Renault Formula 1 team - The story of constant beginning from scratch
Renault debuted in the Formula 1 World Championship in 1977 and since then twice withdrew from the series but always returned with the same ambition.
In 1976 the French manufacturer accomplished the mission of conquering Le Mans 24 hours and immediately withdrew from the endurance racing. Debut in the Formula 1 was prepared for some time and was planned for the season of 1977. The team entered competition five races before the end of the season with the Renault RS01 which was famous because of its V6 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. Unfortunately, the debut wasn’t glorious. The machine nicknamed ’Yellow teapot’ was powerful but extremely unreliable. Jean-Pierre Jabouille was the team’s only driver and he retired from 4 out of 5 races while once he failed to qualify.
Renault Sport wasn’t beaten by the humble start. In 1978 some modifications were done but powerful engine again had the habit of letting go. Jabouille again was the team’s only driver and was able to qualify 3rd twice but in the races the results were poor. Retirements were often but in the penultimate race of the season, the US Grand Prix, Jabouile finished 4th and scored maiden points for Renault.
Expanding to two cars and maiden victory
Encouraged by the small progress achieved in the previous campaign, Renault expanded to two cars in 1979. Rene Arnoux joined Jabouille but the results at the start of the season still were bad. The situation overturned in the mid-season when the new RS10 ground-effect car was introduced. The success was imminent. Both Renault’s started from the front row in the French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois circuit and Jabouille triumphed. The fans were ecstatic after the French car driven by the French driver won on home soil. They also could enjoy in the epic battle for the 2nd place between Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve. The Canadian was better in that duel but Arnoux’s 3rd place was a great success and encouragement for the team.
Interestingly, Jabouille struggled after the historic victory and retired from 7 out of 8 races, while his teammate was 2nd at Silverstone and Watkins Glen before finishing 7th in the Drivers’ championship. Renault was 6th in the Constructors’ Championship that year, beating some well-established teams like McLaren and Brabham.
Slow but constant progress
After the relatively good season, Renault’s ambition grew steadily. In 1980 three wins were scored. Arnoux won two consecutive races at Interlagos and Kyalami, later in the season finished 2nd at Zandvoort, while Jabouille triumphed at Osterreichring. Jean-Pierre had a horrible crash at Canadian Grand Prix and was forced to end his career due to serious injuries. Renault climbed up to the 4th in the standings.
In 1981, Alain Prost joined Arnoux in the all-French line-up and immediately established himself as one of the best drivers in Formula 1. After the shabby start of the year, Prost was brilliant in the second half of the campaign when he won the races at Dijon-Prenois, Zandvoort, and Monza. Prost also was 2nd at Hockenheim and Las Vegas before finishing 5th in the Drivers’ Championship. On the other side, Arnoux’s form wasn’t at the highest level and scored only one podium. However, Renault’s progress continued and the French manufacturer was 3rd in the standings, behind Williams and Brabham.
The same driver line-up stayed with Renault in 1982, driving a fast but not quite reliable RE30B. The start of the year was perfect after Prost won two opening races at Kyalami and Jacarepagua. In the mid-season, the team struggled a lot and numerous retirements pulled Renault out of the battle for the Constructors’ Championship title. The results became better late in the season when Arnoux triumphed at Circuit Paul Ricard and Monza. For the second year in a row, Renault finished 3rd in the standings, this time behind Ferrari and McLaren.
Renault was title contender in 1983
Arnoux left the team at the end of 1982, so Prost with teamed with American driver Eddie Cheever. The season of 1983 was the Renault’s best so far after the team finished as runner-up to Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, while Prost also was a vice-champion, losing to Nelson Piquet. The Frenchman and future F1 champion scored four wins and had other three podiums but three retirements in the last four races were the decisive factor in the battle for the title.
Prost was frustrated after missing an opportunity to win the title and publicly criticized team, stating that they didn’t put enough effort in developing the RE40 car. That’s why he was fired soon after the end of the campaign. Cheever also was released from his duties and Renault had to find a new pair of drivers. Patrick Tambay and Derek Warwick were signed and driving the new RE50 they struggled most pf the season. Both drivers had too many retirements and after a couple of years, Renault ended the season without a victory. The two drivers amassed a total of five podiums (Warwick 4, Tambay 1) what caused that Renault dropped to the 5th in the Constructors’ Championship.
Financial troubles and long pause
The relatively poor season was an announcement of tough 1985 campaign. The French manufacturer was in financial troubles and that reflected on the results. Both Tambay and Warwick ended the season out of Top 10 in the standings while the team’s downfall continued with the 7th place. Renault decided to pull out of Formula 1 at the end of the year but remained present in the series as an engine supplier in 1986.
Almost a decade and a half Renault waited for the new opportunity to have its own team in Formula 1. In 2000, Renault bought Benetton team and its base in Enstone, UK. In the following two years, Renault competed in the F1 Championship under the Benetton name, waiting for the moment to become ready to win and reap marketing benefits.
The new start was in 2002
Renault estimated that the season of 2002 was a good moment to rename the team. Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli were drivers of Renault RS22 that year and they had a relatively good season. Although they failed to score a podium place out of 17 races, Button and Trulli finished 7th and 8th respectively, while the team was 4th in the standings.
A bit surprisingly, Button was dropped out of the team in 2003 and was replaced by Spanish rising star Fernando Alonso. The new Renault RS22 car was more competitive than its predecessor, so the results improved. Alonso triumphed at Hungaroring what was the first victory for the team after return to F1. The Spaniard also had other three podiums before taking the 6th place in the Championship, while the Italian driver finished 8th after having just one podium finish over the season.
The team’s progress continued in 2004 despite some friction within the team, especially between Trulli and team principal Flavio Briatore who at one point also was Alonso’s manager. Interestingly, Trulli scored team’s only win that year at Monaco Grand Prix but left Renault three races before the end of the campaign and was replaced by Jacques Villeneuve. On the other side, Alonso failed to win the race but regularly scored points, helping the team to finish 3rd in the Constructors’ standings, behind Ferrari and BAR-Honda.
Two titles were won in 2005
The big moment for Renault finally arrived in 2005. For the first time in its history, the French team won Formula 1 title thanks to fast and reliable RS25 car driven by Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella who arrived from Sauber. Renault won 8 out of 19 races that year and was particularly dominant at the beginning of the year.
Fisichella triumphed in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix while Alonso triumphed in Malaysia, Bahrain, and at Imola. The Spaniard later triumphed at Nurburgring, Magny-Cours, Hockenheim, and Shanghai before winning the title with a 21-points margin to Kimi Raikkonen. Fisichella finished 5th in the Drivers’ Championship. Finally, Renault clinched the title in the last race of the season, beating McLaren by only 9 points.
Another double was won in 2006
For the first time, Renault was one to beat but the team was ready to cope with the role of favorite. Alonso and Fisichella stayed with the team and they had a mighty RS26 car that featured 7-speed titanium gearbox.
Just like in the previous year, Renault was dominant in the first half of the campaign. Alonso won at Bahrain, Fisichella triumphed at Sepang where his teammate finished 2nd what was Renault’s first 1-2 finish since 1982. Alonso then won in Australia before Michael Schumacher in Ferrari stopped Renault’s winning stream. However, Alonso quickly bounced back by winning four consecutive races. Interestingly, Renault was unable to win any of the following seven races and the reason was that the FIA banned mass damper systems, developed and introduced by Renault.
Before the end of the season, Alonso won only once. It was at Japanese Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the season. The final race of the year was in Brazil where Fernando finished 2nd and defended his crown, just like the team who clinched another title thanks to Fisichella’s 6th position in the race. At the end, Renault in the Constructors’ Championship was just 5 points ahead of Ferrari. At the same time, that was Renault’s last title won in Formula 1.
The years of struggling
Alonso left the team after two titles and was replaced by test driver Heikki Kovalainen. The Finn and Fisichella regularly picked points but scored only one podium – Kovalainen’s 2nd place in Japan. Renault finished 3rd in the 2007 Constructors’ Championship what was a good result but the gap to Ferrari and Sauber was huge.
In 2008 Alonso returned to Renault and was paired with Nelson Piquet Jr. Former champion scored two consecutive wins late in the season, in Singapore and Japan. Victory at Suzuka Circuit was the last for the French team as of the end of 2016. Fernando also finished 2nd in Brazil but his teammate somewhat disappointed after having just one podium finish. Renault dropped to the 4th place in the standings, again being well behind its rivals.
Renault set unrealistic ambitions before the start of 2009 and that season was a huge disappointment. Alonso stayed with the team while Piquet Jr and Romain Grosjean shared driver duties in the second R29 car which was well behind to the most of the grid. French manufacturer finished 8th in the standings what was a big downgrade. What also was humiliating were the allegations that Renault was involved in race fixing in the previous year. Nelson Piquet Jr stated he had been asked by Renault team principal Flavio Briatore and race engineer Pat Symonds to crash deliberately to help his teammate during Singapore Grand Prix. After that scandal, both Briatore and Symonds left the team.
Second withdrawal from the championship
In 2010 Renault sold the majority of the stake to a Luxembourg-based investment company. The results scored by new drivers Robert Kubica (two podium finishes) and Vitaly Petrov were somewhat better than in the previous year, so Renault moved up to the 5th place in the Championship.
At the end of the season, Renault sold the remaining stake to Lotus. The team raced under the British flag and under the Lotus-Renault name. The French manufacturer stayed with the team just as an engine supplier in the year which ended the second spell of Renault factory team in the Formula 1.
Renault returns after short break
In autumn of 2015 Renault announced intention to return to Formula 1 by purchasing back Lotus team. Soon after, the deal was completed and in December it was clear that Renault will return to the track in 2016. Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer were hired as drivers of the RS16 car. It was clear that the French team won’t be among the frontrunners and was able to score points only thrice before finishing 8th in the standings.
Palmer stayed with the team in 2017 and was paired with Nico Hulkenberg. The team’s short-term ambition is to make a step forward considering to the previous year but the main goal remains to be among title contenders in foreseeable future.
Renault as an F1 engine supplier
Over the decades, Renault has also supplied and still supplies engines to other teams. In addition to its two own F1 World Constructors’ Championships, Renault has contributed to nine other World Drivers’ Championships. As of the end of 2016, Renault is 3rd most successful engine supplier in Formula 1 with more than 160 race wins.
The most successful partnership as an engine supplier Renault had with the Williams team in the late 1980s and 1990s, as well as with Red Bull Racing in early 2010s when those teams dominated the Formula 1 World Championship.