But Renault chief confident of pushing Ferrari all the way
Sundays Chinese Grand Prix brought mixed fortunes for Renault. Fernando Alonsos second place and Giancarlo Fisichellas third meant the team regained the lead in the constructors championship. However, they also threw away an almost certain victory after a poor tyre call and pit-stop problems for Alonso. Nevertheless, Director of Engineering Pat Symonds came away optimistic of a fightback in Japan
Q: Pat, how was the mood in the team last night?
PS: We were massively frustrated because we let ourselves down. This was clearly a race we should have won. But that is now past, and we need to look ahead to Suzuka. The great thing is that the race demonstrated that whatever the conditions, the car is right back on the pace.
Q: Indeed, the team had arrived in China with some question marks over its ultimate performance. Do you feel those questions have been answered?
PS: I certainly feel that our raw performance has stepped up. We said before the weekend that the headline results of the past weeks had not shown the real pace of the car. We were quietly confident that it was the case, and I am pleased that the race justified that. Points wise it was not a good day, but pace wise we can be encouraged with what we saw.
Q: The crucial call came at Fernando's first stop, when you decided to change both front tyres. How did you make that decision?
PS: As always with these things, it was a team decision. Fernando radioed in to say that the front left tyre was very badly worn. He makes good judgement calls, and we are very confident in the information he gives us. On the pit-wall, we knew that changing to new tyres would carry a performance penalty as he went through a phase of graining and the tyres scrubbed in, but we did not expect it to be anything like as bad as it proved. We simply got it wrong.
Q: In that second stint, Giancarlo was flying though
PS: Yes, absolutely. He had suffered from graining and understeer in the opening stint, but did not have any concerns over tyre wear - and we left them on. We adjusted the handling balance and immediately, he was very comfortable in the car. He had to tread carefully when it came to overtaking Fernando given the potential for a mistake on a drying track, but after that he stretched his advantage over Michael again.
Q: Ultimately, though, Giancarlo lost the lead to Schumacher in Turn 1 as he came out of his second stop. Did that cost the race?
PS: Not in our opinion. It was a tough call about when to come in for dry tyres, and it was a toss up as to whether you could gain from staying out on track - or coming in and having temperature in the tyres when the other car did. The Michelins needed at least a lap to warm up, and there was no criticism of what happened in Turn 1 when he went wide. Again it is a case of being fatalistic, because had Michael not overtaken at that point, he had enough tyre temperature to do it later round the same lap.
Q: In the final stint, Fernando was much faster
PS: Fernando was really flying once he put dry tyres on. We turned Fisi's engine down, and he had a comfortable gap to Heidfeld so there was no need to push. He drove intelligently to look after the engine and give himself something extra for Suzuka next weekend. Giancarlo's result moved him up to third in the drivers' championship, and helped the team regain the lead in the constructors'. He did exactly what he needed to this weekend.
Q: It is often said that after a tough result, the back-to-back races give you a chance to respond immediately. That must be an opportunity you are looking forward to?
PS: Absolutely. The car will be fabulous around Suzuka. It was very quick at Silverstone, both in the race there and during testing two weeks ago. A car that is quick in Silverstone is quick in Suzuka. We are very much looking forward to the next race.
Q: What will be the keys to re-establishing a points advantage over Schumacher?
PS: It was a good win for Schumacher yesterday, and one that shows Ferrari are at the top of their game. But we showed enough to be confident that we have the pace to fight on equal terms. Now the team needs to demonstrate the resilience to do just that.