The ING Renault F1 Team looks ahead to this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso: "Hopefully we can qualify well and score some big points in the race"
Fernando you had a physically draining race in Bahrain, but you still came away with a point...
Yes, my drink pump failed and so it was a tough race and I was a bit dehydrated when I got out of the car. It was good to score a point, but we were hoping for more after all our hard work over the last couple of weeks. I didn't make a good start and lost ground which decided my race because all the cars around me were running similar strategies. I think it's fair to say that we were the eighth fastest car and so finishing eighth is representative of our performance at the moment.
This weekend it's your home Grand Prix in Barcelona. How special is it to race in front of your home crowd?
It's always very special to race in Spain and I'm lucky to have two races at home this year in Barcelona and Valencia. Seeing the support of the fans always gives me a boost and I just hope that I can make them happy and have a strong weekend. It will be difficult to fight for the podium, but hopefully we can qualify well and score some big points in the race.
Tell us about the Barcelona circuit and how you expect the R29 to perform there?
All the teams know the track well as we do so much testing there in the winter. We tested there in February, but obviously we have developed the car a lot since then so we will need to work on the set-up during free practice. We are still missing some performance at the moment but the team has really improved the car already this season so we are certainly moving in the right direction. Hopefully we can take another step forward this weekend.
Nelson Piquet: "I'm feeling a lot more positive after Bahrain"
Nelson, we're a quarter of the way into the season. Sum up your feelings as we return to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix...
It has been a difficult start to the year for me, but I feel I've learnt a lot from the first four races. The wet races in Malaysia and China were quite frustrating and we couldn't really judge the performance of the car, but I'm feeling a lot more positive after Bahrain where I raced with the new diffuser. It would have been great to finish in the points, but all the cars are very competitive and reliable this year so to finish tenth was probably the best result that was possible on the day.
Barcelona is probably the track where you've driven the most. Do you enjoy racing there?
It's the circuit that I know the best, but it's not one of my favourites because it's not especially challenging for the drivers. It's all about having a good aero package and a well balanced car to cope with the high-speed corners. It's therefore difficult to overtake, so you need to qualify well to be able to choose a sensible strategy for the race. Barcelona is also really demanding for the tyres and so we need to see how the different compounds perform during long runs on Friday.
How much has the R29 improved since the start of the year?
We've definitely improved the car by fitting the new diffuser and the team did a great job to react quickly and adapt the car. We also had an update to the front wing in Bahrain and the car is now much easier to drive than it was at the beginning of the year. I know the whole team is working really hard to find more performance and now that we are back in Europe it will be easier to bring new developments to the races.
Pat Symonds: "We can expect a reasonable step in performance for Barcelona"
Pat, after four races, what's your verdict on the team's start to the year?
I'm disappointed with our start to the season. We're all well aware of the difficulties of trying to assess competitiveness through winter testing, but when we arrived in Melbourne we did feel we were higher up the pecking order than the performance we actually delivered. However, what has impressed me is how the whole team has responded to the need to become more competitive, particularly following the clarification of the diffuser regulations as we managed to get the new-style diffuser onto one of the cars in China, which is a credit to the whole team. So it has been a disappointing start, but we've definitely moved up the order in the last four races and there's a lot more to come.
Do you feel the drivers are getting the most from the R29?
I think they are, especially now that we've introduced the twin diffuser because the car was quite sensitive and difficult to set-up with the more conventional diffuser. The car used to have a very small sweet spot in terms of set-up, which made it difficult for Fernando and Nelson to get the most from the car. I do believe that this has improved since we've fitted the new diffuser, but it's still difficult to judge because we have been so limited with the amount of running we've done, especially in dry conditions. So we still have a lot to learn about the R29, but I do feel it's becoming easier for us to get the most from the car.
Can you update us on the team's development programme as the European season begins?
The whole team is still pushing hard with development and the diffuser and floor that we brought to China was very much a first attempt and over the course of the year we will see several more versions, the first of which we hope to have in Barcelona. In addition, we've got new wheel fairings this weekend with quite a major design change to give us an increase in downforce and a new rear wing. On top of that we've got a few small aerodynamic tweaks that we will introduce on a race-by-race basis. Overall we can expect a reasonable step in performance for Barcelona.
Have you been surprised by the relative competitiveness of all the teams this year?
Yes, I've been very surprised by just how close the racing has been in the first four races. Normally you expect stability of rules to lead to close racing and change of rules to move things apart, but that hasn't been the case this year, although the new rules have certainly shaken up the order of the grid. I don't have an explanation as to why things are so close, but I can speculate that one of the reasons is that the aerodynamic performance of the cars is probably a bit closer this year. With much simpler aero regulations, the advantage that some teams were getting from winglets, deflectors and vortex generators may have been lost. The aero domain has therefore been neutralised to an extent and the relative aero performance of the cars is perhaps a bit closer.
The second reason might be to do with tyres as I wonder whether the formula is becoming tyre-dominated. The fact that we are all using a Bridgestone control tyre that is relatively conservative is probably another factor that has led to the closing up of the field.
How do you expect the R29 to perform in Barcelona, which is renowned as the definitive aero circuit?
We weren't particularly satisfied with our performance in Barcelona during winter testing and I think that was probably because our aero performance was significantly below that of the cars with twin diffusers. Now that we have hopefully improved our performance with our own new-style diffuser, we certainly hope that Barcelona will be a bit more favourable for us.