Renaults Bob Bell and Rob White on the first half of the French team's 2004 season 23 Jun 2004
Last weekends United States Grand Prix marked the halfway point in the 2004 season. After it the Renault team's two Technical Directors spoke about the first nine races of their campaign.
Q: Following Indianapolis, the Renault team is second in the Constructors' Championship. Is that a surprise?
Bob Bell: Yes. Our objective this season was to be third, but we realised very early on that we could gain a position on that initial goal. Now we know what it feels like to be second, we want to make sure we stay there, but it is important that we manage the gap to BAR. Our team is capable of doing that, but we will need to work hard. Development programmes are in place to enable us to succeed.
Rob White: To be fighting for second in the championship is a testament to the work the whole team has done. Of course, we could have done better at some races, and we would like to have a bigger margin over our rivals. The expectation is that the battle between Renault and BAR will be very close until the end of the year. Of course, you can never count out Williams and McLaren taking points off us, and this fight will no doubt go down to the last race. As for the RS24 engine, Viry chose the right approach. We are pleased with our progress since Melbourne and ultimately, you would have to say that fears over the engines suffering dramatically from the one engine per weekend rule were unfounded.
Q: One of your strengths this year has been reliability, aside from the double retirement in Montreal. Is that one of the keys to success?
BB: Reliability is just one of the team's strengths, but we must maintain this until the end of the season. When our two cars finish, they are invariably in the points, and fighting for podium positions. However, I think reliability was certainly a greater priority for the engine team: on the chassis side, we work hard to ensure the cars reach the chequered flag, but the nature of the chassis means there are parts that can fail without causing the car to retire. This is not true of the engine, and it allows the chassis team to chase performance more quickly.
RW: We are always striving for perfect reliability, and that was taken into account when the engine was designed. We tried to work through all possible uncertainties and resolve them during the design phase, and to be extremely rigorous in our approval and testing procedures. First and foremost, it is a question of being disciplined. Each performance step is accompanied by a very precise study of its impact on reliability.
Q: What's more, you changed the engine architecture this year, and everything seems to be working well after just a few months.
RW: It is another proof, if it were needed, that you can never separate the chassis and engine. Designing the best engine in the world, on your own, means nothing: ultimately, it is the whole car that must be competitive. Viry and Enstone work extremely closely, and the results during the first half of the year demonstrate that. It is certainly the most satisfying aspect of this season's performances.
BB: It was a brave decision to change the architecture of the engine, and everybody has done an excellent job. Viry hit its targets, the engine is lasting for a full weekend and it is well integrated into the chassis. Lots of people in the paddock didn't think we could do it when we announced we were going to 72° for this year.
Q: You had a double retirement at Montreal: that proves that, even in the middle of the season, you need to keep one eye on reliability.
BB: You can never consider reliability as totally sure. A part may have been perfect for 7 races, but you always need to be asking yourself whether it will last the distance during the 8th. Performance is increasing constantly, and that means the tolerances for each mechanical part are diminishing all the time. It is easy to overstep the mark. For example, in making the car easier to drive, you could allow a driver to attack kerbs more aggressively and a component could then fail unexpectedly. For us, it is not a question of solving problems, rather of anticipating them, of imagining everything that might possibly happen. You constantly have to question yourself.
RW: We are always looking to fine-tune our engine approval processes. When we change something, we ensure that every part of the engine will be able to cope with the increased performance. It can be difficult, but it is the only way of making any progress.
Q: Would it be accurate to say the car has not been the same from one race to the next?
BB: Had it been the same, it would have meant we were working too slowly on the development side. The good news is that the car is evolving all the time. Once again, that is easier to do on the chassis side: a simple aerodynamic development does not have any impact on reliability; it cannot stop the car running if it breaks. That allows us to take more risks and really chase performance. Finally, we are able to make changes faster than the engine side. The design, production and fitting of new parts on the cars can be done in the space of a few days.
RW: We put a lot of effort into analysing engine performance after the race, and that allows us to make detail modifications all the time. Every time an engine is assembled, we use this experience to combine the best possible combination of parts. Experience and dyno testing allow us to continuously develop the engine. Although the specification may stay the same, there are concrete developments at every race.
Q: You have said that there is still some potential to come from the car. How is this progressing?
BB: The drivers still aren't as comfortable with this car as they were with the R23 last year. Significant progress has been made in this area, but the problem has not yet been completely solved, and a development programme is underway. We need to understand why the drivers cannot exploit the car at 100%, because it is important for the future. However, we are not compromising the normal performance development programme because of this. We are planning a major chassis update for Budapest, although we will not call it a 'B' spec. Other smaller changes will be introduced sooner, such as suspension developments in time for Magny-Cours. Of course, we will also use a specific low downforce package at Monza.
RW: We also have developments scheduled on the engine side: both small and large evolutions are planned between now and Sao Paulo. For example, the cylinder heads will be modified between now and the end of the season. We are aiming to continue to exploit the quite significant development potential of the RS24.