When you think of French manufacturer Renault in a Grand Prix racing context, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? Gallic heroes René Arnoux and Alain Prost in black-and-yellow RE machines in the early 1980s? Or Ayrton Senna in a black-and-gold, Renault turbo-powered Lotus a few years later? Perhaps Nigel Mansell thrashing the opposition in his Williams-Renault FW14B in ’92? It might even be Fernando Alonso’s back-to-back championships in the mid-noughties, or Red Bull’s quadruple world-title double at the start of this decade?
It depends on how your memory banks work, of course, and your age will doubtless be a factor, but the point is this: Renault has been pretty much a constant in Formula 1 since its first car appeared in 1977. Sure, the firm’s F1 timeline may be complicated – it switched from constructor to engine supplier, took a sabbatical, returned as a powerplant provider, stuck other firms’ badges on its engines, acquired an existing team to become a constructor once more, pulled out again (while continuing to supply engines), and has now confirmed its return as a manufacturer, while also supplying engines (TAG Heuer badged? ed), yet again – but that French diamond logo has glistened in F1 for almost 40 years, powering some of the sport’s very best machines – and some of the greatest champions – to victory.
News today that Renault will return to Formula 1 in 2016 as a constructor by taking over the Lotus team, thereby moving back into the Enstone, Oxfordshire, base from where it enjoyed much success with Benetton and as a full-blown works effort after that, is confirmation that the company still loves Formula 1 and the thrill of chasing its associated benefits, measured on the surface in Grand Prix wins and World Titles, and behind the scenes in technology development and transfer, as well as the training and career enhancement of its engineering staff. Success with the world’s fastest automotive test beds is invaluable to the manufacturers who bankroll them.
Renault may be lagging behind Mercedes in the hybrid-power battle as you read this, but underestimate this sleeping giant at your peril. This, remember, is the company that first introduced low-capacity, turbocharged technology and, after a few years of teething troubles, took it to the winners’ circle on that famous day at Dijon in 1979. It kept on winning through the ’80s, as a full-blown constructor and engine supplier, and that winning didn’t stop when the regulations outlawed turbos for 1989. Its 3.5-litre V10 would go down in history as one of the most successful in F1 history, taking numerous race victories and titles with Williams. When the V10s were reduced to 3-litre capacity for 1995, Renault added another chapter to the manual by taking a Drivers’ and Constructors’ Title hat-trick.
That thirst for success hadn’t diminished nearly a decade on – and it didn’t matter what the powerbrokers and rulemakers did, Renault was a trendsetter and worldbeater. The final title for 3-litre V10s engines went back to France in 2005, as did the first for the new 2.4-litre V8s that came on line for ’06.
When Renault gets a handle on F1’s 1.6-litre turbo hybrid technology – something its return as a one-stop operation in 2016 will certainly precipitate – the numbers in the table below will grow. And with Renault set to continue its ultra-successful supply deal with Red Bull, which by its own high standards has had a tough few seasons following the quadruple whammy of 2010-2013, the increased effort and continuing love affair between the Regie and F1 could prove lucrative.
Renault in F1 by numbers
First race as a manufacturer: British GP, Silverstone, 1977
First win: French GP, Dijon, 1979 (Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Renault RS10)
First win as an engine supplier: Portuguese GP, 1985 (Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T)
Wins as a manufacturer: 35
Wins as an engine manufacturer: 168, via Renault (works), Lotus, Williams, Benetton, Red Bull, Lotus (Enstone)
Pole positions as a manufacturer: 51
Pole positions (engines): 213
Drivers’ World Titles: 11
Nigel Mansell (1992)
Alain Prost (’93)
Michael Schumacher (’95)
Damon Hill (’96)
Jacques Villeneuve (’97)
Fernando Alonso (2005-’06)
Sebastian Vettel (2010-’13)
Constructors’ World Titles: 12
2010-’13 (Red Bull)
Most recent win as a manufacturer: Japanese GP, Fuji, 2008 (Fernando Alonso, R28)
Most recent win as an engine supplier: Belgian GP, Spa, 2014 (Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull RB10)
Lead image courtesy of LAT