Following an opening test in which it lapped markedly off the pace of the leading 2009 contenders, Renault's new R29 could be struggling somewhat on the aerodynamics front, it has been surmised.

During the first real group test of the year at Portimao in Portugal last week, double Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso wound up more than two seconds shy of the Williams of Nico Rosberg, and the Spaniard is said to be unhappy with the car's potential. Moreover, grandprix.com reports that the French concern has since headed to the 6,500ft runway at Kemble airfield near Cirencester to conduct aerodynamic mapping work with - unusually - no fewer than five team trucks in attendance.

The R?gie's technical director Bob Bell, however, insists he is 'proud' of all the work accomplished at both Enstone and Viry over the winter - and he stated that, despite the drastic regulation changes sweeping the top flight ahead of the 2009 campaign, the challenge was not massively greater than has been the case in recent years.

"It wasn't fundamentally different from the way we do any car," he underlined. "We started working on the R29 earlier than we normally would have - we began the first wind tunnel tests back in February. It was a question of gradually building up the resources on that project without compromising what we wanted to do on the R28, which we developed quite late into the season.

"The only way we were able to do that was to ask more of our people and our facilities, and just work a little bit harder because the R29 has been a very demanding programme. First of all, we took the 2008 car and just did no more than to legalise it to the 2009 regs without any obvious development; that was the starting point.

"Then it becomes pretty obvious, when you start working on that programme, that the key areas for development and performance are the front wing and its interaction with the nose and then the diffuser. That falls into a front and rear emphasis on the design of the car. We've driven the aero department towards looking at those two important parameters - almost separately - but constantly checking what the interaction between the two is. These are two very important areas for the 2009 car.

"We've had to push the design of the car and incorporate new technology that we haven't had before - the KERS system, the adjustable front flaps [and] a completely new approach to the aerodynamics. Then there were the side-effects, especially of KERS because it uses up so much weight and eats up all your moveable ballast. We've really had to push taking weight out of the car. It's been a much more difficult and more intensive development programme and required a lot more effort than any car we've done recently.

"Also, the 09 regulations very much hamper what you can do to provide the cooling level required at all ambient temperatures for the car. Thus, we've had to be quite clever and have worked to make sure we can always find a cooling solution in any ambient condition. These are just examples of where we've put
a lot of our effort, and they're obvious things that I'm sure all the teams will be doing.

"The important thing with any new set of regulations, where it's all new territory for you, is not to overlook anything. You do need to work on every part of the car and be sure that you understand what the sensitivity change is, as it may be quite different from what it used to be.

"Everyone has achieved a huge amount. It's been a very difficult year for the team in terms of the amount of effort everybody's had to put in to get the results we needed in 2008, and then to deliver a competitive 2009 car. Really, it's only been accomplished through the hard work and diligence of the people in the team at all levels, and it really is a tribute to everybody that we have bounced back in the way we have.

"I can't speak highly enough of the effort put in by technicians, designers and the manufacturing people. Everybody has contributed massively to the performance enhancement of the R28 and the development of the R29, and it's something we're all very proud of."

Be that as it may, that will count for little should the new machine not prove to be up to the task when all 18 (or 20) cars hit the track in anger together for the first time in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in just under two months' time.

What's more, any team that does arrive Down Under to find it is not as quick or competitive as it had hoped to be in relation to its rivals is likely to find it extremely difficult to play catch-up given the new-for-2009 ban on in-season testing. Bell admits that the pre-season build-up will be nail-biting indeed.

"You do design these cars in isolation," the Ulsterman explained. "With these new regulations, it's a lot more difficult to know what the others are going to do because it's such new territory for us. I'm sure people's solutions to the new regulations will initially be quite different, and then they'll start to converge quite rapidly as the season advances.

"Initially, though, people's solutions and the relative performance between them will be more diverse than normal. It makes it very hard to judge where you stand. We believe we've set ourselves sensible targets. I think that all the top teams will be shooting for the same sort of ballpark performance, but where that shakes out in terms of the ranking of the teams, I'm not certain.

"We've got some interesting suspension developments coming through as well as some interesting developments in the braking system. Obviously, I can't go into detail on that; they're not appearing on the car yet. I'm quite proud of the fact that the team is still finding areas where we can get a sensible gain and advantage over other teams, particularly in the mechanical domain.

"I think like everything in Formula 1 what's important is good quality workmanship, being very methodical about improving every piece and making everything that little bit better than it's been before. I think we've done a good job in being workmanlike and in improving everything - taking weight out, improving the performances of all the parts - but I also think we've got some interesting solutions to some of the aerodynamic regulations.

"I'm equally proud of the attention to detail on the mechanical design side. We're really pushing performance from the suspension systems and improving mechanical grip. The elegance of some of the mechanical design is very satisfying."

Whilst suggesting the popular return to slick tyres from grooved rubber is 'probably the easiest thing we've had to adapt to' and 'nothing like as difficult as the transition from Michelin to Bridgestone grooved tyres', Bell confessed that the new KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology had conversely proven rather more tricky to develop and install than had been initially anticipated.

"It's been one of the most difficult projects we've had to implement," the 50-year-old acknowledged, "and we're far from being out of the woods with it yet, [with] the effort that's going to need to go into making it reliable, raceworthy and safe [and] the effort that's going on in the background - not just to design the parts, but to fit them on the car, to implement all the safety systems and all the safety procedures for people who use them and operate them.

"Then you have the logistics issues concerning flying batteries round the world, special facilities at
our factory that are there to contain battery fires should that ever happen, modifications to dyno facilities to accept KERS systems for testing, lots of new software on the car and off it - it just goes on and on!

"Every day that passes, something else related to KERS crops up that we need to do, which we haven't thought about before. I think that when we all saw the regulations that were first published for the KERS solution, they were the tip of a very large iceberg, which I don't think many people in the sport really appreciated.

"If everybody has one and they all work, then we're all going to be around two tenths of a second per lap quicker and maybe on some circuits not quicker at all. We're all in the same boat so it doesn't offer any performance advantage. Where it helps is in being able to overtake, though obviously it isn't much of an advantage if two KERS cars are nose-to-tail on the straight because they'll both push the button to overtake at the same time.

"The problem comes if you don't have a KERS system, and somebody comes up behind you with one; then you've got a real problem as you can't afford not to have it. At the same time, if everybody has it, it's not going to make an awful lot of difference unless they break down, and I'm sure there'll be a lot of breakdowns in the early part of the season..."

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