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History: Renault in Formula 1

  • Published on 01 Dec 2015 15:00
  • comments 0
  • By: Calle Nilsson

French carmanufacturer Renault has been in Formula 1 for a long time, and they have entered the sport as full works team just as often as they have supplied other teams. Renault is arguably one of the most successful Formula 1 entrants to date, as they have won 168 grand prix as an engine manufacturer, more than any other manufacturer apart from Ferrari (225) and Ford (176). Renault has introduced several innovative technologies to Formula 1: they were the first manufacturer to use turbocharged engines and titanium gearboxes. Apart from the works Renault teams, notable teams Renault has supplied with engines in the past are Williams, Tyrrell, Lotus and Ligier. Renault currently supply Red Bull and Toro Rosso. Renault's future in F1 is uncertain, and next year could see them enter as a full works team with Lotus or leave the sport altogether. 

Renault F1 first saw the light of day in 1977, when Renault's sport division decided to enter only one car driven by Jean-Pierre  Jabouille. The car, named the RS01, was the first F1 car to be powered by a turbocharged engine. While the engine was very powerful, it was also very unreliable, as was the rest of the car, and it hardly managed to finish a single race in it's maiden year. Renault's bet performance in 1977 was at the dutch grand prix, held at Zandvoort, where Jabouille qualified in 10th and ran for 6th place until the car's suspension failed, and Jabouille had to retire.

While the car still lacked reliability in the following year, the team did improve somewhat, and Jabouille managing to grab 3rd place twice in qualifying, claimed Renault's first F1 race finish in Monaco, and even managed to score Renault's first points in a race, landing a 4th place in the United States grand prix held at Watkin's Glen. In 1979, Jabouille was joined by Renault's second driver, René Arnoux, who had raced in Formula 2 for Renault's longstanding partner, Oil company Elf. Using the new RS10 with it's ground effect system, the two french drivers qualified in 1st and 2nd place at the french grand prix, and Jabouille managed to win the race, while Arnoux finished 3rd, only slightly behind Gilles Villeneuve. Arnoux would proceed to finish 2nd at Silverstone and at Watkin's Glen.

In the first years of the 1980s, Renault recieved mixed results. Arnoux would claim a total of four victories in 1980 and 1982, while Jabouille remained plagued by retirements, and he crashed heavily at Canada's GP. Jabouille's legs were gravely injured, and he would never race in F1 again after the incident. Jabouille was replaced by Alain Prost. 1983 was Renault's best season so far, and Prost scored 9 victories, one 2nd place and two 3rd places for Renault, and finished as runner up behind Brabham's Nelson Piquet in 1983. Following Prost's complaints on Renault's development progress, the french company fired Prost only two days after the end of the 1983 season. Renault picked up two new driver for the 1984 season: former Ferrari driver Patrick Tambay, and former Toleman driver Derek Warwick. Renault's car lacked pace compared to other cars, and the Renault-supplied Lotus and Ligier teams was significantly faster than the works Renault team. They finished the season without any wins. The team entered three cars in 1985, the first team to do so. The third car, driven by Francois Hesnault, failed to finish it's debut race at Nürburg, Germany. Financial difficulties struck Renault in 1985, and Renault retired their works team at the end of the 1985 season. They later withdrew from it's role as engine supplier at the end of the 1986 season.

Renault returned in 1989 to supply teams Williams, and once again supplied Ligier with V10- engines in 1992. Renault's partner company, Mecachrome, managed the supply. Despite officially retiring from the sport in 1996, Williams would proceed to use Renault engines, dubbed as Mecachrome engines, and Benetton snatched Ligier's Renault supply and named the engines 'Playlife', after a brand of clothes owned by the Benetton family.

Renault's true second era began in 2000, when they bought the Benetton team from the Benetton family. They continued to race under the Benetton name and livery until 2002, when the team was named Renault F1. The car sported a blue and yellow Mild Seven and Elf livery. They entered with drivers Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli, and finished 4th in the constructor's championship with only 23 points, almost 200 points behind leading team Ferrari. Button was replaced by Fernando Alonso in 2003, who would grab this Renault incarnation's first win in Hungary. The car used that season, the R23, had several innovative features, notably sporting a 111 degree V10 engine, which, despite being very heavy and unreliable, gave the car a lower center of gravity and a better handling compared to other cars of that season. In 2004, Renault switched to a more conventional engine to increase reliability and lower weight. The team managed five podiums and one win, and contended for second place in the constructor's championship for the major part of the season, but an ongoing dispute with Trulli lead to him leaving in favour of Toyota, and Renault replaced him with former champion Jaques Villeneuve for the last three races of the season. Villeneuve, who had not raced in F1 for several years, was unable to get up to pace in time to save Renault's chances for second place, and the team was overtaken by BAR-Honda. Giancarlo Fisichella replaced Trully and Villeneuve for 2005.

2005 was painted in Renault's colours, as they managed 8 wins and 10 podiums, and claimed the constructor's title, and Alonso took his first driver's title. Thus, Renault ended the reign of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher. The only serious challenger that year was McLaren, but they suffered from poor reliability that season. Part of their success is believed to be due to the innovative tuned mass damper, which reduced the effect of kerbs and kept the nose stable through corners, significantly improving the RS25's handling. In 2006, Renault introduced another new innovation: a gearbox made out of titanium, in order to reduce weight. The mass dampers they used during the 2005 season and the first half of the 2006 season were banned, and Renault lost a big advantage due to this change. Nevertheless, Renault and Alonso managed to defend their respective titles, only five point ahead of rival team Ferrari. In 2007, Renault lost Alonso to McLaren, who was replaced by finn Heikki Kovalainen, while Fisichella was retained. Renault fell back to 3rd place in the championship this season, more than 150 point behind Ferrari. The same season, Renault was accused by the FIA of being in possession of data on several McLaren components, which McLaren supposedly had developed using stolen data from Ferrari. Renault was found guilty, but was not penalised.

Alonso returned to Renault in 2008, partnered by Nelson Piquet jr. Renault suffered from an unreliable package the whole season, and they finished 4th that season. In 2009 Renault was accused by the FIA of race fixing at the 2008 Singapore grand prix, as team principals Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds had given Piquet orders to stage a crash and bring out a safety car, which contributed to team mate Alonso's win. The controversy lead to the ban of Briatore and Pat Symonds from actively participating in F1.

In 2009, Piquet was replaced mid-season by Romain Grosjean, though only all 26 of Renault's points were scored by Alonso. Renault finished in 8th place. In 2010, Renault sold 75% of the ownership to Genii capital, and raced with Vitaly Petrov and Robert Kubica. Alonso left Renault in favour of Ferrari. The season was an overall improvement compared to the 2009 season, but the team was still outscored by Renault-supplied Red Bull. That season, Red Bull took their first out of four consecutive titles. In late 2010, the Renault sold it's last shares to Genii Capital, and the team was renamed to Lotus Renault, with a new black and gold livery similar to old Lotus F1's John Player Special livery for the 2011 season. Renault continued to supply Lotus until the end of the 2014 season, when the team decided to switch to the much more powerful and reliable Mercedes units.

Since the withdrawal of Renault's works team in 2010, Red Bull has basically served as Renault's works team. The partnership involves several sponsors linked to Renault, such as oil brand Total and luxury car brand Infiniti, a subsidiary of the Renault-Nissan group. Lead by german driver Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull has won four titles in a row between 2010 and 2013. However, the hybrid era, which began in 2014, has proven difficult for Renault, as the units supplied by Renault has proven inferior in terms of power and reliability compared to dominant Mercedes. Red Bull finished 2nd in 2014 and will finish 4th in 2015. Cracks in the Red Bull-Renault partnership has emerged, and it remains unsure if Renault will supply Red Bull for the next season.

Renault has apparently sent in a letter of intent to the FIA regarding a purchase of the financially troubled Lotus team. The team has had a hard time to cover costs this season, and has almost been unable to race at several grand prix. As is stands today, it is unclear whether Renault will fulfill this purchase or not. If they do, Bernie Ecclestone, head of the Formula One Group, has stated that Renault will be made a historic team, and as such they will enjoy benefits like increased prize money. Unconfirmed rumors claim that Renault consider leaving the sport altogether.

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Driver profile

  • Team Alpine F1
  • Points 145
  • Podiums 0
  • Grand Prix 84
  • Country ES
  • Date of b. Jul 29 1981 (39)
  • Place of b. Oviedo, ES
  • Weight 68 kg
  • Length 1.71 m
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