The ING Renault F1 Team made the most of an eventful Australian Grand Prix to claim a fourth place finish with Fernando Alonso. But the joy was tempered by the retirement of Nelson Piquet, who was unable to complete his first Grand Prix after sustaining damage on the opening lap of the race.
Having endured a difficult qualifying session yesterday, Fernando and Nelson started the race in 11th and 20th places, but the team was confident of progressing in the race and targeted a points finish. Those aspirations looked achievable after both drivers made up ground during a hectic first lap. Nelson was up to 12th place by the end of the first lap, but he sustained damage to the rear of his car which ultimately ended his race.
Fernando delivered a fighting drive, carving his way through the field to eventually snatch fourth place in the closing stages of the race, despite losing ground during two of the safety car periods. The result places the ING Renault F1 Team in fourth place in the Constructors Championship with a total of five points as the team heads to Malaysia for the next race in a weeks time.
Fernando Alonso, P4
That was a very strange race with lots of overtaking, incidents and mechanical problems for lots of drivers. We were able to make the most of the opportunities that came our way today and finished the first Grand Prix with a good result, which will give the team a boost and give us confidence for the rest of the season. However, we must continue working to improve our level of performance in qualifying and our pace in the race, but the result today is very important for us.
Nelson Piquet, DNF
I made a good start and I was able to make up some places during the first lap, which was pretty hectic. Unfortunately I was hit at the start, which damaged my car and so I did not manage to reach the end of my first Grand Prix. Of course, I am disappointed, but I learned a lot this weekend and I cannot wait to go to Malaysia to continue my apprenticeship and hopefully get a better result. I already know the Sepang circuit, so it should be easier.
Flavio Briatore, Managing Director
Fernandos fourth place today is an excellent omen for the start of the season. He drove a superb race, fighting all the way from the back of the field. Even though we were set back twice by the safety car, what he managed to do was exceptional. In particular, his overtaking of the McLaren in the closing stages was spectacular. We still have to work, but it is encouraging to see that we are not the only team that needs to improve. As far as Nelson goes, this was his first race and a difficult one for him. But I am sure this has been a learning experience for him, and I am confident that in the races to come he will do better.
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering
I think that Fernandos performance today was just wonderful. He used everything that we gave him and more. We were rather unlucky with the safety cars and debated whether to switch strategies under the safety car, but our tyre wear would not allow us to change on to the soft tyre and reach the end of the race with just one stop. As it was Fernando got severe graining on the soft tyres in his final stint, which gave him a lot of understeer. Nelsons difficult weekend continued as he got hit on the start line which caused considerable damage to the rear of the car. He found it very difficult to drive, which explains his slow lap times and maybe even his retirement as we are still investigating what happened.