Comments from the Renault team ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix
Fernando Alonso: "Our motivation is greater than ever"
Q: Fernando, there has been a lot of talk about pressure in recent weeks. How are you feeling ahead of the final races of the season?
Fernando Alonso: I have the opinion that stress is not useful. We have to do our job, and I must do 100% with the team. If we do that job well and we deserve the title, then we will win. The important thing in the next races is to give the maximum to the team.
Q: You last won a race three months ago in Canada. Is that a worry?
FA: We always knew that it would be very tight at the end of the championship, and I was prepared for this. At Renault we were ready for the opening races, and totally competitive: maybe we started at 95% of our maximum, while the others were at 70%. Now, everybody is at 98% or 99% and the performance is very, very close. We know we have the performance to win races, and we need to make it happen.
Q: What is the motivation like in the team?
FA: Well, we have been leading all year, and we want to finish in the same position! Honestly, I think the motivation is greater than ever. These are the last three races for me with this fantastic Renault team, and also the last races for Michelin in this era of Formula 1. So our motivation to win is enormous, and I think we can do it.
Q: How do you view the Shanghai circuit?
FA: It's one of the circuits that I enjoy. I have fantastic memories from last year, when we won the constructors' championship there. It has been designed to give overtaking opportunities, especially at the end of the long back straight, and that helps make the races spectacular. I think we can expect an exciting race.
Q: And what outcome to you expect?
FA: We have been saying all year that you cannot predict what will happen on track, with the competition being so close. Instead, we are focused on our objectives, and that means qualifying at the front and winning the race. That will be the target.
Giancarlo Fisichella: "China is a fantastic race"
Q: Giancarlo, you had a strong drive to fourth place from ninth on the grid in Monza. How optimistic are you about the performance of the R26 at the moment?
Giancarlo Fisichella: The car's competitiveness was very good in Monza and the one-stop strategy worked well for us. Michelin have done a fantastic job as well, and they have found some very good developments for the tyres. I think the overall situation is looking very positive at the moment.
Q: Renault now lies second in the constructors' championship, just behind Ferrari. Does that change your strategy?
GF: I don't think so. This has been a very tough championship all the way through the year, and it will go down to Brazil. Ferrari is a strong competitor, but we have clear targets for these races. I am trying to get third in the drivers' championship, Fernando wants to win, and for both those things, we have to beat the Ferraris. If we can do that, then the Constructors' Championship will be ours. We will be pushing all the way to the end of the season, just as we planned.
Q: Is China a circuit you enjoy?
GF: The Chinese Grand Prix is a fantastic race. The circuit is amazing, one of the best in the world with a challenging layout and incredible facilities. The people are friendly as well, very enthusiastic about Formula 1, and we always get a big crowd on Sunday for the race. This is a really good Grand Prix.
Q: Finally, how do you expect the R26 to perform?
GF: I think this will be a good circuit for the R26. You have to work hard to find a good balance, because the car has to be good under heavy braking but also stable for the quick corners, so you have to tune the aero and mechanical balance carefully. We were very quick there last year, with Fernando winning and I was 4th even with a drive-through penalty. I believe we can be very competitive in Shanghai.
Pat Symonds: "We know where we stand, and we're confident"
Q: Pat, the question on everybody's lips ahead of this race is whether Shanghai will be a 'Renault track' or a 'Ferrari track'. What is your opinion?
PS: As always, performance has to be looked at in relative terms. Shanghai is a good circuit for Renault, and we had a fabulous race there in 2005 when we dominated the Grand Prix and won the constructors' championship. But what may be more significant is that Michael Schumacher had two poor races there in 2004 and 2005. That trend could continue this year.
Q: Renault is now second in the Constructors' Championship to Ferrari. Would you say the team is on the back foot?
PS: I don't think so. The team has had a tough month: we threw away a win in Hungary, and events transpired against us in Monza. But had Fernando started from his correct grid position in Italy, we know he would have been fighting for the race win. Some people seem to think Renault is a spent force in this championship. That is far from the case.
Q: But surely the momentum is with Ferrari at the moment?
PS: In some senses, I think it is true. We learned last year that momentum and psychological advantage are important, when we struck a decisive blow with our run of wins at the start of the championship. But the other thing I remember is the team's response to losing the lead of the constructors' championship in Brazil. Losing the lead merely redoubled our resolve to get it back, and we did so in style. That was probably the most satisfying aspect of last season, and the attitude now is "OK, let's do it again"'. This team has the virtue of being very honest with itself. We know where we stand in terms of performance, and we are feeling confident.
Q: The team experienced a turbulent weekend in Monza. What impact will it have on this weekend's race?
PS: It is a completely closed chapter. I think you have to be fatalistic when evaluating these things. The fact is that Fernando's engine failed, and cost us the points. Had he been leading or in P22, that failure would have happened at the same point of the race. Our focus has been on fixing that problem, and getting on with the job. The events of the weekend were unfortunate, but made no difference to the final result. So we have to draw a line under it, and start again.
Q: That engine failure was the team's first in 2006. What has been done to ensure it doesn't recur?
PS: We have identified the weakness that caused the failure, and taken preventive measures. The engines we will run in China represent a performance gain over the units from Monza, both in terms of power and driveability.
Q: It has often been said that 2006 has been a 'tyre championship'. Michelin seemed to have made big gains in Monza. Has this been reflected in testing since then?
PS: They have continued to move forward, yes. We are very happy with our preparations for the final three races, and we have made progress on both the compounds and constructions. We found some very interesting improvements in Jerez and at Silverstone last week, and Michelin are pushing hard.
Q: With both championships so delicately poised, how much is the team under pressure?
PS: There is plenty of pressure, and there's no point denying it. We do not have any margin for error in these three races, but that also makes our job a lot simpler. The only option is to race aggressively. Second places are no good at this stage of the season. And the same is true for Ferrari.
Q: You have worked with both championship contenders. Can you separate Fernando and Michael on any level?
PS: It goes without saying that they are both fabulous drivers and formidable competitors, but I truly do believe that Fernando handles pressure better than Michael. Throughout his career, there have been many instances of Michael not performing to his potential when he has been under pressure. And I think the pressure for him is greater than ever in these last three races. Previously, he always had the safety net of trying again next year, if he didn't win. There is no 'next year' for him now...
Q: Both championships are in the balance with three races remaining; in many ways, it's a dream scenario for fans of the sport. How would you describe the mood in the team at the moment?
PS: I think it is determined, optimistic and excited. We have a very clear target that we are working towards, but we will be out there to enjoy these final races, and to go for it. It has been a classic Formula 1 season, and it is going down to the wire with a classic battle. It is great to be part of that.