Renault have been keeping a low profile in pre-season testing with Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet struggling with setup and balance issues and languishing at the bottom of the timesheets. But as Technical Director Bob Bell explains, it’s nothing to be alarmed about – at least not yet anyway.
Bob, after two test sessions, are you pleased with the performance of the R29?
It’s still very early days, but I’m becoming increasingly more satisfied with the performance of the car. Obviously the Portimao test was a disappointment to us as we only had one dry day and although the car ran well from a reliability point of view, we still had lots of unanswered performance-related questions. It’s true that we didn’t look great at that first test, but that was not really a surprise to us as we simply got the car out with an interim set of bodywork so that we could get miles on it, evaluate reliability and get the KERS system up and running. So we didn’t really expect to be that competitive, especially as we were learning about the set-up that is needed for this new generation of cars. Since then we’ve put a lot of things right at the Jerez test and I think we’ve made good progress. Overall I’m encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.
What are the drivers’ verdicts on the car – what feedback have they given you?
They’ve both been very positive and the biggest surprise for them was perhaps the KERS system as we felt that initially we would have a lot of problems with it and getting the drivers used to it. In reality it has been quite a straightforward transition. In terms of the car’s basic characteristics, the dry week in Jerez has helped us get a much better set-up on the car, fit new development parts and both Fernando and Nelson seem happy with the balance of the car.
The R29 has not been topping the time sheets in testing. Is this a sign of underlying problems?
What matters is performance relative to other teams and at the moment it’s very difficult to judge because everybody is running different programmes, interim bodywork and different fuel loads. I think things will become clearer when we approach the final winter test, but for now it’s too hard to judge. However, from what we’ve seen in Jerez this week, I don’t feel there are any fundamental problems with the car: it’s well balanced and is responding well to changes. We’re lacking a bit of grip, which is the same for everybody, but that will improve as we fit new parts to the car and continue our development up to the first race. Overall I feel we’re on course to deliver a good performance in Melbourne.
A lot of attention has been paid to the front end. Are you confident you’ve taken the right approach?
You can never be totally confident and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to test all possible combinations of designs. With new regulations this year, all the teams have gone away to develop behind closed doors and so it’s no surprise that you end up with as many different solutions as there are teams. All we can do is be sure that we’ve done the best job we can and accept that to begin with the cars will look very different. So far I’ve not seen anything on our competitors’ cars that is particularly worrying for us or makes me think we’ve taken a fundamentally wrong direction.
Comparatively the team has completed less mileage than its competitors. Is this a concern and will it cause the team to slip behind in the development race?
I don’t think so. Going back to KERS, the team has done an absolutely remarkable job to develop the system largely on test benches and get it onto the car and running as reliably as it has been. In terms of normal car development and proving our general reliability, I think it’s fair to say that all the teams are suffering from the fact that there is a lot less testing this year, but I don’t’ feel that we are any more disadvantaged compared to any other team. Yes, we may be slightly down in terms of relative mileage, but we had a strong end to the Jerez test and completed a race distance on Thursday and Friday without any dramas so it’s not causing me any great concern at this stage.
The team’s testing schedule has shifted recently with a preference to test the week before Melbourne, rather than next week. Why did you take this decision?
We did originally schedule a test next week in Barcelona, but when we started our testing programme we realised that it is actually better to delay that test and move it to the middle of March. It may be more difficult from a logistical point of view because we’ve got to get the car to Melbourne the following week, but it buys us more development time to get new components onto the car and tested prior to Melbourne. It was something that we had in our minds as a possibility and I think it’s a very worthwhile decision.