Symonds: Renault must redouble aero efforts 31 Mar 2008
The combination of Fernando Alonso, Nelson Piquet and the R28 has garnered just six points from the first two races, prompting engineering director Pat Symonds to admit Renault are still playing catch-up after their aerodynamic problems of last season. Speaking to the teams press department, Symonds reviews Renaults - and their rivals - 2008 performance to date, and looks ahead to this weekends Bahrain race
Q: Pat, where do you feel the team stand after the opening couple of races?
Pat Symonds: I don't think we learnt a great deal from the first race and that is not uncommon because Melbourne is always an unusual race, but in Malaysia we had a more straightforward race and so I think we can see the picture starting to emerge. In Australia we thought that McLaren had a big advantage, but when we got to Malaysia we were not quite so sure and Ferrari had the upper hand. That suggests we are likely to see something similar to last year where the performance of teams swings from one circuit to another as the strengths and weaknesses of the cars become apparent. Behind those cars there is a big bunch of teams that are all very closely matched, but I think we have to believe that BMW, Toyota and maybe even Williams are ahead of us and we therefore have a lot of work to do.
Q: What positives do you take from the opening two races?
PS: There are plenty of positives as we have had pretty good reliability in the first couple of races. Nelson didn't finish in Australia, but that was only due to a very trivial electrical problem and, other than that, the cars have run reasonably well. I think that we can take a big positive from Nelson's start to the season as he overcame a very difficult weekend in Australia and bounced back in Malaysia where he was very strong, which is a real credit to him. I think the other positive which we all expected is the sheer effort that Fernando puts in, and particularly the way he grabbed fourth position towards the end of the race in Australia - that was just so typical of Fernando and shows us that he never gives up.
Q: What have the team identified as areas to improve in the quest for greater performance?
PS: Ultimately there is one area that is most dominant in terms of performance and that is the car's aero package. But the situation is very different to last year, and I think that is a point we need to emphasise because last year our aero performance was not what we believed it to be and that was because we had a very specific problem in correlation between the wind tunnel and the car. This year our correlation is perfectly reasonable, it's just that our aero performance is not where we want it to be, and I believe that is because we are still suffering the penalty of the development time we lost while getting the correlation back. We've tried desperately to catch up by starting work on the 2008 car earlier, but clearly we haven't done all the catching up that we need to do. What we can do now is redouble our efforts in that area and concentrate on improving the aero performance.
Q: Going back to the drivers, how do you rate Fernando's performances so far?
PS: Fernando really is one of the positives and the effort we get from him is fantastic, as is his understanding of the race, the tactics and the whole business of Formula 1. He goes about things in a very calm way and I like that because I think it pervades through the team. I always like to try and put calmness in the team because I think it operates better that way and it's great when you have a driver who can do that. The other thing about Fernando is that his results are very motivational - he's not a guy who has to go around motivating people because his ability and his results motivate people in themselves. Everyone knows that at the end of every race Fernando has put in a 100% effort no matter what the circumstances are or what position he is racing for, and that is incredibly motivating for the whole team.
Q: Nelson enjoyed a more positive weekend in Sepang and gained valuable mileage. What can the team expect from him in Bahrain?
PS: I think Nelson had a pretty exemplary weekend in Sepang and it was a big step forward from Australia where there were a lot of problems that were not of his own making. He showed a lot of strength to bounce back from such a difficult weekend and perform like he did in Sepang. In terms of what we can expect from him in Bahrain, I think the answer is that we can expect further building on a very solid Malaysian weekend and another strong performance. Nelson already knows the track as he did three days of testing there last year and that will be a big help because he won't have to learn the circuit. It's not a necessity to get him out on the circuit just doing miles and I think we can adopt a much more normal programme with him in Bahrain, which will allow him to use his new tyres better and have a clearly focussed weekend.
Q: How do you expect the R28 to suit the Sakhir circuit this coming weekend?
PS: There are a lot of similarities between the first three circuits, and particularly between Malaysia and Bahrain where the general set-up of the car is not that different. I think that Malaysia was a reasonably straightforward race where, with the possible exception of Williams, we saw everyone's true colours, and I don't think that the conditions of Bahrain are sufficiently different to alter the status quo that has been established. So I see us being part of this very tight bunch of teams with everything to play for, and the ability to be at the front or the back of that bunch with very there being very little in it. We managed to be in that bunch in Malaysia and I expect the same in Bahrain, which means that points will be the target and I'd love to see both drivers through to Q3. But I know that is not going to be easy because that is the nature of the competitiveness at the moment.
Q: And finally, how would you sum up the mood in the team at the moment?
PS: We had hoped that we would give Fernando a car that was capable of winning because we know that he can win, and so far we haven't done that. That leads to some disappointment, but above all it leads to determination that we are going to give him that car. Everyone in the team hated last year, especially after two years of regular winning, and our determination is to get back to that standard and not to accept anything less than that.