Have Renault Improved, Or Was Is It For The Fans?

Have Renault Improved, Or Was Is It For The Fans?

The qualifying session for the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix threw up a couple of surprises, but I think all the talking points have centred around one driver – Fernando Alonso. The double world champion was able to place his Renault R28 on provisional pole position with his final lap of the day. Unfortunately to the euphoric crowds who stood, cheered and applauded their hero, Kimi Raikkonen followed Alonso over the line with a pole-stealing lap. The Finnish driver simply had a faster car on the day. However, while many expect Alonso is light on fuel, we need to consider Nelson Piquet Jr’s lap as well, the Brazilian managing to get in to tenth.

Piquet Jr managed to get into Q3 for the first time this afternoon, and although he could only get as far as tenth, Renault Technical Director Pat Symonds has hinted that Nelson is running a different strategy to Alonso. It is therefore very likely that Alonso is indeed light while Piquet is perhaps a little heavier. However, if Piquet is carrying more fuel, then being 0.15s down on the BMW of Nick Heidfeld isn’t too shabby. In fact, only 0.8s separated the top ten ofter the third round of qualifying, proving just how close the leading pack are to one another at this circuit.

If we attempt to decide where Renault are in comparison to their rivals, it can get a little tricky and I’m sure everyone has their own view. I personally feel they have made inroads into BMW’s margin over them and providing Piquet can raise his game and better support and push Alonso, the team should end 2008 in a comfortable fourth place. Taking the average lap times of the team and working out the difference is a little crude, particularly as Piquet has often failed to get beyond Q2, and has thus set a considerably faster lap time than Alonso in Q3. However, it does show that when all four drivers (both Renault and BMW) are in Q3, this time around Renault were the fastest team. It doesn’t necessarily mean a decent race though.

Average Qualifying Times For Renault & BMW Thus Far In 2008

Australia Malaysia Bahrain Spain
BMW 1m27.053s 1m36.740s 1m33.417s 1m22.304s
Renault 1m27.259s 1m37.006s 1m33.953s 1m22.302s
Difference -0.206s -0.266s -0.536s 0.002

Looking at the qualifying times of BMW and Renault shows improvement for the Anglo-French squad today, but because the difference between Alonso and Piquet is so great, the overall balance of the team is hurt. The actually positions achieved show slightly more consistent improvement.

Qualifying Positions For Renault Thus Far In 2008

Australia Malaysia Bahrain Spain
Fernando Alonso 12th 9th 10th 2nd
Nelson Piquet Jr 21st 13th 14th 10th

One thing is for sure though, and that is the Enstone-team have improved, Piquet looks a little more settled in the car and even though Fernando is going to pit quite early tomorrow, he will cause a headache or two for the McLarens and BMWs who will be desperate to pass.

I wonder where Renault will be at the Turkish Grand Prix?

Further Reading

Photo courtesy of Glenn Dunbar/LAT.


  • my guess is flav has a lot of investment in spanish tv rights, and tomorrow he needs a big audience, so he sent his man out to get one 🙂

  • Yes – and that impression was confirmed when Pat Symonds said “It is quite clear to everyone that Alonso and Piquet Jr. are on different strategies”. Translation – Alonso’s light and Piquet Jr.’s heavy. Maybe the difference between a three-stop and and a long two-stop strategy, even…

  • Of course Fernando is “light” but so are some others Kubica, Hamilton… We will see tomorrow.

    As usual your title is a bit provocative , in return may I suggest “Have McLaren lost the plot, or is it (not) for the fans”… I share your analysis though. The french team, (you never call McLaren the british-german team do you ?) thanks to its bright english engineers 😉 have made progress and this is good news for everybody. Nevertheless one should be realistic : a podium is still a remote target. As a true race fan I enjoy to see great drivers in pretty average cars (not too often indeed !) as it is a very unique opportunity to see what a true racer can do with a middle-field car (Ayrton Senna 1993 ?) and indeed Fernando is a true racer. I hope Lewis will show us he has matured as a driver and he will make the best of his Mclaren. The boy is (very) gifted no doubt about that but I found him pretty disappointing when he is not starting from pole and leading the race… Nice sunday to come I believe !

  • “Have McLaren lost the plot…”

    that is an interesting point though, first hamilton drops the ball, then when he threatens to make amends the team stuff it up for him. i’m with you ago, this is the perfect opportunity to see what the boy can do.

  • Good analysis. My only issue is Nick was way off the pace and admitted himself his lap was poor. If you assume he should have been higher up the grid with a quicker time the comparisons would look a lot different and indicate a low(ish) fuel load for Alonso. I don’t expect him to be that low – maybe 2-3 laps – but even that may be enough to put him out of contention for a podium.

  • As usual your title is a bit provocative

    I don’t think so. Toyota used to take corporate poles all the time in Japan (or at least attempt so). And ultimately it doesn’t matter how Alonso got there because it will shake up the racing a little and hopefully make for a more enjoyable race. ‘Alonso Doesn’t Deserve That Grid Position’ is provocative. Unfortunately for yourself, you will unlikely read such headlines on this site unless it is genuinely justified.

    Regarding the persistent insistence that I favour McLaren and/or Lewis Hamilton over Renault/Fernando Alonso, I would like to ask Ago to go through my archive of 889 posts (this one inclusive) and provide me with the evidence of this. This post is about Renault, not McLaren. Therefore, why would I bring McLaren into it? I introduced BMW as they are the next rivals in terms of sheer pace for Renault to pass, thus providing me with interesting comparisons. I apologise if I appear to be a little crass, but I’m starting to bore of this. Truth be told, I have infinitely more respect for Alonso than I do for Hamilton.

    As for the teams, I often refer to Renault as “Anglo-French” because the team is based in the UK, but the owners are French. I often call BMW “Swiss-German”, because they are based in Switzerland and are owned by a German company. I often call McLaren “Woking-based” because they are based in Woking. No majority-element of McLaren is German. For sure Mercedes own a large proportion of them, but they don’t own more than 50% (I think it is close though, something like 40%). Should Mercedes buyout the remainder of the team I will likely refer to them as Anglo-German, presuming of course they remain at Woking and because ‘German-Anglo’ doesn’t roll off the tongue as easy.

    All this besides, I only refer to teams (and even drivers) differently to break up the monotony of the text. Obviously this article is about Renault, and it would have got a little tiring if every other sentence involved the word ‘Renault’.

    I hope that is cleared up now, because this website is not about the 2007 season, nor is it about any other one particular year, team, driver or personality, and the insistence of this is getting tiresome, particularly when it is coming from only one person. I will give my opinion at times, but compared to 99% of the web, I am true to my personal belief: It is about the racing. I honestly couldn’t give a toss if it is Alonso, Hamilton or the Earl of Sandwich in the car.


    I apologise to everyone for that, I don’t very often get annoyed publicly. I left the site alone for a few hours to enjoy some ‘me-time’ and come back to find a decent conversation starter, but unfortunately wrapped up in the now-standard ‘you’re British, you must love Hamilton/McLaren & hate Alonso/Renault’ comment. If I’m horrendously wrong, I will gladly hold my hand high and apologise. The rant was sparked by Ago’s comment, but isn’t directed entirely at him/her, more so the general web who seem to think that I’m practically sharing a bed with Lewis because of my perceived/understood nationality.

    Now, on with the post…

    Ago (and Sidepodcast), your point about Hamilton is great. Hamilton has shown, many times over, that he has trouble with pressure. It seems the McLaren driver easily cracks when the team are on the back-foot. And after today’s performance, that is definitely where they are. Michael Schumacher always had the skill of overcoming such difficulties (as did other great champions through the ages) and pounding on through the race. It will interesting to see if Lewis is able to do this. Unfortunately, the evidence so far would suggest not. I’m more interested in comparing Hamilton with Kovalainen right now, the comparison being better to assess as both drivers are in the same car. But that’s a whole other post so I’ll leave that there! 🙂

    Edit/Update: Now I’ve chilled out for five minutes, I would like to apologise to Ago. As I stated above, my rant wasn’t entirely directed his way, but it certainly sparked me off on a tirade of thoughts. After qualifying, I whisked around the F1 blogosphere and it seemed everywhere I went people were being shouted at for the merest suggestion that Alonso was maybe light. This after Pat Symonds pretty much confirmed it by saying what he said (refer to Ali’s comment). Sometimes the Internet can be a frustrating place and at times it can really annoy me. For the record, I enjoyed moderating Ago’s comments in Keith’s LiveBlog earlier today and appreciate that Ago was perhaps being a little playful in his remarks. The comment didn’t deserve the fullness of my reply, but I would like to make it clear that I only suggest a car is light or heavy at this stage of a grand prix weekend. No one aside from the teams know whether their cars are light or heavy, and we won’t know until tomorrow. However, sometimes it is a fairly safe bet to suggest one way or another, and given Symonds’s remarks to ITV in the paddock, I feel it is safe to say Alonso is light. The point is moot though because as I said, it should mix it up a bit at the start of the race.

  • I’m more interested in comparing Hamilton with Kovalainen right now, the comparison being better to assess as both drivers are in the same car. But that’s a whole other post so I’ll leave that there!

    i look forward to that post.

  • that may be enough to put him [Alonso] out of contention for a podium.

    @John: The odd thing is though, all week Alonso has been saying ‘don’t expect anything from me’, then he does well in Friday Free Practice and slaps it on the front row in qualy. He’s now saying ‘I’ll be fighting for sixth, or there abouts’ which leads me think he may be able to achieve a podium. I think it’s going to come down to the start, and if needs be from there, how quickly he can recover from the first round of stops (presuming he does come in ahead of the Ferrari’s and maybe the McLaren’s).

  • Yeah fair point but if he is even slightly lighter he will come back into the middle of the pack after his first stop. Some guys may be running a one stopper and if he ends up behind them his race is as good as over.

    I understand your frustration about the Lewis/Alonso thing. The internet is great but sometimes the message doesn’t come across right and what is merely a simple observation can be seen as criticism. Nobody would have questioned the title a few years back if it was ‘have Toyota improved or are they pleasing the sponsors’….or maybe that’s because nobody cares about Toyota 😉

  • or maybe that’s because nobody cares about Toyota

    LOL @ John! I honestly don’t think Alonso will be able to do much in terms of the Ferraris, but I think he may be able to get third if he plays his cards right. Ultimately though, third isn’t where the real pace of the R28 is yet. When Alonso was with Fisichella in 2005 and 2006, most people were saying that the true pace of the car was where Fisichella put it, and the extra came from Alonso. If that is the right way to judge a car (and I have some doubts, it’s likely to be somewhere in between), then the R28 is somewhere around sixth to tenth.

  • Oliver where is this so british sense of humour ? Take it easy ! I read your blog often and I said I agreed with your comments.

    About the driver’s national GP it is well known that the teams try to do better for their national GP and/or for their driver’s… but nobody can turn a moped into a rocket ! Renault improved the car and Fernando added that extra touch.

    I was amazed at your (quite) long justification on the “anglo-french” contreversy I started 😉

    I’am afraid “It doesn’t hold the road mate” (as we say in France : “Ca tient pas la route mec”) :

    – Renault is a 100% french company employing hundreds of thousands of people around the world it doesn’t make it a”some-country”/french company. It is french. period.

    – MacLaren is owned by a german company (40%), a british citizen (15%), a french citizen -Arghhh ! but of Saudi origin- (15%) and a Bahrain’s Holding (30%)… So in fact it’s more german than it is anything else 😉

    Of course you can call the Renault team “the Enstone-based” or “the losange” (from the french name of their logo).. You can call it as you want in fact this is YOUR blog and I wouldn’t live in the UK if I was not happy here 😉 I will continue posting here unless you do not like my gallic touch ? 😉

  • Hummm, the both? It’s obvious that Reault has improved(NP in Q3 for the first time) and that Alonso is light(qualifying in front of Massa it’s a joke). The question is how light is he? I read in AS that he could go for 3 stops, which would be shameful.

    I personally don’t like this marketing-oriented poles, but I must admit that they are effective; almost everyone is going nuts with this “almost-pole”.

    I really hope Fernando isn’t shamefully light, and he enters into the pits in at least in the sixteenth lap or later. Ending ahead of one McLaren or Kubica would be a great achievement.

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