Comments from the Renault team ahead of the Australian Grand Prix
Q: Giancarlo, you won the Australian Grand Prix in 2005. Do you particularly enjoy the Albert Park circuit?
GF: Yes, it's one of my favourite circuits, and I have very good memories after my win there in 2005. It is an interesting track because it's on public roads, so it is changing and evolving throughout the weekend, which is something we must adapt to with the set-up of the car.
Q: You have completed over 5000 km of testing this winter. Is the R27 ready for its first race?
GF: The R27 is an evolution of the R26 and the R25, both of which were always quick in Melbourne. We have a good baseline, and lots of potential in the car; and we have worked hard this winter to be able to fight with the front-runners at the start of the year. We know that it is quite a low grip circuit in Australia, so we will focus on that area. It will not be an easy race, and we don't expect it to be, but the motivation in the team is very high; we will make the most of every opportunity we have.
Q: What is your objective for the first race?
GF: I want to score as many points as possible in the early races of the year. If we cannot fight for the win, I will be trying to out-score my rivals, and finish on the podium if it is possible.
Q: The first Grand Prix of the season will also give us a clearer idea of the pecking order for 2007. How do you view the situation?
GF: It's hard to say at the moment. BMW and Williams seem like they are ready to challenge, but I think Ferrari, McLaren and Renault will once again be the main favourites at the start of the year. But now, we need to see if the race confirms our predictions...
Q: Heikki, Australiawill be your first Formula 1 Grand Prix. How are you preparing for this milestone in your career?
HK: I think I started preparing over a year ago, when I joined the ING Renault F1 Team as third driver! I was able to learn my job in the best conditions, get to know the team, and visit the factories. It was a long apprenticeship, but now I feel completely ready to go to the next level. I can't wait to get to Melbourne!
Q: What are you expecting from your first race?
HK: I am expecting a tough race. I am preparing for every possibility, and I know that I will have to push right to the limit. With the team, we will have to find the perfect set-up for the R27 to get maximum potential out of the car. From a personal point of view, I want to get to the finish without any problems and finish in the points. I think that would be a good start.
Q: You will have three hours of free practice on Friday. Will that be an advantage for you as a rookie?
HK: The new timetable on Friday is a definite positive, particularly for a rookie driver like me who doesn't know the circuit. I think we will have plenty of time to find the right set-up, and from a driving point of view, I will have enough time to learn the circuit and feel comfortable. It will mean I can approach qualifying with no worries. That's a big advantage for me.
Q: What are the main characteristics of the circuit?
HK: From what I know, it is a track that's often very dirty and slippery in the opening sessions on Friday, because it is a street circuit. People are driving on the roads every day, so you have to be careful because the track can be very green. The track changes all the way through the weekend, so you have to know how to adapt, and adjust the car set-up for this characteristics. The team has a lot of experience here, with good set-ups from the last two seasons, and I am confident that will mean we can approach the race in the best possible way.
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering
Q: Pat, the ING Renault F1 Team has won in Melbourne for the past two seasons. What position is the team in as you approach the opening round of the 2007 championship?
PS: I think we are being realistic about our performance at the moment. We know we are not in the same position as we were twelve months ago. But we were encouraged by the results of our final pre-season test in Bahrain. There are still areas to work on in order to improve the car, and we know what we have to do. We expect 2007 to be a tough battle -- but we are ready for the fight.
Q: How is the mood in the team as you approach the first race?
PS: Pretty upbeat. Of course, there is some frustration that we are not out front and leading the field, but it is no more than that. We are pleased with the progress since R27 ran for the first time in January, and feel that things have moved on quite a lot for us -- even though we still have some way to go. So I suppose it's a slightly mixed mood. But most of all, we are looking forward to getting to the track, and going racing again.
Q: The team's race drivers, Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen, have completed over 10,000 km between them during pre-season testing. How would you assess their performance?
PS: Naturally, I think there is probably some disappointment that we are not right on the pace at the moment, but they have been encouraged by the gains we made recently. Giancarlo has been doing just what we asked of him this winter: he has stepped up to the mark, and is giving that little bit extra following Fernando's departure, exactly as we had hoped.
As for Heikki, I think he is very focused on making a good start to his F1 career. He is confident ahead of his F1 debut, and has done a very good job this winter. The new race weekend format, with extra running time on Friday, will be an advantage for him as he learns the circuits. We are all looking forward to seeing him perform in a Grand Prix for the first time.
Q: Renault is just one of the top teams going into the new season with a rookie driver in its line-up. Are you pleased to see new faces in the sport?
PS: Absolutely! I think it is really good to see young guys getting their chance in the top teams. None of them -- Heikki, Hamilton or Kubica -- are there by chance, they have really earned their drives with their performances in testing, or in other championships. Their freshness and hunger to get on with the job are great to see, and I really do think it is hugely positive for Formula 1.
Q: The drivers have spent much of winter testing adapting to the new Bridgestone Potenza tyres. How big a change has that been?
PS: It is a big difference compared to last season. The tyres have been designed to offer less grip than in 2006, for safety reasons. And that has been something the drivers have had to adapt their style to suit. What's more, for those drivers making the transition to Bridgestone tyres, there are some quite different handling characteristics to master as well. It is maybe a little easy to dismiss a change like this, but the drivers have had to learn some significantly new skills this winter.
Q: Looking at the Albert Park circuit, how do you expect the R27 to suit it?
PS: I think the car should go reasonably well there. Melbourne needs a car that has a good change of direction, and that is good on the brakes. The track can be a bit bumpy, and the temperatures are very variable at this time of year. But we have seen our cars perform well here in recent years, and I don't think it will be too bad for us.
Q: Formula 1 enters an era of minimal tyre and engine development in 2007. What impact do you expect these factors to have, if any?
PS: I think everybody expects to see much closer competition between the teams, and that will mean that any mistake is more costly. Our preparations have been extremely thorough, and we have completed more testing miles than any other team. In the last two years, we learned the lesson that while each of opening races offers the same number of points as any other, performing successfully is a big psychological boost for the team. That will still be true in 2007.
And of course, while engine and tyre development will be limited, there are still plenty of gains to be made on the chassis and aero side. Once again, 2007 will be all about making the most of what you have got at every race -- and developing faster than your rivals.
Q: Finally, who would you pick out as favourites for the opening part of the new season?
PS: During the final tests in Bahrain, we began to see clearly that Ferrari are ahead of the pack. After them, McLaren are possibly the second team in the pecking order. And along with BMW, Renault is probably in an equal third position. In reliability terms, both Renault and McLaren seem to have enjoyed very good reliability through the winter. But as we always say, testing is only testing. The acid test comes in Melbourne, when we see how it all translates to the race weekend...
What's new for 2007?
Bridgestone is the sole tyre supplier in the 2007 championship. Under the terms of the Sporting Regulations, they must make available "identical quantities and specifications of tyres to all teams" (Art. 25.1b).
For testing, this means an allocation of 300 sets of tyres per team, for the entire season (with total testing mileage restricted to a maximum of 30,000 km, this means approx. 100 km per set of tyres).
At a race weekend, tyre usage is as follows:
No more than:
* 14 sets dry tyres per driver (7 of each spec)
* 5 sets wet tyres per driver
* 4 sets extreme tyres per driver
P1 + P2
* 8 sets dry tyres per team (4 of each spec), all to be returned after P2. * Only 1 set of wet and 1 set of extreme permitted per driver, which must be returned if used.
* 10 sets of dry tyres per driver (5 of each spec), 2 sets to be returned after P3 (1 of each spec).
* 4 sets of wet and 3 sets of extreme allocated per driver. Unused tyres from P1/P2 can form part of this allocation.
Qualifying + Race
* 8 sets of dry tyres per driver available (4 of each spec).
* At least 1 set of each dry spec must be used by the driver in the race, unless wet or extreme tyres are used.
The different tyre specifications must be visually distinguishable from one another when on track.
The engineer's view: Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering
"Tyre usage is something we had to pay close attention to during 2006, and while the rules offer a little more freedom this year, it will still play an important part in how we plan our race weekend."
"Using two types of tyre during the race is not a huge change. The impact will vary from weekend to weekend, and its severity will depend on whether or not the softer tyre is marginal on the circuit in question, or in the prevailing conditions. Just as with any other strategic factor, though, there will be an optimum way to run the race -- and most of the teams will arrive at that optimum point pretty quickly. There may be some variation at the start of the season, but I am sure we will soon all be following similar strategies."
"It is a very good thing indeed that spectators will be able to distinguish between the tyres types. It makes the sport easier to understand, it's more transparent, and that's a good thing. For the teams, it makes very little difference, as we all used our resources to obtain this information anyway. Now, we will be able to invest that energy elsewhere. Quite simply, it's better for everybody."
2007 sees Formula 1 enter a period of engine homologation during which the sealed perimeter of the engine will remain unchanged for the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons.
All engines are based on the units used at the 2006 Chinese and Japanese Grands Prix. Approved modifications, at the discretion of the FIA, to specified areas of the engine, were permitted to re-tune the units for a new maximum rev limit of 19,000 rpm. All engines must be 2.4l V8 engines.
The engineer's view: Rob White, Deputy Managing Director (Engine)
"Our development programme is clearly much reduced compared to previous years -- and our resources have been structured to reflect this. In the past, the primary routes to improved performance came through development within the engine's sealed perimeter, and any such development has been outlawed by the engine homologation regulations.
No development is permitted within the sealed perimeter of the engine, which restricts our work to optimising how we use the engine in the car -- and the areas of electronics, ancillary components and gains from fuel and lubricants with our partner Elf. Last year, with unlimited development under deliberately restrictive V8 engine regulations, we could expect to achieve a gain of between 1 and 2% in engine performance. During 2007, modest gains of up to 1% may be achievable."
Engine usage is now free during the free practice sessions on Friday (P1 + P2), in order to encourage increased on-track action relative to 2006.
An engine must still last for two consecutive Events, but for the purposes of engine usage, an Event is deemed to comprise P3, qualifying and the race. This means engines will be changed after P2, in preparation for running on Saturday and Sunday.
In total, the ING Renault F1 Team will bring eight engines to each Grand Prix event, compared to five in 2006. However, engines that run in Friday practice will not reach peak mileage during these sessions, and may subsequently be run at other Grand Prix weekends, or during testing.
The Renault F1 Team will supply identical specification RS27 engines to Red Bull Racing for the 2007 season and beyond.
The engineer's view: Denis Chevrier, Head of Trackside Engine Operations
"Competitive customer engine supply is part of Renault's racing heritage, and we have tried to approach our new relationship with Red Bull Racing in the best possible conditions, establishing clear, honest operating principles from the outset. Priority number one was to ensure that the works team suffered no drop off in the quality of trackside support. And number two, was to establish a strong trackside team with Red Bull Racing, building for the long term."
"Our teams have had to learn how to work together, in order to build up performance levels ahead of the season. What's more, our engine supply agreement has meant we completed more miles with the RS27 engine this winter, allowing us to learn more about its on-track behaviour than would otherwise have been possible. That additional knowledge will be beneficial for both Renault and Red Bull Racing."
Free practice sessions will take place on Friday from 10.00 to 11.30 (P1) and 14.00 to 15.30 (P2). Teams are permitted to run additional drivers during these sessions, but may run no more than two drivers in any one session.
For all free practice sessions, pit-lane speed limits will be fixed at 60 kph. For qualifying and the race, this will be raised to 80 kph -- reduced from 100 kph in 2006. The additional time required for pit-stops may influence teams' decisions on race strategy