The Renault F1 Team had gone into 2019 hoping to at least close the gap on the leading three teams at the front of the field, but ultimately it was not to be, and they ended the year dropping from fourth to fifth in the Constructors’’ Championship.
The Enstone-based outfit had bid high to gain the services of Daniel Ricciardo from Aston Martin Red Bull Racing to partner Nico Hülkenberg, but they continued their miserable run without a podium finish, their last as Renault coming way back in 2011 with Nick Heidfeld in that years’ Malaysian Grand Prix.
It was perhaps Hülkenberg’s least impactive season of his three with Renault, with the German having a best finish of fifth at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, while the Italian Grand Prix also gave Ricciardo his best finish of the season in fourth.
Too often they found themselves embroiled in the midfield pack, fighting for the minor points rather than running at the front of that midfield, and they dropped behind the revitalised McLaren F1 Team in the Constructors’ Championship despite the Woking-based team being powered by Renault! A customer team beating a works team will never go down well.
High Point – Monza Result Gives them Hope
Whilst they were both involved in the chaotic and embarrassing Qualifying at Monza, Renault qualified fifth and sixth for the Italian Grand Prix and backed that up on the Sunday by claiming a double top-five result.
Q3 at Monza ended up being a farce as all nine drivers participating in the session did not want to be giving anyone else a tow, and only two drivers – Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. – managed to get to start their quick laps before the chequered flag fell, but despite a reprimand for driving too slowly for Hülkenberg, the German ended an encouraging sixth on the grid, alongside Ricciardo on the third row.
It may have been a relatively straight-forward race, but both Ricciardo and Hülkenberg drove strongly and took advantage of a spin by Sebastian Vettel and a less-than-easy day for Red Bull to take an excellent fourth and fifth place result, bagging the team twenty-two points in the Constructors’ Championship that would be valuable to them come the end of the season.
Unfortunately, days like this were few and far between, and Renault will want to see performances like this more often in 2020, particularly if they have the ambition to escape the midfield and join the battle for race wins and championships.
Low Point – Racing Point Protest sees Japan Double Disqualification
Initially, the result at the Suzuka International Racing Course saw Ricciardo and Hülkenberg classified sixth and tenth, but a post-race protest from the Racing Point F1 Team saw them investigated for a breach of the FIA’s Sporting and Technical Regulations.
Ultimately, ten days after the race, both Ricciardo and Hülkenberg were disqualified from the results after the FIA investigation found that the team were utilising a pre-set, automated brake bias system, with its usage being against the regulation that dictates the driver must drive the car alone and unaided.
Nine points were lost in the battle for the Constructors’ Championship and it left them vulnerable from Scuderia Toro Rosso for the final four races, although they were able to score enough points to ensure they retained fifth place at season’s end.
Ricciardo had the edge across the season, out-qualifying Hülkenberg thirteen times to eight, but the Australian had some starring moments across the year, particularly in Canada where he started an incredible fourth after a stunning lap.
Twelve times Ricciardo started inside the top ten, with top-five starts coming in both Canada and Italy, while Hülkenberg couldn’t better sixth, also in Italy, although he did manage eight starts inside the top ten across the season.
It was clear that Ricciardo had the edge early on, with the Australian out-qualifying Hülkenberg in nine of the opening ten races, with the only race where the German managed to beat his team-mate being in Australia. However, across the remaining eleven races, it was advantage Hülkenberg, with the German beating Ricciardo seven times to four.
Following Ricciardo’s arrival, it was always going to be on Hülkenberg to show whether he has what it takes to be a genuine front-running driver, but despite only retiring twice compared to the four retirements of the Australian, the German was outscored by fifty-four points to thirty-seven.
Hülkenberg scored in only ten of the twenty-one races with a best finish of fifth coming in Italy, but too often he finished outside of the top ten, with only one top-ten finish in the first six races coming his way.
Ricciardo only had eight top ten results, but whereas Hülkenberg had a number of eighth, ninth and tenth place finishes, Ricciardo was able to grab a few sixths and sevenths on top of his fourth place at Monza. This told the ultimate story and meant the Australian placed ninth in the Drivers’ Championship and the German fourteenth.
Of course, there were instances where both were unfortunate, particularly during the Bahrain Grand Prix, when on course for a double points finish, both retired almost simultaneously on track, while Hülkenberg will also count himself unlucky not to have taken a good haul of points, if not a podium, in the tricky conditions at the Hockenheimring before a mistake took him out of the race.
|Round||Ricciardo Qualifying||Ricciardo Race||Hülkenberg Qualifying||Hülkenberg Race|
What to Look Out for in 2020
2020 has to be the year Renault makes that jump forward, else there is genuine concern that the team could drop off the grid at the end of the season. After next season, they will no longer have any customer outfits to worry about as McLaren switch to Mercedes-power, so that possibility of quitting the sport is higher than most other teams on the grid.
Hülkenberg has now left Renault after three years with the team with Mercedes-Benz protégé Esteban Ocon making his welcome return to Formula 1 after a year’s hiatus, with the Frenchman forming a very promising looking line-up alongside Ricciardo, but whether or not they are able to fulfil their potential is yet to be seen.
Nick Chester’s departure will also affect them somewhat as the management and technical department has a reshuffle, but there really cannot be any excuses should they be a midfield team once more rather than the front-running team I think all Formula 1 fans would want them to be.