It is rather fitting that Louis Renault was born in 1877, for 100 years later his company brought their first car, affectionately known as ‘The Yellow Teapot, due to its oft unreliable but novel turbocharger, to the track. While the origins of F1 can realistically be traced back to 1950, the history of Renault in competitive motor sport dates back to 1906 with Louis Renault personally managing a team at Le Mans.
However, the French team elected not to enter early F1 events and 1973 was the first year that the manufacturer seriously contemplated competing in F1. The genesis came with Bernard Dudot. Dudot, a young and highly talented engineer, was sponsored by Renault Sports to explore developments in the US on turbocharged engines.
Spending time at both CanAm and Indy Car events, he returned to Renault, determined to develop a 1500 ccm-turbo-engine for Formula 1 racing. Dudot unveiled his proposition at the British Grand Prix. The start was unfortunately not a pleasant one with the car retiring on lap 16. The first season, continued to be a washout, with Renault failing to achieve any points. They came back to the 1978 season with an improved proposition – the RS01, which won the constructor its first points with a fourth place finish at Watkins Glen.
The following season would provide the team with their first race victory. The RS11, driven by a Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jabouille, and rather fittingly at the French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois, saw the team claim their first podium. In 1979, Renault decided to run a second car, with René Arnoux chosen as Jabouille’s teammate.
In 1981, Renault was very excited to welcome Alain Prost to their stable. The young Prost, driving the much-improved Renault RE30 V6, claimed 3 victories for Renault in France, Italy and The Netherlands. In 1983, the pedigree of the construction team at Renault was confirmed by demand for their engines. Lotus was the first team to include the Renault V6 in their cars and was followed by Lieger and Tyrell.
However, in 1985 the team was unfortunately forced to leave F1 due to financial difficulties. In 1986 the team maintained their position as an engine supplier but the huge engineering costs involved in maintaining the engines competitiveness, meant that Renault left F1 completely the following year.
In 1989, Renault re-entered competitive F1, supplying engines to Williams. Testament to their success as constructors is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that from 1992-1997, Michael Schumacher in 1994 was the only driver to win the championship without a Renault Engine.
Renault again pulled out of Formula One at the end of 1997 following the Departure of Adrian Newey, their chief engineer. It would be a further 3 years before the team re-entered the competition with a $120million purchase of Benneton. Upon making the purchase, Louis Schweitzer, the Renault president, stated that the intention for the team was to: “come back with an innovative 100% Renault F1 in 2002 and reconquer the world title by 2006.” – lofty aspirations indeed.
The 2000 season was a reasonable return to form and the Benneton-Renault finished seventh in the construction championship. Following the exceptional performance of Schumacher in the Ferrari in 2000 and 2001, Renault became less ambitious in their stated objectives in 2002. Rather than world dominance, the team was now aspiring for a fourth place finish and with Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli as lead drivers, the team achieved their goal, finishing behind Ferrari, Williams and McLaren.
In 2003 the team revealed a new car and a new found reliability. The R23 represented a real improvement and the team succeeded in scoring points in all but a single race and again finished fourth in the constructors championship with 88 points, almost quadrupling the measly 23 achieved in 2002. The team was also very excited by the addition of Fernando Alonso to their ranks. The young Spaniard became the youngest driver to win an F1 with victory at Hungary and was seen as the sport’s up and coming superstar.
2004 saw the Renault team, still under the guidance of Bernard Dudot, make significant changes to the car. Changes in the regulations stipulated that engines would have to last the entire weekend in order to compete and the existing R23 engine was certainly not renowned for its stamina. Unveiling the R24, Renault again achieved a successful year and this time, with the Ferrari’s dominance near unbreakable, they achieved a 3rd place finish behind Honda BAR.
When Louis Schweitzer outlined the company’s plans in 2000, he did not consider how successful his engineers would be with the 2005 Renault Car – the R25. 2005 was to prove an exceptional year for the French team. Fisichella took the chequered flag in the first grand prix of the season and Alonso the next three, giving Renault their 100th victory in Bahrain. Alonso was supreme in the Renault and claimed the championship with 133 points.
With Alonso unbeatable, Renault’s hopes in the constructor’s championships looked good but following the Japanese Grand Prix, only two points separated Renault and McLaren. The Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai would decide Renault’s fate. Alonso was once again in fine form, and finished first with his rival Raikonnen joining him on the podium in second place. The championship was, however, decided in the 24th lap when Juan Pablo Montoya, Mclaren-Mercedes’ second driver, suffered from engine trouble and was forced to retire, leaving Renault victorious.
2006 saw Ferrari and Renault battle for the constructor’s championship in an incredibly tight season. With Schumacher and Alonso vying for the F1 title, the two teams came head-to-head in a ferocious battle of engine expertise. As the season drew to a close, the teams were neck-and neck but Renault eventually won out with the end points being 206-201. Renault had, after its poor early start, achieved a duplex of victories in successive seasons.
Renault has now officially competed In 390 Grand Prix starts, as both an independent team and engine supplier. They have won 113 races, and have in total had 299 podium finishes. As a team their drivers have achieved seven drivers’ championships
- 1992 – Nigel Mansell (Williams-Renault)
- 1993 – Alain Prost (Williams-Renault)
- 1995 – Michael Schumacher (Benneton-Renault)
- 1996 – Damon Hill (Williams-Renault)
- 1997 – Jacquez Villenueve (Williams-Renault)
- 2005 – Fernando Alonso (Renault)
- 2006 – Fernando Alonso (Renault)
They have also achieved eight constructors’ championships in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2005 and 2006.
Key People (2007)
- Giancarlo Fisichella – Lead Driver
- Heikki Kovalainen – Second Driver
- Nelson Piquet and Ricardo Zonta – Test Drivers
- Bernard Rey – Renault F1 president
- Flavio Briatore – Renault F1 team principal and Managing Director
- Pat Symonds – Executive Director of Engineering
- Bob Bell – Technical Director
- Tim Densham – Chief Designer
- Rob White – Engine Technical Director
- Steve Nielsen – Sporting Manager
- Alan Permane – Chief Race Engineer
- Denis Chevrier – Head of Engine Track Operations