The RS17 is an important car for Renault. After limping through 2016, clearly healing the wounds suffered by the financially beleaguered Enstone outfit throughout 2015, this season marks the first true signpost of their rank among F1’s other manufacturers.
Curiously, Renault Sport President Jerome Stoll offered a specific target for the season during the launch of the new car in London on Tuesday. “Since we have for the first time a car that has been developed by us, we expect to be fifth in the championship,” he stated.
Optimistic or pessimistic?
I’d say it’s a very clever approach to a very important season…
Manufacturer backing is like a silver bullet to an F1 outfit. The injection of funds and expertise will usually see an ‘on par’ team transformed into a winning machine.
Renault’s takeover of Lotus and the Enstone team at the end of 2015 was, admittedly, always going to be a long-term investment rather than a quick win, given the financial constraints that had crippled the team. As such, 2016 was a difficult campaign, where points finishes were seldom possible.
However, I feel like I’ve been watching a midfield team rather than recovering manufacturer. Frederic Vasseur’s decision to leave the team has only cemented my concerns for Renault’s prospects.
After key player Kimi Raikkonen signed a contract extension to keep him at Ferrari for 2016, the 2015 silly season was somewhat of a non-event, with the driver market remaining largely static. So far, this season has more than made up for last year’s deficit.
The rumour mill has been in overdrive over the past few months, with enormous speculation surrounding seats at Force India, Renault, Manor and Sauber. As always, a case of too many drivers vying for too few seats.
Lead time on engine development is always longer than chassis improvement but Red Bull’s 2015 campaign is somewhat dependent on a power-pack boost. Some promising dyno testing at Renault’s Viry-Chatillon headquarters has suggested that relief for the two Red Bull teams is incoming, but as Christian Horner has expressed, the team needed the upgrade “yesterday”. Will pressure from the partners see the supplier press fast-forward on the updates.
As one of the most recognisable brands in the world, Red Bull are accustomed to building bridges with business partners, but over the past few months, relations between them and their F1 engine supplier Renault have become fractious. With the engine manufacturer’s future in the sport being a debate topic, it seems that Red Bull are looking to smooth over the cracks, with Dr Helmut Marko suggesting that Toro Rosso’s livery could be an area in which Renault can receive improved exposure. In other words, get more ‘bang’ for their F1 ‘buck’