Ferrari fans lit up Monza in their thousands on Sunday to toast Charles Leclerc’s stunning win, but in a quiet corner around Milan, the Renault team wheeled around in delight after their season-best performance.
The French manufacturer may face a notable power deficit compared to Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, but they appear to have closed the gap considerably this year.
Coming into the weekend, Renault had toiled through a grim campaign which featured few highlights and several lowlights.
However, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg had Renault fans smiling again, locking out the third row on Saturday, before finishing fourth and fifth in a thrilling race.
The chassis proved more than useful for the team’s drivers on the high-speed Monza layout, and the power unit showed clear signs of improvement.
And rather than falling away in race conditions and getting passed by one or both Red Bulls, they held their own and recorded Renault’s best finish since the team’s re-entry to the sport in 2016.
Ricciardo, starting fifth on the grid, benefited from Sebastian Vettel’s spin which dropped the Ferrari man down to 19th.
Pitting under the virtual safety car, the Australian came home 12 seconds ahead of his German team-mate Hulkenberg.
Finishing ahead of the Red Bulls would have been pleasing for the Perth man, with plenty of eyebrows raised last year when he decided to leave a potential championship winning team and move to a side which had not finished on the podium since April 2011.
Hulkenberg, meanwhile, started from sixth on the grid and finished fifth, maintaining his speed and using his strong race-craft to keep ahead of Alex Albon and Max Verstappen. It was his best finish since the German Grand Prix in July 2018.
Of course, reliability issues need to improve if Renault are to continue making progress and threaten the top three.
Ricciardo has been forced to retire four times this season through power unit, collision damage and exhaust issues, while Hulkenberg has retired on three occasions through power unit and spin off problems.
In contrast to their midfield rivals, the seven retirements between Ricciardo and Hulkenberg is one more than the McLarens and three more than Toro Rosso.
In spite of early, disappointing finishes, the results of the Renault drivers have been notable.
Ricciardo shades his teammate on qualifying, notching an average starting position of 9.85 while Hulkenberg has started on the grid an average position of 11.78.
On race day, both drivers have made improvements generally, with Hulkenberg averaging a 10.06 place finish in contrast to Ricciardo’s 9.6 place average finish.
Ricciardo holds the advantage in the drivers’ championship, sitting eighth, three points above his team-mate who is 11th.
Progress is progress but it needs to stay consistent if Renault are to ever put pressure on the top three.
As it stands, they sit fifth in the constructors’ championships, 14 points ahead of Toro Rosso and just 18 points behind McLaren.
The next stop on the calendar in Singapore, a track which requires downforce rather than power, so despite Renault finding their rhythm in Monza, the chassis will be truly tested on the twisty Marina Bay Street Circuit.
Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will carry on their leading form, but has Renault found the turning point to help prove their own claims of being the best of the rest?
If they are to achieve strong results over the coming weeks in Singapore, Russia and Japan then it will set up a frenetic finish as they go in search of replicating last season’s formidable fourth place finish in the team standings.
Only time will tell if they have made consistent developments but, in Ricciardo and Hulkenberg, they possess two drivers who will extract the maximum from an improving car.
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