As the paddock heads to Monza and Ferrari's home race, Renault have a fight on their hands if they are to keep their title lead from dwindling further. Providing an insight into the team’s outlook at this critical moment, Bob Bell discusses Renault's chances for the last four races...
Q: Bob, Renault went into the test ban with a 21-point lead in the constructors' championship - and leaves it two points ahead. Have you lost momentum?
Bob Bell: It is a mathematical fact that the constructors' championship has closed up significantly during August. Clearly, the team suffered from the fact that the loss of the Tuned Mass Damper (TMD) coincided with the summer test ban. We have now had the chance to reoptimize the R26, and the events of the summer have made us hungrier to prove we can do the job. Our points-scoring momentum might have dipped, but importantly there is no loss of momentum in the team's effort to put out a winning car at each race. We will be working as hard as humanly possible to come out on top of what will be a very close battle, as the advantage swings back and forth between us and Ferrari.
Q: In some senses, one might suggest that 2006 is simply a four-race world championship…
BB: That's certainly one way to look at it. After 14 races, we are essentially all square with Ferrari. We have four races left, where we can be very aggressive because the titles are there to be won - and we have to seize that opportunity. Renault built a big lead in the first four races of the year, and although it will be a lot tougher now, there is no reason why we cannot do it again.
Q: Starting in Monza?
BB: Monza is going to be a hard race, there's no doubt about it. We are in the heart of Ferrari territory. But you can look at it two ways: as a boost for them, or an added incentive for us to get the upper hand. Certainly, we are very motivated to return them the favour after they won on our home turf in Magny-Cours. I think Monza will suit the strengths of their package, but last week's test was very close and there is no reason to believe our package is weaker than theirs. We have the special Monza aero items on the car, and a good engine upgrade for Fernando (Alonso) who will use a D-spec engine. I believe we are in strong shape.
Q: Flavio (Briatore) said in Turkey that the team will be concentrating on the drivers' championship first and foremost in the final races…
BB: I think we have to be aiming to win both championships, in the knowledge that if we do our maximum to get the constructors’, then that will bring the drivers' title with it. The drivers' championship has great public cachet, but the constructors' title means a huge amount to everybody involved with the team. There are developments for the car and engine in the pipeline until the very last race, and notably we will be bringing some ideas from next year's car out of the wind tunnel and onto the R26.
Q: It has been said that the championship will essentially come down to tyres. Do you agree?
BB: I certainly think that the advantage will swing back and forth according to who gets their tyre selection right, and who gets it wrong. Michelin are working flat out to develop new products and the results from testing were certainly promising. Our expectation is to see a very even situation between the two tyre manufacturers until the end of the year, and we hope that our partnership with Michelin can bring us a decisive advantage.
Q: So what will be the secret to winning the 2006 championships?
BB: As ever, there's no secret - just hard work, creativity and professionalism. Neither team can afford mistakes, or unreliability. At this stage, a DNF would be fatal. But we also have to be resolute in our approach. Pressure can sometimes cause unusual responses, but at Renault we will be keeping our natural rhythm, our working processes and our conviction that going racing our way can bring success. The easiest thing to do would be to react in a knee-jerk fashion, and trip ourselves up. The championships are there to be won in 2006, and we are completely focused on doing just that.