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Renault previews 2005 season

February 28, 2005

With 17 wins and 30 pole positions to their credit, Renault head into the 2005 season on a high following a very successful pre- season test program. Armed with the new R25 chassis and the driving talents of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella, are keen to get the 2005 season off to the best possible start as they chase the first title for the French manufacturer.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando, how happy are you with preparations for the first race?
We are ready for Melbourne. We have done a lot of running since the new car was launched, and learned a lot about the R25 – more than in previous winters. In our last big test in Barcelona, we still had some reliability problems, but that is normal at this stage of the year and the team has worked hard to get on top of them since then. I think we understand the car well, and have made good progress with its drivability and performance in recent test sessions. Overall, it was a successful winter for the team.

What is your assessment of the R25 after testing?
I am much more confident with this car. It is easy to drive, and you can run on the limit without any nasty surprises in how the behavior changes over long runs. It is a very consistent car.

The Australian Grand Prix will also be the first race with the new tire regulations. How do you view the tire situation?
Michelin have done an excellent job and in terms of performance and consistency, these are the best tires I have ever had in Formula One. But we cannot get too excited, because we have only run on cold circuits over the winter and the first three races will be held in much warmer conditions. We will evaluate the tire performance very carefully during the race weekend, and see where we stand after that.

What are expectations for the R25 in Melbourne?
I don’t think Melbourne is a perfect circuit for us. Other tracks will suit our car better, but looking at the winter testing times, I hope we will be very competitive. The secret for the weekend will be to avoid problems, because nobody can afford to lose track time at the first race of the year. With a new car, and on a circuit that we only visit once a season, you need to do as many laps as possible to work on the set-up and get used to the track. So our main priority will be for the weekend to run smoothly, so we can do a maximum number of laps. In terms of competitiveness, I expect Ferrari to be the number one team still, and McLaren have looked very strong during the winter. I think those two teams will be our biggest rivals.

Giancarlo Fisichella

Giancarlo, how are you feeling ahead of the opening race of the year?
Things look good for us. We have a strong package, the R25 has done lots of miles over the winter and the set-up is getting better and better. I am confident in the car, and pleased with our level of performance. In testing, we have almost always been among the quickest teams, so we hope that it can translate to race conditions.

You will have to face a number of changes to the regulations in 2005: which will be the biggest of these?
I think the new tire rules are definitely the biggest change. In the last ten or fifteen laps of the race, the car will be much more difficult to drive because the rear end gets very loose as the tires wear, and it’s much easier to make mistakes. The key thing will be to make fewer mistakes than the other drivers.

How does the R25 perform in these conditions?
The tire wear looks good with this car, and during testing in Barcelona I was able to set my quickest laps at the end of my stints. The R25 is a big step forward in every area, but in particular, the rear-end stability is much better and the balance is much more consistent on the long runs: that means it is a lot easier to set consistent lap-times over the race distance.

Overall, what are your expectations for Melbourne?
The Albert Park circuit is not my favorite, but my results there have always been pretty good, and I enjoy the atmosphere during the weekend. For the first time, I am going to Melbourne hoping to fight for the race win.

Bob Bell, Technical Director

Bob, are you satisfied with the team’s preparations for the 2005 season?
We are ready for Australia. Since we first ran the new car, we have completed a lot of problem solving to iron out the issues with the R25, but that is what pre-season testing is about. There has been increased pressure this winter to do long-distance running for the tires and for engine life, and we pushed hard to have two new chassis running very early in order to cope with that. Fortunately, the car’s performance was encouraging from the first run, which allowed us to concentrate on getting the necessary reliability.

Tire management will be very important this season. How does the R25 treat its tires?
The car seems to be gentle on its tires. We have seen that it is very competitive on the long runs in testing, when the tires are getting towards the end of their life, and the tires are being consumed in the manner we expected. It is hard to make a relative judgment, but I think we are doing as good a job as any of our competitors in this area.

Are the drivers happy with the car and its handling?
The feedback from both drivers has been very positive. The R25 gives them confidence to be aggressive on a single timed lap, but also allows them to drive consistently over a race distance. In that respect, it seems to be a versatile car. The other pleasing factor is that the car has been quick straight away, and it is easy to set- up. With very limited track time available to us at the race weekend, this characteristic will help us limit the very significant advantage of McLaren in particular, who will be running a third car on Friday and collecting information without worrying about tire restrictions or engine mileage.

Are there any unknown factors as the team goes to Melbourne?
The only big uncertainty is our genuine competitive position. We are optimistic that we have closed the gap to Ferrari, but their big potential advantage is reliability as they are racing a known car in Melbourne; balanced against that is the fact that their competitors’ cars have been specifically designed to the new rules where theirs has not. Looking at test times, ourselves and McLaren seem to be the front-running teams, and we expect Ferrari to be part of that group in Australia. However, experience has taught everybody that winter testing times are not reliable indicators, so we must wait and see what Melbourne brings. But we have a good car, motivated drivers and a strong race team that adapts well to new regulations. We are very optimistic for the opening race of the new season.

Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella will have the entire Renault squad on the edge of their seats at the start of the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday and while both racers will be starting the most important part of the race weekend when the lights go out, a great deal of the work will have already been done behind the scenes. For Fernando Alonso, race engineer Rod Nelson and engine management engineer Rémi Taffin will have already done their part on the R25.

Chassis set-up with Rod Nelson, Race Engineer, Fernando Alonso
The layout at Melbourne is what we characterize as ‘point and squirt’: a lot of slow corners linked by relatively long straights. This means that strong engine performance and good traction out of the slow corners, are key factors in getting a competitive lap time.

In terms of car set-up, we run medium-high downforce levels and try to spring the cars quite stiffly in order to get a responsive change of direction through the chicanes. However, as Melbourne is a temporary circuit, this means the braking areas are often quite bumpy, and this is a limiting factor: too stiff a set-up will see the driver locking up under braking, costing him lap time as well as harming tire performance over a race distance – a constant preoccupation under the 2005 regulations. In general, we give the car quite a neutral set-up for the race, although Fernando likes a little understeer in qualifying at this circuit to give him confidence to attack the timed lap.

Braking is a key factor at Melbourne, with the cars stopping from near or over 300 kph on six separate occasions. Although the individual braking events are not the biggest of the season, the fact they are regularly spaced around the lap means that brake cooling, and oxidization of the brake discs, is a constant preoccupation. We monitor brake wear very carefully, and extrapolate results from tests on Friday and Saturday morning in order to make our cooling calculations for the race itself.

When setting the car up, we have to take account of the manner in which track conditions evolve during the weekend on the temporary surface. The tire wear is usually quite high on the first day, especially on the front tires, because understeer levels are higher than normal on a “green” or dirty circuit. The wear levels reduce as rubber is put down on the racing line, and tire wear is normally more balanced front to rear in race conditions.

For the new season, the way we work in practice will be slightly different compared to last year. In 2004, we made three stops in Australia, meaning the average maximum tire life in the race stints was 16 laps – whereas this year, the tires must last for more than 60 laps, or almost four times as long. This means we will spend a large part of Friday comparing tire performance on short and long runs, and making the car as easy as possible in its usage of the race tires: any defect in tire choice, or set-up, will not be masked by repeatedly fitting new tires in 2005, and the cost to performance will be greater than it was least year. Indeed, this revised working method is likely to be reproduced through the season as we strive to find the most race-able set-up at each circuit we visit.

Engine set-up with Rémi Taffin, Engine engineer, Fernando Alonso
Melbourne is a tough circuit for engines: its succession of straights broken up by slow corners mean good torque is more important than peak power in order to accelerate out of the slow and medium-speed corners.

The percentage of the lap spent at full throttle (64%), as well as the average engine speed over the lap, are high; combined with relatively cool temperatures (around 22°C) and high atmospheric pressures (around 1010 millibars), which mean the engine develops more power, this provides the moving parts of the engine with a tough test. Parts such as the pistons are under severe strain, and we look for the best possible cooling compromise to ease the stress on these components.

During the race weekend, we focus on establishing cooling levels, but also on the detailed electronic work that is specific to each circuit: traction control settings, engine mapping to control pick- up and drivability, fuel consumption and gear ratios. In general, Fernando wants engine response to be as progressive as possible: his driving style sees him use the throttle gently in the first half of its travel, before applying full throttle very quickly afterwards and relying on the traction control.

Our engine usage strategy for the weekend will also change in 2005. We will need to manage the engine’s ‘potential’ across two weekends: for example, the second race of the year is in Sepang, a less severe engine circuit than Melbourne. As such, we are likely to use 60% engine potential at the first race, and 40% at the second. This is a new phenomenon for 2005, and the first races will bring important lessons in how best to manage our engine potential across two race weekends.

Renault

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