Q and A with Renault’s Pat Symonds
Q. Pat, the team has stated publicly that reliability has been the focus of much of its running during pre-season testing. How has that progressed?
Pat Symonds - Renault's director of engineering: Our main objective was to complete as many kilometres before the opening race this year, as we did last. Given that we are on track fewer days, that means we have had to push pretty hard on reliability to get where we want to be.
The forthcoming tests in Bahrain are an added motivation, because when you are running so far from home, you want the car running as well as possible. Looking at the numbers, though, we seem to be achieving our goals: our mileage, along with that of McLaren, is well ahead of the rest of our competitors. And that's gratifying to see.
Q. The hot topic of the winter has been the transition to the 2007-spec Bridgestone tires. How is that progressing?
PS: Back in November, we said that our objective was to learn our lessons by the time we reached Melbourne. We are not in Australia yet, and we haven't learned all our lessons either! I think we are in a good position in terms of tire degradation, but we have not yet unlocked the secret of getting performance out of the tires on the first lap.
Q. How do you work to do that?
PS: Ideally, you would throw lots of sets of new tires at the problem - but under the new tire allocations for testing, that's not really an option. This is all part of the learning process you go through when you change tire supplier, and we are discussing the matter with Bridgestone, and learning with them as well.
Q. How are the drivers finding the new R27?
PS: Some of the changes to the regulations for this season have made things inherently more difficult for the drivers. For example, the new tires intentionally have less grip, and that makes life tricky for them. The feedback about the R27 has been positive though. It is more stable than its predecessor in high-speed corners, and we are improving the balance with each test. But we are also realistic enough to know we need to find more speed.
Q. Are you worried about the car's performance at the moment?
PS: No, we are not worried, but when you are not on top of the pile, then you have to be honest enough to admit it – and knuckle down to try and find the speed. From what we have seen so far, we seem to be several tenths away from the fastest runners in most conditions – on the first lap, and the long runs too. We know what we want to do to find the performance: we need to start getting the most out of the tires, and push even harder on all our traditional development paths. And we are working bloody hard at it.
Q. Who seems to be the class of the field at the moment?
PS: To be honest, it has been quite hard to judge because things have been a bit up and down, but I would say that on balance, McLaren and Ferrari have been pretty equal at the front, and BMW are right up there too. But all the usual caveats apply – this is winter testing, and you cannot be sure of the fuel loads other people are running. It is still too early to work out an exact classification.
Q. Finally, the team will be in Melbourne in one month's time. How are preparations going
PS: I think everything seems to be gelling very nicely. We spent Monday in Barcelona working on the race team procedures, and preparing for the key moments of the weekend such as qualifying. We know that things are going to be very tight this season, and that all the small details will make a real difference. The team is in a strong position in that respect. Renault