Rodders, radios, ratios... and Ricard. The Monday Morning Melbourne debrief from the World Champions.
Spaniard's engineer Nelson takes French team's trophy
After Alan Permane headed to the podium last time out in Malaysia, it was logical that when Fernando next took the flag, it would be his chassis race engineer Rod Nelson who climbed the steps to take the trophy. So what was the experience like for Rod?
"It was a bit dream-like to be honest, kind of a daze. I was... "relaxed" I suppose!" One of the funniest moments in the race came when Rod and Fernando were talking on the radio during the final stint, and Fernando told his engineer that "I am really relaxed" as Kimi Raikkonen charged him down. Rod's answer? Cool as anything, "It's pretty chilled here on the pit-wall too mate!"
The reality, of course, was anything but -- as the engineers covered every eventuality as the laps counted down. So what was Rod's opinion of Fernando's drive? "It was a very clean race, that just ran to plan for us. The strategy worked well, the tyres were perfect, and he was happy with the balance from the first stint onwards." So what was in store for the plane ride of home? "I think I'm going to sleep with the trophy in my seat..." smiled Rod as he bid Melbourne goodbye.
Radio goo goo, radio ga ga, or radio blah blah?
What is it about the Renault F1 Team and Queen? After Fernando's rendition of 'We Are The Champions' in China last year, 2006 has begun as something of a "radio blah blah" kind of year. Conversations about Renault after yesterday's race concentrated on a couple of radio snippets broadcast on television and the contrasting styles they appeared to show...
One was Fernando's relaxation technique mentioned above, while the other came at mid-race when Alan Permane asked his driver to speed up. So was that indicative of an under-performing Fisico, as the five-second message seemed to suggest, or a more complicated reality? Pat Symonds was unequivocal. "It was a great drive from Giancarlo," explained the Executive Director of Engineering.
The Italian had stalled at the start of the race and fought his way through to the midfield by halfway through the race. Pat picks up the story... "The car wasn't very well-balanced during the middle part of the race when we knew it was important for Fisi to make up ground, and he was complaining of a lot of understeer. We worked with him on the radio, and he adjusted the differential and traction control to get the car back in balance."
"Things were looking good then until after the second stop, chasing Jenson Button, when the clutch failed. On a machine as sophisticated as a modern F1 car, all the systems look to protect the car from this kind of problem -- and also cost you performance -- until you solve it."
"As soon as we did, Fisi caught Jenson very quickly, and put some pressure on him. On a circuit where overtaking is hard, you then have to hope for a mistake from the guy in front, or that he will push his equipment too hard. That's what happened. It's a shame for Jenson, but it was a victory in its own way for Fisico."
Playing the percentages
Last season, the Renault F1 Team was often described as playing the percentage game on its way to the world title. One year later, it is interesting to take a look at how the starts of the two seasons compare for Renault. After three races in 2005, the team had scored 36 points from a possible maximum of 54 -- a scoring ratio of 67%.
In 2006, that figure is now 42 points from 54, or 77%. Fernando sits on a fantastic scoring ratio of 93%, but the real difference comes from Fisico. Second in the championship, on 14 points, he is the difference between the strength of the team's position in 2005 and 2006. He has had his share of problems to deal with, but a combination of speed and determination has put him in a very strong position as the circus heads to Europe.
Round and round and round
During the three-week break before Imola, the test team will once again take up the slack and start pounding the circuits of Europe as we test the latest tyres and developments. The Renault F1 Team will be in action from 5 - 7 April at Paul Ricard with Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen, while Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo will be on duty at Barcelona from 12 - 14 April.
Both tests will see three days of running with two examples of the R26, as the team continues to improve its performance ahead of what is sure to be a challenging, and closely-fought, opening round of the European season.