Having entered the weekend predicting a stronger performance than of late around the anti-clockwise, technically challenging and physically demanding Istanbul Park Circuit, Renault lived up to expectations in practice with Fernando Alonso setting the second-quickest time outright on the opening day - as Pat Symonds suggested both drivers are doing a fine job so far this year.

The R?gie has endured a disappointing time of things in 2009, with just eleven points on the board from the opening six grands prix - all courtesy of double Formula 1 World Champion Alonso - equating to a lowly sixth spot in the constructors' rankings. The Spaniard, though, showed rather better form in practice for Sunday's Turkish Grand Prix - a race in which he has on three occasions finished up on the podium and never outside of the top six.

Eighth-fastest in the morning session, the Oviedo native wound up a scant six hundredths of a second shy of pace-setter Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren-Mercedes later on, and though under-fire team-mate Nelsinho Piquet could manage no better than 13th at the close, given the extremely tightly-packed nature of the field, that was still only just over half a second adrift of the sister R29.

"Driving at Istanbul Park on the first day is never easy," Alonso contended, "as the track conditions are really poor and we always see the track evolve during the weekend. We just tried to get some laps on the car and evaluate some parts, rather than focussing too much on set-up work as we didn't want to get confused by the constantly changing track. There is more to come, and tomorrow morning we will start our proper set-up work. Even though our position looks good today, we know that tomorrow will be more difficult."

"The track conditions weren't easy today," corroborated Piquet, yet to score in 2009, "as the track was very green and that made it difficult to learn much about the car. It improved a bit in the afternoon, and that's when we did most of our running which allowed us to start evaluating the tyres. It's important to make the most of the final practice session tomorrow morning, so that I can find a set-up that I am happy with and approach qualifying in reasonable shape."

Though Piquet has come in for considerable criticism for his performances in his sophomore campaign in the top flight this year - with generally poor qualifying pace and erratic race day form - Pat Symonds has been quick to defend the young Brazilian, suggesting that being up against a driver of Alonso's calibre is far from a walk in the park.

"Fernando has been working really hard and extracting the maximum from the car and every situation," underlined the Enstone-based outfit's executive director of engineering. "He's really driving as well as I've ever seen him drive, although like all of us he's frustrated that we're not fighting in the position we'd like to be.

"Nelson continues to improve and strengthen as the season unfolds. In Monaco he was very close to Fernando in qualifying and considering the high standard that Fernando sets, I think he can be proud of the work he is doing. He was very unfortunate in the race, and there was absolutely no blame attached to Nelson - quite unusually we received an email from Toro Rosso apologising for the incident!"

'The incident', of course, refers to the moment when STR rookie S?bastien Buemi left his braking far too late into the tight first corner of Ste D?vote around the narrow streets of the glamorous Principality and clattered into the back of Piquet's Renault, somewhat unceremoniously removing both from contention on the spot. More encouragingly, though, the French manufacturer's overall speed in Monte Carlo was none-too shabby - and Symonds expects it to be better still this weekend.

"I was partially satisfied with our performance [in Monaco]," the Englishman conceded, "as we were still around one per cent from the fastest car in qualifying, which is obviously a big improvement compared with where we were earlier in the season. We had the fourth-fastest lap of the race, which was close to the leading pace, although that needs to be understood in the context of when it happened. I'm satisfied with the progress we're making both aerodynamically and mechanically, but I won't be totally satisfied until we are on the podium.

"As always the primary focus is on aerodynamics, and for Turkey the attention has been on the front wing and the end plates, with updates in those areas. The front wing is such an important area of the car because it's the first part to meet the air, and the flow that comes off it determines the aerodynamics behind it. That's where our focus is, but we aren't ignoring the other areas as we're continually working on the suspension and will do so again in Turkey. These won't be huge updates, nor changes to the geometry, but they focus on the fundamental way we set the car up in combination with the aerodynamics so that we can get the two to work in harmony.

"The car continues to improve and we've seen from the published apex speeds that we seem to be quite strong in the medium and high-speed corners. Turn eight in Turkey is the really challenging corner, and I think our car will be good through there. Certainly Istanbul Park is a circuit that we've come to with confidence, but [Friday] was quite a challenging day. The circuit was very slippery - as we saw from the number of cars that went off the track. Also, the tyre behaviour was not as we expected and so despite Fernando's high position on the timesheets, we still have a lot of work to do before tomorrow.

"We're a team that has always had and continues to have strong morale. We're all very impressed with the work being done back at base to improve the car by the research and design teams and seeing how quickly we can introduce new parts, such as our new diffuser, does a lot for the morale of everybody in the team. We're fighting hard, we're very ambitious, we know where we want to be and we're working hard to get there."


Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment