Highlighting the differences: Montreal demonstrates gap between Renault-powered F1 teams
Posted By: Editor   |  12 Jun 2018   |  6:51 am GMT  |  138 comments

At a venue where power units were supposed to be one of the main differentiating factors in performance, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve gave a perfect demonstration of how much can be extracted from the remaining aspects of the car.

At the start of the weekend, one of the main talking points was on the introduction of updated power units. Various values of power gain were being talked about. “One percent”, “around two tenths of a second”, all fine margins in the quest to improve driveability and straight-line speed.

However, what the Canadian Grand Prix highlighted was the varying levels of car performance with the same power units.

The most popular comparison being made at the start of the season was McLaren vs Red Bull, both of whom are customer Renault-powered teams.

McLaren, as a chassis manufacturer, probably enjoyed some of their best publicity during their Honda years. During 2015-2017, their suggestions of having one of the best chassis on the grid couldn’t be completely disproven as they were the only team running the Honda power unit, reducing any grounds for a basic comparison.

Whilst Honda definitely had their troubles, it became easy for McLaren to play the sympathy card, where they were shackled by apparent deficiencies outside of their control.

It might have been a late switch from Honda to Renault for this season, but McLaren now have the opportunity to prove that they’re capable of at least regularly performing at the forefront of the midfield, which is something that they’re not doing.

They started their season strongly, but they’re currently losing out to the Renault works team and, in the last couple of races, Force India appear to be out-developing them, or at least extracting more pace from their car than McLaren can.

McLaren seemed to hit a low point in Montreal. They finished at the foot of the Q2 timing screens and both cars suffered from reliability issues in the race, with Stoffel Vandoorne also picking up a puncture on lap one.

“It’s sad, frustrating and I’m disappointed with this result,” said Alonso after the race. “We weren’t competitive this weekend. We need to find more performance in the car and a way to become competitive.

“There are a few areas of the car that we need to keep working on and improving, and we’ll see what happens in the next couple of months.”

Renault’s year-on-year improvements since their 2016 return appear to keep on coming. They’re the primary candidates for the coveted fourth place in the constructors’ championship and they’ve almost surpassed their 2017 points haul already. This upwards trend may well be a factor in Red Bull’s thought process when deciding which power unit to chose for 2019.

If Renault were supposed to be McLaren’s main target, then their performances would look better on paper. However, Red Bull have proven that you can win races as a Renault customer in 2018 and continue to complete demonstrations of their well-designed RB14 chassis.

Whilst it’s tougher to compare McLaren’s problematic race to the Red Bull benchmark, the performance gap between Renault and Red Bull was night-and-day in Montreal; Max Verstappen had lapped both Renaults by the end of the race, and the gap would’ve been greater without the intervention of the early safety car. Red Bull’s power units will definitely be no worse than the Renault works team’s.

With Red Bull marginally behind Mercedes and Ferrari in performance, they have a genuine case to question ‘what if’ regarding a potential boost with a different power unit supplier, but in an industry which constantly deals in fractions of a second, the scope for improvement from McLaren – especially for their 2019 car – appears to be ginormous.

All images: Motorsport Images

What do you think of McLaren’s performance so far in 2018? Do you think they should be closer to Red Bull than they are? Leave your comments below.

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What is the verdict so far on the Honda offering at Red Bull? How is Honda comparing? Hartley ran relatively well in practice and qualified respectably in 12th.


James .. I’m assuming that for the large gap to exist from RBR to Renault they must be making changes to the MGU H/K element of the engine, providing them with a serious power/deployment advantage, along with a better design/aero.


Maybe Size Zero concept of Mclaren was the problem and Honda engine easy good??? One would never find out.

Chief designer of McLaren lost his job…I think Brown as well as Alonso (garbage comments of Honda for 3 + years) should be kicked out for poor assessment of their own chassis and bringing financial loss to McLaren


Wow, it’s Alonsos fault they had a poor car. Learn something new everyday. From the outside it appears that Alonso is the only reason they are anywhere in the constructors this year or any of the previous years…

Richard Mortimer


How do you explain the 1 second (at least) gap between Red Bull (top 3 teams) and the mid-field? (Renault / McLaren).

Is all aero?


I fear McLaren are now well onto the slippery slope to Williams territory. They’ve made a series of major strategic errors going back several years and they look like culminating in way that turns the team into perennial midfielders, having been exemplars for much of F1 history since Ron Dennis took over the team.

Of all McLaren’s bad decisions in recent years, the biggest is not dropping Honda, or even partnering with Honda in the first place, it’s their decision to start building road cars on a large scale. While the road car arm has been very successful and presumably can bolster the team’s budget, it placed them in a very difficult position with regards to engine suppliers. McLaren’s bad-tempered history with Ferrari means there’s no realistic chance of them taking Ferrari engines, but becoming a road car manufacturer placed them in direct competition with Mercedes. Mercedes can’t permit a customer team to not only beat their works team, but use that success to take a bite out of their share of the supercar market. The moment Mercedes bought Brawn, the writing was on the wall for McLaren – they either had to switch to Renault (whose car range they barely overlap), accept customer spec Mercedes engines or entice a new manufacturer to the sport. With Renault not being at Mercedes and Ferrari’s level, getting Honda back in was logical and, given their past successes, attractive.

Arriving to the new PU formula a year late was, however, a big risk and Honda got it wrong. Worse still, McLaren then mismanaged the Honda relationship. Honda were steadily making incremental gains, but the pressure put on them resulted in a desperate gamble to try and move to an split compressor design. It went catastrophically wrong, but I thought at the time McLaren were wrong to jump ship when they did. Honda were improving their PU – incremental change is what they do best – and in my view, the Renault offering was not a big enough prize to justify the loss of what Honda might eventually produce. They’ve lost Honda forever and it seems to have been done largely to placate Fernando Alonso. Alonso is brilliant, but not worth ruining the team’s future for.

So what happens next? Short of building their road car engine partner, Ricardo, into an outfit capable of delivering a front-running F1 engine (which would be enormously expensive, with no guarantee of success), they’re going to have to make do with a customer engine. Renault is producing decent engines, but there’s clearly a gap to Ferrari and Mercedes which stubbornly refuses to close, and there’s the matter of McLaren competing with a Renault works team. Renault appear to be content to provide top spec engines to Red Bull and so may continue that with McLaren (McLaren’s reputation means Renault look good if the works team beats them with the same engine), but short of another amenable supplier entering the frey (who? McLaren are in direct competition with Porsche, too) their only path is the supposed collaboration with Cosworth and Aston Martin for 2021. They’ll produce a decent engine, I’m sure, but that doesn’t sound like a front-running power unit to me. I’ve a feeling Red Bull are going to end up winning as Honda’s de facto works team.

Richard Mortimer

No Kenny

It’s not quite like that.

For one thing, why not build road cars? The next step is to build their own engines? Also, don’t know what happened to the Apple rumours? They were only because of the road car arm. It makes sense. With Apple money they could do their own (Ricardo) engine. The way to do it is give the engine to a lower team to develop. That helps the lower team with their budget and means you are developing the engine a bit more out of the lime-light!

Mercedes are not a super-car builder. There is not even one direct competitor in either range! Ferrari is McLaren’s direct competitor. Porsche (as you say) is more a direct competitor than Mercedes, but Aston Martin even more so!

They could have stayed with Mercedes as a customer, but switched to Honda. Did anyone say “it won’t work?” I can’t remember that. Everyone was expecting Honda to do a great job.

To be honest, the FIA / F1 messed up the token rules, which did not help. Meant a new manufacturer could not catch up.

If I were McLaren I would: 1. Commit to Renault until 2021; 2. Focus on getting the chassis side sorted (aim to equal Red Bull); 3. Court Apple for a financial partner (+++); 4. Look to get a deal for a full works engine for 2021 – Peugeot (who aren’t doing anything right now, spent a lot on their WEC program and who have no expectation in F1), BMW (who started a good relationship with Williams and have un-finished business in F1), or Toyota (who could be out of the WEC after a period of domination). 4. At the same time, they could look at a Ricardo engine, or, re-branding the Cosworth as Ford or something like that? Maybe use Apple money to develop a Ricardo unit that can be sold to re-brand? Maybe a joint project with Williams?

In fact, while we are getting all creative – let’s have one superb collaboration between Cosworth and Ricardo, and Ford, Jaguar and Aston Martin (all Ford brands at one time)? Supply McLaren, Williams and Red Bull!


What i fail to understand is this underlying promotion of Honda as being the builder of race winning engines! Maybe in ’21 but surely not in the intervening period, ’18/’19 & ’20. They are still bottom of the pile. What is it that makes you think otherwise?


A couple of big red flags that popped up over the past 12 months regarding McClaren so I’m no really surprised they are going the way of Williams.

One red flag – the Grand Prix driver documentary series on Amazon which was a slow motion car wreck to watch. It genuinely appeared as though McClaren didn’t even have a single employee stationed in Japan full time. When the engine arrived (like an Amazon delivery) complete with a team of Japanese engineers, not a single employee appeared to speak Japanese. It was quite astounding to see considering the money involved and the technology and this being F1. It was amateur hour in the factory trying to get the engine started and trying understand each other.

The other red flag – and correct me if I’m wrong – but wasn’t there an article on JAonF1 earlier this year about some giant super committee of nobody related to racing that were going to direct McClaren? What complete and utter madness. What have these fools achieved besides accepting the payments to be on such a ridiculous committee? I’d bet they’ve come up with some great “working committees” on pet projects. I’m guessing they’ve had a to look into such varied and important racing team topics like “gender neutral toilets” and “equality for LGBTIQ employees” etc.

McClaren is sadly going down the gurgler, very unlikely they can pull out of this spiral dive now.


That “ridiculous committee” you write of is about to bear its first fruit from what I have hear via Sprint sponsorship of McLaren Indycar. I wouldn’t be so quick to condemn a roundtable of business heavy-hitters.


Wow…that should help the F1 team then? A sprint sponsorship of an Indycar team?…yep, that’s exactly the sort of “achievement” I would expect from a committee.


I find it amazing that people are commenting on the operation of a billion GBP turnover, that employs 3000+ people directly and many more in the supply chain.

Are you experienced in running such a company, or think that you are capable? Do you have access to all the information they had (without the benefit of hindsight)? Of course mistakes have been made, but to knock it down to such simplistic terms without knowing the full background is just plain naive. According to you chaps it should be easy to fix then?

The car isn’t quick enough, there’s an engine and budget to at least match Renault’s works team for now, but probably not enough to match Red Bull until spend caps come into force. So good engineers, money well spent is what is required, and someone was not telling the whole truth about the chassis performance vs the Honda engine performance – Wolff says that the Mercedes motto was identify, own, and solve the problem – or something like that, so no blame, just recognise and solve the issue. Sounds like that’s what McLaren are going through now.


Well written! Just corrected this on my phone which thought I had typed “Will written” which might have also been appropriate. I suspect that the McLaren culture is driven by Generation X highly educated types who believe that enough effort put into the management and governance processes can solve all ills. Trouble is successful F1 teams today mostly still do not work like this and in the past never did. Bernie was right about dictatorship being a better model for success.


In the early 90’s, McLaren were the last of the top teams to introduce a semi-automatic gear-box, the last to introduce active-suspension and the last to develop the raised nose aerodynamics.


The whole McLaren situation is what I would call a Kevin Eason issue. A single article in the Times describing the Brown/Bouillier incompetence would be sufficient to put an end to their control of the team. Dropping the Honda partnership was an error of biblical proportions. It astounds me that the media has given them a free pass for the poor performance of the team. Just astounding…




In defense of McLaren, their late change from Honda to Renault for this season has certainly not helped. Question is, how much did it compromise the car? Also, despite everything, some horrible qualifying sessions and DNFs (some of which Renault related), they are still not too far away from Renault in the championship. One big push with car upgrade and few good races and they could finish the season fourth best team. Not much more can be expected this year. With the advantage top three teams hold over rest of the grid, podiums are extremely unlikely and only in freaky circumstances. Wouldn’t be surprised if Perez turns out to be the only non Ferrari/Merc/Red Bull driver on podium this year.


Consider also that Red Bull has been running Renault powerplants since 2007 – they would have a far more established operational understanding of the engines – probably more than the existing Renault works team. The last minute switch when McLaren gave Honda the heave-ho probably meant that their car was designed around a different motor than the one that currently sits in the back.

McLaren preaching they had the best chassis in the Honda years was perhaps little far fetched when the Merc and Red Bull were on the grid, but the added horses of the Renault powerplant has probably complicated things for them. They certainly had a bad run in Montreal, but when Alonso is touring back to the pits rather than moving forward – as he usually does – things are bound to look more bleak.

Renault is also giving Red Bull the hurry up to make a decision on their engine future – but would this be wise when they are their only outfit capable of winning races at the moment?

Tornillo Amarillo

Force India could catch McLaren, worst case scenario for McLaren is P6 at the end of tye year, still an improvement.

For Force India will be always a step back.

The theory of relativity could demonstrate color livery does not make the car faster. 😉


I sincerely hope that Force India comes last. The two frauds who own the team are dragging the name of the country down with them


F.I is about to be declared bankrupt unless L.M and Andretti racing rescue them. What current team do you think set that up?


I wonder how much Hamilton’s departure also affected the team going forward. In hindsight what a career defining decision. I wonder if he saw this coming?


He’s a smart guy. He liked what Mercedes had to say, so gave it a go.

Just like Alonso liked what McLaren said.

He’s not the messiah….!


He’s not the messiah….!

……. he’s just a very naughty boy.


McLaren under-performed with Mercedes power. They won 3 drivers but only one constructors over 20 years – two with Newey designed machines, and one driven by Hamilton. When Ross Brawn’s rescued Honda chassis had a Merc power plant lashed onto it and won the championship, those in charge at Daimler sold their investment in Woking and bought the Brackley operation.

When Hamilton left McLaren for 2013 neither Button nor Perez got on the Podium all season.

When the new Engines came in for 2014 the Mercedes had it’s biggest advantage and it powered McLaren to fifth in the constructors championship (their last two podiums where both in Australia 2014) and finished 3rd of the Mercedes-powered teams. And where are they now ? 5th. Third of the Renault-powered teams. And still punching well below their weight.


McLaren always knew their performance was going to take a dip at this circuit because it’s a high power circuit with the long straights.

One thing not mentioned in this article is that McLaren have designed a high drag car and have done for many years now.

That’s why it’s slow in the speed traps in comparison to others and was also partly to blame for making the Honda engine look slower than what it actually was last year in comparison to the Toro Rosso which is a low drag car with good speed trap results.

Mclaren have been quite stubborn with their design philosophy over the past few years, hopefully now it will be a wakeup call that they need to make significant design changes next year now that they have benchmark comparisons.

Carlos Marques

I just hope McLaren doesn’t become another Williams.

At some point championship prize money will dry-up (if they keep finishing outside the top four teams) and then what? What’s the fastest/easiest way to pay the bills? Answer: Find a couple of drivers with no talent and deep pockets…and there we have it…another has-been team living in their yesteryear glory days at the end of the grid…


Ron Dennis must either be crying into his beer or quietly smiling, I suspect the former. His management style may have been questionable but there is no denying the results. The current leadership talk a lot but seem inept. Very sad.


I’m split about this.

I like Ron, wouldn’t like to work for him, but you gotta love him. Outspoken. Opinionated. Abrasive. Passionate. Driven.

On the other side, this decline started while he was still at the helm.

I think maybe rather like Bernie, his time has come.


That gap between the Red Bull’s and Renault is pretty embarrassing. I hope to see some tough questions asked to the Renault leadership at Paul Ricard – was the gap that large at Montreal last year?


I always thought the claims McLaren would be challenging for wins or even podiums was fanciful, but even I thought they’d be pretty solidly in the top 10 – there’s been no significant increase in pace from last year at all, although they’ve got more points and had improved (but hardly bulletproof) reliability. I genuinely don’t see where they go from here to get back to the front – Renault have two preferential teams, Honda are lost to them, an engine supplier coming into the sport is hardly going to be falling over themselves to give them a deal after they trashed Honda.

Hamilton got out just in time…


I think McLaren were quite civil with Honda during a long and frustrating relationship. Downright courteous compared to Red Bull’s very public and painful comments about Renault since 2014.


For the life of me, I do not understand why so many people are surprised by this?

I have long stated, from when the Honda partnership was announced, that Honda were not going to replicate their former 80’s glories. The landscape has changed to much. Their entries into F1 since those halcyon days have been underwhelming to say the least.

As to McLaren? In 2014, with the best PU in the business they narrowly edged Force India over the season. Bear in mind that Williams, a grandee that’s been falling backwards since the BMW days, secured 3rd position in the standings – using the same engine but significantly less resources.

As to Prodromou, he may have been high in the RBR hierarchy but he’s an aero guy who was under the stewardship of Newey. Rob Marshall is RBR’s chassis designer.

Speaking of Newey, he was at McLaren from 1997, and other than the titles in 1998 and 1999, achieved little in Woking. Those titles were won whilst Ferrari, the main opposition, were building up, so it wasn’t as intense as now.

McLaren have shown flashes of speed such as 2012 yet always seem to grab defeat from the jaws of victory. Even the 2007/8 seasons were tainted because they used illegally gained Ferrari data.


Wanted: one obsessed team owner whose only career and wealth is entirely invested in the team.


We have seen many top teams – Ferrari, Williams, McLaren et al, linger after success. As Steve Jobs used to say “Stay Hungry” or was it the Most Interesting Man in the World who said, “Stay Hungry my Friend?”

As I have pointed out, this FIA super-regulated socialistic-straightjacket environment truly had made everyone equal. But it has stifled the ability to innovate and find new solutions. Someone new finally gets a leg up and wins and that is unacceptable ! !

Chill out. . . All animals are still equal. . . Unfortunately.


The Canadian GP was one more kick in the ‘nads for McLaren fans. Considering switching allegiance but just can’t after about 20 years of McLaren being ‘my’ team.


I’m with you bro.

McLaren through and through, but it hurts.


A friend shared this with me. Just add 5G lateral load to the neck.


Tanks mang. Maybe you could tell me some reasons to be optimistic about McLaren. I need counseling 😑. Should I give them another year to optimize their chassis to Renault’s PU? Should I hope Alonso leaves or stays? Let’s solve the Middle East situation while we’re at it.


@ Kramgp

Actually, the Mclaren in 2014, started the season with double podiums

As for Alonso, apparently his ability to drive around a car’s problems creates a another problem for the engineers in identifying the car solutions


Not too happy to say, “I told you so!! but…

McLaren: how the mighty have fallen.

1. Team principle with no relevant experience and nothing to suggest that he could ever run an F1 team, has not performed since, somehow landing the job.

2. Loudest and most expensive whiner in F1, gets WAY, WAY too much input into the development of the car; deficiencies NEVER have anything to do with his “complete package” driving skills…

…need I go on?

As stated previously, McLaren needs to:

a. executive management change to a person with the applicable CV

b. rebaseline with a 5 year plan, (yes, starting development on THE NEXT ERA, like Mercedes did previously)

c. get the best development driver available (could be Kubica)

just an add-on to the point c. above, holding back Lando Norris is a good example of foggy thinking: I’m not meaning to suggest that he isn’t a top-notch talent, the exact opposite, as a top-notch talent, he will have no where to go at McLaren, he is NOT the development driver they need right now; he should have been ‘loaned’ out at $$$ to get the high-end experience he needs, and then potentially brought home to a car that has a possibility of competing; non?!

Alonso: I’m NOT suggesting that he can’t still potentially, if all the cards are right, and the wind is in the right direction, and he had a good night last night, etc…. win races and … potentially a championship…

but he is NOT the appropriate driver for the McLaren team right now; he has NEVER been involved in the successful development of a winning car!

The 2005-2006 seasons of his F1 WDCs saw Renault with what would later been deemed an illegal device (I still don’t know why it was deemed illegal, but it was) for half the season in 2005 and half the season in 2006. Otherwise, the championships in both years would have gone to Kimi IN THE MCLAREN!

Just sayin’….


The issue with Mclaren is simply that Alonso is so talented he can drive around the car issues well which makes it harder for the engeneers to figure out on which direct to go. He can drive around a poor setup and deliver a better laptime than his team mate. Alonso needs a strong experienced teammate that will push him like Hulkenberg as a reference point.

Because Alonso can drive around issues his team mates will not pull development towards their issues since Alonso can “prove” the old setup works.

Its a problem where the old logic fails. The driver can over drive and still make the best time on poor setup. So the team has to stop thinking simply. They need Kubica or Massa in the simulator!!!! to build the car and Alonso will make the laptime!!

My two cents.


Fernando, is that you?

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