Renault is not even planning to win races in 2020, according to the works team's boss Cyril Abiteboul.
But it hasn't worked out that way. In fact, even engine customer McLaren seems better at present.
Asked if he is surprised, boss Abiteboul told Marca sports newspaper: "No, it seems normal.
"If we had not had the problems we suffered, we would be easily in the middle group with no questions asked.
"We do need to do things better, eliminating errors and reliability problems, because our competitiveness is not where we would like it, but it is acceptable," the Frenchman added.
Abiteboul said that rather than trying to beat the top three teams now, Renault is preparing for 2021 -- when new rules and a budget cap are set to arrive.
"Yes, exactly," he confirmed. "Right now there are too many differences in terms of resources."
He is referring to the 2021 budget cap, when Renault's current level of spending should be enough to win.
Asked about beating the top three teams in 2020, Abiteboul insisted: "That is not the plan or the objective.
"We know Formula 1 well enough to know that it is a long-term plan, and the time to fight for victories will come in 2021, with the new regulations.
"It does not make much sense to spend in excess. Although we continue to make progress in 2019 and 2020, we will stop as soon as possible to take the maximum advantage from these new regulations.
"There is already a group in Viry and in Estone working on this new regulation," he said.
Abiteboul praised Honda for taking a clear step forward in 2019, but he doesn't think Red Bull will be charging for victories any time soon either.
"It does not seem that Red Bull-Honda is in a position to win a race this year," he said. "Maybe Monaco is their best chance, but I understand the chances of winning come in 2021."
Renault advisor Alain Prost agrees with Abiteboul, telling Kurier newspaper that the French carmaker "will never spend as much on Formula 1" as Mercedes and Ferrari.