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Renault Show How It’s Done

When it comes to giving the fans what they want, some teams are better than others. Renault have long led the way in reaching F1 fanatics, with an active team club, excellent information on the website and an openness that puts other teams to shame.

Podcast

Now they have re-instated their podcast in a new format and it is well worth a listen. You can hear it by clicking on this link. This time round Pat Symonds, Steve Nielsen, the Sporting Manager, and Jeff Fullerton, Machine Shop Manager, are interviewed on such subjects as the car’s performance, the rise of young drivers in F1 and the quality of TV coverage. They pull no punches, giving their views frankly and without avoiding sensitive issues.

Full marks to Renault for such an excellent innovation.

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Pat Symonds on Customer Cars

Renault’s engineering director, Pat Symonds, has added his voice to those expressing doubts about the idea of customer cars in F1. Like Mario Theissen of BMW, he feels that the legalizing of customer cars in 2008 will create a situation where there are only six manufacturers running two teams each and that the championship could be manipulated as a result.

Pat

Pat Symonds

But just a cotton-picking minute there – that’s two representatives of the manufacturers who fear that their companies will exploit the new rule to favor one driver, thereby winning the championship. Apart from the fact that this is unlikely since, if one manufacturer does it, they all will and that will cancel out any advantage they might have gained, why is it the potential manipulators who are suggesting such a scenario? I hear no complaints from the small teams who apparently face such a dismal future as the pawns of the big guys.

It seems to me that there is more going on here than meets the eye. The potential for devious tactics is not the real reason for the manufacturers’ doubts – that is just an excuse to justify their objection to the rule change. We must look elsewhere to find the motivation of the manufacturers, methinks.

Is it possible that they have looked at the history of F1 and fear the inventiveness, speed of reaction and dedication of small teams? To supply a chassis and engine to a customer team and then find that their customer has devised a tweak that makes their version of the car quicker would be unbearably embarrassing for a manufacturer. It is not beyond possibility.

So let us say that the big boss takes a walk down the pitlane and instructs his customers that, from now on, they must let the supplier’s lead driver win or the supply of chassis and engines will dry up. Well, we all know how leaky F1 teams are – it would not be long before the news made its way to the press and the resulting row would be far more embarrassing to the manufacturer than losing an occasional race to its own products. The Norberto Fontana revelation of last year may have been squashed very quickly by Peter Sauber but doubts linger in many minds, I’m sure.

The argument doesn’t float. In reality, the manufacturers don’t want their task of winning to be made even more difficult by the addition of small teams with competitive cars. It is hard enough already to beat the other manufacturers without having to consider the challenge of customer teams as well.

The suggested collusion by manufacturers raises another possibility that has not been mentioned. If they are prepared to stoop to such underhand dealing, what is to prevent them getting together and deciding to share out the championship between them? It would ensure that no manufacturer enjoys a long period of domination and hogs all the publicity as a result; if they take it in turns to win and get the marketing benefits, everyone is happy and avoids the possibility of never winning, something that they must all dread.

The fact is that the presence of small teams in F1 actually makes the possibilities for collusion much less. They would not be a part of any share-out of the spoils and will ruin any such attempt merely by competing to the best of their ability. And the customer car rule is the one remaining lifeline to such teams – without it they will be consigned to a Minardi-like existence, scrimping and scraping to get enough money together to continue for one more season.

So I’m sorry, Pat, but I just don’t believe you. You have one thing right, however:

“If you say that in 2008 you can do it (run customer cars), then does it really matter about things being pushed forward a year,” he said. “Many other rules have been pushed forward a year, is it really a big deal?

“On that basis, you would say it is a storm in a teacup. But it is easy for me to say that from a Renault perspective. If I was Spyker, I would not be at all happy about it. Rules are rules.”

Spyker may be complaining about the Toro Rosso and Super Aguri cars for the coming season but I haven’t heard that Colin Kolles objects to the 2008 rule change. Maybe that’s because he knows that Spyker haven’t the resources to compete with the really big manufacturers and might have to buy in a customer chassis themselves in future. They are already buying engines, after all.

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Changes at Renault

Pat Symonds, Renault’s Director of Engineering, will be less involved in the race team in future, reports Autosport magazine. This has meant that there will a personnel reshuffle within the team, with Fisichella’s race engineer, Alan Permane, taking control of the teams overall engineering oversight and other engineers moving around to fill the gaps.

These are changes with the future in mind but they may have an immediate impact upon Renault’s competitiveness for 2007. It takes time to adjust to re-arrangements and, taken with the driver changes, especially the loss of Alonso, the team might not be as strong as we have come to expect, at least for the early part of the season.

Kov

Heikki Kovalainen

The drivers are the biggest question mark, of course. I have been a fan of Fisichella’s over the years but, to be brutally honest, he has disappointed a little. There have been half chances for the taking but, generally, he has missed out on them. And this coming season with Renault has to be the make or break year. As the driver with experience, he should take the team forward and start to win consistently; others have risen to the occasion in the past and surprised us with suddenly-masterful performances (remember Patrick Tambay in Gilles’ shoes?). But can Giancarlo do it? I am not sure.

Then there’s young Heikki Kovalainen. Briatore thinks he has the makings of a star but only time will tell. His results in lower formulae are good but not record-breaking, and his year as a test driver with Renault tells us little. It seems he is pretty quick and he is Finnish, after all (and you know that counts!). But he would have to be something really special to challenge for the championship in his first F1 racing year. Again, I’m not sure.

With all these changes, the 2006 champions have to be a dubious bet for next year. And Ferrari are in the same boat, as strong as their line-up looks on paper. At McLaren, everything hinges on how good their car is – if it’s good, Alonso will be champion, if not, he’s in for a very frustrating year. And some are getting tired of waiting for McLaren to come good again…

It’s a perfect recipe for a fiercely competitive season. The big guys are busy rebuilding and the midfield runners have their acts together and are ready to take up the challenge. Ever the optimist, I hope we see a real dogfight between five or six teams with the championships not decided until the very last lap of the last race.

And I say that knowing full well that years of that sort are as rare as hen’s teeth in F1…

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