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Renault banks first double Q3 run since return as works team

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The signs of Renault Sport F1 Team’s improvement were evident in Saturday night’s qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix (Sunday, 10:30 a.m. ET, CNBC), with the team getting both its R.S.17 chassis into Q3.

Nico Hulkenberg qualified seventh, ahead of Felipe Massa’s Williams and Romain Grosjean’s Haas, while Jolyon Palmer made it into Q3 for the first time in 24 races thus far in his Formula 1 career, and will start a career-best 10th.

The result is the best in qualifying for the Enstone-based team since Renault came back in as a full works constructor prior to 2016.

The last time this team in a previous guise got both cars into Q3 was at the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix. On that day, Grosjean qualified fourth and Pastor Maldonado eighth in what was then known as a Lotus-Mercedes, but with Grosjean incurring a five-spot grid penalty for a gearbox change. So Grosjean started ninth, Maldonado seventh, and Grosjean promptly delivered both his and Renault/Lotus’ most recent podium finish with a surprise but welcome third place finish after Sebastian Vettel incurred a late puncture.

A podium is likely out of hands for this team tomorrow; Hulkenberg remains in search of his elusive first podium of his career while Palmer has only scored one point thus far. That said, a chance for big points is on offer; Renault hasn’t got both cars in the points since the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix, when Grosjean was eighth and Maldonado 10th.

For Renault’s scores last year, Palmer scored in Malaysia (10th place) while Kevin Magnussen scored in Russia (seventh) and Singapore (10th).

Renault is in search of its first points this season and Palmer estimated a chance for a good haul is there for the taking on Sunday.

“It’s been a much better day, yeah,” Palmer told NBCSN at the end of the session. “We’d had such a tough weekend. We sorted some balance issues and made it through.

“I made a bit of a hash in Q3 so had to put it into recharge mode. But I’m still happy. It’s good to be into Q3 and have a chance to get points.

“I think it was a competitive long run for us. If we keep it clean, we should get some points.”

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.