Denis Chevrier, Renault's chief track engineer, sums up the team's winter testing progress
Q: Denis, what were your objectives during winter testing?
Denis Chevrier: As always it's a question of getting to grips with the new car. This year we had to evaluate a new machine as well as new tyres. In particular, enginewise, as after the first bench tests we wanted to validate the modifications that we'd made in relation to the previous R26, and make sure that everything was working properly once the engine was installed in the car. After that we racked up mileage and used it as a baseline to optimise our package and to improve it during the test sessions.
Q: And how has testing gone for the ING Renault F1 Team?
DC: Testing is used to learn, to discover our strengths and weaknesses so that that we can set a development baseline for future improvements. We've worked on reliability and these tests have taught us a lot. We've had a few issues, small mechanical hiccups, which is quite normal. We discovered what was wrong and we've come out of it in better shape; that's the very essence of testing.
Then we worked on the performance and we ended practice on a very positive note on the Bahrain circuit in the final session. We got through our programme. The team worked very hard and we took our overall package to its outer limits to enhance its performance.
Q: Do you think that the ING Renault F1 Team is now ready to tackle the first grand prix next week?
DC: We are among the teams that covered the most kilometres this winter. We did over 13, 300 kilometres which is very close to the figure we reached in 2006 at the same time. We ran on very different layouts from Jerez to Bahrain which enabled us to work on setting up the car and optimising our overall package.
We took full advantage of each session - weather allowing -- and I don't think we wasted any track time this winter. As in 2006, we worked hard and I think we can say that we're ready to tackle the start of the season. We know our package; we know its advantages and its disadvantages and we know the areas that we have to concentrate on to progress. Thus, winter testing has been very fruitful.
Q: What about the engine supply to Red Bull?
DC: While the testing process is basically the same, the points to be tackled have nothing in common. The ING Renault F1 Team is operating in familiar territory with clearly-established working methods and procedures. Red Bull Racing still has to put everything in place; it's a new partnership. We're both making maximum efforts so that things will evolve as positively as possible, and testing has been very encouraging in many domains.
It's all a question of learning to work together first of all and then increasing our mutual efficiency: that's what we've been concentrating on these past few weeks. Today, Viry has emerged from winter testing with more kilometres covered thanks to its second team, and this has given us more in-depth knowledge in certain areas concerning the engine's overall behaviour in particular, and that's going to benefit both teams.
Q: How do you evaluate the start of the season and the different teams?
DC: Each year there are always the winter testing champions who then have problems capitalising on this during the season. It's very difficult to make any kind of prediction, as not until after the first three grand prix will we be able to see how things stand and give a pertinent analysis. But we're not expecting any major upsets, the "historical" three top teams will still be at the front. Ferrari seems particularly sharp and has maybe a slight advantage performancewise over the others. BMW looks like the main challenger, but let's wait and see.
Q: What's the morale like with just a week to go before the departure for Melbourne?
DC: Certain key players in the team have moved on to other jobs, and those who have just been recently promoted are really keen to build something and make their contribution to the whole. Both at Viry and Enstone you can feel huge motivation and a very good dynamic even though everybody realises that it's going to be a tough season. We're fully aware that we'll have to fight very hard right from the start and not let a single point slip through our fingers!