2016 Season Review: Renault Sport Formula 1 Team – A season to forget

Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer - Credit: Renault Sport Formula 1 Team

#20 – Kevin Magnussen – Denmark – 21 Starts, 7 points, Best finish: 7th (Russia), Championship Position: 16th

#30 – Jolyon Palmer – British – 20 Starts, 1 Did Not Start (Bahrain), 1 point, Best finish: 10th (Malaysia), Championship Position: 18th

Renault Sport Formula 1 Team have not had a season to celebrate. The once great team made their return to Formula One this year after buying out financially struggling Lotus F1 Team at the end of 2015. It was unclear as to how they would perform, but the team and drivers appeared optimistic.

However, it would seem that this was misplaced – the team struggled to break into the points until Russia, where Kevin Magnussen scored their best position of the year with seventh place. Apart from this, they only earned two tenth places, putting them firmly towards the bottom of the pack in ninth position in the Constructor’s Championship.

Magnussen had joined the team just ahead of the season in place of Pastor Maldonado, who had looked set to remain with the squad having raced for Lotus in 2015, but financial problems for the Venezuelan opened the door for the Dane, while Jolyon Palmer was promoted from reserve driver to race driver.

Kevin Magnussen took Renault’s best finish of the year in Russia – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

The Australian Grand Prix was a relatively strong start to the season for the team. Rookie Palmer performed particularly well, at one point looking as though he was on course to win points for the team, but ended the race in a respectable eleventh place after being passed late by both Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers. Magnussen similarly performed well, finishing just behind his team-mate for twelfth. It was a promising start.

Magnussen continued his strong performance into the next race of the season at Bahrain, where a clever drive saw him finish in eleventh place after a penalty for failing to stop at the weighbridge saw him start from the pit lane. However, the team’s bad luck ultimately began here, as Palmer failed to start due to his car suffering a hydraulic failure on the formation lap that saw him pull into the pits to retire.

It appeared that these issues followed the team into the next race in China, where their lack of competitiveness really began to show. After starting seventeenth and nineteenth on the grid respectively, the race ended with Magnussen and Palmer in seventeenth and twenty-second respectively.

Up next was Russia and the best result for the team all season. Magnussen firmly made it into the points with a strong seventh position after keeping a train of faster cars behind him towards the end of the race, well ahead of Palmer, who finished outside of the top ten in thirteenth place – although this was a much more promising performance than the previous race. Moments like this must have been bittersweet for the team: it was obvious that they had the potential to score, but reliability and lack of speed hindered their season massively.

Spain saw the momentum swing to Palmer once more, as he outperformed his team-mate to finish thirteenth to Magnussen’s fifteenth but again out of contention for points, but the following race of Monaco was less successful for Palmer, as he had an early retirement due to a collision with the barriers on the tricky street circuit that also caught Red Bull Racing‘s Max Verstappen out. Magnussen also had poor luck there, as he too retired from the race having survived an early collision with Daniil Kvyat before crashing himself at Mirabeau that ultimately ended his day.

Jolyon Palmer – Octane Photographic Ltd

The next race of the season was the Canadian Grand Prix, and once more, this saw Palmer retiring earlier from the race with a water leak. Magnussen managed to make it to the finish line, but was well out of contention for any points, and instead finished towards the back of the pack in sixteenth place.  Fortunately for Renault, in the next race in Baku, the European Grand Prix, both cars finished the race, where this time it was Magnussen who came out on top, finishing fourteenth and just ahead of Palmer’s fifteenth.

The European leg of the season continued, next venturing into Austria. Once again, the team failed to get either of their cars into the points, instead coming away in the midfield positions of twelfth and fourteenth. The British Grand Prix followed – which was the maiden home race for Palmer. He did not, however, have the race that he had hoped for, and instead ended up disappointed after suffering his third retirement of the season, this time with a gearbox issue. Magnussen too had an odd race, similarly to Palmer he did not reach the finish line, but as he had completed at least 90% of the distance, he was classified in seventeenth position.

The Hungarian Grand Prix was arguably Palmer’s strongest race – at one point he was running in seventh position that would have seen him equal Magnussen’s achievements. However, he made a rookie error that caused him to spin at the top the hill and lose position, and in the end he completed the race in twelfth position, still ahead of Magnussen, who ended up finishing in fifteenth.  On the whole, the German Grand Prix was a poor weekend for the Renault team, with Palmer finishing right at the back in nineteenth, with Magnussen fairing marginally better in sixteenth.

Kevin Magnussen had the biggest crash of the season at Spa – Credit: Florent Gooden / DPPI

The summer break followed, meaning that the next race took place nearly a month after in Belgium. During the weekend, Magnussen had a horror crash going up the infamous ‘Eau Rouge’, that he fortunately walked away from unharmed. This evidently caused him to retire and caused a red flag while the wreckage was recovered and the barriers repaired. Palmer made it to the end of the race, but only in a relatively mediocre fifteenth position, ahead only of Esteban Ocon and Felipe Nasr.

The Italian Grand Prix came next, and it also saw Palmer’s fourth retirement of the season, with Magnussen finishing down in seventeenth place. The Briton collided early in the race with his former GP2 Series rival Nasr on the exit of the first chicane, and although he attempted to keep going, he was forced to call it a day.  Italy marked the end of the European leg of the calendar, and for Renault, hopefully a run of poor form.

In a way, there was an improvement with the car in the next race in Singapore, for Magnussen at least, as he scored the second points of the year for the team with a tenth position.  The Dane was able to hang on to Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat to take the final point,

This was followed in the next race in Malaysia with Palmer’s first point in Formula One that was a result of a tenth place finish, albeit this was helped when Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team‘s Lewis Hamilton’s engine blew up that caused his retirement.

The team entered the home straight of the season on a high, but achieved mixed results in the last few races of the season. Palmer seemed to fair better than Magnussen as he grew in stature the more experience he gathered, and he outperformed his team-mate in both the Japanese and Mexican Grand Prix, with the Danish driver finishing ahead of the Brit in the intervening United States Grand Prix.

The last two races of the season, Brazil and Abu Dhabi were somewhat controversial for Palmer, and ended in a retirement in the former after failing to spot Toro Rosso’s Kvyat in the spray down the start/finish straight, while he found himself spun around by the other Toro Rosso driver, Carlos Sainz Jr, in the finale in the desert.  Magnussen had a less dramatic end to his season, with a fourteenth place in Brazil and a retirement in Abu Dhabi.

Renault at COTA – Octane Photographic Ltd

2016 won’t be a season that Renault will wish to dwell on. Both reliability and speed have been major issues for the team this year, as well as some silly errors from both drivers.  Having focused the majority of their developmental team on the 2017 machine, they will be hoping to make a huge step forwards next season, and with the introduction of experienced Sahara Force India F1 Team driver Nico Hulkenberg into the team, they will be looking for more points too, while Palmer’s experience . What will happen next season is unclear – but one thing is certain, Renault will hope that it will be better than this one.