Renault teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg are adamant the French marque has plenty of pace in hand for qualifying despite being anchored to the bottom of the timesheet during Friday practice in Azerbaijan.
Ricciardo and Hulkenberg ended the day 15th and 17th respectively with only the Williams driver Robert Kubica and the crashed Lance Stroll below them, and the Australian was forced to end an already-truncated day of practice early when he ran out of tires in FP2 after a pair of major flat-spot events.
It was a poor showing for a team that believes it should be heading the midfield this season, particularly as it bats away criticism of its poor reliability record to date, but neither Ricciardo nor Hulkenberg believe the Friday times are representative of the car’s true Baku pace.
“I think we know the reasons and why we look poor on the timesheets today,” Hulkenberg said. “We know we have certain issues that, obviously by not running in FP1, we were always behind and couldn’t find in FP1 and we couldn’t react – it’s kind of a snowball effect.
“The car was quite tricky out there today. The balance didn’t really feel together and we had quite some trouble, at least on my side, finding some tire grip and tire temperature.
“It’s difficult to be very sure about it, but I’m pretty confident that we can recover a lot of performance and be back to the usual performance that we’ve seen this year. I still believe that we can be in the top 10 tomorrow.”
Ricciardo, who won the chaotic 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix for Red Bull Racing, was similarly nonplussed, believing the principal problem to be the team choosing to set up the car with too little downforce.
“We had a look at the competitors and our [rear] wing looks smaller,” he said. “I’m convinced now we will probably pit a bit more wing on it and go from there.”
But he also conceded that the team’s recovery will depend on executing a clean final practice session, particularly after he withdrew from FP2 early with an exhausted tire allocation.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in that position before, so it was not cool, it was frustrating,” he said. “But at least it highlighted some areas we will work on tonight. I wouldn’t say I’m concerned for tomorrow; I just know that that hour in the morning we’ve really got to get into it and be super-efficient.
“Once we get into a bit of a rhythm, we will take confidence and it will come. I’m still optimistic we will be okay.”