Tim Densham, the Chief Designer of the Renault F1 R25, prefers to work behind the scenes. He gives an insight into the new car and what makes him tick.
Q: How did you career in motor racing begin?
Tim Densham: I had always been interested in racing cars but after university, I was working at Rolls Royce when I picked up a copy of Autosport, and saw two jobs available: one with Shadow and another with Lotus. I applied for both. From Shadow, I got a letter back saying they had just gone out of business... But Lotus asked me for an interview, and it started there.
Q: That moment was twenty-five years ago: what are the biggest changes since then?
TD: From my perspective, they have been the introduction of CAD in the design office, and the advances in manufacturing technologies. Nowadays, we design the car, produce the parts and have an eight day build process at the end where all the parts fit straight away -- and if they don't, it is a question of small adjustments to make them do so. Twenty years ago, if something didn't fit, you had to have good relationships with the fabricators and work all night so that Colin Chapman (at Lotus) didn't come in next morning and see the mistake...!
Q: How would you describe the R25?
TD: It is very much an evolution, that combines the best of R23 and R24. The long lead time we have in our design process means that we can eliminate a lot of the risks: everything is calculated and tested, or run on the old car before being approved. In designing the car, we have tried to package everything as tightly as possible, to give the aero team the freedom to design the body shapes they want.
Overall, I think we have done a good job on the packaging because the chassis, engine and gearbox seem to flow together. It looks like a car that has been designed as a whole, rather than a combination of parts. (See the construction of the Renault F1 R25 in the exclusive video, right).
Q: Renault is one of the few teams to produce both the chassis and engine in-house: how does that process work?
TD: We are constantly understanding each other's challenges better. There is a lot of communication back and forth about small details and each year, I think we improve the overall harmony of the car. Our colleagues at Viry are very willing to change things to accommodate our needs, and I like to think we do the same.
Q: What are your priorities when designing the car?
TD: First of all, it needs to be quick: you can make a nice car with fantastic craftsmanship, but if it's slow, nobody wants to know it. You also need to communicate effectively with people throughout the team. Here at Renault, things are very open -- for example, a lot of the good ideas come from the mechanics on how parts can be modified. With the parc ferm? regulations, servicing times are becoming more and more restricted, so we need to make the car easy to work on. I would never call this 'my' car -- it is a total team effort.
Q: How about development -- when does that begin?
TD: Straight away: sometimes we will find a good idea during the design process, but it will not be possible to use it immediately. So we make a not of it, and then plan for its introduction -- after discussion, the Technical Director will decide what the priorities are for those parts and we will produce them. Personally, I like to have lots of development parts: I always think that we should send more parts to a test than the team will actually be able to get through...
Q: Finally, what are your best memories -- so far -- from twenty five years in F1?
TD: As a race engineer, it was my first win with Lotus in 1982, when Elio de Angelis pipped Keke Rosberg to the flag in Austria. As a designer, it was Fernando's win at the Hungaroring in 2003 -- the first race win for a car I was responsible for. Hopefully there will be more