Life still tough at the top, insists engineering chief
After winning the opening four races of 2005, Renault saw their dominance ended by McLaren in Spain and Monaco. However, victory at the Nurburgring consolidated their lead in the standings. Director of Engineering Pat Symonds spoke to the team about their current position ahead of this weekends Canadian Grand Prix.
Q: The team leads the constructors' championship by 23 points after seven races - does that mean the pressure is on?
PS: I think in Formula One, the pressure is on everybody, all the way through - until your position in the championship is fixed. Certainly, though, the way you approach that pressure changes: last year, we were secure in our third position, and knew therefore that in order to try and catch BAR, we had to be adventurous in every area. This year, we are just over one third of the way through the season, and we have a reasonable lead in the championship but it is far from unassailable. There is perhaps a little more conservatism in some of our choices, because we cannot afford to make mistakes, but we equally do not have the luxury of thinking too conservatively because just a single non-finish, with our rivals scoring well, will turn things around - as McLaren saw at the last race. In a season as long as this, with the number of races we have coming up in the next two months, everything can turn around in the space of a fortnight. Even after Canada and the USA, we will not quite have reached the halfway point of the season - and that means we need to continue pushing throughout the summer to protect, and extend, our lead.
Q: The Nurburgring was a true bounce-back' result - was that a source of satisfaction?
PS: Yes, the result in Germany was particularly satisfying. Any strong finish brings a measure of satisfaction, but the feeling is greater when you bounce back from a poor result, because it reveals the true character of the team. When things go wrong, it is very easy to make knee-jerk reactions. We analysed carefully what had happened in Monaco, we were honest with ourselves, and staged a strong comeback. That is pleasing to see.
Q: When it comes to bouncing back, Giancarlo Fisichella has had his fair share of problems to overcome in the first seven races
PS: That is true, and it is a preoccupation for us. However, I don't think it is correct to view this as a trend - it has been a sequence of isolated incidents and from our point of view, they are reliability problems that we need to solve, because they could as easily have affected both cars and left us in a weaker championship position. But looking at the races Giancarlo has driven, I think they have been some of the best of the year - the drives in Spain and at the Nurburgring were fantastic, and full of character. In Germany, he undoubtedly had a good strategy, but that does not allow you to gain positions on its own - you have to make the strategy work. Giancarlo did that to remarkable effect.
Q: Looking at the rest of the season, tyre management has had a lot of attention in recent weeks. Will that be the key for fighting to the championship?
PS: Tyre management will be important, as we have said it would be since last winter, but reliability will be the crucial factor. Last year, we lost a huge amount of momentum with non-finishes in Canada and a single-car finish in Indy, when we should have been very strong. That was critical to our season, and the same will apply this year. When you have a low-scoring race through reliability problems, and your opponents score highly, that is when you are really punished.
Q: Finally, what will be the team's approach to Canada?
PS: We are going there to win. I think this team knows how to make a car work in Montreal - historically, we have been very successful at this circuit. Aerodynamic efficiency is very important - minimising drag while getting the right level of downforce. Equally the circuit demands good traction, which we have, while we understood a number of important lessons about managing traction demands after Monaco. Both our drivers like the circuit, so the mood is very optimistic.