(Photo credit: Max Artes)
Renault went into last season with high hopes, and rightly so. They were looking to challenge F1's top guns, and even though they did not quite achieve this, they will not have looked back on 2017 as a bad year.
In Abu Dhabi, the French outfit stole sixth place in the constructor’s standings from Toro Rosso thanks to a stunning drive from Nico Hulkenberg, ending 2017 on a high. They also snapped up one of the sport's hottest talents in Carlos Sainz Jr which could prove a smart move for the team. So, not too shabby a season but Renault will want a lot more from 2018.
Impressions from testing
It was a promising start to 2018 for Renault who put in a solid performance in Barcelona. What will please the team most was the lack of interruptions they encountered over the two weeks, as one of their main aims of this season was to improve reliability,
Last season was characterised by numerous engine problems which threatened to dampen their 2018 prospects. A lack of reliability cost the works team (and several other Renault-powered outfits) a heap of points over the course of the campaign. But based solely on testing this term, Renault appear to have improved the reliability of their engine, and if this is the case, it spells good news for the sport.
Both drivers got a healthy number of laps under their belt, which is always one of the team’s top priorities going into testing. They also showed good pace as they cemented themselves amongst the midfield challengers. Renault’s performance in Catalonia was far from mesmerising, but it was arguably further away from dismal.
It's always difficult to draw major conclusions from testing, particularly regarding the outright pace of the car as teams will often hide their full potential. Despite this, the signs are positive, and Renault have good reasons to feel confident going into Melbourne.
If the reliability of their power unit really has improved, then I see no reason for Renault to be pessimistic going into the season, as the aerodynamics of their car has notoriously been strong. Team chief Cyril Abiteboul has recognised the impressiveness of Renault’s testing performance and has described it as "the best start we've had since the introduction of the V6 in 2014".
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has also been quick to praise the team stating Renault would make the "biggest step" of any F1 team in 2018. Whether he truly thinks Renault will improve to the extent where they can mount a significant enough of a challenge to Mercedes is unclear but I’m sure the French team will at least be in the back of his mind. Personally, I don’t think 2018 will be the season where Renault will return to scrapping F1’s big boys for the top step on the podium. Let's hope they can prove me wrong.
Behind Red Bull, Renault have arguably the most closely matched and exciting driver pairing on the grid. The same couldn’t be said before Carlos Sainz Jr joined the team but now the Spaniard is in the yellow overalls, Renault and F1 fans have plenty of reason to be excited.
What’s perhaps more exciting is the difficulty in predicting which of the drivers will come out on top come the end of the season. Some felt that Nico Hulkenberg would struggle when Sainz joined the team as the German had experienced no real form of competition from his teammate all season. But the Hulk responded well and put in some good results towards the tail end of the 2017 season, proving he was more than a match for Sainz.
I think the inter-team battle between the two drivers will be one of the most closely matched in 2018, and I can see it coming down to Abu Dhabi to see who finishes higher in the standings. I feel Sainz may just have the slight edge over Hulkenberg since the Spaniard has been steadily improving in recent times. But I would not rule out Hulkenberg either who has proved over the last few seasons he is a fine racing driver. The two drivers pushing each other will surely elevate Renault to heights beyond 2017.
What do you think Renault can achieve in 2018? And what do you make of their new driver pairing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.