Fernando Alonso’s race car accomplished a unique feat in modern Formula 1. It won the world championship having competed in every single Grand Prix this season! In modern Formula 1, it is customary for teams to build anywhere up to eight chassis (carbon-fibre monocoques) per season, and drivers regularly change chassis to ensure they are using the newest, stiffest and most up-to-date design.
One consequence is that a single chassis rarely completes a full season these days. In 2004 for example, Fernando Alonso used three chassis: R24-02, R24-06 and R24-07. That followed damage incurred during a Grand Prix weekend, and a new, revised lightweight monocoque design towards the end of the season.
In 2006, though, chassis R26-03 competed in every single Grand Prix weekend. It emerged from the race shop on 7 February 2006, 33 days before its victorious race debut in Bahrain on 12 March.
After three days on the 7-post testing rig in the Enstone R&D department, it was dispatched to the final pre-season test in Barcelona, from 22-24 February. During that test, it covered 1391km, using a single RS26 A-spec V8 engine.
This test was to be the car’s only on-track action away from a Grand Prix weekend. It took a debut victory in Bahrain, and then scored 84 points from a possible 90 in the first half of the season – and completed every single race lap.
By season’s end in Brazil, the car had won a total of 134 points on the way to Fernando Alonso’s world drivers’ championship. It took 7 victories, 6 pole positions, set five fastest laps and helped Fernando to the podium on 14 occasions in total. Of the season’s 1137 total race laps, it completed 1108 – missing out on ten laps in Monza, and 19 in Hungary. That represents 97% of the total race laps completed.
What’s more, this car also led more laps than any other during the season – just as Fernando led more than any driver. It crossed the line in P1 on 463 laps, or 41% of the season total, on its way to seven victories during the 2006 season.
In total, including testing, practice, qualifying and racing, R26-03 completed 11,317km. It ran with 11 new engines in total: 10 during the season, and one in Barcelona. Those engines were of four different specifications: RS26A/B/C/D. And it got ten new coats of paint during factory turnarounds between races.
So, 134 points, 7 race wins, 6 poles, 5 fastest laps and 1 world championship. To borrow a phrase, probably the most valuable Renault in the world…
R26-03 is now destined for a quiet retirement as the newest member of Renault’s “Histoire et Collection” heritage collection, housed in Paris.