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It’s an all-new look Renault factory team which will participate in F1 in 2016, having bought the assets from the Lotus team, which had bought the team from Renault in 2010… Got it? Okay.
2016 will be nothing more than a development year for Renault, especially with two new race drivers (one of whom was decided very late in the day). The most impressive thing to note from their team launch is the talent within their junior ranks and their team principal – Frederic Vasseur – the man behind the incredible success which ART has shown in the junior categories.
Results shouldn’t be expected immediately, but on paper the Renault F1 2016 driver line-up could produce something interesting on the track. This is quite clearly a long-term project and this time, they appear to be in it for the long haul.
2014-2015: McLaren (race then test driver)
2013 Formula Renault 3.5 champion
Arguably harshly axed from McLaren’s race seat for 2015 and then axed again before last year was out, Magnussen has been given a very unlikely second lease of life in F1, having tested a DTM car, a LMP1 car as well as evaluating options in IndyCar. After Pastor Maldonado’s contract was null and void after PDVSA failed to pay Renault, the team opted to go with Magnussen. A year on the side-lines would not have done the Dane much good, but he seems more determined than ever to produce something special as he did in his first ever F1 race by standing on the podium. It is difficult to remember that Magnussen is just 23, so should he have a good relationship with Renault, he may be a part of the team for a long time, and being part of a factory team in F1 in the current era is vital to achieving results.
2015: Lotus (test driver)
2014 GP2 Series champion
Following Romain Grosjean’s departure from the team to Haas, reserve driver Jolyon Palmer’s signing was certainly the logical, sensible and obvious option – albeit there being arguably better drivers around. Palmer is the most recent GP2 champion to date to secure a F1 seat and the first since his predecessor Grosjean, although Palmer took four seasons to achieve the feat. Palmer already knows the majority of the circuits he will be running this year having driven in many of the FP1 sessions last year (all in place of Grosjean). Out of the three rookies in the field, Palmer is arguably the best prepared and should be up to speed quickly. However he too has not raced in a year, so he might be a bit rusty in that area.
Renault has been far from the most reliable team in testing. Whilst Magnussen completed many laps, Palmer seemed to be plagued with issues during his time in the car. The car did however deliver a solid amount of miles in testing and that is certainly a positive for the manufacturer. Their lap times were solid if unspectacular, although Magnussen flirted with the top of the timesheets on a couple of occasions.
What happens in 2016 does not really matter too much to Renault. It is clear that with relatively inexperienced drivers, some inexperienced personnel and a clear shift in the design of the car and power unit that this is a long-term project. This will be nothing more than a building year for the team, but with the resources they inherited from Lotus, they should be soundly in the midfield. However, I feel that other teams will have made significantly larger steps over the winter, so Renault might finish in eighth.
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