Q&A with Bob Bell

Date published: June 26 2016

After a trying time in Baku, Renault’s chief technical officer Bob Bell says the upcoming Austrian GP is an “important race” for the team…

What’s the outlook for Austria?
It’s an important race for us as the low-speed corner circuit layouts we’ve seen recently haven’t suited us. Austria’s much more in the R.S.16’s comfort zone. We left the Barcelona test feeling quite positive, and since then we’ve added the positive step of the B specification engine, but the circuits we’ve visited subsequently have really caused our progress to falter; that’s something we must address.

What are the challenges in Spielberg?
It’s an interesting track. It has a relatively smooth surface so tyre warm-up could be a bit of an issue, and it’s cooler as it’s higher, which also has a small effect on the engine. Average corner speed is a bit higher, and there are not so many corners. It does have some high speed content so you want a car that also has good high speed balance. This higher speed content should suit us; as we’ve seen from the previous three races we do have a weakness in the low speed corners so it’s good to get away from them!

Any other areas to be aware of?
Despite a higher speed, it is actually quite heavy on brakes, so you have to be vigilant with brake temperatures and ensure sufficient cooling. We’ve been quite aggressive with our tyre selection, opting for the ultrasoft tyre and we’re predicting that it’s likely to be a one, possibly two stop race.

Why has the R.S.16 struggled with low speed corners?
It’s partly a function of downforce, and that simply goes back to development time. We’re also looking at braking stability, so front locking into a slow corner has an impact on pace. For entry instability taking out front wing helps, but then the playoff is more mid-corner understeer possibly driving snappiness on exit. Traction’s another challenge. These are things we can fine-tune with weight distribution and mechanical balance for example, but ultimately the more downforce you have the more these type of issues go away.

Thoughts on Baku?
Qualifying was clearly not great. We made some relatively large changes in set-up to try to get a handle on some of the challenges at what was a very distinct circuit; it wasn’t a case of fine tuning. Jolyon liked the set-up he used for qualifying – this was softer to enable the car to ride the bumps and kerbs better which was an area where we’d been weak at the start of the weekend. The playoff however was that the car then becomes somewhat lazy in change of direction so it doesn’t feel as sharp. Kevin wasn’t so happy with his car after qualifying and went for a stiffer set-up for the race which he preferred. We learnt a lot on the set-up possibilities and which direction we need to go.

It was a pretty aggressive strategy from Kevin with an early single pit stop then a long second stint on the soft tyre?
It was an aggressive strategy but one that delivered better than the alternative. If we’d managed to get a few more quick laps from Kevin’s soft tyres we could have been just off the points.

Did the race play out as expected?
Looking at the GP2 Series races and the Formula 1 sessions it was a reasonable expectation that there could be safety car periods and certainly more retirements than we actually saw. Our drivers perhaps erred on the side of caution to ensure they were there at the end of the race and benefit from any over exuberance elsewhere. This could have worked well, however it looks like the rest of the grid were following the same philosophy so we didn’t see the race we expected in that regard.

Source: Renault Sport Formula One Team