Renault Sport memories: 1990 San Marino Grand Prix

21 October 2020

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As the Imola circuit in Italy prepares to welcome back F1, we recall a very popular victory there 30 years ago – that of Riccardo Patrese, with Renault power.

After years of pioneering turbo charging technology in F1, the 1990 season was Renault Sport’s second in developing a normally aspirated engine – the sport having gone that way in 1989.


Unlike its first spell in F1 (1977-1985), Renault was no longer running its own team – after sitting out the sport fully in 1988, it had returned solely as an engine supplier in this new normally aspirated era, these being provided to the Williams team.


The partnership had enjoyed a fruitful first season together in 1989, achieving two victories with driver Thierry Boutsen, although Patrese had been unfortunate not to take a win for himself.


Renault Sport’s engine for the 1990 season was a 3.5 V10 design, named the RS2. 

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Boutsen had been on the podium in the opening race of the year at Phoenix, USA. Imola, very much a home circuit for Ferrari, marked round three…


Patrese and Boutsen qualified a strong third and fourth and the latter found himself leading soon after the start when Ayrton Senna’s McLaren retired. A gearbox issue forced Boutsen himself to stop, with Patrese keeping up the pressure towards the front in an intense battle with Nigel Mansell’s Ferrari and Gerhard Berger’s McLaren.


Eventually, Patrese came through to pass Berger and take his first victory for the Williams-Renault team – also the first win for Renault Sport’s 1990-spec RS2 engine. The fact it had beaten Honda’s V10 and Ferrari’s V12 engines on a true power circuit showed that the Renault Sport engine technicians had really got their sums right…


And even though the home crowd were denied a Ferrari win, they were still joyous for Patrese is Italian.

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As legendary F1 journalist Denis Jenkinson wrote in Motor Sport magazine: “It wasn’t the race anyone had expected to see, but the end result gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure, especially the Renault engine people who have quietly worked away on their RS2 version of the V10, confident that its performance does not lack much from the V10 Honda.”


Strangely, the victory proved to be Patrese’s only podium result all
year. He ultimately went on to win three more times for the Williams-Renault
partnership – twice in 1991 (in Mexico and Portugal) and once in 1992 (in
Japan). In addition, he also achieved six pole positions, ten fastest race laps
and a further 20 podium results during his four seasons with Renault power…


Meanwhile, after an absence of some 14 years, Imola, it has been confirmed will form part of the 2020 F1 calendar with the GP Emilia-Romagna this Sunday, 1 November.


Photo: © Thierry Bovy /DPPI / Renault Communications, all rights reserved / NOT for reproduction.

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