Sylvain Fournigault has always worked on Renault engines, beginning his career in junior formulae and climbing all the way to F1. It's hard to get away from the world of motor sport when your family home is within earshot of the famous Mulsanne...
Sylvain Fournigault has always worked on Renault engines, beginning his career in junior formulae and climbing all the way to F1.
It's hard to get away from the world of motor sport when your family home is within earshot of the famous Mulsanne straight at Le Mans. From his earliest days, Sylvain Fournigault was accustomed to the piercing howl of racing engines being carried along by the wind every June, during the annual 24-hour race.
It's hard to escape a certain motor manufacturer, too, when your cousin prepares Renaults for national motorsport events and allows you to roam his workshop, looking at R5 Turbo 2s and the like before you have even learned to read.
"During the school holidays I used to lend a hand in the workshop," says Sylvain, who nowadays works for the Renault F1 Team at Viry-Châtillon. "I learned the ropes very quickly." Better still, some of the cars he worked on took part in support events at Grand Prix meetings.
"I would jump in the truck, travel to races and stand behind the barriers watching my heroes. My fondest memory? Monaco, obviously. I remember Jean Alesi's exploits in his blue and white Tyrrell, and a clash between Gerhard Berger and Alain Prost at Mirabeau."
Loyal to Renault since 1990
After studying for an automotive engineering diploma at college in Le Mans, Sylvain began working for his cousin's preparation business on a formal basis. Renault was already a significant part of his daily routine and people were quick to notice his mechanical flair. When he learned that Renault's F1 division was on a recruitment drive, he sent off an application form immediately.
In October 1990 he received a bit of good news: there was a suitable post available at Viry-Châtillon. Initially Sylvain worked in the assembly department, building engines that were destined for use in Grands Prix. "It took about a fortnight to put together a V10," he says. "Once that was done, it was up to us to put it on the dyno. That always used to be a special moment, although the procedure has changed nowadays."
Two years later an aeroplane ticket landed on his desk and Sylvain was poised for his first long-haul trip -- to the South African GP, at Kyalami. He would henceforth be Renault's official representative with the Ligier team, where he was in charge of engine maintenance.
"I had to prepare the V10s, make sure they fired up and that they were fitted correctly. I did that for three seasons before being seconded to Benetton." That proved to be a revelation -- and highly rewarding with it. The team's lead driver? One Michael Schumacher. In his role as chief engine mechanic, Sylvain had a privileged ringside seat during the German's successful championship campaign.
"It was an exceptional experience," Sylvain says. "Flavio Briatore threw a spectacular end-of-season party to celebrate our success -- it was absolutely unforgettable." When Renault bought the Benetton team and launched its own, full-on F1 programme, Sylvain was committed to the programme. Today, he looks after Jarno Trulli's V10s.
"I make sure the engine and its ancillaries are correctly assembled, I track the life cycle of certain components and keep an eye on the real-time telemetry whenever the car is on track," he says. Eyes riveted to a bank of screens and aided by "Alice" -- a piece of real-time software that monitors potential problems as they develop, Sylvain works with Fabrice Lom, who engineers the Italian driver's V10.
They have a singular goal: "We want to hear the Marseillaise played during the podium ceremony," Sylvain says with a smile. "It was fantastic to hear it when we won in Hungary last year, and in Monaco last May. We are hungry for more of the same."