at the Fuji Speedway.
Fernando Alonso: "Winning in Singapore was an unbelievable feeling"
Fernando, in Singapore you took your first win of the season and the team's first victory in two years. How did it feel?I was extremely happy. We had a difficult start to the season and so to be fighting for the win a few months later seemed unbelievable, but the team didn't give up and we never lowered our aims. From the first practice session in Singapore, we were on the pace; the car was working well, and we had high hopes for the weekend. Qualifying was a big disappointment, but in the race our luck changed and we were able to take advantage of the situation. It was an amazing feeling and I want to thank all the members of the team once again for their efforts over the last few months because it's thanks for them that this victory was possible.
Do you think that the R28 can be as competitive in Fuji or was the performance down to the characteristics of the circuit in Singapore?It's true that a street circuit is always unusual and your level of performance depends on the competitiveness of your car, the set-up and your ability to take risks. We worked hard to develop some new parts for Singapore, but also for the final three races of the season so I think that we can be on the pace in Fuji. We will give our maximum to try and make that the case and to benefit from the free practice sessions on Friday as much as possible.
What are the main things you will have to keep an eye on in terms of set-up? The circuit has a very long straight and so aero settings will once again be crucial. There are also several medium and low speed corners and the last few turns in particular are taken in second gear. So the team will have to work hard to determine the level of downforce and the mechanical grip which will be especially important in the slow sections. We will be running a similar programme to that which we run at other tracks that we visit once a year.
What are your ambitions for the Japanese Grand Prix?After our victory in Singapore, the whole team is determined to have those feelings again as soon as possible. We must remain focussed and try to repeat our level of performance from Singapore to fight at the front. However, I remain realistic as it will be difficult to race the Ferraris and McLarens, but we will give our maximum to score as many points as possible because the fight for fourth in the championship remains very close.
Nelson Piquet: "I can't wait to drive in Fuji and I'm determined to have a good race"
Nelson, the team took its first victory of the season in Singapore, but your race ended earlier than expected...It's a superb result for the team because everybody has worked hard to make this possible, so it's a nice reward. But I have to admit that I was disappointed with my race. From the start things were difficult and starting so far down the grid meant the race was always going to be tough. I had a long phase of graining and the situation only got worse. The team asked me to push, which I was trying to do, but I eventually lost the rear of my car and so it's a race to forget on my side.
The team remains in Asia for the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend. How are you approaching this race?It's another circuit that I don't know and that I will have to learn. I will try to get up to speed as quickly as possible on Friday and make the most of the three hours of practice available to me. The team has some data from last year and so I have been preparing with that and will learn more with my engineers during our circuit walk on Thursday.
The Japanese Grand Prix is always a popular race on the calendar. Are you looking forward to driving at Fuji? Yes, apparently the Japanese fans are very enthusiastic which makes for a very special atmosphere at the Grand Prix. I can't wait to drive at Fuji as the circuit seems interesting and I'm determined to have a good race, which is what I need.
We remember the poor weather conditions last year, which allowed Heikki Kovalainen to spring a surprise and finish on the podium. Do you like driving in those sorts of conditions? A wet weather race is always unpredictable and more tricky, but it can hep you get a good result, as Heikki did last year. I will cope with whatever conditions we get and in any case, the track conditions are the same for all of us and I will do my best whether it's wet or dry.
Bob Bell: "We won't give up on this season until we've reached the target we set ourselves"
Bob, the R28 is now a race winning car. The whole team must be proud of what has been achieved? Absolutely. We started out the year over a second a lap behind the frontrunners and we said that by the end of the season we wanted to have developed the car to a point where we could compete for podiums, which is what we've done. We recognise that we're not going to overhaul McLaren and Ferrari this season, but we can be in the mix and fighting for podiums and that's a real credit to the enormous amount of development work and effort that has gone in over the course of the season.
Why was the R28 so competitive in Singapore?I think it was down to a combination of reasons, one of which was the new venue and the fact that Fernando and the team are both very good at dealing with new challenges. The team arrived in Singapore well prepared, which helped us get the best out of the car; we had an aerodynamic upgrade and we operated it differently in terms of set-up, which gained us a bit of performance. So it was just a step forward in all areas, which culminated in us having a car that really suited the track and the conditions.
Luck undoubtedly played its part in the team's victory in Singapore, but Fernando produced a brilliant tactical drive. What was your verdict on his performance?For me it was the Fernando of old – he never gave up and when the time came to really push hard to gain an advantage he did so and brought home the maximum points. There was certainly an element of luck with the safety car, but Fernando had been on it all weekend and after the second safety car he pulled out an immediate gap over Rosberg and Hamilton, which confirmed the pace of the car and what an outstanding job he did.
What does this result mean for the team and for morale?It's very important because this team has been through a very difficult period since the championship years of 2005 and 2006. We needed to bounce back and regain our self-confidence and demonstrate that as a team we could still produce a competitive car and win races. We've done that and the result has lifted everybody's morale for the final three races, but more importantly renewed our self-belief, which is so important for next year.
Nelson had a tough weekend. What is his mindset like at the moment?He struggled a little bit in Singapore with learning the circuit and he's probably not as quick as Fernando at learning a new track, but come Saturday he had got to grips with it and was in his usual position relative to Fernando. He struggled in qualifying and couldn't progress past Q1 and then had a difficult race, but he's a fighter and we know he'll do all he can to bounce back for the next race. There's no question he's got the talent, he just needs to deliver a consistent level of performance.
What was your overall verdict on F1's first ever night race?I think it was fantastic, especially for Renault! It was great for Formula 1 to be racing in that part of the world and wonderful to have a night race. Everything worked extremely well and ran smoothly so it's a credit to the organisations that made it all happen as they really did a great job. I think Formula 1 has come away from Singapore a lot better for the experience.
We head back to Fuji, a track where Renault finished second last year. How is the team approaching this race?After our result in Singapore we're certainly approaching Fuji with optimism, but we aren't putting any new developments on the car or doing anything special in terms of preparation, other than the normal rigorous approach that we take to each circuit. As we saw last year, rain in that part of the world is a distinct possibility and that could play to our advantage.
Heading into the final three races the team now has a five points lead over Toyota. How do you see that battle unfolding in the next few weeks?It's a battle we have to win and it means as much to us as the fight between Ferrari and McLaren for top honours means to them, so we're taking the fight very seriously. We stated very clearly at the start of the season that we intended to finish at least fourth and end the season as potentially the third quickest team and we intend to achieve that objective.
Fuji: Tech File
The Fuj Speedway mixes very slow corners with a long main straight designed to encourage overtaking manoeuvres. The teams therefore need to adopt a compromise in terms of set-up in order to balance straightline speed with grip in the low-speed sections. Mechanical grip and an engine with good low-end performance will therefore pay dividends and count towards a competitive lap time.
ChassisThe Fuji circuit is dominated by slow-speed corners, so mechanical grip will be a critical factor. This is likely to push the teams towards a relatively soft overall set-up, much like in Bahrain for example, although achieving a good change of direction will be important in the tight, slow-speed sections, which may push teams towards a stiffer front end. Traction will be a critical parameter, as cars performing poorly on the exit of turn 16 will be vulnerable to overtaking manoeuvres on the main straight, or into turn 1. Due to the smooth nature of the new tarmac, the cars can run with a reasonably low ride height as there is little concern of the car bottoming-out.
Aerodynamics In terms of downforce level, the circuit has been designed on the modern principle, which requires teams to sacrifice lap-time (and downforce) in order to achieve competitive top speeds on the straight to make up or defend position. As such, the cars will be running lower-than-optimum wing settings for the twistier sections, further emphasising the importance of good mechanical performance.
The circuit includes only two medium to high-speed corners, at turn 3 and the long 180° right-hander of turns 4 and 5. The latter in particular is likely to see the cars suffering from a high amount of understeer, which the drivers and engineers will work to dial out through the weekend without compromising the slow-speed performance.
Brakes and TyresThe brakes will have a relatively easy time, with just two major braking events, into turns 1 and 10 – andplenty of time to cool in between. In terms of tyre energies, the circuit is not particularly severe owing to the absence of high-speed corners; however, rear tyre wear is an important parameter due to the heavy traction demands, and the penalty that excessive wear will bring in terms of making a driver vulnerable to overtaking. Bridgestone will therefore supply the soft and medium compounds from its 2008 range for this race, as was the case last year.
EngineFuji does not provide a particularly tough test for the V8 engines with just 53% of the lap spent at full throttle, but the problems it poses are poles apart. The long main straight will see the engines at full throttle for over 17 seconds, providing a severe test for some of the major moving parts. For most of the rest of the lap, though, good low-end performance will be critical and a torquey engine will be an important asset in launching the cars out of the low-speed corners towards the end of the lap. Smooth mapping will also be important for maintaining car stability, as the cars will often be downshifting while turning and braking in the final part of the lap.
Renault at the Japanese GP
Prior to last year, Fuji's last appearance on the F1 calendar was in 1977 and although it was the debut season for Renault in F1, the French team did not make the trip east. That means the company's F1 history in Japan centres around one place: Suzuka.
The French manufacturer first raced at Suzuka in 1989, the circuit having joined the F1 calendar in 1987 – one year after the Renault turbo engine departed the sport. It was a successful debut, with the Williams-Renaults of Riccardo Patrese and Thierry Boutsen finishing second and third respectively. There were no podiums in 1990, but Patrese claimed third place in 1991 (while Mansell retired) before winning the event in 1992, after his already-crowned team-mate Mansell had claimed pole. World Champion Alain Prost finished second from pole in 1993, while in 1994 Damon Hill's Williams-Renault clinched one of the Briton's best ever wins in the rain – and took the title race to its infamous Adelaide showdown. The following year saw Schumacher win from pole, while in 1996 it was Damon Hill's turn on the top step once again – and the Briton memorably clinched the world title with that drive. The following season, Renault power took Heinz-Harald Frentzen to second place in the penultimate race of the year.
The era of the Renault F1 Team has seen considerable success in Japan, and particularly in recent years. The team scored points on every visit to Suzuka from 2002 to 2004, and in 2005 and 2006 took two double podium finishes. In 2005, Giancarlo Fisichella headed home team-mate Fernando Alonso, with the Renault boys finishing second and third, and in 2006 the Japanese round of the championship proved a decisive turning point in the title race, when Ferrari's reliability faltered to allow Fernando Alonso to claim a crucial win – while team-mate Fisichella finished third. In 2007, despite a difficult season, the ING Renault F1 Team scored its only podium of the year in Fuji with Heikki Kovalainen finishing second in the torrential conditions.
In total, Renault power has taken 5 poles, 15 podium finishes and 5 race wins in Japan, including one world championship victory for Damon Hill in 1996. This year, for the second consecutive season, the ING Renault F1 Team is preparing for the Japanese Grand Prix at the Fuji Speedway and will hope to capture another strong result as the team fights to sustain its fourth position in the world championship.
Fuji: Over at Red Bull RacingFabrice Lom, the man who oversees Renault's engines at Red Bull Racing looks back on Singapore and ahead to the Japanese Grand Prix.
Fabrice, what did you make of the last Grand Prix? Our level of performance wasn't great from the beginning of the weekend, but we were able to seize our chance when Nelson had his accident. Our cars were at a point on the circuit that allowed us to refuel before the safety car came out and we found ourselves at the front when the race restarted. Unfortunately, while it seemed to be going perfectly for us, things got complicated.
In what way?First of all, Mark, who had not had any mechanical problems in a race this season, had to retire, which was a big blow because he was in contention for a podium. Then David was distracted slightly when Fernando came out of the pits from his second stop and was overtaken by Hamilton. When he came in for his second stop, a misunderstanding between the mechanics lost him a few seconds – not an enormous amount, but enough to let some cars slip past. So we finished 7th, which is a little frustrating as we could have scored more points.
A Renault engine won the race, does that lessen the disappointment?I've got mixed feelings. At the time I was disappointed with the result for Red Bull, yet truly happy to see the Renault engine on the top step of the podium. But I know it would have been possible to have two of our engines on the podium, in two different chassis…
We remain in Asia for the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji. How are you approaching this race? First of all we are hoping that we don't get the same weather conditions that we had last year, even though we were very close to achieving a great result. The Fuji circuit has a long straight but it's not a big problem in terms of reliability and there's nothing too difficult about the place. The key is to be well prepared and not to make any mistakes during free practice.
Where are David and Mark in their engine cycles?David will use the engine he used in Singapore at Fuji. Mark will have a new engine.