Bob Bell reviews Renaults 2004 season 05 Nov 2004
The Renault Formula One team's chassis technical director looks back on a hard-fought season, which saw the team meet its objective of finishing in the top three in the constructors championship and prepare for the future.
Q: Do you remember your impressions when the R24 completed its first laps last January?
Bob Bell: As always, we had planned for the new car to be a step forward in performance over its predecessor. That's always the goal you have - to design a stiffer, lighter car with optimised weight distribution. Those things were all confirmed on the track. It was a significant step forward and our drivers noted that immediately. The strengths of the R24 chassis were the aerodynamics, its traction and the way it used its tyres. The engine was also impressive, especially considering we were working with a new architecture. And finally, I think we were perhaps the strongest team when it came to exploiting our electronic systems.
Q: So, there were no bad surprises with this car?
BB: I must admit that we did not expect it to be more difficult to drive, because we did not make any decisions during the design process that were likely to affect this area. According to the drivers, though, the car was less predictable on the limit and a little more nervous in fast corners. We therefore immediately began working to correct this: first isolating the problem, understanding it and then resolving it.
Q: Did you succeed in this?
BB: To a certain extent, yes. We worked hard in this area and made significant progress. However, to completely eradicate the defect would have required the modification of fundamental parts of the car, such as the monocoque, and we chose not to pursue this route.
BB: Firstly, the changes for 2005 meant we had to mobilise material and human resources very early in order to begin assessing their implications. And it should not be forgotten that the R24 was fast enough to allow us to fight at the front of the field without undertaking these fundamental modifications.
Q: Given that next year's regulations include significant changes, was it difficult to balance the development of the R24 with the design of the 2005 car?
BB: In actual fact, we were working on three fronts. We pursued a normal development programme on the R24, worked on resolving its high-speed instability. and began designing the 2005 car last July. There are no miracles in F1 - everything is a question of rigour, organisation, resource management and good planning. In that perspective, I do not think Enstone suffered from this three-fold programme.
Q: Did you extract all the possible performance from the R24?
BB: We might have unlocked more by diverting resources from the 2005 programme late in the season, but that would have been the wrong decision.
Q: In reliability terms, are you happy with how the car performed?
BB: Yes. We retired three times with failures on the chassis - both cars in Canada, and one in Silverstone. These incidents apart, the car was reliable from day one.
Q: Can you talk about next year already?
BB: The aerodynamic losses generated by the new regulations are significant, and we are working very hard in the wind tunnel. We already know that our next car will be a good one. It will have new electronics and a heavily-modified engine. On the mechanical side, Chief Designer Tim Densham and his team are focusing on reliability as well as making the car easy to use and work on.
Q: Are you in favour of performance reductions?
BB: Yes. I think we had reached a situation that could have become problematic had we not responded to it. The cars were incredibly fast this year and we had to react. Otherwise, F1 would have become unacceptably dangerous.
Q: Finally, do you agree that Formula One nowadays is primarily a question of design offices, virtual simulations, tyres and data analysis?
BB: No, and that's why I love this job. The car is simply a tool - you also need to know how to make proper use of it. And on that level, it is still the human factor that makes a difference in this sport. Winning races is not just about optimum lap times, but effective teamwork: choosing the right strategy, making good pit-stops, managing the weekend properly, the drivers' performance. F1 may be full of high technology, but it still comes down to a group of individuals, united by their passion for racing, who achieve the end result. Personally, I always find that exciting.