Renault drivers ‘just having fun’ in Interlagos scrap
It was an on-track battle that must have had the Renault pit wall sweating, as their drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz went wheel-to-wheel on Lap 2 of Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix, the body language of the team mates’ cars looking distinctly unfriendly as they darted around one another. But both were at pains to insist after the race that it was just two racing drivers having a bit of fun…
Hulkenberg and Sainz were running in 13th and 14th on the second lap, bottled up behind the Force India of Sergio Perez. As the pink car in front halted their progress through the field, Hulkenberg and Sainz began jostling to see which of them would be the Renault driver to take the fight to Perez. Hulkenberg got first dibs going into Esse before getting snarled up behind the Mexican, giving Sainz an opportunity around the outside at the proceeding Pinheirinho left-hander – before he too got snarled up behind Perez!
The Hulk then tried again at the Bico do Pato, swooping around the outside of his team mate before giving a playful jink to his right to open up the following Mergulho left-hander. That jink appeared to irritate Sainz, however, with the Spaniard then darting over into the path of his team mate on the run down to Juncao. The move initially seemed to throw Sainz as he locked up going into the corner. But the Spaniard then regrouped, tucked into his team mate's slipstream and got back ahead on the start-finish straight.
It was nail-biting stuff that looked none too amicable from the outside. So would there be Ocon/Verstappen-levels of name-calling and recriminations when the pair finally faced the media after their races were run? Er, no…
“Definitely, it was good fun,” was Sainz’s measured view of the fight. “It was crazy, with both Nico and myself trying to gain positions but at the same time getting each other into battle. He’s that kind of guy that I know that, being team mates, we can trust each other. We left just enough space for each other and we were just having fun.”
“I think we went side-by-side for more than half a lap, which was quite fun,” agreed Hulkenberg. “Only at one point he got a little bit stressed and went a little bit sharp on me. But fair enough, I think it was good racing.”
The Renault pair wiping each other out would not have gone down well with the team's top brass, as they seek to consolidate their current fourth place in the constructors’ standings. But though neither driver ended up scoring in Brazil – Hulkenberg retired with engine temperature issues, Sainz came home out of the points in 12th – with a 24-point advantage over Haas in the table, Renault look to have done enough to secure their highest placing since their F1 return in 2016. Although that’s providing nothing ‘crazy’ happens at the season finale, according to Sainz…
“We just need nothing crazy to happen in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “No podiums or no top fives by Haas there – which is difficult because they look to have a really good pace.
“But we definitely think we can make it – although it would be nice to finish in the points in Abu Dhabi and not having to fight for 11th, 12th and 13th.”