“It’s very special, the 50th British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and it’s going to be a great weekend. When you think of the British Grand Prix you don’t think of Aintree, you don’t think of Brands Hatch, you say Silverstone don’t you? We are the home of British motor racing.”
This is Derek Warwick, President of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, on duty at the Northamptonshire circuit for a preview of this year’s race which featured some wonderful historic Formula 1 cars from both Renault and Williams.
We were treated to the sight and sound of Alain Prost’s Renault RE40, driven with brio by current Lotus-Renault team leader Romain Grosjean, and a trio of Williams cars – FW14, FW14B and FW16. Also there, but not in action, was the first ever turbocharged F1 car, the Renault RS01 which made its debut at Silverstone back in 1977. Some great memories, and a lovely soundtrack.
Grosjean tries an RE40
Back in the pitlane after some laps in Prost’s RE40 young Grosjean was pumped up and had clearly had a good time out there. “It was great, yes, but a long time since I’ve used the manual gearbox, the clutch, you know, and there’s no information on the steering wheel… just a rev counter, turbo boost and some temperatures.
Renault in F1
Ligier: 1984-86, 1992-94
Williams: 1989-97, 2012-13
Benetton: 1995-97, 2001
Red Bull: 2007-present
Toro Rosso: 2014-present
“But it doesn’t feel like an old car, I was amazed to hear it’s 31 years old, it feels much newer. It was great going onto the old start/finish straight, out of the last corner, up the gears, two, three, and then four and wow, wow, wow, the turbo comes in, you really feel it. I lost fourth gear at the Spanish Grand Prix so maybe I could have done with a manual gearbox there,” he laughs.
“Also, you know, there is some downforce, you can feel that, and the steering is very light – in my car now, if you lose the power, you cannot turn the wheel. But they were dangerous in those days, no? I mean, my feet were in front of the front axle, you sat so far forward, and that was strange to begin with.”
Renault’s ’80s decline
From a very happy Frenchman to an equally upbeat Englishman. Derek Warwick went from Toleman to Renault at the end of 1983, an offer he could not resist. “It was tough actually, we dominated F2 at Toleman, they got me into F1, but the offer from Renault was too good to refuse. The ’84 car was good, I led a couple of races, but there were mechanical problems. I could have gone to Williams but decided it was better to stay with a manufacturer.
“But ’85 was a disaster, the car was over three seconds slower than the previous year, and all the really good people in the team left. Anyway, here we are at Silverstone, and I tell you, the drivers are really going to earn their money round here in July with the new cars. It’s one of the most challenging tracks and today’s cars will be absolutely stunning through Copse, Maggotts, Becketts and Abbey. The cars are nervous, twitchy, and we are seeing the best drivers in the world being challenged – and that’s what Formula 1 should be about.”
Renault’s great engines
Damon Hill, not on duty as a driver, was just enjoying the sight and sounds of the cars from an era he reckons was one of the best. “Yeah, I thought the turbo cars were lovely, it was a shame we didn’t keep going down that road a lot longer. I’ve driven all the cars here today at some point, and the way they delivered that big, fat, soft torque curve made them great fun to drive.
“I loved working with Renault, and when I was the test driver at Williams they gave me another 500rpm almost every time I went out, it was going up and up and up, so I was the detonator – an engine would go kaboom and they’d go back to the drawing board. Their engines were so massively superior to anything else out there, so I was a very happy driver.”
Allan McNish, there to make a film for the BBC F1 show, also had a taste of Renault turbo power. “Wow, yes, in the seat made for Alain Prost, that was a privilege. And the car felt really good, not at all tired and very well set up – but then I guess you’d expect that with a Prost car. So yes, British Grand Prix time coming up, and it was amazing to drive round and think of Prost winning the race back in 1983. I was imagining the crowd as I went out onto the straight, past the grandstands. Great experience.”
We can expect a huge crowd at Silverstone this year thanks to the run of success being enjoyed by ‘Our Lewis’, so make sure your tickets are safely booked in advance. Lots to look forward to when those torquey, twitchy Grand Prix cars get going on July 4.