French GP: Renault preview

Renault celebrates 100 years of Grand Prix racing at Magny-Cours Renault and the Renault F1 Team will celebrate Grand Prix racing's centenary this weekend at the French Grand Prix. 100 years on from the first Renault-Michelin victory at the...

Renault celebrates 100 years of Grand Prix racing at Magny-Cours

Renault and the Renault F1 Team will celebrate Grand Prix racing's centenary this weekend at the French Grand Prix. 100 years on from the first Renault-Michelin victory at the Grand Prix de l'Automobile Club de France in Le Mans, the entire team will be hoping to mark a centenary of success in 2006.

Much has changed since Ferenc Szisz crossed the finish line at Le Mans after more than 12 hours of racing to take the chequered flag -- and the title of first Grand Prix winner. More significant than the changes, thought, are the similarities -- as man and machine push themselves to the limits to demonstrate sporting and technical excellence on circuits across the globe.

Every Renault victory is drawn from, and enriches, a motorsport DNA that runs right back to its source: the ingenuity and competitive drive of brothers Louis and Marcel Renault, from a small workshop in Billancourt just south-west of Paris. The desire to prove their abilities drove them to demonstrate a voiturette up the steep incline of Rue Lepic in Paris' Montmartre in 1898; to take victory in the Paris-Vienna race of 1902 with a 'light car' design against bigger, faster machines; and also to enter the Grand Prix in 1906, an official return to racing for Louis Renault after the death of brother Marcel in 1903, to once again demonstrate the excellence and ingenuity of his company's designs.

Since those pioneer days, Renault has won the Formula 1 World Constructors' Championship seven times (six times as an engine manufacturer, once as a works team), twice taken victory in the Monaco Grand Prix with its own team (2004/06), and conquered the Le Mans 24 Hour race with the Alpine-Renault that triumphed in 1978 at the hands of Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and Didier Pironi. At its home race, it has taken pole position seven times (1979/81/82/83/84/2004/05), won the race five times (1979/81/82/83/2005) and as an engine manufacturer in 1996, took a famous 1/2/3/4 finish with the Williams and Benetton teams.

Furthermore, it is a tradition that has been built alongside loyal partners. Fernando Alonso's Canadian Grand Prix victory was the 100th for Michelin in Formula 1 -- 100 years after Szisz's Michelin-shod Renault triumphed at Le Mans. Alonso's Barcelona success marked 100 wins for the partnership between Renault and Elf, begun back in 1977 -- and Elf also passed the 150 F1 wins milestone at the 2006 British Grand Prix.

Yet as milestones are passed, and records fall, one truth remains. That each success,small and great, is only possible with the dedication and passion of the women and men who pursue ever greater challenges. In 2006, motorsport may not directly develop the cars of tomorrow, but it does express a company's passion, its soul and its expertise. This weekend's centenary is also a commemoration of those values that continue to drive the Renault F1 Team forward today.

Q: Fernando, you arrive in Magny-Cours with a championship lead of 19 points. You have won six out of ten races, finished every one and only once not been on the podium. Can you believe how well the start of the year has gone?

Fernando Alonso: It has been better than we expected at the beginning of the year! With all the new rules for 2006, we were a little bit worried about starting the season with a brand new car, and a brand new V8 engine. The team did a fantastic job over the winter though, and when we got to the race we were 100% ready. That's what allowed us to have such a good start to the year.

Q: Looking to the French Grand Prix, you are the defending race winner. What are your memories from last year?

FA: It was a fantastic race last year, one of the best for me. McLaren were really strong during that part of the season and we won the French Grand Prix because we deserved it. It was a perfect race, with a fantastic atmosphere. The crowd was excited, and I was too. I was very proud to win that race.

Q: Yourself and the Renault F1 Team have three home races in effect -- in Spain, Great Britain and France. You have won the other two this season... are you looking for a hat trick?

FA: For sure. I think that from my point of view, in the paddock, with the fans, this is actually quite a normal race. But for the French guys in the team, they are extra motivated and excited for their home Grand Prix. So that's my focus -- to do better than ever for them, and concentrate on winning in France for our team, for Renault, and for Michelin and Elf as well.

Q: What about the circuit? Will it be a good one for yourself and the Renault package?

FA: I think so. There are a few high speed corners there, and you need good traction. Both of those things are characteristics of the R26, so it will be a good circuit for us and for Michelin too I think. There are two quick chicanes at Magny-Cours that I really enjoy, taken in 5th or 6th gear, and they are the only ones of their type on any circuit. So it has some unique challenges as well.

Q: Finally, Ferrari dominated the Indianapolis race weekend. Do you expect to bounce back strongly in France?

FA: Yes. I won four races in a row before Indy, but I always said that the championship was not over, and it sounded really pessimistic. But a gap of 25 points before Indy didn't mean that we would be champions automatically, and now that the gap is 19 points, we cannot be pessimistic and think the advantage will disappear quickly. You have to look at the big picture for the championship. I was first or second at nine of the ten races -- and in the next eight races, I think we will be able to keep on winning and increase the lead even more.

Q: Giancarlo, you are third in the world championship as you come to Magny-Cours, as a Renault driver for the second. What's your feeling for this race?

Giancarlo Fisichella: It's a special special. I am very happy to be working with Renault -- and to know that I am staying with the team for the future. Fernando and I both go to Magny-Cours with the possibility of winning, and it will be an important race for Renault on a lot of levels. We have a lot of fans there, all the race team members from Viry-Chatillon are very motivated, and the stands are full of people from Viry and other Renault factories. They will all be pushing with us on Sunday, and we will be doing our maximum to win the race.

Q: You were in Goodwood last weekend for the Festival of Speed to help celebrate Renault's Grand Prix centenary. What did you think?

GF: It was a really impressive place, just totally different to what we are used to at the Grand Prix weekend! You could really feel the passion of the fans, a lot of warmth coming from them, and see their enthusiasm for the cars too. It was great to be part of Renault's celebrations of 100 years in Grand Prix racing -- I knew that there was a lot of history at Renault from the 1970s and 1980s, but I didn't know that it went back a hundred years. It would be really nice to win the centenary race this weekend.

Q: Is this a difficult circuit for the car and engine?

GF: Most of all, I think it is quite a hard circuit for the tyres. We have one very high speed corner at turn 3, but I don't think that is the most important one on the circuit. There are a lot of slow-speed corners everywhere and they are where you gain or lost a lot of time. We have to find a good mechanical set-up to have good levels of grip in the corners, and traction on the exits of the slow speed turns. The traction makes it quite hard for the tyres too, and we have to be careful of rear tyre wear in the race -- especially if it's very hot.

Q: You had a strong podium result in Indianapolis last time out. More of the same in Magny-Cours?

GF: I had a really strong weekend in Indianapolis. I had a good feeling with the car straight away but even so, I left with mixed feelings. I felt that I did the maximum possible in finishing third, but we were still a long way off Ferrari. So for Magny-Cours, my goal is to maintain my personal level of performance -- but from a position where we can beat both Ferraris. The team has been working hard to develop the car all season, and we have another engine step this weekend in France which will give us a boost. I am optimistic that Michelin will have a perfect tyre, so we want a weekend without problems to be able to give our fans they victory they want to see.

Halfway and beyond...

The Renault F1 Team reached the halfway stage of the season during the North American campaign with strong leads in both the drivers' and constructors' championships. A tough weekend in Indianapolis saw main rival Ferrari re-gain ground on the French team, but also enabled Giancarlo Fisichella to surge into third place in the drivers' championship. So what's the prognosis for the final eight races of 2006? We asked some key players in the world champion team for their thoughts:

Alain Dassas, President, Renault F1 Team

Q: Renault announced renewed long-term commitment to Formula 1 last April. What has been the impact of the announcement?

Alain Dassas: The impact of the announcement is wide-ranging. Firstly, it reassures the team. Within Renault, there is strong support for the F1 programme but, for the shareholders, there were some questions. We now know what the future looks like, and I can see new energy. In the coming months, the programmes aimed at exploiting our F1 success will grow. We have just established a Motorsport Management Committee aimed at making better capital from our F1 success on a commercial and product level. In terms of our sponsors, we will also try and leverage further involvement from suppliers to the Renault Group.

Flavio Briatore, Managing Director, Renault F1 Team

Q: Can Renault take double championship victory again in 2006?

Flavio Briatore: Yes, I believe so. We have the performance, the reliability and the people. They are doing the job, and doing it well. If we carry on, if we take nothing for granted and continue to push ourselves, then we can do it. It will be a tough fight, but that is the challenge and the thrill of F1 -- to work with the team, with its people, to achieve your goals together. That is what really motivates me -- and I know we have the ability to take the championships this year.

Bob Bell, Chassis Technical Director

Q: Has the mood of the Renault F1 Team changed compared to 2005?

Bob Bell: I think it is even more determined. The pressure to deliver doesn't just come from the outside: it comes from every member of the team. There is a self-imposed desire to take things to the next level, to move on and to do an even better job than last year. It is a paradoxical situation we find ourselves in. Last year, we had nothing to lose but could afford to take a slightly conservative approach to our racing. This year, we have everything to lose but we need to really push like hell to stay ahead.

Rob White, Engine Technical Director

Q: What are the team's plans for development of the RS26 engine to the end of the season?

Rob White: We are absolutely committed to the performance development of the RS26 engine to the end of the season. The engine is a critical performance parameter in the car's performance, and we will aim to develop it as well as we did last year, and hopefully better. It is clear that we need to pursue our development aggressively in order to maintain our advantage over the competition and although we may not have the biggest 'war chest' in terms of resources, we are well-equipped for what we need to do, we believe we have established competitive targets to do it, and will be disappointed if our season is not rewarded with more world championship titles.

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering

Q: What are your expectations for the second half of the championship?

Pat Symonds: In the last few races, we have seen that McLaren are coming back in to the mix and they will play a major role. At the start of the year, I was expecting a four-way fight between Renault, Ferrari, McLaren and Honda. Ferrari have lived up to expectations, and Honda seem to be further behind than we thought. But after struggling in the opening races, McLaren are right back at the front. We are no longer fighting just one team but two. It will be a thrilling finish to the year -- and one where we intend to come out on top!

Denis Chevrier, Head of Trackside Engine Operations

Q: What is the main strength of the Renault F1 Team at the moment?

Denis Chevrier: I think the greatest strength is the absence of weaknesses. Not in terms of our drivers, nor the engine, chassis, tyres or strategy. I think we have the best of what's available up and down the pit-lane in every area. From this point on, we have to ensure this system stays strong and continues to perform exceptionally: any lowering of standards could cost us very dearly.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Fernando Alonso , Flavio Briatore , Didier Pironi , Jean-Pierre Jaussaud
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Renault F1 Team , Benetton