How McLaren are showing Renault the way in F1 midfield fight – Palmer column

Former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer, who left Renault during the 2017 season, is part of the BBC team and offers insight and analysis from the point of view of the competitor.

Behind the fight at the front between the big three teams, McLaren are arguably the story of the new Formula 1 season.

They had a torrid time last year, and faced a lot of criticism for underperforming woefully despite having a star driver in Fernando Alonso and a budget bigger than many of their midfield rivals.

Aside from poor performance, what hurt McLaren the most was that they had gone into the season making bold claims about what they could achieve after dumping Honda engines and switching to Renault.

In 2019, that has all changed – the expectation and the performance.

Alonso exited F1 at the end of last season, leaving McLaren with Carlos Sainz and rookie Lando Norris. And for the first time since I can remember, McLaren came into the season playing down expectations.

But after four races, they lead the best of the rest ‘Class B’ fight – sitting behind only Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – having picked up a strong double-points finish in Baku last weekend.

Norris has hit the ground running, showing strong pace and, as yet, few rookie errors, while Sainz has had more misfortune but is showing well as the inherent lead driver in the team.

And it could have been better still.

Contact with Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat effectively ruled both drivers out of the Chinese Grand Prix on lap one.

Sainz’s Renault engine let go in Melbourne to rule him out of a result there and he lost out on a good haul of points in Bahrain after contact while trying to pass the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.

There is room for improvement and refinement for the team yet, but they have made a big step in the right direction and there’s all the groundwork for a very strong year.

What’s up with Renault?

This article is from the BBC Sport website / bbc.co.uk – How McLaren are showing Renault the way in F1 midfield fight – Palmer column