Renault’s return to Formula 1 as a works team in 2016 didn’t go well – albeit about as well as expected. With the hangover of the old Lotus operation’s financial problem still lingering, movement up the grid was not the goal: stability was.
With the rebuild underway at Enstone and the new technical regulations offering Renault an opportunity to improve this year, can the French manufacturer begin to clamber towards the front in 2017?
Cyril Abiteboul (managing director)
Bob Bell (chief technical officer)
What went right in 2016: If expectations were indeed cooled for Renault’s comeback season in 2016, then things weren’t so bad. Given the fashion in which Lotus fell apart, for there to be any functioning F1 team at all was something. Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer regularly featured towards the back of the grid, as should have been expected given the R.S.16 was basically the 2015-spec Lotus with a few updates. Magnussen’s seventh-place finish in Russia was a superb showing – but a rare highlight in a tough season.
What went wrong in 2016: First season back or not, to see a factory operation scrambling towards the back of the field never looks good. Magnussen and Palmer managed just three top-10 finishes all year long, picking up nine points to put Renault eighth in the final standings, ahead only of minnows Sauber and Manor. It was very much a year of making up the numbers.
What’s changed for 2017: Quite a bit. The loss of Frederic Vasseur as team principal came as a blow to the team over the winter, but it has gone on a big recruitment drive, bolstering staff numbers. Nico Hulkenberg joins from Force India, replacing Magnussen, and will look to support Palmer, who stays on for a sophomore year despite Renault’s best – but fruitless – efforts to sign a number of big names. The R.S.17 will be the first true sign of what Renault’s revived works team can achieve.
What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Despite boldly saying at the launch of the new R.S.17 car in London that it would be targeting a top-five finish in 2017, Renault may struggle to hit such lofty heights. Its test running was blighted by a number of engine issues which, despite being promised a fix for Melbourne, could harm the season ahead. This year will certainly offer progress, and Renault should target latching onto the midfield battle before perhaps making an assault on the top five in 2018.
Luke Smith: Renault’s return in 2016 may have been a difficult one, but things should be better this time around. It’s the first real Renault effort in F1 since 2010, and it will be interesting to see just how the team gets on. Hulkenberg will need a big year to justify his move away from Force India, while Palmer needs to prove he deserves a place in F1, because his rookie year was pretty underwhelming. I don’t see Renault bothering the top five this year, but should triple its points haul at least. 2018 will be the real focus for a step to the big time.
Tony DiZinno: Here’s a hard one to peg. Is Renault capable of making that quantum leap into the top-five in the constructor’s championship as they indicated was possible during the launch of the R.S.17? Is Nico Hulkenberg going to be free from his shadow he found behind Sergio Perez in his new role as expected team leader? Will Jolyon Palmer make gains after a solid second half of last year to become a regular points scorer? I think Renault can make some improvement this year but not four spots worth.
Kyle Lavigne: Renault Sport F1 Team experienced a rough 2016 season, scoring only three finishes in the points between Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer, with both struggling with a chassis that was difficult to drive as well a troublesome power unit. For 2017, the power unit is completely revamped, with the team saying 95 percent of it is brand new. Unsurprisingly, they’ve experienced some issues with it, although the chassis seems to have improved, evidenced with the third fastest time on the fourth day of testing. Nico Hulkenberg enters the team, replacing Kevin Magnussen, and will partner the incumbent Palmer. It’s hard to saddle this team with lofty expectations, but a solid season would see them break into the midfield.
Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24
There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.
And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.
In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.
Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.
But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.
“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.
“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”
After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.
“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.
“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”
Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.
“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.
“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”
Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:
Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.
“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”
Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”
Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.
“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”
Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”
Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”
Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”
Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.
“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”