Robert Kubica: "We can be proud of what we have achieved so far"
Robert, Silverstone is one of the classic circuits in the F1 season. How much fun is it for the drivers?
It's an exciting circuit, a very challenging track, especially the first six or seven corners which
are just amazing with current F1 cars. Most of them are nearly flat out, or perhaps even flat -- it depends on the wind direction -- and as soon as you exit one, you're into the next one straight away: it's just amazing how much speed you can carry through them. Of course, there is the new section this year, as well, which I've seen on the internet and on TV when MotoGP raced there: it looks quite bumpy, and different to the previous version of the circuit, but I think overall that Silverstone is a place where all the drivers are happy to drive, because it really shows 100% of the potential of an F1 car in the high-speed corners.
How do you think the R30 will perform at Silverstone?
It's very difficult to judge. Silverstone is normally quite a tricky place for the set-up and for finding a good balance, because you have a big difference between the low-speed and high-speed corners, and there are not really any medium-speed corners in between. Downforce is a key point and with the changes we made to the car last race, it will be interesting to see if they bring us an advantage in the high-speed stuff. It will be a good test on Friday to see and feel the differences with the new package.
In terms of overall competitiveness, where do you think Renault stands at the moment?
A lot of it depends on the circuit characteristics and if you get everything right or not. We were very close to Ferrari in qualifying in Valencia, even though we were not 100% happy about how it went -- but I think most people were struggling a bit in qualifying there. In the first stint of the race, I was behind Felipe and we had a slightly slower pace than him, but things might change. Mercedes struggled in Valencia, too, and we saw some cars having big ups and downs in performance during the weekend, so it's very, very difficult to judge. Silverstone has a completely different character to Valencia or even Canada, and the last time we raced at a similar circuit was in Istanbul. Since then, people have made big updates to their cars, including us, so we really will have to wait and see.
Silverstone marks the halfway point in the season, and you're sixth in the championship. Has the first half of the year exceeded your expectations?
I think there are two ways to look at it. Of course, as a driver you're always hoping for a winning car but, in reality, myself and the team went to the first race hoping to get into the top ten in qualifying and we felt this was our potential, after doing a good job to improve the car during winter testing. Until now, we've qualified in the top ten at every race, and apart from Bahrain, my worst finish has been seventh. All in all, we can be happy with the job we've done. Of course, we had more room for improvement in the beginning, but we managed to close the gap to the top teams, and the guys in the factory have worked really hard to keep up the pace of improvements. Now, the last few tenths to the front will be very difficult to find, but I think we can be happy and really proud of what we have achieved so far after starting quite far away. I don't think anybody was expecting us to achieve these kinds of results.
Vitaly Petrov: "So much has happened to me in the last six months"
Vitaly, at the last race in Valencia you had a mixed weekend. What did you learn from it?
We had a lot of new upgrades to the car in Valencia and so the car felt very different and I had to adapt my driving style quite a bit. I was happy to get a good result in qualifying and make it into the top ten, but unfortunately I had no new tyres left for Q3 so I couldn't improve on tenth place. In the race I didn't want to risk too much at the start and I was lucky not to crash with the Force Indias, which were attacking hard. But the important thing is that I was able to finish the race, learn about the car, and get some more experience. Everybody knows how difficult it is to overtake in Valencia so I followed De la Rosa and was waiting for a mistake. He made one mistake in the race, but unfortunately I was not close enough to get by.
After nine races, how do you look back on the first half of the year?
It's difficult to sum up my feelings because so much has happened to me in the last six months. I'm still learning about Formula 1 and I feel that I'm improving at each race and working better with the team and my engineers. I've seen just how competitive Formula 1 is and it still amazes me to see how much effort goes on by the team to improve the car at each race. For the rest of the season I know that I must work hard with Robert if we are to beat Mercedes before the end of the year, and this is our clear objective.
You've raced at Silverstone before in GP2, but the layout has changed for this year. Do you think the new arena section will add an extra challenge?
Until we get there and drive the lap it's difficult to know what the new section will be like in an F1 car. My feeling is that it will just make the lap a bit longer because the main characteristics of the track have not changed. It was always difficult to overtake at the old Silverstone because of the quick corners and I think that will still be the case this year. There are some extra straights, but I don't know if they are long enough to allow overtaking.
How will you approach the British Grand Prix?
The first thing we need to do is to see how our upgrades work at Silverstone because it's a very different circuit to Valencia and much more high-speed. And because it's difficult to overtake, I know how important it will be to get the maximum from the car in qualifying. So I must try and avoid any mistakes over the weekend and aim to qualify inside the top ten so that we can get the most from the race. It's a local race for the Enstone factory so it would be extra special to get a good result for the team.
Eric Boullier: "Everyone in the team has risen to the challenge this year"
Eric, looking back on the first half of the season, has the performance of the team met your expectations?
At the beginning of the season we had a reasonable performance level with R30 and we knew that we needed to push hard to develop the car. Everyone in the team has risen to the challenge and we have seen the result of all this effort at the track with the car improving race by race. So, yes, I'm pleased that we have made good progress and I hope that we can maintain this for the rest of the year.
The team took nine points out of Mercedes' lead in Valencia. Do you feel you can overhaul them before the end of the year?
The battle with Mercedes is a fight that I expect to last throughout the season. They are a very strong competitor and it would be wrong to underestimate them. They have two very good drivers and they are ahead of us in the championship so it's clear that we will have to work hard to beat them. Obviously they were missing some performance in Valencia, which was a surprise, but I don't think they will underperform at every race. So it was important that we took points off them because I know they will fight back.
Vitaly has now completed nine races. What can we expect from him in the second half of the year?
Although he has half a year of F1 under his belt, we have to remember that compared to some of the other rookies he has a lot less F1 experience. Drivers like Hulkenberg and Kobayashi completed lots of testing miles in previous seasons, whereas Vitaly only drove an F1 car for the first time in February this year. So I know it has been an incredibly steep learning curve for him, but already he has shown on several occasions that he has the speed and can be close to Robert's pace. What we need to see now is more consistency over a weekend without any mistakes. This is what I expect from him in the second half of the season so that he is regularly in Q3 and scoring points in the races.
What is the development plan for the remainder of the season?
The strategy will certainly be different compared to the start of the year, although it's clear we need to keep pushing hard because we're still not quick enough to challenge for pole and race wins. And we know that we need to keep up this work rate because Formula 1 is so competitive these days and all our competitors are working hard to improve their cars as well. But at the same time it's important that we look ahead to next year and we must not neglect the development of the 2011 car, which is already well underway. We need to find the right balance of resources and that is a decision we have to make in the coming weeks.
Silverstone is the team's local race -- does that make it more special?
Renault is clearly a French company, but there is no longer a French Grand Prix on the calendar and that makes Silverstone even more important for us. Monaco earlier this year felt almost like a 'home' race, so you could say that Silverstone is our second 'home' Grand Prix because the factory at Enstone is only 40 minutes down the road. We're also planning to hold a special event at the factory on race day with a big screen so that staff and their families can enjoy this special weekend with us.
What are your hopes for the performance of the R30 at Silverstone?
I'm looking forward to seeing the cars on the new layout and hopefully it will encourage more overtaking and improve the show. In terms of our performance, the recent upgrades we have made to the car should work well at Silverstone and I'm hopeful that we can score some big points this weekend.