Three of the junior drivers in the Renault Sport Academy were given track time at the Bahrain International Circuit last week in a Renault R.S.18 as part of their development programme.
FIA Formula 2 racers Christian Lundgaard and Guanyu Zhou were in Bahrain, as was the 2020 FIA Formula 3 champion Oscar Piastri, with the latter enjoying his first taste of Formula 1 machinery.
Zhou and Lundgaard had both tested Formula 1 cars before, and it was the latter who was the first of the trio to take to the track on 29 October before Piastri took over the next day. Zhou was then allowed two days in the car as he continues to develop his driving as the official Test Driver for Renault, although his first was affected by technical issues that restricted his running.
“Jumping into an F1 car on a circuit I’ve never driven brought a really nice challenge” – Lundgaard
Lundgaard completed one hundred and one laps on day one, including a number of Qualifying simulations and race runs, around a track on which he had never been to before.
“It was good to be back in a Formula 1 car,” said Lundgaard. “I’ve never been to the Bahrain race circuit, so jumping into an F1 car on a circuit I’ve never driven brought a really nice challenge.
“I think it all came to me quickly and I felt comfortable straight away on the first run. We had a couple of issues, but that’s all part of testing, and then we continued with our programme. The whole point of this process is to learn as much as possible.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity and I certainly enjoyed every second of it. I’m very happy, we got some good running in and I’m quite confident for the Formula 2 race in a few weeks’ time. I’m looking forward to it.”
“It was very exciting if not a little bit nerve-wracking” – Piastri
Piastri took over for day two and ran eighty-two laps as he adapted to Formula 1 machinery for the first time, and although he enjoyed the experience, he admitted it was nerve-wracking at the same time.
“I really enjoyed the experience in the R.S.18,” said Piastri. “It was my first time in a Formula 1 car, so it was very exciting if not a little bit nerve-wracking at the same time!
“Once I did the install lap, all the nerves went away, and I focused on having fun and driving fast. It was a really enjoyable experience and I felt the pace was quite good. I got used to the car pretty quickly and I certainly learnt a lot.
“I’m looking forward to whenever the next experience may be, so thanks to Renault, both the Academy and the Formula 1 team, for the opportunity. I feel very lucky, as not everyone gets to do this and it’s not something you do every day.”
“It’s always a privilege to drive a Formula 1 car” – Zhou
Zhou’s opening day was affected by technical issues, but he had a much busier day on day two, with the Chinese racer enjoying a productive day that included short and long runs.
“It’s always a privilege to drive a Formula 1 car, so to have this two-day test in Bahrain in the Renault R.S.18 was really beneficial,” said Zhou. “Day 1 was tricky with some issues and we didn’t get so much running complete.
“Day 2 was much better, and we got through our programme and the things we had to do. There was lots of data to collect, we did race runs and qualifying runs. Each time I’m in the car, I’m straight up to speed and I felt quite comfortable.
“It’s a challenge getting familiar with all the settings but that’s also quite a fun experience. Testing in Bahrain before the Formula 2 race is definitely useful, so I’m really looking forward to racing there later this month.”
Mia Sharizman, the Renault Sport Academy Director, was pleased with how all three drivers took to driving the R.S.18 in Bahrain, and he says Lundgaard, Piastri and Zhou all provided some excellent feedback to the engineers.
“To be able to conduct the R.S.18 Test in Bahrain with all the additional organisation arrangement needed due to Covid-19, is a testament to our commitment to the Academy drivers,” said Sharizman.
“It was good to see Christian and Guanyu manage to complete their respective programmes, which was geared more towards preparing them for their remaining Formula 2 rounds in Bahrain later in the month. For both drivers to be able to do more than 100 laps per day, shows a step forward and upwards progression from their last year F1 Test in the R.S.17.
“I am impressed with Oscar’s approach for his first day in the F1 car. He managed to get up to speed pretty quickly and complete his run plan. We can see from his first day in the car that he is capable of adapting to a new car quite easily, which is one of the biggest traits that we would like to see.
“We had good feedback from the F1 engineers of the performance from all three drivers and they can see that the level is getting higher and higher each year, which is a good sign for things to come.”