2008: Renault

Nelson Piquet Jnr, Renault, 2008 pre-season, Jerez

Renault are one of the most fascinating propositions of 2008 for me. As Felipe Massa said yesterday, many expect them to struggle again in 2008:

If you have to take on Alonso it’s better that he’s driving for the French team than McLaren because it seems to me that Renault aren’t at the same level as McLaren.

That may be the case, but with two-times world champion Fernando Alonso back on board, surely they can expect at least one win this year?

It all depends on exactly how serious Renault’s loss of form last year was. In 2005, Ferrari failed to win a race (apart from the farcical event at Indianapolis), but bounce back in 2006 with a championship-contending car.

But Williams also failed to win a race in 2005, for the first time in five years. And that was the start of a slump they are still trying to pull themselves out of. Which of these scenarios best describes Renault? To a large extent that will be determined by what Alonso can do with them this year.

Alonso’s return

Fernando Alonso, Renault, 2008 pre-season, helmet, close-up

Is Alonso’s switch back to Renault the long-awaited return of the prodigal son, or a marriage of convenience as he eyes a future switch to Ferrari?

Alonso’s decision to leave Renault in the first place, which he took back in 2005, was partly due to uncertainty over the team’s long-term future in the sport. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn later guaranteed the team would remain in F1, but with four titles now won followed by a dramatic downturn in form they might look at revising that decision.

Speculation has linked Alonso to a move to Ferrari as early as 2009 – regardless of Massa’s contract with the Italian team. If Alonso is only using Renault as a one-year stop-gap then finding long-term solutions to their problems might be out of the question.

Fernando Alonso biography

Nelson Piquet Jnr – Another Hamilton?

Nelson Piquet Jnr, Flavio Briatore, Fernando Alonso, 2008 renault launch

Giancarlo Fisichella gave an explanation for why he felt Nelson Piquet Jnr had been chosen to partner Alonso:

Flavio [Briatore] has a love called Alonso. For what I gave I was counting on [a contract extension], and with Alonso we could have re-build the dream team from 2005 and 2006. Instead they chose Piquet: that’s politics.

Fisichella does have an axe to grind and perhaps he’s being a little cynical when he says Piquet was only picked for political reasons. Piquet ran Hamilton very close for the GP2 title in 2006 and might have won it with a bit more luck. He knows the score with Briatore and Alonso – but he’s not afraid of rocking the boat:

Flavio loves Fernando and it would be a stupid thing to do to get into a fight with him. But the day I have a chance to win a race, I will win a race.

I do think Renault might have compromised the quality of their driver line-up by not pairing Alonso with Heikki Kovalainen – but Piquet may yet prove me wrong. For his part, Alonso says he’s not worried:

I’m not afraid that Piquet is going to be a new Hamilton. In the end it’s up to me, I must be quicker than my teammate. I have total confidence in Renault and Flavio.

Nelson Piquet Jnr biography

R28

Renault R28, studio, front wing

Alonso has drawn comparisons with the position Renault are in now and 2004, when they were off the pace, started work early on their 2005 car, and ended up winning both championships. Renault cut their losses early in 2007 to start work on the R28.

Top of their list of priorities was making the car work better with the Bridgestone tyres (a major challenge as all their cars prior to the R27 had been designed for Michelins) and improving aerodynamic performance.

They’ve followed Ferrari’s lead by opting for a zero-keel front suspension layout. This has brought with it significant changes in front suspension geometry and the size and shape of the front wing.

The nose droops very low and is attached to the front wing by horizontal plans rather than vertical ones. It appears to be that way to increase the amount of downforce produced by the centre of the front wing and is reminiscent of Williams’ similar but far more radical front wing used in 2004.

Renault’s comprehensive re-working of the front of their car shows the lengths they are going to conquer the grip and consistency problems they faced last year. It may prove an all-or-nothing gamble that either suddenly clicks and sees them leap back to the front of the pack – or leaves them flummoxed for races on end before opting for a re-think.

As it stands, Alonso is not confident:

Right now, thinking coldly, reaching the podium is a dream. In our current shape it will be hard to make it into Q3.

More about Renault

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23 comments on 2008: Renault

  1. Alonso is one the drivers outside of the top 2 teams who may win a race this year without relying on extreme conditions. Combination of track, luck, strategy, great qualifying run and his skill and experience may do the wonders. He is not the most popular driver but he can drive …

    One thing however is to be seen. Last year there was big difference between Alonso on a good day and Alonso on a bad day. When he started further down the grid he looked unfocused, not interested, making mistakes. This year he will be likely be starting from mid of the grid often than he is used to …

  2. First up Keith, this design is superb–miles better than your old version. It looks slick and that’s very much welcome. But I do have a problem with the RSS Feeds, however (which used to work just fine in the old version). And regarding Alonso, I don’t think Renault’s renaissance is dependent on him alone. He’s not any magic. It’s up to the technical team to get the car going.

  3. Toncho said on 6th March 2008, 9:51

    Renault is having problems to make quick times so they will have to fight hard even to be in in Q3 so I don’t see Renault winning this year in normal racing conditions. The interesting part is that we’ll have a talented pilot with no much to risk in the back of the grid. For me the real question is if a pilot used to fight for victory will have enough motivation if he is fighting to enter in the podium or even in the points.

  4. oliver said on 6th March 2008, 11:07

    -I’m not afraid that Piquet is going to be a new Hamilton. In the end it’s up to me, I must be quicker than my teammate. I have total confidence in Renault and Flavio.

    Doesn’t that explain it all? Flavio will just put Nelson in his place.

  5. You’re spot on, Oliver. Nelson is destined to be the number 2. Else, Alonso will be whinging all over again

  6. Yeah, Nelsinho won’t really be allowed to challenge Alonso.

    A thought on the re-design: I miss the total number of comments being displayed with each post.  I used it as a very quick method of seeing whether comments had been added since my previous visit.  And speed is everything on the net…  ;)

  7. FLIG said on 6th March 2008, 13:55

    Alonso is fast and he knows how a fast car should be. And if he is not "magic", let’s remember that maybe Briatore is. The guy simply brought up Schumacher and Alonso. And he probably knows Ferrari will snatch Alonso away, like they did with Schumacher, so he is already betting on Piquet for his future. He doesn’t raise 2nd pilots, and neither does Piquet snr.

  8. <em>I must be quicker than my teammate. I have total confidence in Renault and Flavio.</em>

    Well, that sets it. He expects Flavio and Renault to provide him the better car, strategy, and petting.

    Briatore magic? The guy has only 2 championships. With one that turn his back on him when more money was offered. And is a crybaby. That’s no magic. Eddie found Schumacher. When Briatore finds someone that talented we’ll say he has any magic at all.

  9. theRoswellite said on 6th March 2008, 16:01

    Renault is going to find it difficult to, on merit, accumulate  podiums,  never mind wins.

    Retro-comment on  Alonso:   If he could have only kept his ego in check last year, and tried to simply "stay focused" on the championship and the things he could control, staying in as cooperative a mood as possible with the team; he would probably be sitting on his third championship and still driving for a  top team.  He really could have used some very good management advise.

  10. Comparing R28 and R27, Alonso said:   “The engine is exactly the same because of the engine freeze, and mechanically it is more or less similar to the 2007 car, and the main difference is the aerodynamics. The team put a lot of effort to improve it aerodynamically.”   I think that 1 second per lap (Alonso words!) is a big gap to gain only from an aerodynamics solution.

  11. I am going to stick my neck out and say that I think Renault will exceed expectations in 2008.  In 2006 they were often shy of Ferrari and even Honda in winter testing but then rocked up and won the first three races.

    I am not a fan of Giancarlo Fisichella at this stage of his career and I think at least some of last year’s "dip" can be attributed to his pace as the lead driver (certainly in the earlier stages of the season).

    Keith’s point about the Ferrari vs Williams comparison is the pertinent one for me.  I don’t think Renault will just "exist" as they did last season.  They will either fall into the clutches of the Williams and Red Bulls or they will be back – at least somewhere near – the sharp end.

    As popular consensus seems to suggest the former, I am going to go with the latter.

  12. frecon said on 6th March 2008, 19:13

    I have no confidence in Renault. In december they tried to sell Renault being the third team in Australia, in february, after 3 or four tests, they tried to sell Reanult being the third team since the european GPs arrives. In March, after the test, they are the 5th or 6th team, and they say that they would be the third team after 8 or 10 races (in summer). I think once again they have no car.

    I don’t think Piquet will be a problem for Alonso. It happened before with Trulli and Fisichella. After 4 races the car it will completely build and setup to the Alonso needs, and probably it will be hard to drive to any other driver.

  13. Phil said on 6th March 2008, 20:32

    I believe that Alonso will have preferential treatment at Renault, he would have to be insane to make the same mistake he feels he made at McLaren twice and accept equal treatment again.  The interesting question for me is this:  What if, just if, Piquet manages to better him like Hamilton did?  Flav can’t be too obvious about the team orders and the engines, ECUs etc are all frozen and therefore identical so it won’t be as easy as in years gone by.  It’s unlikely, but nevertheless possible, that he will be run close or even beaten by Piquet.  Where then for Alonso?  Beaten by two rookies in consecutive seasons, surely he’d be out of the sport.

  14. Architrion said on 6th March 2008, 21:38

    I’m going to wait here, no words until first race is over….. I wish you good luck in yours feelings about Renault and Alonso…. but if you’re wrong I will get some fun reading how much credit you will have to give to the Fed

  15. With everything being so close in the midfield, with BMW, Williams, Red Bull, Toyota, Honda and Renault arguably fighting it out all season over places 5-8, little things could make the difference this year. We shouldn’t forget that, despite a slight performance disadvantage, Renault has a championship winning pit crew who’ve done it all before, and that could give them an advantage in the long term. This doesn’t mean I like Alonso though :-).

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