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Renault F1 (also known as Renault Sport) is a Formula One racing team that started in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It made a comeback to the sport in 2002, having taken over the Benetton team, which itself took over from Toleman in the 1980s.
Renault in the 1970s and 1980s
Renault began its involvement in Formula One during the last five races of 1977 with Jean-Pierre Jabouille in its only car. The Renault RS01 was well known for its 1.5 L turbocharged engine, the first regularly used turbo engine in Formula One history. Jabouille's car and engine proved highly unreliable and became something of a joke during its first races, earning the nickname of "Yellow Teapot" and failing to finish any of its races.
The following year was hardly better, characterized by 4 consecutive retirements caused by blown engines, but near the end of the year the team showed signs of success. Twice, the RS01 qualified 3rd on the grid and while finishing was still something of an issue, it managed to finish its first race on the lead lap at Watkins Glen near the end of 1978, giving the team a 4th place finish and its first Formula One points.
Expanding to two drivers with René Arnoux joining Jabouille in 1979, the team continued to struggle although Jabouille earned a pole position in South Africa. By mid-season, both drivers had new cars, the RS10, and at Dijon for the French Grand Prix the team legitimized itself with a brilliant performance in a classic race. The two Renaults were on the front row in qualifying, and pole-sitter Jabouille won the race, the first driver in a turbo-charged car to do so, while Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve were involved in an extremely competitive duel for second, Arnoux narrowly getting beaten to the line but getting a career best third. While Jabouille ran into hard times after that race, Arnoux finished a career high 2nd at Silverstone in the following race and then repeated that at the Glen, proving it wasn't a fluke.
Arnoux furthered this in 1980 with consecutive wins in Brazil and South Africa. Jabouille continued to have problems with retirements, but in the only race he finished in the points, he emerged victorious in Austria. Jabouille's inconsistency led to his dismissal, as Alain Prost took over to join Arnoux in 1981. Prost showed the form that was to make him an Formula One legend in his three years with the team and the Renaults were among the best in Formula One, twice finishing third in the constructors championships and second once. Prost won nine races with the team while Arnoux added two more in 1982.
Arnoux left for rival Ferrari after 1982 and was replaced by American Eddie Cheever for a season. When Prost left after 1983, the team turned to Patrick Tambay and Englishman Derek Warwick to bring them back to prominence. Despite a few good results the team was not among the elite anymore, with other teams doing a better job with turbo engines, some of which came from Renault themselves. As a result, the Renault team disbanded in 1985 and exclusively became an engine manufacturer.
The final year of Renault Sport provided another F1 first, as the team ran a third car in Germany that featured the first in-car camera which could be viewed live by a television audience. The car only lasted 23 laps before a clutch problem forced it to retire.
Renault as an engine supplier
In 1989, Renault rejoined Formula One as an engine supplier to Williams. By 1992, Williams-Renault was a World Championship-winning constructor. This began a truly dominant period, as Renault were involved in 5 Drivers' and 6 Constructors' World Championship wins (a clean sweep between 1992 and 1997, except for Michael Schumacher's Ford-powered win in 1994).
Renault once again pulled out of Formula One at the end of 1997. However, the power unit was still bought by teams 'off the shelf' for many years afterwards by Benetton (where the engine was known as 'Playlife'), Williams (where it was 'Mecachrome') and BAR and Arrows (where it was 'Supertec').
Renault's return in the 2000s
The reincarnated Renault finished 4th, albeit a distant fourth, in its first year back, relying on young drivers Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button doing a solid job with the team. Button was replaced by young Spaniard Fernando Alonso in 2003. The team was a much more competitive 4th in the constructors standings, with a car renowned for its launch control and its great handling. Alonso was sensational behind the wheel of his Renault that season, becoming the youngest driver to win a pole position (in Malaysia) and a race (in Hungary).
In 2004, the team surprised everybody as they were contenders for second place in the Constructors' Championship. Trulli won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2004. However, towards the end of the season Trulli's race performances were causing concern, and he was replaced by 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, as team bosses tried to ensure that second spot in the Constructors' Championship. They were beaten in the end by BAR.
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