of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship: the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo.
Fernando Alonso: "We can race in Brazil free from pressure"
Fernando, a strong fourth place in Shanghai after your two victories in Singapore and Japan. The Asian leg of the championship has been extremely rewarding for you... Yes, absolutely. Our victories in Singapore and Fuji were a wonderful surprise and our fourth place in China confirmed our return to form. We were clearly the third strongest team and we had similar race pace to the Ferraris, which is really satisfying for everybody in the team. We've all worked really hard and so it's a nice reward, especially as we have now confirmed our fourth place in the championship, which was the objective we set ourselves in the middle of the season. So it's mission accomplished and we can now approach the Brazilian Grand Prix calmly and aim to have another strong weekend.
You obviously have some very fond memories of racing in Brazil...Yes, it was at Interlagos that I won my two world titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006 and so it always feels great to come back here. This year we have already achieved our objective to end the season fourth in the constructors' championship with the third quickest car so we can therefore approach this race with less pressure and be more relaxed, which may help us take advantage of the situation. After Singapore and Fuji, the team now believes that anything is possible.
It will be a home Grand Prix for your team-mate so there should be plenty of support for Renault...Yes, I'm happy for Nelson because it's a special feeling to drive at home in front of your fans and I am sure this will give him some extra motivation. Usually the atmosphere in Brazil is extraordinary: the fans are really passionate about the sport and it's a special place for Formula 1. So it should be a great weekend.
How would you describe the Interlagos track?It's an interesting circuit which has some different challenges and requires a compromise with the car set-up. That's because the track is anti-clockwise, the surface is very bumpy and there is a mix of corners, as well as a long straight. You therefore need a car with an efficient aero package and good mechanical grip to set a competitive lap-time.
Nelson Piquet: "I'm looking forward to racing in my home Grand Prix"
Nelson, just a week after your strong drive to fourth in Fuji, you scored another point for eighth place in Shanghai. Are you happy with your end to the season?Yes, these are encouraging results, but I'm happier about the pace that we had and the strong race performances. The car has improved a lot recently; it's easier to drive and I therefore feel more comfortable with it. My priority now is to improve my qualifying performance to be better placed on the grid and that is what I will be concentrating on doing in Interlagos.
You're now preparing to take part in your first home Grand Prix. What is your state of mind like at the moment?To be honest, I'm really looking forward to it. I know that it will feel great to drive in my own country in front of my family and my friends – it's definitely a big source of motivation and I'm really determined to get the most from the weekend. I will do my best to remain concentrated, work hard with my engineers to try and make sure we have a really good race in Interlagos.
What are the main challenges of the Interlagos circuit?It's a circuit that is renowned for being particularly bumpy and so the suspension settings will be very important. You need a car that is supple enough to ride the bumps and the curbs in the second sector, while at the same time being reactive in the tight corners and having good change of direction. We will work on the set-up of the car and the suspension during the three hours of practice on Friday.
What are your hopes for your home race? I'm determined to have a great race – that goes without saying. But I'm not putting more pressure on myself because it's the Brazilian Grand Prix and my home race. Instead I'm approaching this race calmly and I will use the practice sessions to gradually improve the set-up of the car so that I am in the best shape possible for qualifying and the race. So I'm approaching the weekend one step at a time to try and deliver a great result.
Pat Symonds: "We've achieved the target we set ourselves: to finish the season fourth with the third quickest car"
Pat, the team has secured fourth place in the championship. You must be happy with that?Yes and no. I like to set very high targets and the goal we set mid-season to finish fourth in the championship with the third quickest car was not as ambitious a target as I would normally like us to set. Having said that it was, at the time, a difficult target and I am pleased that the first part of that target is both objective and proven – we've finished fourth and can't be beaten; the second part is probably subjective, although I think in the past couple of races we've shown that we have the third quickest car, so in my eyes we've achieved both those objectives.
How rewarding has it been to see the team's progress over the course of the season and how valuable is that for team morale heading into next year?It was disappointing that we started the year further back than we had expected to, and had the situation remained like that it would have been quite disheartening for us. There were reasons for it, but in this particular case it's the facts that matter, not the reasons for those facts. The way we've turned the situation around has given us an enormous boost as we've proved we can out-develop our competitors and arguably out-develop those that are leading the championship because we really have moved a lot closer to them. I think that's a great message to take through to next year with so many new factors being introduced because we've shown that we can steal the initiative with this sort of thing.
Fernando's results over the past five races have been outstanding, including another strong drive in China. He seems to be enjoying the R28...Yes, if the season had started in Belgium we would be leading both championships! It's not just Fernando who is enjoying driving the R28 because Nelson is as well. I've often talked in the past about how important it is to give a novice driver a car he can trust and feel confident in, but if you give that sort of car to a driver as good as Fernando, then he can really push it to the limits. I think that's what we're seeing now because we've got a car that is inherently very stable; it's very honest and predictable and both drivers are exploiting it very well.
As you say Nelson is back in the groove - what's his frame of mind as he approaches his home race?Going into your home race at any time is a double-edged sword, particularly so when it's your first time. What I mean by a ‘double-edged sword' is that although it gives you that little extra inspiration, you've also got the pressure of the local press, extra attention and high expectation. Having said that, I suspect the Brazilian media will be much more focussed on Massa than they are on Nelson, which is no bad thing. Recently Nelson has shown his ability through his results and just as the R28 has taken an exponential improvement curve, so has Nelson, and that's what should be dominating his frame of mind as he prepares for his home race.
Having secured fourth in the standings, the team can race free from pressure in Brazil. Will that change your tactics or approach to the race?I don't think it does particularly. There is no doubt that during the last few races we've been very aware of Toyota, what they were doing and the tactics we needed to beat them. So we are released from that constraint, but the reality is that over the past few races our strategy has been simply about achieving the best possible result and that is how we will approach the final race of the season.
Do you expect the R28 to be as competitive in Brazil as it was in the Asian races? I don't see why not. If you look at the last few races, we've seen the car performing well at some very different circuits. But as well as our strengths, our weaknesses are still there and I think that the exit out of turn 12 and the long drag up the hill to the first corner will be quite tough for us and not an area where we will be particularly strong. However, the car should be good through the quick corners of turns 3 and 5, and overall I think we can maintain a similar level of competitiveness to that which we've shown in the past few races.
Interlagos: Tech File
Interlagos is a circuit of contrasting extremes, combining slow hairpins with one of the longest straights of the season. Sitting in a natural bowl, it undulates throughout its 4.309 km length, and is notorious for its bumpy surface – although this was improved by resurfacing in 2004, and again last year. The physical demands of the bumpy circuit are intensified by the fact that it runs anti-clockwise, subjecting the drivers' necks to the opposite loadings experienced at a normal clockwise track. It is a circuit where overtaking is possible, particularly on the entry to turn 1, and the set-up compromise therefore tends to favour straight-line speed over optimum lap-time, to ensure the drivers can make up positions, and defend them, during the 71-lap race.
Aerodynamics The contrasting nature of the Interlagos circuit makes very different demands on the cars. The first and last sectors are made up primarily of long straights, where good top speed is necessary to maintain competitiveness and protect position; this means a low level of downforce is required. However, the middle sector requires the opposite: high downforce to ensure good grip under acceleration, braking and cornering through the twisting series of hairpins. Balancing these requirements gives an optimum downforce setting for achieving the fastest possible lap-time. However, this optimum is then skewed by the demands of racing with other cars. To do so successfully requires competitive end of straight speeds – and achieving these may drag us away from our optimum downforce to a slightly lower setting which allows the drivers to overtake and defend their position into turn 1. This means we use downforce levels similar to a circuit such as Bahrain.
Mechanical set-up The combination of high and low-speed corners means it is hard to find a suitable mechanical compromise at Interlagos. Just as with our choice of aero level, we prioritise certain sectors of the circuit over others. The most important corner at Interlagos is turn 12, as it determines your speed along the uphill main straight – a full throttle period lasting over 15 seconds. We therefore pay special attention ensuring the car gets a good exit from this corner, even though this can generate some slow-speed understeer in the middle sector. However, any losses incurred with this understeer are outweighed by the benefits in lap-time and competitiveness achieved in sector 3. The second important factor for the mechanical set-up is the track surface. This was traditionally very bumpy, but the resurfacing in 2004 allowed teams to run lower ride heights, and the situation improved again last year. The circuit is relatively easy on the brakes, with just three major braking events, and overall braking energy similar to somewhere like Barcelona.
Tyres Interlagos includes relatively few high-speed corners with high lateral loadings on the tyres. Coupled with a track surface that is not particularly abrasive, this means we can use relatively soft tyres. Consequently, Bridgestone has made available the medium and soft compounds from its 2008 range for this final race of the year.
Engine The long main straight at Interlagos means engine power is a critical factor at this circuit, and the longest single period at full throttle is over 15 seconds. All the engines, though, must contend with the effects of running at altitude, as the circuit is situated around 800m above sea level. The reduced atmospheric pressure costs the engines around 7% of their power output; as a result, the 60% of the lap spent at full throttle is equivalent to 56% at sea level. While this reduces the demands on some components such as the pistons, other parts of the engine, such as the crankshaft, are still subjected to significant loadings. Driveability is also an important factor, especially through the winding middle sector. The drivers run in the lowest gears at this point on the circuit, with sudden changes of direction and significant brake and throttle inputs. Smooth power delivery can make a real and significant contribution to maintaining a stable balance, and optimum driving lines, in this part of the circuit.
Renault at the Brazilian GP
Brazil holds a special place in Renault's Formula 1 history as the country where the French manufacturer secured three of its four world championships won as a 100% Renault team, in 2005 and 2006. But the company's successful track record stretches all the way back to 1980, on the old Interlagos layout.
After a disappointing first Brazilian Grand Prix in 1979, the duo of Jabouille and Arnoux returned in 1980 and took pole (Jabouille) and the race win (Arnoux). For the following year, the race moved to Rio de Janeiro but both Renaults retired in that race; however, Alain Prost redressed the balance in 1982 with a rare "triple crown" of pole, race win and fastest lap. Renault power continued to compete at the Jacarepagua until 1986, and while the works cars did not enjoy success, the customer teams did: Elio de Angelis finished P3 in both 1984 and 1985 (also taking pole in 84) while in 1986 Ayrton Senna snatched pole and second place in the race, followed home by Jacques Laffite's Ligier-Renault for a double podium finish in the Renault turbo's final season of competition.
The first Brazilian podium of the V10 era was won at Interlagos by Riccardo Patrese in 1991 (the race having returned to Sao Paulo in 1990). The following year, as the Williams-Renault team began its march to the title, team-mate Mansell and Patrese locked out the front row (beginning a series of 6 consecutive Interlagos poles for Renault power) and scored a 1-2 finish. The front row was all Renault again in 1993, with Alain Prost taking the 75th F1 pole position for a Renault engine (Hill went on to finish second in the race) while in 1994, Ayrton Senna secured pole position for what was to be his final race in his home country – but spun out of the lead under pressure from Schumacher's Benetton. Renault-powered in 1995, the German took second in qualifying (behind Hill's Williams-Renault) and the race win, but he was docked constructors points for fuel irregularities, as was second placed David Coulthard in the Williams-Renault. 1996 saw Damon Hill take pole and the race win on the way to the title, while in 1997, Villeneuve's championship season saw him take pole and the win, with Gerhard Berger's Benetton-Renault on the podium in P2.
The era of the Renault F1 Team has always seen the cars perform strongly at Interlagos: Jenson Button took fourth position in 2002, Fernando Alonso finished third in 2003 after his large accident caused the race to be stopped, while in 2004 the Spaniard fought an heroic rearguard action on worn tyres to finish P4 and hold off much faster competitors. In 2005, the Spaniard took pole and third place, enough to bring him his first world championship, while his second place in 2006 saw him repeat the feat – and with Giancarlo Fisichella finishing fifth, Renault also secured its second consecutive constructors' championship.
In total, Renault power has taken 6 wins (1980, 82, 92, 95, 96, 97) in Brazil, finished on the podium 20 times and secured 11 pole positions. This year, with the team's return to form and having secured fourth place in the constructors' championship, the ING Renault F1 Team is hopeful of another strong Interlagos outing.