Lotus Renault GP duo Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov believe they extracted 'the maximum' possible from the R31 in qualifying for the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang, with the only concern now being the team's lack of knowledge this weekend of how the tyres perform with a high fuel load on-board.
Renault lost a significant chunk of preparation time on Friday when both cars suffered separate suspension failures during FP1, caused by a defective batch of front uprights. The setback limited Heidfeld to just 22 laps all day and Petrov 21 [see separate story – click here
], and left both heading into FP3 and qualifying less well-prepared than the majority of their rivals.
That being the case, sixth and eighth positions on the starting grid respectively for the German and Russian represented a strong recovery indeed, particularly as the pair completed just one run apiece in each of the three qualifying sessions, thereby preserving tyres for Sunday's race.
“I'm very satisfied, as I think it's the maximum we could have achieved, especially looking back at Friday where we didn't do many laps at all and didn't have a lot of time to set up the car,” confessed Heidfeld, who suffered a qualifying nightmare on his Renault debut in the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser in Melbourne a fortnight ago.
“It got faster and faster in qualifying today. I have to say, in Q1 I took it easy, then I pushed a bit over-the-limit in Q2 and lost some time there, but in Q3 I found the golden middle and it was a good lap. Of course, I was a lot happier with the traffic here than I was in Australia!”
“To get in the top ten today is a good result considering the track time we lost yesterday,” concurred Petrov, precisely two tenths of a second further in arrears. “We worked hard on improving the set-up in final practice, and in the end I had quite a good feeling with the car.
“For the race, anything can happen, but it's clear that looking after the tyres will be very important because the degradation is very high here. We will also have to watch what happens with the weather, because there is a high risk of rain – but I don't mind if it's wet or dry.”
The one possible fly in the ointment is the fact that due to its loss of track time the previous day, Renault has not had chance yet this weekend to assess the Pirelli tyre degradation over long runs and on a heavy fuel load, meaning that in some respects, the race will be a journey of discovery – but then should the weather prove as unpredictable as is anticipated on Sunday, points out the Enstone-based outfit's technical director James Allison, the situation will be much of a muchness for everybody.
“We certainly had a troubled day yesterday, but there was no reason to believe from yesterday's running that the car was struggling for pace,” the Englishman acknowledged. “It's very nice to be sixth and eighth on the grid, very nice to have both our cars in the top ten having only had one in Melbourne.
“Both drivers are already in points-scoring positions, however, if we want to convert a promising qualifying into something very good, then we're going to have to do well in what is certainly going to be an interesting race, with the risk of rain which is more than moderate and also with the fact that there's going to be a flurry of pit-stopping.
“[Tyre performance is] one of the things we have less of a feeling for than maybe some of our competitors, because of yesterday's compromised running. However, from what little high-fuel running we did manage, we seemed to be alright for our race pace even with a car balance which was far from satisfactory – and with the balance we've achieved today, we believe the car will run well on its tyres tomorrow.”