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Q&A with Vasseur, Bell, Chester and Taffin


Where do you see the team heading to the first race of the season?
Fred Vasseur: Testing was positive. The car's baseline is consistent, the balance is good and the drivers' feedback is positive and optimistic. So the first impressions are good at this point. It was a big challenge to be in Barcelona considering we took over the team very late but we were ready to go on the first day at 9am. We didn't encounter any major problems and were able to sort out the small issues on reliability in the first test, which meant we came to the second test in a good way to find additional performance. Although we have a lot of work to do, everything is in progress. We have to prioritise where the most gains can be found, but we head to Melbourne in relatively good shape.

You are three months into your new role and have two weeks of testing completed. Where would you say the team is now?
FV: We know very well that we started this project extremely late and that where we need to go is ambitious, but right now we are not under pressure to achieve results. The road map from Carlos Ghosn is very clear: he wants to fight for podiums in our third year of competition. Therefore we have to make the right moves, and not rush to deliver in Melbourne. If you want to stick to the road map and fight for podiums in three years, you have to look at your competitors... look at their resources, personnel and then you need to have the same targets to fight with them consistently. I am very happy with the quality of the staff so far as the team is dedicated and focussed on the job. Now we have to supplement the workforce we have, but we will do it correctly and find the right people.

So far, where do you think you rate on the grid?
FV: It is very difficult to see where we are ahead of the start of the season. We need to focus on our job and try to improve where we can rather than spending time analysing where we are in relative terms. We have to fight the entire grid and everyone has the same target: to go faster than the guys around them. We need to keep our opposition under pressure and never give up. It won't be an easy task as we started very late for this season, but we will see for 2017. Ultimately it doesn't matter where we start, but we need to deliver in line with our targets. We will always aim to finish in the points, but bearing in mind that we only created the team in December, we need to be realistic and not start pointing the finger at anyone.

How are the two drivers working together?
FV: I am pleased with both drivers. They are young but ambitious, which will push us in a good way. They are totally focussed on the job and have helped in direction over the first two tests. Jolyon had a few more reliability issues than Kevin during pre-season testing, but the overall feeling is that they are comfortable. They are fully focussed on extracting everything they can from the season and keeping the team motivated.

How have you settled in to the job?
Bob Bell: It's been a relatively easy transition. I knew a lot of the people and the organisations so it has been quite straightforward. We have a mountain of work ahead of us so I am not under any illusions, but initially it's been highly positive.

Talk us through the next stages of your master plan...
BB: We are in the process of re-resourcing Enstone and part of the road map is to be clear how we build up the resources over a two year timeframe. The head count is around 470 now and needs to be close to 650 in the long term, but it will take us up to 18 months to do it. At Viry it is less about resourcing and more about restructuring to make it mesh with Enstone and fit for purpose in the coming years. In parallel we need to think about the design of the car and consider our priorities. We need to ascertain where we will find most gains for 2017 but also look forward to 2018. It's a reasonably protracted process to get to where we need to get, but we still need to show good progress and move forward in all areas in the meantime.

What kind of personnel are you looking for?
BB: In truth, recruitment is about finding the right mix of people. We need fresh, young inexperienced blood mixed with older hands. It's about getting that balance right and it's very important not to rush it and take people because they are available or because we have a slot. We need to make sure we have the right mix.

The first manifestation of how Enstone and Viry are working together is the car we have seen on track. What conclusions were you able to draw from testing?
BB: The first and most obvious conclusion is that we have a strong and dedicated team who are able to bring a car together in a short space of time! It naturally does not represent the pinnacle of integration we would aspire to but we will get there. First and foremost we know that the team has strength and depth, and we will go even further in the future. We are actually in good shape and were able to do fairly thorough checks as the car we brought to Barcelona is pretty much what we will run in Melbourne. We were pleasantly surprised. Although we are down on aero and power, the car is nicely balanced, consistent and good to develop. We didn't need to chase a lot of time finding the balance so there's a lot confidence we can get up to speed relatively quickly. If we can sneak into the top ten in Melbourne we'll be pleased with that.

What will you change on the car going forward?
BB: We have to balance resources, but we need to improve in every area. That said, it's much easier to do this when you have a well-balanced car as we know that real performance can come from balance and driveability, and we have already made some good steps in this area. Ultimately we need to concentrate our efforts on where we get the most bang for buck.

Were you pleased with the eight days of testing?
Nick Chester: On the whole, yes. Given the time we had due to the late power unit swap, we can be pleased with how testing has gone. We've learnt a lot about how the car responds to different set-ups and completed a great deal of aero work, which is useful to check the correlation to the wind tunnel. We covered a lot of miles so we've been pleased with the reliability. Kevin had a good amount of laps, while Jolyon was a bit more unlucky, but over both drivers we put in a lot of laps. The driver feedback has been good; they have reported it is easy to drive and are generally happy with the car. We now need to give more grip and power to extract its maximum potential.

Did you encounter any surprises over testing?
NC: The nature of testing is such that you will necessarily encounter some issues. Jolyon seemed to have more, unfortunately, for no particular reason. There are some areas we need to work on but others are relatively OK and all the major items are working reasonably well.

What can we expect in Australia?
NC: Overall we have learnt that we have a fairly good baseline car, which is something we can run with and develop over the course of the year. There's an amount of small tidy-ups we want to do post winter testing, as every team would do. Our aim is to go to Melbourne with all problems fixed, then concentrate on suspension and the usual aero development thereafter.

What kind of development programme will you have over the year?
NC: We have a comprehensive development plan over the season: our aero programme is ongoing and we'll be trying to bring bodywork updates to put more downforce on the car. In parallel we also have a suspension programme to bring mechanical updates, with sizeable upgrades scheduled for the first test after the Spanish Grand Prix.

What are the technical objectives for the season?
NC: We will focus on developing the building blocks to help us progress for 2017. We want to improve reliability, develop the integration between the chassis and the power unit, all with the target of having a far more integrated car in the future. A lot of our focus is also about building the team and the infrastructure. 2016 is about getting the car out and learning lessons on track as we build the team rather than having set aspirations for on-track performance.

What have you learnt about the R.S.16-R.E.16 package in winter testing?
Remi Taffin: We learned that we could do a good job in a short time. We had to marry the engine and chassis together very quickly and it generally went very well. We put the power unit in and fired up before the first test, which isn't always a given. On the first two days in Barcelona we had a few issues, but nothing dramatic and we were able to have a good few days afterwards. I have to say that the relationship between the two factories at Enstone and Viry is working well and we need to build on that.

Is the R.E.16 a step forward over its predecessors?
RT: We used the same power unit over two weeks, barring one day when it was easier to swap the entire unit rather than change an individual problematic component. Apart from a few glitches, we had no big warning signs. For every issue encountered, we could find an answer and worked through updates in a few days. We tested the Melbourne PU specification and nearly everything went well. Aside from a few things, we are all on target.

What will be the development programme this year?
RT: We know we need more power and we are targeting something mid-season. We will have a couple of steps from Melbourne onwards before a big package later in the year. If we have the chance to introduce more items by the end of season we will, but the big stage is mid-season. Over testing everything worked well so the rest is about getting the drivers ready for the races and settled into the team.

What kind of results are you expecting this year?
RT: The feeling is good. We knew we had two difficult years but were able to stabilise the situation. The target is to get to 2017 with a good PU and car and eventually challenge for podiums. Not saying that we are counting them out this year; if we can challenge for podiums, we will, but we have to be realistic.


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