STAVELOT, Belgium — It has taken time for the Renault DP World F1 Team to find its footing again and challenge toward the head of the Formula One grid.
However, Saturday’s qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix showed the squad is moving in the right direction.
The pair of yellow Renault entries, piloted by Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon, were the pleasant surprise of qualifications at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps — earning the fourth and sixth starting spots, respectively, on the grid for Sunday’s 44-lap race at the 20-turn, 4.352-mile Belgian circuit.
Ricciardo, in particular, was mightily impressive during Q3 on Saturday. His first lap was good enough for third in the provisional grid, behind only the two Mercedes cars, which shocked many onlookers.
Though Ricciardo was jumped late in the 10-minute session by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, his time of 1:42.061 was still good enough to be fourth-quick, marking his best qualifying result at Spa.
“I’m very happy with qualifying,” noted Ricciardo. “It was so close to the top three, but Max got me by a couple of tenths at the end. My lap was clean and probably as good as it was going to get. I left it all out there and the second row is a big reward. The car works well in lower downforce and that was the same last year.
“Tomorrow looks interesting. We have good pace in the dry, but if it’s wet, we’ve shown in the past we’re not bad either,” Ricciardo continued. “If it rains, it creates more opportunities, so whatever the conditions, we’ll take it and aim to do the best possible job.”
Ocon’s lap of 1:42.396 places him on the third row for Sunday’s race, alongside the sister Red Bull entry of Alex Albon, and the Frenchman believes he’ll have a shot to challenge for a top-five result.
“It’s been pretty good all weekend and we’ve certainly looked strong with the car handling a lot better than (it has) the past couple of races. All the changes we made coming into this race has given us confidence and we’ve seen it’s working well on track,” said Ocon. “It feels good, so I’m happy.
“We have a great chance to fight tomorrow. There is a chance of rain, so that could be interesting, and we’ll give our best for a good team result.”
Given that Renault has been feast or famine so far in 2020, Saturday’s consistency across both cars serves as a positive omen.
Ricciardo has three top-eight finishes, but also has three finishes outside the points in the first six races, including a DNF in the season opener in Austria. Ocon has a near-identical record, with the only difference being that his DNF came during the Styrian Grand Prix — the second race in Austria in July.
Renault is sixth in the constructor’s standings, 25 markers behind Ferrari, but with the Prancing Horses mired deep in the field to start Sunday’s grand prix, there’s a chance to make up ground in front of the Enstone-based team.
“It was a very good qualifying session for us today, with Daniel finishing fourth and Esteban sixth. Both cars are working well and have been nicely balanced since the first runs of Friday,” said Renault Sporting Director Alan Permane. “Looking ahead to the race tomorrow, there is more of a threat of rain than the past couple of days, but we feel confident in all conditions.
“We feel we can have a very strong race and bring a good points haul home for the team.”