until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Why Renault is on the pace at the Belgian GP

by Glenn Freeman
3 min read

Daniel Ricciardo was flying high in and out of the car at Spa. After qualifying his Renault fourth, right behind his erstwhile team-mate and rival Max Verstappen, he was looking for him as he pulled into parc ferme, intent on mischief.

“I got out the car and I looked in his direction and he was already looking at me,” Ricciardo said. “He was clearly waiting for my response and we both gave each other a friendly middle finger.”

It was by far Renault’s most convincing performance of the year. Two-and-a-half tenths shy of Verstappen’s Red Bull, less than 1% adrift of pole (at 100.8%). That’s the sort of performance that Renault aspired to when it upped the investment level a couple of years ago but which has generally proved elusive.

So, is this a breakthrough?

Let’s hold off on hailing it as that. Spa is a funny old track (and so is next week’s venue of Monza). These low-drag specials do not punish a lack of downforce as badly as conventional circuits and they reward lower drag resistance thanks to the long flat-out sections.

To be competitive around here, though, you still need a good aerodynamic efficiency – and this the Renault seems to have. In fact it seems to be something in the DNA of this team’s cars – for its predecessor last year was similarly competitive at Spa and Monza.

At both those 2019 races, Ricciardo was comfortably fastest of the ‘Class B’ battle, qualifying sixth in Belgium and fifth in Italy (pictured below). In fact that Monza lap was the closest any car outside of the Mercedes/Ferrari/Red Bull group came to pole position all season, at 100.67%.

F1 2019 Italian GP start Ferrari Renault Monza

Renault was similarly competitive at the low-drag demands of Montreal, where Ricciardo qualified fourth. At any circuit more demanding of downforce, the Renault fell back and was invariably slower than the identically-powered McLaren. Just like this year.

“It was a characteristic of the car last year as well,” said Ricciardo. “I feel like for whatever reason the car’s a bit happier with a bit less load on it. Obviously, you can’t run this low on a circuit like Barcelona but when we do come to these high speed, flowing circuits it just seems like it’s in a better place with a smaller rear wing.

“It’s obviously something the engineers need to get on top of, for the aerodynamicists to understand where we lack in the higher downforce tracks. But it’s encouraging for next weekend as well.

“Typically a car should feel worse having less downforce. It should slide more and be a bit more uncomfortable but it doesn’t! It just feels better balanced. There’s not more grip available but the front and rear tyres feel like they’re working together better when we put a smaller wing on.

“Coming into Monza we can expect to be competitive again. But obviously we have a bit more work to do on those higher downforce layouts. It’s something we’re not completely on top of.”

Daniel Ricciardo Renault F1 2020 garage Belgian GP Spa

But that’s for another day. For race day at Spa, there’s only excitement. Ricciardo adds: “Seeing the pole-sitter there within arm’s reach is much more exciting and also it’s where I believe I can and I should be.

“I always set targets for myself regardless of where I am on the grid and carry a certain amount of positivity and confidence. But this does make a difference. There’s more to fight for.

“Max and the two Mercs have been in a league of their own this year so I think it’d take something extra to hang with them tomorrow for the whole duration. But we do have strong first and third sectors so if we could get ahead maybe it’s a track we could defend on.

“They’re strong in the second sector but it’s tricky to overtake there. I’ll certainly try to make life difficult for them if it was somehow in reach.”

Regardless of how untypical it might be for the team’s seasonal average, a big result here (and potentially at Monza too) is realistic and would transform the perception of the team’s progress. It might also raise a Spanish eyebrow of interest from Ricciardo’s 2020 replacement.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks