Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul has stoked the flames with rivals McLaren by claiming Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg were just as fast as them during the French Grand Prix, despite both drivers losing out to their counterparts.
McLaren surprised everyone with their speed at Paul Ricard in practice – Ricciardo even jokingly suggested they had “secret upgrades” – before qualifying fifth and sixth for the race, compared to Renault’s eighth and 13th.
In the race, Carlos Sainz ran off alone to secure P6 while Lando Norris was plagued by a series of problems in the closing laps which saw both Hulkenberg and Ricciardo overtake him – although the latter was penalised for his moves to drop him to P11.
Renault and McLaren share the same power unit and are the two teams most likely to be pushing for that ‘best of the rest’ spot at the end of the season, but Abiteboul stressed his team had a superior race pace in France.
“It’s an OK result, being in the points is good, but we are targeting more points than that,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.
“We’ve seen that we are just as quick if not quicker than McLaren when not held back, but obviously McLaren was so much faster in qualifying, and that’s what matters the most in current F1.
“On different compounds and on the longer runs we are much more competitive against them and the rest of the field. That’s going to be the focus in Austria, where probably it’s going to be extremely hot, and we know the track can be extremely damaging for the tyres.
“McLaren is a good brand, they are a car maker, which matters to us. They are our partner and customer team, so their success is also coming from our contribution. That’s good and positive, and it’s also showing on the chassis side what’s possible.
“Having said that we are not miles away, and we were much faster than them in Montreal. What I expect is to see an interesting battle with McLaren for the remainder of the season.
“They are ahead, only the points matter, only the Sunday result matters. We put ourselves after qualifying, looking at the qualifying, but looking at the race, it’s much more on par.
“But again the only thing that matters in modern F1 is firstly the points and secondly the qualifying, because it’s so difficult to overtake, either because of the aerodynamics or the current stance of the FIA on these things.”