MONTMELO, Spain -- Nico Hulkenberg says Renault's impressive start to 2018 pre-season shows how far the team has come since he joined 12 months ago.
Renault is continuing to build its factory outfit, which returned to the grid in 2016, and is expecting to make a step up the pecking order this season. On the opening morning of Barcelona's tests, Hulkenberg displayed impressive pace in the R.S.18, finishing just 0.041s off Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari.
With Renault finishing sixth after a slow start to last year's campaign, Hulkenberg thinks the team is in a better place this time around.
"Positive [first impression] to be honest, especially if you could compare to 12 month ago," Hulkenberg said. "How the first morning went [last year] and how it went today is a huge difference, made a lot of progress, reliable, got through every single detail in the programme which is really unusual for the first day, not experienced that so many times, so good job and credit to our guys who prepared really well."
Having prioritised progress over championship positions in its first two seasons back on the grid, Renault is convinced the R.S.18 will produce a big step forward this year. The team has been buoyed by recent results from tests on its engine dyno at its Viry-Châtillon base.
Hulkenberg says the improvements at the team extend beyond the power unit.
When asked how much the outfit had grown since he joined, Hulkenberg replied: "A lot, crazy a lot, I you see in every aspect really, the infrastructure in Enstone, the amount of people working more there now, the investment that's going on in every corner, it's good, it needs to be that way, can definitely see there's a lot of progress going on now."
The follow-up question was whether he still believed Renault can one day compete for a championship, which he cited as his motivation for joining in 2016, to which he simply replied: "I was very convinced then and I'm still happy."