Q&A with Renaults Pat Symonds 22 Sep 2008
Thanks to ten points from the last two races, Renault have drawn level with Toyota in the battle for fourth place in the constructors championship. The formers engineering director, Pat Symonds, believes his team now have the better car, but admits the fight is far from over. He looks back on Renaults Monza weekend - and forward to the one that lies ahead in Singapore
Q: Pat, another fourth place for the team in Monza. You must be happy with this result after such an unpredictable weekend
Pat Symonds: We hadn't had a great test at Monza so we didn't think it was going to be a great circuit for us and we arrived there knowing that we still had a lot of set-up work to do. Therefore, the poor weather was a mixed blessing because although we couldn't continue exploring alternative set-up options, it probably equalised things a little bit and allowed us to punch above our weight. Overall, I was extremely happy with the result and having halved the gap to Toyota in Spa, we are now on equal terms, which is our main objective at the moment.
Q: The team played the strategy perfectly with Fernando Alonso. Was it a gamble to switch to wets so early?
PS: I've said before, particularly after Nelson's (Piquet) result at Hockenheim, that sometimes you make your own luck, and I think Monza was a case in point. Having made it through to Q3 with Fernando, we didn't raise our expectations too much because we could see that we were very likely to be dealing with changeable weather conditions on Sunday. That meant we needed to keep an open strategy with a very wide pit-stop window and so we fuelled both drivers pretty heavily. Even so, it was still an incredibly difficult call when Fernando made his stop and we had to decide which tyres to go with because although the track was drying, the radar was showing more rain on the way. Fitting the standard wet was therefore a gamble, but with both Toyotas in front of us on extreme wet tyres, we knew that fitting wets was the only decision that might allow us to beat them and get a result.
Q: Ten points in two races and you've closed Toyota's lead. Fourth place has never been closer
PS: You can't get any closer than equality! Obviously, as the number of races decreases, even a constant gap becomes more difficult to deal with and so it's nice to have made up the ground we needed to so quickly. I do believe that on balance our car is better than the Toyota; it's very close and there are certainly days when they might be stronger than us and days when we are stronger than them. We beat them in Monza by out racing them as a team, but it's far from over and we know we are going to have a tough fight on our hands through to the end of the season.
Q: Nelson had a strong drive, rising through the field. Tell us about his race
PS: It was a strong drive and by the end of the race he had made up seven positions, which was as strong a performance as pretty much anyone. But he certainly found those early laps extremely difficult due to the poor visibility and he told me after the race that he had to look upwards at the trees to get his reference points, which is incredibly scary. Again we opened the opportunities for him by running a very long strategy, but he used it properly and it positioned him very favourably for the switch to the standard wet tyre. So it was a good race for him and he's continued his education in Formula One and will be stronger for it.
Q: This weekend's race is at another new venue in Singapore with lots of unknowns. What can the team achieve there?
PS: Singapore is going to be very different to Monza. It's a very slow, high downforce track and looks like it will have the second lowest average speed after Monaco. In terms of the unknowns of night racing, it's not something that particularly concerns me and I don't think we will even recognise that it's dark because the facilities will be that good. We will face all the challenges of a new track, just like we did in Valencia last month, but we are used to that and go there well prepared.
Q: Will it feel strange to be going to work late in the afternoon?
PS:I think it will have an impact on us and perhaps the biggest challenge will be managing the human performance of the team. We've been working with our medical guys to make sure we are all prepared for it because travelling to the Far East is always quite hard and taxing on our bodies. The fact that we will be more or less operating on a European time zone will add a further dimension and confuse our body clocks even more. It's not something I'm worried about, but we need to keep it in mind as we're well aware that it's asking a lot of our mechanics and engineers. When we look back on Singapore, I think we will be talking mainly about how we coped with the logistical challenge.
Q: Will the team have updates to the R28 for Singapore?
PS: We will have the final updates for the R28 in Singapore, including a new front wing. In previous years when we have been working on the new car in the wind tunnel, we have always hoped to see developments that we can use on the current car, but it's not the case this year because the aerodynamics for next season are so different. So this really is the end of the updates, other than any changes that may be made for reliability.