European GP - Renault - Preview Part II
Chassis - The Nürburgring has a reputation as a ‘complete' circuit: it includes high speed corners, medium-speed chicanes that upset the car balance and some very slow corners with high traction demands. The R26 will need to meet all
of these challenges this weekend.
Aerodynamics: The Nürburgring is one of the highest-downforce circuits of the season. We usually find ourselves trying to control understeer at this circuit, except perhaps in turn 8 where the car is always nervous. However, the high downforce level allows us to compensate for that, and make the car more driveable, and stable during the changes of direction and under braking.
Tyres: Tyre choice is always tricky here owing to the variable weather conditions, and the fact that temperatures can be very cool. As always, we will be looking to find the best compromise between a tyre soft enough to give good single lap performance but which may risk some graining, and a harder tyre that will last well, but not offer the same performance. Generally, rather than taking the risk of a hard prime and a soft option, we choose two tyres according to possible weather conditions, with for example a prime for cooler conditions and an option in case the temperatures are higher.
Braking: The brakes will not be a problem at this circuit. We will monitor them closely, but there is no reason to think that wear levels on the discs and pads would be abnormally high, as the braking zones are not particularly severe.
Engine - Atmospheric pressure: Located in the Eifel mountains, the Nürburgring is at an altitude of roughly 500m above sea level. The lower air density means the engine generates less power (approximately 5%) but also reduces the loads on some parts such as the pistons.
Circuit configuration: The layout of the Nürburgring does not contain any intrinsically severe demands for the engines. The flowing layout includes elevation changes which make the circuit enjoyable for the drivers, but the high number of corners means the time spent at full throttle is just 66% of the lap. The engine needs to pull strongly from low revs to launch well out of the slow corners, but there are no particularly long straights, with the longest single period at full throttle being just 10s, a low value for the season.
Over-revving: While the layout of the Nürburgring is not intrinsically severe, the circuit is bumpy in a number of places, notably turns 4, 7 and the chicane at turns 13/14. If the drivers take the wrong line, this can potentially damage the engine by either excessive use of the limiter, or over-revving. It is a point that is studied with some care during practice to avoid any problems in qualifying or the race.
Bob Bell, Chassis Technical Director - Bob, the Renault F1 Team has so far scored 51 points of a possible 72 in the world championship – a scoring rate of 71%. How pleased are you after four races?
"We are delighted with our results so far, but I think the points tally is only part of the story. We are plainly in a very strong position, and in terms of pure competitiveness, I think we are stronger at this stages than we were in 2005."
What was the mood after Imola, having come second to Ferrari?
"It was a contrast to last year, when we won. In 2005, the team was on a high after four consecutive wins, but there was a real concern about the tyres after that race. This year, Michelin did a strong job, and those worries were not there. The performance of the car in the race, was such that we were not at a disadvantage relative to our competitors. We are in better shape, and the mood reflects that."
Other teams have been talking a lot about development, while Renault seems to have been rather discreet in this area. How is the development going?
"We are doing the normal things, and putting new parts on the car at every race. The work at the factory is diligent, the level of performance is increasing every weekend. The lap-times show that, but equally, we are not taking any advantage for granted."
This is the second year of stable regulations – is it harder to find improvements?
"Yes, and I think we are seeing that up and down the grid. You can see in the visual evolution of all the cars, that people are finding it harder to make big gains, and there are more small developments going on the cars. That's normal when the regulations are stable."
Yet the lap speeds are similar to last year with 200 bhp less, much of which is down to the tyres. After seeing Ferrari bounce back in Imola, what is your opinion on the balance of power between the tyre manufacturers?
"Overall, I think the advantage will remain with Michelin this year. Ferrari are clearly very quick, and you can never write off Michael or the team. They will be pushing us all year long. But from the next races, I expect the balance to swing back in Michelin's favour."
Looking at the R26, how did the team maintain its advantage from 2005
"The R26 is a logical development of last year's car, and we chipped away at the basic factors that improve performance: we made parts lighter and stiffer, and tried to improve the driveability too. We have pushed our processes hard, to improve the efficiency of the wind-tunnel. But there's no magic to it. You have to work hard on the basics, and take no advantage for granted."
Yet the engine is brand new. Many teams spoke of a radical change from the engine, yet at Renault, the emphasis was on continuity…
"Viry had a very calm approach to the new engine regulations, and they have produced an excellent engine. There was no sea change from V10 to V8, just a rational approach to the engineering challenge. It was a matter-of-fact programme that has delivered the results we wanted."
So what is the secret of the R26?
"I am not sure there is one! What we do have, though, is a very benign, consistent car. It was something we concentrated on from 2004 to 2005, and have built on again this year. We work very hard to improve the feel and driveability of the car, to give the drivers total confidence to put it right on the limit, lap after lap. We know that with the R26, the level of performance on a single lap, can be maintained consistently on a 20-lap run."
Looking to the coming pair of races in Germany and Spain, what are you expecting?
"I suspect they will be Michelin races, and that our main competition will come from the Michelin teams, which means McLaren and Honda. We are not writing off Ferrari, of course, but we have tested strongly in Barcelona, and the car was very quick at the Nürburgring last year."
Finally, what will be the team's approach?
"We have to go out there and be aggressive. The car is strong and both drivers will be using the uprated B-spec engine. There is no change in our approach: we will be racing to win."
E.A. Source Renault