Comments from the Renault drivers and team managing director Flavio Briatore ahead of the Australian Grand Prix Fernando Alonso Q: Fernando, what have the opening races of 2006 taught you for the rest of the season? Fernando Alonso: They...
Comments from the Renault drivers and team managing director Flavio Briatore ahead of the Australian Grand Prix
Q: Fernando, what have the opening races of 2006 taught you for the rest of the season?
Fernando Alonso: They have given me more confidence. After these races, we know the car is competitive, it has won the first two races, and that gives me the conviction that we can be quick at the next sixteen rounds too. It is a difficult feeling to explain, but having seen what the car can do, I don't have any doubts that we can win the championship again. I am very optimistic after these opening rounds.
Q: Are you looking forward to arriving in Melbourne?
FA: Absolutely. Melbourne always has one of the best atmospheres of the whole season. I think it comes from the people, and their culture, they always make it a good Grand Prix. It is a long way from home, but we are always happy to be in Melbourne, to feel the country's passion for Formula 1. It will be a fantastic weekend this year, I am sure.
Q: The Albert Park circuit is used as normal roads for much of the year. What does that change for you?
FA: Normally, it doesn't change too much. The fact it is a street circuit means there are some traffic lines on the asphalt, so it we get any rain, then you have to choose the line very carefully because these areas are slippery, and that can make the circuit a bit complex. It is quite bumpy too, and takes a long time to clean up during the race weekend. It makes for a difficult Grand Prix.
Q: Do you think the R26 will suit the circuit?
FA: I think so, yes. Over the last few years, good braking and traction have been strong characteristics of the Renault cars, and this is what you need in Melbourne. The key is the slow-speed chicanes, where you arrive in sixth or seventh gear, brake hard, then get back on the throttle in second gear. We know the car is good in those areas, and we were very quick at this circuit last year. It should be the same for 2006.
Q: Giancarlo, you must be feeling very optimistic heading to Australia?
Giancarlo Fisichella: For sure! We had a fantastic weekend in Malaysia, to get the pole and the race win, and to do it without any unusual circumstances like in Melbourne 2005. Even in Bahrain, the car felt very strong and taking into account the power loss, I was very competitive. And now we are in Melbourne. I have a great feeling here, I won last year, and I am hoping to do the same again!
Q: What are your thoughts on the competitiveness of the R26?
GF: I think the first two races have shown we have a good potential. In the winter, I said I wanted to go for the championship, and these races have shown that I have the chance to do well at every circuit, and to fight for the title. That is my dream, and my goal this year. The atmosphere within the team is fantastic, and I have a great relationship with Fernando. The feeling is very positive.
Q: Can you explain the challenges of the Melbourne circuit?
GF: The fact that it is a street circuit means it changes a lot, so it is difficult to find a good set-up on Friday, and to find good grip. Obviously, we want a nice balance on the car, to make it easy to drive. But the really important thing is to get good traction out of the slow corners and chicanes, and we concentrate on this.
Q: So what are your expectations for the race?
GF: Well, this is the last flyaway race, and it is very important to score lots of points early in the season. I think Renault will be very competitive in Australia, and I am going for the win. I want to arrive in Imola, one of my home races, with a very strong position in the championship.
Flavio Briatore, Managing Director:
Q: Flavio, what is your mood as you arrive in Melbourne for the 2006 Australian GP?
Flavio Briatore: I'm happy. Melbourne is a favourite race for everybody and we are happy to be there. In terms of our performance, we knew we needed to be fighting for the championship again, to be defending it with a strong competition. We have shown that Renault is at the top again in 2006, and that we will be fighting all the way to the end to try and win it.
Q: And what is your opinion of the show so far this season?
FB: I think we have seen a fantastic show. After the first race, we saw Ferrari were back, and that is good for everybody in Formula 1. To have Fernando fighting with Michael increased the TV share everywhere, because Michael and Ferrari are fantastic assets for Formula 1.
Q: What about the new qualifying format?
FB: I think the knockout system is very good, and spectacular for the spectators. But I am still not happy with the first part of Q3. At the moment, we are going round for no reason, and it doesn't make sense for the people or for our image with the environment. I think the final session should be 15 minutes long, and you fuel beforehand. You then qualify, and whatever load you finish the session with, then you go to parc ferme and start the race like that. What we are doing now doesn't make sense for the show.
Q: What has surprised you so far?
FB: For me, Renault is the surprise this year. All through the winter, we only heard reasons why we would not be on top. And we have shown that we know how to work properly, to adapt to the rules and manage our season the right way. People didn't expect us to still be at the front, and we are.
Q: Do you already have a feel for how the title fight might turn out?
FB: I think we can expect to see four drivers fighting for the championship. Fernando, of course. Michael if the car is right. Kimi. And Fisichella. He is strong in the team this year, and we have already seen what he can do in Malaysia.
Q: But Giancarlo had a difficult season last year...
FB: Yes, but last year, 80% of the problems he had were our fault. He arrived last year without any experience of a top team, and he realised it was a different game, with a lot of pressure. This year, he has settled down, we can see he is more relaxed, and he has been very quick. He needs the luck, yes, but that comes when you are strong and take risks, because you believe in yourself. I think he has started doing it.
Q: There were also suggestions that the early announcement of Fernando's departure would destabilise the team...
FB: I haven't seen any change at all in Fernando. He is still hungry to win,. we saw that in Bahrain and Malaysia. Last year, he only made one mistake all year, and if anything, he is even more mature this season. But he is the same guy, with 100% commitment to the team.
Q: Of course, speculation will soon begin concerning which drivers you will sign for 2007...
FB: The important thing is to have a competitive team, to keep Renault strong in Formula 1. When the team is strong enough, then you attract strong drivers. We still have sixteen races to go, and people will try and talk about this every weekend. But we won't do it in public. We will only talk about our drivers when the decision has been taken.
Q: Renault was also at the centre of speculation over its long-term commitment to the sport during the winter...
FB: Renault is in the same situation as all the manufacturers and in that group, we are in a strong position. At the moment, all the parties are looking for the right compromise in the negotiations and Renault, like the other manufacturers, is waiting for an agreement. I think it is normal that any manager wants to know the basic business plan of the industry -- the investment we need, and the term of the investment. But this position has nothing unique for Renault. In the meantime, we have won two world championships, and the first two races.
Q: The team is often cited as the most efficient in the sport. Where does that come from?
FB: We invest every penny in the business, but it is also about how we operate. If you have an unlimited budget, it can be like going into a restaurant where the menu is fantastic. So you have a bit of that, of bit of this, and you end up with nothing. The way we work, is like going shopping. You know what you want for dinner. So you go any buy the ingredients, and you get the result you want. That is what we did again this winter, working the right way with the new rules, and delivering the right results.