The ING Renault F1 Team prepares for the eighth round of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship: the French Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso: "Driving in France is a big source of motivation"
Fernando, a superb qualifying performance in Montreal allowed you to aim for the podium in the race. That must make it all the more frustrating not to finish the Grand Prix?It's clear that we missed a great opportunity to score some big points in Montreal, but we must remain positive and keep moving forward. Our level of performance there showed the progress the team has made and we must now continue our efforts because we can see the rewards. I know that everybody in the team is doing their best to improve our performance, and that will pay off in the end.
You are preparing to compete in Renault's home Grand Prix. Is it special to drive here in Magny-Cours?Yes, definitely. There are always lots of people associated with Renault watching the race and wearing the team's colours, which is a big source of motivation. Also, it's the French Grand Prix and the team is French, so I have enormous motivation to have a good weekend, and I will once again give my maximum.
In terms of the car set-up, what are the main challenges of the circuit? It's a circuit where the car must perform well in all parts in order to do a good lap time. There are some quick corners and direction changes, the brakes are important and you need good acceleration. The temperature is usually quite high, so you have to find a set-up that allows you to make the most of the tyres and optimise the general balance of the car. I don't have any specific concerns and we will work on these different points in free practice on Friday.
The team continued its development programme in Barcelona last week. What are your expectations for the eighth race of the season?Yes, we completed three days in Barcelona last week. It was a case of validating the latest developments on the car, especially the aerodynamic and mechanical components that we plan to use at the French Grand Prix and the coming races. That went well, the team got a lot of information and I hope that we will see more progress this weekend. That is important for the morale of the team because we still have a lot to do in order to catch up with the leaders. But I am happy and I know that whatever happens I will give my maximum to get the best from my car and to do well in the race.
Nelson Piquet: "I remain focussed and will head to Magny-Cours determined to do the best I can for the team."
Nelson, looking back to Canada, it was developing into a promising race, but the team was out of luck again…Yes, we could have scored points there, but we had some problems as so we couldn't finish the race. Having said that, there are positives that I take from the race as I have gained some more experience, learnt a new track and my race was going well until I had to retire. We have seen that the car has the pace to be competitive and so we are focussing on that and will keep pushing hard for the next stage of the season.
How have your preparations gone for Magny-Cours and how do you expect the car to perform this weekend?My approach to racing has not changed since the beginning of the season as I am remaining focussed and will head to Magny-Cours determined to do the best I can for the team. The car should work well there because it is a circuit where you need good aero, and our car was good in Barcelona and Istanbul, where aero is especially important. It's a smooth track, but you need to be able to ride the curbs, so I need to work well in free practice to find a good set-up with my engineers to put me in good shape for qualifying.
It's a home race for the team – does that add extra pressure to do well? As a home race for the team I would love to do well, but I don't think there is extra pressure because I always expect the most from myself at all the races and always push to the limit. After two street courses in Monaco and Montreal, it will be a change to get back to a more traditional style of circuit in Magny-Cours, especially as it is a circuit that I know well from my time in GP2.
What are your hopes for the French Grand Prix?It's an important race for the team and I would love to get my first points on Renault's home ground, so that has to be my target. We had a good test last week in Barcelona and have some new things on the car which will help. I'm sure there will be a lot of support for the team and I will try and draw on that. I will need to qualify well as it's a difficult track to overtake on, but if I can do that then I think we can have a strong race.
Bob Bell: "We'll keep our heads down and things will come right for us."
Bob, the team was out of luck again in Canada. What will it take for the team's luck to change? I believe that you make your own luck; you can't just sit back and hope that it will change. When you analyse the last two races for the team, what on the surface may appear to be bad luck inevitably turns out to be an error on somebody's behalf. And, as is normal practice for this team, we need to look carefully at the race weekend: what we did; what we didn't do; and what we could have done better. We will be very self-critical to understand what we need to do to make sure that we don't experience anymore of those issues that rob us from fully exploiting our true potential.
Fernando and Nelson both delivered spirited drives in the race. How did you view their performances in Canada? Fernando was fantastic all weekend – he was right there and consistently at the front of the pack. He was happy with the car, even though he didn't get as much running as he would have liked and did an outstanding job, especially in qualifying. Ultimately he did make a mistake and lost the chance of some points, but that does happen when you are pushing to the limit.
Nelson's qualifying position was a bit disappointing and his performance did not really reflect what we thought he would do based upon practice. But then in the race he turned it around again – he was pushing hard, driving aggressively, although ultimately he retired with brake trouble.
Despite coming away empty handed, the R28 looked competitive in low-downforce spec, just as it did at the higher end of the downforce scale. That must make you confident for the rest of the year? I think that is one of the real strengths that we draw from Canada. The car seems so be performing well on most circuits and that just reiterates that we've got a very strong platform now to go forward for the rest of the season. We're under no illusion that we're going to have to work very hard to keep that level of competitiveness up, but we have an aggressive development programme for the rest of the season, and we are confident that we have an adaptable baseline to work from.
How will the R28 cope with the technical demands of Magny-Cours?It's a medium to high downforce circuit where you need a good change of direction in order to carry good speed through the high-speed chicanes. The driver needs to be able to use the curbs and feel comfortable in the car. It's also circuit where you need to change the brake balance between several of the key corners, so it could be a little bit more challenging now that we've lost the engine braking systems. Overall, it should be a good test for the car, but we've gone well there in the past and so I think we can put on a strong showing this year.
What new developments can we expect in time for the French Grand Prix?We have quite a few developments that we evaluated at Barcelona last week for use in Magny-Cours. We've got some aerodynamic developments on the front wing, some aerodynamic parts at the rear of the car, and some developments to the suspension. It's a good package of upgrades, which will hopefully help us take another step forward.
And finally, how is the mood in the team ahead of the team's home race? I think there is obviously a degree of frustration that we haven't been able to covert our competitiveness into points. But in the meantime, we take heart from the fact that the car seems competitive, we have a great driver in Fernando, and we just need to keep our focus and continue putting the developments on the car. The worst thing we can do is get spooked by it and start losing our attention to detail and commitment. We'll keep our heads down and things will come right for us.
Magny-Cours: Tech File
The Grand Prix circuit in Magny-Cours includes an interesting variety of challenges for drivers and cars alike: three high-speed corners at the start of the lap; a very slow hairpin at Adelaide; two enjoyable high-speed chicanes; and more changes of gradient than the flattening eye of television shows. As always, the ideal set-up will be about finding the right compromise to achieve the R28's optimum performance at every point of the circuit.
Downforce Magny-Cours demands a much higher level of downforce than we used in Canada, which required a low-medium set-up. Magny-Cours demands a medium-high configuration to ensure the cars are competitive through the high-speed corners such as turn 3, and the chicanes at turns 6/7 and 11/12. While it is tempting to reduce wing levels in order to gain straightline speed to try overtaking into the Adelaide hairpin, this is rarely a feasible solution: the back straight is preceded by the high-speed turn three, and while reduced downforce would allow greater top speed, it would have a detrimental effect through this corner, costing speed and also making it more difficult to follow a competitor closely. It is something of a Catch-22 situation, and we consequently prefer to maintain our high downforce set-up to achieve the optimum lap-time.
Suspension Magny-Cours is renowned as an exceptionally smooth circuit, which allows the teams to run lower ride heights and stiffer suspension settings to improve aerodynamic performance. This also has the added benefit of making the car more responsive in the high-speed changes of direction required through the two quick chicanes. As ever, though, a good compromise must be found because the circuit also includes a number of very slow corners, where softer settings would offer better grip, and the correct balance must be struck between performance in the high and low-speed corners.
TyresMagny-Cours is a circuit that is particularly temperature-sensitive, and something as seemingly insignificant as a few minutes of cloud cover can have a drastic impact on track temperatures – and thus grip levels. Bridgestone will be bringing the ‘soft' and ‘medium' tyre compounds from the 2008 range to this race, and as always, successful management of both tyre types will be key to a successful race strategy. Transmission The cars are generally short and closely-geared at Magny-Cours, in order to optimise performance on the exit of the slow corners. The team will pay particular attention to performance from 0 to 250 kph, as this will ensure strong performance through the slower parts of the circuit – which in turn determine top speeds on the straights. The transmission can also come under severe strain from riding the kerbs, which the drivers do on several occasions, and particularly at the end of the lap. In qualifying, it is necessary to use the kerbs to gain lap-time but we may ask the drivers to be more cautious in race conditions, to preserve the reliability of the engine and transmission.
EngineMagny-Cours is not a particularly severe circuit in terms of engine performance. The V8 will spend around 63% of the lap at full throttle – slightly above the season average, but nevertheless a normal value. A torquey engine is always an asset at this circuit, as it will ensure the car exits strongly from the slow corners; equally, we will look to ensure power delivery is as smooth and linear as possible, so that chassis balance is not disrupted when the drivers are using partial to full throttle in the chicanes, or through turn 3
Renault at the French Grand Prix
Renault's debut F1 season didn't include the French Grand Prix – the RS01 only took its first steps onto the F1 stage two weeks later, at Silverstone. 1978 was disappointing, with the car retiring on lap 22 after qualifying in 11th place on the grid, but 1979 was the year when things really took off, with Renault's first ever Formula 1 victory at Dijon-Prenois. Jean-Pierre Jabouille won from pole, and indeed it was a double podium finish with Arnoux in third. But as victories go, it was one of the most anonymous ever, as the titanic battle between Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve for second monopolised attention.
1980 saw Arnoux on the front row but he could only finish 5th behind winner Alan Jones, but he made amends during the next two seasons, with the Frenchman taking pole and the victory in both 1981 and 1982. In 1982, he was part of Renault's first ever one-two finish ahead of Alain Prost – and in the process, he took the 25th pole position for a Renault car and engine, and victory number 10! 1983 was Prost's year as he mounted his championship challenge, taking pole and the win, and the turbo era saw two more poles - for Tambay in 1984 and Senna in 1986 – and two more podiums, both in 1984 when Tambay's Renault finished second, ahead of Mansell's Renault-powered Lotus.
When Renault returned as a V10 engine supplier in 1989, the race was still being held at Le Castellet – and Riccardo Patrese took P3 in his Williams-Renault. 1990 was a barren year, but the move to Magny-Cours in 1991 kicked off an avalanche of success, and renewed Renault's unique tradition in the French Grand Prix. 1991 saw Riccardo Patrese on pole and Mansell on the top step of the podium; 1992 saw the Williams-Renaults on the front row, and Mansell and Patrese take a one-two finish; 1993 saw a Hill/Prost front row become a Prost/Hill one-two finish; while in 1994, Nigel Mansell's Williams return was rewarded with a P2 starting slot, but he retired with a gearbox failure, as Damon Hill slipped from pole to P2 at the finish.
By 1995 and 1996, Renault's dominance was in full swing as supplier to Williams and Benetton, and the performances in France reflected as much: a 1-2-3 finish in 1995 for Schumacher/Hill/Coulthard, followed by an historic 1/2/3/4 in 1996 with the Williams of Hill and Villeneuve ahead of the Benettons of Alesi and Berger. And in 1997? P2, P4 and P5 in the race as Michael Schumacher's Ferrari won – the third of the German's eight victories in Magny-Cours.
The Renault F1 Team's debut race at Magny-Cours in 2002 was one of mixed feelings: Jenson Button took a solid P6, while Jarno Trulli retired with engine failure. That trick was repeated on a larger scale in 2003, when both Trulli and Alonso blew their engines, but things turned around in 2004. Fernando Alonso took a stunning pole position, and raced hard to P2, beaten only by a remarkable four-stop strategy from Ferrari and Michael Schumacher. The following year saw the Spaniard make amends, winning from pole, while in 2006 he took P2 after a cunning, savvy race against Felipe Massa's Ferrari for the second spot.
Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet know just how important this race is for Renault and will be fully committed to show well in the colours of the French manufacturer this weekend.
Magny-Cours: Over at Red Bull Racing…
Fabrice Lom, the Technical Coordinator for Renault at Red Bull Racing reflects on the Canadian Grand Prix and looks ahead to this weekend's French Grand Prix.
Fabrice, you came back from Montreal with a podium, you must be delighted?Absolutely, everybody is very happy with this result which I believe is well deserved. David did not qualify in the top 10 and that allowed us to adapt our strategy. We expected some safety car running in Montreal, and so we filled his fuel tank to the top and asked him to stop only once. And we managed it because, even heavy on fuel, the RB4 did not have any problems with its brakes, which was not the case for everybody. When the safety car came out around lap 20, the leaders stopped, but David was able to continue. After that, he did not make any mistakes and finished the race in third. A good day's work…
What are your hopes for Magny-Cours next week?They are understandably high. Being fourth place in championship, our legitimate objective must be to finish in 7th and 8th position. But we will try and take the slightest opportunity to finish a bit higher up. So, with Lewis Hamilton having a 10-place penalty on the grid for the French Grand Prix, it's the chance to aim for 6th position…
What about Magny-Cours, is it always a bit special?Of course. We must approach this race like all the others, but there is always something special for a team with a French engine. Lots of people come and visit us in the garage, we are racing in front of our colleagues who are in the stands and there are lots of requests, which can make the weekend more difficult. But out determination to do well there is increased ten-fold!