London, May 10: Formula One champions Renault expect Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix to be another difficult race despite making progress in improving their car after a disappointing start to the season.

"In previous weeks, we have said that the road back to our normal level of competitiveness will be a long one, and that is still true," head of engineering Pat Symonds had said in a team preview on Tuesday.

"We have made good progress in our analysis and understanding of the R27, but we are not expecting a leap forward in our competitiveness relative to our rivals this weekend," he added.

"It will be a tough race weekend where we have to fight for every point."

Formula One teams have been able to test since the last race in Bahrain on April 15 and Symonds said Renault had collected huge amounts of data ahead of the first European round of the season.

Renault won at the Circuit de Catalunya last year with Fernando Alonso but the Spaniard, now a double world champion, joined current championship leaders McLaren at the end of 2006.

The champions are fourth overall with just nine points from three races. Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, now partnering Finnish rookie Heikki Kovalainen, has scored eight of them.

Fisichella has written off Renault's title chances but Symonds praised the Roman, who was eclipsed by Alonso for the past two years after returning to a team he also raced for between 1998 and 2001 when they were Benetton.

"Giancarlo has been very impressive so far this season," said the Briton.

"A lot of our esteem for him is rooted in the way he handled our 2001 season, when he put huge effort into making the most of a difficult car.

"We are seeing something similar this year. The R27 is a hard car to drive consistently, but in spite of this, he has driven very consistent races," said Symonds.

"He has taken the car to the limit of what it is currently capable of, and contributed in every way he can to helping resolve our current problems. We couldn't ask any more of him."

Symonds said Kovalainen, whose Australian debut was succinctly summed up as 'rubbish' by team boss Flavio Briatore, was learning fast and had shown since Melbourne that he was a strong team player.

Bureau Report