Qualified - The Past, The Present and The Future.
Is Renault Sport Formula 1 really aiming for a 2021 Championship? Or is the Championship reality much closer than that.
"Every time Renault have entered Formula 1 they have ended up winning [the championship]." That's what Daniel Ricciardo said back in August when sighting reasons for leaving Red Bull Racing to join the french men. And I tell you what, based on historical evidence he's bang on.
1977 - Renault's first foray into Grand Prix racing under the guise Equipe Renault Elf. It was a slow start for Renault with, granted a win here and there, but nothing ground breaking or world changing. That was until 1981, at which point Renault contracted a then McLaren driver, who became famously known as one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time, Alain Prost. From 1981 - 1983 Equipe Renault Elf experienced 12 wins, 14 podiums which also culminated in two 3rd placings in the championship, and one 2nd. With Alain Prost narrowly missing out on taking the top spot.
2002 - Renault's second time around. I might mention here though that in that 20 year gap Renault very much stayed involved with Formula 1. I'll talk about that further below though. Renault contracted a little known racer in year one known as Jenson Button. Having bought the team and facilities from Benetton the year before (where Button was contracted), Renault also inherited the driver lineup. I'll add that they instantly felt success with a 4th placing that year in the Championship. Jenson Button decided to leave and as a result Renault needed a new driver. Another young gun at the time had been testing for Renault and had raced as the third youngest ever driver in history at Minardi during the 2001 season.
This man was Fernando Alonso. From 2003 - 2007 Renault gained a whopping 18 race wins and an even more stunning 30 podiums. They also won two Formula 1 World Championships. It became Fernando Alonso's most successful period of his career. The two years he won the World Championship were also the two years he bet the man many consider to be the one and only best Formula 1 driver in history, Michael Schumacher. Not to mention other renowned names such as Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Coulthard and Nico Rosberg.
In between those periods Renault was also an engine supplier to many of the best Formula 1 teams of those periods, having picked up 10 World Championships as a supplier including most recently Sebastian Vettel's last World Championship with Infiniti Red Bull Racing. They've also picked up 10 second and third placings in the World Championship and a truckload of race wins.
NAYSAYERS, NON BELIEVERS AND DANIEL RICCIARDO.
I know, it was a really long prelude to the point this week. But I'd argue it was totally necessary. There's been a lot of criticism aimed at Renault Sport over the past months. Especially from within the paddock. I mean it was just last week that I read an article quoting Ross Brawn banging on about how it was unacceptable for the mid-field to be so far from the front. How anyone at Liberty's public relations office thought it was a good idea to allow that interview go to print is totally beyond me. Formula 1 already looks ridiculously slanted, wouldn't you think it be a bad idea to publicly comment and further slog the teams at the bottom end of the field. Formula 1 and the FIA are holding the mid and lower end of the grid hostage, torturing them in the process, whilst also knowing all they're going to do in the end is pull the trigger anyway.
It didn't help having Christian Horner and his pitbull Max Verstappen nipping at their heels all season. I've always said if I were to ever divorce someone, or they were to divorce me, I'd give them everything and ask that we all move on quietly and happily. That doesn't seem to be the case with the Renault/Red Bull Racing saga. All that the team seem to want to do is blame every one of their woes on Renault. I wrote an article last week on the Toro Rosso/Honda relationship this year and how Red Bull Racing needed Toro Rosso to succeed. I can't tell whether the Renault tanking was intentional and spoke to that Honda relationship or Red Bull really did think that their engine woes were totally Renault's fault, what I do know is that it was public and extremely, extremely ugly. Two things that bigger corporations normally despise.
With all of that said, here we are, the end of 2018. Abu Dhabi is finished, Christmas parties are over, and we know that Renault Sport Formula 1 finished 4th this season, further progressing from their previous Formula 1 season and following the same precedence in pattern they always have.
Here's the thing. I'm an ex-Australian national rower, killed myself for around 12 years in a boat and have multiple state representations and championships to show for it. I wasn't always that successful though. I spent much more of my time trying than I did winning, but when I started winning I couldn't stop. There's a lesson, which one of the coaches in my life at the time, taught me. He taught me to never look for perfection, only to look for progress. Perfection is unachievable and even if it were you wouldn't want to achieve it. Imagine dedicating your whole life to one goal and achieving it.
The point of that lesson was to always look forward. Live in the moment, for sure, but always look to better yourself and find a way to improve whatever you do. Based on that philosophy and Renault's progression since their own return to Formula 1 in 2016, I would call the team a success.
So where too now? Well the answer is simple, it's as simple as those previous successes Renault propelled into Formula 1 stardom. The Jenson Buttons, Fernando Alonsos, the Jacques Villenvues, Giancarlo Fisichella and most of all the Alain Prosts of our world. The answer is Daniel Ricciardo, my fellow countryman and a name most consider to be the best on the grid alongside Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
2019 brings about an exciting period for the recently renamed Renault Formula 1 team. Alain Prost has been promoted to Chief Adviser for the team, a position that Helmut Marko and Niki Lauda both hold for Renault's respective competitors. Development for the 2019 engine started mid year with a new expanded and specialised team who also have a further green to fund the project. Nick Chester (Technical Director - Renault Sport Formula 1) has already claimed that the 2019 car project is making great progress. He has also said though that it's ludicrous to think that they would bridge the gap between Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes and the remainder of the field.
I suppose my one remaining question is whether that statement is genuinely true or whether Cyril Abiteboul is quite literally trolling the remainder of the grid. We see that happen time and time again in Formula 1, with Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull also all spreading misinformation in the hope that the competitors take their finger off the trigger.
There are some key facts to remember though based around the Renault chassis and power unit. The first is that Renault are now extremely aware that they out-perform the most powerful units on the grid in high altitude conditions, which also means the fuel is burning differently to those engines at a lower altitude. Renault also know that aerodynamically both their own and Red Bull Racing's cars have extremely strong chassis. They also know of more street circuits and closer circuits being added to the Formula 1 calendar, such as Vietnam, Miami and the French Grand Prix.
With all of that in mind, and with Daniel Ricciardo added into the mix alongside longtime friend Niko Hulkenburg things are looking positive for Renault's future in Formula 1. And with the keys firmly in the hands of an ex-World Champion like Alain Prost things can only continue to get better. Right?