The Re­nault re­vival

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Don’t ex­pect too much from this one to be­gin with. The fact Re­nault has re­newed its com­mit­ment by be­com­ing a fac­tory en­tity again is a real boost for F1, but it will take time to de­liver re­sults.

Suc­cess re­quires se­ri­ous in­vest­ment, and that is some­thing the En­stone op­er­a­tion that forms the ba­sis of Re­nault’s plans se­ri­ously lacked last sea­son. Re­nault needs to re-open closed de­part­ments, get in-sea­son de­vel­op­ment back to nor­mal and hire new staff to ex­pand the op­er­a­tion – some­thing which isn’t easy in th­ese days of ex­tended ‘gar­den­ing leave’.

The deal to buy Lotus was late, which meant com­pro­mises in mat­ing the lat­est Re­nault power unit to the RS16 chas­sis (which it­self is based on 2015’s Mercedes-en­gined E23).

Re­nault’s new rac­ing di­rec­tor Fred­eric Vasseur points out that it took Mercedes five years to win the world cham­pi­onship, hav­ing pur­chased a ti­tle-win­ning in­fra­struc­ture from Brawn GP. That is the “roadmap” that he must now chart for Re­nault.

This is year one so don’t ex­pect mir­a­cles. Kevin Mag­nussen ex­pects to be fight­ing for the lower reaches of Q3 on a good day and pick­ing up points where pos­si­ble. Re­peat­ing Lotus’s top-six ef­fort of 2015 with­out the ad­van­tage of Mercedes power is a tall or­der. Top seven in the cham­pi­onship is prob­a­bly the re­al­is­tic tar­get for 2016.

For­mula 1 didn’t feel right with­out Wil­liams near the sharp end. Its re­turn to com­pet­i­tive­ness in 2014 was a re­lief to Bri­tish fans and al­though it has yet to win a race in its re­nais­sance, it is knock­ing on the door very hard.

The team has al­ways been good at high-speed tracks and it uses its Mercedes pow­er­plant well. Team bosses say they have worked hard on weak­nesses from 2015, which were its per­for­mance in slow-speed cor­ners and pace in the wet.

Wil­liams has al­ways been based on solid en­gi­neer­ing prin­ci­ples, and those will have been put to good use to push the team closer to the Big Two, Fer­rari and Mercedes.

Wil­liams may be aim­ing high this sea­son, but it might not quite have all the in­gre­di­ents in place to mount a ti­tle chal­lenge. Con­sol­i­da­tion af­ter a solid 2015 sea­son is the re­al­is­tic tar­get for the 2016 cam­paign.

Felipe Massa has shown that he still de­serves a seat at the top ta­ble and was even able to shade the highly rated Valt­teri Bot­tas on sev­eral oc­ca­sions last sea­son.

The ac­ri­mony be­tween Red Bull and Re­nault last sea­son was one of the more ugly sub­plots of the 2015 cam­paign and it even­tu­ally ended in a di­vorce, and then a lengthy ne­go­ti­a­tion about ac­cess to the kids.

In the end, Red Bull will still have Re­nault en­gines but they will be badged as TAG Heuer units and the de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme will be up to the Mil­ton Keynes team it­self.

This is a big step for the for­mer F1 dom­i­na­tor – if it can’t keep up with en­gine de­vel­op­ments and gets over­taken by its for­mer buddy Re­nault, then there will be red faces as well as Red Bull. If it fails and Re­nault takes the up­per hand, then all that moan­ing and grum­bling from Chris­tian Horner last year will be put firmly in to per­spec­tive.

Red Bull has set it­self some mod­est tar­gets for the sea­son, and bosses say its aim is to get “closer to its ri­vals”. Hmm…

Daniel Ric­cia­rdo is a star of the fu­ture, while Daniil Kvyat’s rep­u­ta­tion needs a boost. It seems un­likely that ei­ther of them will have the ca­reer break­through they need in 2016.

Re­nault: wins may take time

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