Pastor Maldonado

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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.”