Italian GP: Preview - Renault


Looking back on the Belgian Grand Prix, how happy were you with your weekend on a scale of one to 10?
Bruno Senna: In fairness I'd give it a eight and a half because apart from the two mistakes I made during the weekend, everything went smoothly. It certainly was not perfect because of my mistakes, but at the same time it was very encouraging and gave me great confidence to work hard with the team and to try and develop things further; it gave me a firm base for future development.

So, you were able to forget about the mistake on the first corner and look at the bigger picture?
BS: Yes, of course. Mistakes happen, and what happened at the first corner potentially cost me points but what was paramount that weekend was to get some laps under my belt, and I did just that. I managed to complete the race, clock up many laps and familiarise myself with the car. The weekend gave me a good all-round experience.

Did your success in qualifying set expectations too high?
BS: Naturally, when you do well in qualifying it raises the bar of expectation. Inside and outside the team, everybody was very happy with the qualifying and there was greater expectation for scoring points in the race. Having said that, I was the first one to point out that racing is very different to qualifying, and I wasn't getting carried away. It was a step into the unknown, and in terms of performance it went really well but I need to polish up on my race craft, which is a bit rusty.

Having a race under your belt must instil some confidence and help settle the nerves...
BS: Of course in Spa I didn't know what to expect in terms of the competitiveness, but it was extremely encouraging that I managed to develop my pace quickly, and work with the team well. I have a strong working relationship with the engineers, and I am eager to get into the cockpit in Monza because I feel more confident heading into this race. As with any sport, miles on the clock and experience instil confidence in oneself.

Monza is another well-respected circuit - what is your experience of it?
BS: I've known Monza since 2005, so I have been there every year apart from 2009. It's a circuit where I've had a mixed bag of results. When I was younger, there were a few occasions when I didn't have the right car set-up but I now understand the circuit much better. I'm a more mature driver now, and I'm confident we can achieve another top 10 qualifying and score more points.

With the various driving experiences you've had this year, your relationship with the R31 must be growing closer...
BS: Exactly, I know the car much better now. I'm more familiar with the tendencies the car has, and I understand the direction we can take it. I'm looking forward to working closely with the engineers to devise solutions on where we can strengthen our approach.

Two more points for you in Spa - were there more positives to take away than negatives?
Vitaly Petrov: Yes, it was definitely a positive weekend because, if you cast your mind back, we had some difficult races before. So, we were content with being back in the top 10 and hopeful that we can push on from there. It was an interesting weekend in Spa, and we faced challenging, varied weather conditions which really tested us but overall we tackled what was thrown at us, well.

You now have a new race driver team mate - what's your relationship like with Mr. Senna?
VP: I've known Bruno for quite a long time from my days in GP2. Back then, we were not close friends, but since he joined us this year he's been in every briefing and we've eaten together, talked a lot and developed a good relationship. He's a good mate, and he's also a talented driver, which was evident in Belgium. He demonstrated his skills there for all to see.

Did you feel any added pressure when he out-qualified you, or do you just view this as healthy competition?
VP: No, I think it's just healthy competition. I had a few issues with the car in Q3 but I think Bruno deserved it, he really did. He had a strong qualifying and proved his ability.

What are your thoughts on the Italian Grand Prix?
VP: Well, Monza is a very interesting track, where you need a different level of downforce; you also need a very strong engine and solid brakes. There aren't many corners but every single centimetre of the track is critical for lap time. Braking, traction and exits of corners - Monza is all about precision.

It's a special race with a lot of motor racing fans - do you consider this one of the 'big ones'?
VP: This is a big race, no two ways about it. I think it is quite similar to England; just like Silverstone is full of English fans, Monza is full of Italian Ferrari fans! They just love motorsport, love the circuit and love Formula 1.

Reflecting on the Belgian Grand Prix, there were more positives to extract than negatives...
Eric Boullier: Sportingly, it could have been a better weekend because we had one car in the low points and the other not scoring any which is not sufficient if we're going to chase down Mercedes GP in fourth place. However, all in all it was a good weekend; we had a very respectable qualifying session and Bruno stepped into the cockpit successfully. These aspects were quite promising; it was encouraging for the team to be able to see the cars delivering and their work bearing fruit.

Do you think there was a noticeable lift in team spirits in Spa?
EB: I think the positive energy really came about after qualifying because everyone knows it is extremely challenging for a new driver to step in. Seeing the team applauding the drivers after Q2 and Q3 was a good sign; I was very happy to see that, and it was pleasing to see smiles back on the team's faces.

Some other positive news was third driver Romain winning the GP2 Series - you must have been very pleased for him?
EB: Yes, he did it all in the correct manner which is very important. Everyone is talking about him in the paddock now; he became the new GP2 Series champion three races before the end, which is impressive. He's done a good job in that discipline and I think he's now ready to step back into Formula 1.

With a change of race driver, do you find you have to alter your approach in the way you work with them?
EB: Yes, because each driver is very different. There are different characters with varying mannerisms, so you have to adapt depending on whom it is that's in the race seat. Even if Bruno has been part of the LRGP family for a number of months now, it is a different proposition that he faces as a racing driver.

Do you think Monza will provide a greater indication of 'the Bruno effect'?
EB: Yes, it's difficult to draw too much from one race alone (Spa), whether that's in terms of who is in the race seat or the effect of the upgrade package, but Monza should give us a clearer indication as to how things are going. Monza is always a difficult track because it requires a low downforce set-up; it has high speed corners and high speed straights. After the steps we made in Spa, I'm confident we will have a progressive weekend in Italy too.

Overall, how would you evaluate the team's performance at Spa?
James Allison: The team performed extremely well on Saturday in very challenging conditions. Our race engineers gave us every opportunity to maximise our performance by ensuring we were always out on a clear track when the circuit conditions were at their best. Our drivers did a fair job of turning that opportunity into good grid slots. The race was less satisfactory in terms of points garnered, but in terms of competitiveness this was our strongest race for some time.

How did Bruno perform?
JA: I don't think anyone needs insider information from the team to know that Bruno had a remarkable weekend. The current regulations place a very high hurdle in the path of any driver coming in mid-season, as there is no opportunity to get up-to-speed in the relatively unpressured environment of the test track. On top of that Bruno had to make his debut for us at Spa, a circuit which definitely separates the men from the boys. Finally, he had to manage qualifying in exceptionally difficult track conditions. To face all these challenges and to place the car P7 on the grid is a fantastic achievement on any scale. I know Bruno was kicking himself for the incident at the first corner in the race, but my view is that it was a completely understandable error; it was the first time that he had ever felt the R31 on full fuel and he was surrounded by competitors already 11 races into their season. His subsequent race was run at a very respectable pace and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the car again.

What impact did the upgrades to the car have?
JA: We looked much more on the pace in Spa than in the previous four Grands Prix. Neither driver had an unimpeded race, but the underlying pace of the car was capable of earning P5-P6 given a freer run to the flag. We will know for sure whether we have turned the corner once we have a couple more GPs under our belt, however I am taking some heart from the fact that our competitiveness looked fair throughout the weekend whether on wet, dry or intermediate rubber. We have been plagued with extremely poor wet performance in recent races, and to have seemingly put this behind us gives me faith that the upgrades brought to Spa will continue to deliver at other circuits.

Monza is a pretty distinct circuit on the calendar - what changes will be on the car?
JA: Like everyone, we will have a low downforce package (little front and rear wings). We will also bring upgraded bodywork, which hopefully will help us build on the gains we made at Spa.

What's the relationship between downforce and drag? Does less drag directly mean less downforce?
JA: There is not a one line answer to this question. It is impossible to produce downforce without producing drag, but the job of the aerodynamicists is to produce as much downforce, for as little drag, as possible. At a given circuit, all the cars on the grid tend to set their drag levels to very similar values (by altering the rear wing angle). However, at this same drag level, the front of the grid may have more than 30% extra downforce compared to those at the back of the grid.

Monza is the last European race - how much development will be made to the R31 when we enter the final fly-away phase of the season?
JA: We have an upgrade package to deliver for Monza and then one more at Singapore. After that it will reduce to a trickle as we focus all of our efforts on next year.

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Published: 07/09/2011
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