The ING Renault F1 Team prepares for round twelve of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship: the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain.
Fernando Alonso: "I will give my maximum for my second home race"
Fernando, the ING Renault F1 Team finished in the points with both cars in Hungary and moved up a place in the constructors' championship. That's an encouraging result for the rest of the year…We're certainly continuing to improve, which is very encouraging. We were on the pace in Hungary, the car felt good and we showed we are still moving forward and that we will fight hard to finish in fourth place in the championship. It was important also to get a solid result before the summer break: it's good for the mood in the team and means we can come back motivated for the rest of the year.
After Barcelona, we now head to Valencia for the second race in Spain this year. Is that something special for you?Yes, of course. I'm very happy to be driving at home for a second time: it's always a special feeling to race in front of my countrymen and I'm really looking forward to it. In Barcelona we were having a strong race when I had to retire, but I hope this time I can get a good result as the circuit will be new for all the drivers.
As you say, it's a brand new circuit. Is that an interesting challenge for you?Yes, it will be interesting for me and also for the team, who have been working hard in preparation for this race for the last couple of months. As a new circuit, I think it gives the drivers a chance to show what they can do, but I am not under any illusions as I expect all the drivers to be quick. We must do our best to find our reference points quicker than the others in order to spring a surprise.
It's a street circuit like Monaco, where you usually go well. Do you expect that to be the case in Valencia?It's true that I like street circuits: they are always an interesting challenge and the sensation of speed from inside the cockpit is incredible. I will do my best to improve the set-up of the car with my engineers over the weekend so that we can aim for a strong result. Whatever happens, I will give my maximum for this second Grand Prix in Spain.
Nelson Piquet: "I'm really determined to have a great end to the season"
Nelson, you had a solid race in Hungary, building on your result in Germany. Is this the breakthrough you have been waiting for?I don't know, but I'm certainly happy to have scored points in Hungary. It was important for the team and for me and overall it was a very positive weekend. The car worked well, I did a lot of laps during free practice on Friday and Saturday morning and I was on the pace all weekend and felt comfortable. It's always nice to have that sort of weekend and I hope to continue like this for the rest of the season.
You are preparing to contest the first European Grand Prix held in Valencia: a new circuit for all the drivers. How are you approaching this race?This season I have already learned several new circuits, but the difference this time is that all the drivers will be in the same position and having to learn the circuit. I think that from the point of view of the championship it's interesting to visit new tracks: it's an extra challenge for the drivers as well as the teams. I have worked hard with the team to approach this race in the best shape possible and I will try to get on the pace quickly and maximise every lap in practice.
What do you think of the track? It's a street circuit so it will be quite tricky, but also very interesting. It's never easy to learn a new circuit, but, as I have said, this time all the teams and drivers will be in the same position. It will be interesting to see who can get comfortable fastest.
What are your expectations for this new race? I would like to have another solid weekend, starting off with a good day of practice on Friday, qualifying in the top 10 and showing good race pace to hopefully finish in the points. That's how I will approach this race. After the summer break, I am well rested and motivated to have a great end to the season.
Pat Symonds: "The result in Hungary gives me confidence for the rest of the season."
Pat, looking back to Hungary, how do you rate the team's performance?I think it was probably our strongest result of the season. While Nelson's finishing position in Germany was a better result on paper, we were the first to acknowledge that luck played a major part in that result. In Hungary things were very different as we had two cars racing competitively all the way, racing against strong competitors and racing them on equal terms. From the moment we arrived there the car was competitive: we qualified well, we raced well and had to use strategy to get our result. The points were very welcome and in the last two races only McLaren have scored more points than us.
Fernando matched his best result of the year. Talk us through his weekend…It was another strong weekend for Fernando, although the only disappointment was that we lost out to Raikkonen towards the end. While I fully accepted that Raikkonen had a much quicker car, I really thought we had done enough to be able to stay ahead of him at the second pit-stop. In the end things didn't work out and we missed out on a potential podium, but it was still a great result for Fernando and equalled his best finishing position from earlier in the season in Australia.
Nelson also continued his good form with another mature drive…We all hoped that after Hockenheim he would have renewed confidence, which proved to be the case: he was calm, he was confident, and he went into qualifying believing that he would get through to Q3. Then he went on to drive as perfect a race as he drove in Hockenheim without making any significant mistakes. He was quick when he needed to be, preserved the tyres when he needed to and drove a strong and intelligent race.
The team was able to carry its qualifying pace through to the race. Is this a trend that you expect to continue for the rest of the season? You have to remember that Hungary is a very particular circuit and although Fernando did a great job of keeping Raikkonen behind him until the final pit-stop, this wasn't indicative of the pace of the two cars. Indeed, as soon as Raikkonen broke away from us, he was able to lap considerably quicker. But, having said all that, the rest of the weekend showed the improved pace of the R28 and the improvements that we have been making bit-by-bit over the last few races. So the performance in Hungary reinforces the belief that we are moving in the right direction and gives me confidence that we can finish fourth in the championship and end the season with the third fastest car.
Did we learn anything new about the pecking order in Hungary? We saw that BMW had a poor weekend and Toyota had a good weekend, but I don't believe the pecking order suddenly changes. There are certainly trends, and at the moment we have a very distinct upward trend, whereas BMW have a little bit of a downward trend and Toyota seem to fluctuate. So I don't think that the race itself shows a change to the status quo, but merely reinforces the trends which have been developing for a little while.
We head to Valencia next – a home race for Fernando. Is the team looking forward to this race?We look forward to every race and I think we like the challenge of a new circuit. We enjoy the ambiance of visiting new places and the race team have had a short break so they will head there raring to go. It certainly looks like a fabulous venue…
Valencia is an unknown for everyone. Does that level the playing field?The teams are all well used to going to new circuits so I think the playing field is pretty level anyway. However, I would say that going to a new track is much more a test of a team's ability to adapt to new circumstances and manage change, which is one of the reasons why I enjoy the challenge of a new circuit.
Valencia: Tech File
Situated in the marina area of Valencia, this brand new street course promises to be one of the most exciting additions to the Formula 1 calendar in recent years. Hemmed in by concrete walls, the 25-turn circuit combines a mix of high and low-speed sections and is wide enough in places to offer genuine overtaking opportunities. Good straight-line speed and stability under braking are therefore paramount, as is good mechanical grip through the mix of low and medium-speed corners.
AerodynamicsThe track layout means that the teams will run with relatively low levels of downforce, similar to those used in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix. This is possible as there are no high-speed corners and good straight-line speed is important down the long back straight. However, it won't be until free practice begins on Friday that the team will be able to finalise aero levels, which can depend on the grip offered by the tarmac.
Brakes The circuit is expected to be particularly demanding on the brakes and on a par with somewhere like Bahrain. There are frequent large stops from over 300kph, such as turns 12 and 17, leading into tight second gear corners which will put high energy though the braking systems. Brake cooling will also need special attention with teams likely to use reasonably large cooling ducts.
General car set-upThe drivers need a responsive and well balanced car with good change of direction to deal with the high-speed kinks that are spread around the circuit. But, as always, this needs to be balanced with a supple enough suspension to give good mechanical grip in the low-speed corners. There are a few curbs that the drivers can use, mainly on the corner exits, but until the drivers take to the track it is difficult to predict what impact they will have on car set-up. Good braking stability is also important, especially at the end of the straights, to avoid locking wheels on a track where there is little margin for error.
Tyres Bridgestone will bring the soft and super-soft compounds from its 2008 range, just as it did for the Hungarian Grand Prix. The softest compounds from the range will offer good grip on what is likely to be quite a slippery track surface to begin with. However, like any temporary circuit, we can expect the track to begin the weekend very ‘green' and gradually evolve, becoming faster with each lap as it rubbers-in. As yet, the teams have no tyre data and so evaluating tyres and assessing the abrasive qualities of the tarmac will be a priority during free practice.
EngineThe mix of straights, low speed chicanes and hairpins means that the engine will be used in a very stop-start fashion. About 54% of the lap is expected to be spent at full throttle, which is below average for the season and so it will not be too severe a test for the engine. The key to a good lap time is therefore not peak power, but good torque to help launch the car out of the slow corners and onto the straights. Getting the car well balanced will therefore be of utmost importance to avoid understeer out of the low-speed corners to allow early application of the throttle.
Renault at the European Grand Prix
In its 17 editions, the European Grand Prix has alternated between 3 different countries: England (at two different circuits), Spain and Germany. Renault has taken part in 15 of these events, securing 12 podiums, including three wins and three double podiums.
The European Grand Prix was first held at Brands Hatch as the penultimate race of the 1983 season that saw Alain Prost narrowly miss out on the world title, and which also marked the first year of the company's engine supply agreement with Lotus. Renault power took pole in the form of the Lotus of Elio de Angelis, and secured a double podium finish with Alain Prost finishing second, ahead of Nigel Mansell's Lotus – but behind championship rival Nelson Piquet's Brabham. Mansell also set fastest lap for good measure.
For 1984, the race was held at the newly remodelled Nürburgring, but Renault engines scored no points. Although six took the start, powering the works cars, Lotus and Ligier, only the two Ligiers made it to the finish – in P7 and P10. The 1985 race, back at Brands, saw Ayrton Senna on the podium for Lotus, comfortably out-performing the works Renault cars. Then for eight years, we heard no more of the European Grand Prix…
The V10 era was in full swing when the race returned to the calendar at Donington Park. The British weather kept the crowds away, but those who attended saw Ayrton Senna produce perhaps his greatest F1 drive in the changeable wet-dry conditions, leading home Damon Hill and Alain Prost in their Renault-powered Williams. The next year, the race was held in Jerez and Damon Hill's Williams took second place behind the returning Michael Schumacher as their championship fight went down to the wire.
For 1995, it was the Nürburgring again, with Michael Schumacher's Renault-powered Benetton eventually overhauling Jean Alesi's Ferrari after a dramatic chase during the second half of the race. The race remained at the German venue the following year, bringing a Renault-powered win for Jacques Villeneuve – while in 1997, the Canadian managed just third place, but with it secured world championship victory in Jerez, meaning Renault departed the sport on a high.
The race has been held at the Nürburgring ever since Renault power returned to F1 in 2001, and the Renault F1 Team has finished in the points every year since 2002: P5 for Jenson Button in 2002; P4 for Fernando Alonso in 2003, holding off Michael Schumacher; P4 and P5 for Trulli and Alonso in 2004; a win for Alonso in 2005, with Fisichella in P6; a second place in 2006, with Fisichella once again in P6; and a point for P8 last year with Heikki Kovalainen. This year, the European Grand Prix takes place in Valencia on a new street course on the harbour-front: the very location where the 32nd edition of the Americas Cup was held. Some 5.473km in length and with 25 turns, the new location is sure to become a valuable addition to the calendar in the years to come, and a venue the ING Renault F1 Team looks forward to visiting.
Valencia: Over at Red Bull Racing
Fabrice Lom, the man responsible for the coordination of Renault's engines at Red Bull Racing talks about the team's preparations for the European Grand Prix.
Fabrice, how do you look back on Red Bull Racing's Hungarian weekend?It was difficult. We knew that the track would not be one of our favourites, but we also suffered from a lack of performance compared to our competition. For the third consecutive race we did not score any points, which is hurting us. After the French Grand Prix, we were fourth in the constructors' championship, but today we are sixth. We are well aware that the gaps are very close and the pecking order can therefore change very quickly.
The next race is in Valencia – a new track for everyone. How are you preparing for this Grand Prix? We received the plans of the circuit a few weeks ago and we have completed our simulation programme. These determine the theoretical demands on the engine and allow us to work out the mapping and ideal gear box settings beforehand. We will confirm these during the first free practice session on Friday morning.
What is the first verdict of the computer simulations?With some slow corners, Valencia puts emphasis on getting good power from low revs. It also seems that the circuit will not be too demanding on the engines. That's good news for the teams that, like us, will use the same V8 which has already raced in Hungary.
No worries in terms of reliability, then?You can never be totally relaxed because zero reliability doesn't exist. For instance, Budapest was supposed to be an "easy" track for the engines, but we saw that some people had problems their V8s. In F1, the less demanding circuits still remain a great technical challenge.
ING Renault F1 Team in Numbers
384,467 kilometres – During the course of the season, the ING Renault F1 Team travels the equivalent distance to that which separates the earth and the moon.