The Autodromo di Monza has long been nicknamed the Cathedral of Speed, and with good reason. More than three quarters of the 5.793km track is taken at wide open throttle, with only three braking events punctuating the lap. For an engine supplier, it’s the ultimate test and, therefore, the ultimate Grand Prix to win.
Renault took four wins in the 1990s with Williams and Benetton, but victory eluded the Losange from the end of that decade throughout the noughties. Despite strong form ² throughout the V8 era, it took until 2011 for Renault to return to its winning ways in Monza. Director of operations Rémi Taffin recalls the relief at finally breaking the Monza draught.
‘We’d won the Italian Grand Prix in 1991, 1993, 1994 and 1995 but despite having some great cars and engines had never managed to take a victory since then. We’d come close in some years – 2005 for instance, when Fernando [Alonso] was only 2.5secs from Montoya, who had won that year. But the win had always eluded us.
From an engine supplier point of view, you have a love-hate relationship with Monza.
You love it as it is the toughest challenge of the year and you see your engines reach speeds they do not reach elsewhere. But you are nervous the whole weekend. Winning this race therefore gives the greatest satisfaction.
‘In 2011 we went to Monza fairly confident and hopeful we’d break the deadlock. We’d won seven of the 11 races held so far that year and the Red Bull-Renault package had proved dominant. Reliability was outstanding and performance was good as we’d mastered the blown floor to give extra performance in the corners and the straights. Moreover, between Webber and Vettel and the year before we’d won at all of the ‘engine’ circuits – Spa, Canada, Abu Dhabi. There was a real hunger to win here, too.
‘Qualifying came on Saturday and Sebastian took the pole by nearly 0.5secs. It looked good for the win, but at Monza you never take anything for granted. Sebastian had a good start but Fernando was quicker and got ahead. For a couple of laps it looked as though Sebastian wouldn’t be able to find a way past, but there was an opportunity after the safety car period and he grabbed it with both hands. From that point on it was about maintaining the lead, nursing the car, making sure everything was safe. Even though Sebastian crossed the line almost nine seconds ahead of Button, until he did we didn’t think of the win.
‘The satisfaction when he did take the flag was immense. You know that your engine has made it and won in the toughest conditions. You feel both happy and proud, plus relieved! That win was made even more special by the fact it moved Sebastian into touching distance of his second championship.’