Part 1 of this series about the Formula 1 team that is based at Enstone looked at its origins as Toleman up until 1985). Part 2 covered the years as Benetton Formula (1986 – 2001). For 2002 Renault were confident that better results would come and rebranded the team Renault F1, and entered as a French team (still remaining at Enstone). Jenson Button was retained and was joined by Jarno Trulli, the result was 23 points and fourth place in the championship. This marked the second appearance of Renault as a Formula 1 constructor, the first being from 1977 – 1985 before the team withdrew as a full constructor to concentrate on supplying engines. As explained above, the team in 2002 only shared the name with the previous incarnation.
Despite finishing one place higher in the drivers’ championship than his team mate, Button was dropped for the 2003 season, and Trulli was replaced by Fernando Alonso. The points system changed with points no down to eighth place (10, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1) and as a result the team scored 88 points, but stayed in fourth place.
The drivers were retained for 2005, and Trulli scored the team’s first win as Renault F1 at Monaco. Unfortunately he wasn’t happy at the team, and accused Briatore of favouritism towards Alonso (who he managed). As a result he left the team before the end of the year and started driving for Toyota; he was replaced for the last three races by Jacques Villeneuve. The result was 105 points and third in the constructors’ championship only 14 points behind Williams.
Fisischella returned to the team in 2005 to partner Alonso, and won the opening round in Australia with Fernando in third place. However Alonso’s first title really got off the ground with wins in the following three races. Alonso won four more races to take the title, and Fisichella provided enough back up for the team to win the constructors’ championship with 191 points.
The drivers continued into 2006 for a repeat performance, drivers’ title for Alonso with another seven wins, and 206 points in the constructors’ championship to win by four points from Ferrari. This season saw Renault suffer several setbacks. They along with all other Michelin runners failed to start the US GP due to doubts about the integrity of the tyres following problems in practice which caused Ralf Schumacher to crash. The team’s Mass Damper was also found illegal mid-season following a protest by McLaren.
With Alonso moving to McLaren for 2007, Fisichella was joined by rookie Heikki Kovalainen. The team struggled and only managed 51 points through the year to finish fourth in the constructors’ championship. Best was second place for Kovalainen in Japan. Also as part of the fallout from the McLaren ‘spygate’ case, Renault were accused of having McLaren technical data in its possession, but despite being found guilty, Renault escaped without a fine (McLaren on the other hand were fined a record $100 million).
Alonso returned to Renault for 2008 following a falling out with McLaren team management and was joined by Nelson Piquet Jr. Alonso won twice (Singapore and Japan), but the team only managed 80 points in total to remain fourth.
The drivers were retained for 2009 although Piquet performed so poorly during the first half of the season he was replaced by Romain Grosjean following the Hungarian GP (round 10). Ultimately the team only scored 26 points, and fell to eighth place; however the fallout from Piquet’s dismissal was to prove more damaging. It emerged that he had crashed deliberately in the previous season’s Singapore GP, to bring out a safety car just after Alonso had made an unusually early tyre stop. With everyone else pitting under the safety car, this put Alonso at the head of the queue, and he was able to control the race and win. While Piquet was already out of F1, Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds were fired by the team, this swift action prevented the FIA from banning Renault F1. The team’s main sponsor (ING) withdrew support immediately, and Renault sold 75% of the team to investment company Genii. Bob Bell took over running the team for the last part of the year.
For 2010 the team was still entered as Renault F1, and Eric Boullier took over running the team, leaving Bob Bell to resume as Technical Director. With Alonso moving to Ferrari and Grosjean’s results not being good enough, Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov were appointed as the team’s drivers. The points system changed again, with points now down to tenth place (25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1). The teams best result was a second place for Kubica early in the year and they ended up with 163 points to move to fifth place overall.
Over the winter, Renault sold its 25% stake in the team to Lotus cars, and the team was rebranded again to become Lotus Renault GP for the 2011 season, and once again raced under a British license. The team had intended to keep its two drivers from 2010; however Kubica suffered serious injuries while competing in a rally in Italy during February 2011 and would need to be replaced. Nick Hieldfeld was appointed as his replacement. Then Bruno Senna replaced Heidfeld from the Belgian GP onwards. A couple of third places in the first two races of the year were the best the team could manage on the way to 73 points and fifth overall.
For 2012 the team changed its name again to Lotus F1 Team, following the decision of Tony Fernandes’s Lotus Racing team to change its name to Caterham. Neither of these entities have any link to Team Lotus that competed in F1 between 1958 and 1994 wining six drivers’ titles and seven constructors’ titles between 1963 and 1978. Drivers for the 2012 season were Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean (although the latter was replaced at Monza by Jérôme D’Ambrosio following his one race ban for causing the start line crash at Spa). The best result was a win for Räikkönen at Abu Dhabi with a total of 303 points and fourth place in the constructors’ championship.
In 2013 the team retained its two drivers, until Räikkönen decided to leave two races early to have an operation on his back in preparation for re-joining Ferrari for this year. He was replaced by Kovalainen for those races. Despite winning the first race of the year the team failed to keep up with the leading contenders and scored 315 points to remain fourth.
Gérard Lopez replaced Eric Boullier as team principle following Boullier’s departure to McLaren for 2014, and Grosjean has been joined by Pastor Maldonado. To date results haven’t been promising with all Renault powered teams having a difficult start to the new engine formula. Next year the team will have Mercedes power, and if the pattern of back to back drivers’ titles every eleven years is to be repeated, watch out for the team in 2016 and 2017.