It was mixed weekend for Renault in the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix as Nico Hulkenberg retired early on while Carlos Sainz eked out a point.
The weekend for the French manufacturer was set when both Sainz and Hulkenberg couldn’t score a Top 10 result on Saturday. On Sunday, they had to fight it the hard way to even score a single point.
Hulkenberg retired on Lap 37 due to a rear end issue while Sainz endured brake troubles to still close in on a struggling Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and eke out a point to limit the damage to just three points as they battle with Haas for fourth in the standings.
Romain Grosjean scored four points and brought down the gap to just eight with four races remaining – also pending is their hearing where if Haas wins the appeal, they will have eight more points which clears the current gap.
It has been a difficult time for Renault in the second half where in the five races so far, they have only scored 10 points to Haas’ 25 (despite the DSQ in Italy). The drivers have admitted the team losing its way in the development battle.
It can be attributed to the shift in focus on 2019 but team principal Cyril Abiteboul thinks that the manufacturer is losing out in qualifying where even a tenth of a difference is dropping them a number of places on the grid.
Despite losing out to its competitors on pace in the races, Abiteboul reckons Renault’s race pace is still strong. “After Sochi, it is further evidence that our race pace is competitive at this stage of our development,” he said.
“We’ve also shown that the Power Unit is capable of doing great things in race conditions at high-power sensitive circuits, like Suzuka, with Red Bull Racing fighting for second place in these track conditions.
“Carlos drove strongly throughout and never relented for that final point, whilst Nico unfortunately had to retire. It’s clear what needs to be fixed and that’s improving our qualifying pace.
“We’ve seen that small differences can play a huge role in starting between seventh or fourteenth. We absolutely need to get on top of this and get the car back where it belongs at circuits which should be better for us.”
Hulkenberg rued the starting position in Japan where they opted to start on the medium compound and change to soft for his second stint. However, he couldn’t go deep on the medium tyres and post his stop, a rear end issue ended his run.
The German is amid a difficult patch where he has scored just the one point in the six races with two retirements. At the same time, Sainz has nine points to his name and battled hard at Suzuka to 10th.
The Spaniard revealed he had issues with his brakes and had to carefully drive and position his car to overtake Gasly. “I had to push, but the only issue there was the brakes,” he said. “I was having a lot of pulling on the braking.
“I had one disc that was working and what disc that was not, so I had to be very careful while following [Gasly] because I had really no grip under braking. But I knew that if I managed to get a couple of good brakings I could do the move easily.”