Memories of Renault victories

We asked some Renault Sport F1 personnel to give us their personal favourite Renault-engined victories:

Jean-Pierre Menrath, head of dyno testing – Jean-Pierre Jabouille, France 1979

The first races of 1979 had been disastrous for Renault: in seven races with two cars we had had 12 DNFs and zero points.

This is why our management at the time, Gérard Larousse, managing director, and François Castaing, technical director, ordered two test sessions at Dijon.

Pole sitter Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing celebrates 200 pole position for Renault in F1
Pole sitter Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing celebrates 200 pole position for Renault in F1

Photo by: xpb.cc

They wanted to create a winning mentality in a company that doubted its own ability.

These private tests went well but still no one knew where we would be on the grid. Then, on Saturday 2 July, our two cars were there, on the front row, ahead of everyone.

Everyone knows the story of the race – Jean-Pierre Jabouille made a good start and had a relatively trouble-free race, no refuelling, no tyre change, no telemetry – just a huge amount of stress in the garage as we watched the laps go past… increasing each lap!

Finally we made it and the feeling was indescribable: a huge wave of joy and happiness and the feeling of having achieved something exceptional: the first win for a turbo engine, the first win for a road car manufacturer in F1 and the first win for Renault.

After the race, as if to say ‘don’t take anything for granted’, our friend Ken Tyrrell lodged a protest that our engine wasn’t legal.

Some of the English were convinced that we had put a two litre Le Mans engine in there instead of a 1,500cm3 F1 engine! We must have done, otherwise, how could we have been that quick?

The FIA made us strip the engine, still warm in the car, to check the cylinder head. We had to remove it as their checks weren’t designed for such a small engine…which was obviously legal after all that!

Rémi Taffin, head of track operations – Fernando Alonso, Hungary 2003

The win that stands out for me is Fernando’s win at Hungary in 2003. It was Renault F1 Team’s first-ever victory and the first win for a Renault engine since the Williams partnership came to an end in 1997.

Remi Taffin, race engineer Renault F1 Team
Remi Taffin, race engineer Renault F1 Team

Photo by: xpb.cc

2003 was the second year of the Renault F1 Team and the third year that we had worked on the wide angle V10 engine at Viry-Châtillon.

From early on in the season it was clear that the car with Fernando at the wheel had potential and we could have a good season in front of us.

We had already scored our first pole and podium of the year at Sepang, and then we had other podiums at Interlagos and Barcelona. From that point on we knew that the chemistry was there, we just needed the right combination of elements to produce the first win.

We went to Budapest knowing that the package should suit the track. One of the principal advantages of the engine was that it was very light, had a very low centre of gravity and allowed a set-up that worked well on low speed tracks.

We knew it wasn’t the most powerful engine in the field but the drivability it delivered could pay dividends on the twists of the Hungaroring.

When Fernando put it on pole on Saturday there was a lot of satisfaction. The next day we had a good start and Fernando had an advantage of 15 or 20secs before his first stop.

For about 70 laps my only thought was that the engine needed to hold up. We’d had some engine problems earlier in the year – and some after that race as well – but everything stayed until the end.

The feeling when we crossed the line was just awesome; it was the culmination of three years of hard work between Viry and Enstone.

Nicely we also had about 100 people from the factory at the race and they managed to make it to the grandstand opposite the podium to celebrate with us – it felt good to celebrate something that significant together.

On a wider scale, it also made people stand up and take notice of Fernando and his prodigious talent; in hindsight it’s probably his most significant win.

This victory remains the only win for the wide angle V10 as by Hungary 2003 we had already thought about changing the engine concept for the next year.

But on a personal level it is one of the most memorable as it was my first-ever win as an engineer. I still have the onboard of the pole position lap on my computer and the original 10 spark plugs from the actual engine at home as mementoes.

Rob White, technical director – Fernando Alonso, San Marino 2005

That year we had set very aggressive performance goals as we knew that wins were on the cards, possibly even the championship. We had won the first two races of the year and then went to Bahrain.

Rob White, Renault Engine Development
Rob White, Renault Engine Development

Photo by: xpb.cc

Fernando won the race fairly convincingly but Giancarlo Fisichella had stopped on track with engine failure after just four laps. In 2005 we had to use an engine for two consecutive race weekends and we weren’t sure if Fernando had the same issue.

He’d used the same engine maps, but had turned the engine down at the start of the race. Would this be enough to preclude the issue, or was that potential failure mechanism still there?

With three weeks between Bahrain and the next race in Imola we had to decide whether we could race the same engine, or whether we should change it.

If we changed we would take a penalty, which could be catastrophic for the championship. We also knew that, statistically, making up places from 11th or 12th on the grid in Imola was very hard.

Changing the engine was definitely the easiest and safest option, but we weren’t about to give up. We recreated the failure on a single cylinder dyno and then tried to recreate an engine that was about to fail.

We reached the conclusion that, although it would be delicate to get to the end of the race, we could try. A brief meeting between Fernando, Enstone and Viry led us to the decision to race with the Bahrain engine.

We got to Imola and started to manage the situation. Fernando did only a handful of laps in Friday practice with the engine turned down to 17,500rpm.

He was awesome in qualifying with only one run in each qualifying session, getting second. In the race, Kimi Raikkonen disappeared into the distance, but shortly retired with a driveshaft failure.

Fernando was in the lead, but Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari was on a charge. He was scything through the field and was soon on the back of Fernando and much quicker.

For the last 20 laps Fernando had to keep him behind, and do so with the engine still turned down. Seeing Michael arrive on the back of the car, and seeing the engine getting closer and closer to going, was incredibly tense…when we got to the end, the sense of relief, but elation, was incredible.

That weekend was a great example of joined up thinking in Viry, and between Viry and Enstone. When we stripped the engine, it turned out we were literally laps from a major piston failure – all the engine management had been necessary to get to the end.

It was very, very close to the wire. We’d rolled the dice and, fortunately, we had won.

Axel Plasse, head of design office – Fernando Alonso, China 2005

In 2005 we were under a lot of pressure at Viry to show our skill and expertise, particularly from Flavio Briatore. Carlos Ghosn had also just arrived at Renault.

From Melbourne onwards it was clear that we had a very good car and we went on to win the drivers’ championship with Fernando in Brazil two races before the season end.

Podium: champagne for Fernando Alonso and Flavio Briatore
Podium: champagne for Fernando Alonso and Flavio Briatore

Photo by: xpb.cc

At the final race of the year the constructors’ title was still up for grabs and we were told we needed to win it in no uncertain terms.

After Brazil we were two points behind McLaren, who were running Raikkonen and Montoya at the time. McLaren was very strong and had consistently managed to put two cars into the points, whereas we had struggled in this respect.

Even if we were two points ahead going into the penultimate race of the year in Japan, we clearly weren’t the favourites. We knew that we needed to pull out all the stops to take the title.

Throughout the season we had introduced three major new specifications of engine, the last at the French GP mid-season. We had still developments we still wanted to introduce, but we simply didn’t have any more budget.

We had however kept a studious season-long list of all the performance items we had not introduced – or could not – for reliability reasons. In 2005 engines needed to be used for two complete consecutive race weekends, a change from 2004.

Yet with China being the 19th and last race, the engines only had to be used for 700km and we could take a few risks over this reduced distance.

We created working groups and mobilised the entire factory to exploit even the slighted potential performance improvement. In a short space of time we presented an extensive list of items to Patrick Faure.

We estimated we could gain another 30bhp in the best case scenario, which is enormous in one step. We were given the go ahead.

However, 30bhp on paper does not always translate to 30bhp on track or in the dynos – it can be more like 10 or 15, which is still extremely significant.

We put the modifications on the dyno test engine and the result was truly amazing. We smashed all the records on the first try: 30bhp was really 30bhp. The famous ‘E Spec’ engine was born.

We went to China quite confident but not taking anything for granted. We did practice and then qualifying and Fernando put it on pole, with Fisichella second. Raikkonen was third and Montoya fifth.

The whole paddock believed that we had run the cars very light in qualifying – remember this was when we started the race with the amount of fuel we ran in qualifying – and McLaren seemed very unbothered, even if the end of straight speeds were more than 7kph higher than usual.

They thought it was an anomaly and in their minds we were light, we would have to stop early and they would take the win. And the title.

The race started and Fernando and Fisi went out. Ten laps went past, 12 laps, 13 and still we didn’t stop. McLaren’s confidence started to disappear.

The cameras on Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh showed their faces dropping every lap as they realised we had more fuel on board than they had thought.

Eventually on the 18th lap Montoya stopped – before us – and then on lap 19 Fernando, Fisi and Raikkonen. We knew that we had the race at that point and that was enough for the title.

That extra 30bhp had made a huge difference – we were nearly 7kph quicker on the straights.

After the race, Fernando came to see us. He said he had never driven such a fantastic engine. The joy and elation after that race was incredible and we celebrated it for a long time afterwards.

Most memorable for me though was when we went into Enstone the following week for our regular design meetings. Everyone stood up and clapped as we walked it.

Having your normally phlegmatic colleagues acknowledge your contribution is one of the best feelings ever.

They congratulated us and told us that the E Spec was fantastic and that they had been seriously impressed by the engine and our efforts in designing it. We felt we had really accomplished our mission and that it had been noted.

Cyril Dumont, Red Bull Racing track support leader – Sebastian Vettel, Abu Dhabi 2010

My favourite win stands out very clearly : Abu Dhabi 2010. That year had not been an easy season for us, particularly for Sebastian, who had had an engine failure in Korea.

We went to Abu Dhabi – the last race of the year – with nothing to lose. Seb had qualified in pole position and he needed to win, but his fairytale ending didn’t just depend on him and his performance.

Podium: race winner and 2010 Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing, celebrates
Podium: race winner and 2010 Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing, celebrates

Photo by: xpb.cc

As it turned out, he drove the absolutely perfect race from start to finish, completely mastering the strategy and what he needed to do.

The stress at the end of the race was everywhere though – words and phrases repeated lap after lap by his race engineer ‘focus on the braking…clean exit…’ are still going round in my head.

Then Seb crossed the line, he’d won, but we needed to wait until everyone else had taken the chequered flag. Then they came past: Hamilton P2, Button P3, Rosberg P4, Kubica P5 and then finally came the call: ‘Du bist Weltmeister!!’ Seb did a lap of honour, filled with emotion, tears and cries coming over the radio, and a shout of ‘that was completely unexpected!’

Sebastian had never been at the top of the drivers’ standings in 2010, except at the end when it mattered. It was a fabulous end to an incredible season.

It was also a boyhood dream realised for me. We have had other wins of course and another title, but that first title and the feeling after it is something I still find hard to describe.

I just kept remembering what I said to Seb that night after Abu Dhabi: ‘You see, Korea… it was just to make the championship a bit more spicy…’

Source: Renault Sport F1

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Series F1
Article type Special feature
Tags alonso, f1, jabouille, mclaren, raikkonen, red bull, renault, schumacher, taffi, white

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