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Team Biography




Team Biography

New for 2002 was the re-appearance of Renault which has purchased the Benetton outfit. This team started life as Toleman. Ted Toleman, who made his fortune by transporting cars from factories to dealers, had raced as an amateur, but quit when his brother was killed in a racing accident. Toleman started his own team running Royales in Formula Ford 2000 and formed a special relationship with Royale designer, Rory Byrne. At the end of 1978, Byrne joined Toleman as chief engineer.

In 1979, Toleman's number one driver, Brian Henton, came close to winning the European Formula Two Championship in a Ralt. The following year Toleman built its own cars (they were copies of the Ralt RT4, but with some refinements by Rory Byrne) and won the Formula Two Championship. A move to Formula One in 1981 was character building, because the first car was huge, but Toleman began to show promise in 1983 and it was able to secure the services of Ayrton Senna.

By the end of 1985, it was in financial difficulties which led to it being bought by Benetton, the Italian clothing manufacturer and then Toleman's main sponsor.

Renamed Benetton, the team became one of the top five teams and scored its first win in 1986, with a BMW engine and Gerhard Berger at the wheel. From 1987, Benetton formed a beneficial relationship with Ford and received the latest development of works engines.

The arrival of Flavio Briatore as director of the team added to the gaiety of the Formula One pit-lane. Briatore had advanced the cause of Benetton, the maker of jumpers, by selling large numbers of franchises for their fine woolies, especially in America. An almost complete ignorance of Formula One did not faze him, he proved a remarkably astute businessman and he formed a very productive relationship with Ford.

Ford it was who announced in 1989 that John Barnard would become the team's new Technical Director. Barnard set up a new research facility near his home in Surrey and his arrival caused Rory Byrne to leave to pen a Formula One car for Reynard.

After Briatore dumped Johnny Herbert from Benetton's driver line-up in 1989, it was only a matter of time before the experienced team manager, Peter Collins, would follow his protege. Briatore was not averse to making waves but, on the whole, his record at Benetton was one of solid progress.

Then Tom Walkinshaw bought into the team while Benetton's investment arm bought into Walkinshaw's own core business, which, among other things, acts as a consultant to the motor industry. Soon after Walkinshaw arrived, Barnard left. Simultaneously, the Reynard Formula One project, which came within a whisker of bankrupting the company, was aborted which left Byrne free to return to Benetton.

When Michael Schumacher made a sensational debut for Jordan in 1991, Briatore was on the case and despite a 'letter of intent' from Schumacher's manager to Jordan, Benetton was able to secure Schumacher's services. Schumacher later made a financial settlement with Jordan.

With Michael Schumacher on the team, it went from strength to strength and Schumacher won the World Championship in 1994 and 1995. It did not escape controversy, however, and in 1994 the FIA accused Benetton of using an illegal 'launch control' (traction control by any other name) and a subsequent investigation did find a traction control programme deep in Benetton's computer hardware on the car.

The team claimed that it was used only in testing, and this perfectly reasonable explanation was immediately accepted by everyone. It was clear that neither team nor driver had been cheating in actual racing and all those who had believed otherwise, among whom were the FIA's Technical Delegate, Charlie Whiting, had been mistaken. If you believe that, you are likely to buy gold bricks from strangers.

Benetton severed its long association with Ford at the end of 1994 and switched to Renault engines, a grave error in the long term. Schumacher secured his second Championship with Renault powered, for the first time, Benetton won the constructors' title.

In 1996 Schumacher went to Ferrari for the Gross National Product of a Third World nation and Benetton announced that it was now an Italian team (though still based in England). This bold switch of allegiance coincided with Benetton's decline as key technical personnel were enticed away by Ferrari to form again their relationships with Schumacher. We've not heard the Italian National Anthem very often since Benetton became Italian.

From back-to-back World Championships, Benetton won nothing in 1996, and indeed has since taken the chequered flag just once since, at the 1997 German GP. In late 1997 Briatore left and was soon heading Supertec, which continued to prepare Renault engines, and Benetton had to part with cash to obtain them. Dave Richards, head of race and rally development specialist, Prodrive, replaced Briatore as chief executive.

Richards planned a long-term strategy for technical development, but the Benetton family would not back his plans so, almost a year to the day after his appointment, Richards resigned. He was replaced by Rocco Benetton, son of Luciano, the company's founder. Being the son of a maker of pullovers is not a recognised path to success in Formula One.

Early in 2000 Renault decided to return to Formula One and bought Benetton. Flavio Briatore, a man with a year-round tan, but a man who has not learned that the peak of baseball cap goes to the fore, returned to head the team, which was renamed 'Renault'.

Despite a relatively disappointing season in 2001 it was clear that Renault meant business when it returned to the fray in 2002. The French outfit, which revolutionised F1 in the late seventies with the introduction of the turbo-engine, and has never shied away from technological experimentation returned to F1 with a radical wide-angle V10, of which much was expected. Sadly it delivered little, and continued to do so.

Most of the Renault package for 2002 was rather good. The chassis was good, the traction control was the best in F1, the wide angle V10 meant that the car had a nice low centre of gravity, and in Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli the team had two very able drivers.

Early in the season the Renault was more than a match for the Mercedes and Hondas, unfortunately as the others improved and found more grunt, Renault remained static. As if this wasn't bad enough the engine was none too reliable either.

For 2003 Trulli was joined by Spanish hot-shot Fernando Alonso, with the highly experienced Allan McNish assuming the role of test driver along with Franck Montagny.

The decision to take part in the Friday test sessions - for which team boss Flavio Briatore took full responsibility - was inspired. Despite the derision of McLaren's Ron Dennis, who described those taking part in the sessions as 'track cleaners', Renault was able to turn the tests to its advantage, the subsequent banning of the sessions in 2004 proving the point.

That said although the chassis continually impressed, the decision to continue with the wide-angled V10 engine was misjudged and by the time the French outfit had come to the only sensible conclusion - to follow the conventional layout - it was too late. Although the team was regularly scoring points, reliability, particularly with regards the R23 engine, was giving cause for concern.

There were some memorable moments in 2003, not least Alonso's fine, historic win in Hungary, when the Spaniard gave a demonstration of superiority worthy of Michael Schumacher, who suffered the indignity of being lapped by the youngster.

Behind the scenes all was not well. For much of the season technical director Mike Gascoyne was rumoured to be unhappy and in talks with Toyota. Eventually the deal was done and the Englishman headed to Cologne, only months after aerodynamicist John Iley had left Enstone for Maranello.

Having built such wonderful cars and engines during its previous foray into F1, then having powered Williams and Benetton to World Championship titles, Renault still feels aggrieved that it never received due recognition for its achievements. This time around the French outfit wants to prove just how good it is both in terms of innovation and success. 2003 saw Renault finish fourth in the Constructors' Championship, albeit almost 60 points behind third placed McLaren-Mercedes.

At the launch of the team's 2004 contender, the R24, there was much talk of displacing either McLaren, WilliamsF1 or even Ferrari to join the big three, unless the engine department has made a significant step forwards this seems unlikely.

Alonso was the revelation of 2003, though those who had witnessed the youngster in the Minardi a couple of years earlier already knew what he was capable of. Youngest driver to take pole position was soon followed by becoming the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix, who would bet against him going on to become Spain's first World Champion, and F1's youngest to boot. That said, Renault can not take him for granted - even though he is part of Briatore's stable of youngsters - for other teams, especially Ferrari, are known to be interested.

Jarno Trulli was clearly overwhelmed by his young teammate, but as the season progressed he began to re-establish himself. The Italian continues to suffer appalling luck, but then there are many that still believe you create your own.

With the departure of Iley and Gascoyne and the appointment of Bob Bell and Rob White, combined with the decision to opt for a conventional engine configuration, much had changed at Renault.

Despite some doom and gloom predictions, Renault's 2004 season wasn't too bad, indeed in the early stages of the year the French outfit appeared to be the only team capable of mounting a serious challenge to Ferrari. However, the momentum appeared to falter round about the halfway mark, and from France onwards there was an obvious decline, both on and off track.

Despite the loss of key players, and the decision to revert to a more traditional engine configuration, in the early stages of the season the R24 surprised many, while at long last, Jarno Trulli appeared to have stepped up a gear, determined not to live in the shadow of his younger teammate.

In the opening races, Trulli regularly out-qualified the Spaniard, subsequently ramming home the advantage in the race. The highlight came in Monaco, where the Italian delivered a supreme performance, taking pole and fastest lap.

Although clearly unable to take on Ferrari, Renault looked comfortable for runner-up spot, then came Canada.

Some would have you believe that the French outfit's fortunes began to go awry in France, not so, it was in Canada, when, having qualified third and fifth, the team came way empty handed for the first time since France 2003.

However, the team was about to face another crisis.

Although it was widely presumed that Alonso and Trulli would be retained for 2005, the Italian did not have a contract. Then, following a lapse of concentration at the last corner of the French Grand Prix, which allowed Rubens Barrichello through to take second, the Italian's relationship with the team, and more importantly team principal Flavio Briatore, began to go downhill.

The relationship quickly deteriorated and soon it appeared that Trulli was goading his former manager, driving at 75% for most of the race, then suddenly banging in a fast lap, just to prove a point.

Alonso was as exciting as ever, but constantly made things hard for himself by getting it wrong in qualifying. Thankfully, the Renault R24 was one of the quickest at getting away from the grid, so the Spaniard was usually able to make up the 'lost' positions by the first corner.

With regards Trulli, things came to a head at Monza, and following the race, Renault and the Italian parted company, the very next day he signed two year deal with Toyota.

Surprisingly, rather than promote Franck Montagny, who had completed thousands of test miles in the R24, the French team opted to bring in Jacques Villeneuve, who hadn't driven since USA 2003.

It had all gone wrong, and in the closing stages of the championship, BAR snuck through on the inside and took the runner-up spot. Despite the Monaco win, despite three poles and six trips to the podium, Renault will feel, quite rightly, that 2004 was a case of mission not accomplished.

For 2005 Alonso was joined by Giancarlo Fisichella who last raced for the team in 2001, when it was Benetton.

Although much was expected on the R25, it is safe to say that, pre-season, few in 'Planet Paddock' thought that the French team would be serious contenders for either title, let alone both. Alonso was seen as fast and brave, but a little too immature, while Ferrari, BAR and McLaren were seen as the main Constructors' Championship protagonists.

Other than a great car, and two excellent drivers, the key to Renault's success in 2005 was the stability, teamwork and passion.

Although Ferrari is widely described as being the most passionate of F1 teams, few people seem to have watch the French team. Many of the people have been on-board for longer than even they would care to remember, and hence there is a tremendous bonding with the team - not simply done for the cameras.

It is no coincidence that Flavio Briatore has built two World Championship winning teams, he inspires those around him, and though quick to punish mistakes is first in line to praise and reward success.

The pain of 2004's failure hurt the team, and in 2005 it decided to make amends.

The season got off to a great start with Giancarlo Fisichella taking a convincing win in Australia, before the bad luck which has dogged most of his career returned to haunt him. However, Fernando Alonso was quick to step up to the mantle, giving a season-long performance that belied his tender age.

The R25 was a superb car, though clearly not the best, whilst the Renault engine was the class of the field, suffering just one failure.

Other than Ferrari, Renault is the best in the pitlane when it comes to strategy, and that, combined with few mistakes and the team's momentum, resulted in the French outfit taking both titles, even though the Constructors' Championship looked to be heading to Woking in the final rounds.

In 2006, Alonso and Fisichella were both retained, while test driver Franck Montagny was replaced by Finnish sensation Heikki Kovalainen.

However, ahead of the new season there was a huge question mark hanging over the World Championship winning team. At the end of 2005, the entire pitlane, not least Flavio Briatore, was shocked to hear that McLaren had signed Alonso for 2007.

The Spaniard's decision to leave Renault was no doubt partly influenced by his concern that the team's parent company had no long-term commitment to the sport. Indeed, if one believed everything one read in certain sections of the media the Renault F1 team was dead and buried, with the plug about to be pulled on the entire venture. This, combined with the fact - according to the usual suspects in the media - that sponsors were unwilling to get involved with the team and no drivers were showing an interest in taking Alonso's - soon to be vacant - seat, suggested that Renault had had its 15 minutes of F1 fame.

However, at the launch of the 2006 contender the French manufacturer pledged its full support for the F1 programme, providing the team remained competitive. And competitive it was.

Despite the threat from Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, Renault and Alonso retained both championships in a season when nothing was made easy for the French team. Other than a momentous fight with the Maranello outfit, Renault found itself the victim numerous dubious decisions, not least the 'mass dampers sage' and Alonso's outrageous grid penalty at Monza.

It was an odd season with the pendulum swinging one way and then the other. Had the temperature not risen in Spain, contrary to all forecasts, there is no doubt that Schumacher would have taken a third successive victory. Then there was the wheel nut in Hungary and the engine failure - an unheard of problem with the French powerplants - at Monza.

At the end of the day however, Renault and Alonso won through, deservedly retaining both titles. Once again, the R26 was not the best car, however, with a little bit of Pat Symonds' strategic magic the threat from Ferrari, not to mention the FIA and its race stewards, was kept at bay.

Having been unable to get its driver of choice (Raikkonen), Renault opted to retain Giancarlo Fisichella for a third season in 2007. The Italian was partnered by rookie Heikki Kovalainen, with Ricardo Zonta and Nelson Piquet Jr carrying out test duties.

Fisichella was hugely disappointing in 2006, and at times it was hard to believe he was driving the same car as Alonso. The decision to retain him, following the failure to attract Raikkonen, was described by one Renault insider as being the result of the French team being left "up the creek without a paddle". That said, with a rookie for a teammate, 2007 would hopefully give the Roman a chance to shine.

Despite a new title sponsor - the Dutch banking group ING - and livery, there were sections of the media peddling doom and gloom even before the season got underway. In some ways however, they were to be proved correct.

Following the success of its two title winning years, Renault was one of the teams that really struggled following the switch to Bridgestone rubber in 2007. That said, nobody was expecting the decline to be so quick and so complete. Having scored 16 wins in 2005/2006, in 2007 the French outfit was to only make one visit to the podium, far less take a victory.

In short, the problems can be attributed to the tyre switch and also to incorrect information coming out of the windtunnel. Either of these issues would have been problematic for the reigning champions, but in tandem it was to prove a disaster.

Some say that perhaps the French outfit had become a little complacent, and Pat Symonds readily agreed. In terms of the drivers, Giancarlo Fisichella continued to disappoint, though in fairness the R27 wouldn't have allowed even Alonso to shine. If truth be told, the Italian's experience, and calmness under pressure was probably just what was needed in such a season.

Following a nightmare start to the season, causing Flavio Briatore to describe his debut as "rubbish", Heikki Kovalainen eventually found his feet, and by mid-season was leading the French outfit's challenge. A fine second place in the rain-hit Japanese GP was just reward for the Finn following the nightmare of Melbourne.

It was clear, long before the end of the season, that neither driver would be retained for 2008, however, it was only in mid-December that the team confirmed that Fernando Alonso would partner Nelson Piquet.

Much like Honda, Renault soon came to realise that it was going nowhere in 2007 and therefore focussed its efforts on 2008. However, we weren't far into the new season when it was clear that in reality the French outfit had made little progress.

Whilst no doubt delighted to have left the internal strife at McLaren behind, Alonso must have been dreadfully disappointed to find himself in the R28, a far cry from the title-winning cars of 2005 and 2006, and indeed the MP4-22.

For much of the season the French team struggled, the R28 clearly suffering a lack of grip, aerodynamic instability and inferior horsepower. In terms of the engine, Renault discovered that whereas it had strictly adhered to the engine freeze, its rivals had made a number of legal changes over the off season having simply asked for permission.

Furthermore, in the light of the freeze, the French team had reduced the size of its engine department, which meant that it simply didn't have the resources to make the necessary changes, changes which were costing as much as 35bhp.

The aerodynamic problems were a mixture of issues one of the most important being the loss of (senior aerodynamicist) Dino Toso who was battling Cancer and was to pass away in August.

Dirk de Beer was recruited from BMW, but initially the aero problems of the R28 were a carry over from the data problems which blighted its predecessor.

Despite a weak start to the season however, the team fought back, constantly introducing new aero packages, thanks in part to the establishment of a new CFD department at Enstone.

In Spain, Alonso qualified for the front row, largely due to a light fuel load, and though he was to retire from the race, it was clear that the aero improvements were working as was the team's new damper, the device at the centre of the other spy saga of 2007.

The new damper helped significantly in the way the R28 treated its tyres, the car having originally been notoriously hard on its rubber.

While the continuous development drive was to see a remarkable turnaround in fortune for the French team, it is fair to say that the R28 was never a serious threat to BMW, far less McLaren and Ferrari.

The initial poor form of the car took its toll on Alonso, whose head was noticeably down at times, culminating in a woeful race at Hockenheim when it was hard to believe this was the same guy who had won two titles.

After the summer break however, it was the Alonso of old, and this combined with the updates from his team - including a new front wing - and a new fuel from Total, saw the Spaniard back on form, even if his car remained 0.5s off the pace of the McLaren and Ferrari. In terms of its other rivals, Renault had made real progress, and this, combined with the development drop off at BMW, saw the French team become the third force in the final races of the season.

While the win in Singapore was fortuitous, the same thing couldn't be said about Japan, where Alonso and his team were on top form. Yes, a first corner incident had ruled out Ferrari and McLaren but the R28 was there to pick up the pieces when it mattered.

While Alonso returned to form, eventually finishing fifth in the championship, Piquet was largely disappointing. Despite the shortcomings of the R28, the young Brazilian was clearly overwhelmed by the pace of his teammate. Ironically, Piquet's best performance was in Germany, where he finished second, the very race in which his teammate fell apart.

Piquet was retained for 2009, however, as we said at the time, the Brazilian would need to "significantly improve if he was to keep his seat for a third season, especially with Romain Grosjean waiting in the wings".

Right from the outset Renault faced major hurdles in 2009. The global financial crisis which had seen Honda quit F1 threatened all the manufacturer teams. While Renault had always said that it would support the F1 drive while its team was winning this was before a credit crunch that caused many to check their credit report.

Even before the season got underway, Renault suffered a major setback when title sponsor, the Dutch banking group ING announced it was terminating its contract ahead of schedule at the end of the season. If Renault thought things couldn't get worse they were wrong.

Renault knew it couldn't wait until mid-season for a revival, it had to start the season up there with McLaren and Ferrari. Furthermore, both drivers had to give 100 percent in every race.

On its unveiling, the R29 was widely described as one of the ugliest F1 cars ever seen, Red Bull having proved that the new rules didn't have to mean ugly. Things wouldn't have been so bad if the car performed but it didn't, indeed, some feel the car was a step backwards.

Renault had also missed out badly in the double diffuser row, for when the when the French team first approached the FIA with its plan it was rejected, yet a similar concept from Brawn, Williams and Toyota which was accepted proved to be a winner, especially as the Brackley team was concerned.

The problem for Renault is that when it went to the FIA it went with a specific design, and it was this - the specific design not the concept - which was rejected.

Renault was one of the few teams that tried to persist with KERS, but like several of its rivals found the controversial device made its car unstable.

The situation wasn't helped by the fact that team boss Flavio Briatore, a leading light in the teams' alliance (FOTA), was not convinced that KERS would be worthwhile and that in anticipation of the FIA's budget cuts he could comfortably reduce his workforce. The shortage of staff combined with the dithering as to whether to spend its development money on aero or KERS was to cost the French team dearly. The team did run KERS however, after the Bahrain GP it was only ever used for one more race, the Italian GP.

Although the R29 was in touch with the pace-setters it was never likely to bother them and the 26 points earned by the French team were mostly down to the dogged determination of Alonso.

In addition to another fifth in Spain, Alonso claimed fastest race lap in German where he hung on to the rear end of the two Brawns. Running on fumes he took pole in Hungary however, he was sidelined by a fuel pump problem just fifteen laps into the race.

It was at this point in the season that Renault's world fell apart.

Following another disappointing performance from Nelson Piquet, it was announced that the Brazilian had been dropped with reserve driver Romain Grosjean being called in to replace him for the rest of the season.

Shortly after the next race however - Belgium, where Alonso looked set for a points finish until he suffered damage to his wheel - the Brazilian media broke a story which was to overshadow not only Renault but the entire sport.

Nelson Piquet claimed that ahead of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix he had been ordered to deliberately crash, a move which would effectively hand the race to his teammate who would have been put on a strategy aimed at allowing for the incident.

'Crashgate', as it came to be known, is now regarded as one of the most infamous incidents in the entire history of sport and the fall-out continues.

Team boss Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds left the team and were subsequently banned from motorsport. ING ended its sponsorship of the team with immediate effect and at a subsequent WMSC hearing the French team was handed a two-year suspended sentence.

While lenient, many saw the suspended sentence as the only way of keeping Renault in F1 for BMW had already announced its intention to follow Honda out of the sport and Toyota was to make a similar announcement at season end.

The lack of results and the global financial crisis had taken Renault to the very brink of withdrawing from F1 and it was widely thought that 'Crashgate' would be the final straw. However, in the wake of the WMSC's sympathetic ruling a deal was done which saw Luxembourg investment company Genii Capital buy a 75.1% stake in the team while Renault would continue to supply engines.

Shortly after the WMSC's decision, Ferrari announced that it had signed Fernando Alonso, while the enforced departure of Briatore and Symonds brought the story of the double-winners of 2005 and 2006 to a sad end. Ironically however, in one of those oh so cruel twists, Alonso scored his only podium result of 2009 at Singapore. While, on one of his first laps in Friday free practice, Romain Grosjean crashed at exactly the same spot where his predecessor had deliberately gone off a year earlier.

At the unveiling of its 2010 contender, the team announced that 2009 GP2 runner-up Vitaly Petrov would partner Robert Kubica - who had been signed way back in October 2009 - with Ho-Pin Tung recruited as reserve driver along with Jerome d'Ambrosio. In terms of management, former DAMS boss Eric Boullier was recruited as team boss while stand-in team principal Bob Bell was handed the role of managing director.

Over the winter the team had carried out an upgrade of its windtunnel - replacing the canvas rolling road with a steel version. While the four-week shutdown of the windtunnel cost the team as much as half-a-second in the early stages of the season, in time the benefits were clearly visible.

The design team remained pretty much the same, indeed, the R30 was pretty similar to its predecessor though the low nose wasn't quite as extreme. Although comparatively late in introducing its version of the F-duct and blown diffuser, when they did appear they were effective. As the season developed, so the car improved with most of the attention focussing on the front wing and floor… of which there were countless versions.

Overall, the R30's main strength was its drivability, something that made Kubica extremely happy especially at recognised 'drivers tracks' such as Monaco, Spa and Suzuka.

After a difficult outing in Bahrain, which saw Kubica finish 15th and his teammate retire with a broken suspension, the team opened its account in Melbourne , the Pole taking a magnificent second, far more than the R30 was truly capable of at that stage.

After difficult races in Australia and Malaysia, Petrov finally scored his first F1 points in China, though he had to be satisfied with seventh having spun off while seemingly destined for fourth.

Kubica continued plugging away, getting the most out of a car that was never likely to challenge the Red Bulls and McLarens, or even the Ferrari later in the season, but was at least able to give Mercedes a run for its money. Indeed, had he had a more experienced, and determined, teammate, Kubica could well have helped his team beat its German rival in the Constructors' Championship.

Somehow, Kubica qualified second in Monaco, next day bringing the car home third behind the Red Bulls. A few races later the blown diffuser appeared on the F30, however, following a false start at Silverstone, Renault didn't run its F-duct until Spa.

Kubica continued picking up the points, while Petrov often appeared out of his depth. Hough there was no doubting his talent, particularly his aggression, the Russian's qualifying form was poor only making it to Q3 four times the entire season.

Of the team's 163 points, 136 were scored by the Pole, leaving many to wonder how the team might have succeeded had it had a more established driver on board. That said, In Hungary and Abu Dhabi Petrov out-qualified Kubica. In Hungary he went on to finish fifth his best result of the season, while in Abu Dhabi he refused to be intimidated by Fernando Alonso even though the Spaniard was locked in battle with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber for the title. There were notable performances at Spa and in Singapore also.

Ahead of the penultimate round of the championship, Renault announced a new deal with Red Bull while also confirming that it would supply 1Malaysia Racing Team (UK), the outfit behind Lotus Racing. Just over a month later it was announced that Proton owned Group Lotus had become a major equity partner of Genii Capital in the newley-namec Lotus Renault GP, the two parties concluding a title sponsorship agreement that will run until the end of the 2017 season.

As well as signalling the start of a long battle over naming rights with Tony Fernandes' outfit, the move signalled Renault's departure from the sport as a manufacturer and entrant, the French company now merely supplying engines and "expertise".

Despite the change in ownership, Kubica remained on board, while 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen was none too pleased to hear the team suggesting him as a possible teammate for the Pole.

Vitaly Petrov got the perfect Christmas present when, on December 22, it was revealed that he had retained his seat for 2011. Slightly more surprising, based on his overall 2010 form, was the news that he had a deal for 2012 also. Sceptics suggested that some of the new (Russian) sponsors now helping the team, and those on the horizon, might have smoothed the way.

Just three days after posting the fastest time of the first pre-season test in Valencia, Kubica was injured in a horrific accident whilst taking part in a rally in Italy.

For 48 hours the F1 world held its breath as the Pole underwent a series of operations to save his right hand. Several days later he underwent a further nine hours of surgery to his foot, shoulder, humerus, and anterior elbow.

After days of speculation, while Kubica began his long recovery period, the team announced that German veteran Nick Heidfeld would test for the team at Jerez - the second pre-season test - as would Bruno Senna. 'Quick Nick' immediately made a good impression topping the timesheets from the outset. Days later he was officially confirmed as Kubica's stand-in.

Speaking at season end, technical director James Allison pretty much summed things up when he described the team's 2011 contender, one of the more innovative cars on the grid, as a failed experiment.

The R31 featured a radical exhaust system which took the blown diffuser a step further, relocating the exhaust towards the front of the car, between the chassis and radiator, and then turning it 90 degrees so that it points towards the leading edge of the floor, thereby increasing downforce.

While some teams looked set to copy the idea, others, most notably Mercedes' Ross Brawn, downplayed its importance.

While at first it did indeed look the way to go, the system became a major disadvantage as the season unfolded, suffering from low downforce on slower circuits. The system also made it extremely difficult to develop the car.

"I regard it as a bold, but ultimately failed experiment," said Allison, in the wake of the Abu Dhabi GP. "We were the only team to adopt a forward exhaust layout, and we did so with high hopes, buoyed by very strong wind tunnel numbers.

"We came out of the blocks adequately well," he continued, "although it was clear from the first test that the delivered downforce was not as high as we had expected.

"The season which followed has been difficult for everyone at Enstone. The layout which had promised so much (and which, had it delivered, would have been almost impossible to copy) proved very tricky to develop and had a fundamental weakness in slow corners that has been an albatross around our neck all year."

The season got off to a strong start in Melbourne, with Petrov taking his first podium result and Heidfeld finishing twelfth, albeit with a damaged car. In Malaysia it was the German who scored the podium result, while Petrov retired in spectacular style when he hit a bump caused by a drainage gully thereby launching his car into the air and breaking the car's steering column on landing.

As it happened, the two opening races were the season highlight, for while there were points finishes in the next eight races, the R31 was proving uncompetitive and unreliable.

In China, Petrov finished ninth having started tenth following a problem in qualifying, while Heidfeld finished twelfth. In Turkey, Heidfeld led home his teammate for a seventh/eighth finish, interestingly, the only time all season that both cars finished in the points.

Heidfeld finished ninth in Spain after missing qualifying due to a fire in practice, while Petrov finished just outside the points in eleventh place. The German scored more points in Monaco, while Petrov retired following an accident involving several other cars.

The Russian finished fifth in Canada, with Heidfeld retiring after damaging his car's front wing in a collision with Kamui Kobayashi, while the team endured a difficult weekend in Valencia, with the German scoring a single point for tenth place.

New restrictions over the use of off-throttle blown diffusers were introduced for the British Grand Prix, and, as was expected, Renault was badly affected having designed its car around the system. Nonetheless, having qualified sixteenth, Heidfeld brought his car home in eighth in the race, though this was not enough to prevent Mercedes taking fourth in the standings.

In Hungary, the team failed to score a single point for the first time in 2011, however, there were to be four further such weekends before season end.

Heidfeld, who retired after his car caught fire as it exited the pits, was subsequently dropped and replaced by Bruno Senna. Whatever the politics of the German's dumping, and some say it had more to do with money Senna could bring to the team, the German didn't miss much for the R31's best days were behind it.

There was the threat of a legal dispute, Heidfeld claiming that he had a valid contract for the full season. However, things were settled out of court and the German moved on. As an aside, it should be noted that team boss Eric Boullier manages a couple of drivers, not least Romain Grosjean.

Other than the failed experiment that was the exhaust, Renault, more than most, was struggling with the new tyres, at some circuits embarrassingly so. This, combined with the odd bit of poor strategy and bad luck was also costing the team dearly in qualifying.

Despite a superb qualifying performance which saw Senna start seventh in Belgium - his first race with the team - an overambitious start meant it was over before it had begun, the Brazilian eventually finishing thirteenth after a first lap clash.

Singapore has to be the season lowlight, with Petrov out in Q1 and Senna only managing fifteenth on the grid. The Brazilian did not improve his position in the race, while Petrov moved up one place, leaving the team struggling to maintain fifth in the Constructors' Championship as Force India closed in.

Both drivers were in the top ten in qualifying in Japan, and after hard battle, Petrov eventually took ninth with Senna down in nineteenth.

Three disappointing races followed in Korea, India and Abu Dhabi, where neither driver scored a point.

Petrov finished tenth to score one point in the R31's final race, Renault managing to hold off Force India, even though the Indian outfit had scored 57 points in its last eight outings - compared to Renault's 8.

At season end there can be no doubt that everyone at Enstone breathed a huge sigh of relief, not only at having held on to fifth in the standings but that such an awful year was at an end. In truth, had Sauber and Toro Rosso got their acts together - and Renault not had such strong results in the opening two races - it could have been much worse.

Away from the race track, Group Lotus and Tony Fernandes had continued their fight over naming rights, and following a ruling in May that the Malaysian team could continue using the "Team Lotus" name and Team Lotus roundel, but could not use "Lotus" on its own. The ruling also confirmed Fernandes as the owner of the Team Lotus name, having bought the rights to the name from Hunt. However, the court ruling stated that Group Lotus had sole right to use the name "Lotus" on its own, and could enter Formula One using "Lotus" for a team name, the black and gold livery, and the Lotus roundel.

In a further hearing in July, Justice Peter Smith expressed discontent towards Fernandes and Team Lotus after they made no mention of the purchase of Caterham Cars during the initial hearings. Furthermore, Fernandes had claimed that Caterham would remain entirely separate from Team Lotus, but a promotional video for the company showed Fernandes wearing Team Lotus apparel. Justice Smith commented that had this material been submitted at the original hearing, then it would have had the potential to influence him enough to rule differently in May.

In the end it was all sorted out and in 2012 the Enstone team - formerly Toleman, Benetton, Renault and Lotus Renault GP - will race as Lotus F1 Team, while Fernandes outfit will compete as Caterham F1 Team.

In late November, the team announced that it had been informed by Robert Kubica that he was unable to commit to driving for the team in 2012. Consequently, while it came as no surprise that the team subsequently named an alternative, the identity of said driver did raise a few eyebrows.

On November, Lotus Renault GP announced that it had secured the services of 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn returning to F1 after an absence of two seasons. A couple of weeks later, despite Vitaly Petrov having a valid contract, Romain Grosjean was confirmed as Raikkonen's teammate.

Consequently, after 300 Grands Prix, 2012 sees Renault with a new name, a new driver line-up and new ambitions. While one applauds the team for its (failed) experiment in 2011, one has to wonder if it isn't taking another risk already, in terms of Raikkonen, while there are those who also doubt Eric Boullier's abilities as a team boss.

In much the same way a purists will never see Lotus F1 - or any of the other derivatives - as anything to do with Colin Chapman's legendary marque, others will feel that Lotus F1 is merely diluting the F1 legend that is Renault also.

Statistics - at the end of the 2011 Season

Drivers' Titles: 2
Constructors' Titles: 2
Seasons in F1: 19
Grand Prix: 300
Wins: 35
Poles: 51
Fastest Laps: 31

Best result in 2011: 3rd (2 Times)
Best qualifying 2011: 6th (2 Times)
Worst qualifying 2011: 24th (Heidfeld - Spain)

2011: Heidfeld out-qualified Petrov 3 Times
2011: Petrov out-qualified Heidfeld 8 Times
2011: Petrov out-qualified Senna 4 Times
2011: Senna out-qualified Petrov 4 Times

2011: Completed 2025 out of 2266 laps (89.4%)
2011: Finished 32 times from 38 starts (84.2%)


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