Renault looks set to start 2010 as a dark horse, having set some encouraging times in testing without frightening the title favourites yet.
AUTOSPORT heard from the team's lead driver Robert Kubica at the end of Friday's Barcelona test session.
Q. You had some problems today, but new parts are coming...
Robert Kubica: Yeah, today was quite a difficult day. Unfortunately straight away we faced some problems in the morning and then [again] in the afternoon so we lost quite a lot of important running time.
But to be honest we didn't have anything new on the car and I'm quite confident with what we have learned in the previous tests. So it would be nice to drive but it's not a nightmare.
So we wait for Sunday, when we will have some new bits on the car. Still not the final version for Bahrain I think, but there should be something new so it's always good to test.
Q. What sort of shape do you think the team is in?
RK: It's difficult to judge I think, it's changing all the time. I think it was looking very promising in the first test at Jerez, after Valencia where we faced a few problems with set-up, but we reacted very quickly and in Jerez we were looking very strong.
Then last week we were still okay but I think that we lost a bit of ground. Here it's very difficult to judge because in the end we haven't run much today and it looks like a lot of people have concentrated on quite low fuel runs and then a race distance, so it's quite difficult to understand.
So we just hope that the new package and new pieces will give us the advantage which we are predicting, and we hope that the other teams don't have many things to put on. Of course they will have - some teams might have already put something on here, maybe some others have not, but we will see in Bahrain in the end.
Q. Fernando Alonso said Renault was an outsider, does that suit you?
RK: It's difficult to predict. We will try to be in the position to fight for the top, but I think it could be difficult to achieve, especially at the beginning of the year. We hope for a good start, we hope to be competitive straight away.
Of course we have to be realistic, so we will not go to Bahrain to fight for the podium, that's for sure. But maybe we will have a nice surprise here on Sunday and then in Bahrain with the new upgrades and we will be able to fight for it.
But I think for now the most important thing is to understand and to develop as quickly as possible, and to improve the car as much as we can.
Q. Do you think you are far away from the top four teams?
RK: I don't know. To be honest, I don't know. What I think is that at some point in the winter testing we were in the middle of them, but as I said before it's very difficult to judge and predict, and it's very difficult to know what the other teams are doing and which stage of development they are at now.
There are still two days of testing to go and then we will stop guessing and we will go to Bahrain and we will see.
Q. What new parts are you getting for Sunday?
RK: I don't know. There will be some upgrades, there should be a new front wing and some new stuff on the aero side. We were waiting very long because every week there were some new bits that were looking very promising in the windtunnel, so the team decided to wait very long in order to be able to bring to Bahrain as much improvement as we can, and to manufacture something for Barcelona.
Then we discovered last week that by changing something it would give us an advantage, and I think that's the right approach and there will be no problems in Bahrain. I think we will not have a problem.
I'm quite looking forward to testing some new aero stuff because it will be quite an interesting test for me to understand how close the correlation between windtunnel data and simulation is to reality on the track.
Q. Is aero an area you need to improve?
RK: Yeah, I think so. Renault last year was struggling for pace because of downforce, and I think we were lacking downforce. Of course downforce can help, but it's not everything - like last year I think my car had a very good downforce number, but it was very difficult to extract it. So I think we need to look for everything. But for sure downforce will help. Downforce never hurts, let's put it this way...
Q. You had problems with front tyre warm-up at Valencia and used an old front wing, how is that now?
RK: It was just because of the narrow tyres so we could expect it, and as I was new in the team we just wanted to have as close a comparison to last year as possible, so we started with [parts of] last year's car to compare data and we started with a very similar set-up to last year.
It required some changes, which we have done in Valencia, and then proceeded in Jerez for one day and we were quite happy about the car balance. Actually it felt very good in the Jerez test. But I think it's changing, and also when you are adding new stuff on the car it can have quite a big effect on the characteristics of the car and your balance.
Q. Isn't it risky to leave the updates until the last minute?
RK: It's risky, but I think the team feels quite confident that the correlation between the windtunnel and on the track is very good, so I have no reason to not believe it. That's why I also say that I'm looking forward to testing it.
Q. What do you need from car?
RK: It depends on the day and on which tyres and which fuel load. I think this year it will be difficult to have a really nice balance on such a big range of fuel loads. You have to find the best compromise between low fuel and high fuel to have the best performance of the car in a wide range of fuel loads.
I'm not talking about here because it was very difficult for us today so it was very difficult to judge, but I think overall in Jerez we had a very nicely balanced car in the end and we were quite competitive.
We were just lacking overall grip, so whatever we were changing we were getting a bit more understeer, bit more oversteer. So I think after a slow start in Valencia we did quite nice work in Jerez.
Q. What's your feeling for how the championship will go?
RK: I think it's very difficult to understand and to predict what will happen. We will see.
Q. Does any team stand out for you?
RK: To be honest I'm looking at us. We have quite a lot of work to do and we are working really hard. I think it will be a very, very close grid again, so it will be small gaps and a very tight fight for getting into Q3. I don't know what the other teams are doing, in which stage of development, and what their programme is for Bahrain.
Q. A lot of drivers did low fuel runs today - how important is that for a driver to do during testing?
RK: It's good for the morale and it looks good on the timesheet. But joking apart, it's just one test to do. In the past for example I think between 2007 and 2008 the first time I ran low fuel after the Brazil race was in Australia qualifying, and it worked quite well. It was also a bit different but in the end if you were able to go easily into Q3 you were working more on a high fuel load.
This year it's different - you have to make sure you have good performance in qualifying but don't underestimate high fuel. So it's quite tricky, and for sure we will see during race weekends more qualifying preparation than there was in the past.
Q. Will Vitaly Petrov give you a hard time?
RK: I don't know what you mean by hard time. I think good competition is always good. I don't fear competition. In the end we are all here to do our job and to drive as fast as possible, so I think competition is healthy because it helps you to extract the maximum from yourself and from the car. But to be honest I don't think he has had enough running to judge so we have to wait. For sure I won't be the one who judges his performance because I'm here to drive the car, not to judge the others.
Q. How much low fuel running have you done?
RK: Apart from at Valencia running low on fuel to see how it works with the sensors, up to now we haven't done any.