Renault is way behind its own expectations for 2019. Nico Hülkenberg struggles with his new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. And Daniel Ricciardo?
It was meant ironically, but in retrospect almost prophetic:
“Do you still have any money for the development of your cars?”
That was Christian Horner’s cold reaction to his “perennial enemy” Cyril Abiteboul’s provocations. The French team boss had asked his colleague from Red Bull in late 2018 after losing Red Bull to Honda: “I heard you need a new driver?”
The scene was featured on Netflix’s popular Formula 1 documentation “Drive to Survive”.
The background story was that shortly before, Daniel Ricciardo had decided to switch from Red Bull to Renault. Abiteboul saw it as a personal triumph to have lured the Australian away from their ungrateful client – Red Bull. With that move, Abiteboul truly believed that he had laid the foundation stone for a tremendous upswing for the French factory team.
One year later, Abiteboul’s hopes and dreams seem like a joke. The supposed upswing was in fact a huge landslide. While Red Bull with its new engine partner Honda has become the primary Mercedes challenger even ahead of Ferrari, Renault completely missed its own goals by a wide margin.
The goal was simple: To be at least 4th behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. The reality is a disappointing sixth place with only 39 points in the constructors’ championship. Renault rookie Daniel Ricciardo is eleventh in the drivers’ standings (22 points) and his German team-mate Nico Hülkenberg only 14th (17 points). Experts like ex-world champion Jacques Villeneuve (45) agreed: “Renault is the disappointment of the season.”
No doubt, so far there are only losers in the French team:
- Team principal Abiteboul himself as the team representative.
- Ricciardo, because he put himself in a situation that doesn’t even come close to what he had achieved last year.
- Nico Hülkenberg, because he is losing against a teammate for the first time in his career.
So what’s the source of Renault’s decline?
One thing is certain, it’s not the money. According to ABMS research, when it comes to F1 money rankings, Renault is in 4th position together with Mclaren with an annual budget of about EUR 220 million.
Especially the comparison with McLaren, which uses the same engines, reveals the real origin of their disappointing performance – Renaults’ staff.
McLaren has 43 points more than the French and that with identical engines and similar budget.
And to make one thing clear, the drivers are not to blame because Ricciardo and Hulkenberg are still considered one of the strongest driver pairings this year.
Consequently, the car is the weak point which leads us to the technicians and engineers responsible. Nevertheless, Abiteboul, clearly under pressure, shifted the responsibility, especially on Hulkenberg.
After the German dropped out of the German GP in Hockenheim on the way to a podium finish, Nico had to endure severe criticism from his both for throwing away a fourth place and vital points in the constructors’ championship.
The fact that Hulkenberg was actually able to drive for points and a podium finish under such difficult circumstances and with a more than challenging car to drive didn’t count for much.
Hülkenberg attempted a rational analysis for the recent downturn: “It was more about reliability at the beginning of the season. We didn’t do well enough in the development of the car and so we aren’t where we want to be, which is not enough because we fight ten cars in midfield this year. In the previous year, it was maybe four, or maximum six at a time.”
“Of course I had hoped for more,” added Ricciardo, “but I also knew it would be a rocky road. With races like Canada, we exceeded expectations in qualifying, and then in races like Austria, we wee behind. Now we have to deliver. If we want to achieve our goals, namely podium finishes b 2020, then we have to grow and take bigger steps in the second half of the season.”
The question is how?
A new expansion stage of the engine is planned, but McLaren gets the same engine. Abiteboul must now urgently offer solutions and prove to the board in Paris that he is still the right person for the job.
It could be that he will sacrifice Hülkenberg, whose contract expires by the end of this season. For him, the Frenchman Esteban Ocon could join the team and provide a fresh option and new hope to the board in France.
Hülkenberg, on the other hand, has no other choice but to wait as he clearly expressed his wishes to remain at Renault.
But even if Ocon doesn’t join the French team, there is another threat for the German. According to ABMS sources, Abiteboul seems to be also talking to ex-world champion Fernando Alonso’s advisors. As everyone knows, Alonso won two world titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006.
Ricciardo vs. Hulkenberg
Average faster in Q: -0.134s
Race Comparison: 6-5 (double failure in Hockenheim)
Average team points: Ricciardo 56%, Hülkenberg 44%
Scores: Ricciardo: 7,9 Hulkenberg: 6,6
*This article was first published in German at autobild.de/motorsport.