Insight: When will Renault's return to Formula 1 bring first points of the season?
Kevin Magnussen believes that Renault is poised to score its first Formula 1 points of the 2016 season, as the team prepares for the Chinese Grand ...
Kevin Magnussen believes that Renault is poised to score its first Formula 1 points of the 2016 season, as the team prepares for the Chinese Grand Prix.
A pair of 11th places, one for Jolyon Palmer in Australia and one for Magnussen in Bahrain, as well as the Dane’s 12th place in Melbourne, is all Renault has achieved so far on its return to F1 as a full manufacturer.
But the numbers show that this is actually Team Enstone’s best start to an F1 season in three years. Although it did not get anywhere near to repeating Kimi Raikkonen’s 2013 season opening Melbourne win, the squad’s results are still better than the single 11th place Lotus scored through Romain Grosjean in the opening two races of 2014 and 2015.
In more encouraging news for Renault, problems in both Australia and Bahrain cost at least one of its drivers the chance to compete for a place in the top ten.
Magnussen picked up a first lap puncture in Melbourne and was forced to start from the pitlane in Bahrain after he was hit with a penalty for failing to stop at the FIA weighbridge in practice. Palmer did not even get to start that race after a hydraulic pump failure struck his RS16 on the formation lap.
Magnussen: “Give me a normal race”
Despite the set-backs, Magnussen, who is returning to F1 action after his season on the sidelines with McLaren last year, is still pleased to be back on-track and reckons a “normal race” this weekend in China would allow him to score his first world championship points since the 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix.
He said: “I’m really excited and I really want to get those first points on the board. Give me a normal race with no puncture and no penalty and I think we can do that.
“It is pretty frustrating [but] that’s how it is in racing sometimes, but we are very close so that does give motivation.
“The car feels really good. Of course, we want more downforce and more power, but show me a race driver who doesn’t ask for that.
“Naturally I’m enjoying being back behind the wheel, pushing hard and overtaking, but you have so much work to do from the back that you can have a very strong race yet still finish in eleventh. If we start further up the order and don’t have a first lap incident good things can happen.”
Vasseur impressed so far
Along with Manor and Sauber, Renault is one three outfits that are yet to score in 2016, but the team’s racing director Frederic Vasseur has nevertheless been impressed by what he has seen from the Enstone squad in the opening two races.
He said: “Honestly, I can say I am impressed. The push and drive from the team is strong. That is not to say there are not improvements to be made. As everyone is learning, I am a stern taskmaster and there are many elements and details we’ll address. The key to success in motor racing is not just one aspect, it’s focusing on every detail. By making many small improvements we will work forwards.”
Vasseur believes Renault’s speed is where it thought it would be based on pre-season testing, but he explained that the team’s pace relative to Williams, which has finished third in the constructors’ championship for the last two seasons, is encouraging for the rest 2016.
He said: “We are generally where we expected to be, but equally some way short of where we all want to be. We know it’s a long-term project, but that doesn’t mean we will sit back.
“I want everyone fighting as hard for the position in front whether it’s P10 or P1. That’s how we’ll regain the success we want.
“In terms of race pace there are positive signs; we’re not so far from Williams and we’re not so far from finishing with points.
Palmer: “A good way to kick off the year”
Palmer is one of three F1 rookies in 2016, but the British driver drew praise for his defensive driving skills in Australia as he fought Valtteri Bottas and the two Toro Rosso drivers later in the race.
But the Briton explained that he did not enjoy the same level of performance in Bahrain even before he was forced out of the race on the warm-up lap due to handling issues.
He said: “Australia was a really good way to kick off the year and we were a little bit ahead of where we thought we’d be so all the pre-season preparation had paid off well.
“Bahrain was more challenging as it was a weekend where nothing really clicked but overall the feeling within the team is great. There were a few minor issues, which meant we weren’t able to optimise performance but we should have it all addressed for China.
“The car has a well balanced baseline and all we need is a little bit more performance. This is exactly what we have coming in the future, so everything’s good.”
Hydraulic pump failure a “rare occurrence”
Renault’s technical director Nick Chester explained that Palmer’s hydraulic pump problem had been caused by a freak failure on a new component and that the team was trying to figure out what had caused it to break.
He said: “It was a hydraulic pump that failed which is an extremely rare occurrence. The pump was just over a tenth of the way through its normal working life; usually if a component fails it’s very early in its life or near the end.
“We’re working with our supplier to ascertain the cause and have quarantined the batch of components until we can understand the issue. It was a great shame for Jolyon to have missed the race like that.”
Chester believes that qualifying in as area where the team needs to improve as Palmer’s 14th place in Australia is the squad’s best result against the clock so far this season and both Renault drivers were knocked out early in Bahrain.
He said: “On race pace there’s a very close group in the midfield; we saw this in Australia and we saw this in Bahrain.
“It means we need to maximise every opportunity we have and every performance increase we can find could mean the difference between finishing just shy of the points or scoring.
“Our qualifying pace has been behind our race pace in relative terms, so this is an area of focus, but one which goes hand-in-hand with the target of overall performance gains.”
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