The Renault F1 Team looks ahead to the Bahrain Grand Prix, the opening round of the 2010 FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
Eric Boullier: ďOur biggest strength is our peopleĒ
The Team Principal gives his verdict on winter testing and looks ahead to Bahrain.
how would you rate the quality of the teamís preparations over the winter?
If we discount the bad weather, then overall our preparations have gone very well. We had a couple of minor glitches, which is quite normal for winter testing, but generally the car has run well and shown good reliability. Overall, considering that six days out of 15 were affected by rain, I think we have managed to maximise our mileage with the car. You can still learn a lot in the wet, especially for reliability, but the problem is that you donít push the car to the limits like you do in the dry.
What has been your assessment of the teamís strengths since you were appointed?
Our biggest strength is our people. We have a very highly motivated team that is responsive and proactive in the way it goes racing. This was clearly demonstrated after the first test session when the factory made a big push to make changes to the car in time for the Jerez test.
How steep has your learning curve been as a new Team Principal?
Itís fair to say that it has been a very steep learning curve because there is so much more to absorb and understand, even compared to GP2. Itís much more intense, but Iím pleased with how things are going.
What feedback have the drivers given on the car, in terms of outright performance, driveability and potential?
There are a couple of things we need to change to make the drivers more comfortable in the car, but they like the general balance and how it responds to set-up changes. At the Jerez test, we found an excellent balance and both drivers said the car was easy to drive and gave them confidence. That was always the priority and itís a good basis for developing the car throughout the year.
What is the teamís assessment of its competitiveness after winter testing?
It has been very tough to understand and unpick the details of winter testing and how we compare with the other teams because we donít know what approach they have taken. We took a decision to run with heavy fuel at every test because we believed this was the best way to understand and improve the car. In terms of outright performance, I hope we are close to the top four teams.
Robert Kubica is rated as one of the most talented drivers in F1. What does he bring to the team?
Itís great to have Robert with us and itís good to see his commitment and work ethic at every level. During the tests he was always at the track, working late, looking over data and available to the team, which is just what we need.
Are you pleased with how Vitaly Petrov is adapting to F1?
Yes, so far so good. Vitaly has shown a level of confidence as well as calmness under pressure, which has impressed the Team. There has been so much attention on him from Russia, but heís taken everything in his stride and nothing seems to faze him. The only problem is his lack of dry running during testing, which isnít ideal for a rookie. However, we are doing everything we can to make sure he feels comfortable in the team as he continues learning about Formula 1. I certainly have no doubts about his ability because his results in the past have shown how quick he is.
The team announced a partnership with Lada last week. Can you tell us more?
Our agreement with Lada is symbolic of the desire in Russia to support its first ever F1 driver at the highest level of world motorsport. That is a very encouraging sign not only for us, but for the sport as a whole. It is also an important deal for the team, because Lada is the first major new brand to enter Formula 1 in a significant manner this year Ė and we are proud to be the team that has made that happen. Itís a successful first step for our commercial strategy.
At the launch of the R30 you spoke about an aggressive development programme. Is everything going to plan so far?
Yes, we have been working to very tight deadlines and there has been a huge effort from the guys in the factory. So far, we are on track with our plans.
What updates are available for Bahrain?
I wonít go into details, but there is a big upgrade package for Bahrain, the main part of which is aerodynamic.
What are your expectations for this weekendís race?
Itís not easy for me to say. I certainly have a dream result in mind, but I need to balance my expectations with reality. If we can have both cars qualify in the top ten and finish the race, that would be a great way to start the season.
Robert Kubica: ďPerformance is always the best medicineĒ
Robert sums up winter testing and reveals his hopes for the year ahead.
After four weeks of testing, do you feel ready to go racing?
I feel as ready as I can be considering that winter testing has been so limited. Iíve spent a lot of time with the team and we already have a strong working relationship, which means we can make the most of the time at the track. There has been a lot for me to learn and there are still questions to answer, but we got some good information from the tests and I tried to extract the maximum from every lap.
How do you think the R30 compares with the competition?
Itís difficult to judge performance, but weíre heading in the right direction. We also havenít run with all our new updates yet and there is another aero upgrade for Bahrain, which we hope will match the wind tunnel predictions and improve performance. Overall, it seems that all the top teams are quite close, but some have definitely hidden their full potential during testing and will also have more updates for Bahrain. So far, I think Ferrari and Mercedes look very strong.
What aims do you have in mind for the year ahead?
It will be a long season and our goal must be to develop faster than our competitors. There was a big gap to make up at the end of 2009 so we will have to take two steps forward if we want to catch the top teams. Performance is what we need Ė itís always the best medicine.
Bahrain has a new layout this year. Do you think it will encourage more overtaking?
I donít think the layout will make overtaking easier. The biggest overtaking opportunities are still there in the old part of the track and the new part is quite twisty with a lot of corners, but no heavy braking zones. So the overtaking will happen in the usual places Ė into turns one and four.
Set-up wise whatís the secret to a good lap?
Bahrain is a circuit that requires good braking stability and traction. There are no real high-speed corners so the set-up work focuses more on the mechanical side.
Vitaly Petrov: ďMy first race will be a big learning experienceĒ
As the first Russian driver in Formula 1, Vitaly has a big weekend ahead. He sums up his emotions ahead of his Grand Prix debut.
Vitaly, how excited are you ahead of your first race?
People are asking me if I feel nervous, but Iím used to racing and I know what I need to do. Of course things are different in F1 and Iím still learning about the car and how to work with the team. But I feel good and I canít wait to go racing in Bahrain.
How tough has it been to get up to speed with Formula 1?
It hasnít been easy, especially because we had so much wet running during testing. You always want more time to test and more time in the car, but thatís how it is. The problem is that I havenít had a lot of time to work on setting up the car in the dry. What I have found is that you need to be really precise with any changes you make to the set-up because even a little change can make a huge difference to the carís behaviour.
What do you think of the circuit in Bahrain? Is it a track you enjoy?
I know the track and raced on the old layout in GP2, but obviously the new section is a new challenge for all the drivers. I donít think about whether I enjoy tracks: all that matters to me is that the car works well and we can find a good balance. Bahrain is all about braking performance and, with the heavy fuel loads, this will be very challenging because it will be easy to lock a wheel and flat-spot your tyres early in the race.
What is your target for your first race?
It hard to say because we still donít know where we stand compared to the other teams and I havenít driven the car with all the new updates. I need to be realistic in Bahrain because itís my first race and it will be a big learning experience. So my first aim is to build my confidence through the weekend, to finish the race and try to be as close to my teammate as possible.
Track Talk with Robert Kubica
Robert talks us through the challenge of racing in Bahrain.
I enjoy racing in Bahrain, but itís certainly not the most challenging track of the year for the drivers. The track is very tough on the brakes with lots of big stops so you need good braking stability and traction out of the low-speed corners. There are no real high-speed corners so our set-up work focuses more on the mechanical side.
The first few corners of the lap are not very demanding but, if your tyres are not in great shape, you will struggle with traction on the exit of turn one. You also need to be careful the back end doesnít step out in turn two, which hurts your speed on the approach to turn four. These corners are always a bit frantic on the opening lap of the race and itís easy to lose your front wing.
For 2010, a new section of track has been added after turn four. This new part of the lap is quite twisty and includes a lot of corners, but there are no significant braking zones so I donít think it will make overtaking any easier. I expect the overtaking will happen in the usual places Ė into turns one and four.
The most challenging part of the lap is the old turn eight [now turn 18], which is very difficult for braking because of the lateral forces acting on the car and itís easy to lock the inside front wheel. Itís difficult to get the car positioned correctly because the braking zone is long and there are many different lines that you can use. The most important thing is to carry as much speed as you can, but not out-brake yourself because you need to get on the power early for the straight that follows. Itís a difficult corner, but itís a challenge so itís my favourite.
The final corner of the lap is quite tricky. Itís a short corner, but it can catch you out as it changes depending on the strength and direction of the wind. You approach in seventh gear at nearly top speed, brake hard and downshift to third gear and then back on the power. You need to look out for snap oversteer on the exit, which can cost you a lot of lap time.
Feature: Whatís new with pit stops for 2010?
Sporting Regulation, Article 29 comes into force in Bahrain and states that ĎCars may not be refuelled after they have left the pitlane before the race.í It means that, for the first time since the 1993 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide, cars will start the race with enough fuel to go the distance.
While there are all sorts of technical ramifications, itís perhaps the sporting impact on pit stops that will be most visible, as Renault F1 Team Sporting Director Steve Nielsen explains:
ďAlthough we always aimed to complete pit stops as quickly as possible, the main emphasis was on attaching and detaching the fuel hose. By taking fuel out of the equation, itís purely down to the tyres and this has become another area where you can win or lose time. The wheels need to be changed as quickly as humanly possible.Ē
To get ready for the frantic pace of pit stops in 2010, the Renault pit crew have been hard at work over the last few weeks rehearsing the procedure. With over five hours of pit stop drill under their belts, Steve reckons they will be at the top of their game come Bahrain. ďItís all about making the job second nature. Practice really does make perfect in this case.Ē
So whatís the target time for a respectable stop? Well, three is the magic number, or three and a half seconds to be precise. Thatís the goal Steve has set: ďThree and a half seconds will be a decent stop, which has halved the time available for the crew to service the car compared to last year.Ē
During practice, the team has already completed stops below the three-second mark, but no matter how many times you rehearse, itís impossible to recreate the pressure of a Grand Prix pit stop. Itís like taking a penalty in football or a match point in tennis: the crew has to perform when it matters.
ďItís a different kind of pressure to what we had before,Ē says Chief Mechanic, Gavin Hudson. ďEverything happens a lot faster and, instead of looking at the fuel nozzle, I need to see four hands in the air Ė one for each wheel. The job is the same for all of us; itís just a case of adjusting to the new timescale.Ē
To help speed up pit stops further, the team has made some practical changes by producing a bespoke front jack with a quick-release mechanism. The wheel nuts have also been reworked in the search for speed. Wheel fairings have been banned for 2010, another consequence of the regulations, which happens to make life easier for the front wheel men. ďAll those changes come together to save us quite a bit of time,Ē confirms Steve.
So with refuelling gone, will we see a return of the days when pit crews wore shorts and t-shirts in the pit lane? Itís unlikely. ďThe pit lane is still a dangerous place,Ē says Steve. ďWe will keep the mechanics fully kitted out in fireproof gear. The only difference this year is that OMP have supplied us with two layer suits instead of the standard three layer suits Ė so the guys wonít get so hot in Bahrain! Also, wearing helmets will protect the guys in case they get knocked over or if thereís an incident in the pits.Ē