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Q&A with Renault's Pat Symonds 13 Mar 2007

Pat Symonds (GBR) Renault Executive Director of Engineering.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Preparations, Interlagos, Brazil, 19 October 2006

With just days to go until the opening race of 2007, Pat Symonds, Renault’s Executive Director of Engineering discusses with the team’s press office, his opinions and predictions for the coming season…

Q: The Renault team has won in Melbourne for the past two seasons. What position is the team in as you approach the opening round of the 2007 championship?
Pat Symonds:
I think we are being realistic about our performance at the moment. We know we are not in the same position as we were twelve months ago. But we were encouraged by the results of our final pre-season test in Bahrain. There are still areas to work on in order to improve the car, and we know what we have to do. We expect 2007 to be a tough battle - but we are ready for the fight.

Q: How is the mood in the team as you approach the first race?
PS:
Pretty upbeat. Of course, there is some frustration that we are not out front and leading the field, but it is no more than that. We are pleased with the progress since the R27 ran for the first time in January, and feel that things have moved on quite a lot for us - even though we still have some way to go. So I suppose it's a slightly mixed mood. But most of all, we are looking forward to getting to the track, and going racing again.

Q: The team's race drivers, Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen, have completed over 10,000 kilometres between them during pre-season testing. How would you assess their performance?
PS:
Naturally, I think there is probably some disappointment that we are not right on the pace at the moment, but they have been encouraged by the gains we made recently. Giancarlo has been doing just what we asked of him this winter: he has stepped up to the mark, and is giving that little bit extra following Fernando Alonso's departure, exactly as we had hoped. As for Heikki, I think he is very focused on making a good start to his F1 career. He is confident ahead of his F1 debut, and has done a very good job this winter. The new race weekend format, with extra running time on Friday, will be an advantage for him as he learns the circuits. We are all looking forward to seeing him perform in a Grand Prix for the first time.

Q: Renault is just one of the top teams going into 2007 with a rookie driver in its line-up. Are you pleased to see new faces in the sport?
PS:
Absolutely! I think it is really good to see young guys getting their chance in the top teams. None of them - Heikki, Hamilton or Kubica - are there by chance, they have really earned their drives with their performances in testing, or in other championships. Their freshness and hunger to get on with the job are great to see, and I really do think it is hugely positive for Formula One racing.

Q: The drivers have spent much of winter testing adapting to the new Bridgestone Potenza tyres. How big a change has that been?
PS:
It is a big difference compared to last season. The tyres have been designed to offer less grip than in 2006, for safety reasons. And that has been something the drivers have had to adapt their style to suit. What's more, for those drivers making the transition to Bridgestone tyres, there are some quite different handling characteristics to master as well. It is maybe a little easy to dismiss a change like this, but the drivers have had to learn some significantly new skills this winter.

Q: Looking at the Albert Park track, how do you expect the R27 to suit it?
PS:
I think the car should go reasonably well there. Melbourne needs a car that has a good change of direction, and that is good on the brakes. The track can be a bit bumpy, and the temperatures are very variable at this time of year. But we have seen our cars perform well here in recent years, and I don't think it will be too bad for us.

Q: Formula One racing enters an era of minimal tyre and engine development in 2007. What impact do you expect these factors to have, if any?
PS:
I think everybody expects to see much closer competition between the teams, and that will mean that any mistake is more costly. Our preparations have been extremely thorough, and we have completed more testing miles than any other team. In the last two years, we learned the lesson that while each of opening races offers the same number of points as any other, performing successfully is a big psychological boost for the team. That will still be true in 2007. And of course, while engine and tyre development will be limited, there are still plenty of gains to be made on the chassis and aero side. Once again, 2007 will be all about making the most of what you have got at every race - and developing faster than your rivals.

Q: Finally, who would you pick out as favourites for the opening part of the new season?
PS:
During the final tests in Bahrain, we began to see clearly that Ferrari are ahead of the pack. After them, McLaren are possibly the second team in the pecking order. And along with BMW, Renault is probably in an equal third position. In reliability terms, both Renault and McLaren seem to have enjoyed very good reliability through the winter. But as we always say, testing is only testing. The acid test comes in Melbourne, when we see how it all translates to the race weekend…