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Q&A with Renault technical director Bob Bell 25 Jan 2007

Bob Bell (GBR) Renault Technical Director. Renault R27 Launch, The Factory, Amsterdam, Holland, 24 January 2007. World © Sutton.

Following in the footsteps of its illustrious double title-winning predecessor, the Renault R27 has a lot to live up to. Speaking at this week’s launch, the man behind the new car, Renault’s technical director Bob Bell, discusses the design of the team’s 2007 machine and the challenges that still lie ahead…

Q: What can you tell us about the new R27?
Bob Bell:
The R27 is an aggressive evolution of the design philosophy that won world championships in 2005 and 2006. I am very proud of how the team has worked on this project: we have enjoyed two seasons of remarkable success, but that hasn’t given rise to any complacency at all. The team is hungry to continue winning, and the new car reflects that.

Q: Visually, the car looks quite different to its predecessor…
BB:
Our objective with any new car is to push its design to the limits - and that is what our aero team has done with the R27, to dramatic effect. This is now the third season under the current aerodynamic regulations and as always, finding new performance under stable technical rules obeys the law of diminishing returns - the longer the rules remain unchanged, the harder it is to make progress. Our technical team has tackled that challenge with a combination of new thinking and rigorous work in the wind tunnel. It has not been an easy process, and it will continue to get harder, but we relish the challenge.

Q: The Renault team will race on Bridgestone tyres for the first time during 2007. What has been the impact of the change?
BB:
In simple terms, the consequences of the change have been two-fold. When we fitted the new shape Bridgestone tyres to our wind tunnel model, we realised that we needed to look afresh at our aerodynamic packaging - and the optimisation of that package will be an on-going process. Secondly, we have tuned the dynamic characteristics of the car to get the most out of the tyres, re-evaluating parameters such as the weight distribution. Bridgestone have been very open with us, and we are building a strong working relationship with them at the track. But we are keeping our feet on the ground, and we know that we are on a steep learning curve up to the first race of the season and beyond.

Q: The team fought with Ferrari for the championship in 2006, and McLaren in 2005. How do you expect the competitive situation to evolve for the 2007 season?
BB:
I think we can expect an extremely close and competitive season. In recent years, the largest differentiating factor in performance between the teams came from the tyres - and this has now been removed. In addition, the homologation rules mean there is much less scope for gaining a significant performance advantage from the engine. To my mind, this will have two consequences. The first will be that the difference in performance with the teams will be smaller, and the competition closer. But the second is that it will show the real calibre of the different teams - and allow organisations such as ours, with a proven track-record of winning world championships, to make the difference.

Q: Will the R27 feature any major new developments?
BB:
Yes. For 2007, we will be running an ‘instantaneous gearchange’ (IGC) gearbox. This is not a new technology in Formula One terms, as a number of teams are already using the system. But we chose to wait until 2007 to gain maximum competitive advantage from a fully reliable system. The gearbox has completed several 1000 kilometres since November in the back of a hybrid car, and it has brought a good performance step. What’s more, in a season when gains are going to be hard to find for every team, it is a major boost relative to those top teams already running the technology.

Q: It is often said that in times of success, it is best to change as little as possible - but the team has a new driver, and a new tyre supplier. Does that change how the team will approach the coming season?
BB:
It hasn’t changed our approach in any way at all. Every top team will be experiencing major changes for 2007, with new drivers, new technical structures and new tyres in some cases; and the true quality of a team is revealed in how effectively you can manage those changes. At Renault, adapting to change has been one of our major strengths in recent years, and we have blended continuity and regeneration for 2007: alongside an experienced race-winning driver in Giancarlo (Fisichella) and stable senior technical management, we have Heikki (Kovalainen) and a restructured trackside team in which a number of young engineers are stepping up to larger roles. We are determined to continue winning races and fighting for championships. Achieving those goals will be further proof of the pedigree of the team.

Q: So what are your expectations for the coming year?
BB:
I think we are feeling very optimistic. As a team, our objective is to provide our drivers with the best possible equipment to win races - and the best environment in which to do so. I think we have done that for 2007. Our motivation is greater than ever, and we are expecting a very competitive season ahead.