As Jarno Trulli and Franck Montagny hit the track again today in Valencia to begin the Renault F1 Team's winter testing programme, key technical personnel talk about the team's objectives. The Renault F1 Team will begin the 2004 season with a ...
As Jarno Trulli and Franck Montagny hit the track again today in Valencia to begin the Renault F1 Team's winter testing programme, key technical personnel talk about the team's objectives.
The Renault F1 Team will begin the 2004 season with a brand new car and engine concept. The situation might therefore seem paradoxical: what is the point of running the R23B if the team won't be using the car next year? The answer: a continuous search for improved performance, as Denis Chevrier, Head of Engine Operations, explains:
"The 2004 season will see rule changes have an impact in a number of areas," he explained. "Some of these can begin to be evaluated immediately. For example, launch control systems and automatic gearchanges will be outlawed: it therefore makes sense to give the drivers the opportunity to get used to this immediately." Jarno, Fernando and Franck will have to get used to more limited on-board electronics. "Changing up into top gear at the right moment is crucial in terms of performance," continues Denis. "For a difference of just 500 rpm, you can lose up to one tenth of a second in lap time if you don't get it exactly right."
Executive Director of Engineering Pat Symonds reinforces the point: "These sessions are important for the drivers and the team. If they are out of a race environment from October until January, they can sometimes become a little rusty: the pre-Christmas period gives us a useful opportunity to maintain everybody's focus."
In spite of using what is effectively an obsolete package, in terms of next season, the most critical aspect of winter testing is tyre development: Pat Symonds terms it "the most fundamental aspect of our work during this period." Over the course of the 2003 season, the Renault F1 Team developed extremely close ties with technical partner Michelin, and maintaining that level of competitiveness requires a lot of input.
"Tyre testing can be an interesting and difficult job in the off season, with the difference in ambient temperatures between the European winter and those we encounter during the season," explains Symonds. "Basically, though, development proceeds along two paths: constructions and compounds."
In general, a tyre construction does not change for a particular circuit, and new developments are introduced at regular intervals throughout the season. They are then tested on different types of circuit to ensure they represent a performance gain in all conditions. For compounds, however, the story is rather different, as the Engineering Director explains:
"They are very circuit-specific, and for this aspect of our testing, we deliberately go to a particular type of circuit: Valencia, Barcelona and Jerez, for example, each offer us very different characteristics in terms of how, and how hard, they work the tyres. During these sessions, we look at what we term 'families' of compounds: essentially, a 'family' represents a change in the design philosophy of the compound, where different constituents in the amalgam of the 'rubber' can be tuned to improve characteristics such as wear or stiffness. We know how the results from our different testing circuits correspond to the circuits we encounter during the first part of the season, and that means we can start working for next year already."
All in all, a busy schedule: ten days of testing in the next three weeks, including the evaluation of rising stars Heikki Kovalainen and Jose-Maria Lopez next week in Barcelona. One thing is for sure, though: the work will not be wasted. "The team won't be running simply for the fun of it," concludes Denis Chevrier. "The programmes we have planned are focused firmly on 2004."