16 March 2016
F1 Australian GP: Abiteboul 'not sure what to expect' from new qualifying
Renault Sport F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul admits that qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix will be something of an adventure, despite expressing confidence in his strategists.
As if taking the reins of a relaunched works F1 operation wasn't time consuming enough, Renault Sport MD Cyril Abiteboul and his team also have to get their head around the sport's latest qualifying tweak heading into the 2016 season.
The proposals have not met with widespread support in the F1 paddock - in truth, it might be fair to say that they have been roundly panned as targeting the one area of the sport that perhaps did not need fiddling with in the name of excitement - but there is no turning back now with the opening round of the season, the Australian Grand Prix, just two days away.
The existing three-phase knockout formula, which had proven popular with both fans and those directly involved, has been tweaked to now include an 'elimination' process within those three sessions, with the slowest cars pulled from the running every 90 seconds. The thinking is that the added unpredictability of technical issues and weather changes could lead to a shake-up in the grid order if teams don't have full sessions to adjust before elimination takes place, and Abiteboul - while accepting that it could be good for the spectacle - admits that he doesn't really know how the system will pan out.
"We are not sure what to expect quite frankly," he confessed as Renault took the wraps off its 2016 livery in Australia, "It is going to a bit chaotic, but that is what we want. I don't know [how it will work] but, given the talented and experienced people we have, they are thinking about it and I don't want to interfere at all with that."
The livery launch, which featured a traditionally yellow RS16 arriving on a traditionally Australian surfboard, is the last stage of Renault's return to the top flight, following its decision to re-acquire the ailing Lotus team at the end of 2015. With an evolution of last year's car and an all-new line-up comprising rookie Jolyon Palmer and F1 returnee Kevin Magnussen, the regie's prospects appear as unclear as Abiteboul's expectations of qualifying, and the Frenchman himself acknowledges that he has yet to work out where his team will sit in the pecking order.
Renault's return was late in confirmation, restricting the development needed to massively improve the solid Lotus E23 base car, but a decent run in testing hints at a role in what looks to be a crowded midfield battle.
"First of all, we should hide the fact that we are happy to be here - everyone should be happy to be here," he explained, somewhat whimsically, "We are celebrating the moment because it is important in life to celebrate the moments and we want to build on this to create a good team spirit. We want to create a good team spirit across Viry and Enstone.
"Apart from those points, where we will be standing… I have no clue. Where we were standing in the test, I have no clue, and where we will be standing on Saturday, I have no clue.
"We are not exaggerating that Kevin Magnussen put in a lap time on a good set of tyres, at the right moment on a good lap. Frankly, we have to stay calm, we know rough level of the competition and we are not expecting to be better than, say, eighth in normal conditions. This is the car, not the drivers, so we have to wait to confirm this."
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