James, what was your assessment of Renault's weekend in Bahrain?
Overall, I'm disappointed that we're going home empty handed because it's not a fair reward for the effort the team has put in over the last few months or the underlying competitiveness of our car. On the flip side, I'm pleased that we've met our initial performance expectations, which is the tricky bit. Our basic competitiveness could have put us sixth or seventh in qualifying, and that's a hugely better position than at the end of last year or at the beginning. It shows that we've made a proper step up with the car.
The team brought a major upgrade to Bahrain. How did it perform?
It was very difficult to judge exactly where the teams stacked up in the pre-season, but we had made our own estimates of where we stood. In Bahrain we found that the car has come out at the positive end of our predictions. Our competitive position, coupled with the data we measured on the car give me good confidence that the new package has delivered the performance that we hoped for. Although Bahrain is a slightly unusual circuit, with very few fast corners, I am confident that we should be able to pick up at the same level in Melbourne, or even take a step forward.
The wind tunnel at Enstone was upgraded last November with a new rolling road. Does this mean that it's delivering what you expected of it?
Since the tunnel shutdown, our rate of development has been encouragingly strong, and we expect to be adding performance to the car at every race this year. However, we cannot forget that we were still a second off the front-running pace in qualifying. We have started the season with a credible level of performance, and we aim to finish the season at what I'd describe as a good level.
How did you feel the drivers performed over the first race weekend?
Robert delivered a peachy lap in Q2 to show the potential of the car. In the race, despite the fact that he got rammed on the first lap and shunted down to the back of the field, he produced a faultless drive. As a driver, he's exactly what we want: he encourages us, he's prepared to work every bit as hard as we are, and he has constructive ideas about the areas where we can improve. It's fantastic to have a driver who sets high standards for himself and for us, and who can play a big part in our recovery.
As for Vitaly, he did everything we asked of him. He'd run only a handful of dry weather laps in the pre-season through bad luck with the weather; in fact, he did more dry laps on Friday than he'd managed during all of testing. Notwithstanding that, he delivered in the sessions that mattered. He got comfortably out of Q1 and, although he was frustrated with his Q2 lap, it was absolutely a good performance for a rookie. With all the pressure of making his debut race he made a great start, then got on with the job and put together a string of consistent laps. He was set fair for a good result - and quite possibly points on his debut.
Vitaly retired with a suspension problem yesterday. Can you explain what happened?
On lap 11, Vitaly reported that the car wasn't behaving normally and he began losing a lot of lap time to Barrichello. We called him into the pits for a precautionary check and found a problem with the right-front suspension pushrod that forced us to retire the car. Upon further investigation, it transpired that the pushrod had been touching on the chassis when running on very heavy fuel at the start of the race. This damaged the bolt that attaches the pushrod to the car, and meant we lost a shim from the suspension, causing the DNF. Robert preferred a slightly different ride height and was fortunate not to encounter the same problem. We are, of course, disappointed that we did not discover this problem during pre-season testing. The parts in question will be modified for the next race to ensure that it cannot recur.
Finally, the team put in some marathon hours this weekend - mirroring the efforts back at the factory. What can you say about that herculean effort?
A racing team can only judge itself by how quick the car is and whether it is competing in the manner it would wish to. Last year, we took a number of body blows to our self-confidence, and the only way back from that was to produce a decent car and race it with integrity. We wanted to put as much performance into the car as we could for the first race, but we knew that shutting our tunnel in November for the rolling road upgrade would mean that we had to leave a lot of development daringly late. This decision put massive pressure on the design side of the team, on the manufacturing side, and also on the buying department that organizes our subcontractors - plus on the subcontractors themselves. To bring this package to the first race, we had to operate to timescales that we'd never come close to in the past, and it tested the system to its limits. It also meant the race team had to burn the candle at both ends every day at the track, with a burden of expectation on their shoulders, and they delivered. The end result may not have been visible this weekend in terms of points, but the effort that went in was a massive tribute to our determination to recover.
Is the goal for Melbourne to try and transform the potential from this weekend into points?
Absolutely. We have a car that should be capable of bringing home points at every race. If we keep up the pressure on the development side, there's no reason why we shouldn't be doing that.