Engine builder Renault has enjoyed a recovery – of sorts – in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, managing to get all four of the cars it powers to the finish of the toughest race on the Grand Prix calendar.
Scuderia Toro Rosso youngsters Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr gave the Italian outfit its biggest single points haul since 2009 after finishing in seventh and eighth places respectively, ahead of the ‘A’ team Red Bull Racing duo of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo.
The French engine maker has, however, admitted that its performance is not “where it needs to be”, but it has drawn some heart in the fact that Mercedes proved beatable after Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel claimed outright honours in the 56-lap race.
After a much-publicised nightmare season-opener in Australia – and an even more widely reported falling out with Red Bull Racing – its power units ran reliably, and all drivers reported much improved driveability.
“We said after Melbourne that we needed to react to the problems, but not overreact and we can see that the measures and countermeasures put in place since then have played dividends here. Engine-wise we are much more where we should have been in Australia,” Renault Sport chief Cyril Abiteboul said after the race.
“Reliability has globally been good – as it should be – and the improvements to driveability have allowed the teams to focus on the set-ups and see where the true performance of the cars is at the moment. Finishing one lap behind the leaders isn’t where we need to be, but now we have very clear targets [to improve].”
There were big celebrations in the Toro Rosso garage, in particular, after both of its rookie drivers delivered near-faultless performances over the weekend.
Teenage driver Max Verstappen qualified an outstanding sixth-fastest the STR10 and went on to drive a mature and aggressive race to seventh place, becoming the youngest ever Grand Prix driver to score World Championship points. With the rules coming in 2016 that will restrict F1 drivers to be at least 18 years of age before their Grand Prix, it’s a record that will remain unbroken.
“I’m very happy to have scored my first-ever points in F1 and to finish seventh! I think we did a great job as a team. The first few laps were a bit tricky for me as I was struggling a lot on the medium tyres, so we pitted early for the hard ones and that worked perfectly, the car felt great,” the Dutch youngster said after the race.
“We had a few good fights with other competitors and it was good fun. This was the right strategy and we did a great job managing the tyres. I felt well physically, it was quite hot at the end but I was still able to cope with it and be consistent, so I’m happy with that. This is a big boost for the team, we couldn’t have done a better job today.”
Teammate Carlos Sainz also did a great job, posting back-to-back points’ finishes after a top-ten finish on debut in Australia.
“It was a mega day for me today! A two-stop strategy at a track like Sepang was never going to be easy, but it worked out well in the end and it’s definitely made me forget yesterday’s result in qualifying [where he started fifteenth]. Making it to P8 is amazing!” he beamed.
“There was a lot happening around me throughout the whole race, so it was very easy to lock-up, make mistakes or lose positions, but I kept calm and in the end it paid off. The conditions have been very tough here in Malaysia, much more than in Australia obviously, but we prepared well for it and I had no problems. Such a result gives us great confidence and motivation to keep up the good work. The team is doing an excellent job and to finish with both cars in the points is a great way to end the weekend.”
By contrast, for Red Bull Racing it was a bleak day. Not only was the ‘A’ team beaten by the ‘B’ team, but both RB11s were lapped by the team’s ex-driver, Sebastian Vettel.
Daniil Kvyat survived being barged into a spin by Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg at Turn 2 to finish a lowly ninth after a long battle with teammate Daniel Ricciardo, whose front-end grip was compromised after a piece of his front wing was knocked off in the opening lap of the race.
“We took the maximum out of the situation today,” Kvyat shrugged. “We are lacking some pace and need to catch up. It’s a challenge and we have to face it with a strong mind. Fighting for P9 and P10 is not what we want, we struggled today.”
“That was a really frustrating race,” Ricciardo added.
“I was ready for a fight going into the race and hoping for something special – but it wasn’t to be! I had a bit of contact on the first lap, which hurt us and then we had a few issues throughout the race. It took a long time to pass cars as we didn’t have the pace and we had some problems with the brakes, which didn’t make our afternoon easy.
“Congratulations to Seb, but getting lapped by him is not the best feeling in the world.”
Images via Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso