2007 Team Review - Renault 22 Nov 2007
Despite back-to-back championship doubles in 2005 and 2006, Renault found 2007 a much tougher nut to crack. With the departure of star driver Fernando Alonso and new Bridgestone tyres to contend with, a lot had changed, and the French team seemed powerless to halt their decline this season.
The first sign all was not well at sprang up during pre-season testing. Although the R27 was undoubtedly quick, Ferrari, McLaren and occasionally even BMW Sauber had the edge over the winter and the reigning title-holders publically admitted that the enforced change of rubber had hit them harder than most.
Another potential problem was the teams line-up. Although Giancarlo Fisichella was convinced he could step up to lead the team in Alonsos place, it quickly became apparent that his former team mates shoes were much trickier to fill than he had predicted. Great things were expected from rookie Heikki Kovalainen, but despite covering over 30,000 testing kilometers for the squad, the Finn hadnt raced competitively since 2005 and was something of an unknown quantity.
As the season began, it quickly became apparent that Renault would not be title contenders. Coming away from Melbourne with just four points, the team were left disappointed and searching for answers as to why they had suddenly lost the pace that had won them two crowns just months before.
Although reliability was largely on their side - the team recorded just three retirements all season - the R27s pace was just not enough to either challenge the front-runners, or pull away from the mid-field. A difficult start to his campaign had left Kovalainen floundering too, and by Montreal it was Fisichella who had earned the lions share of the teams 16 points.
After a public berating by team boss Flavio Briatore, Kovalainen gradually began to find his feet and show his true potential, scoring more and more points at each event. Eventually the Finn claimed his maiden - and the teams only - podium of the season at the wet and wild Japanese Grand Prix. For Fisichella, fourth place in Monaco would remain the highlight of his year.
It was clear, however, that neither driver had the car they needed to make a real impression. Although there had been improvements, the French team were fighting a losing battle against Ferrari and McLaren, who were clearly in a class of their own. BMW Sauber too were in a different league and Renault even found themselves increasingly hounded by Williams during the later stages of the championship.
Nevertheless (thanks in part to the exclusion of McLaren) Renault still managed to secure third in the championship, albeit with over 150 points less than Ferrari. However, doubts remain over that third place. In early November the FIA announced the team are to face charges of breaching the International Sporting Code for possessing confidential data belonging to McLaren. The hearing into the matter will take place in early December.