In Formula 1, reliable performance is everything.
Ferrari in Bahrain, the perfect example, with Charles Leclerc en-route to a maiden victory until Lap 46, when a short circuit within an injection system control unit brought it all undone.
… while over at Renault, it’s a far more deep-seated issue.
One that has cost the squad momentum so far this season, with just two point scores from the first five races; a 12 point-total post-Spain compared to the 41 this time last year.
Bad luck and engine issues have been the major cause - with new recruit Daniel Ricciardo retiring in Australia after hitting a grassy rut on the run to Turn 1, destroying his front wing.
Bahrain saw a diabolical double retirement - at the same corner and lap, just four from home: with an engine issue for Ricciardo, a MGU-K gremlin for Nico Hülkenberg.
…while in China, a fast tracked power unit upgrade uncovered a software glitch in its MGU-K, involving just one line of code.
But Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul said to develop in line with its ambitions, the squad has had to bias its processes towards performance.
QUOTEBOARD: CYRIL ABITEBOUL, RENAULT
“We are paying a little bit for that, but I hope that it’s short-term pain for long-term gain,” he said.
And it’s compounded by the fact F1’s midfield is brutally competitive, with just 16-points covering fourth to ninth place in the constructors’ standings.
This was meant to be Renault’s consolidation season, where it retained a solid fourth in the standings - as “best of the rest” …ever-closing the gap to the top teams.
And it’s something the squad was confident it would achieve pre-season.
SOUNDBITE (English) CYRIL ABITEBOUL, MANAGING DIRECTOR, RENAULT SPORT RACING:
“I think we are on target with the plan. The plan was to be able to fight for podium in 2020, and to fight for wins in 2021. So, it’s one year from now. But we’ve pretty much delivered and done every single thing that we’ve said we would be doing.”
There’s no doubt it has the right racers behind the wheel, Daniel Ricciardo bringing his winning experience to bear on Nico Hülkenberg.
But the car needs time to match their capabilities.
And while Renault remains extremely positive on chassis development, its power unit is not only its weakest link…
… but F1’s as well, the French marque lagging behind its rivals Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda, a common theme in the turbo-hybrid era.
All of which will take further expertise - care of recent recruits from Ferrari and Mercedes - which its special advisor Alain Prost says is invaluable.
SOUNDBITE (English) ALAIN PROST, 4-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“When you start to be closer to the top, which I think and I hope that Renault will get closer in the next few months or years, and the experience I had with teams like Renault obviously in the 80s, but then world champion teams like McLaren, Ferrari and Williams, then you realise that you’re not working exactly the same way. That’s where also the experience can help. Having a different attitude is important in this case.”
There’s no doubt Renault can deliver at the top-level, with two world title doubles in 2005 and 2006 - and 10 further crowns as an engine supplier.
But with no one yet to beat Mercedes over a season since 2014, Renault just has to continue to build its long-term campaign - and sort reliability as a priority to ensure that it scores every point possible.