The ING Renault F1 Team takes the first step of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship: the Australian Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso: "If an opportunity presents itself, I am ready to seize it." Q: You rejoined the team in January to prepare...
The ING Renault F1 Team takes the first step of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship: the Australian Grand Prix.
"If an opportunity presents itself, I am ready to seize it."
Q: You rejoined the team in January to prepare for the 2008 season. How did you find your first few weeks of work with the team?
FA: They have been very busy! All has gone well in terms of my arrival and it felt a bit like coming home. I already know everybody; I know the way the team works and I was able to start working well with the team immediately, right from the first test.
As with any new car we worked hard on the reliability and then started working on the development towards the end of February with the arrival of the latest parts. I did nearly fifteen days of testing between January and February so that I could arrive in Australia as ready as I can be for the new season.
Q: Do you think that the team has succeeded in overcoming the problems of 2007 and will you be ready to fight at the front of the field at the beginning of the season?
FA: The team was far behind in 2007 and it would have been impossible to overcome that gap this winter. The other teams have also progressed and so it will certainly take a little time to reach a higher level, but I am convinced that we have the potential to get there. The team has shown in the past that they know how to produce a winning car; we just need to continue our efforts and to make sure we don't lose ground.
Q: After winter testing, which teams do you expect to be strongest at the start of the championship?
FA: It's difficult to say with certainty before the first session in Melbourne. All the teams have worked on different programmes during winter testing and so we cannot really predict how things will be. I think that Ferrari will be the team to beat during the first few races; they were strong during 2007 and seem to have performed well over the winter. The first race will be the first real chance to see how the teams compare with each other, and we will then have a better idea of our competitiveness.
Q: Do you expect a difficult first race in Albert Park?
FA: The first race will not be easy, but I am looking forward to it and the beginning of the championship. Many challenges await the ING Renault F1 Team, but we have worked hard these last few months and it is now time for the racing to begin. I know that a win or a podium in Australia will be difficult, but you never know what can happen during the race. It may rain; the race may take place on a drying track and you can have the chance to spring a surprise. If an opportunity presents itself, I am ready to seize it.
"I want to approach this first race calmly, one step at a time."
Q: Nelson, you are only a few days away from you first race in Formula 1. What is your state of mind at the moment?
NP: These last few weeks have been busy with testing and I have been concentrating on my work and preparation so that I am ready for Melbourne. But I still don't feel like a race driver yet because I have only been doing testing, just like I was last year as the third driver for the ING Renault F1 Team. I think that when I arrive at the track and start working with my engineers I will begin to realise what I am about to do.
Q: You have covered a lot of laps this winter. How did it feel to get behind the wheel of the R28?
NP: Yes, I have done lots of running this winter, which was essential for my physical and technical preparation. I feel I have progressed a lot during testing and I feel at ease in the R28. We still need to work hard to improve our performance, but the whole team is determined, and there is a good feeling in the team. Everyone is giving their maximum to take the team forwards and I am doing the same.
Q: What are you expecting from your first Grand Prix?
NP: It is a new circuit for me and I hope that I can find my feet quickly. I feel I have done everything in order to be ready, but the only way to get fully prepared is to do laps on the circuit. Only then can you really have an idea of the layout of the track, how to use the cubs and the best lines. I need to work well with my engineers to set up my car and then I need to get the best of it. I'm very competitive and I would like to score points in my first race, but I recognise that these things can take time. Above all, I want to approach this first race calmly, one step at a time.
Q: You completed numerous race simulations as part of your preparation during the last test. Do you feel you are ready to contest a race?
NP: I had the opportunity to do many laps this winter, so today I am physically prepared, although I have my doubts as to whether the Malaysian Grand Prix will be as easy! As a team we have gone through the different procedures that I will have to deal with during races, because racing is different to testing and I know that I will face new pressures. I think that I am ready, and above all I am looking forward to the start of the season. I have worked all my life to get here, and it is a great feeling to be starting my first race in Melbourne. I'm conscious that I have a lot to prove this year, but I'm determined to do my best.
"Melbourne will be a good indicator of how we're going to fare for the early part of the season."
Q: Bob, the team has completed a busy testing programme this winter. How did that go?
BB: I think we are happy with how things went overall and we achieved pretty much everything that we needed to in terms of preparing for Melbourne. On the performance side it's hard to know exactly where we stand; it's going to be very close between a big group of teams. But we had a successful winter in terms of getting on top of the car and learning how to set it up, so we know we're extracting the most from our package. There were no obvious handling problems with the car, and certainly none of the problems that we had last year. We're also pretty comfortable with the reliability of the cars, which is what so much of winter testing is about. But from now it's a matter of entering into a development race against all the other teams to develop the car and to do all we can to make sure we are improving faster than everybody else.
Q: What about the mood in the team now that Fernando is back?
BB: I think there is a renewed optimism this year and Fernando coming back has really buoyed the whole team. He really is a great source of motivation for everybody. The wonderful thing about Fernando is that he's a real fighter and he will always get the best out of the equipment on the day. You know that every race you enter with Fernando behind the wheel there is a chance that he will bring back a trophy because that's the sort of driver he is. And so it fills everyone with real enthusiasm to be going into the first race with Fernando back in the team.
Q: The team fields another rookie this year in Nelson Piquet. How has he adapted to the role of race driver?
BB: Nelson has worked hard over the winter and his performances during testing have shown that he has already reached a high standard, and so I think he is as ready as he ever will be for his first race. He is working well with the engineers, who have done a good job of getting him ready for the season, and he has shown good pace. Now it's a question of showing that pace in a race as opposed to on the test track because a race obviously has different pressures and there is a lot more things for a driver to think about. It will be interesting to see how he copes with that, but I'm sure he will do a good job.
Q: You have said before that the R27 was too conservative. So how has the team approached 2008?
BB: We have pushed very hard in all areas, and particularly on the aerodynamics. The reality of modern F1 is that the quality of the aero package determines a car's success and this has been our primary focus. The front end too has come in for particular attention, notably the front wing and the front suspension. The suspension architecture is now much more akin to what is deemed 'fashionable': the zero keel solution offered us no real benefit for a number of years, but it has opened up potential for us this year in order to extract maximum performance from the tyres.
Q: Tell us about Albert Park from a technical standpoint. Is it a circuit that will play to the strengths of the R28?
BB: I don't think it will be disadvantageous to the R28, put it that way. It's a track that has traditionally required a car with a good change of direction and good braking characteristics, and this should suit the R28. But it can be a bit bumpy in places and I think we've possibly got some work to do with getting the car to work well on the bumps and the curbs. The other thing about Albert Park is that it's all about driver confidence, and so a good set-up is essential. I think that is something we can achieve with the R28: we can set it up to give the drivers what they want. It's not going to be disadvantageous to us in any particular way, and I would expect it to be a good indicator of how we're going to fare for the early part of the season.
Q: Last year the team struggled to adapt the car to Bridgestone tyres. Has the team resolved those issues?
BB: The relationship with Bridgestone has always been good, and even when we were struggling to get the best out of the tyres they were an excellent partner to work with. But it's true to say that we are in much better shape this year with our understanding of the tyres and we now have a car that is better at exploiting the characteristics of the tyres. So I'm not really concerned about the tyre utilisation; we know that we can set the car up to get the best out of them.
Q: The team has enjoyed great success in Melbourne with two wins in the last three years. What is a realistic objective for this weekend?
BB: We want to be fighting for a podium; that will be our clear objective for the season, and that's what we're aiming for in Melbourne. Exactly how things will shake out is anybody's guess, but we will be doing everything we can to try and achieve that. Albert Park is a circuit that Fernando knows well, and he's been successful there in the past, winning with the team in 2006. It's a new circuit for Nelson, and so our main focus is to make sure that he is as well prepared as he can be. It's probably the most difficult circuit for a driver to learn because it's so technical and one of those places where drivers find it difficult to get their lines absolutely right.
Q: Formula 1 enters an era of standardised electronics with no driver aids. What impact, if any, do you expect this to have on the spectacle?
BB: The driving may be a bit more interesting to watch and the cars may move around a little bit more, but I don't think it will fundamentally alter the pecking order among the drivers. It may catch out the unwary, particularly in wet conditions, but I don't think it's going to make a huge difference. The public won't be able to point a finger at the sport and say "that's a result of the new electronic systems". But the introduction of standardised electronics was not about trying to alter the spectacle; it was about levelling the regulatory playing field and containing costs. Overall I don't think the spectacle of Formula 1 will change as a result.
Q: The competition among the teams is close this year. How do you see the pecking order at the moment?
BB: All we can go on is what we have seen in winter testing, and so we are fairly sure that Ferrari are the frontrunners with McLaren probably a little bit behind them. After that there seems to be a gaggle of teams that are all very close to each another, possibly slightly behind McLaren or maybe just with them. So it's very difficult to call where we think we will finish in Melbourne, but we do go there with high expectations.
Over at Red Bull Racing
Fabrice Lom, the man in charge of maximising the RS27 engine with Red Bull Racing, reflects on winter testing and gives his views on the season ahead.
Q: Fabrice, how did winter testing go for Red Bull Racing?
FL: I think that it went well. We already know the team well as we have been with them for a year and we know their way of working. The first discussions relating to the RB4 project took place well in advance, with the result being a better integration of the engine. Our main preoccupation resulting from 2007 was to improve the level of reliability with the package and our advice has been taken into account during the conception of the new car. The result seems to be a car that is intrinsically more reliable. This winter we have therefore done well and we have covered many kilometres, and I believe we have made good progress.
Q: What have been the main tasks this winter?
FL: As with all the teams, the adoption of the new electronic regulations has kept us busy. We had initially worked on an adapted RB3 to run a car with the new electronics as we wanted to get used to the new settings and adapt to the new way of thinking. This first step went well, and the drivers quickly wanted to start working on the development of the new car. We have made good progress, but we are still far away from where we would wish to be.
Q: In what state of mind do you approach the first race of the season?
FL: I feel that our package this season is a step forward. In 2007 we worked hard but the team was still young and our hopes were simply to be able to finish races. For this season, not finishing would be a real disappointment because we have other ambitions. But it is hard to know the relative level of performance of the other teams. What we do know is that the gaps are very small, and we are in for a very competitive year and I think that the battle to reach Q3 will be intense. We now have to wait for the first race in Melbourne to have a better idea of the main forces in the championship. In any case, we will try our best.
ING Renault F1 Team in numbers
30 -- It's the number of tonnes of equipment sent to each Grand Prix. For Australia this has been transported by sea and by plane.