Renault have struggled so far this season, and looking ahead to the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend it looks as though the team will continue in the same vein of form as seen recently. However, with two victories here over the past two years, the French side will be hoping for a slight improvement in performance relative to the leaders.
Q: Giancarlo, you put in a strong drive after a difficult weekend in Malaysia. How are you approaching this weekend's race in Bahrain?
Giancarlo Fisichella: I am proud of how I raced in Sepang. I made a good start, was aggressive on the opening lap to make up places, and took sixth at the finish. It's not many points, but they will all be important for us this year. Given our circumstances, it's a satisfying result, and encouraging for this weekend in Sakhir. It is a circuit Renault knows well, we won the last two races here, and we spent two weeks testing here in the winter. Hopefully we can make some more progress compared to Malaysia.
Q: Bahrain is one of the more challenging races...
GF: Yes, along with Malaysia, it's definitely one of the toughest races of the season, primarily because of the very hot conditions that we have to drive in. I think it will be tough race for us, but we will be aiming to do our maximum. We are realistic enough to know we have a long way to go to catch the leaders, but everybody is very motivated to do it!
Q: You tested in Sakhir during the winter, is that an advantage for the weekend ahead?
GF: All the teams tested, so it means we will all be pretty well prepared with a good baseline for the set-up. Of course, conditions will be different and the car has developed since then, so we will need to fine-tune it during practice. And the circuit is usually dirty and slippery because of the sand, especially when it's windy. So we will need to constantly adapt the car to the improving track conditions, but for sure, the information we got during the winter tests will be important.
Q: Heikki, you raced at Sakhir in GP2, and tested here with the F1 car during the winter. Do you enjoy the track?
HK: Yes, I raced in the GP2 series final here in 2005, and even though I missed out on the title at that race, I still have good memories of the track. It is a demanding circuit, and the conditions are tough for the cars and the drivers, which means we usually see interesting races here.
Q: You scored your first F1 point in Malaysia. How did it feel?
HK: Naturally, it's an important moment for my career, a good feeling, and you have to start somewhere! I was quite happy with my race, and pleased with the progress compared to Melbourne. I still need to improve, and work hard along with the team. But I am confident we all have what it takes to improve our pace.
Q: What are the main factors you will have to take into account with the set-up of the R27 ahead of the race this weekend?
HK: We ran here in February, so we have a good idea of how the car handles on this circuit. It features a lot of long straights and a few fast corners, which means you need to find a good compromise on downforce between good straightline speed, and enough grip in the corners. We have to pay attention to cooling the brakes properly, because there are some major braking areas. So we need good cooling, and good consistency from the braking system. The tyres will have a hard time too, but as always, we will be able to understand their behaviour and performance during the practice sessions on Friday, in order to fine-tune the car's handling for qualifying and the race.
Q: Pat, what is your analysis of the ING Renault F1 Team's weekend in Malaysia?
Pat Symonds, Renault (Executive Director of Engineering): I think we achieved the best we could have hoped for in Sunday's race, especially after our qualifying performance on Saturday. Giancarlo went from 12th to 6th, and drove a good aggressive race, especially at the start; Heikki's performance was solid, and his pace very similar to Fisi's, and he erased the memory of Melbourne with a strong drive. The car was a bit more consistent in the race, and performed reasonably. So we raced well, and that's encouraging. But does that mean we are satisfied with our current situation? Absolutely not.
Q: What is the team doing in order to try and gain performance relative to the competition?
PS: Working extremely hard! It means asking a lot of questions, and finding answers to them. We can schedule which questions we ask, and when, but we cannot schedule when we will find the answers. It means working diligently and honestly to find the root of our current difficulties. And at the same time, we have to keep on developing the car to compete at the track. If we simply throw our resources blindly at fixing the problems, by the time we have resolved them, we will only have fallen behind again.
Q: The obvious question to ask is "what is the cause of your problems?" Do you have an answer?
PS: I think it is obvious to say that it is not a simple diagnosis. The first mistake we could make would be a knee-jerk reaction. The people working on the situation, are the same people who won two world championships in the last two years. We have the same tools, the same methodology, and the same confidence in our ability to succeed. Now, we need time and application to do so – and I have every faith in our capacity to bounce back strongly.
Q: Looking at the circuit in Bahrain, how do you expect the car to perform?
PS: If you look at the sector times in Malaysia, it is relatively obvious that we were less competitive in the parts of the circuit that featured the high-speed corners. Sakhir is not a circuit with many high-speed corners, so it should be intrinsically a little kinder to us. But can I predict we will make a step forward in competitiveness? To be honest, it's very hard to make any predictions at all at the moment, and I think a number of people up and down the pit-lane are scratching their heads right now.
Q: What do you mean?
PS: At Renault, the drivers are complaining of a lack of grip from the car, but we are also seeing inconsistency in its performance: we were relatively stronger on Friday and Sunday in Malaysia, when compared to our performance on Saturday. At the front of the field, we saw a huge shift from Ferrari and McLaren between the opening two races, and a number of teams saw their two drivers deliver very different levels of performance. To my mind, that suggests that while the tyre situation is stable for everybody, there are still plenty of questions to be answered in terms of achieving consistent, reliable performance.
Q: So what are the expectations for the weekend ahead?
PS: In Bahrain this weekend, we will once again race the package at our disposal, and race it to the best of our ability. Everybody back at base is pushing the development, and we can see it with new parts constantly arriving at the track. Our responsibility at the circuit is to race well, to race hard and get the most out of our current package. We did that in Malaysia: both drivers were quick, consistent and aggressive; and our pit-stops were the fastest of the entire field. That speaks volumes about the team's professionalism, and I am confident we can achieve our maximum again in Bahrain this weekend.
Source: Renault F1