Fernando Alonso s 2008 fate could be decided this week as Renault prepare to do battle at the Circuit de Catalunya, a technically unforgiving track notorious for unmasking good car design from bad.
The double world champion has had, by his own admission, a disappointing start to the season barely scraping into the top-ten in qualifying and struggling to haul himself out of the mid-field in the race.
The Spaniard is hoping that a new aerodynamic package, tried and tested alongside the rest of the paddock at Barcelona last week, will launch him out of the ultra competitive mid-field scrap he currently finds himself entrenched.
“After the first three races, it was clear that we were not at the level of the leading teams,â€ reflected the Renault ace. “We were missing some speed and the car was sometimes unstable in the quick corners and under braking.â€
“The team has made big efforts with improvements to the aerodynamics and with the level of mechanical grip. We had the chance to work through these on the track at Barcelona last week, and the first results proved encouraging.â€
“I hope that our hard work will pay us back and that our car will allow us to catch up with the other teams.”
The Circuit de Catalunya is a favoured test track amongst the F1 teams with its something-of-everything -layout of straights, fast and slow corners and heavy braking zones. By rule of thumb a car working well around the 2.892 mile track will tend to perform solidly around the rest of the 18 tracks on the calendar.
“Barcelona is very much a circuit that separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of aerodynamic performance and we do recognise that we are deficient there in comparison to the front runners,â€ admits Renault s Technical Director Bob Bell with stark recognition of the challenge ahead for the RÃ©gie.
Renault s 2008 challenger the R23 has been struggling in aerodynamic performance, an area where weakness has become even harder to mask in the absence of electronic assistance.
“We now have quite a clear picture of where we are underperforming,â€ reveals Bell. “One of those areas is our aerodynamic performance because at the moment we are deficient in aero-generated grip in the high-speed corners.â€
“That s where we are making the biggest push because that area is probably contributing the most to our lack of performance.
“Equally, we are losing out in the low-speed corners where the performance of the car is dominated by mechanical grip, and so we have suspension upgrades that will start addressing those problems.â€
“We can be reasonably confident that it will be a big step forward and that it will be multiple tenths of a second.â€