Q and A with Pat Symonds

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering at RenaultF1, has spoken about the new 2009 Formula One season and just how the massive array of rule changes will pan out….

Pat Symonds

What’s the most exciting thing about 2009? There are a lot of new things coming…

I think the primary thing we can say is that it’s the biggest challenge for a long, long time. We’ve had reasonable rules stability for the last few years. Yes, we changed to the V8 in 2006 – I suppose it was quite a large change – but not a terribly difficult one from a design point of view. The aerodynamics were stable for a long time, so we had continual development, little bits of trimming to pull performance back: lift the front wing, drop the diffuser – little bits like that, which are quite trivial.

This year, we’ve had a completely new concept of aerodynamics to look at, different in just about every respect. The wings are used completely differently, the bodywork has huge restrictions, and the diffuser is completely new. So it’s really a clean sheet of paper. The teams will have to learn again where the sensitive areas are, where they can find gains, where they can push regulations, and where the regulations stop them from thinking in the way they used to think.

Then, on top of that you’ve got KERS, which is not only a new system to integrate but also a completely new technology for all of us to assimilate. None of us has worked with power electronics, with high voltage systems, before. Our experience of electric motors is fuel pumps and other small devices. We’ve never worked with advanced battery technology and very high voltage systems. As well as that, how do you take a considerable amount of power, 60 kilowatts, and use that strategically to best effect in qualifying and racing? There are all sorts of things to think about in fact!

Is this one of the most challenging seasons you’ve seen from an engineering point of view?

I would honestly say it is. It’s more extreme than the changes we made in 1994, when we added the plank and cut the diffusers back. It’s similar in terms of changes from the 1982 ground-effect cars to 1983 flat-bottomed cars.

The ING Renault F1 Team pushed the development of the R28 to the last race in 2008. In what way was that a disadvantage as far as the 2009 program is concerned?

That’s not completely true. Our last major introduction was the new front wing for Singapore, for which the aero work was done much earlier. We recognized that the 2009 car was a big aero project, so the work on the R29 started very early. We then looked at critical aero concepts in basic areas: where things worked, where things didn’t. You know, how good a job you’ve done is a relative thing: it only matters in relation to how other people have done and most people have had to follow a similar plan to us. I’m pretty confident we’re going to have a car that’s aerodynamically up at the top.

What can you say about the philosophy behind the R29?

Obviously, we needed to think about the new tires and the weight distribution, and possibly more than normal because KERS is quite a large addition to the car. The weight of the system has used up most of our ability to move weight distribution around on the car. In other words, most of our ballast has gone. Therefore, the design philosophy has focused on two things: one, get the car even lighter, because the payback for getting weight off the car has become even greater; and secondly, get the weight distribution right first time for the slicks. We ran those tires in the summer so we got a bit of an idea of their characteristics.

Fernando will once again be a Renault driver in 2009. How valuable an asset is he to the team?

Well, first of all, he’s an incredibly quick driver. When you’re making your list of what you want from a racing driver, that’s at the top of the list. In my view, he’s the quickest guy out there; he knows how to win and how to race. He knows what he needs to do. He will provide continuity to the team. He’ll be the guy who can say ‘okay this is what I’m used to, what I’m not used to, what I like, what I don’t like.’ And we don’t have to translate what he says into our engineering language because we already know that translation as we’ve worked with him before. He can provide that transparency of thought, which is so important to development.

Nelson had a difficult season in 2008. What will his mission be in 2009?

His mission will be to continually improve and get into regular points-scoring positions. His role is to back up Fernando in every way he can. What will we expect from him? We’ll expect to see that the maturity he was showing at the end of the season will continue. A lot of the mental pressure will come off as he goes into his second year, and I am sure we’ll see more of those flashes where he shows how quick he can be.

Everybody’s talking about the current financial crisis. So far, Renault has been able to win with the sixth or seventh biggest budget on the grid. What is the team’s situation and philosophy? Will you have to do more with less, once again?

I don’t think anybody can rely on big budgets again in F1, or not in the foreseeable future anyway. As a team, we’re working very actively to reduce the costs of F1 racing while maintaining the spectacle. Our belief is that that’s the only way F1 will be sustainable. I think it’s something we can do well; we had to live with it in the past. Reduced budgets are not something we’re afraid of.

What are your expectations for the sport in 2009? Do you think the new regulations will bring in more overtaking and improve the show?

I was a member of the Overtaking Working Group, so I was able to influence the regulations and understand the research behind them. So naturally I believe it’s going to improve things. I think overtaking has been too difficult in F1 of late. That doesn’t mean we should make overtaking too easy; it should still be a sporting spectacle. I do honestly believe that the work done on the aero will give us a much better balance of how often the cars are able to overtake.

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