By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Jolyon Palmer needs no reality check ahead of his second Formula One season, but the Renault driver might be wondering about some of his friends.

The 26-year-old Briton indicated at the launch of his team's 2017 car on Tuesday that their imaginations had been running wild over the winter break ahead of a season with big rule changes.

"Some of my mates have been saying 'Imagine if you can do a Brawn'," he told reporters, referring to compatriot Jenson Button's 2009 world championship success with rank outsiders Brawn GP.

Former champions Renault finished ninth overall last season, with Palmer securing one point from his 21 races.

The new cars are expected to lap significantly faster on fatter tyres, and Renault are confident that their power unit has also made big gains on last year.

With more staff on board and greater resources, they are targeting fifth place overall and maybe even a podium if circumstances play until their hands.

But any talk of dethroning champions Mercedes would be dismissed as the ramblings of a madman.

With every rule change there is, however, the chance of a team discovering something truly innovative that gives them an immediate advantage, just as Brawn did with their 2009 aerodynamic trickery.

"It is a completely blank set of regulations. We have no idea what anyone else is doing, they don't know what we are doing," said Palmer.

"We will hit the track in Barcelona (at the first pre-season test next week) and see some sort of form guide, I guess. But compared to the last few years it is a real chance for someone to upset the form book.

"Early on I think there will be a chance if someone really gets the race right to make a big jump."

A downside of the more aggressive and quicker cars is that drivers face tougher physical demands on them as they experience greater G-forces in cornering.

That means bulking up, putting on some muscle and strengthening the neck. Palmer has put on three to four kilos compared to last season, most of it on the upper body.

For once, he could enjoy the 'full works' at Christmas dinner.

"For years I've been trying to lean down and save weight and now I've got to try to bulk up for once... it's going to be very physical and hopefully it pays off. There's going to be a lot of drivers with some stiff necks," he told Reuters.

The Briton, who stills lives in London rather than sunnier climes, said he felt more relaxed, more confident and knew what to expect.

"The way Formula One works I have understood a lot more over the last 12 months. As a team we should be a lot more competitive so it is an exciting time."

The season starts in Melbourne on March 26.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by...)