There are five teams all capable of fighting to be best of the rest behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull at next weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, according to Renault chief technical officer Bob Bell.
Renault impressed during pre-season testing as it continued to make progress after showing strong development during 2017, and marked itself out as a contender for fourth place in the constructors’ championship. However, with a number of other teams also posting eye-catching lap times – with Haas and McLaren notably quick on the final day of testing – Bell can’t pick a favorite out of five different teams heading to Melbourne.
“We had a solid winter test campaign with reliability, so that’s good cause for optimism,” Bell said. “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.
“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.”
Managing director Cyril Abiteboul agrees with Bell that picking an exact position is hard for Renault, but says the team is confident in its development direction as it looks to close the gap to the top three.
“Ahead of us is a very long 21-race calendar during which many things will happen,” Abiteboul said. “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.”