The ING Renault F1 Team prepares for the third round of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship: the Bahrain Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso: "We must approach the season step-by-step and keep improving" Fernando, after an amazing race in...
The ING Renault F1 Team prepares for the third round of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship: the Bahrain Grand Prix.
"We must approach the season step-by-step and keep improving"
Fernando, after an amazing race in Australia, you scored just a point in Malaysia.
Yes, we scored a point for eighth place and it was not possible to do any better. It is only a point, but a point all the same. We know that our level of performance at the moment is not at the level of the leading teams, but we are working hard to move forward and close the gap. To finish in the points must be our goal at the moment and we must approach the season step-by-step and keep improving.
In the last four years you have won in Bahrain twice. Is it a circuit that you like?
I do have happy memories because I won there in 2005 and 2006 with Renault. It is an unusual circuit because of the sand that can be blown onto the track and so driving the car can feel quite strange. You never really know what the track conditions will be like from one corner to another, and sometimes you can be taken by surprise. The temperatures are also high in Bahrain, but after hot races in Melbourne and Sepang, we are already used to this.
What in your opinion are the main demands of the circuit?
Sakhir is renowned as a circuit that is demanding on the brakes. The wear can be very significant and it is an aspect that we have to pay attention to, especially in the race so that we can be sure that we do not have a problem that will cost us any positions. From the first free practice session on Friday, this will be something that we will keep in mind.
What will be the goal for the team this weekend?
We don't know yet exactly where we stand, although we know that we are behind Ferrari, McLaren and BMW. Reaching Q3 is not easy and so scoring points in the race is also difficult. But we have scored points in the first couple of races and I think that is what we must aim for again this weekend in Bahrain. We must try and take advantage of the slightest opportunity that comes our way and each race must be seen as a way for us to progress.
"We must be ready to take any opportunities that present themselves"
Nelson, you had a difficult debut in Melbourne, but you bounced back in Malaysia were you showed good pace and finished your second Grand Prix.
The weekend was certainly much more positive in Malaysia and I was in a position to do lots of running in each session, which allowed me to find a good rhythm for the whole weekend. Unfortunately I did not have an ideal qualifying session and that is something I have to improve. The race itself was difficult because my drink was not working and I was stuck in the traffic, but I did not finish too far away from Fernando and I am happy to have completed my first Grand Prix - that is very important for me.
You know the Sakhir circuit as you raced there in GP2 in 2005. Is it a circuit that you enjoy?
To be honest it is not one of my favourites. But I do know the circuit and that is certainly an advantage for me. I will be able to start working on improving the set-up of the car with my engineers as soon as the practice sessions begin, rather than having to learn the circuit. That will allow me to approach my weekend more calmly.
The team must still improve the performance of the car, but what are you hoping for from your third Grand Prix?
My goal is to be in the points. That was my target in Malaysia but unfortunately I was not in a position to do it on that occasion. Fernando has finished in the points twice in the first two races, and so I would like to follow this and score some important points for the team. I think that we can aim for seventh and eighth places and we must be ready to take any opportunities that present themselves.
The track is often slippery in Sakhir because of the sand which gets blown onto the circuit. Is there a specific area where you must work in order to improve the car?
There is nothing special you can do, you just have to stay on the clean part of the circuit and try not to make any mistakes. I think that the race will probably be eventful, a bit like Melbourne, with the drivers making mistakes more easily as a result of the new regulations and the absence of driver aids.
"The situation is very different to last year"
Pat, where do you feel the team stand after the opening couple of races?
I don't think we learnt a great deal from the first race and that is not uncommon because Melbourne is always an unusual race, but in Malaysia we had a more straightforward race and so I think we can see the picture starting to emerge. In Australia we thought that McLaren had a big advantage, but when we got to Malaysia we were not quite so sure and Ferrari had the upper hand. That suggests we are likely to see something similar to last year where the performance of teams swings from one circuit to another as the strengths and weaknesses of the cars become apparent. Behind those cars there is a big bunch of teams that are all very closely matched, but I think we have to believe that BMW, Toyota and maybe even Williams are ahead of us and we therefore have a lot of work to do.
What positives do you take from the opening two races?
There are plenty of positives as we have had pretty good reliability in the first couple of races. Nelson didn't finish in Australia, but that was only due to a very trivial electrical problem and, other than that, the cars have run reasonably well. I think that we can take a big positive from Nelson's start to the season as he overcame a very difficult weekend in Australia and bounced back in Malaysia where he was very strong, which is a real credit to him. I think the other positive which we all expected is the sheer effort that Fernando puts in, and particularly the way he grabbed fourth position towards the end of the race in Australia - that was just so typical of Fernando and shows us that he never gives up.
What have the team identified as areas to improve in the quest for greater performance?
Ultimately there is one area that is most dominant in terms of performance and that is the car's aero package. But the situation is very different to last year, and I think that is a point we need to emphasise because last year our aero performance was not what we believed it to be and that was because we had a very specific problem in correlation between the wind tunnel and the car. This year our correlation is perfectly reasonable, it's just that our aero performance is not where we want it to be, and I believe that is because we are still suffering the penalty of the development time we lost while getting the correlation back. We've tried desperately to catch up by starting work on the 2008 car earlier, but clearly we haven't done all the catching up that we need to do. What we can do now is redouble our efforts in that area and concentrate on improving the aero performance.
Going back to the drivers, how do you rate Fernando's performances so far?
Fernando really is one of the positives and the effort we get from him is fantastic, as is his understanding of the race, the tactics and the whole business of Formula 1. He goes about things in a very calm way and I like that because I think it pervades through the team. I always like to try and put calmness in the team because I think it operates better that way and it's great when you have a driver who can do that. The other thing about Fernando is that his results are very motivational, he's not a guy who has to go around motivating people because his ability and his results motivate people in themselves. Everyone knows that at the end of every race Fernando has put in a 100% effort no matter what the circumstances are or what position he is racing for, and that is incredibly motivating for the whole team.
Nelson enjoyed a more positive weekend in Sepang and gained valuable mileage. What can the team expect from him in Bahrain?
I think Nelson had a pretty exemplary weekend in Sepang and it was a big step forward from Australia where there were a lot of problems that were not of his own making. He showed a lot of strength to bounce back from such a difficult weekend and perform like he did in Sepang. In terms of what we can expect from him in Bahrain, I think the answer is that we can expect further building on a very solid Malaysian weekend and another strong performance. Nelson already knows the track as he did three days of testing there last year and that will be a big help because he won't have to learn the circuit. It's not a necessity to get him out on the circuit just doing miles and I think we can adopt a much more normal programme with him in Bahrain, which will allow him to use his new tyres better and have a clearly focussed weekend.
How do you expect the R28 to suit the Sakhir circuit this coming weekend?
There are a lot of similarities between the first three circuits, and particularly between Malaysia and Bahrain where the general set-up of the car is not that different. I think that Malaysia was a reasonably straightforward race where, with the possible exception of Williams, we saw everyone's true colours, and I don't think that the conditions of Bahrain are sufficiently different to alter the status quo that has been established. So I see us being part of this very tight bunch of teams with everything to play for, and the ability to be at the front or the back of that bunch with very there being very little in it. We managed to be in that bunch in Malaysia and I expect the same in Bahrain, which means that points will be the target and I'd love to see both drivers through to Q3. But I know that is not going to be easy because that is the nature of the competitiveness at the moment.
And finally, how would you sum up the mood in the team at the moment?
We had hoped that we would give Fernando a car that was capable of winning because we know that he can win, and so far we haven't done that. That leads to some disappointment, but above all it leads to determination that we are going to give him that car. Everyone in the team hated last year, especially after two years of regular winning, and our determination is to get back to that standard and not to accept anything less than that.
Renault at the Bahrain Grand Prix
The Bahrain International Circuit was launched to the world in 2004 and quickly established itself as a valuable edition to the Formula 1 World Championship. As a race in the desert, the 2004 Bahrain Grand Prix was a historic day as it was the first Formula 1 Grand Prix to be staged in the Middle East. Since then, the Bahrain Grand Prix has enjoyed a regular early season slot and stands as one of the biggest sporting and social occasions in the Middle East.
With only four races to date, Renault has played a significant part in the history of the Bahrain Grand Prix, sharing the victories 50/50 with Ferrari. First blood went to Ferrari in 2004 as Michael Schumacher won the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix. Both Renaults fared well on their first outing in Sakhir, and the end result was a double points finish with Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso finishing in fourth and sixth places respectively.
A year later, the team arrived in Bahrain in a rich vein of form having won the opening two races of the season. That soon became three as Fernando Alonso claimed pole position and then drove an assured race to record Renault's first victory in Bahrain, en route to his and the team's first world championship.
2006 saw a repeat performance with Renault again taking the top prize as Alonso came out on top after an in intense tussle with the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher. Having qualified in fourth spot, Alonso's fighting drive was all the more impressive as the team played the strategy to perfection, allowing the Spaniard to lead the field after the second round of stops. The Renault driver emerged from the pits and headed into the first corner side-by-side with Schumacher, but the Spaniard was on the racing line and made the advantage count to fend off the Ferrari driver and claim victory.
Last year's race saw the Ferrari team restore the balance as Felipe Massa won the race, leaving Renault and Ferrari with two wins apiece in Bahrain. The ING Renault F1 Team was unable to match its feats from the previous couple of seasons, although Giancarlo Fisichella secured a couple of points for the team by bringing his R27 home in seventh. This year the team returns to Bahrain keen to find more success, with the clear goal of getting both cars in the points.
Sakhir: Over at Red Bull Racing
Fabrice Lom gives his first report of the season and talks about the ambitions of Red Bull Racing-Renault ahead of the third race of the season in Bahrain.
Fabrice, what are your thoughts on the first two races of the season for Red Bull Racing?
We can look at the beginning of our season in two ways: as a glass that is half empty or as a glass that is half full. There are many positive aspects from the first two races: the car is competitive, the reliability is there and we have scored points. On the other hand we broke an engine in Sepang, which was our first technical problem with Red Bull Racing since the start of our partnership. We need to make sure that this does not happen again.
How does the team prepare for Bahrain?
We are preparing in a calm and focussed way. In the first few years of racing in Bahrain we used to protect the engine from sand by using a special air filter, but this type of filter became the norm and today we use it at all the races.
What is the situation with the engines for Mark Webber and David Coulthard this weekend?
David's V8 will be on its second race because we decided to give him a fresh engine in Malaysia after his retirement in Australia. As for Mark, he will have a new engine in Bahrain.
Is it a problem to be out of synch with the engines?
A little bit. The performance of an engine is never identical and depends on whether it is new or if it has already done a race. That makes the comparison between our two drivers more difficult. As far as logistics are concerned, you always need to be extra careful when transporting a new engine. Instead of having to take care of this every one in two races, we now must do this for each Grand Prix. That being said, if this remains the case until the end of the season, I will be delighted, as it will mean that we have not retired from any of the races.