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A history of Renault in F1

By subh
March 2 2007

When Grand Prix racing’s three-litre engine formula rules were introduced in 1966, provision was also made for supercharged engines of half that capacity.  This was widely regarded as an unfeasible proposition, but the Renault team’s mid-1977 entry to Formula 1 marked the first attempt to take advantage of the option.  With an engine adapted from an existing V6 sportscar unit, the French outfit brought turbo-charging into the sport for the first time.

Development was entrusted to Jean-Pierre Jabouille, and initial progress was slow.  Apart from problems with throttle lag, the first Renaults were notoriously unreliable.  Jabouille first campaigned the car at Silverstone in ’77, but it wasn’t until the penultimate race of 1978 that he had a trouble free run.  By this time, however, the RS01’s pace had been proven with several top ten grid slots.  Jabouille was fourth at Watkins Glen, in the United States, taking the team’s first points.

1979 saw Renault run a two-car team, with René Arnoux brought in alongside Jabouille.  Reliability remained suspect, as it would do for some time, but the cars took six pole positions, and had truly arrived.  It looked like turbos were the future and, when Jabouille finally scored Renault’s first win, it was in the team’s home race at Dijon.  Arnoux also finished third, in a memorable battle with Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve.

Jabouille’s fourth season with Renault was not kind to him, despite six front row starts.  Although he won again in Austria, it marked only his third ever scoring finish for the team.  Then he broke his legs in a crash during the Canadian race, and his career never really recovered from this blow.  For Arnoux, however, 1980 was a breakthrough year.  He started it with two wins in three events, and proved himself among the fastest drivers around, when the car remained running.

The following year saw Arnoux joined by Alain Prost, and it was the newcomer that took the advantage.  Prost made it to six podiums, winning three times, but there were no more finishes for him.  Arnoux had to make do with a second, a fourth and a fifth.  Meanwhile, Renault’s lead was being followed elsewhere, with other teams starting to switch to turbos from 1981 onwards.  Ferrari was the first of these, and the turbo revolution was on.

By 1982 Renault could claim to have the fastest car around, and duly secured ten pole positions.  In a fraught season, however, the fragility of the yellow cars cost them any chance at a championship.  Although Renaults led fourteen Grands Prix, there were only four wins.  Arnoux and Prost managed to fall out, and the former headed to Ferrari for 1983.  The ’82 title went to Keke Rosberg’s Williams-Cosworth, but it was the turbos that ruled from hereon in.

Prost’s rivals for the ’83 crown came from the turbo-charged Ferrari and Brabham-BMW camps, with Brazil’s Nélson Piquet emerging as the main competitor.  Prost took the initiative with four wins, backed up by new team-mate Eddie Cheever, but Brabham’s late-season development work allowed Piquet to triumph.  Prost was outspoken, blaming Renault’s apparent complacency, and was duly sacked for his trouble.  1983 had seen Renault expand their operation to supply the V6 turbo engine to Lotus, and both Ligier and Tyrrell were added to the fold in the next two years.

For 1984, Patrick Tambay and Derek Warwick were recruited to drive for the works team.  Between them there was a single pole position, and two fastest laps, but by now the Renaults rarely looked like race winners.  Three second places were their best finishes, and 1985 saw a further backward slide, with two thirds for Tambay as the high mark.  By now, the TAG-powered McLarens were setting the pace, and yet Lotus-Renault also managed eight poles and three wins.  The Renault team felt it was time to quit F1.

Engines were supplied to Lotus, Ligier and Tyrrell for 1986, with the former scoring two more wins, but the Renault name was entirely absent in ’87.  However, a new normally aspirated era began in 1989.  Renault linked up with the Williams team and pioneered a V10 engine, the configuration that is now standard in Formula 1.  This combination made excellent progress, and by the end of 1997 had picked up four drivers’ titles.  In addition, Benetton-Renault had taken one more during a three-year partnership.

From 1998, Renault engines were available only as customer units, under the various guises of Mécachrome, Supertec and Playlife.  But work on a radical new engine continued in the background. 

In 2001 full works support returned for the Benetton outfit, in advance of a complete rebranding for 2002.  Renault then had its own Formula 1 team for the first time in seventeen years and, with several fourth places scored throughout the season, its potential was obvious.

15 Seasons

210 Grand Prix

Race wins - 33
Alonso 15; Prost 9; Arnoux 4; Fisichella 2; Jabouille 2

Pole positions - 50
Alonso 15; Arnoux 14; Prost 10; Jabouille 6; Fisichella 2; Tambay 1

Fastest laps - 27
Alonso 8; Arnoux 8; Prost 8; Tambay 1; Warwick 1

Points – 925,  4,40pts/GP,  61,67pts/season
Alonso 381; Prost 134; Fisichella 130; Arnoux 85; ; Trulli 42; Warwick 28; Cheever 22; Tambay 22; Jabouille 21; Button 14.

Renault NC; 0 pts
Jean-Pierre Jabouille NC; 0 pts

Renault 12th; 3 pts
Jean-Pierre Jabouille 17th; 3 pts

Renault 6th; 26 pts
René Arnoux 8th; 17 pts; 2 poles; 2 fast laps
Jean-Pierre Jabouille 13th; 9 pts; 1 win; 4 poles

Renault 4th; 38 pts
René Arnoux 6th; 29 pts; 2 wins; 3 poles; 4 fast laps
Jean-Pierre Jabouille 8th; 9 pts; 1 win; 2 poles

Renault 3rd; 54 pts
Alain Prost 5th; 43 pts; 3 wins; 2 poles; 1 fast lap
René Arnoux 9th=; 11 pts; 4 poles; 1 fast lap

Renault 3rd; 62 pts
Alain Prost 4th; 34 pts; 2 wins; 5 poles; 4 fast laps
René Arnoux 6th; 28 pts; 2 wins; 5 poles; 1 fast lap

Renault 2nd; 79 pts
Alain Prost 2nd; 57 pts; 4 wins; 3 poles; 3 fast laps
Eddie Cheever 6th=; 22 pts

Renault 5th; 34 pts
Derek Warwick 7th; 23 pts; 1 fast lap
Patrick Tambay 11th; 11 pts; 1 pole; 1 fast lap
Philippe Streiff NC; 0 pts*

Renault 7th; 16 pts
Patrick Tambay 11th=; 11 pts
Derek Warwick 13th=; 5 pts
François Hesnault NC; 0 pts*

Renault 4th; 23 pts
Jenson Button 7th; 14 pts
Jarno Trulli 8th; 9 pts

Renault 4th; 88 points
Fernando Alonso 6th, 55 points
Jarno Trulli 8th; 33 points


Renault 3rd; 105 points
Fernando Alonso 4th, 59 points
Jarno Trulli 6th; 46 points


2005 – Constructors and Driver F1 World Champions

Renault 1st; 191 points
Fernando Alonso 1st, 133 points
Giancarlo Fisichella 5th, 58 points


2006 – Constructors and Driver F1 World Champions

Renault 1st; 206 points
Fernando Alonso 1st, 134 points
Giancarlo Fisichella 4th, 72 points


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