Formula 1 teams tend to go into lockdown during the winter months. With no races or testing taking place, teams retreat to their factories, where they are flat-out preparing for the next season behind closed doors.

While we might not see the work that is going on at each respective headquarters, it is still a busy time as the groundwork is set for the coming year. Teams will have internal targets for car builds and performance gains, and external ones in terms of overall position.

So as almost all of those involved in F1 prepare for at least a few days off over the holiday period, it’s a good time to look at where each team finds itself during this off-season.

Last week, we started from the back of the grid and covered the teams from Williams up to Toro Rosso. If you missed that one, check the link below. And now, we’ll close it out with Renault through to Mercedes.

WHERE IT STANDS: Close to the doors of the last chance saloon. Renault has talked a good game since returning to F1, outlining its recovery plan for a Lotus team that had bailiffs in its garage before the French constructor took it over. Once it had completed its restructuring and invested in facilities and personnel, the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo off the back of a fourth-place constructors’ championship finish in 2018 coincided with bold statements that the team was ready to pull clear of the midfield.

That clearly didn’t happen, as McLaren – the only other team with a Renault power unit – humbled the works team, and Renault only just held off Toro Rosso for fifth place. Scapegoats continue to be found when Nick Chester left at the end of the season, but Pat Fry’s return is a very sensible move for a team that had shown signs of real progress 12 months ago.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Convincing the board it will eventually be successful. Amid scandal at the top for the car manufacturer, the F1 project has hardly been full of triumphs and is an expensive undertaking that will be under almost constant review. Ricciardo was a great acquisition but came at a high price, and it won’t be value for money if the team can’t deliver a good enough car.

2021 stands out as a big opportunity, but if Renault doesn’t make a significant step forward in 2020 it might not get the chance to take advantage of the new-look F1. So far, the return on investment has been lacking.

Could one more vaguely lackluster campaign in 2020 prompt the sun to set on Renault’s enthusiasm for its F1 program? Image by Dunbar/LAT

REALISTIC TARGET: Beating McLaren. Renault might need even more than that to secure a longer-term future in the sport, but the gap to the top three is far too big to be a target for next season. McLaren is the only other team with a Renault power unit, and the other engine manufacturers that have factory teams – Mercedes and Ferrari – have no problem beating their customers.

Regardless of what any other midfield team does, beating McLaren would show Renault has the required ability within its chassis department.

McLAREN

WHERE IT STANDS: With good headaches. McLaren delivered one of the most impressive team performances of the season given where it had been over the previous four years, and was consistently best of the rest. With a young driver line-up, dynamic new team principal and fresh structure, all of the ingredients are in place for more success.

Now it has to work out what its real goals are. Work started on a new car early because the facilities and budget still mean McLaren should be closer to the front than it has been, and 2020 will be the first full season for both Andreas Seidl and James Key, so further progress should be expected. But it is still a long way from troubling the top three.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Sacrificing 2020. The team was willing to risk fourth in the constructors’ championship in order to put more resource into next year’s car, and it will hope that pays off with another step forward. It was a calculated risk, because McLaren will not want to give up the momentum it has created, but similarly has higher ambitions than finishing fourth.

All teams start their seasons with vague promises about ‘taking a step forward’, but in 2019, McLaren actually managed to do it. Image by Mauger/LAT

Regardless, though, its focus really needs to be on 2021. As best of the rest right now, McLaren is the strongest candidate to upset the order of the top three teams when the new regulations come in, and should operate at the budget cap too. There’s a lot of positivity around the team that will be hard to give up, but it should seriously consider throwing everything it has at the season after next.

REALISTIC TARGET: Repeating 2019. The drivers should only get stronger, but the gap to the top three teams is basically insurmountable over one winter with stable regulations. There’s a lot McLaren can still learn, but it really is not worth halving the gap to the top three next year if it comes at any expense to the next era of F1. Not slipping from its current position and allocating resources wisely would be a success.

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