The early part of the 2017/2018 Formula 1 silly season has thus far centered around the seemingly disintegrating McLaren Honda relationship from a team front, and on the underperforming Jolyon Palmer on the driver front.
Renault Sport Racing Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul has said Palmer, who is scoreless this season while teammate Nico Hulkenberg has scored all 18 of the team’s points, isn’t directly under threat but must improve as the year goes on – preferably sooner rather than later.
“No one is safe in F1,” Abiteboul told Autosport last week. “F1 is not an environment where anyone can say loudly, ‘I’m safe.’
“To a certain degree there are two questions. There is Jo, and there is a second driver. Right now my focus is on Jo. Jo has to deliver.”
So, in terms of Jo delivering. He’s at least come closer to scoring with finishes of 11th place in each of the last two races, but with high attrition in both races – 13 cars finished in Monaco and 15 in Canada – it feels as though potential opportunities have slipped through his grasp.
Palmer says he likes street courses though and thinks Baku this weekend will be a place where he could improve.
“I’ve loved street circuits ever since I drove Marrakesh in F2 and then Monaco in GP2,” Palmer said in the team’s pre-race advance. “I’ve always got on well with them. I’m looking forward to getting back out on another city circuit and approaching it very differently to Monaco and building up a little bit more. It’s great when you’re so dialled in and you get close to the walls; that’s the best buzz for us.
“That is two 11th place finishes in a row. I think in Baku we can at least be in the top ten, maybe top eight. We are doing well at the moment, we will keep going and I am feeling strong, I need to work on qualifying pace and being higher on the grid.”
Palmer will be looking to improve from this race last year where he started on the last row and ended 15th.
“It is always tricky getting to grips with a new circuit, it is very high speed and it brought a lot of challenges,” he said. “We now know where the bumps are and which gears to use. I qualified on the final row last year and managed to work my way up to fifteenth in the race. I think I put in the eighth fastest lap of the race which is very positive, I am looking forward to getting out there and building on that knowledge.”
Abiteboul said consistent improvement is the only goal for Renault as the year goes on, and with its place in the Constructor’s Championship in a four-way battle for fifth place, getting the most out of both drivers is key.
Toro Rosso currently sits fifth on 29, with Williams on 22, Renault on 18 and Haas on 15 – so points are at a premium for these four teams.
“It’s an event we’re looking forward to as it’s another opportunity for us to improve and develop, which are the keywords for our season,” Abiteboul said heading into the weekend.
“Baku is an especially exciting and testing circuit on the Formula 1 calendar and it is important that we add to our success from Canada with another points haul. Baku presents a fairly similar task to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with some long straights finishing in hard-braking zones.
“Everything we learned in Montréal should be very useful for building towards a clearer picture for Azerbaijan. Last year was a step into the unknown but there is a positive feeling this time around as we have the know-how on what to expect.”
As there are four races left until F1’s summer recess in August, Baku this weekend before the Austrian, British and Hungarian Grands Prix in July, the time is now for Palmer to build his case for his future with the team and in the sport before his place could be under threat.