Renault still confident they can stop Schumacher charge
Defending F1 constructors world champions Renault remain convinced they can win the Japanese GP and help Alonso beat Schumacher to the drivers' crown.india Updated: Oct 04, 2006 11:19 IST
Defending Formula One constructors world champions Renault remain convinced they can still upset Ferrari's momentum, win the Japanese Grand Prix and help Fernando Alonso beat Michael Schumacher to the drivers' crown.
Despite being beaten by a virtuoso drive from seven-times champion Schumacher in last Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, where tyre problems undid defending champion Alonso's race, Renault remain upbeat.
"I think the car will be fabulous at Suzuka," said Renault's director of engineering, Pat Symonds.
"It was so good at the British Grand Prix - which has similar car demands -- and we were back testing at Silverstone, doing Suzuka tyres, a couple of weeks ago and it was lovely.
"If the car is good at Silverstone then it will be good at Suzuka. I am not going to say that it is going to be easy, because they are going to be hard fights, but they are also going to be good fights.
"If anything, and it is a minute amount, but I feel that we might just have the upper hand in terms of raw performance.
"In the dry, in the race, I think we had it. Michael obviously wasn't pushing all the time, but he was pushing enough for us to see where things were."
Alonso, who held a 25-points lead in the title race in June, is now tied with Schumacher on 116 points, but trails him by seven wins this season to six.
If Schumacher wins on Sunday and Alonso fails to score a point, he will lift his eighth drivers' title before retiring.
Spaniard Alonso and German Schumacher were both pushing to their limits when they raced in Shanghai and with two races remaining, in Japan and Brazil, it is clear that weather conditions and tyre performance will be critical.
Alonso's Renault team use Michelin tyres which usually have a performance edge in wet conditions over the Bridgestone tyres used by Schumacher's Ferrari outfit, but in dry conditions there is little to choose between them.
Bridgestone, however, are sure to have redoubled their efforts to find a way of raising their performance level for their home Japanese race against a Renault team bristling with indignation after throwing away last weekend's contest with a bad pit-stop decision and then a bad pit-stop.
"I really feel that we let ourselves down," said Symonds.
"In these circumstances, it is not a question of hanging anyone. It just happened, but the great thing for us is to see that we are right back on the pace and we can beat them."
Italian Giancarlo Fisichella's third place finish in Shanghai helped him strengthen his grip on third place in the drivers' championship and lifted Renault back ahead of Ferrari in the constructors' battle.
His role in Sunday's Japanese race, perhaps in a direct confrontation with Brazilian Felipe Massa, of Ferrari, could prove to be critical again.
In China, it was clear that the two Renault drivers were obeying team orders to defend one another during the middle part of the race when Alonso was vulnerable because of poor tyre performance.
This meant that Fisichella had to race on his partner's behalf, rather than his own and raised the possibility that Renault were breaking a regulation that has banned such team orders.
Ferrari noted this and having seen that it was allowed to happen could now ask Massa to drive 'shotgun' in Suzuka on behalf of Schumacher.
However, to do that successfully, the team will need to have a good tyre performance from Bridgestone.
The Japanese company's technical manager Hisao Suganuma said: "All areas of the tyres' performance are tested in Suzuka on all four corners of the car. The track also demands good traction and high levels of grip.
"The S Curves in sector one are particularly important for setting good lap times as the drivers require good change of direction performance from the tyres.
"Our tests in Silverstone and Mugello, prior to the last Grand Prix, were particularly helpful for simulating conditions at Suzuka -- and we have every intention of finishing this season on a high."