Spanish GP: Preview - Renault

16/05/2011
NEWS STORY

Seventh place in the race in Istanbul and six points for the team - what did you make of the last race?
Nick Heidfeld: The race in Istanbul was good, we had good pace and I think generally we've got the speed to compete with the teams ahead. If we have stronger qualifying sessions, we'll definitely give ourselves a good chance each Sunday. This is my main focus now.

You tested in Barcelona pre-season and you've raced there a number of times down the years. How do you like the Circuit de Cataluna?
NH: During testing, we had updates on some days and other teams brought some new parts on other days - it was difficult to draw too much from that experience. This time we will be bringing some more new parts, which will help us improve our performance This is all part of our ongoing aggressive development strategy. Also, we will get into the swing of things quickly because the whole team knows the circuit well, and teams using a simulator won't have such an advantage here.

Do you have any special memories of racing at the track?
NH: Over the years I have enjoyed some good races in Spain - it's a challenging track and it will be interesting to return. I have got many memories - one that I particularly remember is a pit lane battle with Jenson (Button) when we were both exiting at the same time, both at the highest speed limit you are allowed and I think I just got out ahead of him.

We saw a high level of tyre degradation in Turkey - as a driver, how do you feel this can be limited when on track?
NH: "Well, with these new Pirelli tyres, there is not too much you can do to limit the impact of degradation from a driver point of view. However, the good thing is the R31 is quite gentle on its tyres compared to the other cars, which is a real positive for us. I think that through good general usage of the car the driver can help the situation, but what is more important is how the car is set-up. If the car is prepared well beforehand then it can put us in a good position.

You are currently seventh in the Drivers Championship standings - how much can you achieve in the R31 this season?
NH: This season requires a real team effort from everyone. I will need to concentrate on getting the most out of it, but I think it's too early days to speak about final championship positions just yet. Nico (Rosberg) is only a point behind me now and Mercedes have improved a lot over the last two races. However, we scored as many points as they did in Turkey so we can stay clear of them. The Ferraris are not far away - Felipe (Massa) has finished behind me in a couple of races and he is not many points ahead so my aim is to start challenging him in the standings very soon.

You achieved eighth position in Istanbul and scored four more valuable points for the team...
Vitaly Petrov: Firstly, it is of course very important that we both finished the race - if you achieve that, you will have a lot more data and information on tyres and other technical aspects. It was also good that we both finished reasonably well and took some good points for the team. On the other hand, I was a little disappointed about the incident with Michael (Schumacher) because that cost me some time and points.

You are currently seventh in the Drivers Championship standings with equal points to Nick - how much does this team competition help?
VP: It's good. We are both fighting for the points, which can only be good for the team because it helps bring our performance up a level. It's very important to get as many points as we can for the team and to fight for the Constructors Championship. Mercedes are now quite strong and taking some points, so we must stay focused and work even harder to try and stay ahead of them. We'll now look to the next race and both of us drivers will be trying to get the maximum number of points we possibly can.

You tested at the Circuit de Cataluņa before the season started - do you enjoy driving at this track?
VP: I've been at this track many times before, and I have a lot of experience of racing here in GP2 and F3000 when I won some podiums. I've also driven here in Formula 1, and of course the testing earlier this year. However, the weather then (during testing) was quite cold so the preparation this time around will be different. It's going to be an interesting weekend because everyone knows this track quite well, so it will be a close fight and the lap time gaps will be quite small.

We've had four races this season already - how far can LRGP go in Barcelona and throughout the rest of the season?
VP: F1 never stays the same, it is always changing. Things change on a daily basis, with teams building new parts and working on new aspects. In Turkey, Red Bull were quickest, but before that McLaren won and of course we've been third quickest in two races already this season so things never stay still. It is impossible to predict what will happen throughout the season because anything is possible. We'll be bringing new parts each weekend to try and improve the car further; we will take it race by race and stay focused.

Both drivers scored points in Istanbul however post-race you said that the team must push harder - what are your feelings after Turkey?
Eric Boullier: It is good to have both cars competing at the same level and scoring points together but obviously when you have chased podiums each time with different drivers you would expect to have a better finish than 7th and 8th. This is why there was maybe an expectation to do a bit better.

Nick and Vitaly fought hard for position in Turkey - what is your opinion on the team's drivers battling it out at a race?
EB: My opinion is very clear. They have the same car so if they compete together throughout the race that means we have a good pair of drivers. This has to be done fairly, and it is always tricky when they have to battle against each other because they're racing drivers and they don't want to give their position away. We have now cleared the situation up but it is good to see them battling.

Teams are very familiar with the Circuit de Cataluņa, especially with all the running done there during winter testing - will it suit the R31?
EB: Since we last drove there in testing, we have added upgrades to the car so we will be performing better than in the winter. The situation is also different: it is a race weekend and the way we approach this is different from testing. We hope to make another step forward to fight again for the top six.

We have witnessed some great F1 racing with lots of action, overtaking manœuvres and pitstops recently - surely this is positive for the sport and for the fans?
EB: As long as the sport stays understandable for the fans, it's good. I think everybody was asking for a better show and for more overtaking manœuvres. For a number of years now I have heard people complaining about the lack of overtaking so we shouldn't complain about the situation now! We have to balance things to make sure the sport remains understandable but that's it. I think we have found a good compromise now.

Spain is not known for its overtaking opportunities - will we see any now?
EB: I think that with the DRS, anything is possible. Mainly because of the tyre degradation, there is a need for some aggressive strategies that allow overtaking on track and of course a very good race finish too.

James, both drivers scored points for the first time this season in Turkey - you said after the race that it was a satisfying result?
James Allison, Technical Director: Having both cars in the points, nose to tail is satisfying. All of us would have preferred it to be closer to the front, but it's okay and probably a fair reflection of the pace of the car.

The team continues the development race - what's new for Spain?
JA: We bring another handful of aerodynamic upgrades for the next race - the development race never lets up. None of them are individually large, but there are six in total and they add up to another 0.15-0.20 secs/lap. It isn't a huge upgrade but if we can keep that up for every race then it starts to tell.

This year, we have also seen that preparation in terms of tyres has been key to the race weekend...
JA: At some tracks these tyres are really on the edge - Turkey was one of them and Barcelona will be another. So having a very careful plan on Friday to prepare for the race is very important. Also, it has increasingly become clear to everybody that to conserve tyres during qualifying in order to maximise results on Sunday.

Pitstop executions have always been highly important; we have been witnessing an increased number of stops - are they still key to a good race outcome?
JA: Making fast and reliable pitstops is as important as developing the car aerodynamically. Our aero upgrade for Barcelona will be worth around 10 seconds over the whole race - one bad pitstop and the value of that upgrade is entirely wiped out. Even if you avoid a single very poor stop, but make four stops around 1sec slower than the opposition then it is the same as taking a reasonable upgrade off the car. So yes, pitstops are important and they are an area where we haven't been as strong as we would have liked this season. The Race Team, supported by several engineering functions back in the factory are putting a big effort in to bring our stops up to the required level. We are not there yet, but we took a noticeable step forward in the last race and we will to continue to make progress in the coming races.

Barcelona is a circuit the teams know well, what is its main challenge?
JA: The Barcelona track places a very high premium on aerodynamic efficiency, so the main challenge is designing a car that is efficient aerodynamically! A string of long, high speed corners and the nature of the asphalt make it very hard on the tyres. Although we will have a revised hard tyre from Pirelli at Barcelona, which may change the picture somewhat, it is likely that the race will be loaded with pitstops in Spain.

Will DRS and KERS play a key role here?
JA: By far the biggest influence over the ease of overtaking in Turkey was as a result of the track being very tough on the tyres. Barcelona is likely to be similar, with soft tyres that degrade up to 0.3 of a second per lap. This means that small variations in strategy yield very large differences in performance at different times in the race. Stopping just three laps different to another car will give nearly a 1sec/lap difference in performance. Set against that, the DRS and KERS have only a second order effect on the ease of overtaking. We can expect another breathless race with a lot of on track action - not a traditional hallmark of the Spanish GP.

To experience the Circuit de Catalunya in more detail click here

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Published: 16/05/2011
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