Renault admits it was outsmarted by Formula 1’s leading teams and is “disappointed” by the lack of progress made over the winter, according to chief technical officer Bob Bell.

The French manufacturer, currently in its third year of its long-term target to return to winning ways in F1 by 2020, headed into the 2018 season with the aim of securing a comfortable fourth place in the constructors’ standings, while also being able to challenge the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. 

While Renault has enjoyed consistent performances across the opening three rounds in Australia, Bahrain and China - scoring points with at least one of its cars in all three races - the team currently occupies fifth place in the standings and trails both its customer teams McLaren (by three points) and Red Bull (by 30 points).

"I would say we're disappointed that we're not further up," Bell said. "We had hoped to take a bit of lap time out of the top three teams over the winter and we haven’t. If anything they might have moved further ahead, so we are a little bit disappointed about that. 

"I think we are reasonably pleased with how we have positioned ourselves to McLaren, which we were very worried about when they came on board with the engine but clearly Toro Rosso and Haas have done a great job over the winter and are making life very difficult for us. 

”It's going to be nip and tuck with them all season and McLaren are going to develop -- McLaren are very good at developing to recover any losses from the start. It's going to be really close fought. We had hoped to be a little bit further ahead at the start but this isn't an exact science and we know we can do a good development job in season.”

Although Renault does not boast the large budgets of F1’s three leading teams and is still on a recruitment drive to bolster its operational force at its Enstone base, Bell insists resources cannot be used as an excuse for the size of the gap in performance. 

“We didn't do a good enough job. We weren't as smart as they were over the winter in designing and developing the car. We are still growing, we are still developing, we are still getting our methodologies right and we are still recruiting people and building facilities.

"I don't want to keep singing that song as an excuse but we are not quite as mature as the top three teams are and they have still got the edge when it comes to building a new car.”

But Bell is convinced Renault can make significant progress over the remainder of the campaign. 

"I don't know if we could halve the gap but I think there is a reasonable chance we can start to close it because there is a law of diminishing returns because and they are going at that and we do have an easier path to finding benefits than they do."

 

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