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Abiteboul: We’ll catch or overtake Mercedes and Ferrari in 2019

Renault sporting director Cyril Abiteboul is adamant that his company build a race-winning Formula 1 power unit, the only problem is their chassis which prevents them from delivering results, citing Red Bull as proof of what they have at their disposal and warns that next year the French outfit is looking to beat Mercedes and Ferrari.

In an interview with Auto Motor und Sport, Abiteboul was asked to explain the one second or so deficit they have to the pacesetters, “It’s the chassis. The engine is good enough to put a car in pole position, to win races and fight for the title. Red Bull has proven this.”

“Without their problems, they would now be fully in the title fight. Only two of their problems had to do with the engine. Here we are on track with our catching up. I am convinced that we’ll catch up with Mercedes and Ferrari in 2019, maybe even overtake them.”

“I am satisfied with the performance increase but not yet with reliability. On the chassis side, we are still lagging aerodynamically.”

As for the exact problem, Abiteboul said, “If I knew that, we would be a second faster. It’s about details. These regulations reward constant improvement in detail. Right down to the car’s surfaces. And then there are many things under the skin that make the difference.”

“Also very complex suspension systems. Mechanical grip and tire management are areas where we lag behind. We cannot bring changes to the car fast enough. The path from the concept to the wind tunnel model and the race track takes too long. We worked hard to increase the design office efficiency. Now it’s time for production capacity.”

As a works outfit, Renault get beat every race just about by their customers Red Bull, but Abiteboul believes his team are hitting the targets, “We have met almost all our goals so far, the only thing we have not managed to do is get closer to the top. That is an important element. We have to look into why that did not work out yet.”

“Two things: First, our team is still in the start-up phase which will not help us in our quest to finish fourth this year. You can also see it in our consistency, we make very few mistakes. It helps us that our opponents have bigger ups-amd-downs than we do.”

“On the other hand, we are not able to develop fast enough to close the gap. The gap has remained the same since the beginning of the season. This reflects the state of Formula 1 now where you need certain factors to be successful. Investment, money, people, resources.”

“We are not there yet, where we want to be and 2018 is the last year of our growth phase. We are still training people, uniting with new partners, rebuilding the management structure, increasing resources.”

After four years of dominant success from 2010 to 2013, Red Bull and Renault became uneasy partners on the first day that the blue cars rolled out with Renault hybrid-turbo power units packaged at the back of the chassis.

Renault got the new engine formula wrong, Mercedes were in another league, as were Ferrari soon enough, meanwhile Red Bull moaned and the divorce finally happened, they will cease to be partners after the November season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Abiteboul was not surprised when the call came to finalise the split, “It’s a decision we expected. The separation of Toro Rosso was the first step and we had to expect that also Red Bull would follow to start a joint project with Honda.”

“We still have McLaren for three years. The separation is a p[ositive step as it sends a clear signal to everyone in the team that we now have to do it ourselves. Red Bull showed us how to race with our engine and win with a good chassis.”

“This is a challenge for the team at Enstone. The marriage with Red Bull was demanding and sometimes very exhausting for us, the thing is they set a fantastic benchmark for us to reach. That platform gave us the opportunity to compare our engine with the others. Unfortunately, we have not yet managed to win a constructors’ championship with this engine.”

“Red Bull had reasons to do what they did and we have to accept that. For them, it’s better to build something together with Toro Rosso around Honda, which equals factory status. We could not offer that anymore. For us, Red Bull would have been just a customer.”

At the end of the day “talk is cheap but it takes money to buy whisky” so really how far are Abiteboul and his crew from challenging Mercedes and Ferrari?

“That’s hard to express in numbers because everyone has different numbers,” ventured the Frenchman. “We believe that in the race we are still five to ten kilowatts behind Ferrari and Mercedes and between 20 and 30 kilowatts ahead of Honda.”

“It’s a bit harder to quantify in qualifying. The chassis plays too big a role and, with Red Bull the comparison is unfair because they lag behind in fuel development compared to us.”

Love him or not Abiteboul did engineer a masterstroke by luring Daniel Ricciardo away from Honda bound Red Bull, a sign of the renewed commitment shown by Renault when they scooped the Aussie with an ambush offer that stunned the energy drinks outfit.

Abiteboul confirmed, “Daniel’s commitment proves our objective to accelerate the catching-up process to the top teams next season. It is also recognition by him of the work we have done over the past two and a half years.”

“The talent and charisma of Daniel is a big bonus for the team. We have to repay our trust in ourselves by providing him with the best possible car,” added Abiteboul who along with Ricciardo has Nico Hulkenberg in the other car, a formidable driver line-up who only require a good chassis because the Renault power unit is a race winner… just ask Cyril!