Renault Back On Home Turf
June 29, 2007 | 3:11 A.M. EST
The most difficult aspect of any sport is rebuilding a great empire once again.
With the preseason departure of two-time defending World Champion Fernando Alonso, the ING Renault F1 Team knew that the 2007 season was not going to be easy, but few expected them to experience the hardships they have had this year; One DNF, six finishes outside the top-eight points paying positions, and a combined 25 points between drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and rookie Heikki Kovalainen – 81 points adrift of the pace of set by championship runaways Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.
Still, even with the struggles, the two-time defending Constructors Champions are defiant about their position.
"The first thing to say, and it’s an important point, is that the work is progressing. Of course, it is never fast enough - we all want to be leading championships and winning every race, and you’re never happy until you are doing so," said Pat Symonds, ING Renault’s Executive Director of Engineering. "But we take a lot of comfort from the fact that after a poor start to the year, we are pulling it back so rapidly. Other teams are not having a great season, and not pulling it back as we are. There is plenty to be proud of in what we are doing."
Nowhere was this more evident than during the North American leg of the 2007 schedule. Although only Kovalainen was able to secure points at Canada and Indianapolis, both team drivers began to look competitive against the likes of McLaren, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and the surging BMW Sauber F1 Team, an organization that has become more of a reference point for Renault than the top-two championship contending groups on top of the standings.
"As soon as I started running in Canada, I knew that we had taken a good step forward with the car. We were quick, consistent and I thought that in the race we could fight with Ferrari and BMW – and that was how it turned out," said Fisichella, who was disqualified in Canada for a pit road violation along with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. "Then in Indy, the car was good again. Maybe the feeling was not quite as positive, but we had a good strategy, and got into the top ten quite easily in qualifying. Then I had a spin, and that meant zero points. I felt really sorry for the team after that, but we have to look at the positives. The car is getting better all the time, and that’s thanks to the hard work of everybody at the track and the factory."
While obviously not feeling as great as they were during their championship runs, Renault is seemingly gaining confidence throughout this rebuilding year. Nowhere would it be better for them to demonstrate just how far they have come than during this weekend’s Grand Prix of France at the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours – their home event.
"Without a doubt. I have had the best years of my career so far with Renault, so it is going to be a great feeling to be representing the team again at Magny-Cours," said Fisichella. "The motivation in the team goes up a notch for this race, especially for the engine team who are racing in front of their friends and family. Does it make us try harder? Of course not. But it makes a good result extra special. We will be doing our maximum to achieve that on Sunday."
To that end, the team has combined their confidence rebuilding with a restructuring of the aerodynamic department in their home base, allowing the team to focus better on the tasks remaining as they work towards a solid rest of the season and a strong 2008.
"As we better understand the problems we have been suffering from, we are able to improve the car," said Symonds. "There will be enhancements for France and Britain. And that’s in addition to continue the push with our normal development processes. There are a lot of new bits coming for the car, and you can be certain that we will keep on fighting."
Will Renault continue their current competitive streak and continue the long rebuilding process, perhaps the most difficult task in sports?
Perhaps it was the rookie Kovalainen who said it best heading into the weekend: "It’s no secret that France is a really important race for Renault, and racing in front of all the people from the factory at Viry, and the other Renault factories, makes the atmosphere very special for us.
"I think we made another step with the car last week at Silverstone, so I am looking forward to getting out there on Friday, and seeing how things stack up. We got the maximum out of our package in Indy. We have to do the same again this weekend."