The Renault marquee has been in Formula One for a long time.
However they have made their presence felt as an engine manufacturer partnering various teams the most famous ones being Williams-Renault and Benetton-Renault.
The French manufacturer didn’t become a full-fledged team until 1977, after they bought over the Elf Tyrell team.
How it began
The first time we saw the name of the French manufacturer was in 1977, when they were known as the Elf Renault Team, they entered the last 5 races of the season with Jean-Pierre Jabouille as their driver.
Sadly, it was not exactly a dream debut because the car was highly unreliable and did not see the chequered flag in any of the 5 races it had entered.
To their credit though the car wasn’t a complete disaster, because Jabouille had demonstrated his qualifying prowess from time to time, even qualifying in the top 10 in the British GP in 1977. The Frenchman even rose as high as 6th in that season before suspension failure ended his hopes.
1978 was their first full-fledged season, and their fortunes definitely took a turn for the better culminating in their career best of 4th, which was achieved in the United States GP.
Since then, the French marquee went from strength to strength. Their fortunes were mixed that year, but their big break would come in 1979 as the Equipe Renault Elf team, with a few podiums from newly signed driver René Arnoux to partner Jabouille, with the latter even scoring a maiden victory for himself and the team.
By 1980 Arnoux proved himself as the superior driver, amassing 2 wins and a podium to finish in the top 6 in the championship. Meanwhile Jabouille endured another disappointing run to finish 8th in the championship.
1981 waved goodbye to Jabouille, his replacement future quadruple world champion Alain Prost. The Professor impressed right off the bat with 6 podiums, of which 3 were wins, as he eventually finished in the top 5.
Arnoux himself soon ran out of luck, and he was well and truly beaten by his younger teammate despite finishing more races than Prost. This partnership continued until 1983 when American driver Eddie Cheever was hired in place of Arnoux.
It was also the year when Renault started to find customer teams like Lotus. The Frenchan also came close to bagging his and Renault’s first title but was beaten to it by Piquet in the BMW powered Brabham car.
In 1983, Prost apparently didn’t get the memo about not publicly criticizing the team. After being made a scapegoat for the team not winning a champion, Prost critiqued the outfit, saying he was “in a car that was not fast enough.”
Displeased with this, the team instantly fired Prost, and Cheever decided to find greener pastures.
As a result, the now-driverless Renault rolled out a brand new lineup of Patrick Tambay and Derek Warwick, but it was another disappointing season with 5 podiums between the 2 drivers.
1985 saw yet another squad change: this time it was the Italian driver Elio de Angelis and a Brazilian rookie by the name of Ayrton Senna in the Lotus Renault.
After 1985 they pulled out as a constructor altogether, but continued supplying engines to customer teams until their return in 2002 and takeover of the Benetton team with Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli at the wheel.
It was also the first time there was no French driver in the works team. Although neither of them set foot on the podium throughout the season, a string of consistent results saw them take 4th in the constructors’ standings.
Returning after over a decade
A year later they repeated the same feat – this time with better results, though, and only their 16th win in their career and their 1st win since returning from a 15 year hiatus all thanks to a solid effort from Fernando Alonso in Hungary.
2004 only showed that the French team was turning into a title threat after they finished 3rd in the constructors’ championship for just the 3rd time running thanks to a win and a podium from Jarno Trulli and 3 podiums from Alonso.
Sadly, Trulli was later axed in favor of Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve, who didn’t set the stage alight himself.
2005 and 2006 were the 2 seasons that their efforts really paid off, with back-to-back championships won by Fernando Alonso. He was backed up by a stellar drive by new teammate Giancarlo Fisichella of Italy. In 2006, Alonso finished no lower than 5th in the season while Fisichella was consistently in the top 10.
2007 saw new livery for the team, which had done away with the classic blue and yellow to adopt a silver and yellow colour scheme. Finnish rookie Heikki Kovalainen partnered Fisichella that year following the departure of Alonso to McLaren. Renault cemented its place in the top 3 after a single podium that year going to Kovalainen.
2008 saw a huge change of fortunes for Renault as they dropped to 4th in the constructors’ standings; ‘Crashgate’ at that year’s Singapore Gran Prix made it a season to forget.
2009 saw Alonso and Nelson Piquet Jr being partnered again, though it did not last very long due to Piquet’s lack of pace. French rookie Romain Grosjean was recruited for the remainder of the season playing second fiddle to Alonso. The team dropped to their worst position to date, finishing 8th.
Alonso wouldn’t stay on for long, either.