The Renault F1 Team Technical Director, Bob Bell, is delighted with how the season has gone so far - and explains that the team is pushing flat out to stay on top against tough opposition. Q: We have completed a quarter of the season, and the...
The Renault F1 Team Technical Director, Bob Bell, is delighted with how the season has gone so far - and explains that the team is pushing flat out to stay on top against tough opposition.
Q: We have completed a quarter of the season, and the R25 no longer enjoys the advantage of the early races -- how is the team competing in the race to develop the car, relative to the competition?
Bob Bell: I think we have two teams as our main rivals for the season -- McLaren, and Ferrari. There is no doubt Ferrari have a good car, but they were certainly flattered by the tyres in Imola, and that performance may have been a bit of a one-off -- although they will be serious rivals for the rest of the season. As for McLaren, it is no surprise to see them where they are -- even during the winter, it was nip and tuck as to who was quicker over the long runs. I think Kimi's pace in Imola was genuine, and this was borne out in Barcelona. At the minute, they are slightly quicker than us, and that means we need to work even harder to pull that back in.
Q: The car has a major update package in Monaco, as McLaren did in Spain -- will this be significant?
BB: I think so. The deficit at the moment is not huge, perhaps several tenths of a second per lap. They had a new aero package in Barcelona, and we have a big update for Monaco. I think we may well see the teams leapfrogging each other according to the timing of updates, and undoubtedly they will be quicker than us at some races, and we faster than them at others. The race until the end of the season will be close, and it will be won by the team that has the better reliability, and is able to maintain the development pace. We know what we have to do.
BB: On paper they ought to do a better job, because they are better resourced than us. But we don't race on paper, and I have enormous faith not only in the ability of our team to be creative and come up with the ideas we need to improve performance, but also be extremely efficient in how we operate, in order to put the parts on the car that will make the difference. I think we can match them over the course of the year.
Q: Let's talk about the team's two drivers -- Fernando has been much talked about in the early part of the year...
BB: When you are talking about the best drivers in the field, Fernando is among the names you will hear -- along with Michael and Raikkonen, they are all very strong. But you cannot ignore the fact that we have let Fisi down with the car, and he has done a fantastic job this year. We saw him win in Melbourne, and he was flying in Barcelona -- he would certainly have been second. I have a lot of respect for that drive, and his performances and attitude this year so far.
Q: Looking at Fernando, do you think he has raised his game this year compared to 2004?
BB: I think Fernando is driving as he did in the final races of last year, when he moved up a level in his commitment, and perhaps his personal development. Over the past year, he has remained incredibly fast but we have also seen him mature in himself. More than anything, he is an extremely intelligent racing driver capable or recognising problems, and dealing with them. That kind of maturity, just as we saw in Imola under pressure from Michael or in Spain, is remarkable.
Q: How do you assess the performance of the competition -- have there been any surprises?
BB: I think Jarno (Trulli) has had a great start to the year. That is not a surprise, because we have always had respect for his ability, but he has begun showing this year that he is as quick as anybody out there over a race distance when he is in the right situation. He has been putting in a string of very solid performances, in and around the podium, and that has been good to see. On the technical side, there is no doubt that Toyota have done an incredible job over the winter to make a big step forward.
Williams have not yet shown the pace we might have expected, and McLaren are where we expected them to be. As for Ferrari, their car is technically very good, and very quick, but I have been a little surprised at how they have managed the start of the season. Deciding not to produce a new car for the first races, then rushing the introduction of the 05 car, have all been slightly unusual decisions for them to take.
Q: We are now at a stage when the voluntary testing agreement the team has signed up to may be starting to be felt -- is that the case?
BB: I think we are starting to see the first signs that the agreement is having an impact on preventing us from doing what we really want. Undoubtedly, it has made our testing operations more efficient, we have to prioritise more clearly, and also be more reactive to potential bad weather. In this area, Ferrari have a significant advantage because in our situation, in order to race approve components, we have to meet certain test deadlines to run the parts. If the weather intervenes, that can have a serious impact on our development. But the agreement is what we have signed up to, and what we intend to operate to. It certainly represents a net cost saving relative to last year.
Q: What about the fact that Renault is not the only team running Michelin tyres -- does that provide a significant advantage in tyre performance?
BB: There is no doubt that the tyre manufacturers have very different approaches in how they go about their business. Michelin may complete more miles than their rivals because of the number of teams they supply, but I am not convinced that this is a huge advantage for them -- because they must take account of the fact that every team has different requirements, and they support these demands, even if they are conflicting, with a very strong degree of fairness.
Q: So far, the team has looked competitive during the Monaco weekend...
BB: Things have really gone to plan so far. We expected the car to be quick here, and it has proved so, with the new aero updates working as we expected. The drivers have made no mistakes, and are doing a great job. There's no reason why it should not continue through the weekend.