Damage limitation for Renault in Indy -- and how the balance might shift back again in Magny-Cours... C-ing double Ferrari may have performed dominantly in Indianapolis, but there was plenty for Renault to be pleased about after the race. The...
Damage limitation for Renault in Indy -- and how the balance might shift back again in Magny-Cours...
Ferrari may have performed dominantly in Indianapolis, but there was plenty for Renault to be pleased about after the race. The most significant factor was the successful, reliable debut of a first iteration of the 'C' specification RS26 engine in Fisico's R26 car -- making it 19 finishes out of 20 starts for the R26-RS26 package in 2006.
Major engine developments during the season are planned according to a 'normal' two-race usage cycle, that's to say the one being observed by Fernando, and the C-specification unit was planned for race 11. So, just as with the introduction of the 'B' spec earlier in the season planned for race 5, Fisico's out-of-sync usage posed the team at Viry a dilemma: to rush the introduction of the unit for race 10 (Indianapolis), with potential reliability risks; or to wait for race 11, thus giving Fisico use of the unit only at race 12 (Hockenheim).
The solution, as ever, proved to be an astute compromise, whereby Fisico used a C-specification V8 this weekend but with only partial usage of the performance gain it brings. That will mean both drivers have the full evolution available for use in Magny-Cours in two weeks' time, as Engine Technical Director Rob White explains:
"The planned development path of the RS26 called for an evolution to be introduced at race 11 in Magny-Cours. Giancarlo had a fresh unit built to 'C' specification for race 10, but its use was not as aggressive as it will be at race 11 because final approval for the unit is still pending our testing this week in Jerez."
"Both drivers will therefore have a full C-spec evolution and the associated performance gain available at our home race in France. We have had a very successful North American campaign in contrast to recent years, and we were delighted to see the new engine take a reliable podium finish on its debut. The C spec should be another good boost as we look to get back to winning ways on home turf."
The theory of relativity
Giancarlo enjoyed a fantastic weekend to finish 'best of the rest' on Sunday afternoon, some distance behind the dominant Ferraris but having seen off a strong challenge from Toyota. It was an outstanding drive, but one that had to be couched in relative terms after such an impressive display from Ferrari -- as Fisico himself admitted.
Yet this paddock 'theory of relativity' is not all bad news for the Renault boys. Looking back to 2005, they scored 'nul points' on their trip to North America -- while in 2006, they have collected 25 compared to Ferrari's 30. The aim was to come out of these two races with a healthy, stable championship lead -- exactly what the team has done.
Twelve months ago, the team enjoyed an 18 point constructors' championship lead over McLaren, while in 2006 that gap has stretched to 26 points. The team's reliability record has reached 95% (19 finishes from 20 starts) compared to 65% in 2005 (13 finishes from 20 starts) and a Renault has been on the podium for 16 races in a row -- every race since Turkey last year.
So, we put the question to Pat Symonds: is the performance in Indy a sign that the tables have turned in 2006? "I don't think so," he explained. "There is absolutely no complacency at Renault, and we will be studying what happened this weekend in significant detail. But from being slower than us last week in Canada, Ferrari were suddenly exceptionally quick here this weekend -- with essentially the same car and engine."
"We have said all year long that the balance of competition will shift race to race according to who finds the best solutions, particularly in adapting the tyres to the circuit and conditions. This weekend, our competitors did the better job -- just as we have done with Michelin at most other circuits this year."
Is this, therefore, a turning point for the championship? "I think it is important to keep things in perspective," concluded Symonds. "Indianapolis is an unusual circuit with some unique characteristics. In 2005, we had our worst part of the championship in North America. This year, we are coming away with 25 points. We got beaten this weekend, and nobody in the team likes losing. But we are ready to fight."
"We have a very aggressive development programme in place for the coming races, and we hope to be much more competitive in France -- a home race for both ourselves and Michelin. I expect normal service to be resumed in Magny-Cours -- which means a tight, intriguing battle between ourselves, Ferrari and McLaren!"