It has been winning grands prix since 1906 and its engines were 1st, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 13th and 16th in Abu Dhabi. (Right: Vettel, heroic third place) In 35 years it has won more F1 titles than anybody (nine drivers’, ten constructors’) and is the leading manufacturer of single seaters, although the Formula 1 operation is based firmly at Enstone in heart of England. Renault has a longer pedigree than Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz or Honda yet glory somehow eludes it. When a Lotus-Ford won a grand prix Ford gained a halo. When a Lotus-Renault scores the first win for a Lotus in 25 years scarcely anybody notices the engine. Everybody knew Jim Clark’s Lotus 49 had FORD on the cam covers when he won the Dutch Grand Prix in 1967. Nobody knows Kimi Raikkonen had a Renault RS27 V8, so there will be no footfall in Renault dealers’ showrooms to follow. Astonishingly the team changed its name to Lotus only last year. It started as Toleman, then Benetton with Ford and BMW engines. It had Renault engines from 1995, was officially Renault’s own from 2002 and made Fernando Alonso the youngest world champion in 2005. Then Renault lost heart. It sold the shares to Genii Capital in 2011, which gave it the Lotus identity, and with Raikkonen back has been looking good all season. Accordingly when Renault says it is going to build sports cars with Caterham it hardly causes a stir.
Their agreement apparently, “Reflects a similar passion and expertise in sports and competition cars. The future vehicles will be distinctive, differentiated, and carry the respective DNA of Alpine and Caterham Cars, the automotive division of Caterham Group. They will be built at the Alpine plant in Dieppe, Normandy, in France.” It is a passion that hasn’t produced any Alpines since the 1990s but now Caterham will have 50% of Automobiles Alpine Renault, currently all held by Renault. The Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham will be created in January and its Dieppe plant will survive. It is all thanks not so much to passion for sports and competition cars, as a subsidy from the French government and the Région Haute Normandie.