Pat Symonds believes Michael Schumacher’s poor record in Shanghai could play
to Renault’s advantage at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. The team’s Director
of Engineering also feels Fernando Alonso will cope better with the pressure
than the Ferrari star, who, having announced his retirement, knows this is his
last chance to win one more drivers’ title…
Q: Pat, the question on everybody's lips ahead of this
race is whether Shanghai will be a ‘Renault track' or a ‘Ferrari track'. What is
Pat Symonds: As always, performance has to be looked at in
relative terms. Shanghai is a good circuit for Renault, and we had a fabulous
race there in 2005 when we dominated the Grand Prix and won the constructors'
championship. But what may be more significant is that Michael Schumacher had
two poor races there in 2004 and 2005. That trend could continue this year.
Q: Renault are now second in the constructors' championsh
ip to Ferrari. Would you say the team is on the back foot?
PS: I don't think so. The team has had a tough month: we
threw away a win in Hungary, and events transpired against us in Monza. But had
Fernando (Alonso) started from his correct grid position in Italy, we know he
would have been fighting for the race win. Some people seem to think Renault is
a spent force in this championship. That is far from the case.
Q: But surely the momentum is with Ferrari at the moment?
PS: In some senses, I think it is true. We learned last
year that momentum and psychological advantage are important, when we struck a
decisive blow with our run of wins at the start of the championship. But the
other thing I remember is the team's response to losing the lead of the
constructors' championship in Brazil. Losing the lead merely redoubled our
resolve to get it back, and we did so in style. That was probably the most
satisfying aspect of last season, and the attitude now is ‘OK, let's do it
again'. This team has the virtue of being very honest with itself. We know where
we stand in terms of performance, and we are feeling confident.
Q: The team experienced a turbulent weekend in Monza. What
impact will it have on this weekend's race?
PS: It is a completely closed chapter. I think you have to
be fatalistic when evaluating these things. The fact is that Fernando's engine
failed, and cost us the points. Had he been leading or in P22, that failure
would have happened at the same point of the race. Our focus has been on fixing
that problem, and getting on with the job. The events of the weekend were
unfortunate, but made no difference to the final result. So we have to draw a
line under it, and start again.
Q: That engine failure was the team's first in 2006. What
has been done to ensure it doesn't recur?
PS: We have identified the weakness that caused the
failure, and taken preventive measures. The engines we will run in China
represent a performance gain over the units from Monza, both in terms of power
Q: It has often been said that 2006 has been a ‘tyre
championship'. Michelin seemed to have made big gains in Monza. Has this been
reflected in testing since then?
PS: They have continued to move forward, yes. We are very
happy with our preparations for the final three races, and we have made progress
on both the compounds and constructions. We found some very interesting
improvements in Jerez and at Silverstone last week, and Michelin are pushing
Q: With both championships so delicately poised, how much
is the team under pressure?
PS: There is plenty of pressure, and there's no point
denying it. We do not have any margin for error in these three races, but that
also makes our job a lot simpler. The only option is to race aggressively.
Second places are no good at this stage of the season. And the same is true for
Q: You have worked with both championship contenders. Can
you separate Fernando and Michael on any level?
PS: It goes without saying that they are both fabulous
drivers and formidable competitors, but I truly do believe that Fernando handles
pressure better than Michael. Throughout his career, there have been many
instances of Michael not performing to his potential when he has been under
pressure. And I think the pressure for him is greater than ever in these last
three races. Previously, he always had the safety net of trying again next year,
if he didn't win. There is no ‘next year' for him now!
Q: Both championships are in the balance with three races
remaining; in many ways, it's a dream scenario for fans of the sport. How would
you describe the mood in the team at the moment?
PS: I think it is determined, optimistic and excited. We
have a very clear target that we are working towards, but we will be out there
to enjoy these final races, and to go for it. It has been a classic Formula One
season, and it is going down to the wire with a classic battle. It is great to
be part of that.