François Bizouerne, 57, and Nicolas de Carné, 31, work in the design office of Renault Sport F1. François joined the team at the tail end of the 80s while Nicolas crossed over from Renault to its F1 division four years ago.
How and when did you join Renault Sport F1?
François Bizouerne: I joined Renault Sport in 1988 as a sub-contractor. I started in May when some V10 engines were running in the dynos. One month later, Renault announced a partnership with Williams for 1989. As a result the V10 we used in the dynos needed to be converted for chassis installation. At that point there were only about 10 people working full-time in the design office and most of them were working on sporty Renault road cars like the R11 or the R25. Everyone then became fully dedicated to F1 when the contract was signed. I had always wanted to see what happened on the inside of F1. I designed until 2002, but then I wanted to explore new areas, so I worked on the single cylinder, then went to methodology, then the dynos until last year, before coming back to work in the design office on the V6 power unit. I like to change and see other things!
Nicolas de Carné: I am a designer and have looked mainly after the oil casing and pumps. I started with the road car division in 2005 and then took advantage of the links with Renault Sport F1 to start at Viry about four years ago at the end of the V8 era. At the start I worked on the in line four cylinder engine, which then became the V6 turbo.
Have you seen the tools you use evolve?
FB: The ways we draw parts and the machines we use to make them have evolved greatly. When I started, all the designers used a drawing board and it wasn’t the start of 1991 that we used computer aided drawing (CAD) for the first time. I remember that every six months a new group of people were trained to use it. In 1992 the design office took on more people but it took until 1993 until all the drawing boards went and everyone used CAD. Even when we had the CAD systems, it was still very basic; we didn’t have the powerful 3D systems that you have now. It was basically the drawings you would have done on the boards, just on a computer.
Using these new programmes helped us move forward at a faster and more effective rate. By way of illustration, the first V10 weighed 135kg while the last V10 weighed just 95kg, which was the specified minimum weight. People and their intelligence, or their ways of thinking, have not changed, but like everything in F1, things were just a bit simpler a few years ago.
Nicolas, do you take inspiration from the hand-drawn designs?
NdC: I used a drawing board a little when I was studying, but it was really just to learn the skills. I didn’t know the older CAD systems as there was a big step to 3D modelling around 2000 so I started with the 3D straightaway.
It is interesting to see the type of drawings they did before CAD came in, such as the V6 turbos in the 1980s. I sometimes look at concepts and see what worked before. There are some things that work really well, so you can get some inspiration from them.
The designs seem much simpler back then. There weren’t as many details. With 2D CAD drawings or the hand-drawn ones you can’t look at weight distribution, for example, or multiple concepts at the same time. Things are a bit easier in that respect now.
Have working practices changed?
FB: It is perhaps less social now as people use e-mail a lot more. Now they are behind their screens as each part needs a lot more attention, a lot more precision, and therefore people cannot discuss things as much as they used to. These discussions now take place during a weekly meeting where people can present what they are working on, everyone can make comments and ensure that the part satisfies the need, reliability, performance and regulations.
NdC: I don’t think people are less social or less curious than they were before. I like to see what is going on. But we do use different tools to communicate. I still enjoy speaking to others, particularly about what happened in the mythical years of the past!
How do you feel the role of a designer has moved on?
FB: I do feel a bit sorry for the younger generation as they follow the parts a lot less than we did. When we designed a part we personally saw it through from that point until its production. We went to the suppliers, oversaw the first part to be made, changed our part according to the machining capacities… Now we have more people involved in the process – buyers, control methodology and so on – so you don’t have the same kind of personal touch with that part. But I do feel that we are starting once again to involve the designers. I also feel that we concentrate on one part rather than several. There are so many new systems in the new engines that we become more of a specialist in one area in particular.
NdC: There are more working groups to decide everything, but it’s not a problem, that’s just how we work now. We are more limited by cost and regulations so we have to be tighter on how we use our time and resources.
Do you feel that the older generation had more fun then?
The regulations, the simplicity of the older engines and the budgets meant we could design a new engine almost every year and explore things as we wanted. It was an open bar, we could really have fun.
NdC: It’s not so long since I left Renault’s road car division and I appreciate what we have here. I did not know the older times, but I think money and deadlines were still very important factors. It’s just that there was perhaps more opportunity to explore concepts before the engine freeze. This is just a personal feeling, not at all linked to my job, but I do enjoy watching the older races more than the modern ones.
Nicolas, do you draw on the experience of your older colleagues?
NdC: Yes. We had some retirements last year and we miss them now. With them a certain history disappears. Not necessarily the history dies, but we lose a reference point, and we lose the knowledge they had.
FB: It is essential to pass on the knowledge, but I really feel it is crucial to have young people arrive and older people leave. You can’t run a dynamic company with zimmer frames!
What do you like about your jobs?
NdC: I now have almost as much experience in F1 as I do in road cars and we have much fewer limits here. Yes we have budgets and regulations but we do things to arrive at the best technical solution. We do things to get performance. In road cars you are limited by cost, by road car production constraints and so on.
Here we can design parts from start to finish, whereas in road cars we spec out what we need to do, and then we sub-contract it to a supplier and they design it. In RSF1 we manage things a lot more closely as we are a smaller team. I know that François and his colleagues had more scope but I think designing parts in a stricter environment gives you more opportunity to be creative.
How do you see the evolution of your roles?
FB: This is a very hard question as I don’t know if I would have taken a job in design if I knew what it would entail now!! The regulations and the frozen engine era hurt a lot as we could not evolve parts as we wanted. But I think there will be less freedom as we go forward. It is always difficult to compare eras as they are never the same, the development and design tools evolve and we are not talking about the same things.
NdC: I am not as pessimistic as François. I joined the team four years ago and I was able to grow up in motorsport. I don’t feel these limitations as we started from a clean sheet of paper for the V6 engines. We have always been able to be creative and the tendency is to increase the responsibilities of the designers these days. I am confident that the regulations will continue to give us many exciting new challenges.