Williams went to a lot of effort to entice the press to Oxfordshire, UK on Monday. There was a redacted teaser invitation and a swarm of rumours doing the rounds – but if they wanted to maintain the cloak and dagger act, they probably shouldn’t have festooned the entrance to their conference centre with quite so many French tricolors.
And if anyone was still in any doubt which one of the rumours was true, the magnificent collection of Renault engines on display, and the magnificent collection of Williams-Renault world champions sipping tea would have joined up all the dots. Red Bull Racing will have another Renault stablemate in 2012, and it’s probably got the most alluring name in recent F1 history.
Williams-Renault is still a name capable of striking fear into the hearts of a generation of opposition technical directors, though Sir Frank Williams was keen to stress this deal is all about the future rather than the past. He did, however, say that with a gentle smile of his face, flanked by Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell and Jacques Villeneuve and with a formidable arsenal of Adrian Newey-penned Williams-Renaults parked in front of him.
Rather more prosaically, director of engineering Patrick Head argued that having a Renault engine was precisely what the team needed to put it in the right frame of mind. “We’ve never been a team that looks for excuses,” barked Williams’ co-owner, “but if someone asks how much of our current deficit is from the car and how much is from the engine, that’s very difficult to answer. However with the Renault engine in the back of a certain car from Milton Keynes at the moment, we know it’s a good enough engine across the board…”
But Renault in F1 has a richer history than Williams alone. In fact there are far too many great Renault moments to count but to get you in the mood for this weekend's British Grand Prix, here’s a very brief selection of milestones;
French Grand Prix, Dijon, 1979. Jean-Pierre Jabouille takes Renault’s first F1 victory
It’s difficult to find footage of Jean-Pierre Jabouille taking Renault’s maiden F1 win, because everyone prefers to concentrate on his team-mate René Arnoux and Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve knocking lumps out of each other for second. But Jabouille it was who led from pole position and took the first victory for Renault and for a turbocharged F1 engine. You’ll be seeing more of those in 2014.
French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, 1982. Arnoux and Alain Prost record Renault’s first one-two finish
Despite coming within a gnat’s dignity of a one-two finish at Dijon in 1979, it took Renault another three years to finally record a shut-out. It was again at the French Grand Prix, though by this time the bucolic splendour of Burgundy had given way to the sun-drenched splendour of Provence. Arnoux took pole at Le Castellet with Alain Prost alongside him in the sister car. From the off they had to scrap with the Brabhams of Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese, however both of Bernie’s boys suffered failures with their BMW engines, allowing Renault to enjoy a very welcome return on home soil. There was, however, considerably less entente cordiale within the team, Prost reportedly being unhappy that his world championship ambitions had been dented by Arnoux choosing to take the victory rather than yield the place. We can’t find any actual footage of Arnoux winning, but here’s Murray Walker explaining that it was, in fact, a very good day for France and the French. Then, a bit of Fleetwood Mac – who aren’t French.
Portuguese Grand Prix, Estoril, 1985. Ayrton Senna’s first win as Lotus become the first team to record a victory as a Renault customer.
While the works team were on the decline in the mid-1980s, Renault’s customer deals kept the name in the points. Elio de Angelis and Nigel Mansell got on the podium for Lotus; Jacques Lafitte did the same at Ligier, while Martin Brundle and Ivan Capelli scored points for Tyrrell – however the first Renault customer to score a Grand Prix victory was the indomitable Ayrton Senna, recording his first of 41 Grand Prix wins at a wet and wild Estoril in 1985. Or, if you prefer Senna on commentary to Murray Walker, it's here.
Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 1989. Williams-Renault take their first victory,
Williams began their original partnership with Renault in 1989 and were running near the front of the pack from the beginning of the year, though slightly off the pace set by McLaren and frequently behind Ferrari as well, however in the sixth race of the year several strokes of good fortune combined with another torrential downpour got the team across the line for a 1-2 finish. It was a first victory for Belgium’s Thierry Boutsen, followed home by Patrese, after the stewards and a host of mechanical issues had disposed of the competition. Boutsen even had time for a spin mid-race…
Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos, 1995. Michael Schumacher’s first victory with Renault power,
Having broken the Williams-Renault hegemony in 1994 with a Ford Cosworth engine, Benetton and Michael Schumacher came back stronger in 1995 with a Renault lump all of his own. Between them, Williams and Benetton would win won 16 out of the 17 races in 1995, though both needed the FIA’s help in Brazil, where Schumacher and David Coulthard were originally expelled from first and second after their fuel samples were found to be different to the ones submitted before the season. The FIA later overturned their exclusion, just going to show you’ll be OK so long as you’ve got your ‘Elf…
Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring, 2003. Fernando Alonso’s first win
In many ways Fernando Alonso’s maiden F1 victory heralded the dawn of the modern era for F1. The old guard of Ferrari, Williams and McLaren were all right in the fight for the world championships, but up popped the Spanish kid in one of the less fancied cars and simply blew them all away. Renault’s first win as a constructor since 1983 is often attributed to being on the right sort of tyre, but Hungary 2003 also showed off the attributes of the latest generation of Renault engines, in ways that are potentially still applicable today: what it lacked in power it made up for by having massive amounts of useable low-end torque, a low centre of gravity, and a excess of that nebulous value known only as ‘driveability’. Check out our very own Kenny Handkammer bouncing up and down like lunatic after the chequered flag…
Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos, 2010. Red Bull Racing clinch the Constructors’ Championship with a one-two finish, becoming the fourth Renault-powered team to be World Champions.
And finally, just to bring things up to date, there’s the small matter of Red Bull Racing’s one-two finish at Interlagos last year to clinch the Constructors’ world title. The Renault RS27 engine that’s been in the back of the Red Bull cars since 2007 has had its detractors, both informed and otherwise, who say it doesn’t have the outright horsepower of Ferrari or Mercedes. Adrian Newey doesn’t acknowledge that, but nor does he deny it. When we asked him why he’s such a staunch supporter of it, he smiled an said quietly “let’s just say Renault understands what we want from an engine, and have been very good at supplying that to us.” Going into the British Grand Prix that’s 21 wins from 79 starts, 29 further podiums. 17 fastest laps, nine 1-2 finishes, 28 pole positions, 11 front-row lock-outs, so you can see his point…