Hulkenberg bets his future on Renault delivering

2017 F1 season preview: Renault

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Arguably the 2017 F1 season represents the true starting point for Renault’s third full works Formula One team.

The late completion of its deal to take over Lotus at the end of 2015 meant it endured last season with a car which hasn’t been designed specifically for its power unit. The new RS17, however, has been conceived around the requirements of the Renault engine, and vice-versa.

We should therefore expect Renault to immediately make significant progress compared to their performance last year. Testing bore that out: the team’s car was four seconds quicker around the Circuit de Catalunya than its 2016 car had been in testing, a bigger step than any team bar Ferrari.

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Renault’s new engine appears to be a step forward
The team remains split across two sites at Enstone (chassis) and Viry-Chatillon (France). The latter made a substantial upgrade to its engine early last year but after that switched its attention to 2017.

The results look promising so far. According to the team it has exceeded its performance expectations with its new power unit. However a series of problems hampering their efforts to rack up mileage in pre-season testing, and Mercedes covered almost twice as much ground.

Despite these apparent gains, new hiring Nico Hulkenberg has suggested the team will find it difficult to score points again in 2017. They had just three top ten finishes last year.

Hulkenberg is prepared to be patient. He leapt at the opportunity to join a manufacturer team, something he appreciates the potential of having driven for Porsche’s crack World Endurance Championship squad and won the Le Mans 24 Hours with them in 2015. It says a lot about the lure of works backing that he was prepared to leave Force India following their best season to date.

But doubts remain over Renault’s organisation. Frederic Vassuer, hired from top GP2 ART just a year ago, has already gone. And there was surprise Renault missed the chance to bring former designer James Allison back into the fold.


27. Nico Hulkenberg

Being beaten by Sergio Perez at Force India – by however fine a margin – has taken some of the shine off a talent who has been repeatedly tipped for a place at a top team. However the new rules for 2017 could suit Hulkenberg nicely. He is pleased with the return to ‘proper’ racing car and the rise in minimum weight limit should make his height less of a disadvantage.

30. Jolyon Palmer

Kevin Magnussen’s decision to turn down a one-year contract extension handed Palmer the chance for a second season in F1. He didn’t disgrace himself last year, showing clear progress throughout the season and eventually snatching a point. But with more at stake in year two he’ll have to hit the ground running this time. Nor can he afford to be dominated by Hulkenberg.

Poll: Which Renault driver will finish ahead in the championship?

Which Renault driver will finish ahead in the championship?

  • Jolyon Palmer (4%)
  • Nico Hulkenberg (96%)

Total Voters: 211

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An F1 Fanatic account is required in order to vote. If you do not have one, register an account here or read more about registering here. When this poll is closed the result will be displayed instead of the voting form.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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51 comments on “Hulkenberg bets his future on Renault delivering”

  1. I reckon they could be a solid midfield outfit, fighting with the likes of Toro Rosso and Force India. Hoping that Hulkenberg will get some better luck now, and actually get a podium, hopefully the bad luck was just a curse from his time at Force India or something.

    1. Shaun Robinson (@)
      13th March 2017, 16:13

      The illusive podium! He’s had enough good races in his career to warrant one, but whether this will be the year or not.. we shall have to see!

      1. Yes I hope soo too. I used to be a fan of Hulk around 2013 or so. But over the years I have kind of forgotten that he is on the grid.

        Hopefully his string of bad lucks with his former team will turn around with Renault. Wishing him all the best !

  2. I don’t think he could’ve wished for a better place to be. No more tire management and an extremly weak team mate. I’m not a fan and I don’t think he’s any better than Sutil was but there is no way he won’t look good this year. He simply can’t.

    1. @dh1996 overrated? Maybe. Sutil? That’s just mean.

    2. No better than Sutil? Don’t make me laugh.

    3. Sutil? Pascal is a Sutil, essentially a german pay driver, the difference is that Merc is paying for Pascal and Sutil was self sponsored.

      1. @peartree could have Sutil made a point with Manor ? come on, I don’t think Pascal is a Sutil.

        1. @abdelilah No, Sutil would have been taken down by Raikkonen.

    4. @dh1996 Did you make this outrageous comment(the Sutil part)with no base in facts just for the fun of it?

      1. Nothing fun about it. He always reminded me of Sutil. Both were praised to no end at some point of their career, both were treated as if they were something special in the rain and both failed to deliver when they had the chances to do so. Mix all that with being at Force India for most of their time and you got yourself two Sutils.

        1. I dont think we have been watching the same racing serie over the years.

        2. @dh1996

          Both were praised to no end at some point of their career, both were treated as if they were something special in the rain

          I don’t recall Sutil being singled out for particular praise in the rain or otherwise. Are you sure you’re not thinking of someone else?

          1. He did gain that reputation – at least in german media, but to an extent internationally – after Monaco 2008, where he was close to finishing 4th before Kimi took him out. From there on, whenever it was Monaco GP time or whenever Sutil and Kimi were in the shot at any race, you wouldn’t hear the the end of how amazing Adrian is in the rain and how Kimi ruined his race back than.

          2. @dh1996
            That s less of a f1 Problem rather than Heiko Wasser being absolutely God awful. (As Is that guy who does the prerace-montage Videos. God i hate RTL. I deliberately spend f1 Weekends in Austria )

          3. @dh1996

            at least in German media, but to an extent internationally – after Monaco 2008

            I remember that incident being referenced but never anything in the way of serious comment about him being good in the rain or being a particularly good driver. Certainly not in the way Hulkenberg has been praised, and given the greater success Hulkenberg has enjoyed than Sutil that’s hardly unjustified.

            If I was going to liken Sutil to any driver on the grid today it would be Ericsson: competent but on the grid at least as much due to of his backing as anything else. (Come to think of it, both also won the Japanese F3 title and little besides.)

        3. @dh1996 Let’s talk facts here:

          1) Did Sutil arrive in F1 with junior pedigree better than Lewis Hamilton?
          2) Did Sutil outqualify all his team-mates every season apart from his rookie season?
          3) Did Sutil outrace all his team-mates every season apart from his rookie season? Before you mention, it, yes Perez got the 4 podiums, but it was still Hulkenberg who finished in front of him more often than not.
          4)Did Sutil get a pole position in a midfield car in his career, let alone rookie season, on a drying track in same conditions as others had and failed like Hulk did in Interlagos 2010? Two laps both worthy of pole at that?
          5)I don’t remember Sutil being ascloseasthat to winning a race like Hulk was in Brazil 2012.
          6) I also don’t remember Sutil being praised very highly by the whole paddock including by Alonso, as Hulk was after Korea 2013

          Your point again?

          1. In a bar fight, I would have to give Sutil the edge…

          2. None of this is directed at Sutil by the way. He’s a good driver, better than 2-3 drivers on the grid today maybe. Not the same as Hulk though, nowhere near the same

          3. @montreal95, I would disagree with the assertion that Hulkenberg out-raced Perez in 2016 – in races where both drivers finished, it was an 8-8 draw between him and Perez that year.

            I do have to say that, whilst Hulkenberg did win a number of plaudits over the years when he was climbing through the junior series, we’re talking about performances that were eight to twelve years ago. Indeed, it feels a little odd that so many turn still turn to those performances from so many years ago now, as it feels like he is the only driver of his level of experience whose junior career is so frequently touted as a reason why he is a great driver.

            Even with most of the younger drivers in the sport, we rarely talk about their junior careers once they’ve been in the sport for more than a couple of years – those performances are usually forgotten about fairly quickly as people focus on just the past couple of years.

            As one example, we don’t talk about the number of championships that Bottas won in his junior career, even though those are closer in time to today than Hulkenberg’s last race in the junior ranks. The discussions today mainly revolve around his performances against Massa since 2015, maybe 2014 at the furthest back – I’ve not seen anybody bring up his rookie year in 2013 or his test driver performances in 2012 for a few years now.

            When we talk about whether Kimi still has it, we mainly talk about his performances for Lotus in 2012 and 2013 – we usually don’t go back to the surprise performances he put in with the F60 in 2009, or indeed delve even further back into his career

            It doesn’t happen with Perez, Magnussen or Kvyat, just to pick a few arbitrary examples – it’s only Hulkenberg whose junior career is still held in such veneration now, even though you now have to question whether they really are that relevant now when you consider his current potential.

            Now, it is not to say that Hulkenberg hasn’t shown promising performances in the past – however, promising performances are not enough by themselves. He has won praise from team bosses in the past for those races but, when push has come to shove, those same team bosses haven’t been willing to back up that praise with an offer of a contract.

            [As an aside, I would say that Sutil was actually reasonably widely praised for his performance in the 2008 Monaco GP – we had figures like Nigel Roebuck (over at Motorsport Magazine) say that he’d driven a brilliant race and praised his error free performance when compared to the aces in the field, Autosport hailed his performance as a “great performance” and a “dream drive”, whilst this very site called Sutil’s performance “remarkable”.

            Since you also bring it up, whilst Sutil didn’t get a pole position to his name, he came quite close in the 2009 Italian GP when he started on the front row alongside Hamilton in that race in a year when Force India were backmarkers (usually qualifying between 15th and 20th on the grid). He wasn’t quite in a position to try for the win in that race, but he was certainly close to securing a podium finish for the team until a slow pit stop put him behind Kimi.

            Equally, he was also hailed for his performance in the wet qualifying session in the 2009 Brazilian GP when he was 3rd on the grid, although it has to be said that the press were more interested in lambasting Vettel, Hamilton and Button for underperforming that day. Going further back, there were also those who were impressed by his performance in the 2007 Japanese GP where, in the famously treacherously wet conditions of that race and in one of the slowest cars on the grid, he managed to score a point.

            We also have to consider that, like Hulkenberg, Sutil did occasionally come to the attention of some of the major teams in the sport, and one of those coincidentally was Ferrari.
            McLaren appear to have approached Sutil as a possible candidate to replace Alonso in 2008, although they opted for Kovalainen instead. Meanwhile, Ferrari appear to have considered Sutil as a potential replacement for Massa when he was injured in 2009, although they opted for Fisichella instead (possibly because Force India were more amenable to releasing him from his contract given he planned to retire at the end of the year). There was also speculation about Sutil possibly replacing Massa in 2013 as well after Sutil was photographed visiting Ferrari’s headquarters, although his manager downplayed the rumours.

            I think that, when we look back at his performances now, our memories are altered by subsequent events and we view Sutil in a more negative light. However, if you go back to the media reports which were written at the time, they are much more complimentary about Sutil and his performances in wet conditions. Therefore, whilst I might not fully agree with Oli’s comments, I can see why he might draw some comparisons between Sutil and Hulkenberg.]

          4. I always enjoyed watching Sutil race. I wish him the best of luck.

  3. Can’t see Palmer being anything other than a stop-gap solution for Renault.

    1. Same here, can sense a Spanish driver driving for Renault next year. Hopefully it will be Sainz!

      1. I reckon it’s Alonso

        1. Doubt Alonso will want to shame for another 3+ years even fore nice paycheck.

          1. It’s less shameful driving for Renault than Mclaren Honda. If he’s not ready to quit yet, it could be a heck of a lot better than the McDisaster.

  4. A P 5 in WCC would be major advancement for Renault in their real come back year but that would be really hard to get with Williams/ SFI/STR in the mix with Renault. The only thing that can help Renault is their works status means that they can put some cash flow and develop much earlier their car looks better than the worse last year hybrid car of 2015 and 16 (may be even 14) with Renault engine instead of Mercedes one.

  5. I always thought Renault’s hopes died when Robert Kubica had his crash, Kubica was fastest in the pre-season testing 2011 after an amazing 2010 season putting the Renault car where it didn’t belong (ie Monaco)… it looked like Renault might challenge the hierarchy, and then after Kubica’s crash the Renualt unraveled in performance, downwards spiral. so for a long time I have told myself a team needs a top 3 driver to develop their car.. I still believe that is partially true, but in this new era of Hamilton-Mercedes, Mercedes power I don’t believe that anymore, it is mechanical advantage first that wins. At least Renault are being realistic and talking Redbull they will likely be fighting for the championship with their Renault produced engine.

    1. You do realise that they grabbed a few victories and quite some podiums with Kimi after Kubica’s crash? Ok, Renault was renamed Lotus, but it still was the same team.

    2. Kubica was a massive boost to the team. Honestly, with their 2012 challenger, Kimi took the WDC battle to the penultimate round, so there was a chance for Kubica to even take the WDC that year. Robert was the best driver they had since Fernando, and since then, no one has filled those shoes.

      You never know how 2018 could play out for them though. If they make progress this year to finish 4th in the WCC, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alonso back in their squad. Mclaren Honda are a few years away from becoming solid midfield contenders, but Renault could be a few seasons from becoming a part of the top 3.

  6. Well cannot decide who is more behind Honda on engine or Renault on chassis. Overall they and Sauber should have a hard time competing with the likes of STR, SFI and Williams.

    If they can take on STR, I say their season is a success. Fifth would be amazing.

  7. think Palmer might nick this one! we all know Hulkenberg seems to be unable to sneak his way onto the podium (well apart from Le Mans)!!!!!
    or i might just be letting the fact Palmer is British cloud my judgment here

    1. I don’t think Palmer stands a chance in hell. I rate Hulkenberg higher than Magnussen, so I’m, sure it will be a walk in the park for Nico.

      1. digitalrurouni
        14th March 2017, 11:35

        Agreed. I also think with the new harder tires there will be quite a few drivers that will be performing much better and tapping in to their potential than the egg shell tires would have let them. Hulkenberg and Kimi definitely come to mind.

  8. I think Renault is right in saying that teams with more resources should be in a better position for the new reg. We’ve seen the top 3 wealthiest teams and then the 2 of the 3 better equipped teams come apparently in 4th and 5th after testing. I think the money does mean that Renault and Williams are going to start the season with a good chance for strong points, however STR, SFI, Haas are probably going to catch up, their technical teams have shown great talent.

    1. Indeed, this season is promising on paper! So many things to look out for.

  9. Anything but utter domination from Hulkenberg over Palmer would be a disappointment.

    1. Not so sure, I am not a fan of Palmer but I think he can show great things next year (episodically unfortunately). I think his main problem is people said he need to time to adapt, unluckily with the reg chance its kind of a now or never year for him.

  10. OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
    13th March 2017, 18:49

    That poll result so far (95% in favor of Hulk) speaks volumes of how bad Palmer is rated. Hopefully he proves us wrong more often than not. What Renault needs is a pair of solid drivers. If Palmer ends up being just average or lower, it won’t help the good development of the car / engine combo.

    1. I bet that French fans would rather see someone like Simon Pagenaud or JEV in the Renault (Grosjean?!), but I fear that it will be money before talent in the second seat until they catch up.

  11. For some reason I think Renault will be (comfortably) fifth. Might get on the podium in a few crazy races, like Force India in recent seasons. Hulkenburg may well have made a good bet, if he’s prepared to stay a few years.

  12. The realisation that Renault won a race more recently than McLaren, though…

    1. yikes!

  13. Hulkenberg looks just too much like Nick Heidfeld for me to put a lot of faith in him. I wanted so desperately for Nick to win races in his BMW years but it never quite happened. The Hulk is worryingly similar – obviously quick but lacking something (maybe the killer instinct or perhaps even as simple a thing as luck) somehow. But he really ought to beat Palmer. I’d love to be able to bet on Jolyon and believe it (he’s such an underdog, isn’t he?) but my optimism won’t stretch that far…

  14. Hulk moved for the money not for the speed. Nothing wrong with that of course.

    1. HULK will have a problem called PAL this season – PAL did well in the fight with MAG. I will not be surprised to see PAL in front..

  15. Being beaten by Perez has only confirmed the feeling that Hulkenberg is for sure a good driver, but not an outstanding star.
    Never was, never will be.

  16. If only he’d not leapt at the opportunity to join a works team, he’d be in Mercedes by now…

    This team’s always done its best work with a great driver on board, like Alonso, Kubica or Raikkonen. Nico could be good enough to join that list, but it could go either way. They’ll probably have to nab a good result in a wet race or demolition derby…

    Hulkenberg reminds me of Brundle: underrated racer, lots of sideways moves between teams, a notably fluent English speaker and his greatest achievement is at Le Mans.

  17. I predict no more than 2 tenths between them either way – the idea that one current F1 driver is a lot weaker than another is ridiculous and can only come from people who do not understand motorsport.

  18. Renault should have a better season than last year given the circumstances, the change in ownership and engines before the start of last season when Renault bought the Enstone based outfit again. I think 2017 is too soon to expect anything major from them yet, they should be strong midfield contenders but I would be very surprised if they managed a podium this year.

    Hulkenberg has made the switch to Renault with his long term future in mind and I expect him to finish ahead of Palmer in the championship. While Palmer didn’t have a bad debut season, especially considering the car, I didn’t think he would be retained for 2017, I think that may have partly been due to Renault wanting some continuity on the driving side, so unless he has a strong showing against Hulkenberg he may not get another season at Renault after this year.

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