Renault recently decided to opt for the new Friday testing sessions at race weekends, the "Heathrow" agreement, rather than last year's "Suzuka" testing arrangement. Team principal Flavio Briatore explains the reasons behind the decision and what...
Renault recently decided to opt for the new Friday testing sessions at race weekends, the "Heathrow" agreement, rather than last year's "Suzuka" testing arrangement. Team principal Flavio Briatore explains the reasons behind the decision and what Renault hopes to gain from it.
Q: Can you explain exactly what the differences are between the "Suzuka" agreement and the "Heathrow" agreement.
The "Heathrow" agreement allows the teams that enter into it to take part in an additional two hour session on the Friday of a Grand Prix event. This will take place between 0845 hrs and 1045 hrs and is a totally free session during which the teams only have to comply with safety regulations. In other words, experimental parts can be used even if they do not fully comply with the technical regulations. Obviously the teams that are not party to the "Heathrow" agreement can not take part in this session.
It should be emphasised that these agreements are not under the jurisdiction of the FIA but are in fact private agreements entered into by the teams themselves.
Q: What were the reasons for a large team such as Renault to make this decision?
Although the press seem to have formed the opinion that the Heathrow agreement was designed with the smaller teams in mind, we at Renault are open minded enough to evaluate any opportunity that is presented to us. Our evaluation showed there to be many benefits to engage in this agreement for 2003. We consider it a creative solution.
Q: Can you outline what these benefits may be?
There are many benefits but the prime one is that by being involved in the additional two hour session on Fridays we can give our drivers and engineers more time to "dial in" to the circuit that we are racing on. This has particular benefits, as you can imagine, on the circuits that we can not test on. It should also be of particular help to Fernando who still has limited experience. Conversely, the teams that work to the "Suzuka" agreement have only one hour to set their cars up before the first qualifying session.
Q: Surely there must be some disadvantages as well?
Yes of course. You can't have your cake and eat it too! The downside can be that as the total number of testing kilometres is limited some of the longer term development projects are more difficult, although not impossible, to organise.
Q: Is it true that this limitation will adversely effect your ability to develop tyres for your car?
No -- we don't believe so. In fact, we feel the opposite may be true in that we can now evaluate tyres on circuits where we were not able to do so before. This will give us both a short term gain for that weekends race and a longer term gain in that we can obtain information that will be useful to us in future years.
Q: Don't you feel that the reduction in test distance that you are able to do will effect the competitiveness of the car?
No. These days most improvements to the performance of the car come from wind tunnel testing, engine development on the dynamometer and simulation combined with rig work for the chassis. These developments are in no way effected, and in fact can be enhanced, by a reduction in circuit testing.
Q: In what way will these be enhanced?
Well, lets consider the case of engine development. These days it is a struggle to keep up with the demand for engines for the race and test teams. Their demands can not be delayed and hence it is development engines for the dyno that tend to suffer. We reckon that this new protocol will free between 30 and 40 engines that would have been destined for testing, for development work on the dyno.
Q: How will you tackle a major reliability problem?
Reliability is difficult question and a solution to a problem of reliability is only really proven when that solution has covered a number of kilometres. What we can say is that we have the ability to run full race simulations on a dynamometer for the engine and gearbox, which means that our need to cover mileage on the circuit is reduced. Our new dyno, number 9, is extremely sophisticated and drives through the car's complete drivetrain. It can be driven with recorded data from any racetrack in the world and faithfully reproduces the stresses applied to the engine and transmission during a race.
Q: But what about chassis reliability?
This can be more difficult, particularly if the problems are vibration related, but you must not forget that we are still able to carry out ten days of testing during the season in addition to the testing that we are carrying out before the season starts. The other point in our favour is that we were able to get the R23 out very early this year and so have managed to already prove a lot of the running gear and systems.
Q: You have announced two test drivers, Allan McNish and Frank Montagny. How will their roles fit in with this decision?
The requirements of the test driver are altered by this arrangement. It will be necessary to have a driver with suitable experience for the running that takes place on Friday. It will be his job to work alongside the race drivers (all three cars will be running during this session) to carry out whatever tasks the engineers need done. Allan McNish has carried out a very professional job in the past and his experience and technical ability will enhance the efforts of our race drivers. The remaining ten test days should, however, give us a chance to run a developing young driver and, after running a number of drivers before Christmas, all of whom did a very good job, we have decided that Frank Montagny is ideally suited to back up our testing effort and provide some relief to our race drivers.
Q: There must also be financial implications of this decision.
Yes of course. In short, the cost of operating the race team increases and the cost of operating the test team decreases. Overall there is a net saving in our operating budget, although I will not disclose what that amount is, but our intention is to re-invest that saving in development to further increase the competitiveness of our car.
Q: What is the effect on staff -- particularly your test team?
There are certainly no redundancies. In fact the workload for the test team is extremely high in that some of them will be supporting the third car at races and, in addition, for the ten days of "in season" testing that we are allowed, we intend to run three test cars. We also have some very good staff on our test team and we always recognise that our greatest asset is our staff. We want to keep them all in place for the future.
Q: Does that imply that this decision is only for one year?
As I said earlier, we are a very open minded team. We will continually assess all our opportunities. We believe that this is the best option for us for 2003 but who knows how things may have changed by the time we have to commit to a decision for 2004.
Q: Do you think that this testing protocol will become the norm and be adopted by all teams in 2004?
It is hard to say. We have seen major changes in Formula One in the last year -- who knows what next season may bring? There are moves afoot to reduce the cost of Formula One to allow the smaller teams to both survive and improve their relative position. Maybe this is one idea we should consider.