Q&A with Renaults Steve Nielsen 30 Mar 2010
Although Vitaly Petrovs race ended in a gravel trap, Renault left Melbourne smiling thanks to Robert Kubicas podium finish. With just a few days to go until this weekends Malaysian event, the teams sporting director Steve Nielsen reflects on the Australian Grand Prix and looks ahead to making more progress in Sepang
Q: Steve, Robert scored Renaults first podium of the year in Melbourne - just what the team needed to kickstart its season
Steve Nielsen: It was a super result and to be honest it was quite unexpected considering where we qualified. Theres no denying there was a slice of luck involved, but Im happy to take this result after the bad luck we had at the start of the race in Bahrain. Its a great reward for the whole team who have put in long hours at the track and back at the factory.
Q: It was a very busy race - how tough was it to make the right calls from the pit wall?
SN: The big decision we had to make was when to change to dry tyres, but that was made easier by Button, who was the first to switch from the intermediates. We kept an eye on his times and when he went quickest in sector two we knew it was the time to pit our cars - as most of the teams did. After that the race was all about Robert holding off the quicker cars and looking after his tyres, which he did brilliantly.
Q: How concerned were you about the tyres lasting on Kubicas car?
SN: Before the race I never would have thought that the option tyre could perform so well over 50 laps, but the way the race unfolded meant that we had no choice but to try and make them last the distance. If we had pitted for fresh tyres, we would have dropped a long way down the field.
Q: Petrov had an early exit - how did you assess his performance over the weekend?
SN: He performed well all weekend and had another great start to the race, but its just a shame that his race was cut short. Hopefully in Malaysia he can finish the race, and if he does hes definitely quick enough to finish in the points.
Q: What was the drivers feedback to the updates the team brought to Melbourne?
SN: Overall the feedback was positive: they gave us the performance we expected and confirmed the numbers predicted back at the factory. Both Robert and Vitaly feel the car is going in the right direction, although the cooler conditions in Melbourne certainly impacted on the performance of the car. The whole team did a tremendous job to get these updates on the car and we need to keep our heads down so that we can continue bringing new parts to every race.
Q: Will there be more upgrades on the R30 in Malaysia this weekend?
SN: Yes, weve got more aero parts going on the car in Sepang, and more parts for the next few races after that, so hopefully the car will continue improving with each race.
Q: The mechanics have been working long hours at the last two races. How is team morale after all their recent efforts?
SN: We always work long hours at the start of the season in order to get as much performance on the car as possible, so its something that were used to. Its never nice to work all day and all night, as we did in Bahrain, but the guys never complain and they always get the job done. Its a shame that we didnt get the result we deserved in Bahrain, but the result in Melbourne has given everybody a boost.
Q: What challenges are posed by back-to-back races on different continents?
SN: Its probably the fact that we have to pack up in Australia and be fully installed in Malaysia by Wednesday afternoon. Most people dont realise that we still have around ten hours work ahead of us when the flag drops at the end of the race. In Australia the race was late in the afternoon, finishing around 6:30pm, which meant the guys didnt finishing packing up until 4am on Monday morning. After a few hours sleep they were on a flight to Malaysia because they need to be back to work on Tuesday setting up in Sepang. So the biggest challenge is the intense workload over these few days - were either working or sleeping.
Q: And what about the freight? When will that arrive in Malaysia?
SN: Fortunately FOM take care of shipping the freight for all the teams. The cars and equipment should be with us in Malaysia by midday Tuesday.
Q: How tough is it to work in the hot and humid conditions in Malaysia?
SN: Its very challenging and its fair to say that everybodys work rate reduces slightly because you have to pace yourself. The most important thing for the mechanics is to remember to keep drinking fluids to avoid the risk of dehydration because the heat can really build up in the garage. We will get through twice as many bottles of water as we would at a typical European race and we also take a lot of special rehydration drinks. Every year somebody usually forgets to drink enough and they feel a bit faint, so Ill remind everyone to drink something every half hour.
Q: What do you think of the circuit and facilities in Malaysia?
SN: Weve been racing there since 1999 and, although the facilities may look a bit dated compared with some of the newer circuits, they are still of a very high standard. As a team we have enjoyed some good races there, including a one-two in 2006, so its somewhere we return to with fond memories. Its also a track that produces good racing and there are some decent overtaking opportunities. The climate means theres a good chance of heavy rain showers, which may only last for a few seconds, but completely soak the circuit. Its another factor we have to take into consideration and it has created some exciting races in the past.