In the world of F1 podcasts, RenaultsportF1 produces a gem after every GP weekend where the engineers attached to each Renault powered team on the grid tell us how their race weekends went. While these are Renault Sport employees, they are each dedicated to the work for their respective teams and an integral part of their operation. Therefore these guys are in the know about all technical details and insider stories, and we’re lucky enough they share their views in a candid 30 minute discussion.
There’s just one thing that might bother a fairly large amount of f1 fans..It’s in the language of Molière, Renault is still proudly French of course! Lucky for you, the backmarkersf1 supercomputer (my intoxicated yet somehow multilingual brain) translates and picks out the most revealing parts of their discussion.
For their Spa review podcast they first offered us some insight on the botched starts seen throughout the field, with teams not being able to accurately judge the amount of grip available on the grid and therefore sort of messing up their clutch settings, with the exception of Mercedes who seem to have got it spot on with flying starts for Rosberg and Schumacher. With almost no dry running in practice, and the practice starts being done at the end of the pitlane where it is slightly downhill, as opposed to the slightly uphill slope on the grid into La source, this caught out many engineers. Pretty much not one of the Renault powered drivers got what they consider a good start, with Senna and Webber of course taking the cake. Webber getting into anti stall, and Senna of course thinking he’s playing f1 2010 going into turn one ( he’s probably still used to HRT’s xbox ‘simulator’). Perhaps a tad telling for the Red Bull team is their engineer discussing the early stops, and mentioning Webber’s stop in lap 3 which allowed them to analyze the tyres..to which a little devil inside me might say: Webber used as guinea pig for the Vet?
While I thoroughly recommend listening to the full podcast, today I want to focus on the comments of the engineer attached to the Renault team of Mr.Bouffon..err I mean Boullier, Ricardo Penteado, who had some very interesting things to say about a tumultuous weekend for the team with the controversial driver swap. First he takes a lovely little swipe at the HRT team when discussing Senna, saying that this was his first run in a proper racecar, as the HRT of last year wasn’t really an F1 car in his opinion. He had a lot of praise for Bruno’s technical knowledge and ability to quickly ‘tame the car’. His initial start of the grid was ok though he could have gotten a 4-5 meters more out of it, but he absolutely wanted to get ahead of Alguersuari in Turn 1, went in too hot and slammed hard into the Toro Rosso. He was lucky to be able to continue which was most important for Senna. Getting mileage in the car in Spa was the main focus, for Monza they will start looking at performance.
As for Vitaly, and this is where it gets really interesting, Ricardo is quite critical. He reveals that a little mistake in Q2 was followed by a big error in q3, and here’s my translation of what he said on Vitaly’s qualifying performance which I found very telling: ” In such conditions, we can’t ask too much….and it is there that we see the talents of each driver”. Of course, I should add at this point that Ricardo is Brazilian, and does not attempt to hide his appreciation for Senna and his joy that Senna is now in the car so he is clearly not free of bias. That being said, I still found the last part of that quote very intriguing “it is there that we see the talents of each driver”. After discussing a driver error affected q2 and q3, it shows to me Ricardo is not very impressed with Vitaly as a driver.
Quickly cutting off his line on driver talent, as if he felt he may have let on a bit too much, Ricardo goes on like this:
“[Vitaly] managed to get p10 and got through the race quite well after making it through a tricky turn one. However later we had a small problem with the brakes which saw him lose 8th place to Massa in the end. We expected to do better overall but were happy to have scored a few points” Some reports mention a total front brake failure for Vitaly sending him into a spin, but this one speaks of only a ‘small problem’ with the brakes near the end. Read into it what you want but to me it sounded like Ricardo thought the brake problem was manageable.
The podcast then moves on to how the team responded to the driver change. According to Ricardo Vitaly was more affected than Bruno by the sudden change with Bruno taking it all in his stride with lots of confidence and a cool head. With Nick still around the paddock in his team gear some feared his reaction but apparently Nick Heidfeld played it as a true gentleman and was very helpful to Bruno, giving him pointers and helping him with setting up the car for the changeable conditions. He didn’t even have a smug remark in store when Bruno crashed the car in FP1.
Vitaly was very disappointed after qualifying and Ricardo believes Bruno scored a lot of points within the team. “Bruno’s technical feedback was much more constructive and precise than that given by Vitaly and I believe that put him in a more… “[Ricardo hesitates and the host interrupts him with: “a more comfortable position?”]…Ricardo continues: “yea, in any case”.
This is of course just the opinion of one engineer withing the Renault team, but when listening to it the first time I was quite surprised by the thinly veiled criticism of Vitaly. Of course part of this can be explained by the nationality of the engineer, but something here tells me that while Heidfeld may not have really ‘gelled’ with the team, Vitaly does not seem to be doing much better in that respect. Evidently Petrov still has the support of Boullier who directed all his frustration at Heidfeld who after all was still outscoring Vitaly, and the vast amount of sponsorship he brings to the financially fledgling team surely guarantees his seat for this year and most likely for 2012 as well since he’s got a contract in the bag. Despite Vitaly improved performance this year and his new found ability to keep the car in one piece on a race weekend, the team do not (yet) seem convinced of his capabilities as a driver. Anyone can read into it what he wants, and my inbred Petrov skepticism probably does make me jump on these quotes a bit enthusiastically, but my skepticism seems shared by a few within the team, and probably in the paddock as well.
What do you think? Am I reading too much into these quotes? Can this all be explained by the Brazilian engineer’s pro-Senna bias? Is Vitaly the best thing since sliced bread? Do share your opinion in the comments section below!