Interview with Renaults Pat Symonds 18 Mar 2008
While Renault may not have shone during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, the French team left Melbourne relatively happy with their haul of five world championship points, courtesy of Fernando Alonso, who finished in fourth.
Executive Director of Engineering Pat Symonds, however, believes there is a great deal more work left to do. Here Symonds reflects on the race at Albert Park and looks ahead to this weekends Malaysian event...
Q: Pat, the team had a mixed weekend in Melbourne with a disappointing performance in qualifying and points in the race. What is the feeling in the team as we approach the Malaysian Grand Prix?
Pat Symonds: It's always nice to get the first one under your belt and to see how things stand. So often after the first race in Melbourne we are still asking ourselves questions, and I think that's the case again this year. There have been teams that have not been able to show their full potential, such as Ferrari, and we also had a slightly frustrating weekend but a good result at the end of it. Luck comes and goes and Fernando was quite unlucky with the safety car, but obviously towards the end of the race we picked up some luck. I think fourth place is a result that the whole team is quite happy with, but we're looking forward to getting onto a more classic type of circuit in Malaysia next weekend.
Q: Nelson (Piquet Jr) endured a difficult debut. Do you expect his situation to improve in Malaysia?
PS: I'm sure it will. Melbourne is a very difficult track for the drivers and it's not a great place to start your career because it is such a tough race, just as we saw with Heikki last year. Nelson had a difficult job to do and I'm sorry that the team let him down because we wanted to give him maximum mileage on Friday and Saturday which we did not do, and then the car failed in the race. We are all very sorry about that, but we don't look back, we look forward, and we go to Malaysia where Nelson did a day of testing last year, so he knows the track. It's a question of starting again, regrouping and seeing how it goes.
Q: We saw a chaotic race in Melbourne with lots of retirements. Why do you think this was the case and was it a result of the new electronic regulations?
PS: I think it was a result of various factors. Melbourne does tend to generate a lot of incidents and accidents, partly because it is a difficult, slippery track with bumpy braking areas. I also think the fact that it was the first day of term played its part as this was the first time the drivers were really pushing to the limit. It's interesting to think about what the new electronics have done because we said it would not really make a great deal of difference, although it may produce a few more mistakes. I think that is certainly what we have seen, but certainly the new electronics have not aided overtaking, and I think the difficulty of underbraking without having the sophisticated engine braking systems has perhaps made it a little bit more difficult to overtake, which is a shame.
Q: So, is it still too early to gauge Renault's position relative to the competition?
PS: Absolutely, I don't think we can do that at the moment as we haven't had a clean race. We've had a race that has been interrupted by safety car periods and with people having abnormal problems. I never like to make predictions based on a sample of one and I think that it is the wrong thing to do. We usually find that after three races you start to get a picture of where you stand. I think that after Malaysia we will know a great deal more and after Bahrain we will have an even clearer picture
Q: Sepang is a circuit where Renault has enjoyed great success in the past. Can you tell us about the challenges of the circuit?
PS: It's an interesting technical challenge with fast sweeping turns, especially through Turns 4 to 8, where you need good balance. Good traction is also important, especially on the exit of Turn 9, a tight left hander. The opening complex of Turns 1 and 2 is also a difficult challenge for the drivers, but I think my favourite part of the track is Turn 14 - a real drivers' corner with a tightening entry where you approach on the brakes. We will also have the high temperatures, which we have already seen in Melbourne, but Sepang will be much harder on the tyres, so we will be using the hardest tyres available. Our soft tyre in Sepang will be the hard tyre we used in Melbourne. It's a fairly old track surface now so it tends to put a lot of energy through the tyres, so we will need to pay attention to rear degradation.