Fernando Alonso: "We needed to confirm our progress, and that is what we did in Istanbul"
Fernando, in Turkey you confirmed the progress shown at the Spanish Grand Prix. What is your frame of mind as we approach Monaco?I am really happy. In Turkey we showed that the progress we made in Spain was not simply a coincidence. I scored three points, although it's fair to say that the problem Heikki had at the start of the race helped me. These are three very important points and it's proof that we are improving and fighting back. There is still a lot to do before we can fight at the front, but we are moving in the right direction and we are more determined than ever to get there.
You have won in Monaco for the last two years. It must be very special to drive in the Principality? Yes, it is an unusual circuit and I have some good memories there because to win in Monaco is very special for a driver. It's a race that I enjoy because the atmosphere is unique and driving through the town is very exciting. It's also a race where you cannot afford to make any mistakes, and this year the race promise to be very interesting.
Do you think that the progress made in the last two races will allow you to do well in Monaco?We have progressed, but we are still behind Ferrari, McLaren and BMW. Even though Monaco is a circuit where the driver can really make the difference, a good car will always be an advantage and makes things easier. But we will try and spring a surprise and make the most of our opportunities. At the moment we are fighting for seventh place, but, as we saw in Istanbul, it is possible to do better if one of the favourites has a problem. We therefore need to be ready for any chance that comes our way.
What area do you need to concentrate on in order to improve your car? Monaco is a technical circuit and requires good traction so that you can have a good corner exit. This also makes it easier to defend your position or to overtake a competitor. It's not the strong point of the R28 at the moment, even though we have improved, and so I think that that is where we will concentrate our efforts when we start practice on Thursday.
Nelson Piquet: "I will approach the race in my usual way by trying to do the best job I can for the team"
Nelson, you have raced almost a third of the season now. How do you feel and how would you describe your F1 debut so far?It has not been an easy introduction to Formula 1. I've made a few mistakes, had some bad luck and this is not how I imagined my first five races as a Formula 1 driver. But the important thing is that I have gained some valuable experience, and learnt some lessons, which I hope will allow me to become a stronger driver for the rest of the season.
Monaco is by far the most glamorous venue on the F1 calendar and a very atypical circuit. Do you usually enjoy street circuits?For sure, although racing on the streets can sometimes be a bit of a lottery. Qualifying is always important, but in Monaco it will be even more so because the streets are so narrow and it is almost impossible to overtake. Then in the race you need to have a good strategy and hope that you don't get stuck in traffic. And of course, like any street circuit, you have to be totally consistent because the walls are so close that any mistakes will be heavily punished.
Is it a special feeling for you to race here as you lived very near Monaco when you were young? The atmosphere in Monaco is incredible and as I lived there when I was younger I know all about that. It will be special to go back there as a Formula 1 driver, although it does not feel like a home Grand Prix. I've raced there in GP2 already, and so I know my way around the track, but it will certainly be different in a Formula 1 car and that is something I am looking forward to.
Considering the recent progress the team has made since Barcelona, what can you expect from the Monaco GP? How will you approach this race?I will approach the race in my usual way by trying to do the best job I can for the team. It would be great if we can score some points and that will be my goal, so I will need to qualify well, hopefully in the top ten, and then try and have a consistent race.
Bob Bell: "Our objective is to move closer to the leading group of cars"
Bob, the team has taken a big step forward in the last couple of races and scored some valuable points in Turkey. How does it feel to see the result of all the hard work? I feel immensely proud of the team and the huge effort that everybody has put in, which has been well rewarded by the step forward we have made. There has been a lot of work behind the scenes with everyone working long hours, but it has paid off, and that is remarkably satisfying for everyone.
Fernando had a strong race in Turkey to finish 6th. What did that do for team morale?It's done a lot for the morale of the team, but we are not under any illusion in terms of the magnitude of our progress. We made it clear that we would take a step forward in Barcelona and Istanbul, but we remained realistic and knew that we were not going to jump in front of the top three teams. It was a case of lifting ourselves clear of the midfield bunch. So as a team we have delivered on that promise, and that's a good morale booster for everyone.
Is it fair to say that Renault has emerged as the fourth fastest team in the pecking order? I think that is a fair assessment and we will look to consolidate that position in Monaco. But as the next few races unfold our clear objective is to move ourselves closer and closer to the leading group of cars. The recent progress is just the first of several steps that we are going to have to take this season.
Nelson has done five races now. How is he settling into the race team? He's settled in very well in terms of his relationship with the team and he gets on well with everyone. It's also fair to say that as a rookie he has a lot to learn, and we must not forget that Formula 1 racing takes a lot of getting used to. At circuits that he knows well, such as Barcelona, he has done an exceptional job, but he has found it harder at other circuits that are slightly newer to him. His race in Turkey was compromised by his poor qualifying performance, but I'm quite sure that he will bounce back in Monaco. He's young; he's very capable and he will learn from his mistakes. I expect him to keep getting stronger and stronger.
What can you tell us about the continued development of the R28 – any revisions for Monaco?Traditionally there is a special package developed for Monaco because it is such a unique place. It's a high downforce circuit; it requires additional steering lock, and we have to adopt a slightly unusual set-up to deal with its peculiarities. But on top of that we have some additional development items, which will be applicable to any of the forthcoming races and so we should see another small step forward.
How challenging is the Monaco Grand Prix?It's a difficult circuit where it is very easy to make a mistake and experience counts for a lot. We always see a lot of incidents in Monaco anyway because the margins for error there are much smaller, and therefore the lack of driver aids may catch some drivers out more than we have seen in previous years. I think that is why Fernando will come to the fore because he's so on top of his game – he will get the best out of the car.
What can we expect from the team in Monaco? Will it suit the R28?I think that we can do well in Monaco. It should suit the car and I think Fernando and Nelson will be able to get the most out of it. And with the developments that we have to help move us forward, we are all quietly confident about Monaco.
Monaco: Tech File
Monaco may be the most unique race on the Formula 1 calendar, but for the engineers the challenge remains the same: fine-tuning their car to achieve maximum performance around the demanding street circuit. It's an unforgiving place, and getting the most out of the R28 around the twisty streets will require an unusual set-up and commitment from the driver. As a street course, the track surface is quite low grip in the early part of the weekend, but come Sunday, the track will be nicely rubbered-in and will continue to improve until the final lap of the Grand Prix.
Ride Heights The roads in the Principality may feel billiard-table-smooth at the wheel of a road car, but they are incredibly bumpy for the rock-hard suspension of a Formula 1 car. To cope with the variations in track surface, ride heights are raised between 5 and 7mm relative to the norm.The public roads are also sharply cambered and very slippery – especially on the traffic markings that are dotted around the circuit.
Suspension In order to maximise the car's grip, the team will use softer suspension settings than normal. They help the car to ride the bumps and changes of camber. The surface also means that the wheels must be able to move independently to cope with the bumps, and we soften the anti-roll bars to achieve this. Special attention is paid to suspension camber angles too. The key objective is to give the driver a neutral, driveable car that he can have confidence in around the circuit.
AerodynamicsMonaco demands the highest downforce levels of the season. Contrary to popular belief, the primary benefit does not come in the corners, as many of them are taken at such low speeds that mechanical grip is of greater importance. Rather, the gains from high downforce come under braking and acceleration, keeping the car stable into the corners and ensuring optimum traction on the exit.
Steering angle The famous hairpin at the Grand Hotel is the tightest of the year – along with the sharp turn at Rascasse. Monaco therefore demands the highest steering angle of the season, some two times greater than anything required in Barcelona. Dedicated Monaco front suspension is produced to ensure the necessary steering lock can be applied.
TyresMonaco is not particularly demanding on the tyres due to the slow nature of the circuit. As such, Bridgestone will supply the softest compounds in the range (soft and super-soft), which will help deliver good traction out of the low-speed corners.
Gearbox Closely-spaced gear ratios are used at this circuit in order to optimise acceleration, and get the most from the engine at slow speeds. The gearbox will have to cope with 53 gear changes per lap – a total of nearly 4150 in the race.
EngineSuperficially, Monaco may seem the least demanding circuit of the year, with just 45% of the lap spent on full throttle. Appearances, though, do not reflect reality. The bumpy surface means the engine can easily over-rev if the wheels leave contact with the ground. A driveable engine and good traction from very low revs are extremely important.
Renault at the Monaco Grand Prix
Renault may have traditionally enjoyed great success at its home race in France, but silverware was never quite so forthcoming in the Principality nestled on the Côte d'Azur. The team did not compete in the race in 1977, but thereafter, it took until 1983 for Renault to score its first Monégasque podium – and even then it was tinged with disappointment, as third-place finisher Alain Prost had started from pole. In doing so, he emulated the feat of former team-mate René Arnoux the previous year. But after qualifying P1 in 1982, René failed to finish, spinning out of the lead on lap 14.
1985 saw another podium finish for Renault power, this time for Elio de Angelis in his Lotus. But it was his team-mate who, in just his second F1 visit to the Principality, had confirmed the beginning of an enduring love affair. Ayrton Senna made a sensational debut in his Toleman in 1984, finishing second in the rain-blighted Grand Prix. In 1985, with Renault turbo power behind him, the Brazilian qualified on pole – and was leading comfortably when, on lap 13, an engine failure halted him.
Four more pole positions followed during the V10 era, for Mansell in 1992, Prost in 1993, Hill in 1995 and Frentzen in 1997. However, none of these pole-sitters ever won the great race for Renault. Mansell came close in 1992, but a late-race pit-stop meant he shadowed Ayrton Senna to the chequered flag, clambering all over the McLaren, but unable to pass. In 1993, Prost – ten years after previously qualifying on pole for Renault – could only race to fourth place: he may have won the race four times, but each victory came at the wheel of a McLaren. Hill's 1995 pole was converted into second-place, while second-place starter Michael Schumacher took the win – the first victory for Renault power in the Principality, and part of a Renault 1-3-4 (with Hill and Herbert).
Victory for a 100% Renault works team took until 2004 – but when it came, it did so in style. Jarno Trulli headed a 1-3 qualifying effort, putting his R24 on pole by a colossal 0.4s (the same margin that separated P2 to P6 on the grid), and then made the most of the car's handling on the tight streets to take his only career win to date. Tyre wear problems hobbled the Renaults in 2005, but twelve months later, Fernando Alonso took his first Monaco win at the wheel of the R26 – winning from pole position.
Last year the team was again competitive on the streets of Monaco as Giancarlo Fisichella stuck his R27 on the second row of the grid in fourth – a result that he repeated in the race.
This year the team return to Monaco keen to build on the progress of recent weeks with another strong weekend challenging for points on Sunday afternoon.
Monaco: Over at Red Bull Racing
Fabrice Lom, who looks after the activities of Renault F1 with Red Bull Racing, looks ahead to the Monaco Grand Prix.
Fabrice, how was the Turkish Grand Prix for Red Bull Racing? We were a bit uncertain as to how the car would work in Istanbul, but in the end we were reassured because we were even closer to the leaders than we had been in Barcelona. In Q2, for example, our performance was quite flattering, with the 5th and 7th best times for Mark and David.
The team compete in Monaco next. What do you expect there? This race is always an unknown and it's a bit of a lottery. What will be interesting is to see how the drivers cope without any driver aids. All season, we have seen that some of them have difficulty getting into the corners and being precise, and that can have serious consequences in Monaco. In qualifying, a good lap requires the driver to push hard and kiss the barriers, but there is a fine balance between being close to the barriers and being in the barriers.
What is the most important characteristic for the engine in Monaco?In the Principality brute power is of little importance. Instead you need a progressive power delivery. We therefore work with the engine mapping programmes. It is a real challenge because we are still in the learning phase with the standard electronic control unit and this is the first time we will run it at a track like Monaco. But it's the same for everybody.
Finally, what is the position with the engine cycles? In Monaco, Mark will have the V8 from Istanbul and David will have a new V8. For Mark this will not be a problem because the power is not that important in Monaco. David will have to use his V8 on the demanding track in Montreal two weeks later, but it's still not a concern as our engine should not suffer in Monaco because the cooling supplied from the Red Bull chassis is excellent.