By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Renault are hoping to be third time lucky and score their first points of the Formula One season in China on Sunday after narrowly missing out in the season's opening two races.
Danish driver Kevin Magnussen finished 11th in Bahrain, after a penalty for a weighbridge error left him last at the start, while British rookie Jolyon Palmer was 11th on his debut in Australia.
Magnussen was slowed by a puncture in Melbourne, finishing 12th and did not start in Bahrain due to an hydraulic pump failure.
"We are generally where we expected to be, but equally some way short of where we all want to be," said Renault F1 racing director Frederic Vasseur in a team preview of the race in Shanghai.
"In terms of race pace there are positive signs; we’re not so far from Williams and we’re not so far from finishing with points."
Renault took over the ailing Lotus team in December, a return to their roots having won championships in 2005 and 2006 with the Enstone outfit they previously owned, but have acknowledged that this season will be tough.
Lotus competed with a Mercedes engine last year and lacked the resources to develop their car, which has had a knock-on effect this season.
Vasseur said last month that it will take years to get back to the top, while Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn has set a target of being on the podium within three seasons.
"We have finished both races so far as the first car outside of the points so inside the points is where we need to be," Vasseur said, looking ahead to China.
"For this we don’t only need to add performance to the car, we need to ensure our weekends are mistake-free in every aspect."
Magnussen was second on his debut for McLaren in Australia in 2014 but sat out 2015 with his F1 career seemingly going nowhere.
Renault threw him a lifeline after Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado encountered sponsorship difficulties and the Dane is itching to open his account.
"I really want to get those first points on the board. Give me a normal race with no puncture and no penalty and I think we can do that," he said.
"My race in 2014 wasn’t the best, I struggled with the car I had, meaning I finished in 13th position. Certainly I’m hoping for a better result on my second visit."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)