The world champions of the last two years had a dismal 2007. They failed to score a single win, never started from the front row, and it took until the 15th round for them to score their first podium.
Why did it all go so badly wrong for Renault?
Fernando Alonso’s fans pointed to the departure of the Spaniard from Renault to explain why the team did so poorly in 2008 – unlike his new team McLaren.
But the destabilising effect of losing their two-time champion is likely to be only part of the story.
His replacement, Heikki Kovalainen, had a dismal, error-strewn debut at Melbourne.It took several races for him to find his feet, but after that he was more often than not ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella.
That performance justly won him admiration, for he was driving a car more inclined towards dry weather than the heavy rain at Fuji, yet he skilfully kept Kimi Raikkonen at bay to the flag.
Only a crash in the season finale at Interlagos prevented Kovalainen from finishing every race. Fisichella, by comparison, was mediocre all season and seemed unable and uninterested in beating Kovalainen.
Even if Renault can’t win Alonso back from McLaren in Fisichella’s place, dropping the Italian anyway would be a wise move.
Michelin and Bridgestone
Of all the former Michelin teams that struggled to get to grips with the new-for-2007 specification Bridgestone rubber, Renault had the biggest problems.
In the days of the tyre war, Michelin could tailor their products to each individual team, and long-term customers Renault had the most experience of their compounds. The dynamics of the R26 revolved around Alonso’s famous high-energy turn-in to the corners, and the Michelin tyres were attuned to that need.
With Alonso and Bridgestone gone, the R27 was an entirely different challenge.
The 2006 campaign – and 2008
Work on the R27 was prioritised below keeping Alonso’s R26 ahead of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari.
But this year the team cut their losses early and started serious work on the R28 in August. The last time they began a car that early was in 2004, when they went to work on the title-winning R25.
With Alonso now free of McLaren and Flavio Briatore making moves to bring his prodigal son home, 2008 could be a much more successful season for Renault.
Photo: LAT Photographic / Andrew Ferraro | Charles Coates / LAT Photographic | Steven Tee / LAT Photographic