Q&A with Renault technical director Bob Bell 07 Feb 2008
From titleholders to midfielders, Renault could easily have lost heart last season. Instead, they picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and focused their efforts on their 2008 car, the R28. Here technical director Bob Bell discusses the design of the teams new machine and reflects on the challenges that still lie ahead
Q: After a difficult season in 2007, how much is riding on the new R28?
Bob Bell: A hell of a lot. 2007 was a very poor year by our standards. For 2008, there are high expectations inside and outside the team. In Fernando (Alonso), we have a driver that we know can win the title if he has the right car. Nelsinho (Piquet) is a very promising talent. We are not in Formula One to make up the numbers, and it is down to us to give the drivers a competitive car.
Q: Was your approach to 2007 too conservative?
BB: I think it probably was, yes. There were mitigating circumstances: on the one hand, a lot of effort went into our 2006 championship fight; on the other, we did not appreciate the magnitude of the changes needed for the Bridgestone tyres until we began running them - and that was too late for the 07 car. There were also some errors in our technical procedures. All of these factors were at the root of our uncompetitive season.
Q: So what about how you have tackled 2008?
BB: Firstly, we have put the problems from 2007 behind us, and we know that our design tools like the wind tunnel are working well. That was a very important part of our work last year, to ensure we could put ourselves back on track. In terms of the car design, we have looked at the problem afresh. We have pushed very hard in all areas, and particularly on the aerodynamics; we are confident that the progress we have seen in the wind tunnel will be reflected on track.
Q: What new development paths have you followed with the R28?
BB: The front end of the car has come in for particular attention, notably the front wing and the front suspension. The suspension architecture is now much more akin to what is deemed fashionable: the zero keel solution offered us no real benefit for a number of years, but it has opened up potential for us this year in order to extract maximum performance from the tyres. The aero team has paid particular attention to the rear end, tailoring the bodywork and suspension. And we havent neglected the new car basics: taking weight out of the car, and improving stiffness. The reality of modern F1, though, is that the quality of the aero package determines a cars success - and this has been our primary focus.
Q: Has the cars weight distribution been revised to better extract maximum performance from the tyres?
BB: Our previous design philosophy was optimised around a more rearward weight distribution, matched to a rearward aero balance. The Bridgestone tyres demand a significant push forwards in this area, and we have exploited this characteristic with the 2008 aerodynamic package.
Q: What has been the magnitude of the change to the SECU?
BB: From the outside, this is a very deceptive change: it is far from a plug and play device. It is not just the on-car hardware that has changed, but all of our on- and off-car support systems and analysis tools have either been modified or changed entirely. It is a process that we have spent over a year working on, and it took a lot of work to make the systems useable. But the transition has been negotiated successfully.
Q: What impact has this had on the design of the R28?
BB: Clearly, the loss of systems such as traction control and engine braking control has an influence on how the car is exploited at the track. That has not affected the fundamental design architecture, but it will have a definite impact on set-up. We have a good handle on those changes, but the new car is so different to its predecessor that we still need to run more to have a definitive answer.
Q: The long-life four race gearbox is another major change. How have you tackled it?
BB: This is a much less significant change than the ECU, but it is still major because modern F1 gearboxes are notoriously fragile. Furthermore, their successful operation depends on the synergy between the mechanical components and control systems. We have paid a lot of attention to achieving the necessary reliability without compromising performance, with a lot of focus on exploiting the control systems allowed by the new ECU system.
Q: Tell us about the drivers from a technical perspective
BB: Fernando is a known quantity for the team: we know that if he has the right car, he can win races and titles. That helps us a lot when it comes to focusing our development efforts. The added benefit is that unlike with most new drivers, his transition into the team will be very easy. Nelsinho is an unproven but exciting talent in F1 terms. His performances in junior formulae have shown real promise, and he is settled within the team. I think it is a very nicely balanced driver pairing.
Q: What are you proudest of in the new car?
BB: Personally, it is the effort and work that have gone into the R28. 2007 was a tough year because we were uncompetitive, because of the appearance before the World Council, and also because we really pushed the performance of the new car - and gave ourselves some big challenges with the project management. The team has come through it with its head held high, good morale and total focus. One look at the R28 shows the effort that has gone into every area, and it is a car we can feel proud of.
Q: Will it also be a car that can take Renault back to the front?
BB: Thats certainly what we will be trying to achieve