Renault determined to end on a high, says Symonds 24 Sep 2007
Although their points have been few and far between in 2007, reigning world champions Renault have remained doggedly determined to recover their title-winning form throughout. Now with the seasons end in sight, Executive Director of Engineering Pat Symonds is focusing on ending the season on a high
Q: Pat, what was your verdict on the weekend in Spa?
Pat Symonds: It was a pretty mixed bag to the honest. In terms of the car's pure competitiveness, I think our situation was much like in Turkey, where Heikki (Kovalainen) in particular showed that the car was capable of leading the midfield pack. But Giancarlo's (Fisichella) chances in Belgium were compromised by an engine change, and I don't think we gave Heikki the best strategy. We had anticipated less severe tyre degradation than we experienced, and it meant that the one-stop strategy didn't work out for him. So we didn't really get a chance to show the car's full potential.
Q: Looking ahead to Fuji, what preparations have you made for this new circuit?
PS: As always, the major part of our work has involved completing detailed computer simulations. We have very good circuit maps, and extremely accurate software, but there are still unknown parameters to cope with: we don't know how the drivers can use the kerbs, for example, and we don't have detailed information about the grip level. This means we have to run many different simulations, with different estimated values, in order to be full prepared for every eventuality. But that basic homework gives us a good feeling for what to expect.
Q: What stands out about Fuji, following that preparation?
PS: It is very clearly a circuit that follows the modern trend, of slow corners and long straights. The 1.5 km long main straight means we have to compromise our ideal downforce level in order to ensure competitive top speeds, and that in turn makes the car trickier for the drivers to handle elsewhere on the circuit. I think that the very slow section at the end of the lap, from Turns 10 to 16, is also likely to be a critical sector of the track in terms of lap time. But we will need to wait until first practice until we can get a complete understanding of the circuit's challenges.
Q: Will that mean more running than normal on Friday?
PS: Yes, probably. We already do a lot of running on Friday because we have unlimited engine mileage and a relatively generous tyre allocation. And of course, there is an even bigger incentive to run at a new track, to allow the drivers to learn their lines - and to have more time to perfect the set-up.
Q: What preparations have the drivers completed?
PS: We will complete our usual circuit walk with the drivers and engineers when we arrive, to get a detailed understanding of the track. And I am sure that many drivers up and down the pit-lane will have been practicing on simulators, varying from a Playstation to the more sophisticated systems some of the teams possess.
Q: Looking at the championship battle, we have seen some big swings from McLaren to Ferrari from race to race recently. What can we expect in Fuji?
PS: I don't think the pattern is quite as obvious as it has been in some recent years, but I think that generally speaking, Ferrari seem to have an advantage on circuits including a lot of quicker corners - and McLaren seem very good in the slow speed stuff. That means we have some interesting races coming up: Brazil has very few high-speed corners, whereas China is much more balanced. As for Fuji, we really don't know at the moment. There is a very slow section at the end of the lap, and only a couple of relatively high-speed corners. But it is almost impossible to predict before running begins.
Q: There has also been much talk about the rivalry between the McLaren team mates.
What are your thoughts on it?
PS: I think it is natural and normal, the way it should be. They are competitive people, and they are both burning to win. I have been immensely impressed with Lewis (Hamilton), but we may have seen a little chink in his armour after Spa. As for Fernando (Alonso), we know how strong he is psychologically. I am looking forward to seeing how their battle unfolds over the final races.
Q: And what about Renault's prospects as you head for the final leg of the season?
PS: The midfield group has clearly closed up over the last few races, which was to be expected, but I am confident that we still have the performance to lead that group. While our championship position is relatively comfortable, we cannot afford any slip-ups, and especially if we have to deal with unpredictable conditions which are a distinct possibility. This has not been our best season, but the drivers and the team deserve great credit for their undiminished commitment. We will be aiming to finish on a high, with three strong, dynamic races.