French company enter a new era with title double
Renault have had an off-and-on involvement with Formula One racing for nearly 30 years. And, with the French team adding the 2005 constructors' title to Fernando Alonso's drivers' crown, they have marked themselves out as one of the sport's most successful competitors. They also become the first mainstream car company to win the championship with a works team.
Back in 1977 the idea that Renault would come to enjoy so much success would have seemed impossibly far-fetched. During their first Formula One season, Renault became something of a paddock joke as the spectacularly fragile Renault-Gordini turbo failed to finish in a single race. (It even earned the nickname Yellow Teapot because of its tendency to sit smoking at the side of the track.)
Renault persevered. Turbo technology was still relatively young, and the company knew the rewards for getting it right would be massive amounts of power. In 1978 the team's sole car (driven by Jean-Pierre Jabouille) continued its losing streak by expiring at the first four races of the season. Yet, by the end of the year, its potential became increasingly clear with two P3 grid positions and a strong drive to fourth in the United States Grand Prix.
And Renault's persistence was rewarded in the following years. The company's first win came at the classic French Grand Prix at Dijon, scene of one of the most famous Formula One battles of all time. Jabouille took pole position and drove to an emotional victory - but behind him new team mate Rene Arnoux was involved in a spectacular battle for second place with Ferrari's Gilles Villeneuve, their cars passing and re-passing each other during the closing stages of the race. Villeneuve eventually prevailed - but the race had showed the rest of the sport that Renault had become a force to be reckoned with and several victories followed in subsequent seasons.
Renault then re-emerged in the late 1980s as an engine supplier to the Williams team. And it soon became clear that the company's powerplants were the class of the field - taking the 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997 constructors' championships and helping to land five drivers' titles as well. The winning streak ended only when Renault withdrew from official engine supply at the end of 1997, although it continued to supply teams with a customer-spec engine under several different names.
Now we're in the middle of Renault's third age in the sport. Having purchased and rebranded the Benetton team in 2002, they have become the first of the new age of manufacturer-owned teams to win both the Drivers' and Constructors' championships. Much of this is down to Renault's vast investment in the team and the strength of the core staff it inherited from Benetton. But a large part of the success is undoubtedly the responsibility of team principal Flavio Briatore and his charismatic style of management. One of the best judges of talent in the paddock, Briatore has assembled a brilliant set of technical managers to match the talents of his on-track protege, Fernando Alonso.
There's still room for improvement, of course. While Alonso has been bathed in glory this year, team mate Giancarlo Fisichella has had a more frustrating season. But with Renault's appetite for success, Briatore's leadership and Alonso's towering abilities, there's no reason to suppose that we're not entering a new era in the history of Formula One racing.