By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – The Renault Formula One team unveiled their new-look 2017 car on Tuesday with a target of the top five in the championship, and possible podium finishes, after struggling among the back-markers last season.
The former world champions returned as full constructors in 2016, after taking over the failing Lotus team, and finished ninth out of 11 with drivers Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and Briton Jolyon Palmer.
Magnussen has since left for U.S-owned rivals Haas F1 and been replaced by experienced German Nico Hulkenberg from Force India.
Russian Sergey Sirotkin retains the role of development driver in a season that sees big changes in the regulations with bigger tyres, faster cornering speeds and cars that will be harder to handle.
The team, whose engine plant is in France and main factory in England, have invested heavily in adding headcount and infrastructure over the past year with the aim of returning to the top by 2020.
“We expect to be fifth in the championship,” Renault Sport Racing President Jerome Stoll told the audience in a central London hall before the black-and-yellow RS17 car was presented to pounding music and strobe lights.
“We are hungry for the podium, hungry for success,” said Stoll.
Renault Sport F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul, who has effectively been running the team since the abrupt departure of principal Frederic Vasseur in January, said the key word for the year ahead was ‘integration’.
But he was also looking for a significant step up, with Renault hoping to see the rewards of a more integrated operation and improved performance from a power unit that is also used by Red Bull.
“If this (fifth place) is the target it means it’s achievable,” he told Reuters. “Some people will say it’s not ambitious enough, some people will say that it’s not realistic. We try to target in the middle.
“The target is by 2020 to be able to fight for the championship.”
Last year’s car was effectively a hybrid, designed by cash-strapped Lotus with a Mercedes engine in mind and ultimately racing with a Renault unit in the back at short notice.
“Last year was a sort of marketing return in that we took a car that was already existing, we painted it yellow and called it Renault. We put a Renault engine in it and that was it, job done. Not very satisfying,” said Abiteboul.
“We completely recognize this car as our first all-Renault product (since the return).”
The F1 season starts in Australia on March 26.
(Editing by Richard Lough and Clare Fallon)