ENSTONE-BASED Renault approach the new Formula 1 season in an optimistic mood about continuing their progression in the sport.

The French manufacturer have enjoyed significant improvement since returning to the sport in 2016, when they completed a takeover of Lotus.

A ninth place finish in the constructors championship two years ago was improved upon by nearly 50 points in 2017 as Renault secured sixth spot.

With Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz behind the wheel, the west Oxfordshire-based team are optimistic about the future, with testing beginning in Barcelona this week.

Speaking at the launch of their car, Renault Sport Racing managing director Cyril Abiteboul said: “We have everything to be positive about this year.

“We have two very talented and ambitious drivers.

“Last year Nico gave us exactly what we needed with his experience, knowledge and ability to lead both on and off track.

“Carlos joined us at the end of the season and he brought something fresh, and he scored points to help us in the constructors’ battle.

“Without that we wouldn’t have finished where we finished.”

Testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya started positively, with Hülkenberg taking to the wheel of the R.S.18, complete with its halo – a new FIA regulation for driver safety – during the morning session.

The 30-year-old completed 73 laps, posting the fourth fastest time.

Hülkenberg said: “It was a satisfying first morning in the car.

“Our plan was to get mileage and laps under our belt and we managed to achieve that. It was a solid start with no major issues.”

Sainz completed a limited testing programme in the afternoon during increasingly inclement weather with 26 laps, posting the sixth fastest time.

The 23-year-old said: “It was an encouraging day, if a bit frustrating for me because of the polar weather.

“It was quite tricky out there and that meant I couldn’t get a true feeling in the car.

“Every time I went out it took a while for the tyres to warm up and therefore I had to be quite cautious.”