Feb.5 (GMM/Inautonews.com) Renault will walk a fine line between improving the 2016 car and preparing for the opportunity presented by next year’s radically different rules.

“2017 will be important for us,” agreed new team boss Frederic Vasseur.

“The regulations will change significantly, which for us will be an important opportunity.”

Having taken over Lotus at the last minute, Renault is aware that 2016 will be a difficult campaign, as the new car was actually designed for a Mercedes engine.

But CEO Carlos Ghosn is actually saying the podium is not the target until 2018, which according to some might be interpreted as too low an ambition.

“Really?” managing director Cyril Abiteboul told Auto Motor und Sport. “Red Bull took five years, Mercedes as well. I would say our plan is ambitious.

“What we can say is that we will not be on the podium this year. That’s absolutely impossible,” he insisted.

“Everything we do this year is in preparation for 2017 and 2018. But in 2018, podiums must be possible.”

Abiteboul openly admits that Renault bungled the new ‘power units’ regulations in 2014 and 2015, but he says the carmaker is back on track for 2016 with a significant step.

“Now we have some really good things in development,” he said. “For the first time we know what we have to do in order to reliabily implement improvements with the engine.

“But it takes time. With the chassis, there are clearly compromises. It was designed for the Mercedes engine and so there will be some design disadvantages.

“But again: 2016 is the year in which we have to prepare for 2017,” Abiteboul added.

‘Racing director’ Vasseur agrees, but he also says Renault must tread a fine line between getting ready for 2017 and not completely writing off this year.

“I have to decide how we want to distribute the resources,” he said, “because if we just stop with the current car, there is a danger the staff lose motivation.”

Abiteboul continues: “What we need this year is a reliable platform on which we can build.

“That is why we have asked Enstone to take a conservative first step. We will not rush. We need kilometres: for the car, the engine and the drivers.”

A plan to add 200 staff to the Enstone factory has already been revealed, but Abiteboul said the 250 engine people at Viry-Chattilon is enough.

“Although Red Bull always said it is not enough, I can assure you that Viry has the people and the money,” he said.

Ferrari managed to speed up its process of catching up last year by poaching some staff from Mercedes, and Abiteboul agreed that trying to sign experienced people from elsewhere is a logical route to take.

“Of course,” he said, “but to entice people from the competition, you have to be attractive. And we were far from attractive, because it wasn’t clear where we were headed.

“That’s different now that we have a plan and a long-term project.”