Renault preview of Monaco

May 17, 2005

Renault heads to the Monaco Grand Prix with an 18 points advantage over their nearest rival Toyota. Coincidentally, Fernando Alonso also enjoys the same points gap over Jarno Trulli, the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix winner.

Fernando, tell us about driving at Monaco...
It is great – especially on the first laps on Thursday when you have to get used to everything again, it is a special feeling. By Sunday, once we have run in free practice and we are really comfortable with the track, then things feel more normal, but it is still a unique race for the drivers and the teams. Every team brings a special package for Monaco, and we need to have a special mentality in the car. You cannot make any mistakes in Monte-Carlo, and that means 100% concentration from Thursday to Sunday. Mentally, it is very demanding.

People often say this is the definitive driver's circuit?
Historically, people have said that, but everything needs to be good. In the three years I have driven there, I have driven the same way – but a few years ago I was back in the pack, then last year with Renault we were fighting for the win. The car is very important as well: you need good suspension, the aero is maybe less important, but the engine must be good, and soft in the power delivery. The R25 is easy to drive, and predictable, so I think we have a strong car for this circuit.

Did the pace of McLaren surprise you in Barcelona?
Honestly, no. We knew they were a bit quicker than us all weekend, they had a new package there and it did the job. But I don't think the race gave a representative picture of the difference between our cars, because Kimi was able to pull away too easily in the first stint as I was struggling with the car. I think we will be much more equal in Monaco, and am feeling very confident.

You will have a major aero update on the car – is that a boost?
For sure. It well help in performance, no doubt, but also it shows that the team is fighting as well. Everybody here at Renault is pushing, and doing their part: the race team, the test team, and all the factories are going to flat out to keep us on the top. We are not telling ourselves any stories – we know that is what we need to do in order to get the results. And I think we are doing a very competitive job so far. In Monaco, we will be aiming for the podium from the start of the weekend – and then we need to see things unfold, and how we can fight for more.

Giancarlo, you have said that Monaco is your favorite race – what makes it special?
It is just a special weekend for me. I feel very comfortable there – I used to live in Monaco, and now I bring my boat down for the race, which means all my family can come and stay as well. I actually drive the boat from Italy up to Monte-Carlo, spend time relaxing in the days before and then during the race weekend, when the day is over it is great to go back on the boat and spend time with my family.

What about the circuit – how does it challenge the driver?
I have very good feeling with this circuit. You need to be very precise with the car, and be aggressive without making mistakes. I love the sensation of driving through the streets, and really pushing to the limit. In the past, I have always gone well in Monaco, and it should be the same this year.

So, you are feeling positive ahead of the race?
Definitely. I have been on the podium twice in Monaco, and I think I am with the right team for this race – Renault did a great job last year with Jarno to win the race, and the R25 will definitely be fast there. What's even more important is that I think I can have a good race weekend from the start now: I am in the right place in first qualifying, near the end of the session when track conditions will be best, and that means I can fight to get a good grid position, which is so important in Monaco. It feels like I have broken out of the cycle I was in, where I kept on having to qualify early. That is one thing, and now with Renault, I have a great car. As I said, I have already finished third and second in Monaco. It would be wonderful to go one better this year.

Monaco is no ordinary race track and it is this fact that makes it so special for the fans and team alike. However, setting up a modern Formula One car for the bumps and confines of Monaco is a unique challenge.

Bob Bell, Technical Director: Bob, how pleased were you with the team's performance in Barcelona?
I was very proud of our result there. It could easily have been second and third with Fisi and Fernando, which would have been a tremendous achievement, but even to finish second and fifth speaks very highly of the drivers, who both had to deal with adversity in the race. It reflects well on the team, too, because it shows that we are operating in a manner that if things go badly, we are able to recover from it and salvage points. I don't think that is something we were capable of doing a few years ago, but it most definitely is what you need to be capable of in order to fight for a championship.

Did the drivers impress you in the race?
Absolutely. We have always said about Giancarlo, and the same is true of Fernando, that they do not give up. They both race until the checkered flag and even if they have something happen – like the problem for Fisi, or Fernando's tire blistering – they do not let their heads drop. As a team, that is what you want from the drivers. It proves they are 100% committed.

Finally, the team won in Monaco last year – can you do it again?
We certainly hope so. One of the puzzling things about last year with the R24 was that the car was difficult to drive on the limit, yet it flew round Monaco – the last place where you would want a difficult car. I think what we have seen with the R25 is that where the competitiveness of last year's car was up and down, this season we have lifted those ‘downs' to a consistent overall level of performance. So far, Michelin have been extremely consistent in their level of performance this year. Their tires have been historically strong in Monaco, and we are confident they will deliver a good solution once again. At every race so far, we have been quickest or next quickest – over five different circuits, in varying conditions. I anticipate that we will go very well in Monaco, and that we will see both drivers fighting for the podium.

Alan Permane, Chassis race engineer, Car 6

Monaco is a unique circuit in the season – both because of its unusually twisting layout, which places a real premium on slow-speed performance and mechanical grip, but also because of the nature of the track surface, which as well as being extremely slippery at the start of the weekend, is also very bumpy and sharply cambered. Indeed, to cope with this, we run the ride heights anywhere from 5 to 7 mm higher than normal.

Mechanically, we spring the cars softly to maximize the grip available to the drivers but also to cope with the bumps and cambers. The wheels must be able to move independently in order to cope with imperfections in the track surface, and we also soften the anti-roll bars in order to enable this. We also pay special attention to the camber of the front and rear wheels, running high angles – although too much camber can lead to instability in the bumpy high speed braking areas into Turn 1, or the harbor chicane, for example.

The tight Grand Hotel hairpin obliges us to revise steering geometry, as it requires more lock than any other corner of the season – for the entire circuit, we run up to twice as much steering lock as at our previous race in Barcelona. Indeed, the control systems have an extremely important role to play in the slower corners, controlling wheelspin on exit through the traction control, but also by running the diff a little freer than normal in order to help the drivers turn the car on the throttle.

The circuit also sees the highest downforce levels of the year used on the cars – to help braking and traction primarily, as most of the corners are too slow to enable a real gain from extra downforce levels. However, the increased stability provided by maximum downforce on the low grip surface is always of benefit to the lap time. Wing angles at front and rear are usually run at maximum levels although with the R25, we will be slightly below maximum downforce at the front.

For all the attention we pay to car set-up, though, our changes to the car are always very difficult to judge. The Monaco surface is very low grip, and not at all abrasive. It picks up grip all weekend, making lap-time improvements in practice hard to decipher, and the circuit – as well as the drivers – is constantly improving throughout the race. The very soft tires lay down a lot of rubber on the racing line, and the fastest laps of the weekend often come in the race when grip levels are at their highest. Indeed, we often see ‘negative degradation' at Monaco, meaning the cars are getting quicker through their race stints as grip levels increase.

Last year's Renault was extremely competitive all weekend in Monaco, and the R25 represents a step forward in all areas – and is much more comfortable for the drivers on the limit. This could prove a key factor in Monaco, a circuit that Giancarlo loves. Coupled with the new aerodynamic package, this means we will certainly have our eyes on winning the race, and improving the team's championship position even further.

Fabrice Lom, Engine race engineer, Car 6

Monaco has the reputation of being the least demanding circuit of the season for engines, but that can be firmly categorized as an ‘urban myth'. People often consider it to be undemanding because the parameters by which the severity of a circuit is usually judged are less significant (the longest full throttle period lasts just 8 seconds, for example), the average speed is low and the race distance is the shortest of the season.

However, the apparent simplicity of the change is not an accurate picture of the demands Monaco places on the V10. The circuit is very tight, and extremely bumpy: this means over-revving is very common, and performance is required from unusually low engine speeds – the cars are running at just 45 kph through the Grand hairpin.

This means the engine must be as drivable as possible to be quick round Monaco. A shortfall in peak power will be less severely penalized at this circuit, and we approve the engine specification in the context of the unusual characteristics of the circuit on the dyno, simulating the low revs and hard acceleration. Monaco rewards a rounded engine more than the V10 which delivers the highest power: it needs to pull well from low revs, while successful integration into the chassis will assist in the mechanical grip and handling of the car.

The other challenge we face in making the engine last the distance is cooling. We run very closely-spaced gear ratios to maximize the car's acceleration, and this means the ratio between engine speed and car speed is higher than at a more normal circuit. The higher this ratio, the greater the risk is of overheating, and this is one of our major preoccupations at Monaco. However, we are helped by the fact that aerodynamic efficiency is less important than at other circuits on the calendar – which means we can open up the car's bodywork if necessary without paying a major lap-time penalty.

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