Are Renault heading in the right direction?
Renault had their best weekend of the season in Canada with Daniel Ricciardo qualifying an impressive fourth and Nico Hulkenberg just three places behind in seventh. Both drivers then went on to impress in the race as they crossed the line together in sixth and seventh.
The result was one of Renault’s best points hauls in a single race since their return to Formula 1. Although they were both passed by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, the Renault pair both finished ahead of the Dutchman’s teammate Pierre Gasly.
Renault have had a troubled time since their return to the sport in 2016, notably suffering continual issues with their engine. Red Bull were so fed up with the lack of power from the French engine they decided to move to Honda for 2019.
In theory, Montreal should have been one of Renault’s weakest circuits but it turned out to be the complete opposite.
It could be that this was a one off fluke, however, the fact that Valterri Bottas took so long to pass Ricciardo on the back straight, even taking into account the Australian’s robust defending, proved that Renault has improved its power output and is starting to catch its rivals.
If the Montreal performance were to be repeated at the next Grand Prix in France, it could just explain why Ricciardo decided to move away from Red Bull.
Being a car maker, Renault is not short of cash, however, they don’t have the same budget level as the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari.
When they took over what was Lotus, the factory was found to be run down and not in the condition required for a top team. As a result, they have been in a state of recovery whilst they rebuild and reinvest into their team and factory.
It has taken longer than many have expected including Renault themselves, but they had a clear vision that they would make a step up for 2019 and did a very good job at convincing Ricciardo that they could do so.
The first few races gave no sign that Renault had learned from its mistakes of previous years and big questions were being asked of Ricciardo’s decision, however, last weekend suggests that they may have just started to find the answer.
Ricciardo and Hulkenberg are two top line, experienced drivers and their input will no doubt be helping Renault unlock more from the car in comparison to previous years.
Reliability and speed have been Renault’s achilles heel for many years and it was concerning to see that both drivers retired due to engine related issues earlier in the season. This must be resolved if they are ever to reach their goal and fight at the front.
Ferrari and Mercedes are at the front not only because they have the fastest engines but they also have the most reliable ones. Although Lance Stroll’s Racing Point had an engine failure in Friday Free Practice in Canada these failures are a rarity in comparison to Renault.
Renault are not the only team to be affected by these repeated engine failures either. Other the last few seasons, their customers, most notably Red Bull, also suffered multiple engine related retirements and it was these failures that proved to be the trigger for Red Bull’s switch to Honda.
It is all well and good having a one-off reliability problem but Renault continuously had issues and showed no sign of resolving it.
Although it looked like history would repeat itself again in 2019 after both Renault and McLaren suffered engine issues early on, Canada provided a glimmer of hope.
Renault know that they are on borrowed time to produce results if their board are not to withdraw them from the sport once more. They have invested in two of the best drivers on the grid and they now need results.
Given the right car, both Ricciardo and Hulkenberg will win races. Ricciardo is a proven race winner from his time with Red Bull and Hulkenberg is arguably one of the best drivers in Formula 1 to have never got on to the podium.
France will be another testing track on the power unit but it will also show up any aerodynamic weaknesses with its twisty end to the Paul Ricard circuit and Renault will need to show they have improved in both areas as they return to home soil.
It is all well and good providing a great showing for one race but in order to win people over that improvement is real, it needs to be repeated again and again.
Get it right and they will find themselves moving ahead of their current rivals, McLaren and moving towards the top three. Get it wrong and their critics will sing out that they were right all along.
Now with a solid and promising result, the Enstone based team need to carry their momentum and prove to the sport that they are heading back towards the top three and that Ricciardo’s decision to join them and their investment in the Australian was the right one after all.