MONTMELO, Spain -- Renault admits the best way to optimise the performance potential of its engines this year is to accept the inevitability of grid penalties at the tail-end of 2018.
F1's rules have been controversially tweaked this year to limit each driver to three power units across the entire 21 race season before incurring penalties. Christian Horner labelled the rule change "nuts" when it was announced, while reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton complained it would further restrict drivers from being able to race flat-out.
The rule change is especially problematic for Renault and Honda, as both have struggled with reliability in recent seasons. Renault's F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul admits the tweaks to grid penalty rules this year made him reconsider the best way to cycle through the manufacturer's engines, which are run by Renault's factory team, Red Bull and McLaren.
"I don't want to say too much about it at this stage, because it's still early days," he said. "But we knew this regulation was coming and we know what we had to do, and we are still a bit open-minded about the best way we want to cover the season. In particular, we are not assuming that we want to downgrade the performance potential of the engine because of reliability because of mileage.
"We are also looking carefully at the evolution of the sporting regulations in terms of grid penalties. You may know that this has become a bit more flexible, a bit less painful, so we will factor that into the way we are building the plan for this year in terms of engine introduction and possible engine penalties if we have to or if we think that this is tactically in our advantage to do so. But it's too early days to talk about that."
When asked if he was therefore accepting that for Renault's engine to deliver 19 strong race performances, it might have to start one or two races from the back of the grid, he said: "I'm accepting and recognising the fact that in Formula One you need to optimise. You need to optimise potential.
"And if it's better for everyone to use four power units, four ICEs rather than three, we may take that decision, but it's really too early to talk about that. First I want to see where we are sitting in the pecking order in terms of mileage, in terms of reliability, in terms of performance against what we've measured on the dyno, and also the priorities that will be set between Enstone and Viry for the Renault team which is what we are doing the most
Abiteboul admits the performance of Renault's engine over the winter will be a factor in its eventual approach to the season.
"We want to establish the baseline. We want to know a bit more about ourself, a bit more about the performance of the engine as it is right now. We want also to learn more about the car, about the competitiveness, where the other teams are. That's another thing that will factor into the debrief in the aftermath of the test, and from that point onward we will plan for the remainder of the season including in terms of the number of power units we want to use, in terms of potential of development and so on.''