F1 » Lotus F1
The 'all new' Renault Formula One team was born from the purchase of Benetton in 2000, and a combined effort in the series in 2001. The Regie, however, has its own proud grand prix tradition.
The Renault name was among the pioneers of the sport, contesting the Paris-Rouen and other 'inter-city' trials that were classed as the races of the 19th Century. It wasn't until 1902, and the Paris-Vienna section of the Gordon Bennett Trophy that the company came home in front, however.
Despite one of the two Renault brothers, driver and designer Marcel, dying young and the other, Louis, quitting the sport as a result, the name lived on and set the tradition for Renault to keep making comebacks.
Sporadic success followed in the first decade of the new century, but Renault would gradually fade from the scene during the course of two world wars, before making another return in 1977 - some 69 years after its last appearance.
The yellow paintwork that is now associated with the marque was born here, with a single entry for Jean-Pierre Jabouille debuting at Silverstone. The company's re-appearance was all the more notable because of the powerplant in the back of the RS01, however, for the turbo-charged era of F1 was about to arrive.
Intially derided by its rivals, Renault stuck to its guns, developing the phenomenally-powerful unit to overcome the 'lag' that characterised the early years and become the benchmark for F1 - another Renault trademark in future years.
That 1977 season brought nothing but misery, and Renault took over a year to reach the chequered flag, let alone score a point. Distracted by its other desire - to win Le Mans - it was not until 1979 that the company really made its mark on the grand prix scene.
Now running a two-car RS10 operation, with Rene Arnoux partnering Jabouille, the team finally notched its first win in a thrilling French GP at Dijon. Although Jabouille's win was somewhat overshadowed by 'that' battle between Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve, the turbo point had been proved, and several others soon began to follow the trend.
No further wins followed in 1979, but six pole positions testified to the power of the engine, before 1980's RS20 took three wins.
The 1981 version, in the hands of Arnoux and promising youngster Alain Prost, continued the success, but faced growing competition from the likes of Ferrari, Alfa, Porsche, Honda and BMW. Renault's management structure also made it slow to respond to changes in the sport, and it had to watch as Nelson Piquet, Brabham and BMW took the first world championship for a turbo-charged car.
In spite of 15 wins since its debut, the cost of the programme eventually became to much for Renault bosses, and the team was abandoned at the end of 1985. Its engines lived on, however, with Ligier, Tyrrell and, most successfully, Lotus, which took another prodigy - Ayrton Senna - to his first win, at Estoril in 1985.
A two-year break from F1 followed, but Renault could not stay away for long. With turbos now on the verge of being banned, the company announced its intention to return - with a normally-aspirated V10.
Again, F1 laughed at the notion of trying something new, but, again, Renault's tenacity proved it right.
Learning years with Williams in 1989, '90 and '91 produced trophies and tension in equal measure as the money issue was again debated back in Paris, but eventually led to Nigel Mansell's glorious championship campaign in 1992.
The burly Brit took nine wins that year - equalling the total achieved in tandem with Thierry Boutsen and Riccardo Patrese in previous seasons - while Patrese took advantage of his team leader's generosity to add a tenth for the Williams FW14B and the RS3 and RS4 engines.
That season paved the way for what would become the Renault era, as championships followed in 1993 for Mansell's successor, former Renault man Prost, Michael Schumacher (with Benetton) in 1995, and both Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve with Williams in '96 and '97. Despite Schumacher snatching the drivers' crown for Ford in '94, Renault also made it six constructors' title from six years.
With 75 race wins, 85 poles, 105 podium finishes, 250 podium visits and 2016 points, however, Renault decided that it was time for another sojourn, although the Mecachrome and Supertec names ensured that its technology lived on for several more years... The latest incarnation of Lotus in F1 was born out of the former Benetton Renault F1 team, but only after a heated dispute over the rights to the Lotus name was finally resolved.
The Benetton team was formed following the takeover of the existing Toleman outfit in 1986. Benetton had previously sponsored several teams in Formula One - including Tyrrell, Alfa Romeo and Toleman - before deciding it would benefit greatly from running its own team.
The first Benetton-badged cars benefited from BMW turbo engines, allowing them to feature at the front of both qualifying and races. Teo Fabi took pole position for the Austrian and Italian races, but it was his young team-mate Gerhard Berger who gave Benetton its maiden win, coming home first in the Mexican GP.
The team continued to pick up the occasional win against the might of Williams, McLaren and Ferrari through the late 80s and early 90s. Notably, Benetton won consecutive Japanese GPs, first when Ayrton Senna was disqualified for cutting across the chicane and then, in 1990, when Senna and Prost tangled at the first corner.
The start of the change in Benetton's fortunes came with the appointment of Tom Walkinshaw and Flavio Briatore in 1989. An inspired Nelson Piquet and promising rookie Michael Schumacher - poached from Jordan mid-season - capitalised on the team's recent Constructors' championship finishes to establish Benetton as a regular member of the 'big four' in 1991.
Schumacher took his first win at Spa-Francorchamps in 1992, before going on to win the team's first drivers' titles in 1994 and 1995. The latter coincided with Benetton's only Constructors' championship crown, as Schumacher and team-mate Johnny Herbert racked up 11 wins between them.
Schumacher left in 1996 to join Ferrari, but Benetton expected to maintain its winning tradition by signing Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger from the Italian team. Sadly neither could take victory that season, although Berger did win in Germany in 1997.
Both drivers left the team at the end of their second year - Alesi to move to Sauber and Berger to retire - along with several members of the design team. Benetton - now headed by Prodrive rally boss David Richards - signed two young drivers in their place and hoped to return to the front with a car designed by former Simtek man Nick Wirth. Giancarlo Fisichella and Alex Wurz both impressed in the first half of the year - the latter battling mightily with Michael Schumacher in Monaco - but the challenge for wins fell apart later on.
The driver pairing remained untouched for 1999, but team boss Richards left after a short tenure of the position. The reasons behind his departure varied according to source, but he was replaced by the young - for F1 - Rocco Benetton. The B199 chassis featured several radical innovations as the team strove to regain its position in the top four, but only served to confuse both team and drivers as a difficult year wore on.
Little changed on the surface over the winter of 1999-2000, with Fisichella and Wurz remaining despite the problems of the previous season, and both Benetton and technical director Pat Symonds also staying put. Designer Nick Wirth and team boss Joan Villadelprat both departed, however, with former Honda man Tim Densham arriving in place of the former and helping to create a much simpler B200.
However simple was not the answer the team needed and, once again, Benetton started strongly only to tail off dramatically. Fisichella came home second in Brazil, and third at Monaco and Canada, but did not score a point after Montreal, while Wurz' only points of a disastrous year came with a fifth place at Monza.
For 2001 Wurz was replaced by Jenson Button but, despite speculation that Fisichella would have a real job to maintain his status as team leader, the Roman managed it quite easily. Whether Button was distracted by his new lifestyle remains open to question, but it was Fisi who responded better to the problematic B201.
In contrast to previous years, Benetton started badly and got better in 2001. Having tied up the sale of its operation to Renault for 2002, the team employed the Regie's radical wide-angle 111-degree V10 in the back of its new car, but both components failed to set the world alight until a re-think mid-season. Even a switch to Michelin tyres could not help the team until the overhaul, and it often found itself in the company of Arrows, Prost and Minardi at the back of the grid.
With Button's job on the line, and that of technical director Mike Gascoyne also under threat, the team worked hard to drag itself out of the mire. The Briton overcame a shoulder problem to finally find some semblance of the pace he had shown at Williams in 2000, and Fisichella built on the handling of the car to take advantage of the engine upgrades produced by Renault from Magny-Cours onwards.
The second half of the season saw the team add to Fisi's single, and fortunate, point from Brazil, by taking two top-six finishes in Germany, before Fisichella delivered a remarkable podium in Belgium. The team eventually finished the year seventh overall with ten points. It brought the curtain down on Benneton’s time in Formula One after a successful spell yielding 27 wins in 260 races, a lone constructors’ crown and two drivers’ titles thanks to Schumacher.
For 2002, Renault returned to Formula One full-time, although the R202 beared the legacy of the Benetton years by combining Regie yellow with the pale blue of principal backer Mild Seven.
Button, despite a lot of speculation, stayed on board, but Fisichella went, returning to Jordan in a swap deal for Jarno Trulli. The team also landed Fernando Alonso, so promising at Minardi in 2001, as test driver, courtesy of his links with team boss Flavio Briatore.
Renault started their first season back well, and in the opening first four races scored points on three occasions - a fourth place in Brazil and Malaysia and a fifth in Italy at the San Marino GP.
However the performance of the R202 soon started to tail off, and while at the season start, there was talk the team might overhaul McLaren for third in the Constructors', by the Japanese GP, such hopes looked ridiculous. Fourth though wasn't bad and 23 points was a big improvement on 2001.
In 2003 Briatore dispensed with the services of Button, promoting test driver Alonso to a race role alongside Trulli. The team also signed two new test drivers, namely Franck Montagny and 2002 Toyota driver, Allan McNish.
Furthermore Renault were one of only four teams - the others being Jaguar, Jordan and Minardi - to take advantage of the new testing rules and thus opted for extra running on a Friday prior to a GP, in exchange for limiting testing outside this to just 10 days between March and October. The move proved a good one, allowing them more track time and therefore at many circuits an added advantage.
To say the year was successful, would be stating the obvious, by the end of the season, talk of a 'big three' had been replaced by a 'big four', Renault striving forward easily securing fourth in the Constructors' and on occasions showing up Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.
The season yielded 88 points in total, the main highlight coming in Hungary, when Alonso took the teams first win since their official F1 return. Add to this four more podiums and a further 16 points scoring positions and you can see why the year was considered a success. Two pole positions were just the icing on the cake!
2004 though was not so jolly, and before the season started, there were two significant changes behind the scenes.
Most noticeably technical director, Mike Gascoyne left the team to join rivals Toyota.
The outfit was also forced to redesign their V10 engine - binning the radically-wide 110-degree V-angle, due to new regulations which meant an engine must last an entire weekend. They therefore opted for a more conventional angle, the latest creation based on the old Supertec, hence the exit of Jean-Jacques His in May 2003, the man who championed the 110-degree V-angle.
They overcame these set backs though and ended up scoring points in every race by four, and although they lost out to BAR, towards the end of the season for second in the constructors', they still finished third on 105 points, ahead of both Williams and McLaren.
Trulli's win at the Monaco Grand Prix - along with pole - was undoubtedly the high, it was a shame therefore that boss, Briatore, fell out with him mid-season, leaving to his exit prior to the Chinese Grand Prix, when Jacques Villeneuve was brought in for the final three races to partner Alonso.
In 2005 Alonso was partnered by Giancarlo Fisichella, who returned to the squad, after leaving in 2001 [when it was still known as Benetton].
The year started strongly when Fisichella won the Australian Grand Prix from pole, while Alonso was third. After that their season just went from strength to strength, and while admittedly Fisichella never won again and seemed to be dogged by bad luck, Alonso went on to win seven more races for the Regie, as well as grabbing an addition eight podiums.
Renault ended the season with both titles secured, Alonso taking the drivers' at the Brazilian GP, while the team secured the constructors' at the final race, ending the season with 191 points, eight more than McLaren, who took second. Furthermore, while McLaren pushed Renault hard at times and many reckoned the R25 was not as quick as the MP4-20, Renault definitely better balanced reliability and speed and - therefore deservedly took the titles.
The 2006 season saw Renault unchanged, but the team was dealt something of a psychological blow even before the year began, when Alonso agreed a deal to join McLaren in 2007.
Despite that, and Briatore's reservations about Alonso's motivation, initial testing with the new R26 showed that both team and driver had the potential to repeat, and the Spaniard proved to be as determined as ever when the new season began in Bahrain.
Unlike 2005, it was Ferrari that provided Renault and Alonso with their stiffest challenge, with a resurgent Michael Schumacher eager to win back the title he rather meekly conceded the season before.
The intense rivalry was immediately apparent, with Schumacher qualifying on pole in Bahrain, only to see Alonso fight back and take first blood in terms of points.
With half the season down, Alonso looked to be already on the way to a second title, winning five of the first nine races and finishing second in the other four. However, it was here that Renault suffered a mid-season lull that allowed Schumacher to come back.
Furthermore, Renault's resounding position in the teams' standings became increasingly fragile as the second half of the season progressed, Fisichella's strong start to the year, which included a third career win in Malaysia, petering out into a series of consistent but underwhelming results.
Indeed, by the end of the first European leg, Ferrari looked to have found the edge, a fact that intensified when Renault was banned from using its mass damper technology from the German GP onwards. There was further controversy soon after, when Alonso was docked several places on the Italian GP grid after he was judged to have blocked Ferrari #2 Felipe Massa in qualifying.
Nonetheless, resolve stiffened and the three flyaway races proved Alonso's status as worthy successor to Schumacher, with three crucial podiums under considerable pressure securing a second title for both himself and the team.
With Alonso leaving at the end of '06, Renault headed into 2007 with Fisichella effectively promoted to team leader, while test driver Heikki Kovalainen stepped up to drive the sister car.
The R27 though proved disappointing and while many expected the team to struggle a bit without Alonso and without Michelin - F1 switched to a Bridgestone control tyre in '07 - the outfit's lack of competitiveness, particularly in the first half of the season, surprised many.
Despite that though, Fisichella and Kovalainen both bagged plenty of points, the former taking 21, while the latter, in his rookie year, managed 30. In the end the Regie took third spot in the constructors' - although it was effectively fourth, as McLaren were stripped of all team points following the spy row.
What must have hurt Renault most though was that the team never looked like winning and was miles away from the top two, Ferrari and McLaren and usually way off BMW Sauber as well. Kovalainen's second place finish in the rain-affected Japanese GP was as good as it got - and that was the outfit's only rostrum result of the year.
Neither Fisichella and Kovalainen survived for 2008, moving on to Force India and McLaren respectively, with Alonso - having fallen out with McLaren – and test driver Nelson Piquet Jr stepping into the seats.
If the Spaniard had been hoping for an immediate lift after his personal nightmare in 2007, he was made to wait, for Renault’s R28 was far from competitive at the start of the year. The double champion was a second off the pace in Melbourne and, despite Enstone and Viry-Chatillon working round the clock to close the gap, doubts surrounded his future with the team from early on. The efforts eventually paid off, however, and, with the exception of an engine that was off the pace because the regie hadn’t tinkered to the degree its rivals had, improvements were made all round.
It wasn’t until Monza that the pay-off became apparent, but Alonso finished the season in style. Having made up ground on the midfield runners, Renault suddenly became a force to reckon with, the Spaniard taking a somewhat fortuitous win in Singapore – after his rookie team-mate brought out a perfectly-timed safety car – and then followed it with another at Fuji to help Renault end the season in fourth spot.
Piquet’s future, too, was called into question after a lacklustre start to the campaign not helped by the R28’s shortcomings. A lucky second in the German GP provided a kick-start of sorts and he did enough over the second half of the year to end a recall for 2009.
With an unchanged line-up for 2009, Renault went into the new season aiming to build on the momentum gained by Alonso’s late run the previous year but it would become a difficult year for the team both and off track.
The R29 was far from a competitive package and Alonso was able to score only eight times all season, with just a single podium to his name in Singapore. One of the biggest lows came in Hungary where he qualified on pole but then retired after the team failed to fit a wheel correctly in the pits. The FIA banned Renault for the European Grand Prix for releasing the car when it was unsafe to do so, although that ban was later overturned.
Team-mate Piquet fared even worse as he failed to score before the news broke that he was to be replaced ahead of the European Grand Prix. Replacement Romain Grosjean failed to score himself through the remainder of the year as Renault ended the campaign in a disastrous eighth place in the constructors’ championship.
However, results on track were the least of the team’s worries, as Piquet’s departure led to the revelation that he had been asked by team boss Flavio Briatore and engineer Pat Symonds to deliberately crash in Singapore the previous year – causing the safety car which ultimately helped Alonso to win the race. Renault were charged by the FIA and both Briatore and Symonds were fired, while the team was handed a suspended ban from the sport.
Sponsors walked away following the scandal while Alonso’s decision to move to Ferrari for 2010 meant there was uncertainty over the winter about the future of the team.
While Robert Kubica had been signed as Alonso’s replacement, Renault’s decision to sell a majority stake in the team to Genii Capital led to the Pole questioning his role although he would commit to the team after meeting with shareholders and was joined by GP2 graduate Vitaly Petrov.
Eager to put the past scandals behind them, the team – now headed by Eric Boullier – focused on the job at hand and it soon became apparent that the new R30 was a car with genuine pace. Kubica picked up a podium finish in just his second start for the team in Australia and followed it up with a fine third place in Monaco. An additional podium came in Belgium as Kubica ended the year eighth in the championship standings. Team-mate Petrov showed flashes of speed but was also inconsistent, scoring five times with a best finish of fifth in Hungary as Renault ended the year fifth in the standings.
Renault bowed out completely ahead of 2011, selling its remaining shares to Group Lotus in a deal which saw the team branded as Lotus Renault GP – with the chassis being known as a Renault despite the fact that the manufacturer was now nothing more than a engine supplier.
A massive blow came before the season even started after Kubica was seriously injured while taking part in a rally in Italy and was ruled out for the season. Nick Heidfeld was signed as his replacement and scored a podium finish second time out with third in Malaysia.
However, the innovative R31 failed to match up to expectations as the campaign wore on and – results having tailed off – Heidfeld was replaced by Bruno Senna for the Belgian Grand Prix. The Brazilian impressed to take seventh on the grid for his first race but managed just one points finish at Monza.
Petrov also took to the podium early on with third in Australia but he too saw results tail off as the campaign progressed. Despite the early season promise, the year ended with Renault down in fifth place in the championship and none of the three drivers to have represented them were retained for 2012. A failure to return to fitness has ruled Kubica out of the equation.
Instead, the team – now rebranded as Lotus after a lengthy court battle between Group Lotus and Tony Fernandes’ F1 team – pulled a rabbit out of the hat by signing former champion Kimi Raikkonen as he returned to the grid for the first time since 2009, with Grosjean also making a comeback eager to make up for the disappointing performance he had shown three years earlier.
Running in the iconic black and gold livery seen on Lotus cars of years gone by, the team started the season with a tough outing in Australia where Grosjean qualified third but retired early on, while Raikkonen was knocked out in Q1 before coming through to seventh on his first race back.
By Bahrain however, the team was up to speed, with Raikkonen and Grosjean both on the podium and more podiums would follow as the season went on.
Raikkonen would end the campaign with seven rostrum finishes to his name, including a fine win in Abu Dhabi, as he emerged as a surprise championship contender; his title hopes only being ended by the fact that the team couldn’t keep pace with its rivals in the development race.
Grosjean added two podium finishes of his own but a series of controversial incidents ended with him being banned from the Italian Grand Prix after causing a start-line shunt at Spa – with Jerome D’Ambrosio called up to replace him. Driving under a cloud for the remainder of the season, his results tailed off somewhat while a collision with Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT in qualifying at Brazil did little to silence those who saw him as quick but incident prone.
Having returned to winning ways, the focus for 2013 will be to build on a solid campaign and launch a true bid for the champion, with Raikkonen and Grosjean staying on for a second season to lead the Lotus challenge. If the team can produce another strong car, then good times could lie ahead at Enstone.