The first 'phase' of the season is now over, with the opening three flyaway races completed, and the muddled picture of performance in pre-season testing is starting to come into clearer focus. For the Renault F1 Team, second place in the ...
The first 'phase' of the season is now over, with the opening three flyaway races completed, and the muddled picture of performance in pre-season testing is starting to come into clearer focus. For the Renault F1 Team, second place in the constructors' championship is an excellent start to the 2004 campaign, and Ferrari is the only other team to have scored points with both cars in all three races.
But even so, several below par Saturday performances have left the team frustrated with their results on Sunday. With three weeks to go before the San Marino Grand Prix, Technical Director (chassis) Bob Bell shared his thoughts on the season so far.
Q: Bob, three races into the season, what is the feeling within the team on your start to the season?
"The mood here at Renault is very good right now, and we are pleased with the situation we find ourselves in. However, we are under no illusions about where we stand: there is a very genuine gap in performance to Ferrari and the fight with Williams and BAR is extremely close from race to race. Of course, the onus is on us to close that gap to Ferrari. I am very pleased with where we are, but we know how much progress still needs to be made."
Q: Has the performance of the R24 met expectations so far?
"At the moment, our situation is that we know there is an extremely high level of performance in the car. From a purely technical standpoint, our challenge has now become how to extract that level of performance consistently, or rather how to allow the drivers to extract that performance consistently. Basically, we need to make the car easier to drive in order that Jarno and Fernando can extract maximum performance from it all the time and we have a number of programmes in place to achieve that. With those reservations in mind, our results have certainly been encouraging."
Q: Is it fair to say that qualifying has been one of the few weak points at the first races?
"If in Malaysia, we had put our cars where we should have done on the grid, we could have finished third and fourth. We are convinced of that. Equally, had Fernando started closer to the front in Bahrain, say sixth or seventh where we had expected him to qualify, then he could easily have gained another place in the final results, or perhaps more. But ultimately, we are absolutely realistic that 'what ifs' do not apply in motor racing: concrete results are all that count."
Q: And what about the two drivers: how pleased are you with their performance?
"Both drivers performed extremely well in Bahrain: Jarno came away disappointed because he felt he could have got third place, but he drove an excellent race, responding well when he needed to and putting together impressive second and third stints when he was consistently reeling in Montoya."
"As for Fernando, last weekend once again proved what we have known for some time: whatever the circumstances, he will never give up. He actually lost one of his forward bargeboards in the first lap collision, which certainly handicapped his performance, but the adverse circumstances did not destabilise him and he continued to push until the finish. The fact that he set second fastest race lap indicates how much performance is waiting to be unlocked in the car. Both drivers are on equal points in the championship, and that is good to see."
Q: Finally, the first segment of the season is complete: what do the next few races hold on the technical side?
"We plan to introduce a sizeable performance step in Imola, primarily on the engine side but also with some chassis modifications. We now have two R24 chassis available for testing, and we will be using them this week in Barcelona and next week at Paul Ricard. These two sessions will be crucial to the start of our European season."