RENAULT BOASTS ILLUSTRIOUS FORMULA ONE HISTORY
Many of the motorsport enthusiasts who follow the winning ways of the Renault Formula One team may not be aware of the long and illustrious relationship Renault has enjoyed in motorsport.
In fact, the Renault name is synonymous not only with the birth of the motor car, but also with the birth of motor racing. The founding fathers of the company, Louis and Marcel Renault, were among motorsport’s pioneers as well, and they took one of their own vehicles to victory in the 1899 Paris to Trouville road race. For Renault, this was to be the first small step in a motorsport odyssey of epic proportions.
2006 marks the centenary of Renault’s first ever win in Formula One, one of the Company’s cars having claimed victory at a small unknown town called Le Mans in France in June 1906. That first Grand Prix – the French Grand Prix, held over two days on a 60-mile road course – was won by Renault’s Hungarian driver Ferenc Szisz in a 13-litre 90CV AK.
One hundred years later, Renault is still winning in Formula One, and with the 2006 season poised for a climactic finish, the team’s reigning world champion, Fernando Alonso, is well placed to secure yet another championship for the French manufacturer.
The Renault brothers withdrew from active participation in the top echelons of the sport following the momentous win of 1906, to concentrate on the many exciting challenges inherent in the development of the automobile. Only with the formation of the Renault Sport arm in 1975 did enthusiasts within the Regie once again turn their attention to the track. In true Renault style, their return was characterised by a level of innovation that laid down a marker for all of their competitors.
The first Formula One car to bear the Renault name rolled out for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1977. Unlike the other cars of the day, which were powered by normally-aspirated 3.0 litre engines, the Renault had only a tiny 1.5 litre V6. But there was a difference – it was turbocharged.
The rest, as they say, is history. Renault had blazed a trail for all the other teams to follow, and within three years the entire field of Formula One front runners had gone the turbo route, ushering in what is still regarded by many fans as the sport’s most exciting era. At its peak, engine outputs were well in excess of 1000 horsepower in qualifying trim, with ground effects and full slick tyres making these pre-traction controls, pre-paddle shift gearbox cars the most exciting four-wheeled racing machines the world had ever seen.
In 1986, Renault withdrew from Formula One altogether. The turbocharged cars were soon to be outlawed, and the team withdrew to regroup and work on fresh ideas. It was to be a brief interlude.
In 1989, Renault returned to the fray with a new engine: the 3.5 litre RS1 V10, a configuration which would, like the 1.5 litre turbo before it, become the benchmark for all Formula One engines. Supplying the Williams team, they scored two wins that season, and more victories followed in 1990. By 1991, they were a serious championship contender.
This goal was achieved the following year, when Nigel Mansell piloted his Williams-Renault to championship glory. Renault was utterly dominant, and their performance that season is still regarded as one of the most impressive in Formula One history. In 16 races, the team took 15 pole positions, 10 wins, 11 lap records and a huge 170 points. To crown it all, Alain Prost secured another title for Renault the following year.
Renault and Williams took the Constructor’s Championship in 1994, and in 1995 the Company expanded its programme to include the Benetton team, then enjoying the services of a promising youngster by the name of Michael Schumacher. With the top two teams vying for the Championship both enjoying the same engines, Renault powered teams made a clean sweep with first, second, third and fourth in the Driver’s Championship, and first and second in the Constructor’s.
Successes mounted in the following two seasons, with Damon Hill triumphant in 1996 and Jacques Villeneuve taking the honours in 1997. For Renault, there was nothing left to prove. Having ascended to the very pinnacle of international motorsport, they had vanquished all the competition.
At the end of 1997, with their objectives achieved, Renault again bowed out of the sport. A run of six consecutive Constructors’ Championships had demonstrated to the world the core values which Renault represented, both on and off the track: Technical excellence, innovation and a burning desire to be the best.
Renault had won 11 World Championships, but all of them as an engine supplier. Victory with a 100% Renault team remained a challenge to be met. In 2002, Renault again entered the Formula One arena, this time as a fully-fledged team in their own right.
It was to be a steep learning curve, but the team showed themselves to be contenders right from the off, securing fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, a feat which they repeated in 2003. That year also saw the first victory for Renault, with the young Spaniard Fernando Alonso taking the R23B to victory in Hungary. He had already shown his intentions earlier in the season, with a second place at his home Grand Prix.
2004 saw the team finish third in the Constructor’s Championship, with one win, a second place and four third places the highlights of the season.
But it was to be 2005 when the dream of an all-Renault Championship victory was realized. Renault dominated, with eight wins from 19 starts and a host of top three finishes to take the Constructor’s title with a total of 191 points. Alonso’s seven wins and five second places secured the Driver’s Championship, the Spaniard becoming the youngest driver ever to win the Formula One title.
2006 has seen Renault’s successes continue, and at the time of writing the team led the Constructor’s Championship, with Alonso joint leader in the Driver’s Championship, with two races to run. (See press pack for final release on the winning categories).
For Renault, however, motorsport has never been just about the thrill of winning; ever since Louis and Marcel first took to the track, engineering lessons and innovations forged in the heat of competition have been applied to the Company’s road cars. Features such as turbocharging, four-wheel disc brakes, electronic traction control and clutchless gear shifting – to name only a few – have found their way into roadgoing Renaults.
Not only that, but the research carried out in order to optimize the safety of Renault’s Formula One cars has been used to make Renault’s road cars safer as well – another reason why Renault is the only manufacturer that can boast eight cars in its range with a five-star NCAP safety rating.
The latest example of this technological trickle-down is the “Sleep Safe” child head restraint just introduced on the Espace in Europe. This device is part of the head restraint, and flips down to hold the child’s head and body upright should they fall asleep. In so doing, it reduces the chance of neck injury and cushions the head in the event of a side impact. The device is descended directly from the HANS safety devices worn by Formula One drivers below their crash helmets.