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.
Forget Donald Trump’s big news, the F1 driver market cauldron has been stirred again today, with Jolyon Palmer becoming the latest to throw his cap on a 2017 seat. The Briton will remain at Renault, partnering Nico Hulkenberg at the French marque.
It’s a fascinating development. Palmer had been widely tipped for the Enstone exit door in recent weeks, with the team supposedly favouring Kevin Magnussen for the seat. However, the Dane now seems bound for Haas, therefore allowing Palmer a route back into the frame.
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.
Monaco marked the first appearance of the purple marked ultrasoft Pirelli tyre at a race weekend. Introduced at the start of this season and initially billed as a qualifying tyre, the compound seems decidedly similar to a supersoft in both pace and longevity. An assertion supported by Haas and Renault’s decision to take just soft and ultrasoft tyres to the Canadian Grand Prix, avoiding the supersoft completely.
Daniel Ricciardo certainly capitalised on home advantage last weekend, as he took his Red Bull RB12 to fourth position. However, being in Australia had no bearing on the power output of the TAG Heuer branded Renault powertrain, as Ricciardo was seemingly able to compete on the straights – something the team have been unable to do in this era of the sport.
Having finished just 24 seconds off the lead despite being on a decidedly compromised strategy, Red Bull seem set for a stronger 2016 campaign.
Rosberg capitalises on Ferrari’s strategic mistake
The 2016 F1 season is underway and some things never change. Mercedes achieved their second consecutive Australian Grand Prix one-two finish, while Sebastian Vettel occupied the final step of the podium for Ferrari. However, read only the final result at your peril, as this year’s season opener was a thriller. With Ferrari matching their pre-season performance and challenging Mercedes down to the wire, it is game on in 2016.