The teams threatening to challenge the “Big Three”

Since the turbo-hybrid era only three teams have taken to the top step of the podium, the 2017 rule changes created a bigger divide between the top three and the “Class B” but two teams look set to change that in the next two years.

Mercedes’ domination is coming to it’s conclusion with Ferrari making serious challenges to the title for the past 2 years while Red Bull have been able to mix it with these two teams and take the odd win and regular podiums.

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The financial divide between “Class B” and the top three has been the biggest factor for the performance deficit but even McLaren who have the closest budget to these teams have squandered with structural changes needing to be put in place to ensure they can mount a challenge in the long-term.

There are two teams that have the capacity to close the gap in the short-term; Racing Point and Renault. Since it’s purchase of Lotus at the end of 2015 Renault have been slowly rebuilding the Enstone team that at the end of it’s life with Lotus had seen many key personnel leave. Their first season as a factory team went under the radar with only 3 points finishes in the season with a relatively inexperienced driver line-up of Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer taking them to 9th in the constructors.

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By the end of 2016 Magnussen would leave Renault in favour of Haas. Copyright: Formula One

Renault had outlined their targets for the outfit knowing that it would take a long time to rebuild the team back it’s championship ways. 2017 was a much stronger season with Nico Hulkenberg scoring the bulk of the points with a best finish of 6th while Jolyon Palmer would struggle scoring points just the once at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Renault would finish 6th in the constructors after replacing Palmer with Carlos Sainz in what was a natural progression for the factory team, with one of the strongest driver line-ups on the grid there were high expectations for Renault. Ultimately they failed to deliver, they managed to finish 4th and best of the rest but it’s engine deficit hampered them and with Honda catching them up Renault were on the verge of having the slowest engine on the grid.

Since the beginning of the turbo-hybrid era Renault have struggled to get the most out of their power unit, poor reliability with the MGU-K and a sheer lack of grunt led to their customer Red Bull make public criticisms of the French Marque and creating a tense relationship for the former championship partners.

Daniel Ricciardo shocked the F1 world when he announced that he would leave Red Bull and switch to Renault for 2019, it was massive news for the team as they would now have a race winner in their ranks. It also showed the confidence Ricciardo had in the team especially after knowing about the progress Honda were making.

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Will we be seeing Ricciardo celebrating with a “Shoey” in 2019? Copyright: Formula One

Now Renault are optimistic about their performance for 2019, Renault aren’t the ones to usually big themselves up so could this be a good sign of what is to come in 2019?

“The gains that we will be making on the engine are much bigger than we have ever done in a winter – much bigger – and the gains that we are currently doing in the wind tunnel are much bigger than we have ever done.” Said Cyril Abiteboul

“But, we have to be careful on the wind-tunnel side, the aero side, as there is a change of regulation. You know that when it happens there is a big reset: you lose [downforce] and you quickly catch up.”

“So, it is difficult to make a distinction between what is coming from the regulations and what is coming from the effect of the restructure [at Renault].”

Renault need a big jump forward in 2019 in both engine and chassis but if their progress meets their expectations then expect to see them on the coat tails of the top three this season.

The other team that is set to challenge the top three in the near future is Racing Point (name change pending), under it’s previous ownership the team lacked significant funding to challenge the top three but despite that they were able to score podiums and for two years in a row (2016 & 2017) finish 4th in the constructor’s championship.

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Despite points being scrapped prior the to the Belgian GP Racing Point Force India managed to finish 6th in the constructor’s championship in 2018. Copyright: Racing Point Force India F1 Team

The team is now owned by a consortium led by Billionaire Lawrence Stroll who has clear plans for the team.

“The plan is number one – ‘Nothing is broke here so you don’t need to fix it’. It already has great leadership and management in the team. They have been doing this for a long time and doing a great job. So it’s about supporting them. Number two – it’s about putting financial stability in place.”

The “financial stability” Stroll adds is doing more than keeping the team afloat, the team is looking to build a new factory, higher more staff and give a bigger budget for the team to operate on. Andy Green the teams technical director explains the impact that it’s funding has.

“It means we can plan with confidence, rather than thinking if we do that and the money doesn’t turn up, we’re compromised,”

“we can put parts on the car when they make the car go quicker, which strategically is a big change for us, instead of accumulating a load of parts and getting a big update on the car, waiting another couple of months and another one, we can now think about, if that part makes the car quicker, let’s put it on now.”

Lance Stroll also has high ambitions for the teams and wasn’t shy in laying out his targets for the next few years.

“Short term, we want to stay fighting where we are, Medium term, we want to try and fight for third, instead of fourth. Long term, when all the rules, change, hopefully we will be one of the greatest teams in the paddock.”

Expect Renault to be challenging for podiums in 2019 and consolidating it’s 4th place in the constructor’s championship while Racing Point should challenge as the leaders of the smaller “Class B” championship with a view of joining Renault in 2020. The rule shake-up for 2021 however gives both an opportunity for either one of those teams to fully establish themselves as a championship contending team.

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