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14 March: Malaysian Grand Prix Preview - Renault F1

Fernando Alonso

Prior to going to Malaysia, you have been in the Maldives – why choose that destination?
FA: I wanted to relax after a busy winter, and also prepare for the conditions in Malaysia. The Maldives is a good place for that, so I can train in the heat and humidity, and make sure I am ready for Sepang. Also, in a region like the Maldives that was hit by the tsunami, it is important that we can maintain their economies by continuing tourism.

Fernando, how well do you think the R25 will suit Sepang?
FA: For the drivers, the time when we really feel the difference of the R25 is in high speed corners, so Sepang is obviously one of the races we are looking forward to this year. I love the track, there are lots of long, fast corners and it is a place where you really see the potential of the cars. In Melbourne, I think the difference between the best and the worst car is quite close, because all you have to do it brake for the slow corners, turn in and get back on the throttle. Sepang is very different, and there is a huge difference from the best to worst cars. I think we will see more of the potential of the R25 in Malaysia.

Giancarlo Fisichella

Giancarlo, one week on from your first win with Renault, how does it feel?
GF: We had a great weekend in Australia, a quick car and some luck too, and the team did a great job in making sure we had no problems at all. But we are all focused on the future now, and looking ahead to the race this weekend in Sepang. We know the weather made the circumstances strange in Melbourne, so we expect other teams like Ferrari and McLaren to be much stronger in Malaysia. But we have a good package, so let’s see what happens.

How does the car need to handle to be quick in Malaysia?
GF: Sepang is a circuit which shows if a car is good or not. The long, fast corners mean you need a very stable rear end, and a consistent car balance so that you know the car’s reactions through the quick sections. There are some corners where the drivers can really make the difference as well.

With the hot temperatures, tyre performance will be an important factor…
GF: At the moment, nobody knows how the tyre performance will unfold in temperatures like we have in Sepang, and it will be interesting to find out. All we know is that Michelin have done a great job this winter and in the first race. The tyres in Melbourne were very consistent, and the performance was there. In Malaysia, they will have to be durable under much tougher circumstances, but the R25 seems to manage the tyres well. I am confident we will have good performance there.

So what are your expectations for this race?
GF: The race in Malaysia is always very tough physically, and I said before Melbourne that it is very easy to make mistakes at the end of the race when the tyres are old. With the fatigue from the heat as well, that is even more true for Sepang, but I have been really motivated in training this winter and I am not worried about the physical side. As for expectations? The team is very optimistic, and I think we will expect to fight at the front again. But if bad weather does not play a part, I am sure the race will be a lot closer than in Australia.

Alan Permane, Race Engineer, Car No. 6

Sepang is a circuit that includes a little bit of everything: there are high-speed corners, with high speed changes of direction (Turns 5 and 6 for example) as well as low speed hairpins with major traction events on the exit. Consequently, the car must be well balanced and stable, both under heavy braking and in the slower corners. Like in Melbourne, we spring the car stiffly for this circuit, although unlike the last race, the track is neither bumpy nor are the kerbs particularly high: this means we have to compromise less in terms of the car’s overall stiffness.

Downforce levels are also similar to those seen in Australia – medium to high, in order to optimise performance through the long, quick corners and under braking. However, the ideal set-up and a suitable set-up for the race can sometimes be quite different, and we may have to reduce downforce levels for qualifying, and therefore the race, to protect against being overtaken. However, the top speeds of the R25 were extremely competitive in Melbourne, which should minimise the need for any compromise.

Tyre performance will be critical in Malaysia, and is one of the primary unknown factors we face during the race weekend. The fast corners, combined with high track temperatures, put more energy through the tyres than at Melbourne, and this in turn means tyre wear is higher. So far, the R25 seems to look after its tyres well, and wear rates are even with Giancarlo’s smooth driving style. However, it is still early days, and we have not yet run the long-distance tyres with significant track temperatures.

In terms of set-up, we will concentrate on minimising levels of tyre wear, and I am sure we will make adjustments relative to 2004 in order to specifically control this. One thing that emerged in the race in Australia was that if we have to compromise on balance in the race, we prefer to run the car with slight understeer rather than increasing the levels of front wing and risking an oversteering car later in the race. Throughout race conditions, we try to protect the heavily worked rear tyres as much as possible, and the lap-time penalty for any unpredictable oversteer in Sepang will be higher than it was in Melbourne.

Finally, we will have to adjust the cooling levels to suit the ambient temperatures. Our simulations provide us with accurate data for making the necessary adjustments to the car, and as is normal, the cooling efficiency of the R25 has improved relative to its predecessor.

Fabrice Lom, Engine Engineer, Car No. 6

The demands placed on the engine by the circuit configuration at Sepang are not particularly severe: with only 57% of the lap spent at full throttle, the circuit is situated in the bottom half of the season in terms of its severity. Equally, there are no very slow corners which see the engine operating at very low revs, meaning the rev range required is also within our normal limits.

The primary danger for the engine is that it has to run at partial throttle openings at very high revs, particularly through turns 5 and 6. If not properly managed, this can endanger pistons and piston rings through the phenomenon of blow by.

The most abnormal characteristics of Sepang for the engine are the temperature and humidity. The high temperatures and humidity decrease the available engine power and alter the air intake acoustics such that this peak power is produced at higher revs. The engineers must therefore cope with the contradictory demands of excellent cooling in the high temperatures, and running higher engine speeds in order to maximise output, which in turns increases the engine’s heat rejection. As a result, compromise is always the name of the game at Sepang when it comes to optimising the performance of the V10.

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering

Pat, first of all, you collected the team’s trophy on the podium in Melbourne. How did that feel?
PS: It was a really fantastic feeling to be up on the podium. After twenty-five years in Formula One, I have won a lot of races, but it was a very special moment to look out from the balcony and see the excitement and happiness of the whole team. It was a real sense of accomplishment to be up there as I felt I was there on behalf of the whole team both those at the track and those back at base who had contributed so much to our success that day.

After the result in Melbourne, do you have a clear picture of the balance of power, or are there still questions to be answered?
PS: There are still lots to be answered. As we have seen in the past, Australia was an unusual race, and for one reason or another we did not see the true form of all the teams. We think we know where that form might lie, but we need to see it under clean conditions. Secondly, while the tyre performance in Melbourne was extremely good, all the teams approached the problem with a degree of conservatism. Conditions were cool, and when we get to other tracks, maybe even Sepang, we will see tyre management become a much more important factor, that may further differentiate the teams.

What will be the keys to the race in Malaysia?
PS: Tyres. Their management under extreme conditions will be critical. Equally, we will see the reality of whether the teams have really built two-race engines. Reliability was superb in Australia, but we only ran the engines to half their life – and failures are much more likely in the second half than the first…

Finally, what are your performance expectations for the team?
PS: We were extremely pleased with Australia. Melbourne was only the fourth circuit at which we have properly run the car but at each one, we have found the set-up sweet spot almost immediately. So we are confident, but as I have said, tyre management and temperatures are now a more fundamental part of Grand Prix racing than ever before, so the picture may change. I think we are close to a number of teams on performance, and it will take very little for the pendulum to swing one way or the other.

2005 Malaysian Grand Prix - Main Page
2005 Malaysian Grand Prix - Team and Driver Preview Page

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