Renault Sport F1 didn’t have the best of weekends in Baku and it seemed they were struggling a lot with the car. Renault’s Bob Bell explains what the team are focusing on for Austria:
It’s good to leave the city
After a trio of tracks that have not played to the R.S.16’s strengths, Chief Technical Officer Bob Bell looks to the permanent circuit in Austria to enable more pleasurable performance.
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.
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.
Fred Vasseur says Austria should be better for a variety of reasons.
Azerbaijan appeared to be another tough weekend for the team, but you seemed quite upbeat after the event. What were the positives?
The weekend was difficult, especially qualifying, and we have to recognise that we didn’t get it quite right. We did however recover in the race. While our race performance wasn’t excellent, it was more or less in line with our objectives and expectations. We have to thank both the team and the drivers for keeping their heads down, but now we need to get back to a situation where we are in a position to score points and this includes doing better in qualifying. Baku was a bit of a one-off though; a street track that was very quick and everyone experienced problems. When we go back to something more traditional, we need to find our rhythm from the start of the weekend from qualifying through to the race.
As you say, qualifying seems to be the team’s Achilles Heel at the moment. What deductions have you made about this and how will you address it?
I think Baku was just a one-off. If you look back to Barcelona, this is more representative of where we are. We need to manage the weekend well from the start to the finish, making the right strategic decisions to have an approach that is more global and consistent between Saturday and Sunday.
The drivers hustled the car round the track – are you happy with their performance and attitude?
The job is harder when you have weekends like Baku, but the drivers are part of the group, just like the engineers and mechanics, and know what they need to do to have a strong weekend. In Baku they did a good job to fight with the other teams and motivation should not drop just because we have had two hard weekends. I have confidence in them and we need to get a dynamic to get into the groove right from the start of the event.
Austria is a fast, flowing track – do you think this type of track suits the R.S.16 better than the tighter street tracks?
Yes, we suffered in the slow corners in Canada and Baku. Austria should be better for a variety of reasons. I think we are making progress as a team and I hope we can move forward race after race on the more traditional circuits towards the level of performance we saw pre-Monaco.