Cyril Abiteboul: Hulkenberg ‘instrumental’ in Renault’s on-going reconstruction

Renault’s team principal Cyril Abiteboul has praised out-going Nico Hulkenberg, describing him as ‘instrumental’ in the team’s on-going reconstruction and progression.

Hulkenberg has been unable to secure a seat for the 2020 season, meaning that the race in Abu Dhabi this weekend will be his final curtain call in F1, for the time being at least.

Numerous rumours have swirled about what the future holds for him. He held talks with Haas and Alfa Romeo, but both teams opted to retain Romain Grosjean and Antonio Giovinazzi respectively.

Links have also been made to seats in DTM and IndyCar, but Hulkenberg himself has shot these ideas down.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault F1 Team RS19 on the grid.
Brazilian Grand Prix, Sunday 17th November 2019. Sao Paulo, Brazil.

His first race in F1 was all the way back in 2010 when he drove for Williams, securing a maiden pole position in tricky conditions in Brazil at the end of the year.

That pole position, though, has been the highlight of an F1 career that has seen him fail to secure even a single podium finish. In fact, Hulkenberg holds the record for the most F1 races entered without a podium.

He joined Renault in 2017, and team principal Cyril Abiteboul has praised Hulkenberg’s efforts in the team’s rebuilding process.

“His contribution has been instrumental in our reconstruction and progression,” Abiteboul said. “We have harnessed his experience and ability to deliver strong results and he has played an important role in Renault’s Formula 1 journey. We want to ensure we end our time together with the best result possible.”

Renault had finished ninth out of eleven teams in the Constructors’ Championship in 2016 prior to Hulkenberg joining, but he helped them better that result to sixth in 2017 and then to fourth in 2018.

2019, though, has been more difficult. Renault are just about clinging onto fifth place going into Abu Dhabi with Toro Rosso just eight points behind them thanks to Pierre Gasly’s podium finish in Brazil.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault F1 Team at turn 1.
Brazilian Grand Prix, Thursday 14th November 2019. Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Hulkenberg himself crashed out of a potential podium back in Germany, leaving him to wonder what could have been but nonetheless appreciative of the good times he has experienced with the team.

“The season has admittedly had its fair share of ups and downs,” he said. “Obviously, my seventh-place finish in Australia was a positive way to kick start the season for us, and the results we delivered in Canada, and later Monza, shows the progress we’ve made on tracks where a strong power unit is essential. Overall, I would say we’ve learnt a lot and can be confident of finishing the season well in Abu Dhabi.

“It’s been three memorable years for me at Renault. There have been highs and lows, but I’ve enjoyed my time as a driver here. We’ve had some great results and some ‘nearly’ moments, all of which I’ll remember for a very long time.”

 

[Featured image – Renault F1 Team]

Bottas stays at Mercedes, Renault sign Ocon

Renault and Mercedes have kick-started the 2020 driver market by announcing their driver lineups for next year at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Mercedes made the first move by announcing on Thursday morning that they had exercised their option to keep Valtteri Bottas for a fourth consecutive season with the team.

Bottas said: “I am very happy and proud to be part of the team for a fourth season and wish to thank every team member and the board of Mercedes for their trust and belief in me.

“My performances have been getting better and better each year, and this is a great way to kick start the second half of 2019.”

Team boss Toto Wolff said he had resigned Bottas for “another season at least”, and praised his contribution to Mercedes’ successes since 2017 as “exemplary”.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Shortly after, Renault announced that it had signed Esteban Ocon for 2020, with the Frenchman free to join the team after being denied a potential Mercedes drive by Bottas.

Ocon joins Renault on a multi-year deal and will replace Nico Hülkenberg, who will leave the French marque after three seasons.

Ocon had previously been part of the Renault stable as their test and reserve driver in 2016, when he took part in four free practice outings in the RS16. Before arriving in Formula One, he was also a member of the Enstone-based Lotus junior programme.

Renault F1 Media

Speaking about joining Renault, Ocon said: “First and foremost, I am very proud to become a Renault driver. I have grown up at Enstone, starting with Lotus in 2010 and then with Renault. I am very attached to this team and everyone who works there; they are the ones who opened the doors of top level motorsport for me.

“Secondly, I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1.”

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul paid tribute to the departing Hülkenberg’s work at the team, calling him “a pillar” of Renault’s progress since rejoining F1 in 2016.

Speaking on Twitter, Hülkenberg called it “a pity” to be leaving Renault at the end of the season, and added that he is “confident” about being on the 2020 grid but has “nothing to announce at the moment”. He is widely tipped to join Haas, after Gunther Steiner confirmed on Thursday that Hülkenberg is on the American team’s shortlist to partner Kevin Magnussen.

Renault F1 Media

Renault, Ricciardo, and the season so far

Daniel Ricciardo’s decision to exchange his Red Bull wings for a Renault Sport beret for 2019 surprised many. Ricciardo began his F1 career back in 2011, racing with Toro Rosso and Red Bull for nine years and showing his abilities with bold overtakes, clean racing, and a grin visible even when wearing a helmet.

Ricciardo’s decision to leave Red Bull was hard news for some. With two strong drivers in that team during the 2018 season, it was becoming increasingly difficult to say who, between Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, held the number one seat.

This isn’t, of course, the first time a talented driver has taken the decision to move to a less-successful team in the hope of making some big improvements. The most recent success story was, of course, Lewis Hamilton’s decision to leave McLaren for Mercedes in 2013. The rest, they say, is somewhat monotonous history.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team on the drivers parade.
Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday 9th June 2019. Montreal, Canada.

But why did Ricciardo leave for Renault?

Although Renault have a rich and varied history in Formula 1, their success in recent years has been hit-and-miss. After a few years taking places in the middle of the grid, the decision to sign Nico Hulkenberg for the 2017 season allowed for Renault to become a slightly more permanent fixture in the top ten in qualifying.

Renault’s confidence seems to have been boosted a great deal by Ricciardo’s signing, describing Ricciardo and Hulkenberg as ‘one of the strongest – if not the strongest – driver line-ups on the grid’. The fact that the two Renault drivers are particularly talented is undeniable, which makes it a shame that Ricciardo’s first season with the team has lacked the strength they had initially hoped for.

It has been a slow start for all parties involved, riddled by technical faults, friendly fire and gearbox failures, which resulted in four DNFs so far this season. The Canadian Grand Prix proved to be a great opportunity for Renault, after Kevin Magnussen’s crash in Q2 kept Verstappen out of Q3 and opened the door for Ricciardo to qualify fourth, his best starting position since joining Renault.

Despite this promise, though, the race didn’t result in a podium finish. Ricciardo and Hulkenberg finished P6 and P7 respectively, which is respectable enough. However, Renault’s decision to keep Hulkenberg behind Ricciardo despite Hulkenberg being on fresher tyres seems to have caused a bit of disharmony in the garage.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team RS19 celebrates at the end of the race.
Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday 9th June 2019. Montreal, Canada.

According to team boss Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s position in the Constructors Championship proved more important on this occasion.

“I wanted to make sure that the team’s back in the game, and the drivers will also be back in the game, their own game, from next week onwards,” he said.

Renault are currently 5th in the Constructors Championship, having jumped up from 8th thanks to their result in Canada. They now sit just two points behind McLaren, so it seems that the the temporary self-preservation tactic paid off.

Though Renault’s season has been a little slow to get started, Ricciardo’s optimism hasn’t waned.

“We’re realistic in our approach, but the team should be proud of this weekend [Canada],” he said. “They have that drive and determination to push on now and that’s really encouraging.”

As the Formula 1 train pushes on to Circuit Paul Ricard in France this weekend, it is hoped that Ricciardo and Renault’s fortune will continue on for their home race. Ricciardo’s move to Renault has allowed for that little bit more variety and action in the middle of the pack, something that fans argue has been quite limited in recent seasons.

 

[Featured image – Renault F1 Team]

Hamilton clinches pole in Monaco after disappointing qualifying for Ferrari

It was a dry but overcast afternoon in Monaco and, as the green light went out in Q1, eighteen of the drivers took to the Circuit de Monaco in a bid to claim pole position.

Monaco is a tight street circuit, so many choose to set competitive times early to avoid being caught out by a yellow or red flag. Early lap times are crucial at this track.

Both Red Bulls of Gasly and Verstappen sat in the garage at the beginning of Q1, with Verstappen’s car being pulled apart and swiftly put back together. Whatever issues he had seemed to have been fixed as he exited the garage.

Leclerc struggled to set a good lap time at the start of the session,  having been held up by Lance Stroll. Hulkenberg almost ran into Giovinazzi in a very similar situation at turn 18, with the pair being put under investigation for the incident.

Verstappen had the initial time to beat, three tenths quicker than defending world champion Lewis Hamilton. Leclerc was in third, with Alex Albon sitting in an impressive fourth place for Toro Rosso.

Hamilton also seemed to struggle, as replays showed the Mercedes driver locking up going into the chicane. After a bit of a scrappy lap, his teammate Bottas managed to set the pace with a 1:11.562.

Steve Etherington

Leclerc then missed the weighbridge procedure, as did Perez and Hulkenberg. All were investigated after qualifying came to a close for the infringements.

Vettel clipped the barrier at the Swimming Pool exit before pitting and returning to the track to set a competitive time. The Ferraris were cutting it fine in P17 and P15 as the chequered flag came out.

After topping the session in FP3, Leclerc dropped out of the session in a disappointing P16 at his home Grand Prix, having been left in the garage by Ferrari as the session came to a close. It was a costly and frustrating mistake which resulted in Leclerc falling behind traffic on his final attempt. Joining Leclerc in the drop-zone were Perez, Stroll, Russell and Kubica.

Both Mercedes went out at the beginning of Q2, with Bottas setting a new track record and Hamilton struggling to match the pace of his teammate in P3 behind Verstappen. Hamilton quickly managed to slot into second spot.

Several drivers made minor mistakes throughout the session, including Magnussen who clipped the wall going into Mirabeau as his Haas struggled to find grip.

With five minutes remaining in Q2, all drivers bar Verstappen went out to set their quickest laps. Verstappen sat in P1 in front of both Silver Arrows as the session ended with Hulkenberg, Norris, Grosjean, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in the elimination zone. Grosjean was majorly unhappy with P13 after having been held up by the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly, who was then put under investigation for the incident.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Both Alfa Romeo cars had a disappointing session after showing great pace in free practice, finishing in P14 and P15.

Vettel sat in P4, followed by Kevin Magnussen and both Toro Rossos. Gasly sat in P8 with Daniel Ricciardo behind in P9. Rounding out the top 10 was McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.

The final part of qualifying got underway as all ten drivers took to the track on soft compound tyres. Valtteri Bottas set the initial pace with a staggering 1:10.257, four tenths ahead of Max Verstappen in second position.

Hamilton initially made a mistake going into the chicane which meant his first lap had to be aborted, but he managed to slot into P2 on his second run, two tenths behind his teammate.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo made a risky decision to go for only one flying lap in the session and managed P6.

Sebastian Vettel made a late mistake and ran into the barrier at Tabac, but he didn’t sustain any damage.

After a flawless performance throughout qualifying by Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton pipped his teammate as the chequered flag came out, clinching pole position by half a tenth from Bottas.

Behind, Max Verstappen lined up P3 followed by Sebastian Vettel in P4, Gasly, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Sainz, and Albon.

It was certainly an interesting session with several cars being investigated for impeding the regulations throughout the afternoon. It was another dominant session by Mercedes, but an extremely disappointing day for Ferrari who will have to rethink their strategy for tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix. What’s more, with a 60% chance of rain, it certainly seems as if the race could be full of surprises.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Renault launch 2019 F1 contender

Renault have revealed their 2019 F1 contender, the R.S.19, becoming the fourth team to do so thus far.

The car features largely the same livery as its predecessor, save for a touch more yellow around the rear wing and on the inside of the front wing endplates.

Underneath the similar exterior, however, Renault claim that only the R.S.19’s power steering system bears any resemblance to their 2018 car, with the other components undergoing a radical overhaul in a search for extra performance. The changes visible in the images released online centre around those mandated by the 2019 regulations, and include the larger rear wing and simplified front wing.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Underneath the bodywork, particular focus was paid by Renault to their power unit, building on the promise shown by the C-spec engine used by Red Bull in the tail end of last season, in the hopes that Renault can begin to close the gulf between itself and the ‘big three’ of Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull, and start to challenge for podiums.

2018 was Renault’s most successful season in F1 since their return to the sport as a works team, and it resulted in a fourth-place finish in the constructors’ championship. The team will be hoping that the R.S.19 will continue that momentum, with the signing of Daniel Ricciardo to partner Nico Hulkenberg – who enters his third year with Renault – a real statement of intent.

The announcement of Ricciardo’s move from Red Bull to Renault was one of the biggest stories of last year, and both Ricciardo and Hulkenberg have spoken of relishing the prospect of racing against one another as team-mates. It is a battle that is definitely worth keeping an eye on as the year progresses.

 

 

F1 2019: Five early predictions for the new season

The 2019 F1 season is almost upon us, with winter testing starting in a couple of weeks and the Australian Grand Prix commencing next month. It’s the perfect time for five early predictions, some of which are pretty long shots.

 

1. Charles Leclerc will take three wins

Ferrari has a new kid on the block. Charles Leclerc spent his rookie season at Sauber, but from 2019 it’s time for his dream to come true. That could prove to be immensely stressful for the young Monegasque, but he may rise to the occasion and even take some wins. If Ferrari is at least on the same level as it was in 2018, then Leclerc could be able to snatch one, two, or even threewins in his first season with a big team, cementing his position at Maranello and proving his talent once again.

 

2. Nico Hulkenberg will take his first podium

It’s something of a mystery how Nico Hulkenberg, a driver who has been in teams with podium potential, has never finished in the top three. But, with Renault constantly improving and with a bit of luck (after all, it is needed as well), the Hulk could finally take that podium finish he truly deserves.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault Sport F1 Team on the grid.
German Grand Prix, Sunday 22nd July 2018. Hockenheim, Germany.

 

3. Red Bull-Honda will not be in the top three

The all-new collaboration between Red Bull and Honda is one of the hottest topics ahead of the new season, and rightfully so. Honda has proven to be a bit of a ‘wild one’, especially on the reliability front, and Red Bull could be its next victim. Everyone acknowledges the fact that Red Bull is great in designing an aerodymanically efficient car (Adrian Newey is still the best out there), but this could not be enough for them to stay in the top three. Maybe Renault could step up…

 

4. Alfa Romeo Racing will be in the top five

The Alfa Romeo-Sauber collaboration worked out perfectly for both sides during the 2018 campaign, with the team finishing seventh in the final standings. Now, with the all-new Alfa Romeo branding, Kimi Raikkonen on board and excellent technical staff, the prospect of them finishing in the top five is not such an absurd thought. After all, the backing from ‘sister’ team Ferrari is certain and could prove vital.

Charles Leclerc, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd20, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 11 November 2018.

 

5. Mercedes will not be champions

Finally, the most bold of these predictions sees Mercedes not taking its sixth world championship in a row as a constryctor. Maybe Lewis Hamilton will be the drivers’ champion, but his team may be hurt by Valtteri Bottas’ incompetence. Ferrari has, on paper at least, a strong line-up, and so does Red Bull and Renault (if we count the French team as a real threat), so Mercedes is really on the ropes on this one.

 

Less than 40 days remain until the season opener in Albert Park, and the nine-month journey around the world begins for the F1 circus.

 

[Featured image: Ferrari Media]