Well here’s a pretty little thing: The new Renault R.S.18 Formula 1 car. For the roll out, it’s all done up in the traditional factory racing colors of yellow over black (but sadly missing the white part of the color scheme). This season’s car seems to be a further progression from the previous designs, while still incorporating current, state-of-the-art aero-thinking. Is it a winner? Who knows? That’s why you have to run the race. But maybe.
The first thing you notice about the Renault F1 team is their attention to aero detail. This is all thanks to Pete Machin, the French equipe’ head of aerodynamic development. And although most likely not as sophisticated as Adrian Newey’s Red Bull design, it is worth noting that Machin used to work for Newey. Like all modern Grand Prix machines, the front wing not only produces (literal) tons of downforce, but it is also there more as an airflow guide. Most, if not all, of the downforce comes from the center section of the wing. See all that incredibly complex fiddly stuff the further you get out from the centerline? That is all there to shape the air; how the oncoming air interacts with the airflow coming off the tires, chiseling off streams of it to move this way under the nose and that way as it hits the barge-boards and radiator inlets.
But what I really noticed was the rear of the car. Look at how narrow and tucked-in the extreme trailing edge of the bodywork is. The bodywork fits so close to the underlying components that you couldn’t fit your hand between them. That is both a marvel of modern packaging, but also a marvel of dealing with the immense thermal loads an F1 engine puts out, and having to deal with the airflow reaching the rear wing. The tighter that bodywork, the better the airflow and the more air that will flow under the rear wing. Or, to put it another way: the rear wing will work more efficiently and produce more downforce with less drag.
Big Money, High Expectations
The drivers will again be Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz for 2018. Sainz, the son of the rally and Dakar legend of the same name, came to the team late last season and was instantly competitive against Hülkenberg. This has to be a worry to Nico since he has been tipped as “the next big thing” since his debut in 2010. Or, to be very blunt about it: It’s time for Nico to put up or shut up. The kid better start getting podiums and/or wins or his star will begin to fade.
Then again, the same can be said for Renault itself. The R.S.18 is Renault Sport’s third chassis since its return to Formula 1 as a full works’ entry in 2016. Yes, it’s been only three seasons, and yes, the learning curve for F1 is nearly vertical, but this is a full works’ entry. This is no fly-by-night, make up the numbers crew we’re dealing with here. This is Renault. These are the guys that turbocharged F1 back in the early 80s. This is the same outfit that produced world-beating engines for teams like Williams and Red Bull. They better start threatening the big boys from the first race on out, or the corporate pay masters at company headquarters are going to be upset. A modern, factory-backed Grand Prix team spends upwards of 500 million dollars per season, and they aren’t spending it to lose.
Power & Performance
As with all other teams on the grid, the R.S.18 will be powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 unit. The little V6 is really only a third of the entire drivetrain power system. There is the MGU-K kinetic energy recovery and use system – essentially a hybrid system tuned exclusively for power and performance – and an MGU-H heat recovery system that captures wasted thermal energy from the turbo and stores it in the battery pack. The whole shootin’ match is delivered to the tarmac by Pirelli racing slicks as sticky as rubber cement with contact patches the size of a fat guy’s thigh. How much power? Well, huh-huh, no one is gonna tell you that, but you can figure it is within the 850 to 1,000 horsepower range.
Traction control and computer nannies to help you out with all that power? Oh, no, sorry. All that stuff is banned. Your traction control system is your right foot, your anti-lock brakes are your left. What, you thought this was easy? You thought you could just hop in the R.S.18 and be as fast as Nico and Carlos because you’ve goofed around on a PlayStation? Yeah, right.
And speaking of ugly realizations: The Halo. The Halo is that thing that surrounds the cockpit like a roll hoop that’s been pushed forward. It is there for the very good reason of trying to stop things from clonking the driver in the skull. Things like wayward tires sheered off in an accident or other debris. Will it work? The governing body says it will work “most of the time for most of the debris encountered.” That’s nice, but . . . man, that thing is homelier than a mud fence. But hey, rules are rules, so the chaps at Renault just had to buckle down and install the darn thing, aesthetics notwithstanding.
So how is it going to run? How is all this high-tech wizardry and drivers of daring-do going to get along? Your guess is as good as mine. But we’ll find out March 25th when the green flag drops on the first Grand Prix race of the season in Adelaide, Australia.
Bon chance mon ami!
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.