Renault is on course to deliver a more powerful and more reliable engine this year, McLaren chiefs have revealed, in a move that has lifted hopes of Mercedes and Ferrari facing more of a challenge.
While the French car manufacturer won races with Red Bull last season, it also faced its fair share of difficulties – especially on the reliability front as a spate of problems, including with its MGU-K, overshadowed some of its progress.
Speaking a few weeks before pre-season testing gets underway, senior figures at McLaren have said that the messages coming out of Renault’s Viry-Chatillon base are encouraging.
McLaren executive director Zak Brown explained: “There are no alarm bells ringing. They seem to be very confident – although it is best that they talk about the specifics.
“In terms of power and reliability, they are happy with where they are at and what has been happening on the dyno. And specifically the reliability – they think they are on top of it.
“Last year they had the power, and it was when they turned it up that the reliability issues kicked in. So they had their issues in Mexico but they also dominated the race, so we are feeling good.”
McLaren chief technical officer (chassis) Tim Goss added: “They have developed the engine. They have improved it and it will be more powerful.
“One of the big challenges they have got, and all four power unit manufacturers have got, is the change in the sport regulations so there are only three ICEs and three MGU-Hs allowed per driver per season and two ES packs and two MGU-Ks.
“It is a huge task in stretching the mileage of the power units, so a lot of the focus for all the power unit manufacturers has been making sure they can get the extra mileage as opposed to just chasing performance.”
Brown has also hinted that Renault may also be able to unleash ‘magic modes’ to help boost qualifying performance, after being left behind in this area last season.
Asked about whether there will be a qualifying boost in 2018, Brown said: “I hope so, and I think so.”
More mature than Honda
After McLaren’s three difficult years with Honda following the Japanese manufacturer's F1 return, the Woking-based team has said that it has been a positive step for the team to work with more experienced Renault engineers as it finalises it MCL33 design.
Chief engineering officer Matt Morris said: “I think the big difference, speaking with all the guys at Renault, is they have got more experience.
"Those guys on the ground have been doing it for a lot longer than Honda, that is just a fact, and that is what allowed us to get the packaging done so quickly.
“It is just their experience and the same is true in their factory at Viry. It is more mature than Honda. It might not have as many fancy dynos, but they just have more experience.
"We are over there at the moment doing some work on the dyno with them, and that has just been seamless.”
With McLaren’s decision to switch to Renault engines coming late last season, there has been little scope for modifications to the power unit to be made to help better accommodate it with McLaren’s car concept.
However, Goss is clear that looking ahead to 2019, there will be tweaks made to help better integrate the chassis and engine.
When asked if he has seen areas on the engine that he would like to change, Goss said: “Yes, for sure. And they are listening. We have made some changes.
"It is just in that short space of time when we were trying to get the engine into the car, there wasn’t really the time to reconfigure too many things.
“For sure it is a different engine, a different layout and we needed to rethink the way we did some things.
"But then going into 2019 we are already in dialogue with Renault-Viry to see what they can accommodate.”