Will Gray

Tech Talk: Why Renault can break the big four

Will Gray

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After setting a good pace in Spain and securing their second podium of the season in Monaco, Renault are on the up - but what are their chances of breaking into the big four?

When testing began for 2010, Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes were clear frontrunners, establishing a premier division followed by the rest of the established teams in a close gaggle, with the new teams following on some distance behind.

But development is moving fast. Red Bull are now in a league of their own on pace (if not yet with solid reliability) but after Ferrari slipped down and Mercedes failed to deliver on their recent upgrades Renault are now very close to breaking into the mix.

At the end of January, when the new Renault was launched, Renault technical director James Allison warned: "Whatever our pace is, we have a very aggressive development programme planned for the car and we are confident that we will be returning to fight for podiums and race wins very soon."

And there are plenty of reasons why they could now go on and do that on a regular basis...

1) Diffuser-led design

The standout design feature on the Renault is at the back, with a one of the largest double diffusers on the grid. Like McLaren, Renault has connected the upper section of their double diffuser to the lower part of the rear wing but it is even more extreme as it has been drawn out very wide. It has given them good additional downforce, which helps to warm up the tyres, and although it can make it more sensitive to ride height changes, the design seems to be working and is well balanced with a complex front wing.

2) Fast development

Renault may have started from a lower base than their rivals, but the steps they have brought to the track at each race have provided them with bigger jumps. The key to their development, perhaps, is the class-leading CFD centre that Renault installed 12 months ago. It is now well up to speed and, say the team, delivering results on detail design such as brake cooling as well as conceptual layouts - something that CFD is usually said to struggle with. Coupling this with a full wind-tunnel programme should ensure the new parts keep coming.

3) Circuit suitability

Like the Red Bull, the Renault appears to be happy on low-speed, high traction sectors as well as fast flowing areas and this offers more opportunity for development as developments can work on all circuits, not just specific ones. On top of that, the team believes the next two grands prix could suit them particularly well.

4) Efficient structure

When the team was taken over by new investors, a major restructure was required, and that takes time. The machine had to become leaner but, as shown by Brawn, that can improve efficiency and after almost half a year Renault is now well positioned to take advantage.

5) Racing strategy

The Renault pit wall is sharp. The team sees itself as a 'true racing team' and bosses feel they have capitalised on every opportunity presented to it this year - resulting in performances that have punched above their weight. More of the same, with a faster car, should see them punching even higher.

6) Robert Kubica

The team's potential for resurgence is not just all about those in the design room - Robert Kubica is the key to driving them forward.

Kubica was central to the restructure, and although he almost aborted the project before it got going, he was quickly convinced that the team had plans to move forward - and saw the potential to 'do a Schumacher' and make the team his own.

Kubica applies constant pressure. His blunt style of feedback went down badly with BMW and, often seen as negative rather than constructive, he was not listened to. Renault appears to be reading him better, and the relationship in the garage has strengthened their combined potential.

Renault engineering chief Alan Permaine has described him as "the hardest working driver I have ever come across" and he is often in the garage up to midnight before a race, keen to provide precise feedback that will make the car better for him to drive.

While he can only offer limited feedback on aerodynamic developments, his precise feel for the car has allowed him to hone the brakes and steering to make the car suit his style. A high level of intelligent feedback is essential for development and as the driver who is providing this, Renault has naturally steered focus on him.

The direct feedback on new parts from Kubica has also helped Renault press on with a focused development plan, race by race.

"Each race has seen an improvement in our fortunes," said Allison. "Even in Spain, where we had probably one of our worst finishes of the year, the basic pace of the car was a step up relative to the weekend before and we were better relative to our competitors."

Asked if his team can maintain that development, the answer is an emphatic "yes!" and he added: "We have brought a sizeable update to every race and we expect to do the same at every event this year. Plus there are one or two projects that may bring us bigger steps."

Red Bull should be okay for now, but Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren should be nervously looking over their respective shoulders...

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