Technology had taken great leaps forward and the engines were now able to produce well over 1,000bhp. With small wings and quick tracks, speeds had become quicker than ever before. So fast that in 1985 Keke Rosberg set a sub-66secs lap round Silverstone, with an average speed of 160.9 mph (259 km/h), the fastest-ever qualifying lap in F1 history. It would take 17 years for the record to be broken.
With speeds now exceeding safety measure, in 1986 the FIA deemed that the formula was now too fast for its own good and a plan was drawn up to phase out the turbos. A new formula for 3.5-litre normally aspirated engines was introduced, with turbos gradually reined in over the 1987 and ’88 seasons, before being outlawed completely by 1989. As such, at the end of 1987 Renault took a brief hiatus from the sport.
Behind the scenes work continued furiously, with the Renault Sport team developing a new engine in line with the new regulations and the Losange made a comeback in 1989 with a new partnership with Williams.
In its first year of competition the new partnership won two Grands Prix with Thierry Boutsen Two further wins and a first pole position in 1990 confirmed the Williams-Renault partnership had potential. During the season Adrian Newey joined Williams as chief designer, and then Nigel Mansell – who had used Renault power at Lotus – rejoined the team.
It was the start of an incredible era. By the end of 1991 the combination was the one to beat, as Mansell and Riccardo Patrese racked up seven wins and finished second and third respectively in the drivers’ championship.
Williams finished second in the constructors’ table.
In 1992 Mansell proved so dominant that he secured Renault’s first World Championship by August. The Briton won the first five races and by the end of the season, the team had won 10 of the 16 GPs and wrapped up Renault’s first-ever constructors’ title.
Former works Renault driver Alain Prost joined Williams in 1993, replacing Mansell. The Frenchman won seven races, with newcomer Damon Hill winning a further three. The constructors’ and drivers’ titles were again secured, with Williams-Renault taking 24 consecutive pole positions from 1992 to 1993.
1994 was one of the darkest years for the sport. The legendary three-time world champion, Ayrton Senna, had joined Williams at the start of the year. Tragically, the Brazilian lost his life in a crash at Imola, just one day after an accident where Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger had succumbed to his injuries. The sport felt their loss acutely.
Nigel Mansell returned to Williams to lift morale and won one race, while erstwhile team leader Damon Hill took six wins and finished a close second in the drivers’ title race, aiding Williams-Renault to secure a third constructors’ title.
In 1995 Renault expanded its involvement with a new collaboration with the Benetton team, in addition to Williams. Its engines won an unprecedented 16 of the 17 races with the two teams, taking 16 pole positions. Hill and Schumacher wrestled for the title, with the German emerging victorious. Benetton-Renault won the constructors’ title at the first attempt, ensuring a fourth consecutive crown for the French manufacturer.
Williams returned to winning form in 1996 and Hill finally took the title with eight wins. Newcomer Jacques Villeneuve added another four wins to the total, while Benetton finished third in the constructors’ title.
In 1997 Villeneuve led the Williams team following the departure of Hill and won the championship in a dramatic finale at Jerez, having taken six victories. New team mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen scored his first win, while Gerhard Berger added a single success for Benetton.
Renault had nothing left to prove in the sport. With its two partners it had scored six straight title successes between 1992 and 1997 and between 1995 and 1997 Renault engines had won 74% of races. With objectives met, Renault left the sport in 1997. Williams, Benetton and later the new BAR team used Renault-based engines under the Supertec, Mecachrome and Playlife names, and work continued in a small development cell at Viry.
Again, Renault’s official absence proved to be a short one. In early 2001 it was announced that the company had bought the Benetton team, and was to return in a full works capacity. The Renault name returned as Benetton’s engine supplier that season, and then in 2002 the team was reborn as Renault F1 Team, with the chassis department still based at Enstone, UK, while working closely with the engine division in Viry.
In 2003 Fernando Alonso gave the new team its first pole in Malaysia, and then the young Spaniard followed up with his and the team’s first win in Hungary. The following year Jarno Trulli gave Renault victory in the most prestigious race of the year in Monaco.
In 2005 Alonso was the man to beat as he won the drivers’ title and Renault took the constructors’ version, the last title of the V10 era. It was a fitting end to the period, which had been dominated by Renault.