Renault F1 have a lot to prove in 2020, measured against their own standards and the expectations of the F1 community they were poor in 2019.
Renault Makes a Statement
Everyone in F1 knew where they were when Daniel Riccardo announced to the world he was heading to Renault for the 2019 season in a deal reportedly worth around $25million per year. It was a move that was surprising for most within the F1 world, had Renault shown that they were going to continue the upward trend. Could they consolidate the 4th place and start challenging the top 3 teams.
Politically is was a big win for Renault, Redbull had become a very outspoken and critical voice about the Renault Power Unit, this culminated in the Renault name not appearing on the Redbull car (the Power Unit was re badged as Tag Hauer) . The inevitable split happened when Redbull announced a deal with Honda for 2019 and beyond.
For Renault to “steal” Riccardo was something of a coup for the French team, which was not lost on either team principles as they shared jabs at each other. This was all documented on the Netflix docu series Drive to Survive.
..”you need a driver and an engine”…Cyril Abiteboul to Christian Horner after Daniel Riccardo signed for Renault (Drive to Survive, Season 1 Episode 4)
With a very strong, best of the rest finish in 2018, the signing of a proven race winner in Daniel Riccardo, it seemed that the stage was set for a great 2019 campaign.
2019, A Statement of Disappointment
The 2019 season started poorly for Renault, they didn’t reach the heights that were expected of them.
Daniel Riccardo ended his debut race for Renault almost as soon as it started in Australia, when he broke the front wing of the car just meters after the start. Hulkenberg in the sister car did finish a decent 7th.
Disappointment followed in Bahrain when both cars retired on the same lap with technical issues.
This set the trend for the season. 2019 was just a bit blah.
It was clear that the car was just not good enough, even with talented drivers Riccardo and Hulkenberg, they were unable to be consistent throughout the season.
To top of an already disappointing season the team were disqualified from the Japanese GP (they finished the race but their results were wiped after an investigation)
The issue centred around pre-set, automated brake bias system. Racing Point noticed some strange numbers on a video of the Renault car during a test, lodged a complaint with the FIA, who after an investigation found that the system was legal under the technical regulations, but was deemed a breach under the sporting regulations relating to driver aids
As a result both Renault cars were DQ’d from the Japanese GP. Renault decided not to appeal the decision.
2020 so what now ….
With a car that was not performing, mediocre performances and a DQ, what will 2020 deliver from the Renault team. It all started somewhat strangely when the team had a “season launch” not a car launch. They had the drivers, technical staff all there to discuss the 2020 season and open up about their expectations but no car…
Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul stated that the car was not behind schedule, it was “in bits” heading to Spain for the first pre season test.
As the car took to the track the reason for the “no car” car launch became pretty clear. The Renault car has had some work done. The whole front end of the car has been revamped. It will be interesting to see what this will bring to the car. With all other teams making steps to evolve their own cars, have Renault made a big enough step? Have they managed to solve the reliability of the power unit? Time will tell.
Renault decided to make another driver change, this season Esteban Ocon will partner Daniel Riccardo for 2020. Nico Hulkenberg was dropped as a result, ultimately he was not able to secure a seat on the F1 grid for 2020.
Esteban was not on the grid for 2019, as a casualty of the Stroll buy out of the Force India (now Racing Point) and Renault deciding on Daniel Riccardo, it was reported that an agreement was in place for Ocon to drive for Renault in 2019, however Renault decided not to take up this option and hired the departing Redbull driver Daniel Riccardo. Ocon moved over to a Reserve/SIM driver for Mercedes in 2019.
Driver Changes and the Pandemic.
The Covid- 19 pandemic has had an enormous effect for Renault, it has been mention that the French company are making cuts of around $2.2 billion. Understandably, the F1 community started talking about Renault pulling out of the sport, at least as a works team.
The Renault company released a statement soon after new financial regulations were ratified by the FIA (these included a financial cost cap and Success Handicap) that they would remain in the sport for years to come, they made a connection to the new financial rules as a big part of the decision to remain in the sport as a works team.
“Actually the news about new regulations, a new cap in terms of investment, is very good for us because we had less investment in this area than some of our competitors, who were spending a lot of money. So F1, we’re here and we’ll stay.”Clotilde Delbos, Renault’s Acting Chief Executive Officer
Driver Changes again?
It seems that it wouldn’t be the F1 drivers silly season without Renault being involved.
This time it would seen that Renault has been the victim of other teams decisions.
It all started when Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel decided not to extend their partnership after 2020.
The buzz within the F1 community involved 2 drivers, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Riccardo. Both were in the frame for the Ferrari drive. The first piece of the puzzle fell into place when Mclaren announced that Daniel Riccardo would drive for them in 2020 along side the talented Lando Norris. Soon after, Carlos Sainz was announced as the new Ferrari driver, partnering Charles Leclerc.
With all the moves confirmed, Renault were left with no “star driver” to partner Ocon in 2020.
Fernando Alonso’s name has been mentioned for the vacant seat. Alonso “retired” from F1 at the end of 2018, however he is links to Renault after 2 championships with them. If Alonso were to re-sign with the team it would be the 3rd stint with them.
The Renault team are one of the Works teams within F1, as such they come in with a decent budget. They are no strangers to F1, they understand the pressures of the sport well, they have also been at the front of the grid winning titles and accolades along the way.
They should not be fighting to make the top 10 in Qualifying or settling for the odd 7th place in a race.
Renault need to show that they can pressure the top 3 teams and be comfortably in the 4th in the constructors.
They also have the added pressure of making sure they are attractive to the the driver market for 2020. If thy want to entice Alonso to the vacant seat they need to show that the project is going in the right direction. Alonso would not want to be fighting at th mid/rear of the grid.. (dont forget the Mclaren-Honda debacle)
Theyh have a decent budget and the drivers (for this year) to make it work. Lets see if they can.
Tiller: 5th, Riccardo to outscore Ocon, but solid performances from the Frenchman
Coops: A solid 5th place
Danny: 5th Ocon to do well but not outscore Riccardo
Spunge: Not sure of the placing, but behind Mclaren. Riccardo and Ocon to come together during the season.
Gary: 5th or 6th