Taffin: We can’t hide that it was a difficult season
Renault F1 Sport Director of Operations, Rémi Taffin, answers questions regarding a dramatic and stressful season in Formula 1 for the French engine suppliers
How would you review Renault’s 2015 season ?
We can’t hide that it was a difficult season, but I think we have to see it as a glass half full, glass half empty. We end the season much more knowledgeable and information-rich, but unfortunately we did not get the results we wanted to be out in front. We had to make some adjustments and go back to basics with items such as reliability, but everything has allowed us to prepare in the short term for 2016 and longer term beyond that. It’s not as though we put a cross through the season early on, but we are now able to take a longer term view, knowing that even though the short term has been painful, it will get better.
The first part of the season was a big challenge. To what do you attribute the issues you experienced early on?
We arrived at the first winter test believing that we had made a big step forward between seasons. We genuinely thought that we had done a good job. It was the case in certain areas, but we were caught out in three principal ways. The first was a significant reliability problem with the pistons. We had not seen the particular issue in any of the testing conducted and all the parts were signed off in the usual way. The other issue was that we had another part inside the PU electronics that we could not put our finger on and it continued to be a source of problems. The final element is that we braked so late for 2015, taking decisions until the last possible moment. The specification of PU for the first race was determined very late in the day and quite simply we braked too late, and we weren’t ready. We wanted to make up the gap so badly that we pulled the rug out from under our own feet… But this particular cocktail of problems did allow us to learn a lot and make sure that the same issues will not reoccur in the future.
What did you do to overcome the problems?
Australia was not a brilliant start, and it took until the Spanish Grand Prix to get the majority of issues under control. The first four races were disappointing, and really we were conducting the work we should have done in winter testing. From Melbourne through to Bahrain we worked very hard on reliability and driveability, and came back to form in Spain. Monaco showed that we had got back to a good level. We improved the reliability by checking over our validation processes and getting the rogue parts, such as the pistons, into a much better shape, or changing the specification where necessary. We had to make sure that the parts in question would last the distance, and that if there was an issue it would show in the dynos during the testing process rather than on track. We really took it back to basics, changed the process of validation and the parts themselves where we found issues.
From that point onwards, reliability was good in races…
Yes. Before we could get to performance work, we really had to bring reliability under control. We saw we had multiple issues in those first races, and then had to take penalties for introducing new parts, which then compounded the situation. Furthermore, we had to use power units at the end of their life, so they misbehaved in practice, which further muddied the waters. However, the power units we introduced in races from Spain onwards were reliable, allowing us to work on performance. Over the season we had six major problems, three at the start of the year and three at the end. The three at the end of the year were operational and not linked to the specification of power unit.
Once reliability was under control, what performance work did you do?
Rather than performance for 2015, when we knew that the 2015 power unit was reliable and driveable, we tried to introduce steps for 2016, or to test concepts to get as much information as we could. By mid-season we were in the throes of the 2016 PU development and we had the opportunity to introduce the Spec D PU at the end of the year. It was a tiny spec of 2016, but even though it was just a small step, it was important to use it and to gather information and see if we were on the right track. We were impatient to see if what we found was correct. It was a step backward in some respects and the gain was not so significant, but it was necessary to go forward.
This year you started to work with Ilmor Engineering. Even though their concepts were not ultimately used, did you find that the collaboration was useful?
Yes, and we are continuing with them next year! They were able to bring different concepts to the table, such as a different combustion concept, and now we will continue with them into 2016. We will continue to develop a lot in-house but with partners such as Ilmor we have a greater bandwidth and a richer experience and expertise. We did not see the full extent of the collaboration in 2015 for various reasons, but now they are under our control and we have a clearer direction we should see this more in 2016 and beyond.
What are Renault’s technical plans for the winter?
We will try to go through things in the right order and not make the same mistakes again. In December, the 2016 PU we will use in Melbourne will be running in the dyno and doing endurance testing, mapping and calibration so at the end of January we can go to winter testing without any issues. The spec for the first race has been fixed and seems to be generally reliable, as it has run several thousands of kilometres in the dynos. Naturally there are some details to sort, as can be expected, but this is really only refining and we are in much better shape now than we were at this point last year, for sure.