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Formula 1

Was Renault’s poor Spanish GP really an ‘anomaly’?

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

Renault endured its worst weekend of the 2020 Formula 1 season in the Spanish Grand Prix, failing either to get a car into Q3 in qualifying or score points for the first time this season.

Ricciardo missed out on a place in Q3 by just 0.032s but was only 13th-fastest, with team-mate Esteban Ocon a further 0.369s behind and complaining of a power deficit. Ricciardo finished 11th in the race, two places ahead of his team-mate.

“I certainly hope this weekend was a bit of an anomaly, a bit of an Achilles’ heel for us,” said Ricciardo. “Everyone’s so familiar with this track and to find something extra it is challenging.

“But we’ve had good pace all year and this didn’t quite correlate to that around here, so hopefully it’s a one-off. We’ll try and learn from it but come Spa, Monza, these are tracks we’re normally pretty strong on and should have a better run.”

Ricciardo’s point about the familiarity of the track is pertinent because this wasn’t actually Renault’s worst weekend in terms of pure performance. In Spain, its fastest time was 2.135% off the outright fastest, after it had set a season’s best pace of just 1.342% down in the Silverstone event the previous weekend. But at the third round of the season at the Hungaroring, it was 3.014% down.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Race Day Budapest, Hungary

Renault has struggled to be consistent this year and a stated aim for Barcelona was to find a better compromise between qualifying and race pace. In the first Silverstone race, the car was stronger in the race than qualifying and the reverse was true in the second. In Spain, qualifying pace was disappointing although tiny differences led to huge swings in the ultra-competitive midfield.

Had Ricciardo reached Q3, he would have been in the group that occupied positions six through to 10th, which was covered by just 0.107s in the top-10 shootout. This underlines just how tight that group is and how small performance swings can have a transformative effect, for a higher grid position would likely have led to a points finish for Ricciardo.

Given the Hungaroring and Barcelona are the two most downforce-dependent tracks on the calendar, it is fair to assume Renault isn’t the strongest of the midfielders in terms of the overall aerodynamic load. This suggests Barcelona isn’t such an anomaly, even if the lower-downforce tracks that are to come will suit it far better.

But it’s difficult to judge race pace from the Spanish GP given the congestion faced by Ricciardo.

“It’s quite frustrating, you get close to another car and you can have more pace but it is hard to overtake and you lose grip from the tyres and downforce,” said Ricciardo. “I saw a chunk of points in front of me, we were all closing up to Vettel but too late.”

Ocon also struggled both in qualifying and the race, but ascribed a big part of his difficulties to the fact he was on a tired engine package.

He will have a fresh power unit package for the next race at Spa, as well as a fresh gearbox and other parts changes designed to tackle his pace deficit to Ricciardo. This has been present in all of the dry qualifying sessions, although he was strong in the wet qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix.

“Spa going to be a fresh start,” he said when asked by The Race about the opportunity presented by a power unit change.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying Day Barcelona, Spain

“We have a week to analyse and recover all together. There’s going to be a new gearbox for me, a new engine, a lot of new parts as well because we are obviously not happy with the performance difference between the cars but hopefully that will make it closer. It’s going to be a fresh start from my side of the garage.”

Ocon suggested that his struggles might not only be down to any engine weakness, but the Belgian Grand Prix weekend will be the chance to test this.

“We are changing the engine for the straightline speed that was lacking but there’s also other areas where I feel and we feel we were not competitive enough compared to the other side of the garage,” said Ocon.

“We’re going to change the parts and see if it makes the difference or not but only time will tell. In my mind, it will [change things], yes.”

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