The Renault F1 Team qualified fifth and sixth for tomorrow's Japanese Grand Prix this afternoon in Suzuka, with World Champion Fernando Alonso ahead of his team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella. The two drivers qualified within three tenths of each other, a small margin that demonstrates both drivers got the maximum from the R26 package on this demanding circuit. However, the two Renaults will line up behind both Ferraris – their direct championship rivals – and the Toyota team on row two. While this position translates a substantial deficit in first lap performance, the team hopes that the consistency of the Michelin tyres will pay in tomorrow's race, and allow them to fight on equal terms as race strategies play out.
Fernando Alonso: In the context of the characteristics we have seen today, this result is OK I think. We more or less knew that qualifying would be difficult for us after this morning's practice session, because we didn't have enough pace on one lap. We have done the maximum though, and I am the leading Michelin car – with Fisi right alongside me. The car feels good to drive round here, so now we have to believe in the Michelin tyres and their consistency in the race. Of course, the position is
not ideal for the championship fight – but we have seen big turnarounds already this season. There is nothing to say it cannot happen again tomorrow.
Giancarlo Fisichella: We did all we could this afternoon in qualifying, we just needed more pace on one lap. The grip levels were not fantastic, which meant that the balance was a bit inconsistent – some high-speed understeer and nervousness in slow corners. But as the grip improves, that will calm down, and we know that the R26 will be consistent for the whole race distance. The main thing is that in spite of a difficult day, we are not giving up. Fernando and I will be pushing really hard tomorrow.
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: We often say that relative performance is what matters in Formula 1, and that has surprised us today. While we can draw some consolation from being the fastest Michelin runners, that thought does not help in the battle with our main rivals Ferrari. In yesterday's low temperatures we looked competitive, and things have become more difficult as track temperatures rose some ten degrees today. Certainly the grid suggests that these higher temperatures were not perfectly suited to our tyre over one lap, but it should be borne in mind that qualifying is just a means to an end. The key to success in tomorrow's race will be finding the right balance between aggression and damage limitation, and we are hopeful that our tyres will bring us the consistency we need in the race.
Denis Chevrier, Head of Trackside Engine Operations: The only real source of satisfaction after today's qualifying session is to see our drivers line up alongside each other, as the leading Michelin contenders. The performance of some of our usual rivals showed that this was not an easy qualifying session to come through unscathed, and we have certainly achieved our realistic maximum today in these conditions: we thought we would end up on the third row, and we have achieved just that. From a championship point of view, the Toyotas on row two make our life harder – and mean that the start will one of the key moments in tomorrow's race. Now, the important thing will be to not write off the Grand Prix before it has been run. This season has already shown us how quickly the balance of power can swing from one day to the next over a Grand Prix weekend, and we will have to hope that our deficit in first lap performance is transformed into an advantage in terms of consistency. On the engine side, both RS26 V8 engines have performed faultlessly, and they will provide our drivers with the usual blend of driveability and performance throughout the race.
To check out our Suzuka qualifying gallery, click here