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.
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 Sébastien Buemi left his braking far too late into the tight first corner of Ste Dévote 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.