Alan Permane has heaped praise upon the performance of Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov and Renault's new R30 off the back of the team's form in the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir earlier this month – one that whilst not yielding any points, he concedes, did on the positive side evince a considerable degree of promise.
Under new ownership, Renault F1 is this year bidding to rebuild its reputation following a bruising 2009 campaign in the top flight that saw the Enstone-based outfit battered from pillar to post, embroiled in one of the most widely-vilified scandals in sporting memory in the 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing row and very nearly banned from competing outright as punishment.
As the French manufacturer's global image was dragged increasingly through the mud and leading sponsors, the disgraced management and talisman double world champion driver Fernando Alonso one-by-one departed the scene, there was not even the sweetener of on-track results to brighten the picture, with but a sole podium finish from the 17 races – ironically in Singapore. This time around, Permane is optimistic, the results will
“Bahrain was obviously the first time the R30 had run in hot temperatures,” the team's chief race engineer explained, “so it was good to see that this didn't pose any problems for the car or our systems. We learnt a lot more about the tyres – how to use them and how to look after them during long runs – and completing the race with Robert also gives us a lot more data and understanding of how the car behaves over a race distance as the fuel load comes down.
“It was such a shame that [Kubica] got hit on the opening lap, because it completely destroyed his race. He did a very credible job to fight back to eleventh in the middle part of the race, and his pace was very competitive – as quick as the two Mercedes' and the McLaren of [Jenson] Button. It's clear that we're not in the same league as Ferrari and Red Bull at the moment, but the performance in Bahrain gives me confidence that we can challenge for some good points this year.
“Vitaly didn't have the best winter because he was unlucky with the weather during testing, which meant his first race was an especially steep learning curve. He had a lot to get used to and, although his race was short, he can be very proud of his performance.
“He made an excellent start jumping up from 17th to eleventh, and showed good pace in the early laps until we had a problem with the suspension. When he got out of the car he was understandably disappointed, but he still had a big smile on his face. His performance in Bahrain will definitely boost his confidence ahead of this weekend.”
'This weekend' alludes to the forthcoming Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, round two on the 2010 world championship calendar and a race in which Renault claimed back-to-back triumphs in 2005 and 2006 with respectively Giancarlo Fisichella and Alonso. Whilst Permane is not kidding himself that a similar outcome might be on the cards this time around, he does profess himself quietly confident of reaping the kind of result that he contends the team should have ended up with in Bahrain.
“We have some new aero parts for Melbourne, which should give us a bit more performance,” he revealed. “There's a new front wing and a new part on the rear wing, which improves our overall downforce. We're looking at all areas [for improvements], but it's no secret that downforce still rules in F1 and the more downforce we can put on the car, the better. We're also looking at addressing some of our weaknesses on the mechanical side, but that's a longer-term project and it will be a few races before we can integrate suspension updates.
“[Albert Park] is a track where you need good braking stability, because it's very bumpy in the braking zones. You also need good traction, because the lap is mostly made up of second and third-gear chicanes where a good change of direction is important. In the final part of the lap the car wants to understeer, especially through the final corner onto the pit straight, so you need a good front end to cope with this.
“I think it will [suit the R30], because Albert Park is a bumpy track and our car rides the bumps well. We saw that in Bahrain, where Robert and Vitaly were very competitive in the new section of track, which was very bumpy. The target is to get both drivers into Q3 – I think that's a realistic target given our competitiveness. If we can do that, then both drivers should be capable of fighting for points.”