Alan Permane Q&A: Kubica hasn't put a foot wrong 06 Apr 2010
With Robert Kubica following his podium in Melbourne with a fourth-place finish in Malaysia, and team mate Vitaly Petrov finally finding his stride in Kuala Lumpur, Renault are looking ahead optimistically to the forthcoming Chinese Grand Prix. Chief race engineer Alan Permane reflects on the recent Sepang race and discusses the French teams chances at the Shanghai round
Q: Robert Kubica's second place in Melbourne owed something to unusual circumstances but his fourth place in Sepang seemed much more straightforward. How encouraging was that for the team?
Alan Permane: It is certainly encouraging - but it wasn't quite a straightforward weekend, either. We had unusual conditions in qualifying and we managed them very well. Robert and Vitaly did a great job, and the team made the right calls on the tyres, at the right time, where others didn't. In the race, Robert made a great start, gained a couple of places, and from then on it was quite a normal race. His pace was very similar to Nico Rosberg's so there was not really any way he could pass him. All in all, it was fairly routine.
Q: Kubica dropped back a little from Rosberg as the race went on. What was the reason?
AP: We actually asked Robert to drop back and cool the car because we were losing water pressure. It was a bit tense on the pit wall for a while but the pressure finally stabilised and everything was fine for the last 20 laps.
Q: Three races in, Kubica is just nine points behind the championship leader. How much has he impressed the team this year?
AP: He simply hasn't put a foot wrong. He got hit on the first lap in Bahrain but then battled back strongly to 11th place. He drove a perfect race in Melbourne under a lot of pressure and it was the same in Malaysia. Robert's very consistent, he's very fast and he's very hard working: we've been extremely impressed with the amount of time he spends with his engineers. He's a very, very good all-round driver.
Q: Let's talk about Petrov. When he was fighting wheel to wheel with Lewis Hamilton on Sunday, it seemed like he really came of age in Formula One racing
AP: Absolutely. We are learning that one of his great strengths is his ability to make up positions at the start and on the first lap. He was very good again on Sunday and gained a couple of places. I think he caught Lewis by surprise by ducking back in front under braking for the first corner. It was encouraging to see Vitaly fighting hard for his position and not giving up. It was a real shame that his race was brought to an end by a technical problem with the gearbox.
Q: After three races, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the R30?
AP: In terms of its strengths, the car is kind on its tyres. Last year, we struggled with rear wear in particular, but the R30 is far better balanced in terms of tyre wear and that's a good bonus with no refuelling. As for weaknesses, we know that we need to improve our overall downforce. We've put updates on the car at every race this year and there's more coming.
Q: Have the updates performed as expected?
AP: We have a very good wind tunnel, which was upgraded over the winter; we've done good correlation work between the tunnel and the track; and we trust what the tunnel tells us. Our aero department is performing better than ever and they're finding very good gains at the moment. Downforce levels are increasing almost on a daily basis and we should have another good step forward in China.
Q: Shanghai is another modern circuit with long straights and many different types of corner. What are your expectations?
AP: More of the same, hopefully. However, Shanghai will be the opposite of Sepang in terms of temperatures - it's something like 13 or 14 degrees Celsius over there - yet we'll be running the same tyre compounds as we did in Malaysia. The challenge will be to get the hard compound working, especially because the long straight means that you can't simply add downforce to get the tyres working because it costs you too much straight-line speed. In Melbourne, we had a suspicion that the car wasn't quite as competitive in cold conditions, so we'll be working hard to avoid a similar problem in Shanghai.