Why Daniel Ricciardo’s podium represents more than 15 points for Renault

Vindication. That was the first word that came to mind when Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line and secured a podium finish for Renault at last weekend’s Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

Ricciardo celebrates his podium with his team – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

The Australian, who will also have a prodigious sense of justification following his move to the team last year, secured his first podium since 2018. It was the French team’s first top-three result under the Renault name since Nick Heidfeld at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix, when the German deputised for the injured Robert Kubica. But Renault’s return in 2016, taking over from the struggling Lotus brand, was supposed to be the start of a brand new era; the beginning of a glorious success story; the joyful culmination of a story of struggle.

But just eight points between 2016 drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer was the crash down to earth that the Parisian name was not expecting – along with the rest of the F1 paddock. The manufacturer that had powered 168 wins in Formula One history has experienced a bruising reality check.

But they have come close – Nico Hulkenberg was denied in Singapore 2017 when he lost air pressure in his engine, and in 2019 when he crashed out of his home Grand Prix at Hockenheim. This was a result that was going to come – Renault were always going to persist – but nobody quite thought it would be four years after their return that they would eventually achieve a top three finish.

They had to watch Carlos Sainz, their former driver, take a podium for McLaren in Brazil – the Woking team beating Renault to this achievement, and let’s not forget: McLaren are powered by Renault engines.

Even earlier this year, Lando Norris and Sainz both earned podium finishes for the papaya team, inspired by the unstoppable spirit of their founder Bruce McLaren – the New Zealander who, in his time, once became the youngest ever race winner in F1.

Former Renault driver Carlos Sainz has now managed two podiums since leaving the Renault – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

This podium will also be of great personal pride to team principle Cyril Abiteboul. The Frenchman has had a storied history with the manufacturer of his nationality. He led the Caterham team in 2013 and 2014 before it went bust, and had already acted as Deputy Director of Renault Sport F1 until 2012. At this point, Renault supplied Caterham, Lotus and, of course, the revered Red Bull team. The engine of immense significance to Abiteboul, a former engineer himself, was in the middle of powering the Milton-Keynes-based outfit to four consecutive world championships with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber between 2010 and 2013.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his third world championship in a Renault-powered Red Bull – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Having seen the success, both with his team and as an individual having had the opportunity to lead Caterham, he witnessed the sudden, and very stark downfall.

Caterham ran out of finances at the back end of 2014, and were forced to fold. Abiteboul’s very own team had been taken from him almost as quickly as it had been presented. He returned to Renault, and continued his occupation as Director of Renault sport. Bad, however, went to worse.

In 2014, the turn of the hybrid era had brought Red Bull’s world crashing down, and they were no longer the dominant force they were, In spite of Ricciardo’s impressive three wins that season, Abiteboul had returned to a largely unsuccessful engine supplier, and some extremely unhappy customers.

Red Bull flattered to deceive in 2014 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Lotus, who had also hit the mud in 2014, jumped ship and asked for Mercedes engines for 2015, with the German manufacturer and now world champions obliging. Red Bull’s fortunes worsened that season, and tensions rose massively between Abiteboul and Red Bull boss Christian Horner. Red Bull were unable to find a different supplier for 2016, and agreed to continue paying Renault for Power Units. There was, however, a catch. The Renault name was not to make an appearance on the car henceforth, with the former champions opting instead to sport the Tag Heur brand.

A few wins but plenty of reliability failures later throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018 spelled the end for Renault’s journey with Red Bull. In 2018, Christian Horner made the almost absurd decision to switch to Honda power for 2019, after comments throughout the year which had enraged Abiteboul.

But there was a counter to Horner’s decision. Renault had acquired the services of a driver who had grown tired of playing second fiddle to his team mate – that driver’s name was Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.

Ricciardo made the brave switch from Red Bull to Renault for the 2019 season – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Renault’s situation, having been improving to the extent of a fourth placed championship finish in 2018, once again fell the following season. While they had to watch Red Bull win races with Honda engines, Renault fell behind McLaren and were emphatically knocked back into the midfield.

Ricciardo and new team mate Esteban Ocon have enjoyed a positive start to the 2020 season – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

This year though, things are on the up. New-boy Esteban Ocon has been showing signs of improvement following his year out, and the Renault PU is proving to be battling with Honda for the second-quickest motor on the grid. They are quicker than Ferrari, and though they may be fifth in the championship, they are level on pace with McLaren and Racing Point and very much eyeing third in the championship this time around.

The signs are pointing to better times ahead for Renault, and as well as a tattoo for Abiteboul, this podium represents the start of an upwards journey and, finally, the road to success for the soon-to-be Alpine F1 Team.

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]

Ricciardo confident Renault “heading in the right direction” despite early problems

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo says he is confident the team are “heading in the right direction”, despite the problems he has suffered in the first few races of the 2019 season.

Ricciardo has suffered two DNFs in two races, retiring from his home Grand Prix in Australia as a result of damage sustained when his front wing was broken at the start of the race, and then grinding to a halt on lap 53 of the Bahrain Grand Prix due to a loss of power.

Despite this, Ricciardo still believes that there are signs of promise and was buoyed by a positive showing in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team RS19.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Saturday 30th March 2019. Sakhir, Bahrain.

“I’m certainly getting there in terms of extracting the maximum [from the car] and getting more comfortable,” he said. “These things do take time, but it’s good to iron out these details going forward. We’ll get there soon and sure enough and I’m confident we’re heading in the right direction.”

Renault have identified a certain pattern in their performance over the course of the weekend, and Ricciardo says it’s just a matter of the team finding their feet and delivering on the potential of the car.

“We showed signs [of pace] over the race weekend, going from a struggle on Friday, followed by an improvement on Saturday to being in and amongst it on Sunday.

“The car clearly has pace, but for me, it’s about finding all of it. I feel there’s a lot more to come.”

(L to R): Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team with Cyril Abiteboul (FRA) Renault Sport F1 Managing Director.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday 29th March 2019. Sakhir, Bahrain.

Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul shared a similar sentiment. “The start of the 2019 season has fallen short of our high expectations,” he said. “Our overall competitiveness is good enough for our drivers to be racing in the top ten and closer to the top teams than last year, but we have suffered from reliability issues.

“We move onto China with caution, but also with a resolution to really get the season going.”

 

[Featured image – Renault F1 Team]

Renault driver line-up ‘perhaps the strongest on the grid’ according to Abiteboul

Renault’s managing director Cyril Abiteboul has said he believes the team’s 2019 line-up of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo to be ‘perhaps the strongest on the grid’.

Ricciardo will be making his Renault race debut at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix alongside Hulkenberg, who starts his third year with the team, and Abiteboul is optimistic about what the pairing can deliver.

“The first race of the year, the Australian Grand Prix, is a high point of the season,” Abiteboul said, “but even more so this year as Daniel Ricciardo makes his race debut for the team. We head there united and with strong determination.

“We have a new car that has shown potential in Barcelona. The power unit has made progress and or driver line-up of Daniel and Nico is perhaps the strongest on the grid. We’re looking forward to seeing them showcasing their experience and talent on track. There is a lot of expectation for the first race, especially with Daniel’s debut for the team coming at his home Grand Prix.”

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault Sport F1 Team RS19.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Friday 1st March 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

Ricciardo announced his shock move from Red Bull – where he had been since 2014 and with whom he had won seven Grand Prix – at the Belgian Grand Prix of last year. The Australian, too, is positive about the prospect of racing for his new team, even if it is unlikely they will be at the same performance level as Red Bull immediately.

“My first impressions, on a whole, have been positive,” Ricciardo said, “and we’ll continue to learn more throughout these early races. It’s going to take some time to get used to everything, but that’s not unexpected.

“We’re realistic in our approach and we have work to do. We have a decent platform to build on now and we always strive for better. We’ve found some things during testing which we’ll dissect and see what we want to take forward, but our bigger steps will come during the next few months.”

 

[Featured image – Renault Sport F1 Team]