As expected, Ferrari and McLaren were the leaders of the pack in the 2007 season opener at Melbourne but reigning constructors' champions Renault struggled for competitiveness. The French squad was over a second off the pace of Ferrari's race winner Kimi Raikkonen and had to settle for a meagre four points from Giancarlo Fisichella's fifth place.
"It's not just a question of simply looking at the classification, but the gaps as well," engine chief Denis Chevrier told the team website. "We were around a second a lap off the pace. It's huge, especially as we didn't run into any special problems. We did not have the wrong strategy or meet with problems during pit stops, for example."
"It's difficult to attribute this lack of performance to any one parameter in particular; it would be too simple but one thing that's clear is that we're not yet getting the best out of the tyres. We'll have to sort through the data collected this weekend, find some explanations, and then improve the interaction between the chassis-engine-tyre package."
Rookie Heikki Kovalainen, whose debut was eagerly anticipated, had a difficult race with a few off-track excursions and crossed the line in 10th. It was a bit of a disappointing show from the Finn and Renault managing director Favio Briatore apparently described Kovalainen's performance as 'rubbish'. Alain Dassas, President of Renault F1, was kinder.
"Heikki was not very comfortable in qualifying and then made a few mistakes in the race," he commented. "But we can't take it out on him. He's a young driver and he was under heavy pressure: he's still got a lot of learning to do. He's got a long way to go but I'm sure he'll get there."
Naturally Renault was not happy about its results but Dassas is confident that the team will not be disheartened. "We knew that we were tackling this championship as challengers and not favourites. We're going to make up lost ground and improve the engine, chassis and drivers. The development programmes have been launched; we're going to do our very best."
Chevrier described the 'hierarchy' of teams as Ferrari then McLaren, then Renault and BMW on roughly the same level even though BMW had the upper hand in Melbourne. Come the next race in Malaysia, where the track differs greatly from Albert Park, he thinks the pecking order could change a little.
"This circuit (Sepang) is very different and it emphasizes different dynamic qualities of the cars, in particular with the long quick corners," he explained. "So the hierarchy may evolve. In addition, we'll have completed three days' testing on the track before tackling the grand prix. So we'll have more reference points."