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Are Renault contenders or pretenders?

Renault should build their team around Nico Hulkenberg. (Gil Abrantes / Flickr)
Roar Guru
23rd April, 2018
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While Nico Hulkenberg’s 2018 campaign has been a model of consistency, Renault has failed to captivate.

Hulkenberg has lined up seventh at each of the three races – extending his mortgage on this starting position to six races dating to the final three events in 2017. The German converted this to a seventh and pair of sixth places, to sit level with Fernando Alonso at sixth in the drivers’ standings on 22 points following the Chinese Grand Prix.

Yet, teammate Carlos Sainz’s indifferent form at the opening events, coupled with better outright speed demonstrated by Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean until their demise and McLaren’s Alonso at Australia, leaves the French manufacturer trailing McLaren in the constructors’ standings.

Sainz joined the Enstone outfit for the final four races last season, and despite both Renaults reaching Q3 at each outing in 2018, the Spaniard has been unable to string together one lap pace to match Hulkenberg. The 23-year-old has been outshone by the latter since claiming seventh on his debut with Renault at the United States Grand Prix, and boasts just three points in the current campaign.

Carlos Sainz Jr

Carlos Sainz Jr (Olaf Pignataro/Red Bull Content Pool)

Renault’s chief technical officer, Bob Bell, believes the relatively disappointing yield to date is owed to a lack of creativity, remarking that “we weren’t as smart as they were over the winter in designing and developing the car.”

This could be attributed to a conservatism which isn’t exhibited by the established order of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. Yet Bell, who concedes that the aforementioned outfits maintain “the edge when it comes to doing a new car”, argues the triumvirate are closer to peaking as a result of “a law of diminishing returns”.

“We have an easier path to finding benefits than they do,” Bell said.

Still, as the French manufacturer enters its third season since returning to the grid, podiums – if not victories – should be on the horizon.

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These achievements were admittedly more realistic in the 2000s, but those in Paris will be growing impatient for a return on its investment, with its Formula E representation switching to Nissan.

Directly tied to the previous point is the omnipresent spectre of Formula One’s future beyond 2020, with the greater share of resources to be diverted towards the forthcoming regulations no sooner than the framework is settled upon.

Managing director Cyril Abiteboul recently called for an engine freeze, reasoning his desire not “to have the burden of developing two engines in parallel”.

An expedient stance, though with the essence of the current 1.6 litre V6 turbo configuration set to continue into the sport’s next era – permitting a relatively seamless transition on the power front – there is scarce leverage for excuses if objectives aren’t met.

Some might observe that as long as Hulkenberg is on its books fourth is the optimal result, on account of the German’s inexplicable lack of a podium appearance from 138 starts. But the 30-year-old remains the right man to restore Renault to its former glory – at least for now.

Renault’s upswing since 2016 has been impressive, and it says a lot that its performance is being placed under a microscope. Yet as a manufacturer, expectations are enhanced, thus the coming 12 months will provide a crucial insight into its ongoing prospects.

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