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Q&A with Renault's Pat Symonds 11 Feb 2008

Pat Symonds (GBR) Renault Executive Director of Engineering.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 24 May 2007 Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28 Formula One Testing, Day Three, Barcelona, Spain, 03 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton 
Renault mechanics watch the new car being put through its paces. Formula One Testing, Day One, Valencia, Spain, Monday 21 January 2008. World © Hartley/Sutton
Fernando Alonso (ESP) tests the new Renault R28 for the first time. Formula One Testing, Day One, Valencia, Spain, Monday 21 January 2008. World © Hartley/Sutton Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault Formula One Testing, Day Two, Valencia, Spain, Tuesday 22 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton

With just over a month to go before the opening race of 2008, Pat Symonds, Renault’s Executive Director of Engineering discusses his predictions for the coming season and reveals his opinions on the future of the sport…

Q: Pat, what are you most excited about ahead of the 2008 season?
Pat Symonds:
This time last year, I said I would be disappointed if we didn’t win a couple of races during the season. I was disappointed… but I don’t intend to stay disappointed in 2008!

Q: How confident can you be that the team’s 2007 problems are behind it?
Very confident. We have worked hard to make sure we don’t fall into the same traps again, and I don’t think we will.

Q: With comparative stability in the rules, how can the team catch up the deficit we saw last year?
We have had to take a more radical approach to the aerodynamics. Having solved the problems with the wind tunnel that we found last year, we are confident to do that. The results from the tunnel show we have made significantly more progress than normal. It now remains to be seen if that is enough relative to the competition.

Q: The 2008 car employs a very different design philosophy to its predecessors…
The design of any new car is driven by a number of different factors, including new regulations and new discoveries. For this year, we have largely worked to overcome limitations we found in our on and off-track development in 2007. The 2008 car incorporates the lessons we learned, and it should allow us to get more performance from the car/tyre/aero package.

Q: What does Fernando (Alonso) bring to the team?
Firstly, it is important to make one thing clear: Fernando would not have made up for the deficiencies of last year’s car. We are now confident we have overcome those problems, and we are desperate to give him the car his talent deserves. I am certain that the combination of Fernando in a revitalised Renault will see him challenging for race wins. He knows what he wants from the car, and we have shown in the past that we can deliver it.

Q: What are your expectations for his new team mate Nelsinho (Piquet)?
Nelson has a challenge in front of him. Just like with Heikki last year, we need to give him time to develop, to make the inevitable rookie mistakes - and we must help him learn from those mistakes. It is important to give him a car he can trust, and I hope this is where it turns out differently to 2007. We have to be sure that the R28 is not just a race-winning car, but one that inspires confidence from the drivers.

Q: The standard ECU eliminates certain control systems such as engine braking and traction control. What will be the impact of this change?
The challenge of car set-up is finding the most effective compromise at any given circuit, and the elimination of the control systems pushes the compromise more towards the mechanical set-up. We will spend more time at the track achieving good braking stability, and some time working on traction too, although this is much more down to the driver. It is important to stress, though, that the electronic controls were enhancements of, and not substitutes for, sound handling. We have always tried to give the car good basic characteristics; our vehicle dynamics philosophy has not changed.

Q: The qualifying format has been revised, to a ‘20/15/10’ minute format and no refuelling before the race. What impact will this have?
I think this is a good, simple enhancement to the previous system. It will probably see more forward-biased strategies, with shorter stints in the early part of the race. I expect drivers to do more than one flying lap in the third round of qualifying, but that will certainly vary circuit to circuit, and according to which tyre compounds we are using.

Q: The 2008 season also see the introduction of a small percentage of bio content in Formula One fuel. What is your opinion on this?
Although it is perhaps not widely known, Formula One has been a forerunner in this area for over a decade. We were using low sulphur fuels well in advance of their introduction in pump fuel, and the introduction of a small percentage of bio-content anticipates the 2010 norms for road cars. It is to be expected that Formula One should be a leader in this area.

Q: A budget cap is planned for introduction in 2009. What is your view of the situation?
Formula One budgets have grown enormously over the past few years, and there is no doubt that the rate of growth is not sustainable in the future; indeed, it is likely that even current levels are unsustainable. The goal is to make F1 more cost-effective for key investors and as a team renowned for its cost-effectiveness, this is a process Renault welcomes.

Q: In concrete terms, what changes have already been implemented?
It began some time ago with longer life engines, then engine homologation, and this season sees new restrictions on the chassis side, with long life gearboxes and the elimination of spare cars. These chassis changes may seem small measures, but they are only the first steps. We must approach the task with care - and considerable thought. It is vital that we develop a coherent methodology to reduce the cost of going racing, without compromising the fundamental ‘DNA’ of Formula One.