Brazil Preview Quotes: Renault

Fernando Alonso

Brazil Preview Quotes: Renault

Fernando Alonso

Q. Fernando, what are your expectations for Brazil?

FA:

I think we will be fast there. The car needs to be efficient aerodynamically, because we run quite low levels of downforce, and you also need good traction in the slow corners of the middle sector, and the out of the final corner to protect your position along the straight. These are areas in which the R24 is strong and we will also have some new parts on the car for the final race. We should be optimistic for the final race.

Q. What other challenges do you face in Brazil?

FA:

The big challenge is in terms of fitness. Physically, it is another hard circuit - like Suzuka was. It runs anti-clockwise, there are lots of bumps and also it is at altitude. All those factors combine to make Brazil one of the physically toughest circuits of the season. Your neck can get very tired because the fast corners are all left-handers, so we work on that area in training to make sure I can attack all the way through the race, from start to finish.

Q. So will you be aiming to finish the season in style?

FA:

Absolutely. It has been a long season but the whole team is very motivated to do well in Brazil and show everybody what we are capable of. The results have not been so good in recent races but I feel that I have been driving to the maximum and if the performance of the car is where we hope, then we can be very competitive. In Japan, we didn't do well enough in qualifying to fight at the front in the race, but I will be going for the podium in Brazil. That was how we started the year in Australia and it would be great to do it again at Interlagos.

Jacques Villeneuve

Q. What has been your approach to the final race of the season in Brazil?

JV:

Suzuka was a tough race for me so the team altered the testing schedule to allow me to run at last week's test in Jerez. The aim for that session was to get to know the car better and explore different set-ups but to also to get some more time to help with my physical conditioning. We didn't do as many miles as we would have liked, but it was important to get more experience with the R24. Hopefully, it will enable me to run more competitively in my last race for the team in Brazil.

Q. So what sort of performance are you expecting in Interlagos?

JV:

I enjoy Interlagos - it is a tricky, challenging circuit, where we run the cars quite light on downforce, which means they can be delicate to drive over the bumps and through the middle sector of the circuit. It is also tough physically, so my run in the car at Jerez will be important preparation. In terms of results, I want to end my time at Renault with a good performance after two hard races and bring something back to the team. I definitely want to finish in the points.

Bob Bell, Technical Director

Q. Bob, as we arrive in Brazil for the final race of the season, what are the team's expectations in terms of performance?

BB:

I think we can be more confident in our expected level of performance than at some of the circuits we have visited recently. It has been slightly difficult to judge exactly where we will be competitive this season but Brazil is a circuit with a large number of low speed corners and traction events, which we know play to the strengths of the R24. A strong performance, by which we mean a podium finish, is a very achievable target in the final race as Fernando has been driving outstandingly for much of the season. The whole team is extremely motivated to hit that target.

Q. In recent races, it has been perceived that the team has fallen off the pace relative to its direct competitors. How would you respond to that?

BB:

We have continued to push hard on development of the R24 until the very end of the season and will be running suspension modifications in Brazil that constitute a good step forward in performance. The team has not let up for one moment in its pursuit of second place in the championship. However, BAR have done an excellent job this year. They have visibly matured as a team and are now able to capitalise on the performance of their package, getting both cars to the finish and scoring points in a way they were not at the start of the season. Our season has gone the other way and after a long series of two-car finishes in the first half of the year, our failure to score points with both cars in the second half of the season has severely penalised us.

Q. The R24 has acquired the reputation of being a more difficult car than its predecessor.

BB:

The R24 is clearly a faster car than the R23, but we have also learned that it has a smaller sweet spot in which the drivers feel comfortable on the limit. We experienced difficulties with the handling at the start of the season, so concrete steps were taken to improve this and have done so: the car is now more constant in high speed corners. Those handling vices have also meant that it has been harder to extract the full performance potential from the car. But at those circuits when we did get the right set-up, where the drivers felt fully comfortable, we demonstrated that it was an extremely competitive racing car - one only needs to think of Monaco or Magny-Cours as illustrations of this. Equally, it shouldn't be forgotten that the R24 was a contender for victory in both Canada and Belgium before mechanical failures forced us out. Both of those races were certainly missed opportunities.

Q. How would you analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the R24-RS24 package?

BB:

In 2003, sole amongst our competitors, a fundamental decision was taken to use a different engine configuration as the basis for our development in 2004 in order to meet the reliability targets imposed by the regulation changes. Viry did a remarkable job to not only produce this engine on time for the first race of the year but also to develop it throughout the season and achieve significant performance gains. This decision was absolutely the right one and we certainly have scored more points than we would have done otherwise but we also had to accept certain fundamental compromises in terms of weight, size and centre of gravity. On the chassis side, the team produced a faster car but also a more difficult one. In trying to resolve these problems, we have learned a number of important lessons about the vehicle characteristics that will be applied next year in order to combine the strengths of the R23 and R24 into a competitive package.

Q. So how would you sum up this season?

BB:

I think it is fair to say it has been a demanding year for the team on a number of levels, but also a successful one. We have learned important lessons that will allow us to continue our progress on the basis of very firm foundations. For 2004, we made significant advances over 2003 in many areas and produced a quicker car and better engine - contrary to the expectations of some observers. For next year, it will be a whole new ballgame in terms of the regulation changes that are set to be introduced and while it is hard to make comparisons at this early stage, we are very confident in how our development is progressing. I think the 2005 Renault car will be a much better-optimised vehicle in many areas.

The Engineer's View with Pat Symonds

When we engineers arrive at a given circuit, we do so armed with a database of facts and figures that allow us to evaluate the performance of our cars and devise the appropriate set-up. These figures are termed sector sensitivities and they detail how different factors affect car performance in the three sectors of a given circuit. While we study many different parameters, the four primary factors are downforce, drag, grip and engine power.

Looking at Interlagos, it is a track with two similar sectors comprising a long straight and few corners (S1 and S3) and a much twistier middle sector, which accounts for roughly half the total lap time. Sector 1 begins at the timing line, and includes three corners: T1 taken in 2nd gear at around 95 kph, T2 taken at just under 160 kph in 3rd gear and T3 which we exit at around 240 kph onto the short back straight where the sector finishes. S2 includes eight of the circuit's twelve corners, which range from T5 taken flat out at 240 kph to T10 taken at just under 80 kph. The final sector begins between T11 and T12, and comprises only one real corner (T12 at 110 kph) and the uphill acceleration out of this turn, through a number of flat out kinks, to the timing line.

When setting up the car at Interlagos, we must balance overall lap time with sufficient speed along the main pit straight that we can overtake other cars and also protect our position. In general, we aim to achieve a maximum speed of approximately 320 kph at the end of the pit straight. However, if we choose to alter this top speed, then the sector sensitivities allow us to calculate the impact this will have on our overall lap-time. This can be illustrated by looking at two extreme settings.

For example, if we were to reduce our top speed along the straights by between 5 and 8 kph by using more downforce, then the simulations show we would lose only a few thousandths of a second in lap-time, but the way this loss would be derived is very interesting. This change would lose 0.06s in S1 and 0.15s in S3 owing to the two straights, but gain back 0.2s in S2 through the numerous corners. At the other extreme, if we were to reduce downforce in order to improve our straight line speed by 10 kph, then we would lose 0.25s over the complete lap - losing just 0.005s and gaining 0.15s in S1 and S3 respectively, but losing a very significant 0.4s in S2. Lower downforce settings bring benefits in straight line speed and lap-time in S1 and S3 respectively (the low number of corners in these sectors means the time losses through the turns are proportionally smaller) but come at the price of a high time penalty in S2. Altering downforce levels always involves balancing gains and losses owing to the increase or decrease in parasitic drag that this inevitably brings.

When we examine the contrasting nature of the circuit sectors, it is logical that an increase in grip would bring its main benefit in the second sector, which has the highest number of corners. A theoretical 5% increase in grip (which is much larger than could be found by switching between two raceable tyre compounds) would see overall lap time reduced by 1.25s, with 60% of this improvement (0.75s) coming in the second sector - three times the gain obtained in the first and third sectors (0.25s each). Contrastingly, increased engine power would bring greater benefits in the first and third sectors. A rise of 5% (around 45 bhp) would provide gains of 0.2s in S1 and S3, and just over 0.1s in S2.

So why are these figures useful to the engineers during a race weekend? Essentially, they provide the basis for comparing performance between the team's cars and our competitors during the race weekend. We know roughly where our level of performance is relative to that of our competitors and can therefore evaluate any differences in speed or lap-time using these figures. For example, if we are very quick in S2 and not in S1 and S3, with low straight line speeds, then we are running too much downforce. If these speeds are competitive however and we remain extremely quick in terms of overall lap time, then this would indicate we are running lower fuel than our rivals. The database of performance sensitivities provides the race engineers with the reference points they require to make informed choices as they search for the most competitive and race-able set-up.

The Engineer's View with Denis Chevrier

For the engine-builder, the first singular characteristic of Interlagos is that the circuit is located approximately 700m above sea-level. The atmospheric pressure, which is usually situated at around 1000 millibars, is therefore reduced to around 920. For any atmospheric engine, this reduction in air pressure brings with it an inevitable loss in power, as for a given volume of air, the percentage of oxygen - and therefore the potential for effective combustion - is lower. At Interlagos, the engine loses approximately 8% of its total power from the basic atmospheric pressure and the humid conditions which we often encounter at this circuit can also have an additional negative impact on performance.

In terms of layout, the circuit includes no very slow corners - the slowest of them, Turn 10, is taken at around 80kph. This means that the engine is not used at very low revs and that good levels of torque between 80 kph and 220 kph are important to launch the cars out of the many corners in the twisty second sector. Equally, the cars need to be able to change direction quickly and effectively while accelerating in this sector. As such, an engine which responds quickly and predictably to the driver's throttle inputs is an important advantage, as is smooth power delivery in order to maintain car balance.

In order to perform effectively, a strong torque curve must be combined with good levels of traction, particularly on the exit of Turn 12. Obtaining this good traction is complicated by the notoriously bumpy track surface in Brazil. As well as making life difficult for the drivers under braking by de-stabilising the car, the bumps can cause the rear wheels to lose contact with the track, thus potentially inducing over-revs while the car is under hard acceleration. This means that the safeguards implemented to prevent over-revs are particularly important at this circuit in order to ensure good engine reliability.

Finally, the small number of high-speed corners, coupled with the reduced engine power caused by the atmospheric conditions and the relatively short lap, means that both fuel consumption (2.4kg per lap) and the time penalty for carrying extra fuel (0.27s) are both comparatively low - both values are located below the season averages (3.0kg and 0.37s respectively).

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