The Renault F1 Team Chassis Technical Director Bob Bell is pleased with work so far on the R26 and RS26 engine.
Bob, the R26 has now been running for exactly a month, and has completed over 6000 km so far on track. How are things going?
“We are making very good progress with the new car. There are still some issues to iron out with the car, but we are doing lots of miles in testing, and the R26 has met our expectations from a performance perspective. The drivers are happy, and we are working very well with Michelin.”
Tyre testing has formed a large part of the winter programme. How competitive are Michelin?
“Michelin are showing a real determination to win. They are pushing harder than ever. With fewer teams running Michelin tyres this year, we are also enjoying a closer and more direct collaboration.”
The team has enjoyed very strong engine reliability so far this winter. How pleasing is that?
“It is something I am very pleased about, and I know Rob (White) and his team in Viry are as well. The engine group had a harder transition to make than our competitors for 2006, as Renault had to change the v-angle of engine as well as switching to the V8. A deliberate decision was taken to maximise the design and dyno testing phases of the project, which meant we were reliable and competitive as soon as we hit the track. The team at Viry deserves enormous credit for the job it has done so far.”
How are Fernando, Giancarlo and Heikki working with the team?
“All three drivers are working with great commitment. Fernando and Fisi both know that the team will give them all its support, equally, until the end of the season – which is what you have to do if you are serious about winning championships. They are excited about the car’s potential. As for Heikki, he is more motivated than ever in his new role as official third driver, and very keen to demonstrate his abilities.”
And what have they said about the car?
“They are very happy with it. It is easy to drive, the engine characteristics complement the chassis, it responds nicely to set-up changes, and they can find a good balance quickly. I think we have all the good characteristics of the R25, and more. And of course, the package looks competitive.”
That’s what testing times seem to show. Exactly how competitive?
“It is very difficult to be sure. We are not yet running in representative conditions, as track temperatures are still quite cool, and not all of the teams are running with their definitive package for the first race – ourselves included. Equally, some teams like Toyota and Williams are in a learning phase with a new tyre supplier, and then of course you don’t know what fuel loads other people are running…”
But what picture seems to be emerging so far?
“Well, if you try and work through those things – and it’s a big ‘if’ – then I think Honda, Renault and probably Ferrari seem to be the top teams. Other teams could become competitive quickly – I think the McLaren is a good car, and its pace is not yet clear; also, the Toyota remains to be seen once they have the new aero parts. Certainly, I think it will be closer than last year – and there is a possibility that we will see at least three teams in the mix at the front of the field.”
Finally, what’s coming up in the next few weeks for Renault?
“As we have said, we plan an aero update before the first race, and that is currently in production. But the main work is to keep on pushing very hard on track, to make sure the R26 is completely reliable by the time it hits the track in Bahrain.”