A return to form for the team in Singapore saw a top three qualifying position and a podium finish harvested at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, leaving Team Principal Eric Boullier feeling confident heading into the final six races of the season.
After a couple of difficult races in terms of results, Singapore was a good upturn in form; can the team maintain this for the remaining races this season?
Eric Boullier: Singapore was a good illustration of what is possible for the team in final third of the year. Once more Kimi drove an exceptionally strong race - even without considering his back pain - to come from P13 to the podium, whilst the team did an amazing job with the strategy for both drivers. Were it not for Romain's engine problems we should have had both cars home in third and fourth. It's unfortunate that Romain had the problem with the pneumatic system of his engine as he showed strong pace in the race after putting in superb performances on both Friday and Saturday. The level of downforce used in Singapore will remain for the majority of the six races left on the calendar this season and it certainly seems to suits our car, so we will fight for podiums for the rest of the year I'm sure.
When can we expect an announcement about Kimi's replacement?
EB: When it comes to drivers, we are not simply looking for a short-term replacement for Kimi. We are looking at where we are going to be in the next five years. We can afford to be patient - to ask the candidates to wait as we formulate our strategy for the coming years - and I hope not to have to take into account commercial considerations when making decisions on drivers because we have worked hard to build our financial strength without having to rely on sponsorship from a driver. We want the strongest line-up possible to continue the progress made in recent seasons; that is the priority.
How do you feel about Romain's performance of late?
EB: With Kimi leaving Enstone at the end of the year, Romain knows he has the possibility to build the team up more around himself. If you look at the last five races, he has done a great job. Since Germany, everybody has noticed that he has clearly 'switched on' and you can see the highs in every race. Whether we've been fighting for the podium or struggling a little bit Romain has clearly been matching Kimi's performances, which is no small achievement when you consider the World Championship winning calibre of his team-mate. The Romain of the last two months is the one we all believed he would become, and I hope he keeps improving. If he continues in this way, it means he is 'on it' and delivering the results we all know he is capable of, which is very positive for his prospects in 2014.
What's the team's approach to the final six races?
EB: It's a tough end to the season for everyone; not only with so many races in such a short timescale, but also with the development back at the factory which has now switched to an exciting but challenging year ahead in 2014. We want to score as many points as possible with both drivers between now and Brazil, and knowing the strengths of the E21 we think that strong results should be possible from every track we visit. We are in a comfortable fourth position in the Constructors' Championship, but that does not stop us from striving for better. The battle with Ferrari and Mercedes will continue to be a close one, but they remain a realistic target and we will be pushing as hard as we can right to the very last lap at Interlagos.
After a mixed weekend on the business side of the pit wall in Singapore, Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane is keen to build on the positives and eliminate the negatives through the remaining six races of the year; starting with the Korean Grand Prix in Yeongam...
What are the characteristics of the Korea International Circuit?
Alan Permane: There's a nice long straight benefitting the DRS effect, meaning there's a good chance to see overtaking in the race. The layout has a mix of different sections but they flow together well. We see some decent straights in the first section followed by a few interesting corners - some high speed - in the second section, before moving into an almost street-circuit feel through the final part of the track with its stop-start nature and close proximity walls. Although there are good long straights, the number of high and medium speed corners mean you have to run with a reasonable level of downforce which should certainly be beneficial for us.
How difficult is it to get the right setup here?
AP: The mixed nature of the track means that compromises are made, and the fact that the circuit isn't used very much aside from for the Grand Prix weekend means that we should see a reasonable amount of track evolution. The weather can also be quite a challenge, with reasonably extreme temperature variations possible. These factors give the engineers plenty of different considerations as they seek the best setup, but in terms of what's needed from the car, it's not a circuit which places a particular premium on one aspect. You need a good all-round package with strong straight line speed and stability, decent traction and change of direction, but also good low speed performance tempered with that.
Tyre management proved to be a virtue of the E21 once again at the Marina Bay Street Circuit; will the impact be similar in Korea?
AP: The two circuits are reasonably distinct from one another in terms of the challenges they present, but one of the constants between the two is the allocation of the supersoft and medium compound tyres. This will almost certainly mean we see teams qualifying on the supersoft, but in terms of the race it will be a case of ensuring we do our homework during Friday practice to establish which will be the preferred option on Sunday, and how long each will last at a competitive pace. This tactic benefitted us hugely in Singapore, as the work carried out on Friday gave us confidence in the decision to pit under the safety car and run a very long final stint on the mediums. The allocation for Korea should suit the circuit, so this should hopefully work to our advantage once again.
Romain had a few problems with his car over the weekend in Singapore; any causes for concern looking forwards?
AP: On Friday we had a problem with the steering which was an isolated setup issue, but there was then a brake and a hydraulic problem on top of that. These types of issue can be a pretty normal experience on a Friday and were all isolated in nature. With regards to his engine failure in the race, Renault Sport are looking closely at what happened and we wouldn't expect a repeat of this either.
Kimi, Romain and the E21 performed admirably last time out; how much can we take from this heading into the final six races?
AP: Both drivers did us proud in Singapore. Romain delivered fantastically well in both qualifying and the race despite his limited track time, whilst Kimi overcame his back pain to score an impressive podium finish. Like us, most teams will have now switched their development focus to 2014 so we wouldn't expect a dramatic change to the relative performance of each outfit between now and the end of the season. That leaves us in a tight scrap with both Ferrari and Mercedes, and with both our guys performing at this level - coupled with the potential from the car at the coming tracks - we should have a good end to the season in prospect.