Renault can take 'another step further forward' and continue to close the gap to the F1 2010 pace-setters in this weekend's European Grand Prix in Valencia, asserts Alan Permane - as he reflected that the Enstone-based outfit punched below its weight in Montreal last time out.

The team's star performer Robert Kubica - one of the undoubted stand-out drivers of the year to-date - ended the Canadian Grand Prix with six markers for seventh place, a solid outcome and the Pole's seventh straight points-scoring finish of the campaign, but a result that chief race engineer Permane argues could and should have been better had Renault not made costly mistakes in terms of tyre-management.

"We did come away disappointed and feeling that we probably didn't get the most from the weekend," he candidly mused, "and it's the first race this season where we've felt that. Obviously a large part of our frustration was down to our tyre-management, because we suffered with such high degradation rate - that held us back and meant we couldn't meet our expectations.

"It was reassuring to come away with a reasonable result even though things didn't go our way. It's the first time this year that we've really seen the tyres play such an integral role in the strategy, because nobody was able to follow the usual one-stop routine. While we enjoyed the challenge of trying to make the strategy work, it's just frustrating that some teams got more out of it than us."

Still, if Kubica was downcast about P7, then young Russian team-mate Vitaly Petrov had even less to cheer about, with the 'Vyborg Rocket' stumbling upon more of the inevitable rookie growing pains as he acclimatises to life in the top flight. A jump-start, contact with Sauber rival Pedro de la Rosa and a brace of drive-through penalties for his indiscretions left the 25-year-old a lowly 17th at the chequered flag, but Permane insists he is performing well.

"I think he should maintain the same approach that has worked for him so far this year," stressed the Englishman. "In Montreal he did a very good job of learning the circuit and improving the car through free practice.

"Under the current regulations, though, qualifying is probably the most critical part of the weekend. He qualified 14th in Canada, which put him in the midfield battle and led to the problems he had in the race. Vitaly has already shown that he has the speed to qualify and race in the top ten, like we saw in Turkey, so it's now a question of steadily improving his consistency."

Consistency has been something of a hallmark of Renault's season in 2010, with only one failure to score thus far as it doggedly chases down closest rival Mercedes Grand Prix for fourth spot in the constructors' standings. Whilst there is still a substantial deficit to be bridged, Permane contends that the nature of the harbourside Valencia Street Circuit and the upgrades being brought along for the race could just enable the Oxfordshire concern to make vital inroads this weekend.

"We have certainly seen an incredible rate of development this year," he acknowledged. "If we take the gap to pole position as a measure of how much we've improved, we've seen it steadily reduce race-by-race as we've developed quicker than some of our competitors - and with the updates we have planned for this weekend, that trend will hopefully continue. We've got quite a nice upgrade coming, with a new front wing and a new floor, which we believe will take us another step further forward.

"The circuit has all the typical street circuit characteristics, because it's not used throughout the year and will be very dirty at the start of the weekend. The car went very well in Monaco - the last proper street circuit - so we're optimistic of another strong showing this weekend. We will have the same tyre compounds that we had in Canada, but I don't expect anything like the same problems we encountered with degradation and tyre-management.

"I'd like to see us eventually move clear of [Mercedes]. At the moment I feel we're slightly ahead, and it was encouraging to see Robert qualify ahead of both Mercedes' in Canada, especially [Nico] Rosberg who was on the 'Option' tyre. We're well aware that we shouldn't underestimate Mercedes, though, because they are pushing just as hard as us - and don't forget that they are the reigning world champions, too. As it stands, we're 29 points behind them in the constructors' championship - and our target is to try and overhaul them as soon as possible."

Such has been the fierce rate of progress in F1 2010, that Renault has added more than a second in performance terms to the R30 since the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir back in March - and technical director James Allison is quick to heap praise upon the unsung heroes of the team's on-track success, the employees tirelessly putting in the hours back at base.

"As the years have gone by, teams have realised that the in-season development battle is as important as the new car design," he reported. "We're basically putting a new package on the car for each race, and the size of package is equivalent to what we would have added every three or four races in years gone-by. All the teams are doing this, so we have to maintain that high level of intensity throughout the year, which means people are working harder and working to timescales that we would never previously have contemplated. For example, the front wing we will run this weekend in Valencia is already the eighth version this year, and it's only race nine!

"Because all the cars on the grid are improving at an incredible rate, we've had to adopt a philosophy of adding each improvement to the car as we find it, rather than saving parts up for a big update. The moment you find an improvement, every second that passes when it's not on the car is lost performance at the track - and that workload is felt at all levels in the team.

"The factory takes up the continuous, unrelenting pressure of delivering the new parts, and the race team pick up the baton at the track. The factory's response to the challenges we face is always fantastic, but there's a limit to the amount of work you can expect from people, so you need to strike the right balance to keep the development rate high without overcooking people's workload.

"Obviously, CFD and the wind tunnel are incredibly useful for predicting how our aero packages will work at the track. These tools predict the size of the gains that eventually unfold at the track within errors that are substantially less than 0.5 per cent of the total downforce on the car. For the mechanical parts we rely on computer simulations, which we then validate on our chassis rig.

"Throughout the year, the percentage of the resources that you add to the new car increases at the expense of the current car. It's always a difficult choice to decide how much to invest in the future, but we've been working on the 2011 car since January and still managed to sustain a very high rate of development on the current car, which is a real testament to the hard work of everybody in the Renault F1 team."


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