Renault were the first team to launch their 2016 F1 campaign a couple of weeks back. Well, if you can call it that. I’m still not really sure what Reanult achieved by launching an interim livery alongside announcing two drivers who we already knew were driving for the team but it did at least create some news, which has been somewhat lacking in the F1 world in recent weeks.
I think it was only a matter of time before Maldonado received his marching orders from Enstone. The millions of dollars he bought in sponsorship through PDVSA enabled him to retain his F1 seat far longer than his results from the last five seasons suggest. Whilst I do of course have sympathy for someone effectively losing their job, numerous more talented drivers have fallen by the wayside since Maldonado’s debut in 2011, for some seasons now he’s been living on borrowed time. It’s refreshing to see Renault back in F1 full time, and even more refreshing to see them place a great amount of trust and emphasis on young talent. Palmer, Magnussem and Ocon represent a great trio of young drivers all thoroughly deserving of their place in the team. Eseteban Ocon was first to feature in my Just Who Is series, charting the biggest talents in motorsport.
Although Renault haven’t actually revealed their 2016 car or livery, I’ve decided to kick off my 2016 Team By Team F1 guide with F1’s favourite returnees as I feel their driver line up of three up and coming stars gives us plenty to talk about.
Just when it looked like Kevin Magnussen’s F1 career was over after just one season at McLaren, the welcome news that he would replace Maldonado at Renault was met with a great degree of joy in the F1 community. 11th place in 2014 with McLaren represented a solid year for the Dane, and whilst he didn’t exactly set the world on fire in the same way as Verstappen and Sainz did in 2015, the McLaren MP4-29 hardly did either. Magnussen finished outside the points on just seven occasions in his debut season and was very nearly in contention to partner Alonso in 2015 until McLaren opted for the experience of Button. Something which I feel was certainly the correct thing to do. However, as always, the number of drivers knocking on F1’s door represents a far larger number than the seats available and Vandoorne’s whitewash of the 2015 GP2 championship made it very hard for him to be ignored. McLaren chose to replace Magnussen as their reserve driver for 2016 effectively ending his chances of replacing Button when he announces his retirement and it’s nice to see him get one more shot at F1.
His experience will be invaluable to Renault and everyone at Enstone. With Palmer yet to experience an F1 race weekend as a race driver both he, and Renault will have to draw on Magnussen’s experience in what is no doubt going to be a challenging opening leg of the 2016 season. No-one is expecting Renault to light up F1 straight away, but with the massive investment they can bring, their target of regular podiums in three seasons is a very achievable possibility.
Palmer’s experience on Fridays last season will also go some way to giving him a good grounding in F1. Although he starts 2016 as rookie, he won’t be a rookie in the same regard as Wehrlein will be at Manor, or Nasr was at Sauber last season. Palmer spent 2015 as an integral part of the Lotus squad, and by participating in a large number of Friday practice sessions he should find himself very well integrated in the race team, and well adapted to the atmosphere of a race weekend. I expect Magnussen to start 2016 with the upper hand, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Palmer come on strong towards the middle of the season, and I expect both to be very closely matched come Abu Dhabi. On paper, Renault have bagged themselves a fantastic driver line up, both in terms of potential and personality. Don’t forget, although Palmer didn’t race in 2015, he was the 2014 GP2 champion, beating Vandoorne and Nasr to the title.
Renault will be helped by the fact that the team over at Enstone can design a very strong chassis. The Lotus E23 was quick straight out the blocks in Australia, and it was only a lack of funding which saw it’s competitiveness tail off during the season. If Renault can make significant inroads into improving their engine, then they should make significant progress up the pecking order soon after.
I’m excited to see what Renault can produce in 2016. All the foundations are in place to build what could be a very strong F1 team once again, much like the Renault we saw during the mid 2000’s when they were at the peak of their powers. Significant amounts of work will be required if Renault are to topple Ferrari, and eventually Mercedes but with their significant investment in young talent, and indeed the engineering talent they have at Enstone then it could well be only a matter of time before we see the Renault name back on the F1 podium.