Renault's Paul Monaghan He spends every race weekend with Fernando Alonso and has a singular goal: to provide the young Spaniard with the best possible chassis. Fernando Alonso. Photo by Brousseau Photo. Budapest 2003. Fernando...
Renault's Paul Monaghan
He spends every race weekend with Fernando Alonso and has a singular goal: to provide the young Spaniard with the best possible chassis.
Budapest 2003. Fernando Alonso crosses the finishing line after having dominated every one of the Hungarian Grand Prix's 70 laps. After becoming the youngest race winner in the history of the world championship, he triumphantly clenches his fist and then activates his car-to-pit radio. "Thanks everybody," he says. "You are a fantastic team." His race engineer Paul Monaghan is swift to reply: "As racing drivers go, you're not so bad yourself..."
Their mutual appreciation is obvious. F1 might involve a collective team effort, but during race weekends Alonso spends more time with his engineer -- a recent recruit at this level -- than with anyone else.
Paul Monaghan, 35, is in his fourth season as a race engineer at Renault. He began his career with McLaren in 1990 and headed straight for the research and development department before moving to the special projects division.
He switched to the Renault F1 Team in 2000 and began working at grands prix the following season, when he was assigned to work with Jenson Button. Initially, as performance engineer, it was his job to concentrate on fine-tuning the chassis, but by mid-season he had become race engineer.
"The thing I like about this team is its spirit," Monaghan says. "The guys at Renault have a sense of humour but have not allowed that to dull their competitive edge. I think the way we operate at the track is a model for others."
Any engineer would relish the opportunity to work with a young driver who has great potential. Monaghan says: "Fernando is currently one of the best drivers in F1. He is determined, has incredible self-confidence, is oblivious to pressure and adapts remarkably easily to any situation. He is also prepared to learn whatever he can from Jarno Trulli, his team-mate."
Paul's role can be summarised in relatively few words: together with Fernando, he has to hone car number 8 to make it as fast as possible. "In this business," he says, "mutual confidence is essential. The driver must know he can trust my suggestions and I have to pay attention to his every word. I have to interpret what Fernando tells me and adapt it to his set-up."
This is where experience counts, because tuning the car becomes second nature once a rapport is established. The longer the season goes on, the easier things become. A simple hand gesture, for instance, might be all it takes to prompt an instant reaction. Remember that every second counts in F1: the regulations drafted last winter cut the amount of track time available to teams and it is an advantage to finalise your set-up as quickly as possible.
"We have a whole team dedicated to the cause," Monaghan says. "Rod Nelson works on optimising Fernando's chassis, Pat Symonds is responsible for race strategy and Jonathan Wheatley makes sure that the cars are mechanically sound. There's a long list of credits and it would be wrong to assume that Fernando's performances are simply the result of what the two of us do together."
However, there is more to Paul's job than simply discussing aerodynamic downforce or torsion bar stiffness. There is a human side to consider, too. "I sometimes act as a kind of confidant," he says. "I have to take good care of my driver, tell him things calmly and make sure I don't compromise his preparations. My job requires me to be his number one supporter. I am -- and don't mind at all."
There's not much point asking to speak to "Paul" if you wander into the Renault F1 Team's pit. Ask for "Pedals", however, and everyone will know who you mean. Monaghan's nickname dates back to 1992, when he was working for McLaren. "I had to modify Gerhard Berger's pedal set-up ahead of almost every race that season," he says with a smile. "It became a constant source of humour within the research and development division. My nickname was already well established by the time I joined Renault."