until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The lingering Renault weakness undermining its progress

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
3 min read

Renault’s rise to third in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship fight marks a major milestone in the works team’s progress but threatens to be undermined by lingering reliability concerns.

Daniel Ricciardo’s second podium in three races helped lift Renault above McLaren and Racing Point in the fight for third place in the points after Imola.

Renault had faltered in its quest to break free of the midfield last season but has been resurgent in 2020, eclipsing its entire 2019 points tally after just 10 grands prix this year.

Ricciardo’s breakthrough podium at the Nurburgring was the first since the works team’s return in 2016 and he followed that up with another third place at Imola last weekend.

However, Renault has cost itself more points-scoring opportunities, with a range of reliability problems across the season hurting it in more than one-third of the races so far.

Esteban Ocon Renault Imola 2020

Ricciardo’s team-mate Esteban Ocon retired for the third time in five grands prix last weekend in Italy, reporting “quite a few issues” after the race.

While Renault could do little about the tear-off that got stuck in his brake duct early on and prompted an early pitstop to remove it, Ocon then suffered a “clutch issue” before being forced to retire with a gearbox problem.

“It’s a lot of bad luck,” Ocon admitted after the race, and it prompted an apology from Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul following “another retirement due to a technical issue”.

Ocon has suffered four car problems in 13 races this season, costing him points in the Styrian, Tuscan, Eifel and Emilia Romagna Grands Prix.

But Ricciardo also retired from the season opener with an overheating problem that then struck Ocon one week later despite Renault taking drastic action to avoid a repeat and declaring there was no fundamental problem.


Austrian GP: Ricciardo, 7th (overheating)
Styrian GP: Ocon, 8th (overheating)
Tuscan GP: Ocon, 8th (brakes)
Eifel GP: Ocon, 7th (hydraulics)
Emilia Romagna GP: Ocon, 9th (gearbox)

A conservative estimate of the impact of Renault’s poor reliability record this year – with five retirements, more than any other team – suggests it has forfeited at least 18 points.

That is deeply unfortunate for Ocon, who has been outclassed by Ricciardo this year but not to the tune of 55 points as the championship tables indicate.

Abiteboul has called on Renault to “own” third place now it has assumed the position, but a significant tally of lost points could prove vital at the end of the season given the close nature of the fight.

But Renault is lucky the problems have befallen the ‘second’ car and not Ricciardo.

Using a similar conservative estimate of where Ocon would have finished in the races he retired, and taking Ricciardo out of the picture, indicates Renault would have lost around 20 points.


Styrian GP: Ocon 8th (no change)
Tuscan GP: Ocon 7th (-6 points)
Eifel GP: Ocon 4th (-3 points)
Emilia Romagna GP: Ocon 8th (-11 points)

Had Ricciardo suffered the poor reliability that has struck Ocon, Renault would likely be an outsider in the fight for third and still waiting for its first podium in F1.

Given the rate of problems afflicting Ocon in recent races there is no sign that Renault has a clear handle on its car’s fragility, which means further points could be lost this year.

Esteban Ocon Renault

With only four races remaining and little time for development work in a hectic schedule it’s likely that Renault will need to use the winter to reinforce the areas that have proven problematic this year.

It will need to progress because the step that has been taken in performance is clear on the car side, following on from strong engine development in 2019.

These factors make Renault a genuine threat for the coming seasons when it rebrands as Alpine and give rise to confidence it can make good on previous promises and maximise the new 2022 technical rules.

However, it must improve its finishing record or its potential will remain fundamentally limited.

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