Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso 'will be missed enormously' at Renault, Bob Bell has admitted as the Spaniard's last race with the French manufacturer approaches in Abu Dhabi this weekend - but the incoming Robert Kubica will prove to be 'of the same calibre' as the driver who has delivered the team the lion's share of its success in recent years.

Alonso will depart Renault at the end of the campaign to switch camps to Ferrari following no fewer than two drivers' titles, 17 grand prix victories, 16 pole positions and 41 podium finishes with the Enstone-based outfit since 2003, and the man from Oviedo will be replaced by his good friend and fellow poker player, current BMW-Sauber star and former Canadian Grand Prix-winner Robert Kubica.

Whilst Alonso's absence will naturally be keenly felt, acting Renault F1 team principal and technical director Bell is confident that the Pole will be more than capable of taking up the mantle of de facto number one.

"He (Alonso) has made a huge contribution to the team - especially winning two world championships in 2005 and 2006 - so he will be missed enormously," confessed the Ulsterman. "It's often said that he is the best driver on the grid and I wouldn't disagree with that, so we're understandably sad to see the end of our very successful relationship.

"We're also looking forward, though, and we're all delighted to be welcoming Robert Kubica to the team as I believe he will quickly show that he is of the same calibre as Fernando. He's a strong team player, a great motivator and incredibly quick - so we have plenty to look forward to as we enter a new era for the team."

Before that happens, of course, Renault and Alonso have one final race together - the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, to be held around the eagerly-anticipated, all-new, anti-clockwise Yas Marina street circuit - and following a disappointing outing at Interlagos, Bell admits that a strong result, and ideally a podium, will be eagerly-sought as F1 gets set to enter the twilight zone.

"It was very frustrating to lose Fernando from the race through no fault of his own," the 51-year-old mused of the opening lap Brazilian Grand Prix contretemps that claimed Alonso as its innocent victim, "although we have to be grateful that he didn't have a bigger accident with the Force India. We also have to be grateful that we didn't get incinerated on the pit wall as we felt the heat from the fireball in the pit-lane!

"Romain [Grosjean] simply didn't have the pace in the early part of the race as he wasn't happy with the grip of the car, which cost him a lot of ground. The weekend didn't meet our expectations, especially as we lost our advantage over BMW [in the constructors' championship], and we now face an uphill struggle to beat them in the final race.

"I think all the teams enjoy visiting a new country, though, and a new track always has a modern infrastructure with so much space available for the mechanics and engineers. It remains to be seen how good the circuit will be in terms of the action it produces, but from what I've seen so far it seems the organisers have done an excellent job. As a team we enjoy the challenge of a new track, and we will be ready to exploit any advantage we can.

"It would be great to get Romain and Fernando through to Q3 in qualifying, so that we have some reasonable starting positions for the race. We want to be challenging for points and even the podium, which is a realistic target considering the performance level we have already demonstrated this season."

Those sentiments are echoed by Renault F1 chief engineer Alan Permane - the man widely believed to have been the mystery 'Witness X' in the 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal that very nearly led to the car maker being expelled from the top flight altogether - who predicts a unique challenge when the travelling circus arrives at the 5.55km, Hermann Tilke-designed track.

"We usually begin our preparations about two months ahead of the race," he explained, "which is when we receive a detailed map showing the layout and characteristics of the circuit. This gives us an idea of the set-up we will need in terms of the downforce levels and the demands on the brakes and the engine. We then feed the circuit map into our computers to create a virtual circuit, where we can run simulations with a computer model of our car. This allows us to evaluate many different set-up options, which can be easily changed to help us work out a good base set-up.

"Once we have arrived at the circuit and run the car in free practice, we will send the real circuit data back to the factory, which can be used to run more accurate simulations. The logged data from Friday practice can also be used on our chassis dynamics rig to explore the ride characteristics of the circuit and can reveal improvements to the damping or perhaps to the spring rates. Any suggestions from the factory for improving the set-up of the car usually come through by the end of Friday, so that we can try them on Saturday morning ahead of qualifying.

"There are a couple of reasonably long straights, but it does look like it will be quite stop-start - a bit like the street circuit in Valencia. In terms of downforce, it will be on the higher side, although we won't run maximum downforce settings because of the long straights where straight-line speed will be important. There are a lot of right-angled corners, but it's difficult to predict the impact this will have on car set-up as it depends on the layout of the curbs. That's one thing we will examine during our track walk.

"What we do know already is that the drivers will want a car that is biased towards traction, as the circuit doesn't have high-speed changes of direction, which would require a stiffer car set-up. To aid good traction from the low-speed corners, we will aim to give the drivers a softer rear end. In terms of braking, our simulations have shown it to be similar to Valencia and Melbourne, so it's by no means an easy circuit on the brakes, but it's not as tough as Monza.

"I agree with Fernando that turns eleven, twelve and 13 will be interesting and certainly worth a lot of lap time. Drivers always enjoy the high-speed corners, but most of the gains can be found in these low-speed corners where you spend the most time. With this in mind, turns five, six and seven will also be a section of the lap where the car needs to work well so that we can maximise the gains in lap time."


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