Renault is bracing for a tough fight to be 'best of the rest' in 2019. Acknowledging that the French squad are not quite ready to take on Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull, team boss Cyril Abiteboul said Renault is nonetheless happy with its new car.
Renault held off Haas to secure fourth last year, although Force India duo Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez accrued more points than Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz though the year, with a mid-season points wipeout triggered by the team's takeover denying them.
As well as last year's rivals, Renault face potential renewed challenges from Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso in 2019, with both more tightly aligned to top teams – Ferrari and Red Bull respectively.
Renault impressed in pre-season, topping the timesheets in the first test, but Abiteboul knows the opposition has also closed the gap.
"We were third in the testing kilometres and nothing is fundamentally wrong with the car," he told Auto Motor und Sport.
"We are closer to the top than before.
"In our estimation, there is practically nothing between us, Toro Rosso, Haas, Alfa Romeo and McLaren. Red Bull is still a mystery to us."
The Frenchman said stability in the engine rules has helped with that, declaring that "there are not many differences anymore" between what Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda produce.
But it's not the same with the cars, given that Ferrari and Alfa Romeo have gone one way with their front wing concept for 2019, while Mercedes and Red Bull have gone another.
"At the moment you have to decide if you want to go right or left," said Abiteboul. "Everyone will have the same in 2020.
"We are looking closely at the Ferrari concept," he admitted. "Some solutions are in CFD process, others in the wind tunnel. We have to find out if it's better to be conservative or extreme."
Renault's technical boss Nick Chester said the Enstone based team is targeting a podium in 2019.
"I think we will see a very competitive Renault this year," he told El Confidencial. "There is a big gap to the three teams ahead of us, but we want to reduce that and have a podium at least.
"At the same time we are looking ahead to the future. We want to be champions in 2021," said Chester.
2021 is when Liberty Media is planning huge chances to the technical regulations, and Renault's head of partnerships Antoine Magnan said: "We are already starting work on that.
"This year we must show that we are there, in 2020 we must be on the podium regularly, and in 2021 we want to go for the title. That is our plan," he added.
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