Comments from the Renault team ahead of the French Grand Prix Giancarlo Fisichella: "I can't wait to get out on track" Q: Giancarlo, two great races in North America -- but no more points on your championship tally. What were your feelings as...
Comments from the Renault team ahead of the French Grand Prix
Giancarlo Fisichella: "I can't wait to get out on track"
Q: Giancarlo, two great races in North America -- but no more points on your championship tally. What were your feelings as you headed back to Rome after Indy?
Giancarlo Fisichella: Mixed feelings to be honest. As soon as I started running in Canada, I knew that we had taken a good step forward with the car. We were quick, consistent and I thought that in the race we could fight with Ferrari and BMW -- and that was how it turned out.
Then in Indy, the car was good again. Maybe the feeling was not quite as positive, but we had a good strategy, and got into the top ten quite easily in qualifying. Then I had a spin, and that meant zero points. I felt really sorry for the team after that, but we have to look at the positives. The car is getting better all the time, and that's thanks to the hard work of everybody at the track and the factory.
Q: You had a spectacular race in Indy, climbing back through the field...
GF: Yeah, it was good fun. But I'd rather have a lonely race and score points, than all that overtaking and finish P9! It just showed that the car was working really well. I had 36 laps of fuel in the car for qualifying, and even with that fuel load, I was overtaking guys off-line through the infield as I came through the pack. So we had a good strategy, and good potential. It was fun passing those cars, but ultimately, I lost too much time doing so and that meant I couldn't fight for the points.
Q: This will be your third French GP as a Renault driver. A special feeling?
GF: Without a doubt. I have had the best years of my career so far with Renault, so it is going to be a great feeling to be representing the team again at Magny-Cours. The motivation in the team goes up a notch for this race, especially for the engine team who are racing in front of their friends and family. Does it make us try harder? Of course not. But it makes a good result extra special. We will doing our maximum to achieve that on Sunday.
Q: You mention the Renault personnel who will be in the crowd. Do you get a chance to meet them over the weekend?
GF: We will be doing some promotional activities in Paris before the race. Heikki, Nelson and myself will be visiting the Technocentre in Guyancourt on Wednesday, to meet the personnel there. They do a great job supporting the F1 team, both in terms of the human support and motivation from all our fans at Renault and also some important technical work behind the scenes. This will be our chance to thank them all and we're looking forward to it.
Q: Looking at the Magny-Cours circuit, how tough a challenge is it?
GF: I think it's quite a selective circuit, because the car needs to be strong in every area to be quick. There are some very high speed corners, sharp changes of direction, and some heavy braking and traction areas. That makes it a hard circuit for the tyres too. Temperatures are generally very high, and the tyres quite soft, so you have to find a good set-up to make them last well through the stint, especially the softer compound we will be running this weekend. Exiting the slow corners is tough on the rear tyres as well, while the fast corners give the fronts a hard time. So you need a consistent balance to avoid taking too much out of the tyres.
Q: And in terms of results, what are you expecting?
GF: Firstly, to score more points, that's a priority. After that, we have to race with BMW and try to beat them. They are the team we are fighting in the championship, and we have to try and out-score them in each race from now on. It's not going to be easy, but we know that our car is improving all the time, we are making steps forward, and the motivation is there to do the job. I can't wait to get out on track and start working.
Heikki Kovalainen: "Looking to maintain the momentum"
Q: Heikki, two strong races in North America and a positive test in Silverstone last week -- things seem to be coming together for you at the moment?
Heikki Kovalainen: I think I have some good momentum going at the moment -- and I want to maintain that in France this weekend. Montreal was my best result so far in F1, and Indianapolis was my best race: a strong weekend, no mistakes, no problems, five laps led and a good level of performance from me and from the car. I am still improving every time I drive, learning and putting it into practice. And as we develop the car, that is showing in my race results.
Q: Tell us a little about the R27. What has changed since the start of the season?
HK: We had a car that was difficult to drive. It was mainly inconsistency -- one lap, you would go into a corner and it would be fine; next lap, a tiny change could mean you missed the corner completely. That meant it was hard to perform consistently. Since then, the team has done a great job improving the car, finding the problems and fixing them. We are going in the right direction and getting there, step by step. We have better consistency, more downforce, and that gives the drivers more confidence. The result? Improved performances.
Q: Have your strong races in North America given you more confidence in the car?
HK: For me, nothing has changed. I came into F1 with confidence in my ability. I always push to the limit, always attack and try to be aggressive. Sometimes this year, I have overstepped the mark. But I never lose confidence, never let my head go down. I always believed that things would come together for me, and I was positive even in the difficult moments. I think that the results in North America have changed the perceptions around me, not my confidence in myself. My job is to focus on the essentials, block out the rest -- and drive to my full potential.
Q: Last year, your work was mainly with the test team. This year, you have obviously been working primarily with the race team. How is the relationship there?
HK: Great -- just like it was last year. I have been around the team since 2002, when I joined the RDD (Renault Driver Development) programme, and I knew a lot of the guys already before the season. But I have been so impressed with the team and their approach this year. They are all world champions but even when we have qualified 13th, or had reliability problems, their commitment has been 100%. I still remember qualifying in Canada, when the guys repaired my damaged car in about 5 minutes to get me back out on track. It was an incredible effort, and it says so much about why this team are double world champions.
Q: What about Magny-Cours? Can you repeat the results from North America in France?
HK: Hopefully! It's no secret that France is a really important race for Renault, and racing in front of all the people from the factory at Viry, and the other Renault factories, makes the atmosphere very special for us. When I last raced in Magny-Cours in GP2, I had one win and one podium, and it's a circuit I enjoy: there are some quick corners, and some good high-speed chicanes that you need to attack to get a good lap-time. I think we made another step with the car last week at Silverstone, so I am looking forward to getting out there on Friday, and seeing how things stack up. We got the maximum out of our package in Indy. We have to do the same again this weekend.
Pat Symonds: "The tide is turning"
Q: Pat, the team came away from North America having scored an equal number of points to rivals BMW. That's a positive for you, surely?
Pat Symonds: Well, the first thing to say is that the results don't quite tell the full story, because some odd things happened to both teams, in both races. But in overall terms, yes, I think it's indicative of the fact that the tide is turning, we are very close to BMW now and racing them hard.
Q: The car certainly seemed much more competitive in Canada and Indy...
PS: I think it's since Monaco to be honest. Without a doubt, we have upped our game and pulled out of the midfield bunch we were in, to stand on top of it. And there's still more to come.
Q: The other key factor was seeing improved performances from Heikki...
PS: What a contrast from the start of his weekend in Canada, to the end of the race in Indy! After Friday and Saturday in Montreal, not much more could go wrong. But he then put in a great drive in Canada: he pulled up from the back, he was consistent, he pushed and challenged all the way. Then we got to Indy and he was strong all weekend, mentally and in terms of his driving. He used the equipment to the utmost, and even led the race, which we hadn't anticipated!
Q: Giancarlo was less fortunate, and saw two potentially strong finishes go by the wayside...
PS: Sometimes, it is very hard to be critical of the drivers. For all of us, our job is all about taking things to the limit. If you do that, occasionally you will overstep it. As engineers, our mistakes are not very public; as a driver, it absolutely is. Giancarlo made a mistake in America, and it was a great shame because he was on a very strong strategy. But after that spin, what a drive! He showed all of his good qualities, driving very quickly, consistently and with a good dose of aggression too.
Q: Since the start of the season, you have spoken in detail about how the team has been solving its performance problems. How is that work progressing?
PS: The first thing to say, and it's an important point, is that the work is progressing. Of course, it is never fast enough - we all want to be leading championships and winning every race, and you're never happy until you are doing so! But we take a lot of comfort from the fact that after a poor start to the year, we are pulling it back so rapidly. Other teams are not having a great season, and not pulling it back as we are. There is plenty to be proud of in what we are doing.
Q: Have the new testing restrictions for 2007 affected the way you have tackled the problems?
PS: I don't think so, no. Our work has largely been focused on the aerodynamics of the car, in the wind tunnel. There has been some track work too, but the mileage restrictions haven't limited us at all. We wholeheartedly support the testing limit because it's simply so expensive to run these cars in testing, something like 200 euros per km.
Q: Looking ahead to the French Grand Prix, how will the circuit suit the R27?
PS: Magny-Cours is known as a very smooth circuit -- although the new final chicane now gives the cars a severe pounding. It's quite an aerodynamic circuit, with some good fast chicanes which need a responsive car. The challenge is very different to that of the low-medium downforce tracks in Canada and the USA. If you look back to circuits like Barcelona, we were struggling there at the time, but since then some very positive steps forward have been made. So I certainly believe our performance will be better, but we are still working on the car, still trying things, and hoping for a good race in France.
Q: Finally, what do you expect the second half of the season to hold for Renault?
PS: There's plenty of activity at the factory, that's for sure. As we better understand the problems we have been suffering from, we are able to improve the car. There will be enhancements for France and Britain. And that's in addition to continue the push with our normal development processes. There are a lot of new bits coming for the car, and you can be certain that we will keep on fighting.
Over at Red Bull Racing with Fabrice Lom, Principal Engineer, Red Bull Racing Trackside Engine Support
Q: Fabrice, what conclusions did you draw after the races in North America?
Fabrice Lom: From an engine perspective, we haven't encountered any major problems so far, and that's always a good starting point. To summarise the team's position after seven races, I think we can say that Red Bull Racing is stronger than its direct competitors, Toyota and Williams. What's more, we have improved our reliability since the start of the season, and we didn't come back from North America empty-handed. Of course, there is still work to be done -- but we are making good progress.
Q: Heading into Renault's home race at the French Grand Prix, does anything change in your approach?
FL: The French Grand Prix is always an important event on the calendar for Renault and we will be determined to put in a strong performance at Magny-Cours. Our approach isn't really any different, we work in the same way but we are certainly even more determined to succeed! And if we get a good result in France, it will mean a lot to the whole team -- not just the engine side from Renault.
Q: Coming back to the engine itself, is Magny-Cours a challenging circuit which demands special preparations?
FL: No, not really. It is a relatively straightforward circuit, as there are no long straights, few high-speed corners, so very few areas that demand precautions or preparation above and beyond the norm. So our work before the event is no different, but once the cars are running, we will be paying special attention to how the cars ride the kerbs in the last two corners. They take them very aggressively -- and when the rear wheels leave the ground, this can lead to over-revving which subsequently damages the engine. That can be a big risk, and one we monitor carefully.