Comments from the Renault team ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix Heikki Kovalainen: "Looking forward to a strong race in Japan" Q: Heikki, the car looked pretty quick in Spa, you scored points for the sixth race in a row -- and yet you came...
Comments from the Renault team ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix
Heikki Kovalainen: "Looking forward to a strong race in Japan"
Q: Heikki, the car looked pretty quick in Spa, you scored points for the sixth race in a row -- and yet you came away disappointed. Why?
HK: Simply because the car was clearly quicker than we managed to show in the race. I fought for every lap and didn't miss any opportunities, but we could have done better than eighth. But there were positives to take the from the weekend, primarily that our pure pace seemed to have improved. That's why I'm feeling optimistic for the final three races, and particularly Japan, which is a new circuit for most of the drivers.
Q: You will not be racing in Suzuka, which was a favourite of the drivers, but at Fuji. Are you disappointed?
HK: No, times change, Formula 1 changes, and that's part of life. Like Monza and Spa, Suzuka was a really challenging circuit, for the drivers and the car. This year's race, though, is at Fuji, which is a track I already know a little bit about after doing a promotional event for our partners here last year. I think it will make for good racing, which will be good for all the Japanese supporters, who are always really enthusiastic about Formula 1!
Q: You are quite well-known in Japan, with some loyal supporters who have been following you for several years...
HK: Yes, it's amazing. The Japanese fans are without a doubt the best of the whole season: very enthusiastic, always kind, and they will wait for hours to see you at the hotel or the circuit. Even last year when I wasn't a race driver, I was amazed by how many people recognised me or stopped me for autographs. It really puts you in a good mood, and makes you want to race well for them.
Q: What can you tell us about the circuit, as you are one of the few people to have driven here...
HK: The circuit includes a long straight of around 1.5 km, and I think that the aero level will be a very important thing to calculate well. There are also some sequences of medium- and slow-speed corners, particularly the last five corners which are all in second gear. So we will be working hard to find the right aero compromise, and also to get good mechanical grip in the slow sections. In terms of overtaking opportunities, turn 1 is probably the most obvious one, with a lot of passing. I am really looking forward to racing there!
Giancarlo Fisichella: "A new circuit with new challenges"
Q: Giancarlo, you seemed out of luck in Belgium -- an engine change and retirement first lap retirement...
GF: There isn't much to say about the weekend to be honest. It was a complicated weekend, and it was made more frustrating by the fact that the car was working well. My concentration is now on the final three races, where I am looking to have some good battles and score more points.
Q: The Japanese Grand Prix has moved to Fuji -- are you looking forward to racing on this new circuit?
GF: Yes, I think it is always interesting for the teams and drivers when you go to a new place, and a new circuit. It breaks up the routine from year to year when things change around. And for the drivers and also the engineers, I think it makes our job a bit more interesting. To be honest, this isn't my first time in Fuji because I raced there back in 1993 in F3 -- but the circuit has changed a lot since then. That means I will have plenty of work to do learning the track.
Q: How do you approach a race at a track you have never driven before?
GF: We have our traditional circuit walk with the engineers early in the weekend, where we talk about the driving line, the braking points and the gear ratios. After that, the best thing is to do a few laps on a motorbike or scooter to get some visual reference points and try to understand the flow of the circuit. That will be what I focus on at the start of the week.
Q: Is the Japanese Grand Prix a race you enjoy?
GF: Yes, I really do. Japan is a country I like in general, and I have always had a fun time racing here. I have been on the podium both times I have raced for Renault in Japan, and I am hoping for another good race at Fuji this year.
Pat Symonds: "Aiming to finish the season on a high"
Q: Pat, what was your verdict on the weekend in Spa?
PS: It was a pretty mixed bag to the honest. In terms of the car's pure competitiveness, I think our situation was much like in Turkey, where Heikki in particular showed that the car was capable of leading the midfield pack. But Giancarlo's chances in Belgium were compromised by an engine change, and I don't think we gave Heikki the best strategy. We had anticipated less severe tyre degradation than we experienced, and it meant that the one-stop strategy didn't work out for him. So we didn't really get a chance to show the car's full potential.
Q: Looking ahead to Fuji, what preparations have you made for this new circuit?
PS: As always, the major part of our work has involved completing detailed computer simulations. We have very good circuit maps, and extremely accurate software, but there are still unknown parameters to cope with: we don't know how the drivers can use the kerbs, for example, and we don't have detailed information about the grip level. This means we have to run many different simulations, with different estimated values, in order to be full prepared for every eventuality. But that basic homework gives us a good feeling for what to expect.
Q: What stands out about Fuji, following that preparation?
PS: It is very clearly a circuit that follows the modern trend, of slow corners and long straights. The 1.5 km long main straight means we have to compromise our ideal downforce level in order to ensure competitive top speeds, and that in turn makes the car trickier for the drivers to handle elsewhere on the circuit. I think that the very slow section at the end of the lap, from turns 10 to 16, is also likely to be a critical sector of the track in terms of lap-time. But we will need to wait until first practice until we can get a complete understanding of the circuit's challenges.
Q: Will that mean more running than normal on Friday?
PS: Yes, probably. We already do a lot of running on Friday because we have unlimited engine mileage and a relatively generous tyre allocation. And of course, there is an even bigger incentive to run at a new track, to allow the drivers to learn their lines -- and to have more time to perfect the set-up.
Q: What preparations have the drivers completed?
PS: We will complete our usual circuit walk with the drivers and engineers when we arrive, to get a detailed understanding of the track. And I am sure that many drivers up and down the pit-lane will have been practicing on simulators, varying from a Playstation to the more sophisticated systems some of the teams possess.
PS: I don't think the pattern is quite as obvious as it has been in some recent years, but I think that generally speaking, Ferrari seem to have an advantage on circuits including a lot of quicker corners -- and McLaren seem very good in the slow speed stuff. That means we have some interesting races coming up: Brazil has very few high-speed corners, whereas China is much more balanced. As for Fuji, we really don't know at the moment. There is a very slow section at the end of the lap, and only a couple of relatively high-speed corners. But it is almost impossible to predict before running begins.
Q: There has also been much talk about the rivalry between the McLaren team-mates. What are your thoughts on it?
PS: I think it is natural and normal, the way it should be. They are competitive people, and they are both burning to win. I have been immensely impressed with Lewis, but we may have seen a little chink in his armour after Spa. As for Fernando, we know how strong he is psychologically. I am looking forward to seeing how their battle unfolds over the final races.
Q: And what about Renault's prospects as you head for the final leg of the season?
PS: The midfield group has clearly closed up over the last few races, which was to be expected, but I am confident that we still have the performance to lead that group. While our championship position is relatively comfortable, we cannot afford any slip-ups, and especially if we have to deal with unpredictable conditions which are a distinct possibility. This has not been our best season, but the drivers and the team deserve great credit for their undiminished commitment. We will be aiming to finish on a high, with three strong, dynamic races.
Steve Nielsen: "The better you prepare, the better you race"
Q: Steve, the team and its equipment returned overnight on Sunday from Spa. What has been happening since then?
SN: Well, it was the start of a very busy few days at the factory! The mechanics were off on Monday and Tuesday, and then back at work building the cars to Fuji specification. Our truckies began packing freight boxes on Tuesday, and the entire shipment of air freight for the last three races departed the factory late on Thursday. In total, Enstone and Viry sent just under 40 tonnes of air freight, and eight tonnes of equipment had already been sent to Japan by sea freight. Then, the team began travelling out to Japan on Saturday and Sunday in order to begin setting up.
Q: How much preparation is required for a new event, from the logistical point of view?
SN: There is a fair amount of work that has to be done. Our Roadshow team did an event at Fuji late last year, which meant they were able to photograph all of the offices, the garage space and generally give us a good idea of what to expect. That allows us to plan our garage installations, how we will set-up our offices etc. And since then, our race team coordinator Geoff Simmonds travelled to Japan about a month ago to catch up with the circuit personnel and tick off any last details, down to elements such as finding the nearest supermarkets for the hospitality personnel.
Q: So while you are visiting a new circuit, it won't be a step into the unknown?
SN: Far from it. We know what facilities will be at our disposal, and how our equipment will be fitted into those spaces. So the groundwork has been done, which should mean that there are not too many surprises when we arrive on site. The better your preparation, the smoother your race weekend will be.
Over at Red Bull Racing, with Fabrice Lom
Q: Fabrice, Fuji is a brand new circuit on this year's calendar. The Renault F1 Team did a Roadshow event there last year -- will Red Bull Racing benefit from that experience?
Fabrice Lom: It's an important point. The rules of our partnership are very clear, and it is only an engine partnership. The only information from Renault F1 Team that is shared with Red Bull Racing, concerns the engine itself. Of course, we can provide advice and our opinions from what we saw during last year's Roadshow at Fuji, but we cannot give any kind of information about parameters such as downforce levels for example. And we respect that agreement absolutely. On the engine side, we know how the RS27 should behave and we are completely open with our partner on this level.
Q: Looking at your simulations and what you already know of the circuit, will it be demanding for the engine?
FL: Not particularly, no, and especially coming after Monza and Spa. There is a very long straight of around 1.5km, but it is preceded by a slow corner and the longest period spent at full throttle is under 20 seconds -- compared to 25 seconds in Spa. The predicted percentage of the lap at full throttle is around 50%, which is below the annual average. So that means we have no particular worries about engine reliability, particularly because the track lies around 500m above sea level, which makes life easier for the V8: the engine develops less power, the loads on the pistons are reduced. But that doesn't mean we won't be paying our usual attention to reliability.
Q: Formula 1 is returning to Fuji for the first time in 30 years: are you pleased?
FL: Yes because it is always interesting to learn new circuits and tackle new challenges. Suzuka may be a legendary circuit, and I must confess that on a personal level, I have never particularly enjoyed the surrounding area. So for me at least, it will fun to see what Fuji is like!