GRAND PRIX INTERNATIONAL, 25.03.1981
REFLECTIONS BY ALAIN PROST
It may seem rather strange, but I suppose that I was one of the few people not to have been disappointed by the Renault's relatively poor performance at Long Beach. But don't imagine that I'm trying to hide the reality of the situation. I would certainly have prefered to have made it a little further than the first corner in my first race for Renault. However, it seems that de Cesaris thought otherwise.
There are two circuits which are definitely not Renault circuits: those in the streets of Long Beach and Monaco. So we never really stood a chance from the start. The season began at Long Beach and we were just not going to have a chance. Twisty circuits just don't suit our car. There are two reasons for that. The first is that there's always a turbo lag, and secondly the car doesn't pull away well at low revs. When we do get some response, it's very brutal. The power doesn't come in progressively but brutally which makes the wheels spin. Our two problems really handicapped us as they will on any tight circuit with sharp corners. Driving the Renault on such circuits is a very delicate business. But let me say again that this wasn't news to us. We knew what to expect long before we arrived in Long Beach.
For that reason, there was no point in being disappointed by our rather lacklustre performances at Long Beach, because neither René nor I expected any better. Now if the season had begun in South America as it was meant to have done, then things might have been very different. We might even have kicked off with a couple of wins. After all, Renault didn't do badly last year down there.
But at Long Beach, things weren't on our side at all. Apart from the two reasons already given, we also had another handicap. This is a point I want to make particularly to those English readers loyal to FOCA. The banning of skirts for us was as much a handicap as the lack of qualifying tyres.
Both these measures restrict grip in corners which is just where we, in particular, need it most. You can't keep up the revs if you don't have any grip, and if you don't keep up the revs, it takes a while before you can get those revs back, especially with a turbo that lags. Does Riccardo Patrese's pole position in the Arrows mean that he's going to be the fastest car throughout the season, even in South America? The answer to that might lie in the lesson learnt last year when Jan Lammers set fourth fastest time in the ATS here at Long Beach. Where was that car on the grid for the rest of the year? Hopefully our performance at Long Beach won't be a pointer for the rest of the year.
Personally, I reckon that I could have been sixth or seventh quickest on the grid if I hadn't had to take over the spare car when I lost fourth gear in my own race car. I don't think that would have been a bad position on the grid, considering the cars' natural disadvantage on the tight circuit. We tried everything to make up for our lack of grip. We put on more wing, fitted softer springs, everything. It improved the car a little bit, but we still had the same basic problem. I think my first session times at Long Beach weren't bad at all, and I hope that people aren't too disappointed in those times. I know a number of people were disappointed overall, but I don't think they looked hard enough at our inherent problems. Now if we're on the third or fourth row at Buenos Aires, then I do think that they've got something to grumble about. But I hope we won't give them any reason for grumbling.
There are often little points made during practice which never get any further. Something occurred at Long Beach which really gives me hope for the future with Renault. We practiced with full tanks only a second slower than we had with relatively empty tanks. For most teams, the gap is around two seconds.
After my premature exit from competition, I stayed at the end of the straight to watch what was going on. Drivers and designers rarely get a chance to see other Formula One cars going through a corner. They're either in the car or in the pits, so it was interesting to analyze some of the cars' behavior. René, of course, was in dreadful trouble, but I saw the new Ferraris were very, very quick in a straight line, and they pulled out of the hairpin with considerable ease. There's obviously lots of torque in that engine. It will be interesting to see a contest between the Renaults and Ferraris, turbo to turbo, in the next few races. Could be quite a fight!