Pat Symonds, Renault's executive director of engineering, reviews the Australian Grand Prix and reflects on how it affected the team. Q: Pat, several days have now passed since the race in Melbourne. What conclusions have you drawn? Pat...
Pat Symonds, Renault's executive director of engineering, reviews the Australian Grand Prix and reflects on how it affected the team.
Q: Pat, several days have now passed since the race in Melbourne. What conclusions have you drawn?
Pat Symonds: I think that the major surprise of the weekend for us was that the gap to McLaren and BMW was much greater than we had expected after the final week of pre-season testing in Bahrain. As we approached the first race, we were well aware that our level of performance was not good enough -- and that Ferrari were a long way in front. However, we believed that we could race BMW, and that we were not far off McLaren on race pace. However, the reality turned out to be that we were behind, both in qualifying and race trim.
Q: Giancarlo drove a strong race to finish fifth. What was your assessment of his drive?
PS: Giancarlo had a relatively straightforward race -- and did everything we could have expected of him on Sunday. He was a little unlucky with traffic during his second stint, which meant he lost time to the BMW's. But he was aggressive when he needed to be, particularly with Trulli after his first pit-stop, and defended strongly against Massa. I think he showed a good cutting edge, and took the car to the position it deserved.
Q: Heikki's F1 debut was much less straightforward...
PS: It is fair to say that he was on the back foot from the very beginning. The car problems in P2 and P3 cost him track time, and this very likely contributed to his poor qualifying position. When you start back in the pack, you end up in traffic for a large part of the race -- and I think some of the mistakes we saw were probably born of the frustration of being in that position.
At the time we signed Heikki, we full accepted that as a rookie, he would make mistakes in his first year. We have seen some of them in Melbourne, but one of the many reasons we believe in him, is that we know he is realistic, honest and intelligent. Without a doubt, he will learn from Sunday -- and I don't think it will be repeated.
Q: How will the team respond to the results in Melbourne?
PS: In a sense, we won't. The first race may have quantified the performance deficit, but we were already well aware that our level of performance was not adequate. Therefore, we have been focusing for a number of weeks on assessing where the lack of performance lies. We are not dealing with a fundamental handling vice, as both drivers have said the car is reasonably well-balanced. Our concentration is therefore on getting the most out of the tyres, but first and foremost on aggressive development of the car's aerodynamics.
Q: 12 months ago, the team was sat atop the constructors' championship; this year, you are in fourth place. Does that change the way in which you approach the coming races?
PS: In recent years, Renault has been extremely successful by applying certain principles to how we develop our car, and how we go racing. Among them are honesty and rigour with ourselves. This is certainly a time when we need to apply that honesty, but we will also need to use sound engineering practice, and have the confidence not to deviate from what has brought us success in the past. If we do that, we will surely match our competitors.
Q: The team will be on track next week in Malaysia. How important will that three-day test be?
PS: I think it simply carries the same weight as any other test under the current agreement. Those three days will represent 12.5% of our in-season testing allocation, and we will have to make the best possible use of it. We know that our performance is not where it should be, and the challenge now is to get on with the job and sort it out.