The ING Renault F1 Team prepares for round fifteen of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship: the Singapore Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso: "Singapore is an interesting challenge for all the teams"
Fernando, in Monza you finished fourth once again and scored five important points for the team's battle in the constructors' championship. Were you happy with that? Yes, it was a great race in difficult conditions and we managed to pull off a surprise. It was far from expected because we knew that Monza would be the most difficult race of the year for us. We came away with five points and closed the gap on Toyota so it's a positive result. It's a little frustrating to just miss out on a podium once again, but we still have four races left to go.
Singapore is a new circuit and the first ever night race. Are you looking forward to it?Definitely, but I'm curious to see what it's like when we get there; what the circuit layout is like; what the level of lighting will be and the visibility. It's a very unusual weekend from a sporting perspective and also in terms of the management of the Grand Prix weekend and I'm really curious to see what it will be like.
How are you approaching this race?In terms of physical preparation, I have to admit that I have done nothing special for this race. I have prepared just as I would for any other race. On the other hand, I have worked with my physiotherapist and other members of the team to decide the best way to manage the race weekend, especially in terms of sleep. In the end I've decided not to adjust to the local time zone and to remain on a European schedule, which will be best for my energy levels. Getting this right is an important element for the race, both for the drivers and members of the team.
In the final two European races we saw the rain help make some exciting races. Do you think the fact that the Grand Prix will take place at night will also make the race more interesting?From the spectators' point of view it certainly will and that is why we are having a night race. In terms of the drivers, we will have to see what the conditions are like when we get there. We have not been able to practice in these conditions and there will certainly be a lot of adapting to do. I'm not convinced that it will be the future of motor racing, but I am still curious to see what it's like. From a technical standpoint, our programme will be very similar to that which we would normally run on a new circuit, but in many other ways the Singapore Grand Prix is a real unknown and an interesting challenge for all the teams.
Nelson Piquet: "I'm eager to see what Singapore is like in race configuration"
Nelson, you had a great fight through the pack in Monza, but finished outside the points. What do you take from this race, which was difficult for all the drivers?I made good progress in the race and I had good pace, especially considering the fuel load that I started the race with, and so I'm happy about that. But I finished outside the points, which is disappointing especially when the battle for fourth place in the constructors' championship is so close. Once again, my race was decided after qualifying and I'm determined to improve on that this weekend in Singapore.
It's a new circuit, and we will see the first ever night race. Are you worried about that or looking forward to the challenge?I'm definitely looking forward to it. I have had to learn lots of circuits this year so it's not something that worries me, and like Valencia the track in Singapore will be a new challenge for all the drivers and won't be such a disadvantage for a rookie. I'm not worried about driving at night as I know that the organisers have made great efforts to ensure the level of visibility will be as good as if we were racing in the day. So I'm really eager to see what it's like when we get there and see Singapore in race configuration.
Have you prepared for this race in a special way? I have done some planning with my physiotherapist to make sure that my body clock does not adjust to Singapore time. So I will have clearly defined hours of sleep, some techniques aimed at reducing the impact of daylight on my body, and a different meal regime with a large breakfast followed by several light meals. These are some of the things that I will be doing to be in the best shape possible.
What are your aims for this race? Considering that we haven't driven the track, it's difficult for me to say if it's a track that is likely to suit me. So to say what I can aim for is difficult. However, I certainly want to have a better qualifying session because I know this is essential for having a successful Grand Prix, especially on a street circuit.
Pat Symonds: "We know we are going to have a tough fight on our hands until the end of the season"
Pat, another fourth place for the team in Monza. You must be happy with this result after such an unpredictable weekend... We hadn't had a great test at Monza so we didn't think it was going to be a great circuit for us and we arrived there knowing that we still had a lot of set-up work to do. Therefore, the poor weather was a mixed blessing because although we couldn't continue exploring alternative set-up options, it probably equalised things a little bit and allowed us to punch above our weight. Overall, I was extremely happy with the result and having halved the gap to Toyota in Spa, we are now on equal terms, which is our main objective at the moment.
The team played the strategy perfectly with Fernando. Was it a gamble to switch to wets so early?I've said before, particularly after Nelson's result at Hockenheim, that sometimes you make your own luck, and I think Monza was a case in point. Having made it through to Q3 with Fernando, we didn't raise our expectations too much because we could see that we were very likely to be dealing with changeable weather conditions on Sunday. That meant we needed to keep an open strategy with a very wide pit-stop window and so we fuelled both drivers pretty heavily. Even so, it was still an incredibly difficult call when Fernando made his stop and we had to decide which tyres to go with because although the track was drying, the radar was showing more rain on the way. Fitting the standard wet was therefore a gamble, but with both Toyotas in front of us on extreme wet tyres, we knew that fitting wets was the only decision that might allow us to beat them and get a result.
Ten points in two races and you've closed Toyota's lead. Fourth place has never been closer... You can't get any closer than equality! Obviously, as the number of races decreases, even a constant gap becomes more difficult to deal with and so it's nice to have made up the ground we needed to so quickly. I do believe that on balance our car is better than the Toyota; it's very close and there are certainly days when they might be stronger than us and days when we are stronger than them. We beat them in Monza by out racing them as a team, but it's far from over and we know we are going to have a tough fight on our hands through to the end of the season.
Nelson had a strong drive, rising through the field. Tell us about his race...It was a strong drive and by the end of the race he had made up seven positions, which was as strong a performance as pretty much anyone. But he certainly found those early laps extremely difficult due to the poor visibility and he told me after the race that he had to look upwards at the trees to get his reference points, which is incredibly scary. Again we opened the opportunities for him by running a very long strategy, but he used it properly and it positioned him very favourably for the switch to the standard wet tyre. So it was a good race for him and he's continued his education in Formula 1 and will be stronger for it.
This weekend's race is at another new venue in Singapore with lots of unknowns. What can the team achieve there?Singapore is going to be very different to Monza. It's a very slow, high downforce track and looks like it will have the second lowest average speed after Monaco. In terms of the unknowns of night racing, it's not something that particularly concerns me and I don't think we will even recognise that it's dark because the facilities will be that good. We will face all the challenges of a new track, just like we did in Valencia last month, but we are used to that and go there well prepared.
Will it feel strange to be going to work late in the afternoon?I think it will have an impact on us and perhaps the biggest challenge will be managing the human performance of the team. We've been working with our medical guys to make sure we are all prepared for it because travelling to the Far East is always quite hard and taxing on our bodies. The fact that we will be more or less operating on a European time zone will add a further dimension and confuse our body clocks even more. It's not something I'm worried about, but we need to keep it in mind as we're well aware that it's asking a lot of our mechanics and engineers. When we look back on Singapore, I think we will be talking mainly about how we coped with the logistical challenge.
Will the team have updates to the R28 for Singapore? We will have the final updates for the R28 in Singapore, including a new front wing. In previous years when we have been working on the new car in the wind tunnel, we have always hoped to see developments that we can use on the current car, but it's not the case this year because the aerodynamics for next season are so different. So this really is the end of the updates, other than any changes that may be made for reliability.
Singapore: A unique atmosphere
F1's visit to Singapore really is a weekend of firsts: the first F1 race in Singapore; the first F1 night race; and the first F1 street race in Asia. It promises to be a spectacular event with the 5km route seeing the cars blast through the heart of Singapore's marina bay district, taking in iconic landmarks such as Raffles Boulevard and the Anderson Bridge.
Racing at night is perhaps the biggest novelty factor of the race, adding another dimension of excitement to the sport. The beauty of racing at night means the race fits well with both Asian and European television audiences, while the city location will help create a unique atmosphere that accompanies all street races.
Singapore: Tech File
The 5.1km Singapore street circuit looks like being one of the slowest of the season, with teams likely to run with high downforce and projected lap times in the 1m45s region. As a step into the unknown, the team has been running computer simulations to get a rough idea of the ideal set-up required. In reality, though, it won't be until the cars take to the track on Friday morning that the team will get a proper understanding of the demands of the track.
TyresMuch like Monaco, grip levels are likely to be low at the new Singapore street circuit. Therefore Bridgestone will supply the soft and super-soft compounds from its 2008 range, the very same compounds that were taken to Monaco, Budapest and Valencia. This will offer good grip on what is expected to be a very green track surface at the beginning of the weekend. However, like any temporary circuit, grip levels will ramp up as the track evolves across the weekend and rubber is laid down.
Aerodynamics After Monaco, Singapore looks like being the second slowest circuit of the season. The team will therefore run with a high downforce package to give the car good stability under braking and to push the car into the ground in the corner exits to maximise traction and ensure good acceleration.
Brakes Initial simulations suggest that the circuit will be quite demanding on the brakes with wear rates being similar to somewhere like Melbourne. It is not the severity of the braking but rather the regularity that makes it so demanding as the brakes will get little respite. Efficient brake cooling is therefore a must.
SuspensionSuspension set-up is one of the most difficult things to predict when planning for a new circuit. However, for any street circuit with a high percentage of low-speed corners, mechanical grip is always valuable and the team will work hard to ensure they give the drivers a supple enough suspension to get good clean exits out of the slow corners and a car that can ride the bumps and any changes of camber.
Engine and gearbox Street circuits tend to be less severe on the engine due to the low percentage of the lap spent at full throttle, but the engine can still be under stress as it will be used in a very stop-start fashion. Closely-spaced gears ratios will be used at this circuit in order to optimise acceleration, and get the most from the engine at low speeds, while the engine team will work on the mapping to ensure the engine delivers good torque from low revs, allowing early throttle application.
Singapore: Track analysis with Pat Symonds
IntroductionThe Singapore street circuit will be a maximum downforce track with a low average speed of just under 170 km/h and most corners taken in second gear. Like any street circuit, the existing surface is expected to be quite low grip and bumpy, and so getting the car to ride well will be all-important although 20% of the track is newly surfaced and probably therefore smoother. There will also be the usual distractions of road markings and white lines, which could become hazardous if it rains.
Before we get to Singapore and walk the track, it is difficult to pick out potential overtaking opportunities because we don't know exactly what the track surface is like or the width of the circuit. The Anderson Bridge, for example, looks to be very narrow, whereas other parts of the lap are run on dual carriageway. The overtaking opportunities will depend on whether we are using the full width of these roads.
Turns 5 and 6 The fastest part of the circuit is the section on Raffles Boulevard, where the cars will reach a maximum speed of somewhere between 290 and 300 km/h. It's not quite a straight as there is a right kink (turn 6), but the cars will take this easily flat at around 280 km/h. It will be important to get a good exit out of turn 5, a second gear right hander, in order to carry good speed on the approach to turn 7, which on paper looks like being the best overtaking opportunity on the circuit.
Turns 10 through to 14A challenging part of the lap is the section after St. Andrews Road, past the cricket club and on towards the Anderson Bridge. The tight chicane of turns which we believe will be numbered 10 and 11 on the FIA map are almost one corner, which will be pretty much straight-lined, with the first part taken in third gear before dropping down to second and then decreasing in speed all the way through to turn 12, which is likely to be taken at just under 90km/h. From there it's onto the spectacular Anderson Bridge and the approach to turn 14, which looks like being the slowest corner on the circuit, taken at about 70 km/h.
Turns 19 and 20 Another interesting section is turns 19 and 20 towards the end of the lap after Raffles Avenue. Turns 17 and 18 consist of a right-left chicane, and then 19 and 20 are a left-right chicane, which will take the cars through a tunnel and back onto Raffles Avenue. This could be especially challenging if we get some wet weather leaving the undercover sections dry.
Singapore: Over at Red Bull Racing Fabrice Lom, the man who looks after Renault's V8s at Red Bull Racing, looks ahead to Singapore.
Fabrice, we are visiting another new track in Singapore. How have you prepared for it?As for Valencia, which was another circuit that we didn't know, we obtained the maps of the Singapore track and the GPS data so that we could work out the ideal racing line. The result is that we have started our simulations as usual. The chassis team have worked out their basic set-up and the engine team have also carried out their preparation: mapping, gear ratios etc…
What information have you learnt from these simulations?There are still lots of unknowns, of course, but we do know is that the circuit has lots of slow corners: more than ten that are taken in second gear. Singapore is essentially about braking and acceleration, and so it should not be too difficult a test for the V8s as these are the usual characteristics of street circuits.
You talk of the unknowns, what are they?Formula 1 will race for the first time at night. The drivers must get used to this new environment, just as the technicians and the engineers will have to as we will arrive at the circuit about 17:00 and leave at about 6:00 in the morning. Our entire working schedule will be different and that could have some consequences.
In terms of engines, where are you in the engine cycles for Mark Webber and David Coulthard?In Monza, we took a strategic decision and played our joker by changing Mark's V8, and so he will race in Singapore with the engine he used in Monza. In terms of the characteristics of Singapore, this should not be a big disadvantage, especially as the race in Italy took place in the rain. David will have a fresh engine. We are not particularly worried about our reliability, but it's something that you can never take for granted.
ING Renault F1 Team in numbers
7 tonnes of equipment are sent by sea freight to each of the fly-away races on the calendar.