China 2019 - GP preview - Renault F1
Cyril Abiteboul, Team Principal, Renault F1 Team
The start of the 2019 season has fallen short of our high expectations.
Our overall competitiveness is good enough for our drivers to be racing in the top 10 and closer to the top teams than last year, but we have suffered from reliability issues.
We move onto China with caution, but also with a resolution to really get the season going.
It’s a significant race for the team, for the wider Groupe Renault, given the importance of the Chinese market, and also for Formula 1 for its incredible 1000th Grand Prix. There are a number of very important touchpoints for us over the course of the week. Our young Chinese Development Driver, Guanyu Zhou, will take centre stage in town and on track.
We look forward to seeing the passionate Chinese fans in Shanghai, and, on-track, we aim for an improved effort and results from both cars, which demonstrates our true ability across both car and driver pairing.
With a productive post-Bahrain GP two-day test completed, there’s a determined mindset across both sides of the Channel to shine in China, as Chassis Technical Director Nick Chester explains.
What are the main challenges of the Shanghai International Circuit?
Shanghai is an interesting track. It can be a tricky place for striking the right downforce level as there are some high-speed corners and hairpins matched with two long straights. It can also be interesting for variable weather and there have been a few very wet races there in the past. Shanghai brings a different set-up to Bahrain because we go from a circuit, which is difficult for the rear end to a circuit difficult for the front end. Some corners in Shanghai – like the long Turns 1-2 combination, are very hard on the front tyres. Getting the car to turn in, without understeer or wearing the front tyres, is quite a challenge.
Do you have any specific chassis developments for China?
We have some new bodywork in various areas as well as some braking and suspension updates. It’s important we have a well-executed weekend in China and do everything right.
Has the team benefitted positively from the Bahrain test?
Definitely. We completed some useful setup work with Daniel and ran through tests of development parts with both Daniel and Jack. Despite the rain on the first day, we pretty much completed our programme.
Nico Hülkenberg faced a cruel end to his race in Bahrain after a superb drive from seventeenth to sixth. But the German remains in a positive frame of mind as he gears up for the 1000th Grand Prix in Shanghai.
How do you feel after Bahrain?
I would like to take the positives from Bahrain. Disappointment can happen in racing, but we move on as a team, learn from what happened and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again. We showed we had good race pace. There was a lot of overtaking, which we were able to hold our own in and we executed a slick two-stop, together with good pit-stops from the crew. We must build on these positives and head into China knowing that if we string together a decent enough weekend, we’re more than capable of leading the midfield.
Where are the key areas on a lap of the Shanghai International Circuit?
Shanghai is a circuit I quite like racing at, even though it’s a tough lap to get right. The most famous combination is through Turns 1 and 2, which seems to go on forever. It can be easy to take it too fast, especially coming in from the long straight. It wears the front left tyre quite significantly and that’s something to watch during the race. Tyre management is also crucial in China. Elsewhere, the long back straight brings a good overtaking opportunity into the hairpin. Last year we enjoyed a successful result in Shanghai, so hopefully we can repeat that in 2019 and get our year back on-track.
What else stands out from the Chinese Grand Prix?
China is a busier one away from track as Formula 1 continues to grow in popularity there. It’s the 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix and that’s quite special to be a part in. The fans are usually very excited in Shanghai, which is awesome to see and makes it even more important for us to put on a show. Renault is a big market in China and there will be a lot of activities going on to harness that.
Daniel Ricciardo heads to Shanghai on the back of a positive day’s testing in Bahrain, as he continues to grow his familiarisation with team and car. Daniel, race winner in China in 2018, is determined for another bright outing in the Far East.
How comfortable are you becoming in the car, especially after the Bahrain test?
I’m certainly getting there in terms of extracting the maximum and getting more comfortable. These things do take time, but it’s good to iron out these details going forward. We’ll get there soon and sure enough and I’m confident we’re heading in the right direction. We showed signs of that over the race weekend, going from a struggle on Friday, followed by an improvement on Saturday to being in and amongst it on Sunday. The car clearly has pace, but for me, it’s about finding all of it. I feel there’s a lot more to come.
What are your thoughts on the Shanghai International Circuit?
Up until last year, China was a circuit I always seemed to go really well at but without taking a podium. I knew I was due a podium in China and last season that came alive. It was a really good win, coming from sixth on the grid. I probably made one of the overtakes of the year on Valtteri [Bottas] into the tight Turn 6, so that made it even sweeter!
In terms of the track layout, it’s actually quite unique There are long straights, a really tricky Turn 1 and lots of overtaking opportunities. You can pass at Turns 6, 9 and 14 too; there are some decent places to outdo people on the brakes, which is cool.
What’s there to say about the Chinese culture?
Shanghai is a bit of a commute from the circuit, but there are lots of things to do including enjoying some of the cuisine and seeing some sights; it’s a really cool city! The atmosphere there is growing, the fans are quite hardcore with lots of photos you’ve never seen before to sign. They are great people and make a brilliant effort to come out and support.
Up close with Guanyu Zhou
Renault F1 Team Development Driver and Academy member Guanyu Zhou enjoyed a bright start to his debut season in the FIA Formula 2 Championship with a tenth place (and Fastest Lap) in the Feature Race before a remarkable drive to fourth in Sunday’s Sprint in Bahrain.
Now, in between his next race, Zhou heads to his hometown of Shanghai with the F1 Team as he prepares to put on a show in front of the Chinese fans.
How much are you looking forward to the 2019 Chinese Grand Prix, the 1000th race in Formula 1 history?
I’m really looking forward to attending the Chinese Grand Prix with the team in my hometown of Shanghai. It’s going to be a special event because it’s the 1000th Grand Prix in Formula 1. Formula 1 is becoming bigger in China every year as more and more people are learning about the sport. Every year, the Chinese Grand Prix produces some awesome racing, so hopefully 2019 will be just the same.
What will you be doing in Shanghai with the F1 Team?
I will be doing a few things in China, the most exciting activity, of course, will be driving the 2012 Renault-powered Formula 1 car, the E20. I’m involved in two demonstration runs, one on the streets of Shanghai in the Xintiandi area and the other at the Shanghai International Circuit as a crowd-warmer before the race.
Driving in Shanghai’s city centre is going to be cool because it’s my hometown and it will be a surreal sight to see such a busy place blocked off for me to put on a show in a Formula 1 car! Driving the circuit before the race will also be special because I was there when Renault won its first world championship title in 2005, so to drive a Renault car as a build-up to the 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix is an incredible opportunity.
What have the first few months been like with Renault?
It’s been a great start to my time with Renault and I’ve loved everything so far. We began with a training camp with the other Academy drivers in Doha, which was a beneficial way to begin the winter training programme. From there, it was about preparing for the Formula 2 season with some winter tests before Bahrain, where I also watched the Grand Prix with the team in the garage; another amazing experience to see the excitement of Formula 1.
How pleased were you with the first race of the 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship?
We showed in Bahrain we have the ability to have a strong season. I’m happy with how the weekend went and I learnt so much from tyre saving in the race, to the importance of getting it right in qualifying. There’s so much to work on, but I’m pleased to get the first race weekend done with some solid points on the board. Baku is the next race and that’s another new circuit for me to learn.
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