Nico Hulkenberg says that Renault is focussed on making a big leap forward in 2019, but admits that the team will remain in the dark right up until the start of pre-season testing.
"It’s always really hard,' Hulkenberg said this week when asked to predict how the factory team would fare next year.
"It’s all speculation. We know what we do and I know it sounds not bad, but we’re in the dark as to what the others find."
Teams are spending the winter working on introducing new front and rear wing aerodynamic regulations into their car designs for the new season.
Changes always present risks and opportunities, with the chance that one squad might find a novel way of interpreting the rules that allows them to get a jump in their rivals at the first race of the season in Melbourne in March.
“Obviously the new front wing is kind of a soft reset for next year, as it’s quite different for the cars," acknowledged Hulkenberg. "It’s really hard to gauge.
Renault finished 2018 in fourth place in the constructors standings, up from sixth place in 2017. While he welcomed the progress made at Enstone over the past 12 months, Hulkenberg conceded that there was a long way to go to catch the 'Big Three'.
“We need to eat a lot of the gap away and eat into it. As a factory team, we need to aim at making a big step," he said. "But of course that’s where need to go, what we need to aim at.
“I think we’ve made a lot of good progress in a lot of areas," he continued. "Especially in team structure, and putting the team in the right place to grow and to build in the next two years,”
“But on the technical side, development side – just on the car – this year was not quite up to our ambitions and what we were looking for," he admitted.
"That’s something we have to work on and get better at next year," he added.
“But I think overall last year P6, now P4 – I think that’s a healthy and good development.”
Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul admitted this month that the team had been "missing about 15 to 20 kilowatts of engine power" but said they expected to make that up in 2019.
"There’s no reason why we shouldn’t close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari with the engine over the winter," he said. "With the chassis, it will take a little longer."