The place, Paris, the occasion, the launch of the new Renault F1 R28.
The ING Renault F1 Team has announced its determination to return to the front of the Formula One field in 2008. The team has been there before and not just in recent years. This team means business and has an enviable reputation in the pinacle open-wheel series.
Renault started racing in F1 in 1977 under the banner of Renault Sport. The team pioneered the use of turbocharged engines, being the first F1 team to regularly run a turbo on its Renault-Gordini V6 1.5 L.
The team had a shaky start suffering reliability issues but by 1979 they had got the hang of it, the Renault sport RS10 of that year was fighting at the head of the field.
The 1979 French Grand Prix produced perhaps the most exciting battle Formula one has ever seen. The Renault of Jean-Pierre Jabouille took the win but the fight for 2nd between Gilles Villeneuve in a Ferrari against Ren? Arnoux in the other Renault saw the pair take corners side by side, banging wheels three times.
Villeneuve narrowly took the place after the pair produced five over-taking manoeuvres in a little over a lap. Surly one of the greatest tussles the sport has ever seen.
The team continued racing until 1985 and as an engine supplier in 1986 but withdrew at the end of that season. They were not away for long, by 1989 they were back supplying engines to Williams, they were winning too, the partnership brought victory by the sixth round in Canada.
By 1992, the Williams-Renault with its active-ride suspension was a World Championship team, winning over half of the races during the season in the process.
Benetton acquired Renault engines for 1995 and their driver, Michael Schumacher, managed to win the drivers' title and give the Benetton team the Constructors' Championship in the process.
Renault yet again pulled out of F1 at the end of the 1997 season, coinciding with the departure of Adrian Newey from Williams. However, the Renault engine was still in demand for several years afterwards. It appeared re-badged as Playlife in Benetton's, a Mecachrome in the Williams and in BAR and Arrows cars where it was re-badged as Supertec.
On March 16, 2000, Renault purchased Benetton Formula Limited for $120 million to return to Formula One. Renault maintained the Benetton name for the 2000 and the 2001 seasons. In 2002, Benetton were re-branded as Renault F1.
From 2002 the team dramatically climbed up the F1 ladder winning the drivers' and constructors' World championships in 2005 and 2006 with Fernando Alonso.
The climb of the team was followed by an equally dramatic fall in 2007. The team finished a disappointing third with no victories and a mere 51 constructors' points after McLaren was stripped of their points.
Renault played a part of the 2007 spy scandal. The FIA accused the team of having McLaren F1 technical information; however, ultimately they escaped punishment.
The fire is back at ING Renault F1 Team and so is golden boy Alonso, expectations are high.
ING Renault F1 Team President Bernard Rey explained. "We expect to see the team back in its normal place, fighting at the front of the field. This is the target the team has set for the new car."
The R28 has already had track time; the car completed its initial testing in Valencia on Monday 21 January.
The three-day test plus their shakedown on day one saw the new car rack up over 1500 km. Initial signs looked good, the car showed strong early reliability with its new standard ECU (SECU) and long-life gearboxes. As with its competitors the SECU and new gearbox represent the biggest changes to the car, but this is very much a new car for Renault.
Technical Director Bob Bell labeled the car "much less evolutionary" than its predecessor, continuing: "2007 was a very poor year by our standards. For 2008, there are high expectations inside and outside the team, and it is down to us to give the drivers a competitive car. We have put the problems from 2007 behind us and in terms of the car design; we have looked at the problem afresh."
The team reported encouraging progress with set-up and performance development, allowing the car's debut to be judged as promising.
The new car features revised weight distribution and a new aerodynamic package. This has been enabled by the introduction of a "zero-keel" front suspension mounting.
With the engine homologation rules, the car obviously leaves its RS27 V8 engine substantially unchanged, the team has worked hard adapting to the demands of the SECU.
"The transition to the SECU was a big workload, and remains so," explained Deputy Managing Director (Engines), Rob White. "The unit itself is the most obvious change for the new season, but there are many new software tools and programmes that accompany it. We have had to adapt to them all, and learn how to get the most from them.
"While we are not allowed to develop the engine itself, there remains much to do to assure its reliability in-car performance. These V8's remain complicated and sophisticated, and we must be vigilant about component supply and quality, and concerning changes in the way the engine is used in the car. We are determined to return to the front," resolved White.
The team are excited about the return of double World Champion Alonso, they describe his return as a homecoming. "The entire team is absolutely determined to get back to the top, they are pushing very hard and that is a big motivation for me," commented the 26 year-old Spaniard.
"First and foremost, I am a racer, and I obviously want to win. I will do my maximum to make that happen, and I know that is what is expected from me. I am preparing for this season the same way I always have done: by concentrating on my job. My first feeling with the car was good and the team is working incredibly hard. It looks encouraging at the moment."
Alonso for the second season in a row will be partnered by a rookie. This time it's Nelson A. Piquet, test driver for Renault prior to his newly acquired status this year.
Piquet is yet another famous name to return to the sport and the 2006 GP2 series runner-up the 22 year-old Brazilian will now look to emulate the success of his famous father who notched three F1 drivers' titles.
"Melbourne still seems a long way off to me," commented Piquet. "We have a lot of work to do beforehand, and I am focused on the next test sessions and our development programme.
"I can continue learning to make sure I am ready for my first Grand Prix. My aim this year is to get the maximum out of the package, and to do a good job for the team. There will be a lot to learn and I not underestimating the challenge of Formula 1."
The race driver pairing will be aided in their test and development work by third driver Lucas di Grassi, runner-up in the 2007 GP2 series championship, and test driver Romain Grosjean, who drives for ART Grand Prix in the 2008 GP Series and the new GP2 Asian series.
Managing Director Flavio Briatore comments "We have the strength in depth to overcome our disappointments. Renault has invested for the future at Enstone, especially with the new CFD Centre, which gives us the stability we need to move forward.
"The new car is a change in direction for the team, and we have been aggressive with the concept. When you add in Fernando's ability to lead the team on the track, it is a powerful combination. Remember, in 2007 we finished third in the championship with a bad car, that we did not develop for half of the season. For 2008, we have a good car - and a world champion driver. The situation looks promising," Briatore concluded.
With the combination of aggressive design concepts in the new car and the talent of the sport's only active world champion who has two or more titles, Alonso, Renault has high hopes.
Renault launched their 2008 F1 car at the companies communications headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt, on the banks of the Seine in south-west Paris today (31st January 2008). They will participate in the upcoming three-day test at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, starting tomorrow.