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Renault F1 team rocked as Vasseur leaves before new season

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PARIS (AP) – A few weeks away from proudly unveiling its new car for the 2017 Formula One season, French manufacturer Renault now has to find a new team principal after the departure of Frederic Vasseur on Wednesday.

Vasseur left his role after one season, with Renault saying the decision was by mutual consent. No further information was given as to who will replace the Frenchman, but Renault will give full details of its plans when the new car is unveiled on February 21 – the earliest confirmed date so far of any team.

Until then, the team will be run by Renault Sport Racing’s president Jerome Stoll and managing director Cyril Abiteboul.

Renault withdrew as a works’ team from the constructor world championship after the 2009 season, and made its comeback last year after agreeing to take over Lotus. Vasseur played a key part in the relaunch and rebuilding of the team.

Renault finished a modest ninth in the constructors’ standings with Dane Kevin Magnussen scoring seven points and British driver Jolyon Palmer getting one.

With new engineers set to come on board and experienced German driver Nico Hulkenberg joining from Force India, hopes were high for this year. Hulkenberg even spoke of his ambitions the day before Vasseur’s departure.

“At Renault the next few years will be about turning a participant into a real contender – one that makes use of the advantages of a manufacturer in the best way possible to achieve the racing success of the past,” the 29-year-old Hulkenberg told the F1 website on Tuesday. “And believe me, we will.”

But it will be without Vasseur, who has spoken of clear differences of opinion over strategy.

“There was too much different vision in the management of the team, so it makes sense for me to leave,” Vasseur told Motorsport.com on Wednesday. “If you want to perform in F1, you need to have one leader in the team and one single way. If you have two different visions then the result is that the work inside the team is slow.”

However, Renault is confident that Vasseur – who enjoyed success in the GP2 and GP3 series with the Art Grand Prix team – will take on a different role “sometime in the future.”

F1, which is introducing sweeping rule changes for next season designed to make cars faster and races more exciting, has been hit with a spate of departures.

Paddy Lowe, who was the technical brains of Mercedes in his role as executive director, left on Tuesday. In Lowe’s time at Mercedes, the British-based team won both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles every year from 2014 to 2016.

Lowe is reportedly set to join Williams F1 with former Ferrari technical director James Allison set to replace Lowe.

In November, Ron Dennis, the veteran chairman and chief executive of the McLaren team, was forced out following a boardroom dispute – bringing to an end his 36-year stay with the British team. He was replaced by American Zak Brown, an ex-F3 racer who founded the motorsport marketing company JMI in 1995.

The 20-race F1 season starts on March 26 in Melbourne, Australia.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.