After a busy off-season, the Renault R.S.18 heads to Melbourne with a point to prove. Chief Technical Officer Bob Bell explains the battle plan ahead of Albert Park.
Where do we see ourselves heading into Melbourne?
We had a solid winter test campaign with reliability so that’s good cause for optimism. In terms of performance, it’s difficult to say where we are. The top three teams are out in front again, but behind you have ourselves, Force India, Toro Rosso, Haas and McLaren in the mix. There’s not an awful lot to separate us, so it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions before the first Grand Prix. I think we’ve done a good job of developing the car and I think we’ll be in there with a chance of a haul of points.
How much of a challenge is the first race of a Formula 1 season?
We’ll all be a bit rusty in terms of going racing and we have to ensure all components are built and shipped there in time. All of those things add together to make it a challenging race. Australia is certainly, from that perspective, more difficult than it is from any other aspect.
What are the main characteristics of the Albert Park circuit?
Albert Park has a load of low speed corners, a reasonable number of straights and it puts high demands on the braking system. Normally, it’s a moderate temperature at that time of year in Melbourne so it’s not overly demanding on the thermal side of the power unit. Overtaking opportunities aren’t great, it’s more of a street circuit than anything else, so it’ll put emphasis on having good braking, decent low speed performance and good traction. We want to ensure things get to the end of the race without issues.
Were there any surprises up and down the field at the winter tests?
I’m not sure if we are seeing teams’ true pace at the minute. All teams will bring upgrade packages to Melbourne, and that’s when everyone shows their true hands.
What do you make of Pirelli’s updated tyre range?
They’ve brought in a couple more compounds so we’re up to seven dry tyres now, ranging from the Superhard to the Hypersoft. I think from Barcelona we learnt there isn’t much to choose between the Soft, Supersoft and Ultrasoft which we will have in Melbourne, but that might be a quirk from Barcelona and the temperatures we saw there. The Hypersoft is a good step in terms of performance. It’s too early to judge the usefulness of the new tyre range. We will have to get a few races under our belt at normal temperature conditions to assess that.