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]

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]

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]

Daniel Ricciardo: Renault “have to keep a cool head” after difficult Australian GP qualifying

Daniel Ricciardo says Renault “have to keep a cool head” going into tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix, despite a difficult qualifying that saw both of the team’s drivers fail to reach Q3.

Ricciardo missed out by the narrowest of margins and will start his home race in P12, just one position behind his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.

“I’m clearly disappointed not to make Q3,” Ricciardo said, “especially as it was just half a tenth and that’s something I can find in myself – I lost a bit of time in the first sector on the last run. We had the potential to make Q3 so when you don’t do the perfect lap, it’s frustrating.

“As expected the midfield is really close but I’m feeling optimistic for a strong result tomorrow. I always want to do well at home, but we have to keep a cool head, have a good start and then attack when necessary.”

Renault’s Sporting Director Alan Permane added, “We thought [Ricciardo] had another couple of tenths which would have put him safely into the top ten. We therefore have a little bit of work to do tomorrow, but with the good long run pace we demonstrated yesterday, we are aiming to make up for today and get both cars well into the points.”

 

[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]

Top ten F1 test liveries

It’s that time of the year – no, we’re not talking about the climate: no, this is about that special time when the garages are open, the engines are growling and racing tracks are once again put to good use.

But even earlier than this week, we had a few shakedown tests. The prequel to the pre-season, if you will. And two teams decided to treat us to some special liveries to mark the occasion – Red Bull and Alfa Romeo both ran unique testing liveries, masking their cars’ intricacies while offering the fans a welcome shot of variety.

But with them both joining the long line of testing liveries, can they be considered to be up there with the best of them? We’ll be ranking our top ten favourite test liveries, from eras far gone to the present day.

10 – Renault, 2002 pre-season testing

When we think back to Renault’s F1 beginnings, the original turbo era comes to mind. Alain Prost, unreliability, and yellow, white and black liveries were the main elements of Renault’s roots.

To celebrate their finally outright owning an F1 team for the first time since then the French manufacturer paid homage to their old-style liveries (no black though). Basic yet sleek, it would eventually be spruced up with dashes of blue.

9 – BAR, 2006 Friday running

Alright, so this one isn’t actually pre-season testing. But this unique 555 livery (part of British American Tobacco, team owners) replacing the usual Lucky Strike branding was a splendid sight to see.

It was used for Friday practice running, when third cars were permitted to be used by certain teams – Anthony Davidson was running the car in these colours at the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix.

8 – Red Bull, 2015 pre-season testing

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Red Bull are no strangers to this ‘unique livery’ thing – they’ve done it four times now, and that’s excluding the one-off liveries they’ve tried out for size in races (the stunning Wings For Life designs in particular).

This black-and-white camo livery for 2015 was never going to be used full-time, as it was intended to hide important aspects of the car away from prying eyes. Not that it was all that useful, at least in this case; Red Bull came fourth in the 2015 standings.

7 – Spyker, 2007 pre-season testing

Spyker’s one-season stint in F1 may not have been bright, but their originally intended test livery certainly was. The strongest of orange tones, the Spyker in anything nearing sunny weather ended up looking red – not the result Spyker wanted.

The faux-Ferrari paint job was thrown to the scrapheap, in favour of a lighter shade of orange that would perfectly showcase the team’s Dutch flair. Fun Fact: they once led a race, Markus Winkelhock in the 2007 European Grand Prix.

6 – Williams, 2014 pre-season testing

Williams, for the last five years, have adorned a striking white Martini livery. It’s easy to forget that the Grove outfit’s adopted colour is actually blue – last seen on 2014’s barnstorming FW36.

The Martini deal was still to be negotiated when 2014 testing commenced, and so Williams ran this simple yet fetching dark blue design, signalling a back to basics approach that propelled the team back to the top of the grid. If they’ll ever get there again, we’ll have to see…

5 – Alfa Romeo, 2019 shakedown

One of the two unique new designs we saw break this week, Alfa Romeo Racing’s hearts and clovers paint scheme was a reference to both Valentine’s Day and the team’s historic emblem.

The Hinwil-based team, finally ditching the iconic Sauber name for 2019, are hoping to make progress on their promising 2018 campaign. With a radical new design, maybe those hearts adorning it in the shakedown with foreshadow a lovely season ahead.

4 – McLaren, 2005 pre-season testing

McLaren brought back the iconic papaya colour schemes back full-time in 2017, but for many years the paint job was only used for test outings, like their 2005 title contender, MP4-20.

The striking presence the bright papaya gave was a stark contrast to the usual chrome and black McLaren were so synonymous for running in the Mercedes era, and it was always a refreshing sight.

3 – Red Bull, 2019 shakedown

The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull, as stated earlier, are no newbies to trying out a unique testing livery. This year’s such example centered around a striking red and dark blue combo, with everything made up of camo-esque lines designed to throw off prying eyes.

It marked the dawn of the Honda era, with Red Bull breaking away from previous suppliers Renault after a 12-year partnership. Can the Japanese manufacturer bounce back from their pain with McLaren, and create a winning combo with Red Bull?

2 – Renault, 2016 pre-season testing

The 2016 pre-season marked the third time Renaut would outright own its own F1 team (funnily enough, they re-purchased the team they sold to Genii Capital in 2010). And as such, they went back to basics with their livery.

2002’s homage missed out the black; 2016’s test livery was almost nothing but. There were yellow accents, but otherwise it was a smooth black paint job. When it came to actually racing the thing, Renault simply inverted the black and yellow colours.

1 – Red Bull, 2018 shakedown

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Finding a top pick for this list was a hard one – the simplicity of the 2016 Renault, and the novelty of this year’s Red Bull were tempting, but it’s their design from last year that wins out.

The digital camo, designed in blue and grey, looks both menacing and stylish. It also compliments the car, helping to hide the halo while accentuating the main features of the body. It’s just a shame it was only used for one day…

Featured image courtesy of Getty images / RedBull Content Pool

Ricciardo a “more mature person” after 2018 difficulties

Renault’s new signing Daniel Ricciardo has said he believes he has become a “more mature person” as a result of the struggles he went through in 2018 when driving for Red Bull.

Speaking at the launch of Renault’s R.S.19, Ricciardo said, “Everything I learnt in 2018 will make me a better version of myself in 2019. The difference will be a more mature person. I have more clarity of where I’m going and I am for that to be shown with good results on track.

“I feel a lot of positive pressure and expectation to do good things, but that’s something I’m looking forward to taking on.”

Ricciardo suffered eight DNFs in 2018 thanks to mechanical failures, but still managed to take two race wins on his way to sixth in the drivers’ championship, two positions behind Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Since their return to F1 as a works team, Renault have only improved, going from ninth in the 2016 constructors’ championship to sixth in 2017 and then to fourth in 2018. Ricciardo, who will be driving alongside Nico Hulkenberg in 2019, expressed his keenness to get on with the job and help elevate the team to the next level.

“Renault has a massive history in motorsport, so to be a part of the next step of their Formula 1 journey is an exciting challenge,” he said. “I’m here to do a job on track and drive as fast as possible, but I would like to bring the team energy. I want to put a spring in everyone’s step because that’s part of my job and also my character.

“I aim to be able to get the team to work that extra bit harder, put in more effort and rally everyone together. I’d like to be a catalyst for positive energy.”

 

[Featured image – Renault Sport F1 Team]

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.

 

 

Fernando Alonso: Ups and downs in an illustrious career

Fernando Alonso is a double World Champion, the man who defeated Michael Schumacher, and a living legend of F1. However,  his career is in a constant decline, and that’s his fault.

In 2001, a young Fernando Alonso came into F1, driving for a backmarker team with a rich history, called Minardi. This was the first F1 drive for a person whose career in karting and junior series was something special. Coming from a country with next to no history in this sport, he made a name for himself, proved himself, and made it to the ‘big league’.

Right from the start, he showed his enormous talent, proving to the big teams that he would become a force to be reckoned with. He went on to become just that. For 2003 he joined Renault, the first time he raced for a good team, fighting for podiums and, in 2004, for wins too.

Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City
Friday 26 October 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST2566

Then came 2005 and 2006, arguably his best years in the business. He beat Michael Schumacher with ease, as if the German were a rookie and not a seven-time world champion. He and Renault made sure they had no obstacles in their path and they pushed through, though not without some controversy.

In fact, Alonso’s entire career is defined by controversy, either through his actions or for what he publicly (and unapologetically) proclaims. Even during his winning tenure with the French team, he was criticizing the FIA for its decisions – most famously at the Italian GP back in 2006 – or attacking Ferrari for no apparent reason. Ironically, he joined them in 2010.

This leads us to another big problem with Alonso: his mouth. As big as his talent may be, he is a man of a lot of words – most of them, unnecessary. He always thought he had the upper hand over everything because that’s how he was taught to act by a certain Flavio Briatore.

The Italian former team boss is the perennial manager of Alonso and has had a big impact on the Spaniard’s attitude since day one. He is a great leader of men, but his approach in F1 is somewhat controversial – especially after the 2008 ‘crashgate’ scandal. This translates on Fernando’s stand on things, on how he sees F1, and himself in it.

He may now be a veteran in F1, a man who has seen and done everything, but that attitude, the feeling that he can control the driver market or that he can knock on every door and have them open, is something that doesn’t know age.

Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City
Friday 26 October 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST3356

One bad choice after the other defined the second part of his career. His McLaren days in 2007 were the start of his fall, before the five-year tenure with Ferrari seal his fate as far as wins and championships are concerned.

The second stint at McLaren is the latest consequence of his decisions. He seems to be responsible for everything bad (and good) that has happened in his career. It’s a great shame that he leaves F1 with just two championships and 32 wins, but that’s what he could get with his personality, his character and the guidance he had.

This does not undermine his achievements, though. He must and will be remembered as one of the best to ever drive at an F1 track, but history will not be easy on him.

Dimitris Bizas

 

Featured image – Pirelli Media Site

Renault: Building everything from scratch.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Renault Sport F1 Team RS18.
Mexican Grand Prix, Friday 26th October 2018. Mexico City, Mexico.

Photo credits: Renault Mediacentre

2016 marked Renault’s return to Formula 1, A six year plan was put in place for the French marque’s comeback to the top of the grid. Three years into that timetable, things are going well for the team.

At the end of 2015, the Lotus team, powered by Mercedes engines, was in a constant demise. Poor results and a declining financial state had the British-Russian team on the ropes. Renault’s intention to return as a works team was rumoured around the paddock for quite some time, and on 28 September 2015, it was officially announced. The Enstone factory would be yellow again.

We have seen this scenario before, and the examples from recent history are profound. Red Bull did the same thing back in 2005, Mercedes, too, in 2010. And they all succeeded, because they all had a thorough plan.

The fact that the managerial positions in Renault are not being held by the same people anymore does not affect the fact that the French are a ‘work in progress’, with signs of improvement every single year.

Their driver line-up is improving little by little. Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen was just the beginning, although they would love to have Romain Grosjean on board, had he not left for Haas.

2017 saw Nico Hulkenberg joining the team, making him their number one driver, for some reason the German scored points on 7 occasions, finishing 10th on the standings. And for the 2018 season, Carlos Sainz joined him.

Next year Daniel Ricciardo will have the Renault badge on his chest, this shows the team’s determination to push through a really hard driver market and make the necessary moves, to ensure that it can have the drivers who will be able to extract the maximum potential out of the car. Does it ring a bell Red Bull did the same with Mark Webber firstly and Sebastian Vettel two years later; so did Mercedes with Michael Schumacher for its first ‘awkward years’ and Lewis Hamilton for its domination.

Apart from that, Cyril Abiteboul, team principal for Renault Sport, has done a fairly good job recruiting experienced and talented people at the team’s technical side. Marcin Budkowski, Ex FIA man, joined them last April, and James Allison is rumoured to make the step from Brackley to Enstone. It’s highly important for them to have staff that knows how to make the right choices and develop a championship-winning car.

2021 is the biggest chance for Renault to be in the contention for the world title. It is not an easy task, but they have already shown their progress from 2016 to 2017, and from 2017 to 2018. From 9th on the standings, they currently are 4th, having the ‘best of the rest’ car and the ‘best of the rest’ driver in Hulkenberg.

If they can continue like this, success is a matter of time.

Dimitris Bizas