Speculation is a side effect of the tremendous interest Formula One draws from its fans, and never more so than when it comes to the silly season of driver movements. Jarno Trulli is out of contract at the end of the year - with both his team Renault as well as his management, Flavio Briatore's company FB Management - which means that people were always going to speculate on his future. "We are really confident of where he is going to be next year – there are no problems there," Trulli's personal manager Lucio Cavuto says, ignoring the growing speculations that the Italian is going to be replaced in the team that has been his home for the past three years.
"Well there are many options, but first of all what Jarno prefers and wants is to understand better the situation at Renault, because after three years he formed a good relationship with the people - and when this relationship is getting stronger and stronger then of course you want to stay there and continue in this direction. I think what Michael Schumacher shows to everybody is that a long period in your job can pay in the end, because this year for Michael in Ferrari is the ninth season, and if there's anyone to learn from in F1, it's Michael Schumacher.
"And maybe you can change, but you have to rebuild a situation, a group of people, and it's not easy in Formula One because now to have a result is teamwork – you can be a good driver, but if your engineer is not able to set the car up like you want and understand how you prefer the set up of the car then it is not easy, or if your strategy is not correct, you can have the best car and can be the better driver but you won't win. It's so complicated, and it's the job of eighty people to have a result on the track.
"But for sure if somebody (else) is interested in you it's good; it will help if you know you have another opportunity. But it is very difficult to understand how the situation is in some other team, because from the outside everything can look fantastic, but maybe from the inside the situation is not so nice."
Current speculation has Giancarlo Fisichella returning to Renault as a part of a deal which has Mark Webber (a current alumni of FB Management) moving over to Williams rather than to Renault, which currently holds his contract and loans the Australian to Jaguar. The irony of that deal is that Trulli replaced Fisichella at Renault when the latter fell out of contract with both Renault (then named Benetton) and FB management, and the Australian was the team's test driver when Fisichella drove there. Formula One has a small gene pool.
It also has a short memory - the saying goes that in Formula One you are only as good as your last race, and in Trulli's last race his suspension collapsed and led to a horrific looking crash (from which he walked away unharmed), and prior to that he made a mistake in France, allowing Rubens Barrichello to take a podium finish from him on the last lap. This discounts nine successive finishes in the points - one of them the only win this season not claimed by Michael Schumacher - and a current strong fourth in the World Championship standings.
If this short memory leads to Trulli echoing Fisichella's Renault/Briatore contract negotiations, if it has people considering the two drivers as interchangeable - as Briatore famously did last time the drivers swapped teams - then they might want to remember which of the two claimed a win from pole and against a full grid rather than because of the weather and an early end to the race.
Briatore has famously guided Trulli's career through the potential minefield of the Formula One paddock, but as the driver's personal manager, Cavuto is responsible for putting his charge into a position where Briatore would notice his abilities in the first place, so as to take an interest in his career.
Having both grown up in the seaside Italian resort town of Pescara, the two met and became friends at the local karting track, sharing a love of the sport they both competed in. Cavuto saw the obvious talent the younger boy had and pushed him forward in the sport, eventually taking on a managerial role and guiding him through to a number of World Championships in karting before taking the German Formula 3 Championship in 1996, and then starting a long Formula One career the next year with Minardi.
"I don't think Jarno has changed really," Cavuto notes as he sits back to enjoy the bright sunlight outside the Renault garage, "but for sure when you have a good result you have much more confidence in yourself, and you have the payback from your job. And for this reason things go better, in an easier way, but to say he is a different guy or a different driver, I don't think so.
"I mean, look at France - when this happened of course Jarno was very upset, but he was the first to say 'this was my fault', to accept it and move on. He doesn't hide from things like that. If you look at a whole season then of course you will see mistakes - drivers make mistakes at every race - but this was noticeable because of what happened, and when. But Jarno is very strong, and he has already taken this inside himself and learnt from it. I think it will make him better again, and he will learn from it."
Cavuto has seen Trulli win many, many races, but there was quite a gap between the last two. It's a reflection of just how difficult it is to get results in the premier stage in motorsport. "You arrive in Formula One, and in your career you have won everything so you know that your role is to win. Then you start Formula One and already in the first year, at the fourteenth Grand Prix, you are able to score a great result but unfortunately because of a broken engine your result is gone.
"After that you have two years with a car at Prost Grand Prix, and everyone can remember what Prost Grand Prix was in the end, before we went to Jordan, which was a very good team. But as he arrived the staff had started to leave, and the performance went down, down, down race by race; the car was not reliable, so you have two more years with this problem, and that is four. After that we joined with Renault, but Renault in the first year was not fantastic, so it is five, and after five years you have no result, no payback from your job!
"I think what I can see from the better side of Jarno is that maybe another driver could be destroyed by these things that happened. But he was able, every time, to take inside himself the power and the spirit to continue, and to be stronger." Trulli is Abruzzo, and they have a reputation for being different to most Italians – very stubborn and bull headed. "Exactly - we say that Abruzzo is forte e gentile; forte means strong and gentile means somebody who is kind, gentle with you.
"And I can recognise both qualities in Jarno."
Trulli has always had a reputation as being fast but unlucky, and he has been stopped 33 times by problems with his car – more that one in four of his races have been stopped by a problem that was out of his control – not to mention the number where he has been slowed by problems but managed to bring the car home. This bad luck has to have an affect on a driver, surely?
"To be honest, Jarno doesn't particularly believe in luck - he is not a type of driver who jumps in the car from the same side or anything - but when these things happen in the end you start to think that maybe there is something against you!" Cavuto laughs. "In this situation maybe I was much more superstitious than him, so when people before the race sometimes say to me 'good luck' I would say 'oh shit, why do you say to me that!'
"But I never saw Jarno complain about these things. You know, me and Jarno are very religious, we are Catholic like most Italian people, and so I asked him one time 'Jarno, let's go pray.' Jarno said, 'okay, we can go, because to pray is a nice thing, but I won't ask for nothing for me because I am already a lucky man, and so I don't need the help in Formula One.' I think this was his answer to show, first of all, that he was stronger than me, and second that he had in his head the answer to all the questions."
Last year, Renault's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds told Atlas F1: "before I worked with Jarno I used to get on at people who spoke about luck, because I'm just not a believer in it - you make your own luck. Someone once said luck comes with practice, and I think that's true. But I have to admit that since I've known Jarno I've actually been wondering if I should change my mind!"
One year on, and the veteran engineer is reflecting on the change in his lead driver. "What I think with someone like Jarno, I said to you last year I don't believe in luck – I still don't believe in luck, and I haven't won the lottery, have I! I'm an engineer, I'm a scientist, I'm analytical, and luck doesn't fit in to that sort of lifestyle. Certainly these days, with the sophistication of cars, if a driver is having reliability problems it's very unlikely that it's going to be the driver."
If there is anybody who knows about Trulli's reliability problems it's Fabrice Lom. The cheery Frenchman has been Trulli's engine engineer since the driver started with Renault three years ago, a part of the team that has been built around him since he started wearing light blue on race day. "He has this image, sure," Lom acknowledges, "but for me last year, for example he had only one failure, and it was not a failure of an engine, so you see what I mean? You concentrate on his bad luck, but he was luckier than Fernando last year."
Lom has a point, albeit it with the wrong numbers – Trulli was stopped twice by being punted off track, and once each by fuel pump, engine and hydraulic problems, whereas Alonso suffered four engine problems and one gearbox failure. Unfortunately though, Trulli was in a strong position when he was knocked off both times, and he was very unlucky with the later qualifying sessions in the year, where he took the last three Friday poles but was unable to convert them on Saturday for a number of reasons, once because of car problems, once because of the weather, and once because of driver error.
So if we discount luck from the equation, if talk of it no longer has a place in modern Formula One, then what was it that turned Trulli's career around? Cavuto has a theory: "this year, if you look back, Jarno had a streak of nine consecutive race finishes – twice in the end of 2003 and seven times this year – and this has never happened in his career before, not because he was not able to finish the race but because he would have every time a failure on the car! So when you have nine results, people start to say 'ah, Trulli is there'."
The ability to finish races has allowed Trulli to gain more experience and, crucially, work on his feedback with his engineers in a more efficient manner. Lom says that Trulli's technical feedback has certainly changed over the three years they've worked together. "He was different when he arrived," the Frenchman comments. In technical terms, he came from Jordan - where there was a lot less engineering on the car - and we brought him a lot of engineering, a lot of knowledge, and there are also a lot of people who are able to take the data.
"So, for example, he arrived when we had an automatic gearbox, and in Jordan it was not the case, so he was a little bit reluctant to do it in the beginning, but then he saw that it was good to use these things. He arrived with a personality of a guy who was happy to have a huge role in the set up of the car, the gears and everything, which is unfortunately less the case in a big team like Renault because you have to rely a lot on people who are specialists in each sector. So he changed his way to work with this, and now he knows that a lot of people are here to help him, and he relies on them."
Symonds agrees that the changes in Trulli's technical abilities have been for the better over the years. "When it was announced that he was coming to us we had a fairly open meeting with the engineers who were going to be involved with him, as well as the other engineers from the other cars, and at the end of it I said one thing: I think you have to watch it with Jarno, he has quite a closed mind, that he's not very accepting of new ideas.
"I think part of that might be that at Jordan the driver had to play a slightly bigger part in the engineering than he does in our team – of course they play a very important part in our team, but they have so much support, so much back up, specialists in each area looking at things – and I think as time came to pass and he came to drive for us in that first year I was proven to be right, but to his credit he's very open minded now, and he has a lot of trust in the people he has working on his car, and in the team in general."
Alan Permane and Nick Chester are the major recipients of that trust. Race engineer and chassis engineer respectively for Trulli for the last three years, the two Englishmen have built a closeness that allows them to finish each other's sentences, a closeness that only comes from spending almost every waking moment together towards a common goal. That goal is the continued progression of Jarno Trulli up the competition ladder, and having already scored far more points than he has ever scored in any other year suggests that they are achieving it.
"Yeah, for sure at the start he sort of had very fixed ideas of how he wanted the car and this sort of thing, and the first six months were quite difficult, weren't they?" Permane notes, the ever present Chester at his side agreeing, allowing him to continue, "while he struggled with the car, and we struggled to set it up for him. But as he got to drive, to understand the car, we got to understand how he works.
"I mean it's not an overnight thing, it doesn't suddenly go 'oh right, we can do it now' - it evolves. He's quite relaxed now, he doesn't let any outside influences seem to bother him at all, what the press is saying, what is going on – he just sort of gets on, shuts it all out, and gets on with things."
"Yeah," Chester continues, "through last year, not all of the races went very well for us, and over the winter I think he worked hard, he was very positive about testing, and he came into the season expecting he was going to do well and had a really confident attitude, and from the start of the season it went really well."
"I mean, we've definitely seen a difference in him this year," Permane picks up the topic, "especially since Barcelona - since he got onto the podium in Barcelona his confidence just went like that (pushes his hand steeply upwards). In Monaco, from first practice on, we definitely felt we could win it, didn't we?"
"Oh yeah," Chester agrees, "he knew going there that he was going to be very quick, and he was very relaxed and confident all weekend."
"Exactly," concludes Permane, "and it almost seemed that he had no doubt, from qualifying onwards. Certainly Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning he was very relaxed and said 'I'm going to win', and had that confidence then. And since then he hasn't really changed."
So the win hasn't changed Trulli – the change came before, and it resulted in the win. But what caused this change in the driver? "Maybe us shouting at him a lot!" Permane laughs. "And Nick does a lot of work, post race analysis stuff, which we've been showing him a lot more of this year, showing him exactly where he has been slow in races and where he needs to improve. Because there is no doubt that he has struggled in races in the past, and no doubt he has improved this year, and we'd like to think some of it is down to just plowing through data and showing him where he can improve."
"Which corners, and which part of the race, how he's handled traffic and all that" Chester adds.
"And yeah, I think some of it comes from just another year and a bit more trust and that sort of thing," adds Permane, "and he seems a bit more happy, if we say something like 'let's try this', he always goes into it with an open mind and things like that – he doesn't go into it with prejudices like some drivers would do. I'd like to think he trusts us, doesn't he, to do things?"
"Yeah," Chester concludes, "it takes quite a while to get that sort of relationship going, and it's pretty good at the moment."
"Well yes, I do see a difference in Jarno now" Symonds notes, lighting another cigarette, taking the moment to consider his point before continuing. "I'm someone who does believe most drivers, having won their first race, take a step up because, you know, a sportsman needs to have supreme self esteem, but occasionally it's a little more outward than inward, and I think Jarno was a guy who didn't have the self esteem that he deserved.
"And therefore winning your first race does make much more of a difference to someone like that than someone who is naturally full of self confidence and kind of outgoing. The interesting thing with Jarno, and probably something that I haven't seen before, is that I think he almost made more of a step when Fernando won his first race than when he won his own first race.
"Jarno was going through quite a hard time up until the middle of last year, and in August Fernando won in Hungary. That can be pretty hard on a teammate – the first win for a while and you didn't get it, your teammate did – and I think it shows the immense strength of character of Jarno that, although I didn't realise it at the time and only noticed it when I looked back, it was a turning point for him and I think he raised his game considerably.
"He particularly worked on his race craft – he's always been quick, there's never been any doubt about that, but he particularly thought about his racing and I think I've seen a big improvement in him since then, which has almost culminated in his win in Monaco. Now of course a win in Monaco can do little else but boost his self esteem, it can only enhance it, but what happened with Jarno is not something I've ever seen before, and I think it's an immense tribute to his character.
"If you look at Jarno's season he was very strong at the end of last year – he had the Friday pole for the last three races, he had a cracking race in Suzuka where it rained, so he started from the back, but he just drove through the field – it polished his race craft, and I think as he saw that he could do better and better in races he got his self esteem, built it up, built it up, got to Monaco and on Friday, having done the first day of practice and spent a bit longer talking about things than usual, you could see in him that he really thought he was going to win, and it was probably the first time I'd seen that.
"And I got a feeling on Sunday that he was fairly unbeatable."
In a way, then, Trulli's confidence in his ability to win stemmed from his teammate winning. It was an unusual situation for him – throughout his career he had not really been in a car that had the ability to win (which made his first drive in Austria, as well as the front row qualifications in a Mugen powered Jordan, all the more astonishing), but he had comfortably been ahead of his teammates, including such highly rated drivers as Olivier Panis, Heinz Harald Frentzen and Jenson Button.
Suddenly he had to face up to his first teammate not only beating him, but also taking a race win. That Alonso was considerably younger than him, and also a very close friend, made the situation even more complicated.
Lucio Cavuto could see his good friend was struggling, but also that he knew how to turn it all around. "Well first of all you must understand the potential your teammate has, and we knew for a long time that Fernando was a very good driver. And then, even last year, Jarno was faster than Fernando - out of 32 qualifying sessions Jarno was ahead of Fernando 20 times.
"But the problem was last year Fernando had results and Jarno didn't, for many, many reasons. The important thing for a driver is to understand that if you don't get the result because you haven't got the speed then you can do nothing against that, because you haven't got the speed. But every time Jarno did have the speed, he didn't have the points, he didn't finish the races. So it was just a situation that he had to work and find the solution."
"What I think I saw was almost more application," Symonds agrees, "now that's not to say that he didn't have application before, but I think it was almost a little bit misguided – it's quite hard to explain. But what I think he did when Fernando won in Hungary is he looked quite deeply inside himself, and really thought about perhaps things that we'd said that he'd maybe dismissed, looked at them again - and I'm not saying he didn't dismiss some of them again! - but I sort of hope that he also took some of them on board.
"And there's also his self confidence. I think a good example of it is maybe Silverstone last year – Jarno had a great practice session, great qualifying, he's leading a race, pulling away and it all looks good, the safety car comes out and it's like he was slightly getting flustered and losing that self confidence. It's that sort of thing I feel now wouldn't bother him – in fact didn't we see in it Monaco – he lost out twice from the safety car, but he just didn't let it get to him, and that's the sort of thing that I mean, that's a mental attitude."
"For me, I saw more confidence," Lom notes about the period leading up to the race in Monaco, "he knew, and we knew, that he was able to win. There was no problem, he had the speed – he just needed the confidence."
"Yeah, I think he realised that the team was then capable of doing it," Permane acknowledges, thinking back to Hungary, and the start of his driver's comeback. "If you look at the last couple of races of last year, when we came to Indy on Friday he was quickest, in Suzuka on Friday he was quickest, and as Nick said over winter his attitude was just fantastic – his testing was faultless, he did loads of miles, he just put the effort in, and then coming into this season he was prepared.
"So it wasn't the win that changed him, it was him changing that's given him the win if you like - it's that way round. And like I said, from beating Fernando in Barcelona his confidence just shot up, it really shot up."
Perhaps it's the contrary nature of the Abruzzi in him that allowed him to take strength from somebody else's win, but it was his kindness, his ability to work and share with others, that has allowed him to take this strength and forge a win of his own. And it's these characteristics that will continue to push him forward, no matter where he drives next year.
When Mike Gascoyne finally announced his move to Toyota last year, no one was overly surprised - least of all, his successor as the Renault Technical Director, Bob Bell. "I was aware of his desire at the time to move on when it came to light that he was having discussions with Toyota," Bell acknowledged in the Renault offices in Bahrain. "Mike's an ambitious person, so it didn't come as a huge surprise." What did come as a surprise to most people was the announcement that Bell was to assume Gascoyne's position at the top of the technical tree, mostly because few people outside of the team had actually heard of the new boss. Subsequently, there were suggestions that Renault's performance would suffer from such a high profile defection.
But how much difference did Gascoyne's departure actually make to the day to day running of the team? "It didn't, really, but that's because of the way we structured ourselves," Bell says.
"Mike and I are very close as friends as well as working together professionally, and I was obviously conscious of his discussions with the company to move on. It didn't surprise me. I was genuinely sad to see him go because he's a very good technical manager and did a hell of a lot to bring Renault back to where they are now, and it was a great loss. And not only was it a great loss but it was someone else's gain, which is never a good thing.
"But I made the conscious decision to stay and continue on with what he started, and that was a privilege to be given the opportunity to do that, and I'm quite happy to do it. It's a lot of responsibility, although it didn't really mean a big change in the day to day work load; the big difference is the fact that the buck stops with me. But that doesn't bother me; we have a fantastic team of people at Renault, and it's very easy to deal with that situation when you know you have a great team of people working with you. And I very much enjoy working there and the people I work with, so it's been a very easy transition for me."
The design process of a modern Formula One car is no longer the domain of a single man; the inherent complications involved in the process would make that impossible. While Gascoyne was the Technical Director, Bell was his deputy and therefore privy to every decision made in the gestation of a new car, which would have aided enormously in the transition.
Renault have a different design philosophy to most teams in that they have two chief designers, Mark Smith and Tim Denshaw, working on alternate programmes for successive years, and their work overlaps each other for substantial parts of the year. For example, the R24 design process started towards the end of 2002 when Smith finished work on the R202, while Denshaw was working towards completion of the R23.
What this entailed was early integration studies on the engine with the engineers in Viry Chatillon before a gradual flow through of resources from the R23 team as they become available. By mid 2003, virtually everybody on the design side was working on the R24, at which stage Denshaw started the initial design work on next year's R25. It's a never ending cycle, and one that is showing dividends for Renault.
But do Smith and Denshaw ever work together on projects? "Well they do, and very closely in many ways," Bell confirmed. "They share the same office, they talk a lot, they go to each other's meetings, they're aware of everything that's going on with each other's cars, and so they work very well and in harmony with each other.
"They don't have any active involvement on the car that they're not assigned to, unless for instance there was a problem with one of them and they fell ill, or if there are carry over components or parts from an earlier car then they may have some passing involvement with discussions if there are any issues with them."
This is an elegant solution to the balancing act between fresh design perspective and active problem solving, and the impressive results in winter testing and, more pertinently, on track point to the Renault approach as one that the other teams will adopt over the coming years. Bell's was no small part of this undertaking.
"It's always a great sense of pride to be involved in any new car project, to be seeing the actual hardware running and also to see it meeting expectations. And that's a great sense of pride not just for me but for everyone in the factory, and I think everybody does feel that. It's just a great shame that not everyone in the factory can enjoy it to the same direct sense that those who travel with the car and operate the car are privileged to."
Bell's involvement in Formula One is substantial. After completing his doctorate in aerodynamics at the University of Belfast he joined McLaren, moving up through the ranks over an incredibly successful period in that company's history, including the historic 1988 season when the cars he worked on won 15 of the 16 races run. From there he moved to Jordan, where he met up with fellow McLaren alumni Gascoyne, working directly underneath him during the yellow team's rapid move up the grid. Bell was one of the select group that Gascoyne convinced to move to the team then known as Benetton after his defection.
His credentials point to success, and Bell is helping to bring it to Renault. The growing achievements there reflect those he has previously enjoyed, but how do they compare to Bell himself? "It's an interesting contrast because at McLaren I witnessed the very rapid early growth of the company, and the very rapid growth in its performance on the track, and that was a wonderful thing to be a part of.
"This is different, I guess mainly because I have a much more active involvement in helping to steer things along, and also because it's a decade - almost two - beyond, and the technology and everything that has to be done now has moved on such a lot, so it's such a more difficult task. And that can be very frustrating, but it can also be so rewarding when you do get everything right and everything does come together and things do work out as planned; it's immensely satisfying.
"It was easier then than it is now, for sure!"
This year has seen a remarkable improvement in a number of teams, and the net result is that the competition is close between five teams. Ferrari are obviously at the top of that group, while McLaren are suffering an alarming number of failures in the races, but on pure pace there is little between them over a variety of tracks.
What has led to this difference compared to last year? "I think two main things have made the difference," Bell commented. "One is that the rules have been relatively stable; we do have bodywork changes for this year, but they're not major changes and that I think helps close the gap on competition.
"And also the fact that the cars are becoming more reliable, and I think that aids closing the performance gap, because people spend less time worrying about how to make sure their cars finish the race and focus most of their efforts on performance enhancement, performance development."
Reliability has been a key word over the last few years, and it's obvious that it has improved phenomenally from just five years ago. There is a wealth of experience among the key players at the top teams now, and the recruitment boom in engineering positions of the last few years has played a big part in that, as well as the absorption of people from the teams that have folded recently.
On top of this, tools such as Finite Element Analysis programmes has vastly improved the teams' abilities in the structural tests that they use for analysis of components; their understanding of loading spectra and manufacturing methods has meant that quality control on the cars has gone through the roof.
All of this has led to the difference between winning and losing being incredibly close now. In an age where thousandths of a second are vital, how do you make a positive difference for a team? "I think now more than ever everything, all the bits, have to be right.
"There's just no room for error, with the drivers on the track during practice and qualifying, with the engine side of things and the consequences for losing grid places, the chassis side of things for reliability, the ability to be able to use tyres and tyre development, detailed understanding of aerodynamics and where a lot of small gains can be found, because the margins now for finding performance improvements are getting smaller all the time, and the ability to just whittle away at weight and specific stiffnesses.
"All of those things, and the organisation of the team, have to be slick; the production side has to be slick, and there's just so little room anymore to have a weak area. And that's why it's difficult."
But with all things being equal, and effectively they are; all of the teams are professional, all of the teams have built reliability and are focused on every part of the car; does this mean that luck comes more into the equation now? "I don't think it does," Bell observed, warming to the theme. "When you think of the enormity of the task of putting a Formula One team together and doing what it has to do through an operational year, if you actually look at the gap between slowest and quickest in absolute terms it's not a huge margin.
"When you consider the concept of going out and starting a new design, a new team and new operation from scratch you'd very quickly get quite close; the bit that remains, the final couple of seconds or whatever, that's the really difficult bit. And I don't think that luck plays into it really very much because to make that final step, to be really competitive and right at the front, you've just got to put so much effort and work into lots of small details.
"Yeah, sure, luck comes into it, particularly when the cars are actually out on the track and they are completely away from our control, but away from the track you make your own luck."
There has been a dilution of the ability of a driver to make a substantial difference to a team's performance for a number of years because of the incredible technology built into the cars, but ironically with this technology closing the performance gap between the teams, the drivers now have more of an opportunity to actually make a difference.
So in a period where their abilities are proving more valuable, how have the Renault drivers performed? "I think they've done a good job for us, as they did last year. We had Fernando Alonso's mistake at the last race [in Malaysia] in qualifying, which was a disappointment, but he was out there pushing and that's a risk that you take. I have every confidence in both of them; they're good, solid, fast drivers, both capable of winning races, and I think we're lucky to have a good pairing like that. I think they're doing a good job."
Notwithstanding, there was a question mark over their performances in Malaysia; Alonso started at the back of the grid, moved up to eighth in the race before his performance seemed to drop off, while Jarno Trulli moved up to third and looked like claiming a podium before again the performance seemed to drop off. "Well that wasn't the fault of the drivers; it was primarily an issue we had with the performance of the tyres, and how we used the tyres with the car. It wasn't really something we could level at the drivers.
"It really caught us out, and I don't suppose we know all of the issues behind that, but I think we understand the important one. But it's another facet that has to be absolutely right, and the decisions that get taken now go way back to testing weeks, a month ago, and it's just typical of all of the things that you have to get in place."
So how good is the current Renault? BAR's Technical Director Geoff Willis has stated that he thinks the R24 is currently the best car out there, and Ralf Schumacher has also said as much. The performance has been great, but does Bell agree that he has the best car on track? "Well it is enormously flattering, but I think I'll form my own views depending upon how we do over the course of the season.
"I think it's a bit early to say yet, but it's a good car and it's performed well so far, but there's a lot more we can do with it and need to do with it. You have to start the season with a good car, and I think we've done that and got that, and now the important thing is to keep pouring development into it, to keep it that much further ahead of the rest, and what's really going to determine the outcome of the season is how well the teams can react to that situation of maintaining a performance development profile throughout the rest of the year.
"I find it quite difficult to judge. There is Ferrari's situation, and they obviously have an extremely good car, possibly the best car out there; what we don't know is just how much of their performance benefit is accruing from tyres. I don't think we know the answer to that; it's a very difficult one to assess. I think all I would say at the moment is our car is strongly competitive, and that means it's capable of running in the top three and challenging for podium finishes."
At the level Renault find themselves, how do they mark their progress? Is it a process of judging themselves against Ferrari and seeing where they are? "No you don't, I don't think we ever do that; you judge yourself on absolute terms; you just do the best job you humanly can to make the car better. You don't look at someone else's car and say 'well, we've got to be as good as that', because it doesn't really provide you with any additional information.
"If somebody's car is doing something particularly well you might look at it and try and understand why it's doing that, and try and thereby spur your own development along, but really it's almost a race against yourself. You don't do is say that Ferrari are half a second a lap quicker than us so we'll design our next car to be half a second a lap quicker; you just design it to make it as quick as you can possibly make it.
"In that sense it's an absolute thing, not a relative."
DC: Basically we've picked you guys as the success story of the year... Pat Symonds: Thank you!
DC: ...because the success you've had this year has been phenomenal, especially compared to where you were a few years ago - two years ago you were effectively fighting off Minardis, and now you're getting poles and taking wins.
Symonds: Yeah, I think you need to actually ... history is a great thing because you can choose history to fit your arguments, and politicians do it all the time - engineers do it too often as well! You're absolutely correct in what you say, but equally if you look back to 2000 we finished fourth in the championship, and I'd prefer to think of 2001/2 as being a little blip if you like.
Now again I'm using history to suit my arguments a little bit because 1999 was a bad year for us, but you can go back fifteen years and typically we've been a fourth placed team - we've had a couple of years winning the championship, we've had three years of being below fourth place. So I'm very pleased to hear you say that we are the success story of 2003 but I prefer to think that we've moved back to our correct equilibrium, and it's from here that we've got to push on.
Now when I say that of course that is if you like the sort of gloss of it, the statistics of it, but I think our fourth place in the championship this year is a much more commendable one than, for example, our fourth place of 2000 where I think we got fourth place by one point or something. Some reasonable results along the way but not really exciting ones, whereas this year we're a strong fourth place with a fair bit of the season in third place, a race win, some pole positions which of course are not quite what they used to be, but I would agree it's been a strong year, and it's been our strongest year probably since 1997 or so.
DC: I think it absolutely has been, and I think you're right that the paddock is full of politicians so we can all pick our own arguments! But when you say that you've come back to your rightful position does that mean that you don't aspire to more?
Symonds: No, no, no - I said our equilibrium position actually! No, absolutely not, we aspire to a lot more than that! This business is pretty hard work - it's a lot of fun, but it's pretty hard work - and I think most people, I would hope all people in it, aspire to win - that is the be all and end all, and I'm absolutely not satisfied with fourth place. I know that corporately we set a target of fourth place and podium positions etcetera this year, but to be honest I set my targets higher than that because I think it's my position to set targets higher, and I'm disappointed not to be third - earlier in the season I thought we were looking pretty good for a third place but it wasn't to be.
DC: Williams came back.
Symonds: Williams have just done a fantastic job this year and, while I'm very flattered that you call us the success story of the season, I think Williams's progress through the year is astounding because that's a very, very difficult thing to do.
DC: It is quite amazing because they have progressed throughout the year, although yours was perhaps a little more unexpected because Williams have always been a top two or three team, so in a way you expect them to be there, whereas you have sort of come more from nowhere.
Symonds: Yes, quite right, and I think when we were Benetton we were a team not quite in decline but we were struggling - we were quite a small budget team, and I've said to many people that we were a small budget team trying to give the impression of a big budget team because it was important for us to get hooked up with a manufacturer, and therefore a lot of our objective at the time was to be as professional as we could, but we didn't really have the money to spend on the cars that we would have liked.
When Renault came in that released an amount of money to the team, and I think that not having to pay for an engine anymore is quite a significant boost to a team. Our budget did go up, we got personnel coming in from Renault and things like this, but it takes a while for it to work - I think a classic example of this has been BAR, who came in with all the money in the world, well, not all the money in the world but a good budget, but they had to form a team from scratch and I think that they'd underestimated how bloody difficult it is to get a good group of people together and to get them working together.
We had a slight advantage that we had a good group of people - it wasn't big enough, but it was basically not a bad group of people. But we've expanded massively in the last few years, both at Enstone and at Viry (Chatillion), and it's been important to get those people working together. I would say that last year that started really happening properly but you don't really see the results still for a year later, and I think that's what we're starting to see now. And I think we've now got a very, very solid base to move forward in our next step to move off our equilibrium position.
DC: What would you say is the principal difference between Benetton and Renault? It's effectively the same team, but you're not using the Benetton records, you're using the old Renault ones.
Symonds: You're right that it's essentially the same team, and by that I mean that the majority of the people at Renault now were at Benetton, but it is considerably larger. For example we were very successful at Benetton in 1994/5 and really with the proceeds of that success if you like we were able to build a damn good wind tunnel, and that was our investment, our reward for winning the championship.
But having built it we then struggled to use it - we needed the people, we needed the money - they are very expensive things to run in terms of model building and everything. So we needed that bit more - we had this great facility but we weren't using it properly, and Renault came along and we had a bit more money, and we are now using that wind tunnel three shifts a day, six days a week; that wind tunnel is really working now.
And it's working at a rate that any business that invests ten million pounds in a facility, it's working at a rate it should be - you don't get a guy in business going out and spending ten million pounds on a piece of capital equipment and then running it sort of five hours a day or something. So it's those kind of things that make a difference, and to my mind on the chassis side of the complete bits that the team can work on the aerodynamics is the one that gives the laptime, so that's where the big push has been.
DC: There's two questions from that - how do you end up with a wind tunnel and not use it? Was it just budgetary constraints?
Symonds: That's probably overstating the case to say that we couldn't use it, but these things take quite a while to do, and we started that project on the wind tunnel I think at the end of 1995 when we said let's do it, let's go ahead and see what it takes. The planning and construction of it was about two and a half years, and in that time circumstances had changed - you build it full of optimism, you're just about to win your first World Championship and you imagine you're going to win them all for the next ten years and you're going to be sort of rolling in money and everything, and then reality comes home and you realise you're not going to have the sort of money you thought you were going to have, and you then have to go back to it. I think that's the fundamentals of it - we built it on a huge wave of optimism and by the time it was completed we were not as rich a team as we thought we were.
DC: So it's just a case of you just didn't have resources to get the right people in there.
Symonds: Exactly. You've sort of made me think now, and I'm going to take a look when I get home as to how many people we employed in aerodynamics then and how many we do now - I think I'd get quite a fright when I look at the figures!
DC: It must be a hell of a lot now - all the teams have got so many more people nowadays. Actually with the wind tunnel it must be quite old compared to most of the other teams - is it still ...
Symonds: No, far from it - ourselves and Ferrari built tunnels actually to the same design and by the same people at that time - I think ours opened just a little bit before theirs but it's virtually nothing. To my knowledge the only one that's been built since then is Sauber's, which isn't yet complete, so I think it's fair to say that ourselves and Ferrari still have the most modern wind tunnels I think. Our sort of brief was to build a wind tunnel that would suffice until the day when CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) took over from wind tunnel testing - we said that's a nice catchy sort of phrase, I wonder how long that will be, and we sort of said maybe twenty or thirty years, we don't know, but that's how future proof we've tried to make the tunnel.
DC: Can CFD ever take over?
Symonds: I'll never say that something can't happen, so the simple answer's yes. But I think it's a hell of a long way away - a hell of a long way.
DC: I ask about the wind tunnel because obviously Sauber are in the process of building their wind tunnel and they're trying to push it forward as much as they can because effectively they've said that their existing one is useless - that it isn't accurate enough to do what they need it for and they are using one in the UK now...
Symonds: Yes, I think they're using Southampton now.
DC: Which is why I asked if yours can still be used.
Symonds: I think so - I think we futureproofed it as much as we can. Some of the tunnels in use now in aerospace are twenty, thirty years old and they're still doing a good job. I think if you get the fundamentals right you know what you want it for ... one of the problems automotive people have had for a while is I think they have basically taken wind tunnels that were designed for aircraft use and tried to make them into wind tunnels that are good for automotive use, and there are a few subtle differences in the way you lay out a tunnel that make that difference.
DC: This year has been fantastic for you - why do you think it's suddenly all come together?
Symonds: I've always thought we've got a great team - I think our racing team is a very, very professional team with a huge attention to detail - it's been there to exploit whatever we're given. What have we been given? Well we've been given if you like a really great car this year, with fantastic aerodynamics for all the reasons we've been talking about, a damn good chassis, fantastic control systems and some of it's quite obvious - our launch control I think everyone realises is damn good, and I'd have to say the other control systems are equally good but they're not put on public display quite so much!
Without a doubt we're on the best tyres - without a doubt - and I think that's made a huge difference to our year. Our engine has come on leaps and bounds over the year - it's still I would say the weak point of our package but it's getting there, and now gives me a hell of a lot of hope for the future that it will definitely get there. We've got a couple of damn good drivers - Jarno is a known quantity, and while he may not be Michael Schumacher he's a damn good second division if you like driver, and Fernando to those who didn't really know him would say he was the surprise of the year, but he's not surprise to us as we knew him. Two drivers who get on really well so don't have to fight rivalry in the team and all those disruptive influences that do occur in some teams.
So you know, just getting all those things together. I sort of feel you take the things that make up winning races - the chassis, the aerodynamics, the tyres, the engine, the drivers, the team - and they're your six basic factors. And I always feel that if you've got five of those six there you can win races, if you've four of those six things there you can be competitive and you can have you're odd day where you look quite good, if you've got less than four you're not going to make it, and if you've got all six you're going to win the world championship.
DC: And you think you've got five now?
Symonds: I think we've got five, yeah.
DC: How similar in set up are the drivers?
Symonds: They're quite similar - they're similar to the extent that we can apply what we learn on one car to the other car, and that's really what we're looking for. In terms of their setup Fernando will generally carry a bit more front wing and a bit more front roll stiffness but it's irrelevant - we know it, we allow for it, but if we do a test to say alter the weight distribution on one car we know that the other driver will respond in the same way to it, things like that. And that's a big asset to the team - it's not necessarily something you can plan for, because you employ your driver to be quick, you don't know that much about how he likes his car set up, you don't find out that sort of information - but when you do have two drivers that are similar it's a big help. I would say it happens more often than not to be honest, but you do occasionally get a driver whose set up is a little bit out from the norm and then it's just that added complication - it's not that difficult but it's just an added complication.
DC: Sam Michael told me that Ralf and Juan Pablo have effectively identical set ups, and it means that anything one driver finds can be applied straight to the other, and it saves so much time.
Symonds: It does, and the other thing it's good for is if a guy gets lost, and it happens occasionally with the best team and the best drivers, you can sort of say hang on, where is this going, put the other set up on the car and let's just see what happens, and that's helpful too. As I say it's not important but all the time you're limited in what you can do, the amount of experiments that you can do, so if you've got two guys who are doing experiments to a common goal arguably you can get twice as much done. That's maybe a slightly simplistic view of it, but it helps.
DC: How important has the Friday testing been to you guys?
Symonds: It's been fantastic - I think when you look at the Friday practice there are a number quite interesting things. I think the first thing is very few teams evaluated it for what it was - one can image a team like Minardi said it's great and it's the only thing we can afford to do, QED. But I really suspect that some of the other teams, I'm thinking of McLaren and people like that, Sauber, BAR, they didn't really evaluate it properly, and I think part of the problem was there was this perception, amplified a little by the press, that this was the second division, this was for the poor teams.
Now one thing we have at Renault, we were talking earlier about the assets we have, but one thing I think we have is we're broadminded and we encourage lateral thinking. So when we saw this coming along we said okay, let's evaluate it, and we did, we really evaluated it and we spent ages on it and looked at all pros and cons, and we came to the conclusion that it was a better thing for us, and if we applied ourselves to it it could be a lot better thing for us. By that I'm not saying that it's a better thing to do than free testing, what I'm saying is that for our team in those circumstances at that time it was a better thing for us.
And when I say we applied ourselves to it we did it properly - we employed Alan (McNish), not a cheap thing to do to employ a current very good driver rather than a sort of rent-a-driver - we put a huge effort into running three cars properly, and running three cars at once is a remarkably difficult thing to do, you really need to be on top of it. But we went for it, and it's worked fantastically for us. I had a view at the time, I knew that last year Ferrari and Williams and therefore I assume McLaren did over sixty thousand kilometres of testing - I knew perfectly well that we couldn't do that, I knew that we weren't in a position to have enough engines to do sixty thousand kilometres of testing, and possibly we didn't have enough on the chassis side either to have enough parts and whatever to do that, but I knew for a fact we didn't have enough engines.
I had a view that to beat someone you either do what they do but do it better or you do something different, and that was quite instrumental to our decision to do Friday testing as well - if we can't beat them at their own game, if we can't go out and do eight thousand kilometres of useful testing we'll do the Friday stuff and our twenty days, and I really got everyone focused on it - sometimes you need a kick to focus people, and the productivity of our testing, even our twenty days, our productivity has been so much higher than it was in the past.
DC: What do you think is the best thing about Friday testing?
Symonds: I think the best thing about Friday testing is you're doing near real time testing, but that doesn't mean you can act on it - for example we might bring five tyres to an event that we test on Friday, and we've got our two that we've nominated and maybe one of the other ones we'll say shit I wish we'd nominated that! It hasn't really happened yet this year, with one exception when we brought a tyre and we said we wish we could have that as well.
While you can't exploit everything about it the fact is you're doing near real time testing, and therefore you flow your experiments throughout the year. Some circuits that's really worth a hell of a lot, places like Magny Cours, Barcelona, where they change so much - you can test there two weeks before and come back for the race and it's like being at a different circuit. Of course circuits where we can't test, which is now thirteen of the sixteen tracks, we gain six car hours of testing that the other guys aren't getting, and coupled with the fact that official practice is now less than it used to be it's really worthwhile.
DC: And the testing is specific to the track.
Symonds: Yeah, not all of our testing is specific to the track - we do have to balance our race specific testing along with our development testing - we do have to get that balance right. Again not easy, but with some thought it can be done.
DC: How do you go about that - do you assign certain drivers to certain tasks?
Symonds: Yeah - basically it varies a little bit but generally Jarno and Fernando drive their race cars for that practice session and therefore we keep the experimental work off them a little bit. Allan drove a pure test car, a car that's not necessarily even legal because when you're running a test car you don't actually have to comply with all the rules - you can have extra instrumentation and things like that which according to the rules you may not be able to. So the development work was done by Allan, but also Allan did a lot of the tyre work because he's so damn good at it. So yeah we split it all up, but in essence the race drivers concentrate a little bit more on the real time testing to prepare for the weekend.
DC: How much of a difference is Franck (Montagny) going to make next year then?
Symonds: Franck's been bloody good actually - I said that we employed Allan as a part of our strategy at doing the Friday testing - at this point we have to assume that we're going to follow a similar pattern next year, and to be honest we don't know at the moment, certainly if the option is there we will take it because it still fits in with the profile of our team very well - it may not be the case the next year or the year after, but it does at the moment.
Allan we wanted for his experience and his testing ability, but Franck we ran at Magny Cours and boy we gave him a hard time there, we had an engine problem which meant he had to switch cars and then it started to rain, and he handled himself really well. And it impressed me so much that I said let's keep a good eye on this guy, and we ran him in Barcelona (in private testing) sort of as a final sign off, but it's on merit - nothing else. He is good already, and I think he'll get better.
DC: So is that done with an eye on the future?
Symonds: It's a lot of things - yes of course it's an eye on the future, and the whole Renault driver development programme is about an eye to the future. It's also about cost effectiveness and things - Allan's done a great job, but Allan's more expensive than Franck - I'm not saying that in a bad way; Allan's worth every penny that we paid him - but with Franck it releases some money for development in other areas. Everything has to be part of a complete overall picture.
DC: And of course he's a Frenchman, so Renault will like that.
Symonds: They did like it, but I have to say they didn't pressure us at all. At the beginning of this season I was adamant that I wanted Allan as a test driver and no one else, and at no point did I get any pressure saying it had to be this person or that person for political reasons. There's no doubt they are pleased it's a Frenchman, of course, but it wasn't a fundamental. In fact we evaluated a few drivers last winter - actually I think three of them were French, which kind of destroys my argument! Three were French, one was Portuguese - I'm destroying my argument so I'll shut up!
DC: Sebastien Bourdais?
Symonds: Bourdais, Montagny, Monteiro and one other I can't remember.
DC: We'll scrub that idea then! You've been with the team forever, or it probably feels that way anyway, and of course you've been there when you were winning championships with Michael. What's the feeling in the team now compared to back then?
Symonds: That's quite an interesting question because it similarly different (laughs). It's similar in terms of ambition and belief and wanting to move on, but it's different because there's more confidence in the team. And what I mean by that, you can go back ten years to Benetton in 93 compared to Renault in 03. Benetton 93: great team of people, enthusiasm, getting on and saying 'we're going to do it' but not quite believing it, and then 94 was wow - how did we do that? (laughs) The difference now is, and as I said an awful lot of people have stayed and now we know we can do it - we've done it before, why shouldn't we do it again? And equally looking at what we're surrounded with, what our team is now, gives us even more belief that we can do it. So that's what I mean by a similar difference.
DC: I guess the win in Hungary must have been a bit of a load off, though.
Symonds: It wasn't a load off - I wouldn't describe it like that - I think what you're implying is that it released external pressure, and I wouldn't say we've had external pressure to win a race this year or anything like that - Patrick Faure set our objectives, and he didn't expect a race win. As I said earlier when you said fourth place in the championship are we satisfied with it, I'm never satisfied with what we've got, and I would say that the pressure that you have to perform is certainly an internal pressure - it's not a corporate pressure or anything like that - and yeah it made me feel good, it made me feel we'd achieved something I didn't feel we'd achieve last winter. It didn't take the pressure off because as we won in Hungary I knew damn well that we'd struggle in Monza - in fact we performed much better in Monza than I'd hoped for. It didn't take the pressure off - we didn't finish first and second, so it wasn't a great result!
DC: No, what I mean is that there is, as you say, a great feeling in the team and they think they can do it, but all of a sudden they actually did do it...
Symonds: Yeah, yeah - I don't think that was the case so much inside the team as outside the team. I think that there were people that I'd spoken to, not those who are directly connected to the team but those to who I said yes, we might be able to get a win - it might take a little bit of luck but we can do it. I think maybe a number of them didn't quite believe it because they didn't see the internal workings of the team - the potential was there. Certainly for those people it was oh shit yeah - now we take you seriously. So from that perspective yes it was true.
DC: A lot of the media is trying to portray Alonso as the new Schumacher - of course you worked with the 'old' Schumacher ...
Symonds: He was new when I worked with him!
DC: ... what sort of similarities, if any, do you see between the two?
Symonds: Similarities - I'm sort of stating the obvious, but the similarities are the ability to drive a car quickly - it's a very trite statement isn't it, but it's where you have to start. I see a mental capacity in Fernando that reminds me of Michael, the ability to talk to his race engineer so that he does fully understand the race. Even down to the little things like some drivers, when they use the radio, lose laptime because they can't rub their stomachs and pat their heads (laughs) - Fernando in Canada was chatting all the way round while he set the fastest lap. What I don't see is the attention to detail, and the hard work when it comes to it, that I want to see - Michael pushed those around him, whereas I would say those around Fernando push him a little bit - I would like to see a little more attention to detail and a bit harder work.
DC: Is that a factor of him being young?
Symonds: I don't know - how old was Michael when he started working with us? I don't know how old he is now actually.
DC: He's 34 now.
Symonds: 34, so he was 22 when he started driving for us, so it's not that different is it? No, age is a funny thing - being a very old person myself (laughs) age is a mental state isn't it, and kids like Fernando, like Jenson, they've been in the business so bloody long, they're just so different to the 21 or 22 year old you meet in the street.
DC: That is something that amazes me - these kids have been doing it since they were three or something.
Symonds: Yeah - it's just unreal, isn't it?
DC: What does that actually do to them? Do they ever have anything remotely like a life, or is it just race and test?
Symonds: Well I'd say it's a pretty good life actually!
DC: Sure - I know a lot of people who'd like the opportunity!
Symonds: It's a different life, certainly - they grow up learning the corporate way of things - I think they just mature earlier. I think if you spoke to anyone who's been racing since they were in cadet karts up to Formula One I don't think any of them would say they regret it and say oh no, I didn't see much of my Mum!
DC: I only ask because sometimes talking to the drivers it can be a bit ... dull. Maybe it's just that I'm getting old!
Symonds: Yeah, but do you have many fantastically intellectual conversations with any other 21 year olds?
DC: No - that's fair.
Symonds: I think they're okay guys. One of the things about them is that they're very focused, very single-minded - I wouldn't think there are many drivers you could discuss politics with, because I'm imagining they don't read the newspapers or watch the news, because all they're thinking about is racing. I'm sure they're not the most rounded individuals in the world, but it's what they choose to do, and any professional person - I'm not just saying sportsman, but person - has to be reasonably single-minded, and a professional sportsman has to be very single-minded.
DC: I guess that's true, and I guess you don't want them to be too well rounded, because you want them to focus more on racing.
Symonds: Absolutely - we're paying them a hell of a lot of money to do their job!
DC: I was going to ask you to say something nice about Jarno, but I think Bradley (Lord, Renault PR) is giving us the wind up.
Symonds: (laughs) Well I will do - Jarno is doing a fantastic job for the team - Fernando happens to have got the win, and he got more points this year - but Jarno's had some really, really tough luck. Even in Monza - what a great weekend he was having - and I've got absolutely no doubt that he could have had a really excellent result there, bearing in mind it's not our best circuit there. But Jesus, how can that happen to him again? We let him down. And I think the fundamental thing is would I want another two drivers? You might say maybe you might have Michael or something, but I'm bloody happy with what we've got. They're two really good guys, and as I said earlier they're team players and that's fantastic.
DC: I love Jarno, but I can't believe the bad luck that guy has! And he's been awesome in the second half of the year.
Symonds: Well you know before I worked with him I used to get on at people who spoke about luck because I'm just not a believer in it - you make your own luck - someone once said luck comes with practice, and I think that's true. But I have to admit that since I've known Jarno I've actually been wondering if I should change my mind!
DC: He's the unluckiest guy since Johnny Herbert!
DC: Looking forward you've got a very solid fourth in the championship this year, but there's still a gap points wise between you and the top three - what are you going to do to bridge that?
Symonds: I mentioned earlier that I thought the weak point of our six point package is the engine, and so the focus is on that, but the important thing is to not drop the ball in any other area - it's easy to say right, we've cracked that, let's leave it aside and work on the engine, but that's the easiest way to screw it all up - you've got to say right, you guys work on that engine, just get on with it, and we're going to really work hard to make sure that everything else is really perfect, and that's basically how we're going to do it.
DC: They say that aerodynamics are the most important component of a car these days, and you've clearly got an amazing aero package this year - is there ever a stage where effectively you are hitting the wall, where you are getting such minute fractions...
Symonds: You're never going to hit the wall, but it gets harder and harder and harder, and it's getting harder for everyone. I used to do a lot of aero work in the mid eighties, and I used to be looking for maybe a five percent increase before we'd bother making parts - well now we look at five percent as being good for a new model! So now we're seeing increases of half a percent - well, less than half a percent actually - but so is everybody else, and if we didn't do it we'd fall behind. So we haven't hit a wall - it's just that much harder to get the bits. But the increments you can realistically make are just as important for your position, and ultimately performance, as they ever have been.
DC: Are you going to run OCP next year?
Symonds: Not at the moment, I don't think so, no.
DC: Is there a reason why?
DC: And you're not going to tell me?
DC: One last thing - I heard that you got a doctorate recently.
Symonds: Yep - I'm Doctor Pat!
DC: What was it in?
Symonds: It was from Oxford Brooks University - they gave me an honourary doctorate for work I'd done, basically.
DC: And for being an all round good egg!
Symonds: Yeah - that's it!
They say he's the next great one, the next one to come in and shake up the sport, the one that will carry us into the next generation of drivers. They say he's the new Schumacher, and you can see why: he drives for the team that brought the German to the fore in its previous incarnation; he came into the sport around the same age and with the backing of a large manufacturer; he started with a small team before moving towards the front; he's bringing the team in around him, wrapping himself in the blanket of them; and he's the key to the viewing public in a European country that has so far been resistant to Formula One's charms. Fernando Alonso wears this crown lightly. Quiet and self effacing, in person he comes across as someone who is intrinsically shy but has spent years trying to put this malady behind him. His walk is all in the shoulders, and he rolls on the sides of his feet as though on egg shells, and when he shakes your hand he immediately looks down before looking back up again, looking you in the eye as thought taught to do so.
Pat Symonds worked with both drivers, as race engineer to Schumacher and in his current position as Director of Engineering at Renault. He's heard the comparison before, of course, but thinks the difference is that Schumacher possibly concentrates on things more, concentrates on numbers and degrees and angles. "Maybe, maybe - I concentrate on the things that I feel are important!" Alonso laughs at the idea, "the other ones are for the engineers, not for me! (Michael and I) are different, like all people."
But like Schumacher before him, Alonso has made the Formula One paddock sit up and pay attention in only his second year on the grid. After a learning year at Minardi and another as test driver for Renault, Alonso stepped up to the plate, becoming the youngest pole sitter and race winner in the history of the World Championship. Alonso's year was, quite simply, a cut above anything anyone thought it would be, himself included. "Yes - of course! But I think we worked very well, the car is working well, and everything was perfect this season."
It seems a lot longer, but it was only two years ago that Alonso was propping up the rear of the field at Minardi. It's clear that the move to Renault was a huge jump forward, but what are the main differences between the teams? "A lot; everything!" Alonso blurts out, spreading his hands wide on the table in front of him. "Basically the results and the confidence you have in yourself. When you are at Minardi you have no results, and you sometimes have doubts about yourself when you are 18th or 19th and you see the pole position maybe five seconds in front of you.
"You think these people are fantastic, they are very quick and very good. But when you are at Renault you don't think that; you have enough confidence, and if one guy does the pole you think that you can do that too. You have more confidence in yourself, because the car is fantastic."
DC: At the start of the year what were you hoping for? When you knew you were driving for Renault, what was it that you wanted to achieve?
Alonso: "I was not really thinking anything, I was just concentrating to improve the car during the winter and to have the best possible car in the races. I knew that it was difficult to fight with the top teams - Williams, Ferrari, McLaren - but maybe we were thinking to be around seventh, eighth position for the races, and for me to have maybe ten points, fifteen points at the end of the year."
DC: When you first got into the new car did you just sit there and think 'wow - this is much better than I thought'?
Alonso: "Not really, not really. It was quite similar to last year's car, but then with the new engine and new pieces in the car in the first race in Australia when we put everything in the car it was a big change, and even from the first race we knew that the car was competitive basically everywhere."
DC: You said it was similar to last year's car, and you put a lot of miles into last year's car, but what was the difference? The results are a lot different.
Alonso: "Yeah probably the aero package that we put in, in Australia - and another step in Silverstone - was the biggest difference. In terms of the chassis, when we test the new car we test basically the chassis with all of the aerodynamics, and it was similar to that."
The one weakness the team had was clear to all. "I think the engine is the biggest one, because we are a little bit down on power. But we have a very light engine, a very low centre of gravity, so in the end the engine is a good compromise on some circuits. And a little bit more in the chassis side, to have a little more downforce - I think we are not too far away compared with the top teams."
The engine has been a problem for the team, and a lot of work has been done over the year to bring step improvements, but the radical wide angled engine Renault believed would push them up the grid hasn't lived up to expectations. With the new one engine per weekend rule coming into play next year the team may have an opportunity to make up that lost ground.
DC: What are you expecting from the new rules next year?
Alonso: "Yeah, we don't know. We are working on a new concept of engine, more traditional V angle, and we are quite confident to have a good engine. We don't know because Formula One is always difficult, but I think it will be a good year for Renault - maybe it's the next step, and maybe we are more regularly fighting for victories next year."
And then there's Alonso's teammate, Jarno Trulli.
Trulli is the mystery man of Formula One - on his day he seems to be untouchable, and yet other days he looks in need of a nap. But how hard is it for Alonso to beat Trulli? "Very hard!" Alonso laughs, his hands waving in front of him as if in surrender. "Yeah he's very quick, and it's very hard. But you know, I was lucky this year to have a good car and to beat him in some places and to have more points than him. But anyway it was a difficult year and I learnt a lot of things from him as well, because like you say he's very quick and you have to really push to the limit in some places to beat him."
DC: You and Jarno seem to get on fantastically - I've seen you together and you look almost like brothers.
Alonso: "Yeah, it's good because basically we spend most of the year together with the testing, the races, and the physical training. At the end of the year you have your teammate in the truck who is also your competitor, your first competitor, because he has the same car and you have to beat him first. But outside of the car it's not a problem to be normal friends, to play football together, to go to the hotel in the same car - you know, it's a normal relationship."
DC: You always seemed to have all the good luck and he always seemed to have all the bad luck - I don't know what that is.
Alonso: "Yeah, it was a little bit of bad luck in some places when … (laughs) … these things happen."
Alonso's year has been so impressive that it's sometimes hard to remember that he is only 22. Young drivers have a tendency to be wayward, to make rookie mistakes, but with the Spaniard these have been few and far between this year - speeding under yellow to get back to the pits in Brazil which lead to his big crash and the dice with David Coulthard notwithstanding. Renault made a good decision in pairing him with Trulli, who now has over one hundred Grand Prix appearances to his name.
So what has Alonso learnt from Trulli? "I don't know really - to be quick, I guess, because, you know, he is really quick on all the tracks, in all the conditions, and there is not any time to breathe! You have to always be on the maximum in order to be competitive and near his time and lap. The first thing that I learnt from him, and the first surprise that I had this year, was the level of competition that he has in himself - it's very powerful.
DC: What about the other way around? Has Trulli learned anything from you?
Alonso laughs. "I don't know - I don't think so! But I learnt many things this year - to save the car a little bit in important moments like in tyres, engine, gearbox, etc, etc, and then to push to the limit - I said before with Jarno I have to push really hard in some places to beat him. And to be at this level always, in all the circuits and in all the test sessions and in all the free practice - this was new to me, to be at this level."
DC: I don't know how you evaluate your own driving - do you look at it and say 'maybe I could do this a little better, maybe I could try that'?
Alonso: "Yeah, always we look at the telemetry and compare to Jarno basically, and see that we can do different things in the corner and change a little bit, brake a little bit later or brake with less pressure to keep more speed into the corner - you always change your driving style like this."
DC: And when you're not with the team? Do you sit and think about things that you do when you're driving?
DC: No? Why not?
Alonso: "When I am with the team, I work with the car and with the team. When I am not with the team, I have other things to do!"
DC: So what would you say is your strongest point?
Alonso: "Consistency! I am very, very constant. Basically it doesn't matter if it's raining, not raining, could be a high speed track, slow track, I think I am still competitive in all the places. I am not a driver for qualifying, I am not a driver for the race, I am not a driver for wet conditions - I think I am quite constant in all these places."
DC: How about your weakness?
Alonso: "Oh, experience. I am twenty two, so maybe I need more experience, and I need to fight with the top guys more wheel to wheel - probably that I'm not at 100% now."
Alonso smiles bashfully when he says that he's not at his one hundred per cent, but he probably knows just as well as the rest of the paddock that it won't be long before he dominates the sport, perhaps even in similar fashion to the German six times World Champion that Alonso is so often compared to. And just like Schumacher, Alonso too won his first race in only his second season in Formula One.
The win at the Hungarian Grand Prix, however, did not come to Alonso from luck or clever strategy. He was simply the man of the weekend, with the perfect package and untouchable pace throughout the race. Yet Alonso doesn't seem to put much importance on that win.
"I was very happy to win," he says, "but for me it was another race - it doesn't matter what the result you achieved. Maybe in ten years you remember that race, but now (every) fifteen days there is the next one! Then you start testing for the following year, so there's no time to think."
Indeed, with winter testing underway, a fitness camp in Kenya, Africa, this month and the launch next month, Alonso has little time to reminisce. But looking ahead, he is confident the only way for him and the team is up.
"I hope to fight for more victories next year," he concludes. "The team is fighting very hard, the new chassis is in the wind tunnel with a good result, and the new engine should be better. Also the team will be basically the same, so we know perfectly the way to work with the engineers, with the team.
"So I think we will close the gap with the top teams again, and we can beat them in some of the circuits. I'm really looking forward to next year; it should be good."
Do you wake up happy every day? Are you glad to go to work knowing that it's what you really want to do, and secure in the knowledge that those who employ you are glad to have you? Mike Gascoyne, the technical director of Renault's F1 team, does. Some people just seem to have everything work out right for them, have everything fall in place as they rise through the ranks as though the finger of God is pointing at them and singling them out for more. You've met people like this at your work, and you've probably wondered how the hell it happened that they have everything handed to them on a plate. The thing is, they probably don't know either, but they'll make the most of it while it lasts.
Gascoyne finds himself in the enviable position of having designed one of the most improved cars on the circuit this year, having led the team from the nadir of 2001, when Jenson Button qualified 20th or worse six times over the season, to a stage where his cars have already claimed this year a pole position, fastest lap and a pair of podium finishes. This success has been noted by other, less successful teams, and rumours are abound of multi-million dollar offers for his services.
There was nothing in his past to point towards Gascoyne being one of those people, but it happened nonetheless. Born just forty years ago in Norwich, England, he had a fairly normal childhood, played a lot of sport and nurtured a keen interest in engineering. So far, so normal. He applied himself and was accepted to Cambridge, where he read in the fairly obscure field of aerodynamics and fluid mechanics. He continued with his sport, in particular becoming an avid mountaineer, and studied in a field that was the preserve of geeks and misfits. He must have had some unusual parties, drawing friends from all of those interests.
Doing well in a number of fields marks you out, draws interest in you, because you can talk about more than just the endeavour that you're engaged in at the time, and this is what marked Gascoyne's card, what drew people to him and thrust him forward. People gravitated to him, and this only pushed him further.
He took a job at Westland Helicopters while he was writing up his thesis, the summation of his six years' studying, because he wanted a bit of money and because it's what you do - get some hands-on experience in the field to go with all that theory. And it was while he was there that his first stroke of good fortune happened. "I saw an old copy of Flight magazine - it was three months old - and there was an advertisement for a job as an aerodynamicist at McLaren," Gascoyne recalls. "I didn't really have a long term interest in Formula One, but I used to watch the odd race. So I thought, that looks pretty interesting, and I'm an aerodynamicist, so I wrote off and got the job - and that was that.
"I didn't really have any burning desire that motor racing was what I wanted to do - I was just in the right place at the right time and went to McLaren at the start of '89. So I sort of lucked in, really." And so began his seemingly unassailable rise to the top.
Gascoyne stayed with McLaren for eighteen months, learning the ropes before moving to Tyrrell - a career move which would affect his life more than any other, and a time that he still talks about fondly. The stop was brief, as he was part of a group of engineers headhunted by Sauber to create a programme to let the team go racing in Formula One.
After two years at Sauber, Gascoyne returned to his spiritual home of Tyrrell, working his way up through the ranks there to the position of chief designer - the position he held when the group headed by Craig Pollock took over the company in 1998, starting the process of creating BAR from its ashes. Eddie Jordan saw his chance and swooped in for Gascoyne's services, making him chief designer under Gary Anderson, and he remained with the Jordan team until moving to Benetton/Renault in 2001 - reportedly parting ways with Jordan on not-so-amicable terms.
Every young star in the rising needs a mentor, an older and wiser head who can temper natural enthusiasm with the wisdom he's gained over the years, and for Gascoyne that mentor came in the form of Harvey Postlethwaite, the legendary engineer and team manager, who died of a heart attack three years ago. It was Postlethwaite who brought Gascoyne to Tyrrell in 1991.
Gascoyne knows he owes his career to Postlethwaite, and his love for the man is obvious: "Harvey was a great character who liked to enjoy life and have a laugh about things. He was also a very clever engineer, and a very intellectual guy, so he was a great mixture of intellect, experience and a love of life.
"And there was never a day where you couldn't sit down and have a laugh about it at the end, no matter how hard you worked. I think Harvey was a great influence on me, and also I think Harvey went to his grave trying to prove that Formula One was about engineering and not just having more money - he loved engineering, and I think that's something that's stuck with me. That was a great lesson to learn."
Postlethwaite came along at the right time in Gascoyne's nascent career, when he had learnt enough about the groundwork required and was hungering for the opportunity to do more. "I started as an aerodynamicist at McLaren," he recalls, "and in those days you had much smaller teams and did a lot more than you're able to do now. For example, When Harvey Postlethwaite and I went to Sauber, he set up the engineering department from scratch, really, because they didn't have a Formula One level aerodynamic programme, and when you've actually got to do everything, set everything up, you learn a hell of a lot."
The next stage was set - Gascoyne had proven himself as an aerodynamicist, and Postlethwaite knew he could do more. "I was very lucky in going back to Tyrrell, in that Harvey at that stage didn't want me to come back as an aerodynamicist because he already had a team to do the aerodynamics," he continues, "and I always thought that to get on you had to get out of aerodynamics and into more general car design. I was very fortunate, because really I'd only been in the business four or five years, and the next step was to become deputy technical director at Tyrrell.
"It was a small team, where you were able to make your mistakes and, you know, a couple of the cars - like the 023 and the 025 - were pretty shite! So probably in a way that you couldn't do now, I was in a very small team - a very good, very professional team, and we did a very good job on what we had - but you were able to make your mistakes and that's just not possible now in Formula One. So I was very fortunate to work in Tyrrell in that era."
Engineers need to make mistakes - it's in these errors that they find the best way to get something done, to make something work. It's what they all need to do before moving on to bigger challenges. "I think you learn more from your mistakes than the things that you do right," Gascoyne concurs. "And at Tyrrell you were able to do that. It was a very small, close-knit team, and it was only really when I'd moved on to Jordan that I had to start managing a larger team. And that was a great challenge, but something that seemed to come fairly naturally, you know, and has led to here."
"Here" is Renault, the team Gascoyne joined in 2001, a mere twelve years from his first step onto the bottom rung of the sport. Since joining the team as technical director it has progressed from fighting the Minardis at the back of the pack into a genuine top four contender. It's an astonishing rise through the ranks by any standards, and Gascoyne knows it. "The thing that amazes me is I love engineering and I love sport, so from that point of view this is the ideal profession, and at times I sit and look at it and think, if I hadn't lucked into getting into it, what the fuck would I be doing?
"You know, this is such a strange and bizarre world, really. For me I think it beats having a real job! You know you're very fortunate to be in the position, so yeah, at times you stop and think, and actually you look at the career where I have come up pretty quickly, and you think of all the people who are trying to do that and want to get into Formula One, who watch it and are avid fans and all of that, and you think how did I luck into all of this, because it was never really the plan. So yeah, I think you always have to realise how lucky you are."
Doing it his Way
Gascoyne laughs a lot, and considering his success he should. It's something he got from his mentor, and his management style was learnt there too. "I think one of the things I learnt from Harvey was how to manage people and to get the best out of people," he says. "Harvey was great at having a meeting to discuss something where he would just ask you why you were doing things, and get people to throw in more ideas, and eventually you would come up with a solution that was perhaps totally different from what you were going to do but was a totally innovative solution, and you'd leave the meeting kind of thinking you'd come up with it, not that you were called in to be told by him what you were going to do."
The difference, of course, is the scale - what works in a small team may not necessarily carry over into one the size of Renault. This is something Gascoyne says he thinks about constantly, and it's the reason why he puts such a premium on communication. "I think the important thing is to set the standards. There are engineering decisions to be made, but most important to Formula One you've got to have the right organisation and the right level of communication to allow people to function without becoming a large bureaucracy. You see some teams that are just large bureaucracies - they have meetings just to hear twenty people spout off about something - and I think that's not efficient."
The challenges of running an operation the size of Renault are such that he can't be very hands-on anymore - there are so many departments to oversee that he can no longer go down and fix things himself. "I set the standards for the team in all the areas, and then hopefully empower people to achieve them," he says.
"Sometimes, when something hasn't been done well enough, they'll sit there and say 'but we worked all night - what else could we have done?' And you say 'yeah, in the set of circumstances you had, you couldn't have done anything else'; but the whole point is to change the set of circumstances, and that's my job.
"So when I say I want something done to this level, if I don't hear anything then I expect to come in and see it at that level. And if it isn't at that level, things get shitty! But if you've contacted me and said 'we've got this problem and this problem and this problem' I'll either say 'well you can't do it to that level because we can't solve some of those problems', or I'll solve some of those problems for you, so you can get to that level. But what I won't accept is coming in and it's just not at that level. So really, it's a case of setting the standards, and then ensuring your team can get to them, and then moving them up."
The standard bearer for success in his field is Ross Brawn, who moved to Ferrari from Benetton and built an engineering team around him, bringing some key personnel and then molding them into the Ferrari fold. It's an approach that has brought much success to the team in red, and it's an approach that Gascoyne is attempting to emulate, albeit in his own style. "People sort of say at Renault that [Brawn] brought his people, he brought a lot of his team in," he notes sardonically. "Well, when I went to Jordan we did a good job and I didn't bring any people in - those people were already there, and so most of the people you need are in any team.
"The trick is to get them all working efficiently, and I think we've done that very effectively in the two or three years at Renault. And yeah, you do tend to bring people in that you know, and that you know will work to the standard I set, and who you know get on with people and can help build the team. But really, in any team, that's only four or five people in key areas where they're lacking - it's not ten, twenty, thirty people. You don't need to do that. All the right people exist in most of the teams - the trick is to organise them and get the best out of them, and I think that's what I've been able to do at Jordan, and here at Renault."
The Friday Testing Gamble
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the start of this year showed that Gascoyne has got the balance right. It was an astonishing start, and people were talking about the team as real Championship contenders, with early development of the car starting like a bullet from a gun, although this seems to have fallen off a little since then. "I don't think that's strictly true," Gascoyne reacts. "I think we maximised, we got a lot out of it in the beginning, and also I think at the beginning of the year we were more aggressive on strategy in qualifying, running light, and now everyone else is doing that and I think actually you see the true level of performance.
"You know, people say 'oh you're not quite there', but only two races ago in Canada Fernando ended two seconds behind the leader. To win consistently you've got to have everything right, and we've been fairly open that at the moment we don't have everything right - the engine isn't at the top level, for one - so when it's like that you're not going to win everywhere, and when you get it all right a-la Ferrari last year then yeah, you go and win everywhere. We're not in that position, and to get it all right takes time - you can't do it all in a year, two years.
"I mean, I've been here for three years now and I think what we've achieved is pretty good. It took Ross Brawn five years with Michael Schumacher to win a Championship at Ferrari, so I think it's asking quite a lot to do it in two or three years here. And, as I say, there are elements of the package that aren't where they need to be - they're getting there, but it does take time."
Many eyebrows were raised when Renault signed up for the new Friday morning testing scheme, put forward by FIA president Max Mosley at the end of last year presumably as a bone thrown out to help the smaller teams that couldn't fund a full testing team. Nevertheless, Gascoyne could see the advantages for his team and persuaded team principal Flavio Briatore to sign up for it.
"I think one of the reasons why we looked extra competitive at the start of the year is that the private [Friday testing] sessions are beneficial for a race weekend," he states. "Of course at the start of the year you've done as much testing as everyone else, and you've got the extra advantage of the Friday testing. I think it made us be much, much more efficient in the testing we do, so in that respect it's actually been beneficial to the team.
"The concern - and I expressed it at the start of the year - is always around now, when people are doing a lot of running, a lot of testing. The only area it's really hurting us in is tyre development. There's a lot of people doing a lot of miles with tyres, and now there's a lot of different specs of tyres. We certainly haven't been able to match that pace, which can have a big effect on a race weekend if someone's on a new construction that we didn't have time to test and didn't select, and if that tyre does work then that can be half a second and there's not much you can do about that. So in terms of development on the car I don't think the lack of testing has hurt us at all; I think it's really only in the area of tyre testing that I have concern."
Trulli Vs. Alonso
The added bonus for Gascoyne this year has been the performances of Fernando Alonso, who has come from almost nowhere to become a star overnight. His accomplishments have been so impressive that Briatore has stated the team will be built around the young Spaniard, although Gascoyne denies that he is getting any mechanical advantages over his teammate. "I think probably that's been a little misinterpreted," he says. "You build it around both drivers, and these two guys get on very well together. I mean, Fernando is obviously a very exceptional talent, but I think you shouldn't underestimate Jarno.
"Jarno is one of the quickest guys over one lap - he has had races where he struggled for consistency, but he was quicker than Fernando at the Nurburgring, and I think he'll be quicker here (in Magny Cours). I think Jarno did a fantastic job here yesterday (in the French GP's Saturday qualifying) - he had a problem in warm up, and yet he still went and outqualified Fernando, and that was a great job. But I think the fact they get on so well together is very important, and it's allowing Fernando to develop his career without the pressure of having someone trying to beat him, screw him - I don't think the effect of that should be underestimated.
"People tend to think teammates getting at each other is good for competition. But I think these two have that spur of competition, because they each know the other one is fucking quick, so you don't need much more of a spur than that. But they do it in a very light-hearted, sociable way, and they actively help each other, you know; if one of them has a problem then the other one will sit down and say 'yeah, I had that - I tried this, I tried that, and I found this works'. So they are very good at helping each other, and I think that is to the benefit of the team and a credit to both of them."
Jarno Trulli is an enigma in Formula One - he breezed into the sport seemingly effortlessly and with a reputation of being astonishingly quick, and yet this potential hasn't manifested itself in race results. It's a mystery that Gascoyne himself still can't quite grasp. "I think Jarno does have races where he goes to sleep a little bit," he admits, "but in terms of outright speed this year, Jarno's actually been quicker than Fernando.
"There are a lot of good guys out there, and then there are two or three that have just that extra little bit, and Jarno on a qualifying lap is one of the two or three who has that extra little bit. He needs to be on it all the time in races, and he's frustrated by that, and you see races where he does do it - the end of last year, in Monza, where he had a fantastic drive from the back of the grid, for instance - and at that point he is one of those special drivers.
"On the down side, I think when he has a problem, it maybe would cost him one or two tenths [per lap] in a race. Fernando will race that car two tenths slower, whereas at times Jarno makes that two tenths into a second - he magnifies small problems - but they are real problems, and that's what causes inconsistencies. But when it's right, ultimately I think he's actually quicker than Fernando."
Gascoyne continues: "I think Fernando's one of the drivers who just gets in and does it, and just does every lap as quickly as it can go - he doesn't think about it, doesn't worry about it, and he gets out and shrugs his shoulders and says 'that was easy'. Jarno thinks about it more, and sometimes probably just needs to stop worrying about it and just drive the shit out of it. But they are both incredibly fast."
The Next Challenge
Having two quick drivers in a nimble car of his design, means that Gascoyne is enjoying life right now. But given his career path you could wonder if he is planning another move, another challenge, and the rumour mill is currently grinding out a story linking him to a move to Toyota, a team that came into the sport last year with a lot of money to spend and no real results to speak of to date.
"Well I'm not going to comment on those rumours," Gascoyne states, before adding: "the only thing I would say - and it's something I said to Eddie [Jordan] when I was there - when I do the job, I do it at 100%. I'm here at Renault and trying 100% to win at Renault, and I'll do that until the day that I'm not at Renault, and then I'll try 100% to beat them the day after! That's the way of the world, but I've got no comment to make specifically."
The design process at Renault is such that they have two design teams working concurrently - one on the present car and one on next year's car. The latter design is clearly well underway, and Gascoyne knows what the next step for the team is and what he wants from the car. "To win some races," he exclaims.
"Next year's going to be interesting, with the one-engine-per-weekend thing, and we've obviously made some changes in the direction we've gone on the engine, the prime reason being that. We've made a lot of progress, and the next step on the ladder is to win some motor races, and a Championship.
"When I went to McLaren it was great to be an aerodynamicist in Formula One. When I went to Tyrrell it was great just to design a car - a lot of people don't get that chance. When I went to Jordan I could design a car that wins races, and it was great and we did. The next step is to design a car that wins a Championship. So that's got to be the next step."
This is the burning desire for Gascoyne, and why a move to Toyota is unlikely - he won't want to go through the build up process again when he's already in a team that is near the front of the grid, at least not until he achieved the higher cause.
"I've always been very competitive, and if you're a competitive person you want to win," he states quietly. "And for me that's the Constructors' Championship - that's the thing I can win. The driver wins the Drivers' Championship, but I want my team to win the Constructors' Championship, and that's still very much the ambition."
However, if he does bring home a Championship, don't expect him to hang around in the paddock for too long. Formula One is an exhausting business, and Gascoyne is well aware of the toll it can extract. "I've learnt a lot from Harvey Postleswaithe, and dying from a heart attack in the pitlane at the age of 55 is probably a good lesson to learn from him as well," he says dryly. "Motor racing isn't the Be All and End All in my life - my family is very important. I've worked very hard and been very committed, but I don't see myself in 15 or 20 years' time in the pitlane at all.
"I think anything I do, I do it 100%. So while I'm doing motor racing I'll do it 100%, but when I stop, I'll stop 100% as well and go and do something else. The thing is, it pays well and it keeps you busy, so if you're going to stop you've got to have something else to do. But I don't see all my working life in motor racing."
He never actually finished his thesis at university, and as such didn't get his doctorate, which could help him fill the time after Formula One. Not that he minds so much. "Titles aren't something that turn me on very much," he notes, before drifting off into an anecdote. "Interestingly, I went back to Cambridge a few years ago and met my old tutors and sort of apologised for not writing it up. The funny thing was they were kind of courting me as a successful student, someone who is high up in engineering, so they were treating me royally, and I was like the naughty schoolboy who hadn't finished his thesis! I said this to the head of department and he looked at me and said 'when did you leave?' I told him about ten years ago and he said 'well, there's plenty of time then!'
"Doing the PhD was great, because I played a lot of sport and did a lot of mountaineering and had a great time, but also because it did get me the next rung on the ladder. I wouldn't have got the job at McLaren without the PhD in fluid mechanics, so in effect the qualification got me the position, and once you had the position at McLaren you didn't need [the thesis], and I don't need to call myself doctor to be able to run a racing team. So, no... I mean, it's probably the only thing in my life that I didn't actually finish and achieve, so I suppose that is always a frustration, but I've been too busy since then to worry about it."
But then a cheeky smirk creases his face, and he continues: "Still, if I keep in this business long enough maybe they'll give me an honourary one or something. After all, Eddie Jordan got one..."