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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

This Isn't Actually The RenaultSport RS16 Formula 1 Car

2016 Renault Sport F1 RS16 - by which I mean 2015 Lotus-Mercedes E23 in a temporary show livery
As you have no doubt heard, Mr. or Mrs. F1 Follower Esq,, the financially troubled Lotus F1 team was bailed out recently when they were bought by the competitively troubled Renault. Today, many things have been confirmed, including the new name of Renault Sport F1, the new Twitter handle of +Renault Sport F1 and the new driver line up of Jolyon Palmer and Pasto--- wait, no!! Kevin Magnussen! Trouble with Maldonado's sponsor PDVSA has seen him ousted at the eleventh hour in favour of McLaren reject Kevin Magnussen, who lest we forget scored a podium finish on his debut at the 2014 Australian GP before being replaced by Fernando Alonso for a difficult 2015. That ought to save on Renault's repair bill a bit!

Thing is, the brand and staff is all established... but despite official images of a Formula 1 car with Renault logos and some initial sponsors on it, we haven't actually seen the car they'll be using.

What you see here is last year's Lotus-Mercedes E23 decked out in new colours. See, because last year it was black with yellowy bits on it, whereas now it's black with yellow bits on it but different bits are yellow. Very important distinction, that.


Seeing the initial images of the "RS16" show car made me bitterly disappointed. Who the hell do Formula 1 teams employ to design their liveries?! Do they just get one of the engineers to do it or something? Last year McLaren had a chance to rebrand and refresh their car with the arrival of Honda power, and they rocked up with a 2005-spec livery instead. Force India went from multi-colour to silver-on-black and the green of Caterham had disappeared, meaning the majority of the grid just had a "monochrome with stripes" look. Given that Renault's Formula E car (present at the event) is blue with yellow over the top, and the RS01 GT racing car was launched in bright yellow like all RenaultSport's road cars, I was hoping for something refreshingly bright and bold from this car. Especially as the typically-purple Infiniti has now joined the team having left Red Bull.

But no. It's monochrome with a few painted panels. I mean, the matte-finish shapes at the back are OK I guess, but that's only noticeable under lights.


But much like the McLaren-Honda failure (the livery one I mean), there's hope! Senior team staff have admitted that this is just a show car and that the one we see in pre-season tests will look different. They only talked about the bodywork changing shape, but some sources are suggesting the livery could be changed however much as well. Hopefully they'll paint the black bits yellow and the yellow bits black for Melbourne and beyond. Is there no imagination in Formula 1 anymore?

In terms of performance, the fact that Renault did the deal so late in the day has lead to compromises in the car's development, because suddenly they had to redesign the rear chassis area to accommodate the Renault power unit instead of the Mercedes one used for a single season. Aero development was also slow as Lotus clinged desperately to life in the face of bailiffs and mounting debts, so the team admit to being a little bit behind on that too. In other words, don't expect them to shoot up the grid straight away just because they've had a cash influx. I'd imagine they'll start in roughly a similar place as 2015, fighting for points here and there, but the added ability to develop could see them creep forwards over the next 12 or 24 months and beyond. They're here to win, but it will take a bit of time.

(left to right) Jolyon Palmer, Esteban Ocon, Kevin Manussen
Unlike McLaren, Renault's drivers have time to wait for the results to come. 25-year-old Jolyon Palmer won the GP2 championship in 2014 before spending a year as the test driver at this team, making him an obvious signing after Romain Grosjean's move to HAAS (which rhymes with arse, not ass). 23-year-old Kevin "K-Mag" Magussen was let go by McLaren on his birthday four months ago mostly for a lack of a place to put him, so he has been fighting for a new seat in F1 and Maldonado's financial setbacks caused by falling oil prices and the huge depreciation of Venezuelan currency was his opportunity to get back in. Thirdly, 19-year-old Esteban Ocon had prior connections with the team in 2015 through the Mercedes driver development programme and spent last year winning the GP3 championship, so he is the team's new third driver and will appear in the occasional Friday practice session when he's not doing simulator work and the like. It seems his career will nevertheless continue to be overseen by Mercedes, who do have a tenuous connection with Renault-Nissan having co-developed the new Smart car and Renault Twingo together.

Carmen Jorda, the headline-grabbing development driver signed last year, was not mentioned at any point in any official press material or announcements, but was present at the event and is apparently still working for the team in some capacity or other. It is not known what she actually does, even by the team at this point.


The actual Renault Sport RS16 F1 will be fired up soon and will appear at every pre-season test, all of which starts late this month. Hopefully they will have found a creative French person to devise an actual colour scheme by then...

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