Features - Interview

AUGUST 1, 1992

Bernard Dudot


Nigel Mansell is World Champion and a considerable part of his success has been due to the Renault V10 engine. Nigel has been trying to win the F1 World Championship since 1980, but Renault Sport's engine wizard Bernard Dudot has had to wait three years more than Nigel...

Nigel Mansell is World Champion and a considerable part of his success has been due to the Renault V10 engine. Nigel has been trying to win the F1 World Championship since 1980, but Renault Sport's engine wizard Bernard Dudot has had to wait three years more than Nigel...

In April 1975, when Renault decided to go F1 racing and established Renault Sport at Viry-Chatillon, Bernard Dudot was appointed head of the F1 engine programme under technical director Francois Castaing. Renault's aim was to win the World Championship. Seventeen years later that has finally been achieved. Dudot, who took over as technical director at Renault Sport in 1980, has made the dream come true.

Dudot has been through a lot with Renault Sport. In the early 1980s when Renault ran its own F1 team the company never quite managed to win a title, despite scoring 20 wins between the factory and customer teams.

Since returning to F1 in 1989, as an engine supplier to Williams, Renault did not get as much success as might have been expected.

Dudot has a haunted look, as though he has lived through just about everything life can throw at you. He has the eyes of a lost and hungry dog, but there lurks a little twinkle of mischief. He speaks English with an accent which would have won him film parts in Hollywood in the 1930s.

His passion is engines and, on his occasional weekend off, he can be found at French provincial race tracks, his sleeves rolled up and hands greasy, working on his son Ludovic's Formule Renault engine.

When Nigel Mansell crossed the finishing line in Hungary, there was explosion of joy and tears in the Renault pit. That happiness was shared by most of the paddock for Dudot is a much respected and well-liked individual. He has a slow easy charm and none of the preening pomposity of some in Grand Prix racing.

"This is a great day for Renault," said Dudot. "We have been waiting for this title for years and now we can't really believe it has happened. We'll go back to the factory and really savour this historic moment..."

And then he pauses.

"...but the season hasn't finished. We still have another five GPs and our next aim is to win the Constructors' Championship."

That is pure Dudot. To lose the Constructors' Championship would take earthquakes in Viry-Chatillon and Didcot. There is only the slimmest mathematical chance that it could go to McLaren-Honda, but according to Dudot until the title is won, it is not won. Experience has taught him that.

"Last year we lost the championship because of the beginning of the year. You remember we started the season I believe with a very competitive car and engine, but it was not very reliable. We lost a lot of races early in the year and that is why we didn't win the title. At the end of the year I also believe that McLaren-Honda overtook us again. But we finished the season with the belief that we had come very close to winning. The experience of 1991 was that it is absolutely necessary to start a season with good reliability.

"We took big risk this year to go with active suspension. That was decided after some tests during the winter. It was not an easy decision but we made this choice soon enough to be able to work a lot to be sure that at the beginning of the season we were absolutely ready, reliable and efficient.

"It was important for us to start with the RS3C engine. It is a good engine and very reliable. We had a good knowledge of the engine and, as the season went on, we decided it was better to stick with the same engine, although we were ready to use the RS4 around the time of the French GP. We decided not to do it.

"At Renault Sport we have one team to build the engines for the races and a second which develops the engines. These are constantly being updated. I cannot say that we have a new specification at every Grand Prix but really for every second GP we have changes: a camshaft, a piston. I cannot give you a figure about how much horsepower improvement these bring, but last season with the RS3, we were able to gain about 400-500 revs. The power is directly related to the speed of the engine.

"It is very difficult to know where you are in relation to other engine builders because you have to compare the two cars as well as the engines. Often the performance is dictated according to the track. Sometimes we are ahead of Honda, sometimes we are very close. In general this year we believe we are at the same level and at some tracks we are in front. But it is not a big gap."

The F1 paddock in Hungary was in great excitement over fuel. What is the effect on the change to pump fuel?NP

"We lose some percentage of the power, but I believe that everybody loses something. I cannot say we lose more than others."

It is not true, however, that the modern engines are designed around the fuel.

"We work with Elf," explains Dudot, "but we modify the engines and then ask Elf to adjust the fuel according to the new engine specification. It is never the other way around. It is absolutely impossible to design an engine around a fuel. Impossible. I know that some engineers say you can do it, but I know you cannot.

"This type of engine you have normally four criteria: the speed of the engine, the volumetric efficiency, the friction and the combustion. You can use your money as you want to. We have a budget and our job is to use this money as well as we can.

"The problem when you increase the performance of the engine there is a technical limit and if you want to go past this you must change the technology. Theoretically, best thing to do in F1 is to have a V8. It is a smaller, more efficient, engine, but we have reached the technical limit and so need new technology. I am talking about materials mainly - metallic composites and so on. We are continuing with the V10 because we have not yet reached the technical limit.

"We started with a completely clean sheet of paper and it was the same for everyone after turbos were banned. On the engines now we are working mainly on mechanical whereas with turbos the main problem was combustion and temperature. It is completely different, but for an engineer it is an interesting difference."

Renault's title is the first for a European manufacturer since the days of the TAG Porsche and, according to Dudot, evidence that the Japanese onslaught in motor racing can be beaten.

"I believe it is a demonstration that Europe can compete with the Japanese. In Europe the technology necessary to create a winning team. We don't work in the same way as the Japanese. We cannot work like them because we have a different mentality and we have never tried to do that because it is completely different.

"But F1 is not only a technology problem, it is also a human problem. We cannot do anything without good people.'NP

It is amusing, of course, that Williams and Renault should have combined for the two were bitter rivals in the early 1980s. At this Bernard smiles.

"Yes," he says, "sometimes it is funny. But that was 10 years ago and in F1 it is not really a problem. We worked with lots of teams and we are very happy with Williams."

And what about the new World Champion Nigel Mansell. What is it like working with him?

"He is a fantastic driver. I am very impressed by his ability to go very, very quickly. You can give Nigel a car in any state and immediately he is able to produce a time. It is a form of reference, you know that this car is able to do that time - not more.

"Afterwards," he adds, "it is another problem. I believe he is a sensitive driver, but not very analytical. He's not very interested in that. If you can improve the car then it is OK, but if you cannot you stay where you are."

It must be quite frustrating from an engineer?

"Sometimes," says Bernard, "but when you have experience with a lot of drivers, each driver has his capacity to work with engineers. Every time it is different. It is very different to work with Nigel or Alain Prost, but also different to work with Alain or Ayrton Senna. They are all very aggressive, but not in the same way."

Which style does Dudot prefer? It is a loaded question, of course, and there is a long, long pause.

"To win you need the most aggressive driver possible," he smiles meekly, knowing he is not giving the answer. "You cannot win with a driver who is not aggressive. The way to win is to have pressure from the drivers. Sometimes a driver will be very analytical and give you pressure to change things, sometimes they will just make pressure by complaining. Sometimes you get the same result, but I prefer the analytical approach - like Senna has. When Ayrton is putting pressure on you life can be very difficult. There are questions, questions, questions. If you don't have an answer, it is: "OK, I'll wait for it, You have tonight to think about it". I remember some years ago when he were both with Lotus Ayrton created incredible. Gerard Ducarouge was really on the limit.

Each driver has his own personality and his way of working, but the main thing is to win.