The Renault R25 is featured at this year’s Autosport International show as one of the great racing cars of the last six decades.
The R25 was the last of a breed – the final V10-engined machine to win the world championship, and the car which broke Ferrari’s six-year winning streak in the constructors’ world championship.
It was also the car which ended Renault’s search for a world championship, which had begun almost 30 years earlier when the company first arrived in F1 in 1977.
But what is it really one of the greatest F1 cars of all time? It may have been a championship-winner, but the R25 was not a a revolution in F1 car design which sent rival teams’ engineers into a panic.
Indeed over the course of 2005 McLaren won more races with their MP4-20 – ten to Renault’s eight – and but for a loose piece of kerbing at the Shanghai circuit the silver team might have taken the constructors’ championship.
Mastering the Michelins
McLaren spent the year on the back foot because the R25 proved fast and reliable ‘out of the box’. Giancarlo Fisichella gave the car a maiden victory at Melbourne.
Fernando Alonso was quick to point out he would have beaten Fisichella had his starting position not been compromised in the rain-hit qualifying session. He backed up his words by winning the next three races in a row.
Renault and tyre suppliers Michelin had mastered the new rules preventing tyre changes during the race, producing a car which could ‘switch on’ its tyres in qualifying for a hot lap but also keep them in good condition for a full race distance.
There were a couple of exceptions. The R25 minced its soft Michelins at Monaco while an untroubled Kimi R?â?ñikk?â?Ânen helped himself to his second win of the year.
That at Indianapolis Renault fell foul of the Michelin tyre’s sidewall failures and had to withdraw from the race. Fortunately with McLaren also running Michelins the championship damage was limited.
Reliable – and a great starter
Like most Renault cars of the mid-2000s, the R25 was especially strong from a standing start. A combination of clever electronic and rearward weight bias meant Alonso and Fisichella could rely on gaining places at the start.
This was the car which ended the six-year Ferrari domination of the championship. In at least one respect the R25 mirrored those dominant Ferraris – its reliability was exceptional. Aside from Indianapolis, the car only failed to finish three times all year. The MP4-20 suffered five mechanical retirements and its drivers also had to contend with a series of grid penalties for engine failures.
Towards the end of the year a notable innovation appeared on the R25. At Interlagos the team fitted a mass damper fitted in the car’s nose to reduce pitching when the car went over bumps or kerbs.
Similar technology was already in use on other cars – the McLaren, for example, which had begun using an inerter (also known as a J-damper) at Imola earlier that year. The mass damper became a bone of contention later in 2006 when the device was abruptly banned by the FIA.
A great car?
The 2005 season was certainly a golden period for Renault. The team simultaneously ran one double championship-winning car while developing another to significantly different technical rules. The R26 used a V8 engine and the requirement for tyres to last a full race distance was dropped – yet Renault retained both their titles in 2006.
But they’re not the only team to accomplish this feat in the last decade. Does the R25 deserves a place among genuinely game-changing cars like the Lotus 72 and Williams FW14B? If it does, then why not the McLaren MP4/4 or Ferrari F2004, both of which defined new standards of dominance by a single car?
Perhaps the R25’s place in this hall of fame owes more to what the organisers could get their hands on. It was a terrific car and a fine championship-winning machine, but perhaps not an all-time great.
More on the mass damper controversy here: Banned! Mass dampers
First race: 2005 Australian Grand Prix
Last race: 2005 Chinese Grand Prix
Total races: 18
Pole positions: 7
Fastest laps: 3
Renault R25 pictures