After stunning paddock observers to split the two Red Bull Racing machines in qualifying in Shanghai and put his Renault up on the front row of the starting grid for the Chinese Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso has revealed that he and his team had entered the session completely 'blind'.
Renault is the first of the non 'double-decker' teams to introduce a re-designed diffuser this weekend, with the upshot being that Alonso covered less than a handful of laps in Saturday morning practice as the inevitable teething troubles reared their ugly head. That, he explained, made it something of a 'strange weekend', with a car underneath him that he described as 'completely new'.
“We arrived in qualifying with some doubts,” the Spaniard confessed. “It was just a blind qualifying for us and we didn't know how the car would respond, but we are extremely happy with the result for sure and this is a big motivation for the whole team because they have been working flat-out for weeks.
“The guys only slept one or two hours, and after this enormous job I think you have to deliver when you are in the car. There is no time to make a mistake or do anything wrong, so I am happy with the performance and this is all thanks to a big effort from the team.
“I think [to say the improvement is all down to the new diffuser] is a little bit exaggerated – the diffuser is one part but the whole aerodynamics of the car are a package, a complete package which you need to create. It's not a magic part on the car that transforms it. I think you need to really work with a new philosophy of designing the car.
“Obviously our goal for this race is to score as many points as possible. For qualifying, I think our biggest priority was to be in Q3. We went into Q3 more-or-less comfortable, and this is something new which we did not have in the first two races. That was a good sign, and then when you are in Q3 it's down to the fuel loads and different strategies for the race. Q3 was just a strategy thing more than a surprise.”
Affirming that the developments to the Régie's
R29 have made it 'quicker' with 'more grip', Alonso defended Renault's under-par performance in Australia and Malaysia, brushing off accusations that the team's start to the 2009 campaign had been 'a disaster' and arguing that there is plenty more to come – something that, in such an open and unpredictable season, he believes is capable of making a significant difference.
“I think the car felt more-or-less okay,” the double Formula 1 World Champion contended of the Enstone-based outfit's form in Melbourne and Sepang, “but we were not quick enough. If you improve the car by three or four tenths you move up like eight or nine places. That's the interesting thing about this championship – that any step forward, any new part you add to the car, can really make a big difference in positions and we proved it here. The team improved the car and suddenly we are competitive.
“I think it will take time to maximise the potential of the car that we have at the moment. We kept changing the car constantly in the first two races and at this one, again, [there is] a big update. It will take time to really get confident in it, but I think we are working in the right direction, that's for sure – the results are getting better and better from Australia to here, so we cannot stop now. It's time to deliver, it's time to really work hard and we need to recover the gap that the top teams now have.