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Progress on engine, but what does the 2017 F1 season look like for Renault’s F1 team?
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Nico Hulkenberg
Posted By: Editor   |  15 Mar 2017   |  6:19 pm GMT  |  38 comments

After the winter testing, one of the hardest teams to place in the pecking order is the Renault F1 team. They looked relatively solid in the midfield pack in the first week and struggled to match that in the second week.

With two of the manufacturer backed teams, Ferrari and Mercedes set to compete at the front this year with Renault-powered Red Bull, the question arises – where is Renault F1 team at this point?

How good is the engine they share with Red Bull and Toro Rosso and what should the team’s 2017 game plan be?

The 2017 Formula 1 season marks the start of the second year back in the world championship for Renault since it re-purchased the Enstone-based former Lotus team at the end of 2015.

In 2016 – always billed as a transitional year – the team often struggled to escape Q1 largely thanks to the RS16’s under-developed Lotus predecessor and the last minute change from a Mercedes power unit to a Renault design.

But at the launch of the RS17 in London last month, Renault Sport boss Jerome Stoll stated that the squad was aiming for fifth place in the constructors’ championship in 2017.

To achieve that aim, Renault needs to have produced a competitive chassis and improved the performance of its power unit compared to the Mercedes and Ferrari engines.

Jolyon Palmer

“This has been an exciting two weeks for everyone at Renault Sport Racing as we have seen the first Formula 1 car designed from the outset by us take to the track,” said Renault Sport’s managing director Cyril Abiteboul at the conclusion of winter testing in Barcelona last week. “The RS17 looks beautiful and we think it is a good platform to build the performance that will allow to achieve our aims for 2017. We know the areas we need to address.”

Step 1 – the power unit

Under the technical leadership of Remi Taffin, Renault seems to have got its act together.

Like Honda, Renault opted to completely overhaul the design of its V6 turbo power unit. But unlike the Japanese manufacturer, it has made a significant step forward, which could be seen by Red Bull, with its Renault engine, topping the speed trap classification at Barcelona on the first day of testing. Eve Red Bull boss Christian Horner has said positive things about the engine.

To achieve this improvement, Renault has implemented an entirely new approach to its engine architecture on both the internal combustion element and the energy recovery systems.

Renault

Although Red Bull’s top speed improvement has been aided by the RB13’s slick aerodynamics reducing drag in a straight line, Toro Rosso, Renault’s other customer, has also been impressed by its 2017 engine.

“We are quite happy with the Renault engine,” said Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost. “It’s the new design and the engine shows a good performance, also from the drivability.”

Dominic Harlow, JA on F1’s technical advisor, explained that re-arranging engine architecture could lead to manufacturers finding significant laptime gains.

He said: “It’s about packaging and potential to size their turbo and compressor as they want for the best performance. In the end having better packaging will enable them to get more from the MGU-H to use more mega joules per lap. If you’re unable to run at the limit of [electrical] deployment at any point you’re losing potential lap time and if you can get closer to that limit you’ll gain lap time.

“It used to be that 0.4 of a mega joule was about three tenths of a second per lap, as a rule of thumb.”

Renault

One downside to Renault’s new power unit is that all three teams using it during testing suffered reliability problems, specifically with the new MGU-K overheating. Renault was aware of the issue from its dyno work on the new engine, but that problem became clearer during testing.

The French manufacturer is already working on a solution, which it expects will be implemented in time for the Australian Grand Prix, but it may not necessarily be a straightforward fix.

The tight confines of the current F1 power units mean that any attempt to improve cooling can have a significant knock-on effect to other areas of a car. More cooling for the ERS could impact the cooling of the gearbox, hydraulics, intercooler, engine water and engine oil, and effect the overall aerodynamic performance of a car if its packaging needs to be opened up.

Step 2 – the chassis

Renault was hampered in 2016 by the underdeveloped RS16 it inherited from Lotus, which also had to cope with the late switch from a Mercedes engine to the Renault design.

Jolyon Palmer

The RS17 features a number of aggressive aero parts, particularly around the sidepods, directing air towards the rear of the car and the diffuser. But Renault has hit trouble with the mounting of its rear wing support pillar, which was attached to the DRS actuator pod when the car was launched and during testing, but the FIA ruled it was not compliant with the regulations.

Jolyon Palmer noted that the RS16 had “made a good gain” in ride quality, and reckons Renault has made a big step with its new car.

But the Briton’s new team-mate, Nico Hulkenberg, has already moved to check expectations for 2017.

He said: “I think Renault is better placed than last year. The team moved closer to the midfield. Points will be difficult as I think four teams are clearly in front. Then there’s not much left. It’s going to be difficult.”

The aim – bridging the gap

Fifth place in the constructors’ championship is an ambitious aim given the crowded nature of F1’s current midfield. Our analysis from the long runs in Barcelona last week shows that Renault is likely to be locked in a fight with Toro Rosso and Haas F1 behind Williams and Force India.

Nico Hulkenberg

At the moment it is behind its two customer teams, Red Bull and Toro Rosso, which is an uncomfortable situation for any manufacturer. But Renault can at least take comfort from the performance gains it has made with its power unit, and once it irons out the reliability concerns it can push on and further bridge the gap to its rivals.

What do you expect from Renault in 2017? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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38 comments

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1

Im expecting a decent season. The car looks solid - not spectacular - but solid, and they have two good drivers who should be capable of stepping up should the car offer the opportunity.

Nico has always been pretty decent, if perhaps lacking that extra couple of %% and with Jo Palmer, Im actually expecting a better performance. He is a slow starter in every feeder series, but I think he has it in him - if he gets it into his head that he can do this.

On the engine side , I hear sensible comments - expected problems - but a logical and systematic approach to resolution and development.

With the chassis, I see a pragmatic approach to the new regs - but with one or two areas that were among the more advanced of those on show in Barcelona. It seems to get the power down well enough and seems to lack any major vices in terms of balance. This should be a good base for them to add downforce as they develop this in tandem with pushing the power output. In all, it seems quite calm and organised, which always gives confidence.

Compare this to the mess that seems to exist in terms of culture, communication and integration over at Woking. So, whilst I dont doubt Nico's caution in early races - I do expect them to lead home the pack that will probably develop immediately behind Williams as 'best of the rest'. Other than my sincere hope that the Scuderia can take it to the Mercs, Renault are my big hope for an entertaining year.

2

i hope they do well, they've got great f1 history and the car looks good. can't help singing 'fireman sam' when i see the driver overalls though.

3

I agree, whoever designed the race suits needs to be fired

4

As a Renault fan, I hope they will get to their former glory, rather soon. Probably I'm not the only one wishing that.
The more of the teams at the front, the merrier.

5

Uncomfortable situation is correct...Having RB and TR ahead of you as your clients and you being a works team has got to burn. I would think they had time to sort the aero out since they weren't putting too much into last years car. I am hoping they get into the swing of things soon. It's probably nostalgia from them being Lotus and Grosjean and Kimi really making the team do some spectacular things couple years ago why I have a soft spot for them now. Fingers cross.

6

It's not really a shame to have to customer teams ahead of you if one of those teams has a huge budget, and the other has had a very good chassis over the last few years.

7

I feel the problem with Renault would their driver I dont think Nico and Palmer are great driver they are mid level driver if we see last year force India Nico did lot of mistake and same with Palmer if Renault has to be top team again they need someone like Alonso who can push to limit yes they would have made progress so as Ferrari and Merc if we newey comment he is still worry I think that is problem with today Engine technology that team like Redbull and Mclaren so much depend on their Engine supplier to make a good engine and team like Merc and Ferrari would not give them engine in past team were less depended on engine I think that should be the formula .

8

I don't think you're doing justice to the Hulk. He was generally quicker than Perez in qualy and therefore suffered from being 9th, say, and stuck in his Q2 tyres, whereas Perez was 11th and could go for something else. Leaving out the top 4 (Lewis, Fernando, Danny and Max), I think he'll prove this year that he's as good as any of the others.

9

Hi Kavin,

I think that is a very interesting observation. Could Renault do with a season of a Kimi, Button or Massa to drive the car and provide some feedback on where they are actually at. Hulk has been around for a while but has mostly been driving midfield pigs.

Schumacher had a drive of the 95 Ferrari which Berger and Alesi struggled with somewhat that year, admittedly they looked dangerous with a handful of races particularly Alesi (Canada V12 beast rock"on), but Schumacher stated after a few small test drives that he would have comfortably won the 95 season with that car. Obviously thats after a season driving the Benneton which he won anyway. Head games with Damon, Gerhard and Jean who knows?

10

Ya Point is when u got top driver they have their detail input someone Schumacher who not only responsible for Ferrari begin champion but he should be also given credit what Merc today are surely his input would have help them and he would have also bring good people to Merc that what experience does u may not get result suddenly.you have wait for their ideas to work and that I see in Seb and Kimi their present and their input showing in Ferrari now.

11

I believe their tactics this year is not to attack but to defend. Some kind of turtle defence maybe since i found that one anagram for Team Renault is:

A Mean Turtle

12

Maybe they'll use the homing shell? 🙂

13

Exactly! Thanks for reminding me of that wonderful game 😀

14

Good luck Renault!

15

"Renault seems to have got its act together"

And about damn time 🙂

16

I've put UK £5 at a bookies for the Hulk to get that first breakthrough podium, at odds of 8/1. There are 20 races, which means 60 champagne spraying opportunities are up for grabs, and surely Hulk can just get just one podium visit out of a possible 60.................there's got be a good chance of a first corner pile-up at somewhere like Melbourne or Sochi and the Hulk can sneak through for his 1st podium..........

17

I made a 2€ bet for Grosjean winning @Melbourne with 250:1 odds. One brutal pile-up it has to be then.

18

Should do one for Alonso...you may be significantly richer 😀

19

Maybe if he was driving a pink car 🙂

20

About time, He needs to get his act together and get a podium now.

21

'When' Renault catch up with Red Bull, I think the derogatory comments made by the Austrian team about the Renault engine will come back to haunt them. And rightly so.

22

Think those harsh words where needed because after that with the help of red bull they completely reorganized the engine team to get back up to the right performance.

23

Considering where they were this time last year, playing catch-up to RBR and STR shouldn't really bother the Regie. Effectively, they're a second year team showing solid progress. They will make gains that set them up for next year. Actually, the script writes itself so readily that I have to go on and say it: Fernando leaves McLaren, returns to Renault next season (sorry, JP, Hulk; one of you will be surplus to requirements); the third time's the charm as he wins his third title with Renault.

24

I certainly would not be at all surprised to see Alonso back at Renault if this season shows a good level of improvement.

25

Renault are the team I believe will develop the most as the season goes on ... they look to have a decent basic car to work with ... I would be happier if they lashed out more money for a proven top driver to know exactly what the car is capable of and where it really is at for faster development.
May even happen with Alonso and McLaren problems.
wont be surprise to see them on the podium.

26

Any truth to last year's rumor that Renault wanted Redbulls know how on engine set up/electrics but they refused?

27

So, one analysis I read somewhere after the first week of testing was that many teams had not shown their real pace that first week. But that it was expected that teams would show more of their real pace in the second week as that was their last chance to run and still change anything for Melbourne. So, the opening of this piece says that when everyone was just doing shake down runs and not showing their real pace during the first test week, at that point Renault looked competitive. But then in the 2nd week, when teams were showing more of what they've got, then Renault "struggled to keep pace".

Add to that the reliability problems that always seem to come with a new version of one of these complex engines in the first season, and not, I don't think this is going to be a banner year for Renault. Hope they like racing against Sauber.

Then again, the big story this year is going to be the development race. So the question is does Renault have a team that can match the other midfield runners in coming up with new bits and tricks during the season. And then there's always that question that arises if the early part of the season has not gone well which is when do they pull the plug on this year and just start worrying about 2018?

28

Can't possibly be as bad as last year, although I'll be pleasantly surprised if they manage fifth spot. Should be ahead of McLaren, Sauber, one of the Williams and possibly Toro Rosso at the start of the season, so not looking too bad.

29

"In the end having better packaging will enable them to get more from the MGU-H to use more mega joules per lap." That's an interesting sentence, so it turns out that the MGUH does contribute to the battery assistance through the lap, so even without the MGUK an F1 car would still have some battery power to deploy....

30

The MGU-h always has contributed to storing electrical power, this is nothing new. Without the MGU-k though, the only system left to get assistance from the stored electrical power would be the MGU-h itself. The MGU-k electric motor is connected to the crankshaft through the timing gear, this is where the extra HP comes from. Without the MGU-k all the cars would benefit from is reduced turbo lag.

31
The Grape Unwashed

I'm really impressed with the progress of this team and I will be cheering them on this year (there's no point cheering McLaren). It's great to see Hulkenberg in a team with prospects to be fighting for podiums in a year or two - I expect him to thrive there.

32
@Damien_Marquez

I remember being impressed in 07 by Hulkenberg driving the A1GP car in Sydney for the 06/07 season, He then went on to become champion with Germany, followed by a GP2 title soon after and a pole position in his first year of F1 with Williams.

It's about time he had this breakthrough podium and I'm hoping the Renault will be good enough for that.

Besides that, it's probably the best livery of 2017, so hoping it'll be nearer to the front than the back. I look forward to cheer him on in Singapore later this year.

33

Going on testing results they're still playing catchup after three years. It looks like Red Bull will be P3 or P4 this year because their engine has a bigger power deficit. This hybrid V6 engine has done more harm to F1 than anything else in its history. Imagine a company like Honda not being able to make a reliable engine. And then you have Jean Todt saying you can't go back to the 'noisy' engines. Give me a break, why hasn't anyone got the balls to tell Mercedes to shove their V6 where it fits?

34

agrees Chris ... F1 has become a R&D wing of big car companies not a real sport

35

Finishing P5 in the constructors involves beating wither Williams or Force India, can they really manage that? McLaren, Sauber and Haas should be easy enough, and Torro Rosso must be behind them if they are going to have any credibility as a works team, but what about those customer Merc engined teams? A big ask given Renault's usual method of trying to do it on the cheap.

36

They look a good bit better than last year. I think they'll be solidly in the midfield with Haas and Toro Rosso, a bit slower than Force India. It's a big, big year for Jolyon Palmer, too. He's tended to take a while to adapt to each new formula he's raced in, so the new cars could work against him, especially with a stronger team mate on the other side of the garage.

37
Tornillo Amarillo

Hulk sees himself fighting the Championship at Renault in 2019...

Is he brutally correct or naively daydreaming?

38
Clarks4WheelDrift

I guess that depends on Mercedes quitting F1 by 2019. 😉

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