Lewis Hamilton, Bob Bell, Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes, Brackley, 2013

Coup for Renault as Bell returns from Mercedes

2016 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

The return of Bob Bell from Mercedes must rank as the most significant development of Renault’s comeback to Formula One.

The team’s new chief technical officer not only knows Renault inside out, but worked at Mercedes as it was transformed from the win-less squad of 2011 to the dominant champions of 2014.

Bell (pictured centre with Lewis Hamilton and Andrew Shovlin while at Mercedes) played a central role in Renault’s championship successes of the mid-2000s. As technical director he oversaw development of the cars which won back-to-back constructors’ championship titles and took Fernando Alonso to two drivers’ championships.

In the team’s darkest hour, when Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds were shown the door following the ‘Crashgate’ scandal, it was to Bell they turned to steady the ship. But his new role will focus on the technical side.

“I will oversee the technical functioning between the two sites of Viry-Chatillon and Enstone,” explained Bell. Central to his role will be co-ordinating the efforts of chassis chief Nick Chester and engine developer Remi Taffin.

“I will spend around half of my time at each site where I will assist in setting the direction for chassis and engine development to ensure a consistent approach between the two locations.”

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In order to achieve the standard of competitiveness set by Mercedes, Bell believes Renault’s two arms must merge “towards becoming one entity – more than they have ever been before”.

“If you look at the team’s history and also the development of F1 in general, in the V8 and further back in the V10 generation, it was possible to have a more arms-length relationship between the engine and chassis side of a team, whereas now to be successful you need far more integration with the more complex power units and the evolution brought by the intensity of competition.”

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Silverstone, 2006
Bell was behind Renault’s most successful cars
However Bell believes there is “tremendous potential” for the team to tap. “Firstly you have Enstone which is an organisation that has been starved of resources in recent times but structurally is pretty sound.”

“Viry, on the other hand, could be characterised as being resourced well enough to do a credible job however recent history has seen a very difficult situation with the change to the latest power units and this has impacted on how the facility operates.”

“The key for Viry is galvanising the leadership and direction with the new opportunities that a works F1 entry provides. The focus is more structural whereas at Enstone it’s more resource-based. We’re clear on what the issues have been in the past and we’re working on putting them right.”

While Honda has thus far resisted McLaren’s urging to make strategic staff hirings from other teams, Renault has landed a designer who knows how its team operates and knows how the current champions do it. That isn’t necessarily going to present them with a short-cut to success, but it should keep their efforts pointing in the right direction.

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26 comments on “Coup for Renault as Bell returns from Mercedes”

  1. Surprised the article doesn’t mention he left Mercedes over 2 years ago and most recently was consulting for Manor and played a key role in securing their Mercedes engine deal.

    With the technical knowledge he’ll be taking to Renault with any luck their 2017 engine should be a match for the 2014 Mercedes.

    1. @philipgb His spell at Mercedes (mentioned in the second paragraph) is the key period because that’s when the groundwork for their current dominance was laid. This isn’t a case of crudely copying the design of a two-year-old power unit, as Bell points out it’s appreciating the extent of integration needed between the chassis and engine departments to build a competitive car under the new regulations.

    2. And in addition to what Keith said, I do not think that Bob would know a lot about the engine specifically and it is not his job to improve it or even the car actually. His job, if I understand it right, is improving the relation between 2 technical teams and he can bring added knowledge from his spell at Mercedes.

  2. Next they need to get Ross Brawn out of retirement. Poach back James Allison… and re hire Fernando Alonso .. and voila! Championship team ready!

    Wishful and Hypothetical thinking at it’s max!

    1. @todfod And there’s this guy at the top of a certain motoring organisation…….

      1. Fernando Alonso…it’s amazing he hasn’t won a championship for 10 years. Imagine if Djokovic didn’t win a grand slam for 10 years because he didn’t have the right racquet. That’s f1…

        1. Alonso made his own bed over the years. He didn’t have the right racquet, because no one wanted to give it to him. However, give credit for how Alonso took his lumps last season, and now maybe he will appreciate how green the grass was in the places where he burned it. I will definitely root for McLaren this season, with the hopes they can get into Q3 on a consistent basis.

      2. @davidnotcoulthard I think that @todfod is referring to bringing back ex Enstone staff

        1. @jerseyf1 Whoops!…and here I thought Todt was at Enstone in ’94-’95 – silly me…….

          (now, about that egg on my face…)

          1. Yeah….but I think the gentleman concerned has become a comfortable bureaucrat….?
            The idea of him planning a fighting campaign against today’s opposition seems faintly
            ludicrous. But one does wonder if a certain Mr Brawn has grown tired of flooded
            Scottish fishing rivers….? Be marvellous to see him head up a top team again.

  3. Well if anyone knows how to get two teams in two separate factories working if has to be Bell. He did it with Viry/Enstone in the naughties and again with Brackley/Brixworth over the last few years.

  4. Wow, what a coup that is!

  5. They got one thing right though they’ll need years before they can get podiums.

    1. Yep @peartree, and surely to do that they have to get out of providing Red Bull with their engine, so they only have to beat two Ferraris or one Ferrari and one Merc.

      1. @lockup yes, taking in consideration, Renault’s budget, their current drivers and the state of their PU, Renault has no chance of challenging for podiums for the remainder of the current rule scheme, I’m with you, forcing RedBull out should help them, 4 less cars ahead.

        I was seeing things on the perspective of Bells signing, recouping a chief technical officer like Bell sounds ominous… of failure. Why did a top team let him get away? Renault isn’t investing as much as Merc so the only other reason must be Bell is not good enough for Merc. How ca you beat your opponents with no personnel. At this point the Haas project looks better. Don’t get me wrong the Enstone team is good, but Renault needs to invest, they won 05 06 because of an advantage on reliability and tyres, and Alonso, their car was not the outright fastest.

        1. Red Bull = two cars. Torro Rosso is now Ferrari…

          1. @baron 4 cars that are expected to beat Renault. @lockup It may just be that. The 05 Renault was clearly slower than the McLaren, both on Michelin of course, who had an enormous advantage during the no tyre change year. In I would argue that Ferrari didn’t win because Michelin were better and Alonso and Renault’s reliability was better.

        2. I’m hoping @peartree that Merc ditched Bob Bell just because they had too many head cooks – Lowe, Elliott, Costa, Willis. I did read Lotus were shedding staff last year, I guess we just have to wait and see what talent they have left, or coming through the ranks.

          I can’t agree about the 2005/6 car, I remember in 2005 pre-season testing JB saying how fast it was in the corners. That was the Dream Team, though it was quickly poached and we lost Dino Toso sadly of course. It would be great if they can do it again, finding and nurturing talent instead of buying it.

          1. @lockup, the signing of Bob Bell really just disguises the fact that he will have a substantially smaller workforce under him than he did when he was last based in Enstone. Lotus has very few engineers coming through the ranks or experienced staff to hand – with the considerable uncertainty over the team over the past few years, hundreds of personnel were either made redundant or moved to other more stable teams.

            To put things in perspective, Gerard Lopez stated that, by the end of 2014, Lotus’s workforce had already shrunk from 580 to 505 people (80 people left the team in that period, with only 5 choosing to join the team). By the end of September in 2015, Reuters was describing Lotus as employing 400 people, which would be consistent with reports over the summer that over 90 people had already left the team by that point – a fairly precipitous drop over just nine months.

            Even if Renault are prepared to pump in a decent amount of capital, few organisations can recover quickly from losing around a third of its entire workforce in such a short period of time. Bob Bell may help steady the ship and lure some of those figures back to the team, but it is going to take quite a long time for Renault to secure new experienced engineers and to integrate them into an effective team.

          2. Yeah @anon three years is probably realistic. Still, they have a good culture there that I hope has survived. Now Genii are at least mostly out of it I’m gonna update the team support entries in my profile, anyway.

        3. @lockup @peartree, I disagree with you there. It’s in Renaults interest to keep Red Bull as a PU costumer for now. Having another team will help the rate of development on the PU, it’s basically double the data. Also they need a benchmark, and Red Bull is the perfect team for that. If they are 1 second behind Red Bull in Australia, they’ll know it’s the chassis and/or integration of the PU, and not the PU itself, since they use identical PU’s.
          If they match Red Bull, but not Mercedes, then they know the majority of the deficit probably comes from the PU alone, assuming Red Bull still has a top chassis.

          Also PU manufactures have guaranteed to supply any team until 2020. If Renault stops supplying Red Bull, someone else will. Mercedes, Ferrari, even Honda in 2017 could still be a step forward for Red Bull, compared to a Renault PU.

          1. I don’t think they have a mechanism yet for deciding who has to supply the unloved Red Bull team @me4me, but for now I assume it would be Honda if Renault don’t. That has to give Enstone more of a chance at a podium than taking on the RBR chassis head to head.

            They use gps to calculate power delivery, I don’t reckon that’s too much of an issue these days.

            I see where you’re coming from, but I feel pretty sure Renault are only supplying RBR because Bernie made them. If he’s not making them next year, they’ll be out of there. Cos otherwise to be on the podium even in 2018 will need a massive amount of luck.

  6. Proves what you can do with money power – simply buy the talent or blocks of it outright !

  7. Who cares about Bob Bell, I’m just happy Renault keeps Carmen Jorda for 2017.

    1. +10 Now if only we could get Sutil a drive at Manor!

  8. Going to be really interesting to see whether or not Mercedes will be on the lookout for their IP suddenly appearing in a Renault.

    Given that Renaults biggest problem is the lump of metal in the back of the car, I’m sure they’ve done everything they can to get their hands on the one that was in the back of last year’s Lotus for “research” before purchasing Lotus.

    Now they’re bringing in expertise that has had time with Merc. If Renault start making massive gains, watch the finger pointing begin.

    I can’t wait for the first test sessions – so many things to find out

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