For Renault the Christmas 'break' was nothing more than a myth at Enstone and Viry -- as work continued at full speed on the new car and engine.
At Enstone and Viry the 2006 season began as long ago as September 2004, when the first drawings concepts for the RS26 V8 engine began to emerge -- and before even the R25 ran on track!
Nearly eighteen months of intense, detailed work are nearing fruition as endurance testing continues deep within the walls of Viry on the dynos. The project is firmly on track, as Project Leader Léon Taillieu explained before Christmas: "We are on time and we have hit our performance objectives."
At Enstone, daring new bodywork shapes are emerging from the production workshops. Just before Christmas, the race bay shook to the sound of a thoroughbred V8 Formula 1 engine clearing its throat, when the RS26 engine was fired up for the first time in a complete car.
The static test was to ensure that the oil, water and electronics systems functioned correctly. More importantly, everything ran like clockwork. Between Christmas and New Year, the new car was put through its paces on the dynamic test rig in Enstone, undergoing preliminary checks and set-up work.
Tuesday 10 January will mark the beginning of two intensive months of work when the R26 runs for the first time, in the hands of Giancarlo Fisichella at Jerez in southern Spain. The aim is to ensure the package is both reliable and competitive ahead of its competition debut in Bahrain on 12 March.
The Renault will be only the third definitive 2006 car to make its track debut, proof of how hard the team has worked to hit its targets while maintaining development until the end of the 2005 championship season. That extra preparation time could prove decisive when it comes to the hunt for reliability at the start of the year.
What's more, two chassis will be running from the team's second test of the winter to achieve maximum mileage with the car and drivers ahead of the opening race. In 2005, the early races allowed the team to build a crucial platform in the race for the world championship. The aim will be to repeat that feat in 2006.
"Those early races really set the scene for the year," explains Pat Symonds. "Each race may be worth ten points in absolute, terms, but that ignores the human component. The first win buoys the whole team, and confidence grows from there. The maths may say the early races have the same importance as any other, but in terms of the team's self-esteem, I would say they are worth half as much again."