Renault F1 is a Formula One racing team that has competed both as an engine supplier and as a constructor from the late 1970s to the present day, with several breaks. Renault introduced the turbo engine to Formula One when they debuted their first car at Silverstone in 1977. Although the Renault team won races and competed for world titles, it was as a supplier of normally aspirated engines to the Williams team in the 1990s that Renault first tasted world championship success. Renault returned to the category as a constructor in 2001 by taking over the Benetton team, which was renamed Renault in 2002. Their first championship as a constructor was achieved in 2005.
Renault F1 is coordinated from the team's UK base at Enstone, Oxfordshire where the chassis are designed and built. The engines are produced at the team's French site, Viry-Chatillon. Renault has won 24 races as a constructor and has achieved one constructor's championship and one driver's championship. Renault also contributed to 4 driver's world championships and 5 constructor's world championships for Williams. Renault's other motorsport activities are conducted through Renault Sport.
Renault in the 1970s and 1980s
Renault began its involvement in Formula One during the last five races of 1977 with Jean-Pierre Jabouille in its only car. The Renault RS01 was well known for its Renault-Gordini V6 1.5 L turbocharged engine, the first regularly used turbo engine in Formula One history. Jabouille's car and engine proved highly unreliable and became something of a joke during its first races, earning the nickname of "Yellow Teapot" and failing to finish any of its races.
The following year was hardly better, characterized by four consecutive retirements caused by blown engines, but near the end of the year the team showed signs of success. Twice, the RS01 qualified 3rd on the grid and while finishing was still something of an issue, it managed to finish its first race on the lead lap at Watkins Glen near the end of 1978, giving the team a 4th place finish and its first Formula One points.
Expanding to two drivers with Rene Arnoux joining Jabouille in 1979, the team continued to struggle although Jabouille earned a pole position in South Africa. By mid-season, both drivers had a new ground-effect cars, the RS10, and at Dijon for the French Grand Prix the team legitimized itself with a brilliant performance in a classic race. The two Renaults were on the front row in qualifying, and pole-sitter Jabouille won the race, the first driver in a turbo-charged car to do so, while Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve were involved in an extremely competitive duel for second, Arnoux narrowly getting beaten to the line. While Jabouille ran into hard times after that race, Arnoux finished a career high 2nd at Silverstone in the following race and then repeated that at the Glen, proving it wasn't a fluke.
Arnoux furthered this in 1980 with consecutive wins in Brazil and South Africa. Jabouille continued to have problems with retirements, but in his only points finish he emerged victorious in Austria. At the end of the year Jabouille crashed heavily at the Canadian GP and suffered serious leg injuries, which effectively ended his career as a Grand Prix driver. Alain Prost was signed up for 1981. In his three years with the team, Prost showed the form that would make him a Formula One legend and the Renaults were among the best in Formula One, twice finishing third in the constructors championships and second once. Prost won nine races with the team while Arnoux added two more in 1982.
Arnoux left for rival Ferrari after 1982 and was replaced by American Eddie Cheever for a season. When Prost left after 1983, the team turned to Patrick Tambay and Englishman Derek Warwick to bring them back to prominence. Despite a few good results the team was not among the elite anymore, with other teams doing a better job with turbo engines, some of which came from Renault themselves. As a result, Renault shut down the works team to concentrate on engine manufacturing.
This final year provided another F1 first, as the team ran a third car in Germany that featured the first in-car camera which could be viewed live by a television audience. The car only lasted 23 laps before a clutch problem forced it to retire.
Renault as an engine supplier
In 1989, Renault rejoined Formula One as an engine supplier to Williams. By 1992, Williams-Renault was a World Championship-winning constructor. This began a dominant period, as Renault were involved in five Drivers' and six Constructors' World Championship wins (a clean sweep between 1992 and 1997, except for Michael Schumacher's Ford-powered win in 1994).
Especially, in 1995, Renault won 16 races of 17 races in the year with Benetton and Williams. It is the most wins record in a year as an engine supplier though Ford-Cosworth won all races in 1969(11 races) and 1973(15 races).
Renault once again pulled out of Formula One at the end of 1997. However, the power unit was still bought by teams 'off the shelf' for several years afterwards by Benetton (where the engine was known as 'Playlife'), Williams (where it was 'Mecachrome') and BAR and Arrows (where it was 'Supertec').
Renault's return in the 2000s
On March 16 2000 Renault purchased Benetton Formula Limited for $120 million to return to Formula One. Renault maintained the Benetton name for the 2001 season before renaming the team Renault F1 for the 2002 season.
The reincarnated Renault finished 4th, albeit a distant fourth, in its first year back, relying on young drivers Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button doing a solid job with the team. Button's performances were comparatively strong, but for numerous reasons he was replaced for the 2003 season by the young Spaniard Fernando Alonso. The 2003 season saw the Renault team finish a much more competitive 4th in the constructors standings, with a car renowned for its impressive launch control system, which enabled drivers to get a considerable advantage at the start of a race. Alonso scored two pole positions and one race victory for Renault in 2003.
In 2004, the team surprised everybody by becoming real contenders for second place in the Constructors' Championship. Trulli won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2004 in spectacular fashion. However, his relationship with Renault (particularly with team principal and Trulli's ex-manager Flavio Briatore) deteriorated after he was consistently off the pace in the latter half of the year, and made claims of favoritism in the team towards Alonso (though the two teammates themselves remained friendly).
Commentators regularly point to the French Grand Prix as the final straw for Briatore, where Trulli was overtaken by Rubens Barrichello in the final stages of the last lap, costing Renault a double podium finish at their home Grand Prix. He subsequently announced he was joining Toyota F1 for the following year and in fact left Renault early, driving the Toyota in the last two races of the 2004 season. Hoping to secure second place in the Constructors' Championship, Renault replaced Trulli with 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve for those final two races. However, Villeneuve did not impress and the team finished third behind BAR.
Giancarlo Fisichella was Trulli's replacement for the 2005 season. Fisichella had been thought by many F1 fans as a capable driver whose career had been dogged by the un-competitive cars he was given to work with. 2005 would see him finally driving a top class car, and indeed he took advantage of a rain-affected qualifying session to win the first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso then proceeded to steal the limelight by winning the next three races and building himself a considerable lead in the Drivers' World Championship, thereby doing the same for Renault in the Constructors' championship. Meanwhile, Fisichella experienced a run of bad luck that saw him fail to finish several races. After the San Marino Grand Prix, Renault and Alonso's championship leads came under attack from a resurgent McLaren-Mercedes team and Kimi Raikkonen respectively. McLaren took the lead of the Constructors' World Championship by securing a one-two finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix, but that was to be the race in which Alonso secured the Drivers' title, becoming the youngest ever driver to do so. This achievement was followed by a win in China to secure the Constructors' World Championship for Renault, breaking Ferrari's six-year stranglehold on that title. It was the first time Renault had won the title as a manufacturer, after plenty of success as an engine supplier in the 1990s.
On October 21 to celebrate winning both the Drivers' and Constructors' World Championships, and to mark the end of the V10 era in Formula One, Renault engineers at Viry-ChÃ¢tillon used an RS-25 V10 engine to "play" Queen's We Are the Champions.
Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella were retained for 2006, although test driver Franck Montagny was replaced by Heikki Kovalainen. The team's 2006 contender, the R26 - featuring a seven speed gearbox made of titanium, was unveiled at a launch event on January 31.
The team started 2006 well, Alonso won the opening Bahrain Grand Prix as well as the Australian Grand Prix and finished second in Malaysia behind teammate Fisichella to claim Renault's first one-two finish since RenÃ© Arnoux and Alain Prost in 1982. They continued this, with Alonso taking 2 second places and a well earned win at his home grand prix in Spain, at the Circuit de Catalunyaas well as the Monaco Grand Prix. Fisichella took 8th, 6th and 3rd place finishes in the San Marino Grand Prix, European Grand Prix and the Spanish Grand Prix.
The team recently celebrated its 200th Grand Prix at Silverstone, which Fernando Alonso won convincingly.
Questions have been raised regarding Renault's commitment to its Formula One team, particularly with the appointment of Carlos Ghosn as CEO in 2005. Ghosn has a reputation as a ruthless businessman, nicknamed "le cost killer". However at the 2005 French Grand Prix Ghosn set out his policy regarding the company's involvement in motorsport:
"We are not in Formula One out of habit or tradition. We're here to show our talent and that we can do it properly... Formula One is a cost if you don't get the results. Formula One is an investment if you do have them and know how to exploit them.
In short he will continue Renault's investment in F1 as long as the team is successful and can use the resulting publicity for wider commercial gain. Conversely if the team is unsuccessful in future it can be expected that Ghosn will withdraw resources from the sport.
However, Renault have recently signed an agreement with the Formula 1 management pledging its allegiance to Formula 1 till 2012.