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Bahrain consolidated the start we saw in Melbourne. Nico was able to score a good haul of points and fight for position at the sharp end of the midfield. Carlos had a more difficult race – his pace was good but he was compromised by a poor start and found it difficult to regain ground. We saw yet again how competitive this season is and how every detail has to be absolutely on point. In such a dynamic midfield, we must accelerate the deployment of our performance plan.

But there are positives too; our car has potential, our overall execution level is good and we have shown a great improvement in pit stops, demonstrating the reward of months of work from design, R&D, production and race team departments. It needs to be confirmed in the next races, but we should use this as an element of pride for the capacity of the team to progress quickly.

Shanghai is an important race for the team. As well as keeping our on-track momentum moving forward, our off-track activation will equally be important. We have an expansive programme with DRAC (Renault’s joint venture in China) and Renault Sport Formula One Team’s partner, Tmall. I’m really looking forward to getting over to China and seeing how everything unfolds.

Stringing it together
After a solid start to the season for the contingent of Renault power-units, Engine Technical Director Rémi Taffin discusses the plan of action for the beginning of the season and what to expect in Shanghai.

How do we evaluate the Bahrain Grand Prix?
It was a difficult race, especially with a big battle in the midfield. Nico achieved a good result and we met our target of finishing in the points. It was a more difficult outing for Carlos and there are a number of areas to look at from his race. We go to China where we will aim to bring an increase in performance in order to better place our drivers in both qualifying and the race. We want to climb in the rankings, it’s a case of refining all the details to improve our performance.

With two races under the belt, how are things looking with the 2018 Renault power unit?
We’ve started as we’ve planned. We blue-printed this development a year and a half ago, and it’s satisfying to see it going as planned. We got through a good winter testing plan, and it was very encouraging to see all six Renault-powered cars in the points in Australia. Everything looks in line in terms of reliability and that gives us a good platform for our continued development plan over the whole season. It’s a reasonable start.

What are the main characteristics of the Shanghai International Circuit?
China isn’t as difficult from a power unit point of view compared to Bahrain, so we’ll analyse the race in Bahrain and go from there. We’ve proved we’re competitive and ready to fight.

How difficult has it been to manage the three-engine rule for the season?
It doesn’t make a big difference as we knew about the rule change two or three years ago. It takes a bit longer for dyno validations and it’s a bit more severe for the engine, but in a sense, it doesn’t really change our world. The fewer engines you have, the less development you can bring in terms of hardware. When you have 10 engines a year you have more capability and opportunities to develop, but with three engines it’s more difficult, and that makes the job at Viry harder!

Chess Game
A tactical battle in Bahrain led Nico Hülkenberg to a hard-fought sixth place and more points in the championship standings. Now the German has his sights quickly focused on another haul in Shanghai.

What are your thoughts from a sixth-place finish in Bahrain?
It’s a decent result in the end and more points in the bag for the championship. Qualifying could have gone slightly better, given my Q2 lap would have placed me further up the grid for the race. But that’s racing and we’ll take the points and move on to the next one. We’ve certainly learnt quite a bit last weekend and we head to China with things to work on. Every track is different and I’m sure China will bring its own challenges. We’ll go there aiming to keep improving.

What stands-out from the Shanghai International Circuit?
The track is famous for the never-ending turn one / turn two combination. It’s a tricky complex because it’s easy to go in too hot, especially during qualifying, and it really eats the front-left tyre. This combination really draws you in, as it goes on a long time after a really fast entry. You are decreasing speed after that as it gets tighter and tighter and seems to go on forever, before reaching the downhill, hairpin turn three. The first lap on race day usually gets a bit tasty there, and it’s important to get the elbows out and hold your ground.

What other challenges does the circuit bring?
Historically, in China, looking after the tyres has been hard work. The first few corners are notorious for tyre-deg and later on in the lap, turn 13 is another long right-hander that takes even more life out of them. After that unique first sector, the rest of the lap has a bit of everything from low-speed to high-speed, which makes it challenging to find a balanced set-up. There’s a big long straight where you have enough time for a game of chess as you’re going in a straight line with your foot hard down for so long, then you wake up and you’re hard on the brakes. It’s really important to get your braking right there as it’s a pretty important corner. Again, on Sunday, it’s going to be one of the main overtaking spots.

Quick Fix
Carlos Sainz finished narrowly outside of the points in Bahrain, but he is keen to dust himself down and senses an immediate turnaround this weekend.

What’s the verdict from Bahrain?
It was a frustrating weekend in the end and we ended narrowly off the points. I’m keen to brush that one aside and get set for the next race. Now all my focus is on China and I’m looking forward to having a positive weekend. It is a track I enjoy a lot and I am sure we can perform strongly here.

Is it fair to say last season’s Chinese Grand Prix was your most interesting Formula 1 race?
Last year’s race was certainly one of my more memorable Grand Prix. It was a risky decision to start the race on dry tyres and everyone else on Intermediates. I had a tricky start, I could barely get off the line on a damp track and then had a spin at turn 3. Happily, risks sometimes pay off and I capitalised to finish seventh. It was definitely an interesting one!

What do you like about China?
I enjoy the food there, especially Peking duck. It’s actually one of my favourite dishes when I travel to Asia, especially China. Of course, I always miss the Spanish cuisine, but I don’t complain when there’s Peking duck on the menu! I have very good memories of the drivers’ dinner we organised in Shanghai a couple of years ago – all 22 of us got together in the city centre and it gave me the opportunity to do some sight-seeing. My Chinese is limited to ‘ni hao’, but I suppose that’s a useful expression to know as I can say it to everyone I see.

Are you impressed by the facilities at the Shanghai International Circuit?
I have to say that the paddock in China is the biggest one I’ve ever seen, it’s huge. Before a session starts, I usually give myself about a minute of time to go from my room to the garage, but in Shanghai it’s a minimum of three minutes because the distances are so big! This means I need to change all my routine and schedule for China!

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