Renault Sport F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul says that Melbourne proved that his drivers are now part of the 'big boy league' in Formula 1.
Both Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz made it through to the final pole shootout round in qualifying at Melbourne. They were able to hold on to top ten positions through to the end of Sunday's race.
“It’s a decent start, and a start that gives us confidence and focus," beamed Abiteboul. "We are coming out of that first race pretty confident about the season to come
Hulkenberg had to soak up huge pressure from Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas to clinch seventh place. Sainz had his own extended battle with compatriot Fernando Alonso on his way to finishing in tenth place.
“It’s good to see that we have drivers now under pressure from Bottas and Alonso, and they are handling it,” Abiteboul told Autosport magazine this week.
“They have the hardware to handle it," he added. However, he conceded that the track layout at Albert Park had also helped, making it difficult for anyone to overtake.
"They need to stay at the top of their games, because now they are part of the big boy league!"
All the Renault-powered cars went the full distance in Melbourne. The only reliability issue faced by the works team was a problem with Sainz' water bottle.
“Carlos was suffering a little bit due to a problem with the drinking system," Abiteboul confirmed. "But I don’t think it would have changed anything anyway.
“It’s in line with the target for the season start," he said. "It’s in line with our expectations, it’s in line with our feeling after the tests. But nothing more."
It does give the team a firm foundation on which to build this year's campaign and to target their rivals.
"It’s a sort of demonstration that as we are progressing," Abiteboul agreed. "Everything becomes more important: pitstop execution, strategy execution.
"Reliability is a must – and performance," he added. “Not having had any reliability issues will allow us to focus on what we have to do on the performance side.
“There won’t be any back-off possible, that’s very clear. We will have to push on in all aspects.
"Hopefully clear Haas, and also to continue fighting with McLaren," he said of the team's objectives for 2018. "That’s going to be an interesting fight during the season."