No rest for the…

With both on-track and in-factory testing, there’s no off-season for a modern F1 team, as Renault’s executive director of engineering explains

This is a very busy time for us, more so this year because of the latest restrictions on testing. We are trying to run as many miles as we did last year, working on reliability with the new car, but the new rules will make that a lot harder. So we’re working hard on putting those miles on the car within the new regulations, and that makes our work at the track very intense and pressured.

Our new car, the R27, was completed on schedule before Christmas and we fired it up in the factory at Enstone on December 19. Immediately after that we started static testing, which means putting the new car on our seven-post chassis rig, and this we did through the Christmas and New Year period.

The team spent most of December running the old car, learning about the new Bridgestones; now it’s time to get some performance from the new car and to work hard on reliability. The tyres are at the top of the job list and only running lots of miles tells you about the nuances of the new tyres and how to get the best out of them. We have a lot of data already and we know about the forces and the loads, but we also need to get used to working with new colleagues and how to interpret the information they give us. The testing is not all about technology, you must never under-estimate the human side of it all, the people involved.

Remember, we’re not making the tyre change as we are in a tyre war; we’re working with a fixed product, so we’re not chasing a moving target. I don’t want to over-state concerns with the new rubber; it’s a normal challenge that an F1 team has to face.

Early in January we got into the initial aerodynamic testing at Silverstone. Then we took the car down to Jerez for a shakedown before moving into an intensive three-day test session with two cars. We had both Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella driving on those three days so as to get maximum mileage on the cars before the season starts in Australia.

After the Jerez tests we took a week’s break for problem solving and all the other little jobs you get with a new car, then it was off for more testing at Valencia, taking us into February, just a month or so from the first race.

We’re always searching for that elusive competitive advantage, every minute of every day, not just at the start of a new season. Remember, we came up with the mass damper three-quarters of the way through 2005, and not at the start of the 2006 season. We are constantly searching for any kind of tiny advantage like that.

 The rules are becoming more and more prescriptive, but we have got some great new ideas and I’m always thrilled and excited at the prospect of coming up with a new item that will give us that tiny advantage. So, yes, I’m excited about 2007, and yes, we have new things, but I’m not telling you about them.

We will miss Fernando, no doubt about that. He was a great guy to work with, always on top of the job and we could always expect 100 per cent from him. Simply, he’s as good as you get, but we see his move as a natural progression. We know that no era can last for ever.

Is he as good as Schumacher? Well, you’re getting down to such tiny little differences, it’s hard to say. But they are both head and shoulders above their peers, so once you’re in that realm it’s very difficult to define whether one is better than the other. The only way you might know is to put them in the same car, in the same team, on the same day.

I am very excited about working with Heikki Kovalainen; he is similar in many ways to both Fernando and Michael. I see a lot of traits in him that I saw with both of them, and with Ayrton Senna when I worked with him. He is very good. Lots of people can drive racing cars fast but you need that little bit more, those added extras that separate the really top guys from the rest. It’s all about intelligence, having the intelligence to read the race, to work hard and to go flat out while still having the mental capacity to analyse what’s going on. That analysis is important.

Heikki is like a sponge: he spent last year soaking it all up, learning it all as our test driver. Also, he is very proactive, always wanting to know more, wanting to get involved. So, yes, I am excited about him.

I will miss Ross Brawn this year. He’s a good friend of mine and I always enjoy talking to him and playing the game against him. It may look like war up there on the pit wall but we’re good friends. He’s a difficult guy to race against but I don’t think his leaving will make so much of a difference for me. I don’t know who they will put up there but we will still have to work hard at it.  

So, yes, it’s hard work as usual this winter, but I’m just as thrilled and excited at the prospect of a new season as I always have been.