Double Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso has ramped up the pressure on his employers Renault to 'take another step forward' in Istanbul this weekend – and though he does not foresee a 'jump to the front of the grid' in the Turkish Grand Prix, the Spaniard does share his team's conviction that victories are a realistic target come season's end.
Alonso may never have triumphed in Turkey, but he has finished all four of his previous starts there inside the points, and on three of those occasions up on the podium. The 21-time grand prix-winner has yet to reach the rostrum over the opening six races of 2009 to-date – indeed yet to take the chequered flag any higher than fifth – but he is hopeful that progress is in the pipeline at the Régie's
After again qualifying towards the bottom end of the top ten in Monaco last time out, the Oviedo native could manage no better than seventh spot and two points on race day – a situation symptomatic of Renault's struggles this year, and one with which Alonso has made clear he is rapidly losing patience [see separate story – click here
“It was a tough race,” mused the 27-year-old, “just as it always is in Monaco and very demanding mentally. Starting ninth made it difficult to do much in the race, and even with a good strategy we only managed to make up a couple of positions as the traffic did not work out well for us. To score two points is probably the best result that was possible on the day, although the car felt good and improved during the race. It's important that we continue scoring points in every race, as they will all be important at the end of the year.
“[Istanbul Park] is a fun circuit with good overtaking opportunities, especially turn twelve at the end of the back straight, which leads into the final complex of low-speed corners. There are also fast sections and some special corners like the long left-hander of turn eight, which is one of the most exciting of the year. The challenge of Istanbul Park is to find the right balance so that you have a responsive car that works well in the fast and slow sections.
“It's clear that we need to take another step forward. We will have new developments for the car over the next few weeks and that should help, but I'm not expecting to jump to the front of the grid in Turkey. However, I still believe that later in the year we can be back fighting for podiums and winning races, just as we did last year. We know it won't be easy, but the whole team is extremely motivated and determined to get back to the front.”
Team-mate Nelsinho Piquet failed to impress in Turkey on his maiden F1 appearance there last year, qualifying ten places behind the sister car in 17th and toiling around to just 15th at the close. The under-fire young Brazilian, however, triumphed there with Piquet Sports in the GP2 Series in 2006, setting both pole position and fastest lap to-boot.
Having been unceremoniously removed from contention by Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Sébastien Buemi just eleven laps into the Monaco Grand Prix whilst on a solid strategy – ironically lamenting afterwards the inexperience of young drivers, at just 23 himself – the son of former three-time title-winner Nelson Piquet is clearly hoping for rather better fortunes as the top flight heads further east.
“It was a really frustrating race for me,” he reflected of his Monte Carlo woes. “I made a good start and had gained a place by the first corner, but a few laps into the race I got hit hard from behind by Buemi, which damaged the car and ended my race. It was such a shame as I was running a good strategy; I was heavy on fuel and probably could have scored some points. Unfortunately there's nothing you can do in these situations, though, so I need to put the disappointment behind me and concentrate on getting the most from the car again this weekend.
“I enjoy driving in Istanbul as it's quite a varied track with some slow and fast sections. Turn eight is the high-speed corner that everybody talks about, as there's nothing else like it all season. It's a very physical corner which feels like it goes on forever, and that makes it tough for the tyres. We will have less aero grip this year, but with slicks tyres I think we will still be able to take it almost flat-out.
“My priority is to try and score some points to help the team in the championship. The track should suit the car, and we will also have some new updates this weekend which should give us some extra performance. We need to qualify well, hopefully in the top ten, and choose an aggressive strategy so that we can move forward in the race.”