Australia 2019 - GP preview - Renault F1
The first race of the year, the Australian Grand Prix, is a high point of the season, but even more so this year as Daniel Ricciardo makes his race debut for the team. We head there united and with strong determination.
We have a new car that has shown potential in Barcelona. The power unit has made progress and our driver line-up of Daniel and Nico is perhaps the strongest on the grid. We’re looking forward to seeing them showcasing their experience and talent on track. There is a lot of expectation for the first race, especially with Daniel’s debut for the team coming at his home Grand Prix.
The two pre-season tests in Barcelona were productive. We ran through our programme largely as planned, thanks to racking up a lot of kilometres. However, only the race will answer the outstanding questions and allow us to see where we are and to make further progress; it will be the hour of truth. This makes the first race of the season one of the most intense of the year for every team.
The power unit performance is there, with a clear step forward and consistent with our targets, which is very satisfying. Given the level of reliability demonstrated in Barcelona, the sensitivity over this aspect will be a little different. From now, reliability will not necessarily score points, as it had in the past, but any resulting DNFs will be more costly. We will therefore be particularly vigilant in this regard at the start of the year.
The 21-race calendar will bring opportunities for us to continue our progress. Our objective of closing the gap to the best in class is ambitious but we are resolute and every detail will be taken into consideration. We believe in our ability and we aim to set the tone for a good season in Australia this weekend.
With pre-season testing over, the team heads to Albert Park, Melbourne, for the first race of the year. Chassis Technical Director Nick Chester explains the strengths of the Renault R.S.19.
What are your feelings heading into the first race of the year?
The competition looks like it will be very tight. Year on year the competitive landscape has evolved and we cannot count on our closest competitors’ weaknesses. We knew with the regulation changes there was a possibility it would become even tighter and this has been played out. From our point of view, we had two good weeks of pre-season testing, covering good mileage and we went through a variety of test items as planned, meaning we go to Melbourne well prepared.
Has winter testing given a solid platform to attack the start of the season well?
We have a decent balance on the car and we obtained a vast amount of data to understand the main characteristics of our package. We have been able to identify the best set-up for the drivers to optimise their performance. We’ve already put some performance parts on the car in the last days of testing at Barcelona that worked well and we have more to come in Melbourne. Overall, we have a strong package and the development programme outlined for the first part of the season is very intense.
What are the main challenges of Albert Park?
Beginning the season on a street course throws up some challenges, especially after coming in from testing on a smooth, permanent surface. The track is usually a bit dirty on Friday with lack of grip and there’s always a challenge in striking a good setup as it’s a bumpy circuit. Drivers and engineers almost need to start from zero compared to Barcelona testing. Temperatures can vary a lot in Melbourne and the rain can sometimes roll in from the bay nearby and that’s something to keep in mind.
The Australian Grand Prix kicks off Nico Hülkenberg’s third season with the team and his ninth year in Formula 1. After posting the fifth fastest time in pre-season testing, Nico is pumped up and chomping at the bit ready to begin the campaign at Albert Park.
How excited are you for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix?
I’m very excited to head out to Melbourne. At testing, and across the winter, there was a lot of speculation and anticipation, but the first race weekend is when the talking stops and we find out for real where we stand. Testing went reasonably well, but we don’t know anything for certain until we hit the track in Australia. The midfield will always be competitive, but we focus on ourselves, stay on top of things and ensure our developments give us improvements.
What’s the mindset heading to Australia?
Our main goal is to put ourselves in a better position than last year. We want to reward ourselves with more points and better results. A lot of hard work has gone into this and we head to Melbourne as prepared as we can be, and I’m quite happy with that. I have a new team-mate who brings a positive challenge. We’ll bring out the best from each other. He’s a quality driver and we’ll test each other and that’s a challenge I look forward to taking on.
What are the early feelings of the 2019 package?
It does feel similar to last year’s car but that’s not a huge surprise given a lot of it is quite stable from last year. I feel comfortable in the car and it was nice to go over 500 laps over the two weeks. We built up a good database ahead of Melbourne. We’ve certainly improved our package in many areas, but there are also many areas which we need to develop; that’s an ongoing story in Formula 1. We’re happy with our baseline.
How challenging is the Melbourne Street Circuit?
It’s always a challenge going from a two-week test on a smooth circuit to racing on a temporary street track. You feel those bumps in the early Friday running and there’s usually a lack of grip as the course won’t have been rubbered in. Having said that, it does improve as the weekend goes on, once you grow more accustomed. The setting is very pretty inside Albert Park and it’s always packed with fans. There are some fast sections and good kerbs to ride which is satisfying when you get them right. It’s a great venue to start the year and I’m very excited to jump in the car for FP1.
Daniel Ricciardo will don the black and yellow colours of Renault for the first time at a Grand Prix in Melbourne. And with 150 races under his belt in Formula 1, he heads home to Australia ready to rock his new machinery in front of an electric crowd.
How much are you looking forward to your home race, and your first outing in Renault colours?
It’s an exciting thought that my first race for Renault is my home Grand Prix. There’s always so much hype at the start of the Formula 1 season, and this has been amplified by me joining a new team. I’ve had this date circled since I announced I’d be signing with Renault and I’m looking forward to getting race week started. It’s been a long winter with a lot of theories and speculation going around, but the race track is where we settle all that. We had a good winter test, I’m growing happier every time I step into the car and the first race will be especially exciting. I feel comfortable within the team; walking through the garage, stepping into the car all feels cool and real now.
Is there added pressure in front of an expectant home crowd?
I know the Australian crowd will be out there supporting me as the sole home representative on the grid. Hopefully there will be a sea of yellow in the grandstands and that will be really motivating. There’s going to be a lot of expectation and attention on us, but we’re remaining realistic with what we have set out to achieve. That doesn’t deter from the fact we’ll be giving it our best shot. The midfield will be close, but we’re chipping away towards closing the gap to the top. The first race is the first chapter on this journey and I’ll be pushing as hard as ever to ensure we do ourselves proud.
What are your initial thoughts on the Renault R.S.19?
My first impressions, on a whole, have been positive and we’ll continue to learn more throughout these early races. It’s going to take some time to get used to everything, but that’s not unexpected. We’re realistic in our approach and we have work to do. We have a decent platform to build on now and we always strive for better. We’ve found some things during testing which we’ll dissect and see what we want to take forward, but our bigger steps will come during the next few months.
What’s a lap around Albert Park like?
It’s a very enjoyable lap to nail with a variety of high and medium speed parts. Turn 1 is quite high speed, which leads into a small straight and then a hard-braking point at Turn 3. The next complex between Turns 4 and 8 are a lot of fun. It’s super quick in these high downforce cars, under the trees with grass verges either side. There’s a good overtaking spot into Turn 9, which requires commitment, with the bank on the left of the exit of that turn always packed with fans. The next phase is also very fast with the left, right chicane and then onto another straight. The final part is a bit tighter, but it’s important to open up the final two corners to allow a good exit onto the main straight.
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