Renault's Real First Year Back
Autosport|February 23,2017

After 2016’s ‘year zero’, this will be the season where Renault finally starts working its way towards the front. But there’s a long way to go.

Lawrence Barretto

Renault knew that 2016 was going to be a struggle. The French manufacturer returned to works status in Formula 1 last season by buying Lotus, after enduring a painful two-year period as engine supplier to Red Bull and Toro Rosso, but protracted negotiations delayed confirmation of the takeover, leaving the RS16 as an underdeveloped compromise, particularly as it required a change of power unit from Mercedes to its own.

While Renault pushed to get the best from the package over the course of the season, it also made an early decision to switch focus to 2017, given this year’s dramatic change to the technical regulations. It scored points just three times in ’16, reaching a lowly tally of eight and finishing ninth in the constructors’ championship ahead of only Sauber and Manor.

Unsurprisingly, there was relief when the season finally came to an end. “I won’t be sad to see the back of this car,” sporting director Alan Permane told Autosport in Abu Dhabi. “It’s mentally tough to go into each race weekend with higher expectations than you know you’re going to achieve, and then battle every week to get out of Q1.”

All these difficulties mean it’s fair to view 2017 as Renault’s first real F1 season since returning as a manufacturer entry. It turned its attention to this year very early and is prepared to spend significant resources on developing the car. As a result there’s a buzz about the place. “I’m very confident,” says chief technical officer Bob Bell of the RS17’s potential. “Our performance metrics show that we’ve made gains in a strong and consistent manner throughout its development.

“If you look at the car you’ll see tremendous attention to detail and sophistication, illustrating that it’s been designed by a talented and knowledgeable group of people. This is a proper Renault Formula 1 car, and what we know about it so far gives me a lot of optimism.

“It’s no secret that our 2016 car was not one born of a lengthy or smooth development process, so the RS17 is the first real Renault F1 car of the modern era. It’s a ground-up design as we had the time and the resources to do it, notwithstanding the fact that the change in the regulations demanded it. There is no carryover of components from 2016 to ’17, so it really has been a ‘clean-sheet-of-paper’ approach.”

The detail that Bell talks about is something Renault lacked last year. And a clean sheet of paper is exactly what was needed, after Renault had to make so many compromises just to get a car ready in time for 2016. The RS16 was essentially an upgraded ’15 Lotus, on a budget.

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