant resource in our preparations, and their accuracy means they are a real aid in our decision-making in many areas. Our approach to the race weekend, though, will be very similar to last season, integrating the lessons learned during 2005, the impact of new regulations such as tyre changes and a longer qualifying procedure, and the characteristics of the RS26 V8 engine."
How successful has the winter programme been?
"We are pleased with the development during the winter. We had favourable first impressions of the V8 from its dyno running, and these have been confirmed. The first track tests were tackled in a well-prepared manner, and there were not too many nasty surprises from running the engine in the car. For our team, the choice to only run the engine in a real 2006 car, rather than putting it on track earlier, turned out to be a good solution."
Reliability seems to have been a major objective during winter testing?
"We always target zero-defect reliability, but it is easier said than done. We have rigorous development and approval processes, but the RS26 is still a young engine and the margins between success and failure are slender. The first races of the season are always anxious from a reliability perspective, and the work to achieve and maintain reliability is continuous."
And finally, what about performance?
"It is clear that in modern Formula 1, reliability alone is not enough. It is important that the performance is competitive from the start of the season, that it is maintained throughout the race weekend, and that it is developed through the season. We judge our performance targets to be aggressive yet realistic. During the pre-season phase, we have respected our project milestones and targets. Now, we await the season to better measure ourselves against the competition to see if those targets are sound. But our aim has been to equip both our drivers with the means to win races and defend our championships."