Pat Symonds, the Renault F1 Team's Executive Director of Engineering, sat down to run through the team's many strong points during the 2003 season, and also discussed the rare weaknesses.
Sat in front of his desk at the end of the drawing office, Pat Symonds has had his eyes riveted to his computer for the past few days. "I'm working on strategies," comes the answer to any enquiries about what he is busy with. In November? "Yes," he answers. "I'm reviewing all the races from 2003, and modifying certain variables: the fuel load, the lap we stopped on, etc. It allows us to understand at which races we could have improved our performance." Overall, the past season was extremely positive for the Renault F1 Team. Pat ran through the different areas which made Renault's 2003 vintage one to remember.
"Right from the first tests last winter, we felt optimistic," explains Pat. "At that point of the year, it is very difficult to know where you are relative to the competition, but everything was looking good for our team: the aero package was a success, the drivers were satisfied, and the car was easy to set-up. During the first few races of the year, our performances meant we were the third fastest team."
"Williams were back in the hunt from Monaco onwards, but our level of performance continued improving: we introduced the R23B at Silverstone, and numerous engine steps meant we were fighting for podiums at every type of circuit by the end of the year. We proved that with the Friday 'poles' we set. Overall, I think Renault is the team that showed the best rate of progress during the year."
"This was the black spot of our season," admits Pat. "With ten retirements, we didn't hit our targets in terms of reliability. Ferrari, Williams and McLaren were much better in this domain, and we need to get on level terms if we want to fight properly with them in 2004."
"Jarno and Fernando were fantastic," smiles Pat. "I have been in motor racing for a long time, and I can say that I haven't seen a driver pairing as well balanced as these two for at least a decade. They have a friendly rivalry, work hard for the team, and they do what we ask of them. Of course, it helps that they are both extremely quick! Fernando had an exceptional first season with us. As for Jarno.I have to say I am an engineer, and I don't believe in bad luck, but that was before this year. However, the final races of the year demonstrated exactly how quick Jarno is."
"I think we can be proud of what we did," explains Pat. "When the new rules were announced, we spent a lot of time looking at our strategies. We quickly understood that all the races would need at least one more pit-stop. During the first few races, we had a few doubts because we were the only team to adopt an aggressive approach. When our competitors realised this was the way to go.they started to do the same thing. I suppose it's a kind of compliment!"
Adapting to the new rules
"Once again, I think we were the strongest team in this area," concludes Pat. "We looked very carefully at the Heathrow option where the other teams didn't even bother looking at it. I also think our approach to the parc fermé rules was exemplary. It proves that our philosophy, founded on open-mindedness, works."