Motorsport.com’s Guillaume Navarro asks Remi Taffin, Renault Sport F1’s director of operations, about its switch from four teams to two after Caterham’s exit and Lotus’s defection to Mercedes power.
In terms of organisation, what has changed since you now supply engines to two teams instead of four, has it made life different at Viry-Chatillon?
"Paradoxically, it doesn't necessarily change the allocated resources a lot. Ninety percent of the resources are dedicated to the design and testing of that engine. However, the fact that Red Bull and Toro Rosso work under the same authority enables us to make much simpler choices, so it is especially diversity.
"Diversity is not always easy. This is mostly what we gained since last year. It is much simpler, I would say, to make much later decisions, as every time there only is one solution to assess. That is the more simple aspect. I would say that having two teams enables us to focus on them.
"However, regarding mileage, sometimes we would like to have more teams. Now, we're doing more than 100 laps a day, so it is not an actual lack, for we have enough mileage for what we need to do."
Isn't it precisely what Red Bull was advocating last year, a little bit more work on integration, on how to adapt the power unit to the chassis, instead of a huge share on design?
"We were already spending quite some time with them, and they had priority over the others. It is a fact that we had other customers that we wanted to treat the same way. Even though we were working closely with Red Bull, we also have, I would say, to think of the others."
Today, this aspect has changed because you have two fewer customers. Are you more able to orientate some solutions a particular way, integration-wise?
"Of course, because we're not wondering how this team or that team is going to deal with it, how we will manage to adapt. For sure, this is a fewer constraint, it is obvious.
Talking about mileage, what kind of challenge is Honda facing today, with only one team to run the engine? Can it be a breaking point to their development?
"It depends on the kind of youth problems that they have. I would say that if the issue is a bad design and if whatever happens, it breaks down after ten laps, then I would say it is almost better to have only one customer, because supplying the new solution, logistically, it is much easier to supply one power unit than four when you have four teams.
"Then, if the issues are a bit more functional, with systems or with elements that do not communicate well, or if they are malfunctions, you are sometimes inclined to have several teams because these are normally things that you do not understand very well at first.
"The more samples and different environments you have, the faster you can go. It really depends on the situation."
If Red Bull had only one team instead of two with Toro Rosso, would Renault be willing to have another team with which to run, precisely to collect that kind of feedback?
"I would say that between one and two teams, we're not saying that it dramatically changes things on a logisitical point of view and regarding the parts to supply. Okay, it's double, but it is not comparable to where we used to be, with four teams. With certain parts that need a lot of time, it becomes complicated.
"I would say that yes, it is rather interesting to have one extra customer, like Toro Rosso. It enables us, if there is an issue at one team, to have the other one running. For us, an engine manufacturer, it is good to have a spare, but that's about it. When we come to a circuit, we don't come with a single engine, it is a similar philosophy.
You have a customer in Toro Rosso. What is the word that you would use regarding Red Bull? Are they rather a customer team or a works team? What designation do you use?
"In absolute terms, they are all customers. We use the word 'customers' because we have an economic relationship. Then, of course, Red Bull is what I would call our "privileged customer", they are our technical partner, they are our works team, you can use many designations, but what is hiding behind all of this?
"We do develop the power unit with Red Bull, we incidentally exchange many views, they work on subjects that are not necessarily devoted to one or the other, and we provide Toro Rosso with the same power unit. The gap is very small. One must not forget that Toro Rosso and Red Bull mean the same, they mean 'red bull!'"
Can you explain the difference between hardware and software to the average F1 fan? What part is Renault responsible for, what part can be developed by the team?
"The hardware is simple, the hardware is what's...hard, it's the parts. It can be the cell of a battery, a piston, a rod, a cylinder head... This is the hardware. This is potential at the limit of reliability and performance. This is what will create 600kW or 5000km, as simply as that.
"Then, the software is what allows to operate those 4000km or 600kW, or take just 540 or go as high as 5000km. You are going to use these parts with each other in a slightly different way. The average car buyer will sometimes be happier with a 100hp car which is very nice to drive, which responds well, which has a good acceleration and which certainly has 100 fewer horsepower than the other one, which is unwieldy, which requires to rev up the engine – it's a lot of perceivable things.
"It can also be the difference between this and that GPS in the car. In the end, it's the same, it has to tell us where we're going, but according to whether it has been coded one way or the other, it might not be nice to use. It can also be that."
Is software an area in which Renault has worked a lot over the winter? We gather that in last year's power unit, there was room for improvement on that level...
"We actually kept the same level of work on software throughout the year because it is one of the things we can work on. It is more about philosophy, that is to say the way we approach the functioning of all the elements together.
"To keep it short, there may be things that we had imagined in too complicated a way as they did not need to be, so we made them simple, and there were other things we did not have time to care about, and in the end, we developed them. Software is endless anyway."
Regarding Caterham, was there some areas that they could have developed better, regarding the use of the power unit?
"I don't think so, because again, we provided them with the same power unit as the others, and our teams operated it in the same way. They got the same power out of it. I would say that I can't see what they could have done better to win the world championship, regarding engine performance."
In testing, you can run with different tyre pressures, weights, and a number of things that do not apply during races. Can the fuel flow allow you to learn things that you cannot learn during the races, when you maybe handle things in a slightly different way than during testing?
"Yes and no, because we have to respect the regulations, even during testing. We cannot exceed the 100kg/h. Furthermore, there is little interest in doing it.
"If you want to exceed it, you do it on the test bench. This is not the right place to do it, at least not anymore."