300 races, 19 seasons and 35 race victories amassed by talents such as Rene Arnoux, Alain Prost and Fernando Alonso, amounting to two drivers titles both claimed by the latter. Renault is a works team with an illustrious history and with us F1 fans being a nostalgic bunch, their return to the grid in 2016 is significant.
Now back at the Enstone base where they enjoyed title success in 2005 and 2006, the French marque will hope that they can rekindle that achievement over a stint in the sport which will span until 2024 at least.
Rekindling the glory days is certainly not going to be the work of a moment and 2016 will certainly be a challenge – or a transitional year – depending on who you ask. The recently unveiled RS16 has been built by the Enstone squad over the past 12 months as an evolution of the E23.
Given that Lotus spent much of the last season skimming from race to race on a shoestring budget, technical development was surely starved of funding in favour of actually reaching Abu Dhabi with a team still in-tact, meaning that the RS16 is likely to be under-developed when compared against the work completed by rivals.
In addition, the class-leading Mercedes powerunit which Enstone enjoyed in 2015 will be replaced by Renault in 2016. Their V6 is still lacking in the power stakes compared with both Mercedes and indeed Ferrari. To compound matters, the RS16 chassis has been designed with a Mercedes powerunit in mind, meaning that the team are somewhat forced to fit a Renault engine into a Mercedes sized space. Not ideal when chassis and engine integration is so key in the current formula.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for Renault in their first year back as a manufacturer outfit. With Pastor Maldonado’s PDVSA sponsorship money drying up, Kevin Magnussen has been given a rare second chance to demonstrate his talent in F1. The Dane has been drafted in after a year in the wilderness as a result of being dropped by McLaren following a solid if not spectacular rookie campaign at McLaren.
Magnussen joins Jolyon Palmer, the 2014 GP2 Champion, at the team. The Englishman was hired by Lotus after impressing on numerous FP1 outings as their reserve driver last season. While Palmer may not have been chosen by Renault specifically, both he and Magnussen have found themselves in a magnificent position. Seats at a works team who have committed enormous resources to compete and win in the sport long term.
An opportunity that neither can afford to waste, given that higher profile names including former champions could easily be knocking on the door in the future as Renault reestablish themselves.
Winning – an Expectation
With Renault committed to the sport until 2024, a full four years more than the likes of Mercedes, they simply have to make the project work. Returning as a works team and investing a not-so-small-fortune is a commercial exercise and the motorsport proverb “what wins on a Sunday sells on a Monday” must have been on Carlos Ghosn’s mind when he signed on the dotted line.
Renault have not received the exposure they desired as a successful engine manufacturer. When they powered Red Bull to title successes in four consecutive season’s, Newey’s chassis dominated conversation and Renault’s achievements paled into insignificance. It was only when Red Bull subsequently struggled that attention turned to the power supply.
However, the negative press will only be curtailed when Renault start to taste champagne again. Being beaten by rival car manufacturers Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda will only serve to damage their reputation further.
Ghosn has been smart to quell short term ambitions, highlighting that he only expects podiums to arrive during year three of the project. Managing expectations is just what McLaren Honda should have done twelve months ago. It would still have been a painful 2015 campaign for them, but one that fans and the media alike were braced for. In this instance, Renault have provided a sensible brief ahead of the new season.
Regardless, they have joined McLaren Honda and Ferrari as team’s that must topple Mercedes at some point, which adds to the fascination of the sport. Manufacturers add to the challenge of F1, bringing funds, technology and providing the independent teams with another Goliath to defeat.
Thanks Mr. Ghosn for allowing Renault to come and play.