Managing Director of the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team, Cyril Abiteboul, says that both he and Renault understand that Carlos Sainz Jr. may not turn out to be a long-term option for the team.
Sainz Jr. joined the French marque on loan from the Red Bull driver programme with four races to go in the 2017 Formula 1 season as a replacement for the underperforming Jolyon Palmer, helping them secure sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship over the his former employers, Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda.
Abiteboul said that Renault hold “one of the most exciting line-ups” they could hope for, three years into their return as a works team, and sees Nico Hülkenberg as their only current long-term driver.
“We have one of the most exciting line-ups that we can dream of at this point in our journey,” said Abiteboul, speaking on CNN’s The Circuit.
“We are building the profile and the experience as a team around Nico Hülkenberg, who has a long-term contract; and Carlos, who joined us last year, was a wakeup call and brought something new, something fresh to the team.
“But also, pushed Nico to do even better.”
When quizzed about Sainz Jr.’s future, the 40-year-old reiterated that Renault cannot “control the fate and destiny” of the Spaniard, who currently sits ninth in the Drivers’ Championship, one place and six points adrift of Hülkenberg. However, he noted that the opportunity to secure Sainz Jr.’s services was one that they could not refuse.
“Nothing is long-term in Formula 1, but we will see,” he added, cautiously. “We have also to accept that we don’t control the fate and destiny of Carlos Sainz Jr.
“He’s on loan from Red Bull. It was a very good opportunity for us, for this year that we seized. We’ll see if we can turn that into a more longer-term plan.”
In terms of a replacement for Sainz Jr, Abiteboul said that there were few suitable options for Renault. Although, he did not rule out a French signing – placing Sainz Jr’s fellow Red Bull backed driver Pierre Gasly and the Sahara Force India F1 Team‘s Esteban Ocon firmly in the rumour mill.
Ocon had previously been test driver for Renault for their return season in 2016, before cutting ties with the marque to focus on Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport‘s youth programme. With Abiteboul also dismissing the possibility of signing an inexperienced driver, current Renault reserve and FIA Formula 2 race winner Jack Aitken may find his wait for a Formula 1 chance extended.
“There are not that many options. So, we want someone with a bit of experience,” Abiteboul stated, before reasoning. “I think it’s too early in our journey to take someone with no experience.
“I think we are not ready for that. We want someone fast. We want someone available, could be French. Pretty sure that you can imagine who that could be. Or who those could be.”
In late 2015, former Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore said that the team should expect success sooner than the three years they initially expected. Two-and-a-half-years into their return, still without a race win, pole position or podium, Abiteboul admitted that the pressure on him and Renault is “progressively mounting”.
“I was pretending that there was not up until now but I think the pressure is progressively mounting.
” We know that you are only as fast as what your car will allow you to be, plus drivers, plus engine. In the set of regulation, we can’t really think of anything special. Having said that, we will do our best to do something nice.”
Renault have shown improvements in 2018, sitting fourth in the standings – 78 points behind third placed Aston Martin Red Bull Racing.
You can watch the full episode of CNN’s ‘The Circuit’ here: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/sports/2018/06/17/french-grand-prix-alain-prost-romain-grosjean-circuit-spt-intl.cnn