Q&A with Bob Bell

Renault Sport One Formula One Team F1 CTO

Bob has worked in a technical or managerial role that has helped secure nine Constructors’ Championships and 10 Drivers’ Championships.
He graduated from Queens University Belfast with an Honours Degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1979, completing a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering in 1982 with a Thesis entitled “A Theoretical and Experimental Study of the Tip Flow Generated by a Wing in Sideslip”.
From 1982 – 1988 Bob worked with McLaren International, with positions including Head of Aerodynamics, Head of Research and Development and Project Director Unlimited Land Speed Record Attempt. 
His first spell at Enstone was 1998 – 99 as Benetton Formula Senior Aerodynamicist, before moving to Jordan Grand Prix for 1999 – 2001 as Head of Vehicle Technology. 
In 2001 Bob returned to Enstone as Deputy Technical Director then Technical Director (2003 – 2009), He stepped up to be Acting Team Principal (2009) and Managing Director (2010) before joining Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd as Technical Director from 2011 to 2014. 

What does your new role as Chief Technical Officer entail? 

I will oversee the technical functioning between the two sites of Viry and Enstone. The primary purpose is to ensure a consistent strategic approach and that we make the optimum use of the joint resources at our disposal. I will work closely with each site’s technical head, Nick Chester and Rémi Taffin. This means 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. In terms of direct reports, my interaction with the two technical directors will not necessarily be on a day to day basis, but keeping a strategic view on how everything is progressing and ensuring that the correct level of communication is happening so we’re all agreed on how we’re going forward and focused on our priorities.

What is your opinion of what you’ve seen so far?

There is tremendous potential to be tapped on both sides of the equation. To characterise the current situation in both organisations, 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. 

What’s the target?

Merging the two operations 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. This integration is not just measured in track performance, it’s measured by how you optimise the resources available. It’s not an exercise in winning at all costs; it’s an exercise in winning in a controlled manner. With two locations we can look for economies of scale to ensure we’re getting the maximum and find operational efficiencies. We need to be much more integrated and less disparate than before.  

How exciting is this project? 

This is a tremendously exciting project. I’ve always had a massive respect for what the engine manufacturers do in Formula 1 and it’s an incredibly difficult challenge for any manufacturer no matter how good the final product is relative to the other engines. To have the opportunity to have influence over both the chassis side and engine side is an honour and a very challenging responsibility that I am really looking forward to. For everyone involved it’s a hugely exciting period to be involved with a new works team that’s manufacturer backed and to see it go from what is a low baseline to bring it a level of success and to do this in a sustainable manner is a wonderful journey to be embarking upon. It’s something we are all aiming to be proud of. It’s a different prospect to buying a team or engine partner that is currently achieving success; any success here will be from everyone’s hard work so it’s going to be very rewarding. 

© Renault Sport F1