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Q & A with Renault's Bob Bell 31 Jan 2006

Bob Bell (GBR), Renault F1 Technical Director (Enstone). Renault R26 Launch, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Tuesday 31 January 2006. World ©  Sutton

The Renault R26 has a lot to live up to, following in the illustrious footsteps of the double title-winning R25. Speaking at Wednesday’s launch of the new car, Renault’s chassis technical director Bob Bell spoke about the thinking behind the team’s 2006 challenger.

Q: Was the R26 designed with a specific philosophy in mind?
Bob Bell:
The R26 is an aggressive development of a proven and successful design philosophy. The R25 had no obvious weaknesses, which was reflected in our championship win. The task for 2006 was therefore to assess the impact of the engine regulation changes for the chassis, integrate the new challenges they posed, and then continue on our development path under stable chassis regulations. We have worked on saving weight, improving stiffness and improving the car in every area.

Q: What challenges did the introduction of V8 engines pose for the car design?
The most obvious one was a packaging issue. The V8 engine is significantly shorter than the V10, and this meant re-assessing the mechanical architecture of the car before making major design decisions. Subsequently, we have had to integrate the increased external vibrations generated by the V8 into account during the design of ancillary components and joints, to ensure they can withstand this new operating environment. And finally, uniquely at Renault, we have had to adapt the mechanical layout of the car to suit the 90° v-angle of the V8, which is more open than the architecture of our previous engine.

Q: How significant has the change in engine regulations been for the chassis design?
To be honest, the engine change has not made a huge difference to the cars. There is continuity in the chassis regulations, and the dialogue between the teams at Enstone and Viry is open and effective, which has ensured optimum installation of the engine in the chassis. I believe a car that was quick in 2005 will be once again in 2006.

Q: What are the major differences compared of the R26 compared to its predecessor?
In visual terms, the aerodynamic package is completely new. The most striking elements are the smaller sidepods to take account of the reduced cooling capacity of the V8 engine, but there are no carry-over items in any area. Under the skin, the major mechanical change is that we will be using a 7-speed titanium gearbox for the first time. The V8 engines have less torque than their predecessors, and moving to a seven speed gearbox allows us to exploit very effectively the power and torque characteristics of the new engine.

Q: In 2005, car development continued up to the final race - will the programme be as aggressive in 2006?
Absolutely. We have some very promising short and medium-term developments already planned for the car. Firstly, we had two R26 chassis running in just our second test of 2006, which doubles the effective mileage on the new car, and ensures both drivers are fully comfortable ahead of the opening race. Secondly, we will introduce a major aerodynamic update just before the opening races. The car that runs in Bahrain will be quite different to the machine that has been testing so far.

Q: Finally, the R26 has quite a reputation to live up to, defending two world championships. Can it deliver the goods?
We certainly think so. More than ever, the true level of competitiveness will not become clear until we begin running seriously at the first race, so I don’t think it is worth drawing too many conclusions before then. But we are very aware that after a successful season, it is difficult to maintain winning momentum. We have not been complacent in any area, and our design approach has not been a conservative one. The same is true in Viry, where the engine team has done a fantastic job balancing reliability and performance. The R26 is an aggressive statement from the team, and it says that we mean to stay on top in 2006.