Renault Sport Academy’s Christian Lundgaard, Oscar Piastri and Guanyu Zhou all took to the Bahrain International Circuit last week as the trio each had a turn at the wheel of the Renault R.S.18 Formula 1 car as part of their young driver development programme.
For Oscar, the reigning FIA Formula 3 Champion, this was his first taste of action in control of a Formula 1 car. Christian has already experienced the V8 powered E20 machine and the R.S.17 from the Renault stable, while Zhou has also tested the R.S.17 last year and the R.S.18 on a number of occasions already in 2020 as part of his extended Test Driver role with Renault DP World F1 Team.
All three drivers ran a busy programme centred around building them up to speed in a modern Formula 1 car, fit with Pirelli tyres and the V6 Turbo Hybrid Renault E-Tech power unit, as they edge closer to putting themselves in contention for a race seat in the near future.
Formula 2 frontrunner Christian was first behind the wheel on Thursday 29 October in Sakhir with Oscar taking over driving duties the following day and Zhou on Sunday 1 November and Monday 2 November.
Christian ran through a full day’s programme, accumulating 101 laps around the 5.412km circuit. He began on sustained running and then a number of qualifying simulations, before rounding off his day’s work with race runs. Christian’s focus is now set on the FIA Formula 2 Championship season finale double-header in Bahrain later this month.
Oscar’s maiden run in Formula 1 machinery saw the Australian complete 82 laps. With an added focus on bedding himself into the full grunted Formula 1 car for the first time, Oscar ran through multiple stints on varying fuel loads and tested Pirelli’s range of tyre compounds.
As the team’s Test Driver, Zhou completed two days in the R.S.18. The first day, however, was far from straightforward with a number of issues limiting his running. On day two, Zhou ran through a busy day to make up for the lost running. After some early laps assessing car set up, Zhou ran the car on low fuel during qualifying runs before rounding off the day with some endurance running in race trim.
Christian Lundgaard: “It was good to be back in a Formula 1 car. I’ve never been to the Bahrain race circuit, so jumping into an F1 car on a circuit I’ve never driven brought a really nice challenge. I think it all came to me quickly and I felt comfortable straight away on the first run. We had a couple of issues, but that’s all part of testing, and then we continued with our programme. The whole point of this process is to learn as much as possible. I’m grateful for the opportunity and I certainly enjoyed every second of it. I’m very happy, we got some good running in and I’m quite confident for the Formula 2 race in a few weeks’ time. I’m looking forward to it.”
Oscar Piastri: “I really enjoyed the experience in the R.S.18. It was my first time in a Formula 1 car, so it was very exciting if not a little bit nerve-wracking at the same time! Once I did the install lap, all the nerves went away, and I focused on having fun and driving fast. It was a really enjoyable experience and I felt the pace was quite good. I got used to the car pretty quickly and I certainly learnt a lot. I’m looking forward to whenever the next experience may be, so thanks to Renault, both the Academy and the Formula 1 team, for the opportunity. I feel very lucky, as not everyone gets to do this and it’s not something you do every day.”
Guanyu Zhou: “It’s always a privilege to drive a Formula 1 car, so to have this two-day test in Bahrain in the Renault R.S.18 was really beneficial. Day 1 was tricky with some issues and we didn’t get so much running complete. Day 2 was much better, and we got through our programme and the things we had to do. There was lots of data to collect, we did race runs and qualifying runs. Each time I’m in the car, I’m straight up to speed and I felt quite comfortable. It’s a challenge getting familiar with all the settings but that’s also quite a fun experience. Testing in Bahrain before the Formula 2 race is definitely useful, so I’m really looking forward to racing there later this month.”
Mia Sharizman, Renault Sport Academy Director: “To be able to conduct the R.S.18 Test in Bahrain with all the additional organisation arrangement needed due to Covid-19, is a testament to our commitment to the Academy drivers. It was good to see Christian and Guanyu manage to complete their respective programmes, which was geared more towards preparing them for their remaining Formula 2 rounds in Bahrain later in the month. For both drivers to be able to do more than 100 laps per day, shows a step forward and upwards progression from their last year F1 Test in the R.S.17. I am impressed with Oscar’s approach for his first day in the F1 car. He managed to get up to speed pretty quickly and complete his run plan. We can see from his first day in the car that he is capable of adapting to a new car quite easily, which is one of the biggest traits that we would like to see. We had good feedback from the F1 engineers of the performance from all three drivers and they can see that the level is getting higher and higher each year, which is a good sign for things to come.”