Spain is 'marker in sand' for Renault F1 team

Formula One - Australia Grand Prix - Melbourne, Australia - 19/03/16 - Renault F1 driver Jolyon Palmer during qualifying at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne. REUTERS/Jason Reed

LONDON (Reuters) - Next week's Spanish Grand Prix will be a "marker in the sand" for the Renault Formula One team as the start of their development programme, according to managing director Cyril Abiteboul.

Renault, who took over the struggling Lotus team last December, head for Barcelona after scoring their first points of the season in Russia last weekend when Denmark's Kevin Magnussen finished seventh.

Spain is traditionally the start of the European season, although Russia has moved ahead of it on this year's calendar, with teams bringing upgrades and using their 'motorhomes' for the first time after the opening long-haul races.

Abiteboul said the result in Sochi was due to a "cocktail of circumstances" and it would be tough to repeat the performance in Spain.

"However, Barcelona is the start of our development programme and we will see some new developments coming through in the race, with several others scheduled for the test afterwards," he said.

"We look at this race as a marker in the sand: the exit point of our recovery from the takeover and the first race as ‘our’ team. It will start small but I’m confident we will gain momentum as we go forward."

Technical director Nick Chester said Renault would have an updated rear wing and some new bits on the front for the race before trying a range of updates in a subsequent test at the Circuit de Catalunya.

They will also use the test to evaluate a new version of their engine that is scheduled to debut in Canada in June and could make Renault and customer team Red Bull Racing much more competitive.

Racing director Frederic Vasseur told reporters in Russia that Renault, who had Magnussen and Britain's Jolyon Palmer 17th and 18th on the starting grid in Sochi, had to improve their qualifying performance.

French reserve driver Esteban Ocon will take Palmer's place in first practice next Friday and also take part in the first in-season test.

Vasseur said however that Renault were committed to their line-up.

"Kevin has performed very well in his return to Formula One and Jolyon is approaching his rookie season in a clear and methodical manner," he said.

"It’s true that Jolyon had a couple of races where he didn’t deliver as he wanted, equally this is natural in a driver’s first season; he’s learning and making strong progress."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tony Jimenez)

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