Former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer, who left Renault throughout the 2017 season, is a part of the BBC staff and gives perception and evaluation from the standpoint of the rivals.
Daniel Ricciardo’s third place in Sunday’s Eifel Grand Prix was a very long time within the making for Renault.
It has been over two years since Ricciardo, who left Crimson Bull to affix Renault on the finish of 2018, stepped on to a System 1 podium.
So lengthy, actually, that the Australian forgot all about his trademark ‘shoey’ as he was caught up within the jubilation of his first podium for Renault – and the primary for the French staff since their return to F1 in 2016.
A protracted, arduous battle
I used to be one in all Renault’s drivers that first yr again. The automobile efficiency was poor because the staff had purchased out a strapped-for-cash Lotus staff late within the day, and the shortage of assets meant little growth work had been achieved by means of 2015.
Since then, Renault have struggled to make the strides they wished from their place rooted in System 1’s midfield, ending sixth, fourth and fifth within the constructors’ championship by means of 2017 to 2019, a sizeable distance from F1’s large three.
There have been practically moments, and moments of hope for Renault in the previous couple of years.
Nico Hulkenberg had a stable run earlier than crashing out of the German Grand Prix final yr, and Ricciardo had a fourth-place end in Italy final season, earlier than repeating that feat three extra occasions this yr, getting tantalisingly near that first style of champagne.
In that interval of midfield preventing, Renault have needed to watch all their most important rivals take podiums. Alpha Tauri even took a win this season with Pierre Gasly at Monza.
Renault, in the meantime, have in some way at all times managed to overlook their alternative.
Indicators of serious progress
General this yr, Renault are bang on their common batting common, in fifth place out of the ten groups within the standings with six races to go. However truly there at the moment are indicators of actual progress, they usually have greater than only a trophy and a few champagne to rejoice after Ricciardo’s end result on Sunday.
They lastly look to be making strides in direction of the entrance, and this end result has been on the playing cards for a while. Since bringing upgrades to the automobile at Silverstone, Ricciardo has been a second-row qualifier, and a quickest lap setter along with these three fourth locations.
These are simply rewards for the hassle and progress Renault have constructed from a disappointing 2019, and it was nice to see the grins on the faces of my former colleagues underneath the rostrum on Sunday.
This looks like a chance for the staff to maneuver ahead, fairly than relaxation on the laurels of a breakthrough podium.
Ricciardo has vaulted as much as fourth within the drivers’ championship, and whereas Renault are nonetheless fifth within the constructors’, they’re solely six factors off third-placed Racing Level and clearly now have a quicker automobile.
In actual fact, taking a median of qualifying efficiency over the races for the reason that Spanish Grand Prix again in mid-August, the Renault is the third quickest automobile on the grid, behind solely Mercedes and Crimson Bull.
Esteban Ocon, Ricciardo’s younger team-mate, has had a couple of reliability woes to date, however Renault will likely be hoping he can discover a bit extra kind as nicely to match Ricciardo and add extra factors to Renault’s championship aspirations.
With Ferrari floundering horribly this yr, better of the remaining for the groups has turn out to be third place as an alternative of the same old fourth. And with Alex Albon struggling within the Crimson Bull, better of the remaining for the drivers is fourth behind solely the Mercedes pair and Max Verstappen.
Renault and Ricciardo have the shape proper now to take each by the top of the season, which might mark an excellent stepping stone to closing down the hole to the entrance.
Hope and alternative for the long run
Ferrari usually are not more likely to return from the doldrums straight to the entrance in a rush given the place they’re now, and Crimson Bull had the information final week that engine accomplice Honda are pulling out for 2022, which leaves query marks over their future.
Though Honda say they may nonetheless push arduous for 2021, it’s important to marvel if they may pour on a regular basis and assets into the final drop of efficiency for subsequent season once they know it’s their final.
A funds cap is coming into pressure in 2021, and there are main rule modifications geared toward closing up the sector for 2022. Each these ought to assist all F1’s midfielders. And mixed with points on the entrance, a staff like Renault can try to shut the hole.
As for Ricciardo, he has been sensible in 2020 and is making Ocon look fairly common proper now on his return to a full-time drive.
Ocon is a younger driver of excellent potential – and confirmed it alongside Sergio Perez at Drive India in 2017 and 2018 – however he merely is not stacking up nicely in opposition to Ricciardo, which is a mark of how constantly nicely the Australian is performing this season.
In 11 makes an attempt, Ocon has out-qualified Ricciardo solely as soon as – within the moist session in spherical two in Austria. And though he was solely a fraction behind Ricciardo in qualifying on the Nurburgring, Ocon carries near a 0.2secs deficit on common over the season to date.
However it’s truly the races the place the distinction is greater.
In that Styrian Grand Prix the place Ocon certified forward, it wasn’t lengthy earlier than Ricciardo was crawling over the again of the Frenchman and ultimately got here by means of. And in Sochi, the race earlier than Nurburgring, Ricciardo handed Ocon after a poor begin, and ultimately pulled forward by a full 26 seconds.
It is to not say Ocon’s been significantly poor. He has had moments of promise, and extra reliability points than Ricciardo, and he is new to the staff after a season on the sidelines.
However I am certain even Renault will likely be shocked at how Ricciardo is outperforming their new signing. He is is in the perfect kind he is been in for some time, and this yr he can truly end in the next championship place than he managed in his closing two seasons at Crimson Bull.
And Alonso nonetheless to come back
Ricciardo has signed for McLaren subsequent yr, which appears a terrific disgrace after all of the momentum he and Renault are build up proper now.
After his podium, Ricciardo is forward of each McLaren drivers within the championship, and questions will inevitably be requested as as to whether he has made the appropriate transfer for 2021.
However McLaren are additionally on an excellent trajectory. They, too, have made vital progress this yr, and their deal to run Mercedes engines subsequent yr gives nice alternatives to bridge the hole to Crimson Bull, and doubtlessly have Ricciardo preventing even nearer along with his former team-mate Verstappen.
While you add in Racing Level’s rebranding as Aston Martin subsequent yr and their marquee signing of Sebastian Vettel, there may be motive for optimism for the opposite midfielders in addition to Renault. All will likely be concentrating on shifting up the grid.
As for Renault, there will likely be frustrations, I am certain, that Ricciardo is leaving on the finish of the season.
Proper now, his performances are justifying the cash Renault spent on him – greater than $50m over two years. However the plan was for him to guide them into the long run, and he is bailing on the challenge earlier than they get the possibility to finish it.
However any disappointment is tempered by the identification of the driving force with whom they’re changing Ricciardo – Fernando Alonso.
The Spaniard, who had his first style of the 2020 Renault at Barcelona on Tuesday, is relentless. And though Alonso will flip 40 throughout subsequent season, he ought to nonetheless deliver his velocity, expertise and drive for perfection to a staff which are determined to make that bounce ahead.