Australian GP: Renault technical preview

Comments from Renault's technical crew ahead of the Australian Grand Prix Mike Gascoyne -- Technical Director Q: Mike, how pleased are you with the progress the Mild Seven Renault F1 Team has made over the winter? MG: I am satisfied with the...

Comments from Renault's technical crew ahead of the Australian Grand Prix

Mike Gascoyne -- Technical Director

Q: Mike, how pleased are you with the progress the Mild Seven Renault F1 Team has made over the winter?

MG: I am satisfied with the progress we have made on the chassis side, but we had hoped for more from the engine. We had the mechanical aspects of the car running as early as November, and have managed to put a lot of miles on that package. That was already a good step, and the new bodywork, which is an optimisation of the car's aerodynamics from the front wing backwards, represents another very significant update. Now that we have our aerodynamic programme running at full speed, though, we can expect more updates soon, coming through even faster.

Q: What benefit do you think the Friday morning session will bring the Team at Melbourne?

MG: Obviously, we've signed up for the Friday morning session because we believe the increased running will bring us a significant advantage on race weekends. This will be particularly true in the opening races, and as the season develops, we will have to ensure we maximise the value of this extra time. It should be a particular asset for Friday qualifying, because a good position, running late in the order on Saturday and observing the other teams, will give us a better idea of what our competitors are doing in terms of race strategy.

Q: And finally, what are your targets for the Team in Melbourne?

MG: We finished last year's championship in fourth position, and now need to look to get closer to the teams in front. Even if there are a lot of unknowns, we have to look to the teams above us and not worry about those behind. Our testing times indicate that we are competitive, but we will have to wait and see what happens in Australia.

Pat Symonds -- Executive Director of Engineering

Q: Pat, what do you think will be the main challenges over the Melbourne weekend?

PS: The main challenge for us will be coping with the new format of the Grand Prix event, but also exploiting it as best we can. The challenge falls into two categories: firstly, we must be sure not to do anything wrong -- after years of doing things one way, it would be easy not to be completely on top of the new methods. Secondly, we need to make sure to maximise our competitive advantage under the new rules.

Q: And where do you expect to find this competitive advantage?

PS: The main part of the new rules to exploit is in the area of race strategy, because this now includes our qualifying strategy as well. The choices we made in previous years are irrelevant for the new season: strategy is now much more variable, and I think we will particularly see this in the early races as people get to grips with the new format. Our team also has the added help of the extra session on Friday. While the slippery track surface in Melbourne means we cannot assume that the entire two hours will be fully productive, we nevertheless believe this extra track time will help us considerably.

Q: So overall, how do you expect the Team to perform in Australia?

PS: The start of the season is always interesting because although you get a feel for where you are over the winter, people do play games in testing. However, our car has produced some good times on tricky circuits during the off-season. Although we feel the aero step on the car is enormous, we are still suffering from engine problems in terms of both power and reliability. These factors must temper our enthusiasm for Melbourne.

The engineer's view with Pat Symonds

"The first race of the year is always interesting because winter testing results can sometimes be misleading, and it is only the first time you are in the heat of competition that you can really see where you stand compared to your rivals."

"The circuit itself at Albert Park is interesting, as well as being a beautiful environment to work in and a great start to the season. The track offers numerous challenges: it is often the first time a new car runs under hot conditions, and the track surface is quite different to that at the circuits where we test during the winter. Especially at the start of the weekend, the circuit is extremely slippery, and while overall it is not too hard on tyres, the slippery Friday surface can make it seem harsher than it actually is: wear rates tend to reduce dramatically through the weekend. The other significant characteristic is that, while not as challenging as Monza or Canada, the circuit is extremely hard on brakes, and much more so than the winter testing tracks: we will be needing real braking performance for the first time."

"Generally, it isn't too hard to find the right set-up for the car: it is an average medium to high-downforce circuit, but there are nevertheless some challenging corners. The chicane at the back of the circuit, Turns 11 and 12, is pretty quick, and while the drivers generally need fairly soft settings, this section requires good responsiveness from the car. Kerbs can also be a factor, particularly at Turn 15 where the drivers need to use the kerb for a good lap. This is a pretty steep kerb, and poor ride can throw the car off line and cost the driver time."

"Melbourne is also a coastal town, making weather an important variable. As we saw last year, with rain on Saturday and Sunday, conditions can change rapidly. In 2003, temperatures were extremely high until a few weeks ago and although they are now more normal for this time of year, we will definitely be keeping an eye on the sky and adapting our strategy to suit."

"The final key factor will be reliability: there is nothing like full race conditions for finding shortcomings that did not appear during the winter, no matter how many miles of testing you have done. We will be hoping that the car's good reliability over the off-season carries through to the first race."

"Essentially, the Melbourne weekend will be about ensuring we make the most of the new rules: getting the set-ups right, and getting our strategy right. Where before, we could run an unstable car for qualifying and then adapt it to race conditions, we will now need much more compromise. Coping with these new rules, and maximising what we do with them, will be priority number one."

Engine preview

Melbourne is a temporary circuit, where testing is impossible and with a unique track surface.

Rémi Taffin, engine race engineer for Fernando Alonso, explains how at the start of the weekend, the track surface is extremely dusty, and how grip levels increase continuously as the cars run. "For the teams which have adopted the Heathrow Agreement, as we have," says Rémi, "the disadvantage will be to run on a very low-grip surface. This lack of grip has an impact on how we use the engine: the traction control system and launch control need to be calibrated very precisely."

"The average engine speed at this circuit is relatively high," explains Rémi, "with 60% of the lap spent at full throttle during the race: this makes Melbourne the third most-demanding circuit after the duo of Monza and Zeltweg."

As the main straight is fairly short, the engine only spends ten consecutive seconds at full throttle, and maximum speeds do not exceed 310 kph.

Given that the Australian Grand Prix is the first race of the season, the ideal for the engine is almost to pass unnoticed, with reliability a priority. The problem posed by reliability can be found in the fact that while most winter testing is conducted at temperatures between freezing and 20C, temperatures in Melbourne tend to range from 20-35C. "Two key areas must be monitored," concludes Rémi. "Firstly, the engine mapping, then also the efficiency of the water and oil cooling."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Fernando Alonso , Mike Gascoyne
Teams Renault F1 Team