Comments from the Renault technical team ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director Q: Mike, first of all, a word about Indianapolis: what was your verdict on the result? MG: I think we have to be disappointed with ...
Comments from the Renault technical team ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director
Q: Mike, first of all, a word about Indianapolis: what was your verdict on the result?
MG: I think we have to be disappointed with getting just one car to the finish in fourth place. Jarno put in a storming, attacking drive during the race, but he had been flying all weekend, and his mistake during warm-up really cost us: without that he could have been fighting at the front during the race. Overall, I think we demonstrated a very encouraging level of speed during the weekend but, given that, we should have converted our pace into more points: for Japan, we need to get two cars to the finish, and exploit fully our package to round the season off properly.
Q: The team has been looking forward to this race: why?
MG: At the start of the year, once you have run the car, you get a feel for the circuits where you think will be strong: Barcelona and the Hungaroring were two of those circuits, and Suzuka is another. It is a track which demands a predictable, responsive chassis, and excellent aerodynamics: those are areas in which we excel. Coupled with the progress the engine has made in recent months, it should give us a very strong package for the final race of the year.
Q: So overall, you must be expecting a strong showing?
MG: We must look to qualify in the first couple of rows, run an aggressive strategy and race to the podium. This will be the final race of an exciting and successful season: we will be looking to finish it on a very positive note.
The Engineer's View, with Pat Symonds
Suzuka is an extremely difficult circuit for both drivers and engineers and, I believe, the most challenging on the calendar. It is, however, a track possessing all the attributes that suit our car: high-speed corners, changes of direction, traction events... This is a race we have looked forward to for a while.
The challenges Suzuka presents us with are very much those of a driver's circuit, and in these circumstances, there is very little substitute for track time, particularly on a circuit where general testing is not allowed. Even at this late stage of the season, we expect our Friday testing arrangement to reap benefits.
Indeed, Indianapolis demonstrated the utility of the Heathrow Agreement: prior to the US Grand Prix, we had tested at Barcelona both compounds and constructions destined for Suzuka. As is often the case, our choice had been narrowed down, but we had not fully made up our minds. The two hours in Indianapolis allowed us to take this limited range with us, and re-test them in order to make our decisions for Japan.
In terms of tyres, Suzuka is a hard circuit. Not only do they have to endure severe lateral loads, the number and frequency of the corners means they are constantly loaded with very little time to 'relax': if we compare the energy requirements with Monza (another 53-lap race), all the tyres work much harder, and particularly the right front which sees 75% more energy than it would at Monza. The right rear also works half as hard again as a tyre at the Italian circuit.
Furthermore, the layout of the circuit can bring quite high temperatures. In response, we are playing the situation both ways with tyre choice: we have chosen one 'Safe' tyre, and one more 'Aggressive' solution. The final choice will depend on the results of our testing, but it is very likely that the two tyres will require different strategies to optimise their use.
Indeed, although we are racing in Japan, that no more makes it a 'Bridgestone circuit' than Magny-Cours favours Michelin. The high-speed corners, and change of direction, will suite the Michelin tyres, and our gamble on aggressive tyre choice may play into our hands.
As for car set-up, the engineers face some significant challenges. The most difficult part of the circuit is undoubtedly the long seies of esses behind the pits. They represent a significant part of the lap time, and a poorly-balanced car cannot carry speed through the whole section. Stability through 130R also used to be very important, but the circuit changes mean will we have to re-assess this area on arrival.
There is also a fine compromise to be found between downforce and straightline speed. Overtaking is difficult, but still possible into the final chicance: you therefore need to defend against this with good straightline speed. However, the rest of the circuit requires high levels of downforce, and the penalty for compromising aerodynamic performance is quite high in terms of lap time. Finding the correct balance is a big challenge.
Although work at Enstone is now fully focused on the 2004 car, our colleagues at Viry are continuing to push ahead with engine development. In Suzuka, we will be able to increase the rev range of the engine once again. The big unknown, of course, remains the weather, but assuming it stays dry, Indianapolis showed our package is as strong on a cold circuit as its well-proven ability in hotter climates. We will be racing to finish the season in style.
Engine Preview, with Denis Chevrier
Q: Denis, what are the principal challenges for the engine at Suzuka?
DC: During the lap, the engine spends 55% of its time under maximum load (over 14,000 rpm). In previous years, this included a maximum continuous period of twelve seconds but, if 130R can now be taken flat, this may increase to 17 seconds, or the second-longest single period of the year after Indianapolis. Furthemore, the rev range used is one of the most varied, from 7,500 rpm at the chicane (approx. 60 kph) to maximum revs: this is the second widest range after Monaco.
Q: Does that have implications for reliability?
DC: Only periods at maximum load have a significant impact on the reliability of the engine, and the amount of the lap spent at full throttle is not particularly high. However, the longer the period at maximum load, the bigger the implications for reliability in terms of the effort the components undergo, and the high operating temperatures they reach: the changes at 130R may therefore impose some constraints we will have to plan for.
Q: In terms of performance, what are the key factors?
DC: Good driveability is crucial as there is a large part of the lap spent at part throttle, particularly in the esses. Power needs to be available from low revs, for the reasons I have already explained. The extra revs we will be able to use this weekend during second qualifying and the race will be a definite benefit.