The 2019 Bahrain GP would be remembered more as the heartbreaking race which saw Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc limp to finish third in only his second start with the Italian team after dominating most of the race due to a cylinder issue with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton claiming an opportunistic victory. It could have been worse for the Monegasque driver who was about losing a podium finish to Max Verstappen’s Red Bull-Honda, but the race finished under a safety car following quick-fire DNFs of the Renault cars with just four laps left.
A team with two F1 World Constructors’ Championships and two Drivers’ Championships, as an engine supplier, Renault has contributed to nine other World Drivers’ Championships. It has collected over 160 wins as engine supplier, ranking fourth in Formula One history. Back in 2000, Renault purchased Benetton. In 2002 Renault re-branded the team as “Renault F1 Team” and started to use Renault as their constructor name, winning both the Drivers’ (Fernando Alonso) and Constructors’ Championships in 2005 and 2006. Even after their departure from F1 as a works team in 2010, they still supplied engines to teams. Red Bull were a midfield team during the first two years of their Renault partnership before they made the most out of the regulation changes for the 2009 season, as the Austrian team and Sebastian Vettel secured their fourth consecutive title in 2013. Still supplying their former works team (Lotus Renault GP), Renault also supplied engines to Team Lotus/Caterham, Williams and Toro Rosso between 2010 and 2015.
Then came 2014 and new regulations. Renault couldn’t work their magic as their engines continuously underperformed with turbo unit and ERS issues. On-track results were poor as they ended up a distant third on a regular in the current hybrid era. Their customers complained publicly. Relationships soured. Contracts were terminated and renegotiated. Renault chief Cyril Abiteboul and Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost traded accusations at the Brazilian GP in 2017. Red Bull’s Christian Horner continuously lamented about the unreliability of their power units. Toro Rosso ditched Renault for Honda for last season. Red bull followed suit, announcing the end of their 12-year marriage with the French engine suppliers last June and moving on to Honda. Renault have only one engine customer in McLaren, the British team having lost patience with Honda.
Renault F1 Team returned to the sport after buying Lotus F1 Team (which was previously owned by Renault until 2010), stating their “ambition is to win even if it will take some time”. They have invested millions of Pounds in the team. Finishing 9th in 2016, 6th in 2017 and 4th in 2018, it has been a steady ascent for the French team. Signing Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull to replace Carlos Sainz was another statement of intent as they try to work their way back to the top. Renault have got a decent driver line-up this season, their best driver-lineup since their latest return. Nico Hulkenberg is the best driver on the grid without a podium finish in F1, arguably better than some drivers with podium finishes. A talented driver, he has survived without bringing any sponsorship to teams in an era of pay drivers. That’s how highly-rated he is. Ricciardo needs no introduction. Seven race wins, twenty-nine podium finishes, the Aussie jumped ship to Renault as Red Bull decided to go for the also-unreliable Honda engines.
It took Renault 6 years to win their first Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships on their second return to F1. It is hoped that it don’t take them that long to break the stranglehold of the Big-3 on Formula One. But they are a long way, seeing that their midfield rivals have made significant progress this season. Dominant towards the end of the V8 era, the Oxfordshire-based team has struggled in the V6 era. Renault may be sucked deep into the middle pack. Their pre-season performance wasn’t as convincing as fans expected. They have only one team to compare and contrast data extensively, which may limit their power unit upgrades. Renault may catch a break in 2021 with new engine rules and finally break the hegemony of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red bull….or they might be overtaken by their midfield rivals (Haas, McLaren et al).
With a goal of finishing on the podium regularly this season, which isn’t overly ambitious, they have the drivers to reach this goal easily if the cars can hold out to the finish line in the remaining 19 races. They lie seventh in the Constructors standings, behind Haas, McLaren and Alfa Romeo and their power unit Achilles heel showed up in Bahrain, denying them of a good points haul. Hopefully Renault has found and fixed the issues bedeviling their cars at the post Bahrain GP test so that Nico and Daniel can get the most out of the R.S. 19s. As we look forward to this weekend’s Chinese GP, we hope to see a Renault renaissance as they bid to move on from its double retirement in Sakhir.
By Ekwonye Osy Ernesto