What happened to Renault in F1? History, controversy, rebrandings and more

Renault drivers Rene Arnoux and Jean-Pierre Jabouille. 1980.

Both Renault drivers run one in front of the other. Pictured in 1980.

Ever wondered what happened to the Renault F1 team? PlanetF1.com explains how the world-renowned French manufacturer evolved into the Alpine F1 team and what the future holds for the owners, drivers and engineering outfit.

At the start of the 2021 F1 season, Renault announced they were here to stay in Formula 1 but that they would race under a new name, and in new colours. Following the return of two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso to the team at which he won both his titles, and Renault’s commitment to F1 until 2025 under the new Concorde Agreement, the wider Renault Group was about to undergo some significant changes.

The group’s new CEO, Luca de Meo made the decision to put a sharper focus on its key brands – Renault, Dacia, Alpine and New Mobility, and promote the Alpine brand which produced the A110 sportscar.

The solution was to name the F1 team after its sporting manufacturer – Alpine – and create a colour scheme which contained the French national colours of red, white and blue to replace the yellow and black of Renault.

A brief history of Renault in F1

The story of Renault in Formula 1 is as successful as it is sporadic, with 35 race victories across its time in the sport and two Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships as a team, both coming in 2005 and 2006 with Alonso at the helm.

We say ‘sporadic’ as Renault has entered Formula 1 in three separate spells in the past as a full-blown constructor, the first of which coming in the 1977 season, running only one car with Jean-Pierre Jabouille behind the wheel.

They continued until 1985 in their first spell, with Jabouille taking the team’s first ever victory at home at the French Grand Prix in Dijon in 1979, with hotshots René Arnoux and Alain Prost also taking race wins for the marque in their first stint in the sport.

Renault would not return to Formula 1 until 2002 having bought out the Benetton team, based at Enstone in the UK. They had completed the purchase in 2000, but did not change the team’s name until the start of the 2002 season.

This second spell is where the bulk of their success would come, with Alonso’s talent combining with race-winning machinery to power them to two consecutive title doubles in the mid-2000s, dethroning the might of Ferrari in the process.

But following the ‘Crashgate’ scandal of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, in which the team were found to have instructed driver Nelson Piquet Jr to crash in order to benefit Alonso, who went on to win the race, the team’s reputation took a significant hit and Renault were given a two-year suspended ban from Formula 1.

The brand opted to sell a 75% stake in the team at the end of 2010, meaning the Enstone team would become Lotus Renault for 2011, before selling the remainder a year later and ending Renault’s involvement in Formula 1 again as a constructor.

Whether they have had a team of their own or not, Renault have been almost ever-present on the grid as an engine manufacturer, powering Williams and Red Bull to multiple World Championships, as well as providing race-winning power to Lotus and Benetton over time.

Renault would not stay away from Formula 1 for long this time however, repurchasing “Team Enstone” in 2015 from Genii Capital, who ran the Lotus team, and coming back into the sport in time for the 2016 season.

Unfortunately for them, they would not add any further race victories under the Renault moniker in the second half of the 2010s, largely running in the upper midfield before opting to rebrand to Alpine, in honour of the parent company’s sporting arm, though the team remains under Renault’s overall ownership.

About Alpine

Although Alpine are a new name in F1, the brand has made racing and sports cars since the 1950s. Bought by Renault in 1973, Alpine have worked closely with the French manufacturers ever since.

At the time of the rebranding, Alpine were already a well renowned brand throughout motorsport, taking victories in Le Mans 24 Hours and rallying. Despite never appearing as a manufacturer in F1 before, future chassis produced by the Enstone-based team were known as ‘Alpines’, while the Renault name remained due to the cars running a Renault E-TECH hybrid engine.

CEO Luca de Meo commented at the time of the rebrand: “Alpine is a beautiful brand, powerful and vibrant, that brings a smile to the faces of its followers. By introducing Alpine, a symbol of French excellence, to the most prestigious of the world’s automotive disciplines, we are continuing the adventure of manufacturers in a renewed sport.

“We are bringing a dream brand alongside the biggest names, for spectacular car races made and followed by enthusiasts. Alpine will also bring its values to the F1 paddock: elegance, ingenuity and audacity.”

Alpine’s role in F1

Otmar Szafnauer and Laurent Rossi of Alpine walk together. Belgium 2022.

Despite the clean slate, the Alpine Formula 1 team had a rocky start with the shock departure of team principal Cyril Abiteboul prior to the start of the F1 2021 season.

In charge of the F1 team since 2017, Abiteboul was replaced with Laurent Rossi, the Director of Strategy and Business Development of Groupe Renault.

A year on from the re-branding, three senior members of the Renault team had left – engine technical director Remi Taffin, executive director and de facto team principal Marcin Budkowski, and non-executive director Alain Prost, however, Alpine still remained a more stable team than it was as Renault.

At the time of the re-brand, Renault was failing to win races, with Rossi admitting that the future of the F1 team would be continually discussed with the Renault group. With other teams such as Red Bull heavily investing in their engines, the question was, could Renault follow suit? Rossi described Renault’s commitment as “on-off” and said the firm struggled to get the right return on their investment.

Choosing to rename under the sports premium Alpine immediately gave the brand a new credibility alongside brands such as Aston Martin, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes.

With F1 introducing the budget cap, it made the competition cheaper for Renault to compete in overall, but there are still significant resources being placed in the manufacturer’s Formula 1 project, and they will expect success sooner rather than later.

The future of Alpine

Since Alpine returned to Formula 1 it has taken small steps but remains far away from being able to claim a place within the top teams on the grid. For the past three seasons, Alpine had finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, before moving up a place to fourth in 2022.

The sudden absence of Fernando Alonso, who chose to drive for Aston Martin in the 2023 season, has added increased pressure on French drivers, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, to try to fill the shoes of the two-time World Champion.