With its “reconstruction” phase complete, Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul says the team’s torrid 2019 campaign hasn’t detracted from its ambition to return to the top step of the podium.
Renault laid down ambitions to be a race-winning team by 2021 after it re-entered into the sport as a works outfit in 2016.
Momentum looked to on the French squad’s side after finishing fourth in the constructors’ standings in 2018, with confidence bolstered in luring Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull ahead of the 2019 season.
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However, Renault’s battles with inconsistency and poor reliability saw customer team McLaren beat them to fourth in the constructors’ standings, with Ricciardo’s fourth-place finish at Monza the team’s highest finish of 2019. In four seasons, Renault is yet to score a podium, let alone a victory.
Nico Hulkenberg has since been replaced by French young gun Esteban Ocon, with Ricciardo into the second year of his two-year deal, while there have been a raft of key technical staffing changes.
Speaking at the team’s pre-season launch event in Paris – where a black livery was teased – Abiteboul was confident Renault can return to an upwards trajectory this season despite losing ground in 2019.
“The previous years have centred around reconstruction across both facilities and human resources,” the Frenchman said.
“This phase is now complete and now need to do justice to our ambitions and road map … 2019 was a challenging year, but not without its merits.
“It provided a reminder of what it takes to succeed in this sport and the high level of competition. More specifically, last season enabled us to take stock of our strengths and weaknesses at the end of our initial construction period and to take appropriate action.”
With the driver market set to dominate discussions in 2020 ahead of the major 2021 rules overhaul, Renault will be hoping its R. S. 20 can justify why they signed Ricciardo on the big bucks in the first place amid fears the Australian could move elsewhere.
At the team launch, Ricciardo admitted he has been “answering all calls” as the 30-year-old weighs up his future, having failed to record a podium finish since his 2018 Monaco win for Red Bull.
23-year-old Ocon, meanwhile, is contracted through to 2021 but hasn’t raced in F1 since he left Racing Point in 2018.
Of all 10 teams on the grid in 2019, Renault was perhaps the most humbled after big expectations fell by the wayside race after race.
Four-time F1 champion Alain Prost, Renault’s special advisor, also highlighted the goal of becoming world champion remains alive, but conceded it “needs to be placed in a schedule that is a bit more realistic”.
“We suffered a lot from the objective set a few years ago, which was maybe a bit too ambitious,” Prost said at the launch.
“It’s not always easy to manage. We have to be realistic … the building of the team is practically finished. We’re stabilised from a sporting and technical point of view.”
Abiteboul reiterated the team’s goals for 2020 – reliability, development and converting momentum into results – and acknowledged the high expectations set from the get-go in 2016 still remain relevant.
Another season like 2020 could trigger strife for Renault, with the company reviewing all facets, including its F1 program – but Abiteboul remained committed to the team’s long-term goal.
“We approach this new season with humility and ambition … humility as the challenge is huge for every team, every coming year and we are not the exceptions,” Abiteboul said.
“When we returned to a changed and increasingly competitive sport in 2016, we expressed our ambitions to be world champions, and we set the bar high for every staff member.
“We need to adhere to this initial plan, without succumbing to the short-term objectives that take us away from our end goal.”
“We also need to regain confidence and reinforce team spirit to get the best from everyone, and to maximise our chances each race weekend during this unprecedented long and challenging season.”