Austria 2018 - GP Preview - Renault F1
We head to Austria, the second leg of the triple header, on the back of what was our busiest Grand Prix since our return in 2016. The first French Grand Prix in ten years was a special weekend for the team, and we have contributed nicely both on and off the track.
The race at Paul Ricard exemplified an apt summary of our current situation. We undoubtedly have two talented drivers, and they showed great professionalism in their drives. We executed a good strategy and proved to be at the top of the midfield with our race pace. That was tempered by an unfortunate MGU-K failure which cost Carlos more points so close to the chequered flag. Nevertheless, we can take pride from his and the team’s performance in front of an enthusiastic French crowd.
There is no time to dwell on our third double-points finish in a row as we move on to Spielberg. Back-to-back races are always challenging, but we know what to expect and we will be aiming to carry the momentum shown in France into Austria and then onward to England. Austria certainly won’t be as busy as France off track, but the core sporting job remains, and there is a lot more hard work to put in if we are to tighten the grip on fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship.
After the team’s third double points finish in a row in France at the weekend, focus immediately switches to the hills of Austria, as Chief Technical Officer Bob Bell outlines the key challenges to Spielberg.
What are the main characteristics of Austria?
It’s quite a high-altitude circuit, so that puts the engine under a little bit of stress. It has the potential for quite high brake wear and temperatures, so we need to be cautious on brakes. Some of the kerbs are quite vicious and will break the car if the drivers hit them. There’s an extra DRS zone this year, so we’ll assess what opportunities that might bring.
In terms of set-up, it’s a medium to high downforce circuit, with a lot of stress on the rear tyres, which can cause overheating. That was a problem we faced last year so we’ll probably see that again this year. The first three corners are low speed, then it’s into the higher speed stuff.
What are the considerations for the team this weekend?
The focus will be how to set-up the car for the race and how to preserve the rear tyres as that will increase our chances of doing a one-stop strategy. There will be slightly less focus on getting a one-lap time in qualifying in terms of set-up. We’ll be aiming to strike a good balance with the car between the high and low speed to help preserve the tyres.
How difficult is it to prepare for three races in a row?
We’re quite used to back-to-back races, so I think Silverstone will be the trickier one. Austria shouldn’t present too many problems in terms of logistics. Because it’s the second of three races in a row, there won’t be too many updates. We’re aiming to bring a lighter cooling system for the MGU-K and that will benefit Nico more than Carlos as Nico’s is slightly heavier.
How pleasing is it to have two drivers regularly scoring points?
They’ve both bought into the idea that this year is more about racing for the team than for themselves. They are doing a great job of doing that and are working well together. They are both fast and very well-matched. It’s beneficial as they report the same things and have the same views, but they come from slightly different angles and that helps us triangulate on the problems.
Nico Hülkenberg drove with determination at Paul Ricard to seal two points, which means he moves up a spot to seventh in the Drivers’ Championship. Now the German aims to get over the next hurdle in Austria, the second leg of the triple header.
What do you like about the Austrian Grand Prix?
Austria is always such a welcoming event with a very relaxed atmosphere and usually a lot of German fans who make the trip over the border. Now that Germany is back on the calendar, it’s not quite a home race for me, but last year it certainly felt a little bit like that! Spielberg is a unique race on the calendar, because it’s so quiet, in the middle of nowhere, with hills, lots of fields and cows. It’s a very pretty scene. It makes a welcome change to the usual Grand Prix circuit.
How challenging is a lap of the circuit?
It’s a short lap with just nine corners to get through, but it’s certainly no easy ride. It’s challenging and technical, with elevation changes, big kerbs you need to watch and a mix of low to high-speed corners. I’d say there’s more at this circuit than meets the eye! We struggled slightly with understeer and keeping the rear tyres cool last year, so that’ll be something to assess in the early running on Friday. We are on the throttle for the majority of the lap too, so engine performance is another key area.
What can the Hulk recommend from Austrian cuisine?
I’m a big fan of schnitzels, and they come from Austria, so I recommend tucking into a few of them over the weekend. Kaiserschmarrn too is nice, it’s a traditional Austrian dessert.
Carlos Sainz added to his impressive points-scoring run in France – his sixth in a row – after a strong race where he ran as high as third and looked set to take sixth within a handful of laps of the chequered flag. He’s aiming to keep scoring in Austria.
What’s so special about Austria?
The view in Austria is obviously spectacular, and it’s one of the best backdrops at any circuit in the world. It’s definitely one of the cooler places to go racing – something fresh to what we usually do and see - and certainly one I look forward to with excitement.
How tough is it to race back-to-back?
I don’t mind having back-to-back races in Europe, because you have enough time to go home for a couple of days between races. That frees up some time to fit some training in, see friends and family and generally unwind a little bit. Three races in a row is going to be tough, but we’re already one down, so we need to dig in and push for these next two.
What are the main challenges of the Spielberg circuit?
It’s not an easy lap to get through, even though it’s nine corners long. There are elevation changes, as you go up the hills and back down again, high kerbs which will break the car if you hit them too hard and a variety of corner lengths and speeds. There are plenty of things to keep you on guard. The circuit has a lot of grip and is quite a smooth surface, so that makes things slightly easier.
How do you reflect on France?
We have to take the positives, as it was a really nice weekend and the atmosphere in France was spectacular! Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish sixth due to a loss of power in the last laps of the race. However, we enjoyed a very positive weekend with a good qualifying and start, it was a lot of fun sitting in third during the early laps of the race, and we had strong race pace. I think it’s very bright for the team that we keep putting both cars in the points to consolidate fourth position in the Constructors’ Championship. Let’s focus on Austria and do it all again.