Renault’s technical director Bob Bell says he is happy with the progress being made to develop the R29 despite early setbacks in testing and low key performances from Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet.
Renault launched their new car at the first major test of the year in Portugal but were hampered by poor weather conditions and limited track running, as were the other teams who participated.
Brake problems prevented the team making full use of the dry conditions on the opening two days of testing at Jerez this week leaving the bulk of development work to the final day as Fernando Alonso, who had spent most of the test languishing at the bottom of the timesheets, finally managed to unlock the potential of the new car lapping to within a few tenths of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.
“We drove with no problems but we need to keep improving the car, with the setup especially, to be more comfortable,” Alonso revealed to Forumula1.com at the end of the penultimate day.
Despite making headway towards the end of the Jerez test, Renault have only clocked up 2,038 kilometres of testing mileage since the beginning of 2009, over 1,000km shy of BMW Sauber who are currently leading the way. A ban on in-season testing coming into force at the end of March puts even greater onus on the teams to have a sound pre-season development programme in place.
Bob Bell is all to aware of the impact that the testing ban will have on development, particularly in terms of reliability, but Renault’s saving grace is that all the teams are in the same boat, and Bell remains confident that the team are on-track with their new car.
“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.”
As far as the development of the new R29 is concerned, Bell takes particular satisfaction in the way the team have addressed balance issues using driver feedback.
“It’s true that we didn’t look great at that first test (in Portimau),” he said, “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.”
“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.”
Bell also takes heart from the ease at which the team’s KERS device has been integrated into the R29 with both drivers giving the new technology the thumbs up.
“They (Alonso and Piquet) have 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. 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.”
Renault have elected to skip next week’s test in Barcelona to enable further upgrades to be fitted to the car. The team will take part in the final test session at Barcelona before flying out to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
“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,” says Bell.
“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.”
How they stand: Testing Leaderboard
2009 Testing Only:
1. BMW Sauber 3,201km
2. Williams 2,740km
3. McLaren 2,466km
4. Ferrari 2,227km
5. Renault 2,038km
6. Toyota 1,894km
7. Red Bull Racing 1,381km
Toro Rosso (2008 Car): 3,307km