Vitaly Petrov: "There is a great atmosphere in this team" Vitaly, after four races, how do you assess the start of your F1 career? The start of the year was quite difficult for me and there were a few missed opportunities in the first three ...
Vitaly Petrov: "There is a great atmosphere in this team"
Vitaly, after four races, how do you assess the start of your F1 career?
The start of the year was quite difficult for me and there were a few missed opportunities in the first three races. For various reasons things did not work out for me: I made a mistake in Australia and there were some problems with the car in Bahrain and Malaysia. To finish the race in China and score my first points was a great feeling and helped make up for the disappointment of the earlier races. But I always want more, and now that I have finished seventh, I must aim even higher.
How valuable was it to complete a full race distance?
I learnt an enormous amount in Shanghai, especially because it was a wet race with changing track conditions. At the start of the race it was really difficult to know what the weather would do and if we needed to change tyres so I was talking with the team on the radio and making decisions about our strategy. Also, I learned about the importance of looking after the tyres and by the end of the race I was very quick and able to fight with Schumacher and Webber, who were both struggling with their tyres. The final laps were a lot of fun and I didn't want the race to end!
You said recently that Renault feels like a family. Can you tell us about your relationship with the team?
That's right, the team is just like a big family and I'm really happy to be part of it. We work well together and they are always trying to help me improve. I've said before that the determination of the team is what impresses me the most and the fact that there are so many people working hard to improve the car for each race. There is a great atmosphere in the garage and you can feel that everybody is giving their maximum.
We're back in Europe now preparing for Barcelona, a circuit where you have a lot of experience. Are you looking forward to the race?
I've raced there many times in GP2 and we tested in Barcelona over the winter. It's a circuit where all the teams will be well prepared and I expect the gaps between the cars to be very small. We didn't have a very good test there in February, but hopefully the weather and track conditions will be different for the race and that will give us a chance to do better. As a circuit, it's technically very difficult and overtaking is almost impossible, which is why qualifying will be very important.
Robert Kubica: "I take a lot of positives from our start to the season"
Robert, after four races what is your assessment of your start to the season?
I think we should take a lot of positives from the first four races. If you had said to me at the start of the season, or even after Bahrain, that I would have scored 40 points and three top five finishes, I would have been more than happy. However, at the same time there has still been some frustration, especially in Shanghai where the safety car in the middle of the race definitely cost me a podium. But you have to accept that this is part of racing. Sometimes the luck goes your way and sometimes against you.
The team's development rate is getting you right on the tail of Mercedes. It
must be motivating to see the progress being made... The whole team is working hard and it's good that we're making the most of our opportunities in the races. But it's important to remain realistic because we still need some big steps to be at the front of the grid and fighting consistently with Red Bull and McLaren in normal conditions. The next race in Barcelona will be another big test for us because the return to Europe is usually a turning point in the season with many teams planning big upgrades to their cars.
Do you think the order of the teams will change again in Barcelona and that other teams may leapfrog ahead of you?
It's something we always expect in Barcelona and a lot of the teams have big expectations for their new packages. We are not planning to bring any huge updates, but we will keep gradually improving the car, just like we did during the first four races. We have to wait and see how we compare with the others; maybe the order of the teams will be quite different compared to the start of the year.
What are your expectations for the weekend?
It's the sort of circuit that all the drivers and teams know back to front so I'm expecting a very tough battle. All the teams will be very well prepared and usually get close to their potential so it's important that we maximise our performance so that we can fight for points in the race.
Alan Permane: "We've maximised our opportunities so far"
Alan, after four flyaway races the team has scored 46 points. Did you expect such a positive start to the season?
I think it's been a very encouraging start to the year and we've definitely maximised all the opportunities that have come our way, which is very important. We know that our outright pace is still behind the four fastest teams, but with our strategy from the pit wall and the performances of Robert and Vitaly, we have come away with more points than we might have expected.
Vitaly impressed in China with the maturity of his drive. How rewarding has it been to see his progress so far this year?
He deserves a lot of credit for the way he has tackled the start of the season. We've made no secret of the fact that he hasn't had the easiest introduction to Formula 1, especially with the lack of dry running over the winter. He's also missed out on race mileage with the car letting him down a couple of times already this season. To deliver such a strong performance in China was all the more impressive and shows how quickly he is learning about Formula 1.
Finishing his first race and getting points under his belt will surely have given him a big confidence boost...
He was very happy after the race and it's a nice first reward for all his hard work. It will certainly give him a confidence boost, but more importantly he now has the experience of how the car behaves over a race distance. In particular, we saw how he managed to look after his intermediate tyres in Shanghai, passing more experienced drivers like Schumacher and Webber, which shows that he's already racing intelligently and thinking his way through the races.
Robert continued his strong form in China with another outstanding drive. How much are you enjoying working with him?
His performances so far this year have been faultless and he's squeezing every ounce of performance from the car on every lap. Just as impressive is his work ethic and dedication outside the cockpit, which is the most I have seen from any driver. He spends an enormous amount of time with his engineers at the track going over data, doing video analysis, and just trying to improve the car in any way he can. Seeing such commitment is a big motivation for the entire team.
Looking ahead to Barcelona, are you confident the problems the team experienced during the winter test have been put to bed?
It's true that we didn't look great during the Barcelona test and completed limited mileage, but the issues we had during the test were not circuit-specific and I've no concerns about going back there. Barcelona is one of those circuits where you pay a heavy penalty if you're lacking aero efficiency, but we've added an enormous amount of downforce to the car since winter testing, so we shouldn't be out of position. We won't run the same set-up we used during the test because the car has evolved since then and the races have taught us a lot about how to get the most from it.
Is Barcelona still the ultimate test of a car's aero package?
It's certainly used to be the ultimate test, but since they slowed down the final sector, it's not quite as aero-dependent as it used to be. However, the first part of the lap remains very high-speed, and turns three and nine are quick, challenging corners where good aero performance counts. Even turns four, five and seven are relatively quick corners by the standards of most circuits and, if your car has aero deficiencies, there's nowhere to hide.
Most of the teams are expected to introduce big updates in Barcelona -- are you anticipating a big shift in the pecking order?
I don't think it will shift massively. Mercedes may move away from us a little bit but we've got a new front wing and some other new aerodynamic parts that should help us make another step forward. It's not the biggest update we've had this year, but it continues our approach of adding new parts at each race. It will be very interesting to see how the situation shakes out between the different teams.