Bob Bell on Renaults 2004 season 15 Oct 2004
They are one of only two teams to have beaten the all-conquering Ferraris this year. But with just one race to go, Renault look almost certain to miss out to BAR for the runners-up spot in the constructors championship. Technical Director Bob Bell looks back on a season of ups and downs for the French squad.
Q: As we arrive in Brazil for the final race of the season, what are the team's expectations in terms of performance?
Bob Bell: I think we can be more confident in our expected level of performance than at some of the circuits we have visited recently. It has been slightly difficult to judge exactly where we will be competitive this season but Brazil is a circuit with a large number of low speed corners and traction events, which we know play to the strengths of the R24. A strong performance, by which we mean a podium finish, is a very achievable target in the final race as Fernando has been driving outstandingly for much of the season. The whole team is extremely motivated to hit that target.
Q: In recent races, it has been perceived that the team has fallen off the pace relative to its direct competitors. How would you respond to that?
BB: We have continued to push hard on development of the R24 until the very end of the season and will be running suspension modifications in Brazil that constitute a good step forward in performance. The team has not let up for one moment in its pursuit of second place in the championship. However, BAR have done an excellent job this year. They have visibly matured as a team and are now able to capitalise on the performance of their package, getting both cars to the finish and scoring points in a way they were not at the start of the season. Our season has gone the other way and after a long series of two-car finishes in the first half of the year, our failure to score points with both cars in the second half of the season has severely penalised us.
Q: The R24 has acquired the reputation of being a more difficult car than its predecessor.
BB: The R24 is clearly a faster car than the R23, but we have also learned that it has a smaller sweet spot in which the drivers feel comfortable on the limit. We experienced difficulties with the handling at the start of the season, so concrete steps were taken to improve this and have done so: the car is now more constant in high speed corners. Those handling vices have also meant that it has been harder to extract the full performance potential from the car. But at those circuits when we did get the right set-up, where the drivers felt fully comfortable, we demonstrated that it was an extremely competitive racing car - one only needs to think of Monaco or Magny-Cours as illustrations of this. Equally, it shouldn't be forgotten that the R24 was a contender for victory in both Canada and Belgium before mechanical failures forced us out. Both of those races were certainly missed opportunities.
Q: How would you analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the R24-RS24 package?
BB: In 2003, sole amongst our competitors, a fundamental decision was taken to use a different engine configuration as the basis for our development in 2004 in order to meet the reliability targets imposed by the regulation changes. Viry did a remarkable job to not only produce this engine on time for the first race of the year but also to develop it throughout the season and achieve significant performance gains. This decision was absolutely the right one and we certainly have scored more points than we would have done otherwise but we also had to accept certain fundamental compromises in terms of weight, size and centre of gravity. On the chassis side, the team produced a faster car but also a more difficult one. In trying to resolve these problems, we have learned a number of important lessons about the vehicle characteristics that will be applied next year in order to combine the strengths of the R23 and R24 into a competitive package.
Q: So how would you sum up this season?
BB: I think it is fair to say it has been a demanding year for the team on a number of levels, but also a successful one. We have learned important lessons that will allow us to continue our progress on the basis of very firm foundations. For 2004, we made significant advances over 2003 in many areas and produced a quicker car and better engine - contrary to the expectations of some observers. For next year, it will be a whole new ballgame in terms of the regulation changes that are set to be introduced and while it is hard to make comparisons at this early stage, we are very confident in how our development is progressing. I think the 2005 Renault car will be a much better-optimised vehicle in many areas.