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Densham on the Renault R26 31 Jan 2006

Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R26. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, 10 January 2006. World ©  Patching/Sutton

Ahead of its official launch on Tuesday, Renault’s chief designer Tim Densham discusses the R26, a machine he describes as an ‘evolution of the team’s F1 concept’.

The role of the R26 will be to defend the world championship - has that changed your approach to the design phase?
Tim Densham:
It hasn’t affected the decisions we have made with the car. The real benefit is that we can work from a solid baseline. Rather than changing everything, we know the R25 was a good car, so we have focused on the areas that will help us improve: reviewing each component to make it better than its predecessors, in terms of weight and stiffness. The fact that the car is defending a world championship doesn’t change the maths we use to make those calculations.

When did work on the R26 begin?
TD:
The initial discussions about the vehicle design began with our colleagues in Viry, in October 2004, and design work really began to take off from April 2005. The main thing to stress about the design phase, though, is that it is a collaborative effort. We work with the aerodynamics department to identify the areas that will bring most performance gains, and try to package the mechanical elements as tightly as possible to give aero maximum freedom. The challenge comes from balancing that freedom, and the wish not to compromise the good mechanical qualities of the R25.

You have had to deal with a significant change in engine architecture with this project. Has that had a big impact on chassis design?
TD:
Not particularly. The fact that we are running a V8 engine does not require a shift in the car’s design philosophy. For example, a shorter engine does not automatically mean the car’s wheelbase changes - it is something we have reviewed, and decided upon in consultation with the aero team as the best solution for the overall package. The R26 is an evolution of the concept we have been honing in recent years, not a clean break.

The V8 is obviously smaller than its predecessor - has that given you a lot more freedom in how you package the car?
TD:
There are several aspects to this really. Firstly, the engine is shorter, lighter and develops less power than the V10: that has allowed us to make a good step forward with the compact packaging of components such as the radiators, which can be smaller, allowing more extreme bodywork shapes. Secondly, the ‘v’ angle of the engine has opened out, from 72° to 90°, which has led us to review how we install some of the ancillary systems. Finally, there is the issue of vibrations, and particularly lateral vibrations, from the V8 engine. We have paid particular attention in the detail design phase, to mount accessories in such a way that they can function correctly in this environment.

Did the late changes to qualifying have an impact on the R26's design?
TD:
No. They came too late to really affect the design of the car, but they are not a worry. If you have a good car, I believe it can perform in any circumstances, on high or low fuel.

The R26 and the RS26 V8 did not run until January - is this a worry when it comes to problem solving?
TD:
Not at all. We anticipated that there would be a lot of small problems to solve in the opening weeks. We know that reliability ahead of the first race is paramount, so we have been working hard on getting the right solutions in place quickly. But that was the advantage of getting the car to run very early in January, to ensure we are ready for the opening race of the season. Looking at how you manage the winter period, whether you run an interim car or not, there are no right answers. Every solution is a compromise, and ours was the best one for our circumstances.

What parts of the new car are you most pleased with?
TD:
As a designer, the really satisfying part is to see how the whole car comes together, rather than any individual parts. This is a further evolution down the path of what we believe to be the most effective way of designing an F1 car. It looks like a real team effort, and each part of the car flows into the next one. You cannot isolate one key area and say, ‘that’s why this car will be quick’. It is lots of small details that come together, and that’s what gives you satisfaction as a designer.