Lotus Renault GP boss Eric Boullier says his team must strive to deliver perfect weekends on track if it is to repeat the podium finishes of the first two races of the season.
After Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld finished third in Australia and Malaysia, the team endured a more difficult time in China, with a reliability problem in qualifying and being too conservative with its strategy in the race. Boullier says that lessons have been taken on board – especially because the fact Petrov was so strong in Q2 suggested that the R31 was capable of another good result in Shanghai.
"If you look at Q2, Vitaly's pace showed where we should have been," Boullier said. "If we have this pace, then we need to have perfect weekends.
"We cannot afford to have any bad weekends and definitely to have a perfect weekend we need to be ready to cope with everything. If you want to play with the big boys, then we have to be there and we have to run perfectly."
Boullier says that Renault's weekend turned against it when Petrov's engine cut out in qualifying, believed to have been as the result of an airbox fire. Reflecting on the Chinese GP, Boullier said: "Let's say we took it wrong from the beginning. We just couldn't do it.
"I don't want to upset the guys, obviously, but we had a couple of things wrong that definitely we have not been able to handle or react to accordingly. Vitaly's engine problem was not our fault obviously, but we could have clearly briefed our drivers on how to get rid of this. But that was not done.
"That incident affected Heidfeld's qualifying, and it was a snowball effect from then on. Everything was going wrong, and during the race it was the same – starting 10th and 16th we could have maybe been a bit more aggressive on the strategy.
"There is clearly something to investigate in the way [Nico] Rosberg did it for example, because he was six seconds off [Jenson] Button before pitting and then when everybody pitted he was five seconds ahead of everybody. Then you look at [Lewis] Hamilton, with his strategy – to save one set of tires as he did was brave. As soon as you pit, you can gain an advantage of five to eight seconds over your competitors, and that changes a lot the position on track.
"So, if you are clear ahead and have clear laps, then you just pull away because the traffic is not affecting your pace. Our people are very good on strategy, but I think with the Pirelli degradation we just need to handle the weekend differently."
Renault plans to introduce a new rear wing, originally penciled in for the Malaysian Grand Prix, in Turkey, as well as other updates.
"It's the famous rear wing," smiled Boullier. "For us, with three weeks to go, we should have a good upgrade on the car. But everyone will be the same. We definitely would like to keep our position and fighting for fifth or sixth place. That would be a good step."