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Renault: A Past That Defiles

During the 2020 season, Renault F1 Team launched four protests against Racing Point F1 Team claiming the rival had copied the braking system project of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Limited. The complaints started after the Styrian Grand Prix, which the British team’s cars ended in front of the ones of the French team (Sergio Pérez and Lance Stroll crossed the finish line respectively in sixth and seventh place, while Daniel Ricciardo was the eighth finisher and Esteban Ocon retired). Since then, in every race that the Racing Point’s drivers surpassed Renault’s, the team commanded by controversial Cyril Abiteboul launched a new protest. Only at the British Grand Prix, in which Ricciardo e Ocon ended in front of Stroll, there were no complaints.

A priori it seems a childish attitude of Renault in wanting to disqualify its adversary because it cannot beat it on track seems childish. However, analyzing the team’s past, marked by cheating and cheating that, including, costed the career of a young Brazilian driver son of a three-time champion, it is possible to note the levity and hypocrisy of the French team and raise the hypothesis of that, besides wanting to rise at the championship standings without merit, it looks for erasing its spotted history. This article will take a brief retrospect of Renault’s history in Formula One to identify which is the team’s true goal in siking so low.

 

1- Obscure origins: collaboration with nazism

 

Renault was founded as an enterprise in 1899 by Louis Renault, an industrial from Paris. In 1938, the businessman reunited personally with Adolf Hitler and in the following year became one of the main suppliers of the French army. The French resistance started to reject him due to his apparent collaboration with Vichy’s government, which was in service to the Nazis. In 1942, the British Air Force bombed Renault’s facilities to weaken the supply of the troops allied to Germany. Two years later, Louis Renault was arrested under the accusation of collaboration with the Nazis. His factories were expropriated by the French government.

 

Louis Renault, founder of Renault and collaborator of the Nazi regime. (Photo: Famous People) [1]

 

Louis Renault’s figure still causes controversy among historians. Some of them claim that he supported nazism for financial interests, others say he was forced to collaborate with Vichy’s regime. Anyway, the enterprise had an active role in World War II, supplying the French army, Hitler’s allied at the time. Many European car manufacturers had similar experiences, mainly the German ones, and nowadays try to erase this spot in their past. Renault, it is not different.

 

2- Renault as a team: a disastrous beginning

 

Louis Renault’s brother, Michel, was passionate about racing. It aroused the enterprise’s interest in the sport. However, Renault entered Formula One as a team only in 1977. Its first year in the category was a failure. Racing with just one driver, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, the Équipe Renault Elf ended the season without points or a place in standings. Among the eight races he would take part, Jabouille withdrew from three, retired from four, and did not qualify for one.

 

Jean-Pierre Jabouille: Renault’s first driver. (Photo: Carthrottle) [2]

 

In the following year, the team scored its first points at the United States Grand Prix, which Jabouille finished in fourth place. Renault was the 12th placed at the final standings, with three points. The team’s first victory happened at the 1979 French Grand Prix, that put the team in the sixth place among the constructors, but was also the only race that Renault scored points.

 

3- 80’s: from Heaven to the first hiatus

 

Like Williams, Renault had good seasons in the ’80s. Racing with Jean-Pierre Jabouille and René Arnoux, Renault was the fourth place in 1980 (with 38 points). In the following year, Alain Prost replaced Jabouille and the team ended the championship in third place, with 54 points, repeating the position in 1982, with 62 points. American Eddie Cheever replaced Arnoux in 1983, becoming the first non-French driver to compete for the team, that was the runner-up that year with 79 points.

 

Alain Prost was one of Renault’s driver in the ’80s. Currently, he is one of its ambassadors. (Photo: Renault) [3]

 

In 1984 Renault was the fifth place in the final standings, with 34 points, and in the following year ended in seventh place among the constructors, with 16 points. Patrick Tambay was its main driver in these years, being Derek Warwick’s teammate in 1984 and François Henault’s in 1985. In the following year, Renault stopped to participate in Formula One as a team, limiting itself to the role of engine supplier of Lotus, Ligier, and Tyrrell teams. In 1987, it stopped to provide engines, entering a hiatus that was only ended two years later, when it equipped the runner-up, Williams.

 

4- 90’s: success with the champions and the second hiatus

 

During almost all the ’90s, Renault kept as an engine supplier in Formula One. Its most well-succeed partnerships were with Williams and Benetton, which won titles between 1992 and 1997 (being five championships won by Williams and one by Benetton). However, in 1998, though the height of its engines, Renault left Formula One once again, coming back again only in 2001, as the engine supplier of Benetton, which ended the year in the seventh place, with 10 points.

 

Michael Schumacher with Benetton in 1994. The team used Renault engines. (Photo: Michael Schumacher’s official website) [4]

 

Until then, Renault’s attitude was faced as strange in the eyes of its competitors. It is known that motorsport is a sports category with a lot of costs, but the results obtained by the French team’s clients would justify the investments, as the rewards paid by FIA would be high. In the following decades, Renault avoided hiatus, but even though its results had got better, its participation in Formula One was accompanied by controversial episodes.

 

5- 2000’s: the height, the ruins, and Singaporegate (or Crashgate)

 

In 2002, Renault returned to Formula One as a team, under the name of Mild Seven Renault F1 Team. Its drivers were Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button, who earned it 23 points and put the team in the fourth place of the championship. In the following year, which the team repeated the standing position (with 88 points), Button was replaced by one of the most controversial drivers of the history of the sport: Spanish Fernando Alonso. Though responsible for Renault’s best moments, Alonso was also one of the characters of such a contentious episode that affected many teams and drivers in that decade.

 

Fernando Alonso next to Michael Schumacher at the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix. That year marked Renault’s first title in Formula One. (Photo: EssentiallySports) [5]

 

After finishing the 2004 season in third place, Renault got its first title in 2005. Alonso had seven wins, 15 podiums, and one more finish in the scoring zone, getting 133 points. His teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella, scored 58 points, with one win, three podiums, and eight more finishes in the scoring zone. Besides the title, it was the first time Renault surpassed 100 points in a season, getting 191 in total. In 2006, Alonso repeated his feat, becoming a two-time champion with seven wins, 14 podiums, and two more finishes in the scoring zone. Fisichella got 7 points, with one win, five podiums, and 11 more finished in the scoring zone. Having scored 206 points in 2006, Renault lost Alonso in the following year to McLaren, in which the Spanish drove alongside rookie Lewis Hamilton, but received him back in 2008. Even with a good result (third place among the constructors, with 51 points), the French team passed through its first big problem in its history at the Canadian Grand Prix, in which Fisichella was disqualified after leaving the pit lane while the red light was on.

 

Giancarlo Fisichella driving for Renault. (Photo: Pinterest) [6]

 

But Fisichella’s penalty was far away from the spoilage that would happen in 2008. Racing under the name of  ING Renault F1 Team, the team hired Nelson Piquet Jr., son of three-time champion Nelson Piquet, to replace Fisichella. In that year, Alonso was far from his brilliant results of yore, and Piquet Jr. (known in Brazil as ‘Nelsinho’) faced difficulties to score. Then, at the 15th round of the season, that the managing director Flavio Briatore put into practice a fanciful plan for the Spanish return to win. He ordered Nelsinho to crash his car at turn 17 to force the safety car deployment. With this maneuver, the grid changed drastically. Fernando Alonso won the race, with Nico Rosberg in second place and Lewis Hamilton in third. Felipe Massa, who had led a good part of the race, was the most affected in a short term: crossed the finish line in 13th place, having lost much time in a disastrous pit stop made in a hurry by Ferrari’s mechanics. Some supporters and analysts claim that a Massa’s win in Singapore, that was taken as a fact until Nelsinho’s crash, would earn him the title, that was won by Hamilton.

 

Nelson Piquet Jr. (‘Nelsinho’) crashing at turn 17 at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, known as ‘Singaporegate’ and ‘Crashgate’. (Photo: EssentiallySports) [7]

 

Nelsinho was hired after the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix. His father recommended him to denounce Briatore’s scheme, as it was not fair that the young driver to be hindered by an order from his superiors. An inquiry was launched, resulting in the Briatore’s ban for life from Formula One and Pat Symonds’, Renault’s engineering director, for five years. Alonso was absolved after saying on trial that he did not know about the scheme. The French court interceded for Renault and revoked the bans, but as Briatore as Symonds accepted to not come back to Formula One.

 

Flavio Briatore: Renault’s team principal in 2006 and mentor of the Crashgate. (Photo: Gero Breloer/EPA) [8]

 

If in that time the teams had acted as Renault acted in 2020, the French team would have been banned from Formula One like Briatore. The case, nicknamed ‘Singaporegate’ and ‘Crashgate’, not only benefited Alonso, as it harmed directly Massa’s struggle for the title and Nelsinho’s career.

 

6- Renault F1 Team: an old wolf in new sheep’s clothing

 

Despite the vexation of the Singaporegate, Renault was not banned from Formula One. With the exit of its main sponsors, the ING group and the Mutua Madrileña, due to the controversy, the team adopted the name of Renault F1 Team after the 2010 season. Having its driver duo formed by Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov, the team started the decade standing in fifth place among the constructors, with 163 points. In the following year, it made a fusion with Lotus that lasted until 2014 (the word ‘Renault’ got out of the team’s name in 2012). In 2015, Lotus raced its last year in Formula One, using Mercedes engines. One year later, Renault got out of the backstage and returned to the category as a team. Its main client, Red Bull (that won four titles between 2010 and 2013 with Sebastian Vettel), continued using Renault’s engines, but under the name TAG-Heuer.

The first year of the French team’s new return was not so good. Its drivers were Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer. Scoring in just three races, Renault was the ninth place among the constructors, with only nine points. The following year was better, with a sixth place in the final standings and 57 points. Nico Hülkenberg replaced Palmer in the middle of the season. In 2018, Carlos Sainz Jr. joined the team seeking out opportunities to grow in his career. Scoring on more occasions, Renault got fourth place in the championship.

 

Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo were disqualified from the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix. (Photo: Instagram) [9]

 

In the following year, however, the situation was quite different. Even counting with good drivers, the car’s performance showed many problems, preventing Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg from reaching better positions. Its worse moment was at the Japanese Grand Prix, from which its two drivers were disqualified due to irregularities in the car. Renault scored 91 points, ending 2019 with the fifth place. In 2020, with Hülkenberg’s departure, the French team hired a driver nearly as polemic as Alonso: Esteban Ocon. The Hispano-French had stayed of Formula One for a year after his choices and decisions had cost him chances in practically all the teams (to know more, read Understand the Esteban Ocon case).

Ending 2019 in front of Racing Point, a Renault did not comply with its rival’s excellent performance at the beginning of 2020. It accused the British team of copying Mercedes’ systems, aiming to disqualify Sergio Pérez and Lance Stroll from the concluded races until then and guarantee extra points to Ricciardo e Ocon. The “denounce” has two faces, which will be exposed right now.

 

7- Reporting Racing Point: the pot calling the kettle black

 

It is obvious that, if there were indeed irregularities, Racing Point should be held responsible for its acts and suffer the proper sanctions. After all, no team is above the regulation. However, FIA’s judgments tend to be questionable. A good example was the body’s complicity with Ferrari, when the federation shrouded the alterations of the Italian team’s car in 2019, opening space to doubts concerning the adjustments’ legality. From the nine remaining teams, seven joined in a collective complaint against the agreement between Ferrari and FIA (only the client teams of Ferrari engines, Alfa Romeo and Haas, stayed out, however, Mercedes removed the complaint some weeks later). The explanations of the federation’s president, Jean Todt (former team principal of Ferrari) were not convincing, and he even claimed he could not reveal more details without the Italian team’s approval.

 

FIA’s famous double standard [10]

 

As Racing Point was one of the integrants of the collective complaint, Ferrari was one of the teams to intrude on Renault’s protest (even the French team also being part of the complaint), implying that the British team should be punished. McLaren, Racing Point’s rival in 2020, insinuated that there was a copy, but it did not deserve any sanction. Mercedes denied its participation on Racing Point’s project, and this one in turn always alleged its innocence, claiming the development of each part of the car was made under the inspection of FIA itself.

On August 7th, FIA announced that Racing Point would lose 15 points and receive a fine, but its drivers’ scoring keeps unchanged. However, the decision is subject to appeal. With this, Renault and Ferrari were benefited, rising their positions in the constructors’ standings. The denounce by itself seems to aim justice, as one of the competitors would be violating the rules. However, why just Renault, whose past was marked by scandals, was responsible for the protest? If so many teams dared to comment on the case, implying Racing Point’s fault, why none of them moved the protest? The answer is simple: Renault knows it is not able to produce a car to compete as equal with Racing Point and McLaren in 2020, therefore, recurring to Flavio Briatore’s values, decided to snatch a “victory” by force, messing with the constructors’ standings. The body which judged the case also would not be the most appropriate to this function, once it already has a background of favoring Ferrari, but it is the only that Formula One has to situations like that.

 

The bottom line [11]

 

8- Conclusion

 

Renault’s history was built on regrettable episodes. The brand’s founder was a collaborator to the Nazi regime. The team passed through two hiatus between the ’80s and the ’90s. Its leaders destroyed Nelson Piquet Jr.’s career to Fernando Alonso have one win in 2008, disrupting Felipe Massa’s way to the title. In the ‘2010s, it hid its name for fear of the embarrassment of being remembered for the Singaporegate (or Crashgate). Nowadays, unable to withstand its rivals, it uses judicial ways to raise its position in the championship.

If Renault was indeed hungry for justice, it would apologize to all it harmed through its history, and, at least, get out of Formula One and stop tainting the sport with its shameful participation. Moral values it what this team cannot claim, as it wishes its rival assume a coadjuvant role in sport and be known more by the memes made by rival teams’ supporters than by results. The history proves that Renault’s true intention is, as we say in Brazil, win on ‘the big carpet’ (without merit and by decisions out of the sportive events). After all, if all the championships will be decided on court, there is no necessity of the cars going to the track. If there is something Renault definitely cannot accuse Racing Point is acting in bad faith, as in this the French team is already a specialist.

 

Coherent, no? [12]

 

9- Bibliography

 

 

10- Photos

Note: None of the photos used in this article, except the montage, belongs to me. This site has informative intentions, not commercial. The links where I took the photos are indicated below. All copyrights reserved.