RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM – POINTS: 122 | POSITION: FOURTH
Among the battle with the top three, there is always a team that is looking from the outside in. In 2018, Renault Sport Formula One Team won the battle of the ‘best of the rest’ and ended the year in their best result since their return to the sport as a works teams since 2016 in fourth place. They were fair short from reaching the podium but their consistency shows that this is a team that is on the rise heading into 2019. A battle between Haas F1 Team both on and off the track kept the tension going throughout the season, but it was the French squad who came out on top.
Leading The Midfield
After finishing the 2017 season in sixth place, the Enstone based team was looking to make that extra step up into the top five in their third year back in the sport. Nico Hülkenberg remained at the team whilst Carlos Sainz Jr. after his short stint with Renault in 2017, stays on full-time for the 2018 season. The R.S.18 looked like a car that carried potential to lead the midfield but lacked the pace to break into the top three during testing. The team’s potential was overshadowed by the surprising pace of Haas’ VF-18 in testing, as they aimed to make a push up the field in only their third year in the sport.
Both Hülkenberg and Sainz showed strong starts in the season by consistently scoring points in the opening races, placing Renault in a strong position at the beginning stages of the year, even competing with the likes of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing in Azerbaijan. Sainz delivered his best result in Baku with fifth whilst Hülkenberg suffered a DNF for a crash in the early stages of the race. Both drivers kept on pace and scored consistent points against the Haas Team, who were fighting with the French team all year to capture fourth away from them.
At his home race in Germany, Hülkenberg was able to get ahead of both Haas cars’ in the race and clinch his best result of the year in fifth, in front of the home fans and pushed Renault ahead of the American team for one more race. In Italy, Haas managed to capitalise on a bad result by the French squad and jump ahead of them, only to be pushed back after a disqualification for Romain Grosjean. The disqualification came from Renault after they protested to the FIA about an illegal floor on the Haas car. They won the case and Haas were pushed back to fifth.
Heading into the final races of the year, both drivers kept their cool and secured fourth place in the constructors’ title. Hülkenberg completing his strongest season to date in F1 whilst Sainz broke into the top ten, piping Fernando Alonso at the final race in Abu Dhabi. Hülkenberg managed to out-qualify Sainz 13-8 all season and managed to record double the amount of Q3 appearances than his Spanish team-mate. Sainz was one place short from equaling his best championship position of ninth, ending the 2017 season in that position. But the Spaniard has matured over the season and will hope to take that momentum into his new environment with the McLaren F1 Team.
The Haas-le For Fourth
A lot of action occurred for the Renault team throughout the season, mainly off-track with Haas. The fight with the American team for fourth place wasn’t only taking place on the circuit, but within the stewards room and with the FIA. In a tightly contested battle, Haas managed to surpass Renault at the Italian Grand Prix after a disappointing race. Haas had produced a strong car in 2018 but suffered multiple retirements throughout the year that prevented them taking points, especially from Grosjean. But after the race, Renault went to the FIA to question about the legitimacy of the Haas car. The FIA investigated the latter between the two parties, with Renault presenting a case that the floor of the Haas VF-18 was illegal. Their case was correct and Grosjean was disqualified from the race.
It proved to a critical moment in the fight between the two teams as Haas would never pass Renault again. Even after an appeal case by the American team, which put the result in doubt for months after the race took place, Renault was way ahead in the final races. Haas’ team principal Guenther Steiner felt Renault were playing games off-track to give themselves a chance to beat them on the track, but a shaky end by Haas helped Renault keep fourth place in their hands and secured at the final race of the year with Sainz finishing in sixth. Hülkenberg ended his season early after a first lap crash which saw him roll his Renault into the barriers.
End Of An Era
2018 also saw the team end a long relationship with one of their customer teams. After a shaky last few years, Red Bull decided to cut their ties with Renault after 11 years together. The pair has been together since 2007 and won titles together between 2010 and 2013. But their winning ways ended when the V6 Hybrid era was introduced in 2014, and Renault was put on the back foot as they couldn’t produce a reliable and fast engine compare to Mercedes. Both Red Bull and Renault’s relationship soon started to crumble over the years, but the pair stuck with each other and continue to chase down the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari in the engine war.
But in 2018, the two grew further apart with Renault Sport’s Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul and Red Bull Team’ Boss Christian Horner not getting along. By the French Grand Prix, the decision was made by Red Bull. They will not use Renault engines next year. Instead, they will make the switch to Honda engines for 2019 and beyond, leaving Renault only supplying engines to McLaren in 2019. Despite their divorce being confirmed, the two continued to win races together, even though the reliability issues in the Red Bull car created some tension between the two parties.
A Bright Future
After finishing the 2018 season in fourth and winning the ‘best of the rest’ category, there is a lot of hype to come for the 2019 season for the team. The 2019 season will a new driver to their team to race alongside Hülkenberg and hope to make a break into the top three. Daniel Ricciardo leaves Red Bull and joins the Enstone based team on a two-year contract, forming one of the most exciting line-ups on the grid next year. This move will certainly create some motivation for the Renault team to make a push and pass the likes of Red Bull, who will use Honda for the first time in their history. Sainz departs from the team to join McLaren, but will still use the Renault engine in his new surroundings.
It’s an exciting time for Renault with a new, exciting and fast driver coming into the team a year after recording their best season. Ricciardo is experienced enough with the Renault engine and will hope to help push the team back into their glory days of the 2000s once again. 2019 could be a year we see the team push for the rostrum, and maybe for a win if the chances fall into place.