FORMULA 1 2018 ROLEX AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
Foreword from Renault Sport Racing Managing Director, Cyril Abiteboul
Ahead of us is a very long 21-race calendar during which many things will happen. This puts a premium on stability and consistency, which we feel we have increased as we enter our third year as Renault Sport Formula One Team. We have a new car with lots of things going on aerodynamically and under the bodywork that are not immediately visible. Everything as a whole will evolve a lot over the course of the year.
Adding to our confidence we have two highly motivated drivers who know the team very well. This showed over the course of testing – they didn’t make any mistakes and gave very detailed feedback that gave us extremely clear indications on the direction to take both for Melbourne and in the longer term.
Of course there are some unknowns. Our relative level of performance compared to the rest of the field will only be clear in Australia. We are totally realistic that the midfield is very close, but our objectives are to start the season in the way we finished 2017: united, dedicated, racing hard and pushing all the way.
So it begins
After a busy off-season, the Renault R.S.18 heads to Melbourne with a point to prove. Chief Technical Officer Bob Bell explains the battle plan ahead of Albert Park.
Where do we see ourselves heading into Melbourne?
We had a solid winter test campaign with reliability so that’s good cause for optimism. In terms of performance, it’s difficult to say where we are. The top three teams are out in front again, but behind you have ourselves, Force India, Toro Rosso, Haas and McLaren in the mix. There’s not an awful lot to separate us, so it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions before the first Grand Prix. I think we’ve done a good job of developing the car and I think we’ll be in there with a chance of a haul of points.
How much of a challenge is the first race of a Formula 1 season?
We’ll all be a bit rusty in terms of going racing and we have to ensure all components are built and shipped there in time. All of those things add together to make it a challenging race. Australia is certainly, from that perspective, more difficult than it is from any other aspect.
What are the main characteristics of the Albert Park circuit?
Albert Park has a load of low speed corners, a reasonable number of straights and it puts high demands on the braking system. Normally, it’s a moderate temperature at that time of year in Melbourne so it’s not overly demanding on the thermal side of the power unit. Overtaking opportunities aren’t great, it’s more of a street circuit than anything else, so it’ll put emphasis on having good braking, decent low speed performance and good traction. We want to ensure things get to the end of the race without issues.
Were there any surprises up and down the field at the winter tests?
I’m not sure if we are seeing teams’ true pace at the minute. All teams will bring upgrade packages to Melbourne, and that’s when everyone shows their true hands.
What do you make of Pirelli’s updated tyre range?
They’ve brought in a couple more compounds so we’re up to seven dry tyres now, ranging from the Superhard to the Hypersoft. I think from Barcelona we learnt there isn’t much to choose between the Soft, Supersoft and Ultrasoft which we will have in Melbourne, but that might be a quirk from Barcelona and the temperatures we saw there. The Hypersoft is a good step in terms of performance. It’s too early to judge the usefulness of the new tyre range. We will have to get a few races under our belt at normal temperature conditions to assess that.
Chomping at the bit
Nico Hülkenberg enters his eighth season in Formula 1 with high expectations and the will to succeed. Now, with one season under his belt at Enstone, The Hulk is raring to race around the picturesque Albert Park for the 2018 opener.
How is The Hulk feeling ahead of the 2018 season-opener?
I’m ready to go and I can’t wait to get the season underway. Australia is one of my favourite races because Melbourne is a great city, and the fans are always fantastic, knowledgeable, passionate for motorsport and know a lot about Formula 1. I really enjoy Melbourne as it’s a comfortable and very relaxed atmosphere there.
What do you like about the Albert Park circuit?
Albert Park itself is beautiful, especially in the morning when you see it’s packed with fans. The circuit is unique and packs a couple of challenges in places. Sector two is probably my favourite part, just after turns three and four as there is a quick right-hander, narrow on the exit and no run-off area, then the following right-hander is also bumpy on entry, underneath trees, with some nice kerbs. It’s a great track to race with some fast sections even though it’s a street course. It’s a good way to kick-off the season as everyone is pumped and very excited to get into the car and race.
Is your preparation different for this race given that it’s the first of the season?
We arrive there quite early to get acclimatised to the time change and the conditions. It’s been a long off-season, but now I’m ready and relishing getting out to Melbourne. Once you’re sat in the car, on the grid and watching the lights, it’s business as usual and I’m buzzing to experience that feeling again.
Do you head to Australia with confidence?
I feel positive. We’ve collected a lot of miles and data over winter testing which isn’t always the case, so that’s really beneficial to the team. I have a year’s worth of experience with the Renault family so that’s a good advantage for the first race. We’ve certainly made progress, not just over the whole of 2017 but also over the winter. We won’t know anything, or where we’re at exactly, until Saturday’s qualifying. I’m ready for that challenge and excited to get down to it and give it my all.
Down to business
Carlos Sainz begins his first full season with Renault Sport Formula One Team in Melbourne, a circuit which has played kindly for him in his first three Formula 1 seasons.
How prepared are you for the first race of the 2018 Formula 1 season?
I’m ready and if there’s a race you’re ready for, it’s Australia. You’ve been thinking and preparing for it for months, so it’s a race which brings high levels of motivation. I’ve done my best to pass the time through the off-season, I’ve done a lot of training, driven at Rallye Monte-Carlo and enjoyed testing in Barcelona. But now the time has come to get down to it and we have to refocus the body and the mind to getting the best results in 2018.
Why do you think your record in Australia is successful?
It’s one of my favourite tracks, not only for the layout, but also for the weekend itself. I have a positive record in Australia as I’ve finished ninth twice and eighth last year, so it’s one I have a bit of consistency at. Last year it was the first race with the wider cars and it was exceptionally noticeable around Albert Park we had to change our trajectory into corners to not touch the walls especially as it’s quite a narrow circuit. There’s no room for error as it’s quite unforgiving in that regard!
How do you feel ahead of the first Grand Prix?
I’m feeling good and that confidence has been boosted by pre-season testing. We gained a lot of data, and from both a personal view and the team view, we know we have to begin the season in Australia on a bright note and all of our efforts will be going in to achieve just that.
What will you do in the build-up to the race?
Because Australia is the first race of the year and it’s the furthest away from home, it’s a race we arrive at the earliest. It’s important to have some free time there and get acclimatised to everything. The time change is also significant and that’s something we consider in our preparation, probably more so than at any other race. But, the early arrival means we have some extra time to see the beautiful city of Melbourne and go and visit some cool places. I visited the zoo in Melbourne one year, and I’m a big lover of meerkats, so maybe I will go and say ‘hello’ to them again!
Renault Sport Racing
Aitken getting to grips in Formula 2
Renault Sport Formula One Team’s Third and Reserve Driver Jack Aitken enjoyed his first official 2018 FIA Formula 2 test at Circuit Paul Ricard last week as he gears up for the series opener in Bahrain in April.
Jack racked up 199 laps across the three-day test at Paul Ricard, home of the 2018 French Grand Prix in June.
The 22-year-old, racing again in 2018 for French outfit ART Grand Prix, brushed aside a car fire in the garage on the first morning, by recording the fourth quickest time on the second day and the third fastest on the final day.
As part of his Third and Reserve Driver duties, Jack was in the garage with the team at winter testing with his next Formula 2 session coming in Bahrain next week for the final three-day test ahead of the season-opener there in April.
Jack Aitken: “It was an encouraging first test overall in Paul Ricard. Despite a difficult start with the fire, we completed a lot of laps and were relatively quick throughout the three days, both in terms of race pace and the qualifying runs. Now I’m focusing on the Bahrain test and further learning about the Formula 2 car before the season starts.”
Eurocup quartet unveil 2018 Renault Sport liveries
Renault Sport Academy quartet Max Fewtrell, Christian Lundgaard, Arthur Rougier and Victor Martins unveiled their new liveries for the 2018 Formula Renault Eurocup series at the first Hockenheim test this week (14-15 March).
All four drivers will drive Renault Sport painted, black and yellow liveries for the championship which races on nine Grand Prix circuits; including the streets of Monaco and Circuit Paul Ricard for the first race of the year in April.
Christian ended the Hockenheim test top of the timesheets in the final session (March 15), 0.309s quicker than his nearest rival. Victor finished day one in second place with Max fourth across both sessions on the final day. Arthur enjoyed a promising first run amongst the top 15 across the four sessions.
Fenestraz set for first 2018 European Formula 3 test
New recruit Sacha Fenestraz kicks off his 2018 season next week with the opening FIA European Formula 3 Championship test at the Hungaroring (22-23 March).
Sacha, Formula Renault Eurocup Champion in 2017, will compete the 2018 season with Carlin having penned the deal in January with the British-based team.
The French-Argentine Driver is no stranger to Formula 3 machinery having competed at round eight of last year’s series at the Nürburgring, as well as a debut outing at the Macau Grand Prix in November, finishing 7th.
Sacha Fenestraz: “I’m really excited for the first official test of 2018 and this new chapter in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship. These cars are really amazing to drive, especially in the corners. I want to get lots of miles on the board in Hungary and then we’ll see where we are at after that.”
Renault e.dams beginning to mount their charge
After the first five ePrix of the 2017/18 Formula E season, Renault e.dams sit fifth in the Teams’ Standings on 59 points. Following a challenging start at the Hong Kong double-header in December, Sébastien Buemi has recorded podiums across the last three races in Marrakech, Santiago and Mexico City to build the team’s momentum heading into the second-half of the calendar.
Sébastien occupies fourth place in the Drivers’ Standings with 52 points. Nico Prost, meanwhile, lies fifteenth courtesy of his seven points from an eighth and ninth in Hong Kong, and a tenth place in Santiago.
Next up for Sébastien and Nico is the ePrix in Punta del Este, Uruguay, on March 17, followed by a run of European city races starting in Rome and Paris in April, Berlin in May and Zurich in June.
The Australian Grand Prix is the usual first race of a Formula 1 season as we open up on a street circuit inside a park. It’s not your average race track, as it’s certainly unique in its own way with some fast corners, little run off areas and close barriers.
The last corner, in particular, is critical in both qualifying and the race. In qualifying it’s almost flat out, but by the end of the lap the rear tyres can start to overheat after the preceding sequence of closely spaced corners, making the exit tricky.
It’s important in the race as it leads on to the first of the two DRS straights, so getting a good exit is important for overtaking and defending. The two DRS zones are on consecutive straights, which allows a following car to get closer to the car ahead for the approach to Turn 3, which is the best overtaking spot of the lap.
Softs (yellow) – Hülkenberg 2, Sainz 2
Supersofts (red) – Hülkenberg 4, Sainz 4
Ultrasofts – (purple) – Hülkenberg 7, Sainz 7
Average Points: 3.33 (F1 career average: 3)
Raced KM: 1,203
Raced Laps: 227
Positions Gained 2017 (+/-): 0
Fastest Lap: 1:28.486 (2017)
Fastest Qualifying: 1:24.975 (2017, Q1)
Average Qualifying: 11th
Average Finish: 14th
Average Points: 2.66 (F1 career average: 1.96)
Raced KM: 902
Raced Laps: 170
Positions Gained 2017 (+/-): 0
Fastest Lap: 1:27.677 (2017)
Fastest Qualifying: 1:24.487 (2017)
Average Qualifying: 7th
Average Finish: 8th
Renault in Australia
Pole Positions: 10
Fastest Laps: 8
This time last year
Palmer – P20 (started P19, 1:28.244)
Hülkenberg – P12 (started P11, 1:25.091)
Hülkenberg – P11
Unusual fact: It takes around 290,000 hours to assemble the circuit every year.