Renault Sport Formula One Team previews the second race weekend of the 2016 Formula 1 season, the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Fred Vasseur : Very encouraging
‘It was a very positive start to the season.’
How happy were you with your first race as Racing Director in Australia?
It was a great feeling and I would like to thank the team for the opportunity for a smooth, good weekend! At the end of the Grand Prix I had the feeling that we had been working together for a long time. For sure we need to improve, and we know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but so far I am very happy with how things are going and the collaboration between Viry and Enstone.
How would you review Australia? Did the team achieve its aims for the first race?
It was a very positive start to the season. We aimed to get to the end of the race and we got there with two cars. The end result was not excessively flattering, due to the number of incidents that did not go in our favour, but the pace at the end was good, comparable to Force India and not far from Williams, which is encouraging for the team and a good basis to build on. We need to maximise our qualifying form so we can take advantage of this strong race pace but that will come I am sure. If it wasn’t for the restart I think we could have scored points as we were in a great position, but that’s life. We know where we are and what we need to do to achieve what we want.
What did you learn about the car?
We didn’t have any major issues, it was good to drive. The first target was to finish the race and we achieved it with both cars. You always have to think about what was the objective when you start and if someone told me in Barcelona that we would fight in the race with a Force India and a Williams I would have laughed! It’s a good surprise.
How did you think the drivers performed?
I think we can be very pleased with the drivers. Jolyon had a very good debut. It was a shame for Kevin, but he built back up and was strong at the end of the race. It’s a bit disappointing we did not score points, but we did not truthfully expect to be in the points in Melbourne given the late start we had to the project.
What areas will you work on for Bahrain?
We don’t have to be focussed on one thing, but work on every side of the business: engine, chassis and drivers. We need to work as a team to move forward. But it is very encouraging to start like we did in Australia, we now need to keep the momentum going.
Jolyon Palmer: Feeling at home
‘I am looking forward to going to a track I know and have won at before.’
Jolyon, how would you review your first race weekend as a Formula 1 driver?
I really enjoyed it. Everything went very smoothly. I had a good qualifying and then maximised the car in the race. I was happy with the race; I had a good start and was wheel to wheel for quite a long time, scrapping hard – it was great fun. I wanted to get to the finish, and you always dream of stealing a point, but I just missed it with P11, which is really frustrating! But we can definitely build on this. In Australia we didn’t have any more pace in the car, but it was an encouraging start.
Did your dad give you any tips?
Not really! The only thing he kept saying was to drink – he kept repeating that I needed to say hydrated, but that was his only expert guidance! He let me get on with it…
How did you feel coming back to racing after a year out?
It felt completely normal. The difference from GP2 to F1 is that there are bigger variables. People are on different tyres and strategies, so you have to work out whether you can realistically fight and keep position, but it was not a problem. I had some good battles and really enjoyed it.
And how have you found the team?
I feel at home in the team. The team is operationally very good and we have more developments coming. The car is nicely balanced, the pace is good – all in all, it was a strong start, especially considering the takeover was completed just before Christmas. We have upgrades coming all the time and it should not be too long before we can fight for points consistently.
What can we expect from you in Bahrain?
I raced there in GP2 and it’s a track I have been successful on in the past. I won the last race I did there, then I also had a podium. I also drove in practice last year. The track is OK. There are a lot of straights so plenty of overtaking opportunities, so we will find out more about the car in this trim. There is a lot of track evolution as it is very sandy at the start of weekend, and then the track gets more and more rubber down, so conditions change a lot.
The weather is almost always sunny, but it can be quite windy, which can blow sand onto the track. The fact it’s a night race is pretty interesting as it’s still very dry. In terms of set up, practice 1 and 3 are hard as they are a lot hotter than the race but there is a lot we can do in procedural terms, such as aero tests. I will be more relaxed now I have one race under my belt, particularly as I finished all 58 laps. I feel much more comfortable after pre-season testing and am looking forward to going to a track I know and have won at before.
Kevin Magnussen: Able to fight
‘If the race could be tomorrow I’d be there, no questions asked!’
How was your first race with Renault Sport Formula One Team ?
Having been out of F1 for a year, it was very nice to be back. It was a tough race, but I was really happy as the pace was very good. It was annoying to get that puncture at the start, which compromised our race. I didn’t have any contact as far as I could tell, but I saw the pressures coming down and knew that something was wrong. In some respects we were lucky to get the red flag, but it was even better that Fernando was unhurt as that was a big crash.
We could get back to the pits and on to the grid and then I had the race from there. We had a good pace - on par with Williams and maybe even faster. We didn’t think we would have the pace of the top ten, but in the end we did. I’m gutted as we could possibly have been in the points if I had not had that puncture, but that’s life. For a first race, it looks very encouraging for the rest of the season.
What did you think of the R.S.16 ?
The feeling in the car was good and I was able to fight and overtake and put the car where I wanted to. It’s clearly very driveable. It is not fast enough to be on the podium or even in Q3 but it’s a good car that handles well and it’s something we will continue to work on. We don’t need to change the philosophy in any way, just keep developing and it will come to us.
What did you make of your new team in race trim ?
It is very clear that this team is a top team in F1. Maybe not in terms of pace : we know where we are and we are not happy with this, but when we get the car faster we will be there. We have a good baseline and something we can really work on. I didn’t have a good race but I am very happy as it looks good for the rest of the season.
The next race is Bahrain, is it a favourite race for you ?
It’s not the most exciting track, to be honest ! The heat is a major challenge and it is tough on the rear tyres so having a car that looks after them will be an advantage. There are also four long straights so it is a power orientated track. I will enjoy getting out there and if you ask me if the race could be tomorrow I’d be there, no questions asked !
Bob Bell: A great baseline
‘For a first race as Renault it’s a credible position to be in.’
Did Melbourne reach your expectations in terms of performance from the R.S.16?
Overall, I think it was a very credible start. The team gelled very well together and we were able to meet the technical and sporting challenges of our first race as a new team. We had a largely trouble free weekend, which was positive as we were able to go through our run programmes and get the best out of the car. We got the most out of the new qualifying format, which is a great credit to the team and its ability to think on its feet.
In the race, we looked quicker than you might have expected from qualifying and we were able to manage the performance well. Kevin was unfortunate to get a puncture so early on but he recovered well, while we couldn’t have asked for more from Jolyon. Overall it was pretty good. We didn’t score any points, but we are eighth in the championship – first of the people not to have any points! – and I think for a first race as Renault it’s a credible position to be in.
What did you learn about the car in Melbourne?
The car behaved as we expected. We had ironed out any problems in testing or knew how to fix them so we came to Melbourne prepared. In qualifying we were a little better than expected but the pace of the car in the race itself was good. We looked after the tyre wear very well and in race trim the car behaved itself on short and long runs. That’s a great baseline and you can add real performance when you have that. We also brought a prototype front wing to Melbourne that Kevin used and it appears to have lived up to expectations. It will be on both cars in Bahrain.
Did the race in Australia highlight any areas for improvement?
We will obviously be approaching development on two fronts: engine and chassis. In the first half of the year we will concentrate on the engine and have a normal development programme for the chassis. We will have the standard aero developments from race to race, as everyone will do, then have the complex mechanical items that will come through when we get into the European testing programme. I think we have a credible plan to advance the car but obviously we have to balance what we want to do next year versus our aspirations for this year.
Where do you think Renault Sport sits in the order at the moment and what do you think is possible by the end of the season?
I think we need to consolidate our understanding of where we sit in the rankings and, once we know that, we can sit back and consider what is realistic for us to achieve by the end of the year and how we drive development to do it. We have a solid understanding of the car, we don’t have to work hard to understand performance problems, so now it is more a case of going back to base, reviewing, and then finding a clear route.
What can we expect in Bahrain given that it’s a very different type of circuit?
I don’t think we’ve seen anything at Barcelona or Melbourne that is worrying. Barcelona is pretty indicative of standard aero levels and mechanical grip so we haven’t seen anything that concerns us for the major tracks. Naturally we would like to repeat the form we saw in Australia, and maybe sneak into the tail end of the points if we can.
Renault Sport Formula One Team