Fernando Alonso is not only the best all-rounder but also the fastest driver in Formula 1, and the Nelsinho Piquet of 2009 will be a far more mature model than the 2008 version – that is the view of Pat Symonds ahead of the start of the forthcoming season.
Whilst Alonso left nobody in any doubt as to his prowess by out-scoring every single one of his rivals over the second half of 2008 – in only the third or fourth-quickest car in the field – Piquet's rookie campaign in the top flight was more of a struggle, with only a considerable late improvement in form saving the young Brazilian's seat and earning him a reprieve for 2009.
As someone who has worked closely with both men in his capacity as Renault F1 executive director of engineering, Symonds is clear about what he expects of them over the upcoming months.
“First of all, Fernando is an incredibly quick driver,” he enthused of the former double world champion, who gained both his titles with the Régie
in 2005 and 2006. “When you're making your list of what you want from a racing driver, that's at the top of the list. In my view, he's the quickest guy out there; he knows how to win and how to race. He knows what he needs to do.
“He will provide continuity to the team. He'll be the guy who can say 'okay, this is what I'm used to, what I'm not used to, what I like, what I don't like' – and we don't have to translate what he says into our engineering language, because we already know that translation as we've worked with him before. He can provide that transparency of thought, which is so important to development.
“Nelson's mission will be to continually improve and get into regular points-scoring positions. His role is to back up Fernando in every way he can. What will we expect from him? We'll expect to see that the maturity he was showing at the end of the season will continue. A lot of the mental pressure will come off as he goes into his second year, and I am sure we'll see more of those flashes where he shows how quick he can be.”
Symonds also spoke about all the work that has gone on behind-the-scenes at both Enstone and Viry in the close-season in light of what he describes as the most significant upheaval in the sport's technical regulations in some 25 years. With the advent of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems), the return of slick tyres and dramatic changes in aerodynamic and downforce levels, the Englishman acknowledged that it has been a busy winter-time indeed at the French outfit.
“I think the primary thing we can say is that it's the biggest challenge for a long, long time,” he stated. “It's more extreme than the changes we made in 1994, when we added the plank and cut the diffusers back. It's similar in terms of changes from the 1982 ground-effect cars to the 1983 flat-bottomed cars.
“We've had reasonable rules stability for the last few years. Yes, we changed to the V8 in 2006 – I suppose it was quite a large change, but not a terribly difficult one from a design point-of-view. The aerodynamics were stable for a long time, so we had continual development, little bits of trimming to pull performance back – lift the front wing, drop the diffuser – little bits like that, which are quite trivial.