Q&A with Renault technical director Bob Bell 03 Apr 2007
With just one race down, Renault already look to have a fight on their hands if they are to prevent title rivals Ferrari and McLaren from running away with the championship lead. Technical director Bob Bell talks testing times and reliability concerns, as he assesses the French teams chances in Sepang
Q: The Melbourne race weekend was a tough one for the Renault team. What are the expectations as you head into round two in Sepang?
Bob Bell: Within the team, we are hoping to show that we have taken a step forward relative to Melbourne. At this stage, it is unrealistic to talk about catching Ferrari or McLaren - but we need to show that progress has been made and that we are starting to close down the gap.
Q: The in-season development process is now well underway. What will it bring in Malaysia?
BB: The main gain in Malaysia will be a new front wing package, which will help with the performance. However, it is quite possible that the hierarchy of relative performance will actually be dominated by how well teams have responded to the FIA's clarification of the bodywork regulations last week. The new testing methods for the floor will, I am sure, have caused some difficulty for all the teams - and how well they respond to that change may well have a larger effect than any other performance developments.
Q: Historically, Malaysia is a circuit where the team has performed strongly, with victories in the last two races. How well will the R27 go there?
BB: The race weekend in Melbourne, and our testing last week in Sepang, showed that the car is well-balanced - particularly on old tyres. That will be a definite strength. However, the other lesson from Australia was that we are lacking in overall grip, and this will certainly penalise us in the high-speed corners. We hope to have made progress and moved closer to the pacesetters, but the real verdict will come out on the track.
Q: The team tested in Sepang last week - and were near the bottom of the timesheets each day. Is that a cause for concern?
BB: I think it reflects our approach to the new testing restrictions more than anything else. We are now only allowed to test with a single car during the season, and there is so much development work to be done that you have to be very disciplined in how you run. That means putting miles on development parts and completing reliability work - and a knock-on effect is that there is less of an opportunity to set quick headline times. Test times are never a reliable guide as to true competitiveness, and that is more true than before in 2007.
Q: Unusually, Melbourne saw a number of reliability problems for the team. Are you confident these have been resolved?
BB: Action has been taken to ensure they are not repeated. Especially in our current situation, where we are not on the pace, we cannot afford to sacrifice reliability as well. The car needs to be absolutely bullet-proof, and we hope to see that in Malaysia.
Q: At this stage last year, the team was riding high. The situation is very different in 2007. What is the mood like within the Renault camp?
BB: I think we all find it frustrating to be in this position, because we're competitive people, we want to win and we don't like it when we're not winning. We have a responsibility to improve our performance, and that is a very strong motivation. But there is no lack of focus or determination within the team. We are just as focused now as we were at the same time last year - and working hard to improve the situation.
Q: Giancarlo Fisichella drove a strong race to fifth place in Melbourne. What will the team expect from him in Malaysia?
BB: More of the same. It is important that we have a driver who is getting the maximum from the car - no matter where it is capable of finishing. He needs to take all the points that are there to be had, not let his head drop - and fight all the way to the finish. That is exactly what he did in Melbourne, and what the team will be doing as well. He certainly has the ability to lead by example in the coming months.
Q: Heikki Kovalainen endured a difficult debut in Australia. Will the situation improve for Sepang?
BB: I believe so. Heikki is determined to give a better account of himself than he did last time - and he knows that Giancarlo is setting the bar high for him in terms of getting the most out of the car. He has had the chance to prepare well this week, and we are looking forward to seeing him achieve what we know he is capable of.
Q: Finally, the key to a strong performance throughout the year will, as always, be to develop the car quickly. What programme does the team have in place?
BB: As always, we have an ambitious development programme in place for the car. Given our current situation, we will be pushing even harder to introduce new parts as quickly as possible. In past seasons, we had to balance our aggression with a degree of caution to avoid compromising our lead in the championship. This year, we have got nothing to lose - and that will allow us to be even more aggressive.