Renault: “We must do better” in Silverstone

Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul has said his team “must do better” at the British Grand Prix than it has in the previous rounds in Austria and France.

The French marque endured a pointless race at the Red Bull Ring last weekend, with Nico Hülkenberg retiring due to a fiery engine failure and Carlos Sainz falling foul of tyre blistering, while in France the week before an MGU-K failure almost dropped Sainz out of the points in the closing laps.

“The sign of a good race team is the ability to react quickly and come back stronger,” Abiteboul said ahead of the British Grand Prix. “Even in the short turnaround between Austria and Silverstone, we must improve reliability, recover our more usual competitiveness level and further our understanding around tyre management.

“We know Silverstone will be a tough challenge but we will keep pushing to get back on target.”

Renault Sport F1 Team

Abiteboul added that Austria in particular was “a crash landing” after eight consecutive points for the team:

“Although the circuit did not play to our strengths, we must do better. It certainly benefited our rivals, who took advantage of three retirements in the top teams to finish higher than usual in the rankings.”

Renault remains in fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship after Austria, but their absence from the top ten meant that Haas—who finished fourth and fifth in Spielberg—closed to within 13 points in the standings, and could overtake Renault this weekend if the French team run into any more misfortune in Silverstone.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Austrian Grand Prix: Bottas Claims First Pole of the Year

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first pole position of the year, and leads a Mercedes 1-2 into tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Of the big-hitters, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had a truly clean session. Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made mistakes early on – at turn three and turn four respectively – and ended up relatively far back after the first Q3 runs had been completed. It took until the last couple of minutes for the pair to pull themselves back up the order – Hamilton ultimately qualified P2, and Vettel P3, with both pushing Kimi Raikkonen down into P4. Vettel was noted as being under investigation for allegedly impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2, but since Sainz did advance to Q3 it is uncertain whether Vettel will receive any penalty.

Red Bull had expected qualifying to be a struggle compared to Mercedes and Ferrari coming into the weekend. Max Verstappen may have qualified P5 but he was still two tenths behind Raikkonen, and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P7 behind the Haas of an impressive Romain Grosjean. Replays of team radio throughout the session indicated a certain amount of tension in the team, with Ricciardo frustrated that Verstappen did not follow orders to lead the Australian for a lap and give him a tow, as Ricciardo had done for Verstappen the lap before.

Kevin Magnussen and the two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.

Further down the order, Charles Leclerc continues to impress in the Sauber. He qualified P13 but carries a five-place grid penalty due to his gearbox needing to be changed following a stoppage on track in FP3.

Force India’s Sergio Perez had a nightmare of a session. The Mexican complained of running out of battery during his first run and of getting stuck in traffic during his second. He failed to make it out of Q1 and starts P17.

It was also a frustrating session for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Both were looking to pull themselves out of the drop-zone and into Q2, but encountered yellow flags on their flying laps when Charles Leclerc ran through the gravel trap in the final moments of Q1.

Both Mercedes and Red Bull will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix on the supersoft tyres, with all those around them starting on the ultras. Bottas will be hoping to convert pole position into a win, at the circuit where he claimed his second ever victory in 2017.

Austrian Grand Prix Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas – 1:03.130

2. Lewis Hamilton – 1:03.149

3. Sebastian Vettel – 1:03.464

4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:03.660

5. Max Verstappen – 1:03.840

6. Romain Grosjean – 1:03.892

7. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:03.996

8. Kevin Magnussen – 1:04.051

9. Carlos Sainz – 1:04.725

10. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:05.019

11. Esteban Ocon – 1:04.845

12. Pierre Gasly 0 1:04.874

13. Fernando Alonso – 1:05.058

14. Lance Stroll – 1:05.286

15. Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:05.271

16. Sergio Perez – 1:05.279

17. Sergey Sirotkin – 1:05.322

18. Charles Leclerc – 1:04.979 *5-place penalty for gearbox change

19. Brendon Hartley 1:05.366

20. Marcus Ericsson – 1:05.479

 

Update – 17:30 – Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place penalty by the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz at turn one in Q2. The German will now start P6, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to P3, Max Verstappen to P4, and Romain Grosjean to P5.

F1 testing: Ricciardo breaks lap record; Renault nears 200 laps

Daniel Ricciardo lowered the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s unofficial lap record during Wednesday’s testing session, setting a time of 1:18.047s on the new hypersoft tyre.

The Australian’s lap was more than three tenths faster than the previous record set by Felipe Massa during testing in 2008, and nearly six tenths below last year’s fastest testing time, set by Kimi Räikkönen.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were close behind the Red Bull. Their best flying laps, both set on the ultrasoft tyre, were four and five tenths adrift of Ricciardo respectively, but still comfortably within the 1:18s.

These times came as teams focused on performance runs during the morning session, the result being that many of Wednesday’s laps were among the quickest of 2018 testing so far.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Fourth fastest was Sebastian Vettel. The German was given an unexpected extra session on Wednesday morning as teammate Kimi Räikkönen was unwell, but opted to concentrate on long runs rather than challenge Red Bull and Mercedes on the hypersoft—however, he did manage to lap within a second of third-placed Bottas despite running on the soft compound tyre at the time.

Three tenths behind Vettel came Brendon Hartley and Fernando Alonso, both setting closely-matched 1:19.8s on the ultrasofts. Alonso had looked set to enjoy McLaren’s first trouble-free day of testing so far when he ran among the pacesetters during the morning and notched up 47 laps early on.

However, an oil leak before midday resulted in an engine change that cost Alonso over six hours of track time—the Spaniard was only able to fit in another 15 minutes of running at the end of the day, bringing his Wednesday lap count up to 57.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Carlos Sainz was seventh fastest, being the first driver above 1:20s and the only one of the day to set his time on the medium tyre.

Although Sainz’s best lap was ultimately two seconds off Ricciardo’s benchmark, he did contribute to Renault leading the way in terms of mileage on Wednesday. The Spaniard logged 88 rounds of the Barcelona track during his morning in the RS18, before teammate Nico Hülkenberg added a further 102 after lunch.

Their combined 190 laps puts Renault second so far in the number of testing laps completed per team, with 602 to Mercedes’s 658.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Romain Grosjean was eighth-fastest on a 1:20.237s. Haas ended the session with the second-lowest lap total when an oil leak on Grosjean’s car limited him to 78 laps across the day.

Räikkönen, who recovered to run in the afternoon, and Hülkenberg, were the lowest-placed manufacturer drivers in ninth and eleventh respectively, split by the Williams of Lance Stroll.

Force India, Sauber and Williams occupied the bottom spaces on the leaderboard with Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sergey Sirotkin.

But although the three midfield teams were an average of three seconds off Red Bull’s pace, they were all much higher on the day’s lap charts. Leclerc’s 160 and Ocon’s 130 were beaten only by Ricciardo in terms of laps done by an individual driver, while Stroll and Sirotkin recorded 143 for Williams between them.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Ricciardo tops first 2018 test; Honda nears 100 laps

Daniel Ricciardo set the pace and topped the lap charts on the opening day of Barcelona testing, while Honda showed a remarkable improvement in reliability to log 93 laps with Toro Rosso.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

This time last year, Honda ended the first day of testing firmly at the bottom of the lap charts, with then-partners McLaren achieving only 29 amid a spate of engine-related issues.

But after a concentrated effort to improve reliability with its 2018-spec power unit, Honda more than tripled that amount on Monday, with Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley only missing out on a century of laps when rain interrupted running late in the afternoon.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Renault also look to have made strides with their reliability compared with last winter. The factory outfit achieved a total of 99 laps over the day, splitting running between Nico Hülkenberg (73 laps) in the morning and Carlos Sainz (26 laps) in the afternoon.

The French marque’s combined total stood for a while as the most of any team, until Ricciardo edged his Renault-powered RB14 into triple figures with a few late runs in the wet before the chequered flag.

McLaren ended the day some way off its fellow Renault customers with only 51 laps recorded, although this was due to a wheel tether issue which kept Fernando Alonso in the garage for much of the morning session.

Zak Mauger/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

As expected, the lap times from day one gave little away about the pecking order for 2018, as the general consensus among teams was for reliable rather than representative running.

In addition, dropping track temperatures and a rain shower late in the afternoon session meant there were few real improvements in pace after lunch.

Ricciardo’s benchmark 1:20.179s—over 1.5s slower than last year’s fastest overall testing time—established him as the quickest driver of the morning over Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas by just under two tenths.

The Australian’s lap came as part of a last-minute flurry before lunch, in which Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen went fastest from Hülkenberg, before Bottas and then Ricciardo jumped them both in turn.

Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes AMG F1

Alonso finished the day fifth-fastest and was the only driver to improve their position in the afternoon, rising from ninth on the timesheets as he made up for his morning delay.

His compatriot Sainz ranked sixth ahead of defending champion Lewis Hamilton, who took over from Mercedes teammate Bottas after lunch. These two also ended Monday at the bottom of the lap count along with Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin—who was likewise sharing driver duties—as the worsening conditions prevented any of the afternoon drivers from completing more than 30 laps each.

Hartley and Toro Rosso finished eight-fastest in the end after running as high as fifth before lunch. Behind him came Lance Stroll, Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson.

Force India development driver Nikita Mazepin sat out the whole of the afternoon session and remained twelfth, while Sirotkin’s weather-curtailed running meant the Russian rookie did not set a representative time.

Sam Bloxham/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Refined RS18 headlines Renault season launch

Renault has revealed its plans for the forthcoming Formula 1 season at a launch event focused on unveiling the team’s 2018 challenger.

The RS18—besides the mandatory addition of the Halo—features several small aerodynamic evolutions from its predecessor, including a slimmer nose section and much tighter packaging around the rear of the engine.

The team’s livery has also been tweaked for 2018, with Renault’s traditional yellow featuring more sparingly along the leading edges of the car.

Renault Sport Formula One Team

Speaking about Renault’s 2018 goals, technical chief Bob Bell highlighted improved reliability as one of the marque’s key targets:

“We need a strong reliability record,” Bell said. “That’s something we need to focus on. We need the car as reliable as we can make it.

“To improve reliability, we have to accept nothing less than perfection. Anything that ends up on the car needs to be designed and built to the highest standard; checked and rechecked as fit for purpose.

“All the issues that blighted us last year need to be eradicated by a fresh approach. That’s a huge challenge…and it’s the toughest task we face.”

Renault engine chief Remi Taffin echoed Bell, stating that having a reliable car will be the team’s “first priority”, especially with teams limited to just three power units per car in 2018.

Renault Sport Formula One Team

As well as revealing its new car, Renault also announced as part of its season launch an updated Renault Sport Academy driver lineup.

With the team’s previous third driver Sergey Sirotkin moving on to a race seat at Williams, Renault has promoted British-Korean junior Jack Aitken to the vacant reserve driver role. The 22-year-old, who has been part of the RSA since 2016, will combine his expanded Renault role this year with a maiden F2 campaign with ART GP.

Aitken will be joined in Renault’s F1 stable by fellow F2 driver Artem Markelov. The 23-year-old Russian, who finished runner-up to Charles Leclerc in last year’s F2 championship, has been named Renault’s 2018 test and development driver.

F1 Season Preview: Make or Break

After 2017, there are several drivers and teams facing a critical 2018—one which could have serious implications for their future in F1. Here we’ll look at those who are under the most pressure for 2018, why they have to perform and the potential consequences if they don’t.

Valtteri Bottas

Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes AMG F1

Replacing the out-going world champion with just three months to go until the start of the season was always going to be a challenge. However, the majority of the F1 paddock expected more from Bottas in 2017. While he seemed able to be around the pace of Hamilton in the first half of the season, his form soon deteriorated with Bottas being cast adrift by both Hamilton and Vettel.

As such, Bottas needs to deliver a stunning performance in 2018 to keep his seat for 2019. We’re not just talking about one race though—he needs to consistently be on the pace of Hamilton throughout the season, which is a hard ask for anyone.

If he doesn’t perform as Mercedes expect, either Ricciardo or Ocon will be quick to snap up his seat—leaving Bottas out of a top drive and potentially out of F1 altogether.

Kimi Raikkonen

Foto Studio Colombo/Ferrari Media

After years and years of the “will Raikkonen be retained” saga, it seems that Ferrari’s patience for the Finn is waning. Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne has stated that 2018 is Raikkonen’s last chance to rediscover his form—if he doesn’t, he will be replaced.

While he was once a world champion and still is a brilliant driver, Raikkonen’s consistency been missing since he returned to F1 in 2012, and even when he’s at the top of his game he’s still no match for Vettel. He’ll have to pull off a miracle to stand any chance at retaining his seat for 2019.

Should Raikkonen not miraculously rediscover his form, Ferrari have a long line of drivers knocking at their door. They’re unlikely to take Grosjean or Perez but instead either Ricciardo or their very promising youngster, Charles Leclerc. Whoever they chose, Ferrari aren’t short of talented replacements if Kimi isn’t up to scratch.

Sergio Perez

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Perez is generally considered to be a midfield driver in a midfield team. He’s undoubtedly talented, but seems to be lacking that extra something that would put him up with the champions. This became more apparent in 2017 when Ocon started consistently beating him throughout the second half of the season.

If, like everyone is anticipating, Ocon takes the next step in 2018, Perez will likely be left far behind and that could seriously compromise his 2019 options. He’s been holding out for a Ferrari drive since who knows when, but with every year that passes, that seems more and more unlikely—if Ferrari wanted him, they’d have taken him by now.

He should be able to keep his seat at Force India for 2019 with his only other serious option being Renault if Sainz were to be called up to Red Bull. Any progression up the grid looks unlikely for the now 28-year-old Mexican.

Romain Grosjean

Haas F1 Media

The successes of 2016 with Haas have long been forgotten for Grosjean, and that supposed Ferrari promotion looks further away than ever. Over 2017, the Frenchman gained a reputation for moaning and was often beaten, quite comprehensively, by teammate Magnussen.

With decent performances becoming distance memories, Grosjean hasn’t been having the best of times of it lately. He needs to rediscover his consistency of the later Lotus years to keep his seat at Haas and remain in F1.

Admittedly, Haas don’t have that many options to replace Grosjean. Ferrari may push them into taking one of their junior drivers but really, Haas need experience and that is one thing Grosjean has going for him. Regardless of that, improvement is needed from the Frenchman in 2018.

Nico Hulkenberg

Renault Sport F1 Media

Hulkenberg has been the nearly-man of F1 for years. He holds the record for the most F1 races without a podium but you’ll struggle to find anyone who doubts his talents. With Renault on the rise, that podium could come in the next year or two. However Hulkenberg has a more pressing issue: Carlos Sainz.

The highly-regarded Red Bull junior driver switched to Renault in the closing races of the 2017 season, with Hulkenberg seeming to have the measure of Sainz. The German has to beat or at least strongly challenge Sainz if he’s to maintain his perceived ranking in the F1 paddock.

His F1 career isn’t on the line in 2018 as he has a long-term Renault deal in place. But he still needs to show that he can go up against Sainz to ensure his fundamental place at Renault in years to come.

Marcus Ericsson

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

If anyone’s career is on the line in 2018, its Ericsson’s. He controversially kept his Sauber seat, despite Ferrari pushing for Antonio Giovinazzi to get the drive, by virtue of having lots of money from his backers that are mysteriously linked to the team’s owners…

The funds cannot hide the fact that Ericsson hasn’t scored a point in F1 since 2015 while all his teammates have. With F2 champion Leclerc in the other seat for 2018, Ericsson is going to have to massively up his game if he’s to avoid getting shown up by the promising youngster.

Ferrari want Sauber to become their effective ‘B-team’, so Ericsson will likely lose his seat to one of the Ferrari juniors in 2019—and it will be hard for Ericsson to find a seat at another team, even with all his money.

Williams

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

The season hasn’t even started and Williams are already facing a lot of criticism for hiring Sergey Sirotkin over Robert Kubica, Daniil Kvyat and Pascal Wehrlein with Sirotkin being brandished a ‘pay driver’. This means that for 2018 Williams will have a 19-year old in his second season of F1 and a rookie who’s failed to produce any convincing results in years.

That already sounds like a recipe for disaster—and when you consider the highly competitive nature of the midfield, the outcome doesn’t look good for Williams.

Fifth in the championship isn’t going to happen with McLaren and Renault on the rise and most expect Williams to sink further down the standings. This could put them in danger of losing sponsorship and without a star driver, it’s hard to see who’s going to bring the results in. Maybe basing driver decisions on bank accounts rather than talent wasn’t such a good idea.

McLaren

Andy Hone/McLaren

For McLaren, 2018 will be a test of all that they have said over the last three seasons while they were with Honda. Throughout those years, McLaren claimed to have the best chassis so, on equal footing with Red Bull and Renault, that will be put to the test.

Their last win came in 2012 and last podium in 2014, if there was ever a time that McLaren needed to deliver, for the sake of all involved, it’s in 2018. Alonso may have signed a multi-year deal but he won’t hang around forever, he wants that third title but has interests elsewhere if that fails to materialise in the coming years.

If they’re not winning, or at least on the podium, in 2018 they probably won’t be until the engine regulation change in 2020. It’s paramount that they get the Renault transition right as they need to be frontrunners again—four winless seasons is four too many for a team like McLaren, they better not make it five.

“Encouraging” first half of the season sets up Renault push in Spa

The Renault Sport F1 team has been buoyed by the progress made so far this season and is aiming to make further gains this weekend in Spa, according to lead driver Nico Hülkenberg.

Renault Sport F1 Team

“[2017 has] been very encouraging, especially in the last few races,” the German driver said ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix. “We’ve found a good balance with qualifying performance and race pace—Silverstone highlighted that—it’s at a better level now.

“We are heading in the right direction and are looking competitive, but we want to keep pushing ourselves.”

Hülkenberg also said that Renault’s momentum this season has mirrored his own: “I’m pleased with how the car is feeling and the progress we are making. This year’s cars and fun and faster, allowing me to push harder which suits my driving style a lot more than in recent years.

“It was a shame to finish how we did in Hungary (retiring on lap 67 with a brake issue), but in general there are positive feelings.”

Renault Sport F1 Team

Part of Renault’s push this weekend will come in the form of software and hardware power unit upgrades scheduled for Belgium and the following race at Monza.

Although the updates are not part of a major development package, Renault engine chief Remi Taffin said the team is focusing on improving its reliability issues at two of the most power-hungry tracks on the calendar:

“Qualifying pace has looked good with Great Britain and Hungary exemplifying our ability to be the fourth-best team. It’s just a case of building on that and bettering the race pace.

“That comes from levelling up everything, we need to show off reliability and mileage and that is something we are giving close attention.”

Renault Sport F1 Team

Any improvements to Renault’s engine reliability will come as a sure boost to Jolyon Palmer, who has so far taken the brunt of the French marque’s misfortune this season.

However, Palmer has conceded that reliability issues have not been his only obstacle in the first eleven races of 2017, with the Briton struggling to get to grips with the RS17 in the same way as his teammate.

“It’s been challenging,” he said, referring to the first half of his season. “The 2017 regulations mean a car that’s very different from before, so you have to relearn how to extract the maximum performance from it. Getting the right set-up is difficult and this is only compounded when you miss out on track time.”

But Palmer has also said that a refreshing summer break—in which he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro—and the prospect of returning to the “awesome” Spa circuit has given him fresh inspiration for the first of the remaining nine races:

“To drive it is simply immense. Nothing prepares you for heading flat out down the hill and then coming up the other side and down that straight. Pouhon will be an exciting corner this year, it brings a real challenge as it’s a very quick double apex left.

“I’ve had some good memories [at Spa] but I’m driven to make some more.”

©2017 The Pitcrewonline