The ‘slicks and wings’ category had been hugely successful in France and mainland Europe since the early Seventies but it took until 1989 for it to get its debut in Great Britain.
Just six cars were on the grid for the first race in the spring of that year – held at Leicestershire’s Mallory Park circuit – as teams and drivers in other formulae tentatively took note.
First race winner Neil Riddiford in a Van Diemen was the inaugural Champion but clearly those in other championships had liked what they’d seen in the winter of 1989/90 suddenly the floodgates burst as orders for cars and demands for a place on the grid went through the roof.
Of appeal were the open chassis regulations – in other words any manufacturer could design, construct and enter with their own team or via customer outfits.
The costs were also realistic and with technical and marketing support from both Renault Sport and Renault UK – already prevalent with its single model saloon car championships – grid sizes boomed overnight.
Van Diemen, Swift and Reynard from the UK were joined by the likes of Orion, Alpa and Martini from France in fielding cars as the championship ran to a 1.6-litre engine regulations from 1989-1994.
For 1995 onwards the formula went the 2.0 engine route with French make Mygale and Italian constructors Ermolli and – in particular – Tatuus entering the fray.
While the list of manufacturers involved was impressive, so, too, was the roll call of drivers – many of whom went on to much bigger things…
James Matthews, Champion in 1994 with Manor Motorsport, is now married to Pippa Middleton – thereby becoming brother-in-law to the Duchess of Cambridge!
Early Nineties ‘racer’ Christian Horner has since won four F1 titles as boss of the Red Bull team.
Spain’s Pedro de la Rosa and Brazil’s Antonio Pizzonia, champions in 1992 and 1999, both went on to race in Formula 1 with Arrows/McLaren and Williams/Jaguar respectively.
Guy Smith, Champion in 1995, went on to win the Le Mans 24 Hours with Bentley in 2003.
For one of the most acrimonious seasons, go back to 1991 when current British Touring Car superstar Jason Plato fought a heated title battle with eventual Champion Bobby Verdon-Roe.
Notably, Plato, Matthews, Smith, Pizzonia plus Marc Hynes and Brazil’s Aluizio Coelho (champions in 1997 and 1998) achieved their successes with the Manor Motorsport team – the forerunner to the Manor Competition squad that competed in Formula 1 several seasons ago.
Thanks to the Renault link, Hynes, Pizzonia and Coelho would in their title-winning seasons of 1997, 1998 and 1999 all earn test drives in Williams’s title-winning F1 car (powered by Renault engines).
We also mentioned Italian manufacturer Tatuus whose innovative cars took performance to new levels and won four consecutive titles between (1996-1999) – the final season for Formula Renault as an open-chassis category.
Indeed, after 11 glorious seasons, it was time for Formula Renault to re-invent itself and in 2000 the old steel spaceframe chassis were out and in was an all-new car using modern carbon fibre design – all produced by Tatuus and all identical tp create an ‘on trend’ single-make formula for markets in the UK and across Europe.
As before, the UK championship would again prove tremendously successful and create more future F1 stars – including two world champions. But that’s a story for another time…
Champions, Formula Renault UK 1989-1999:
1989 Neil Riddiford (GBR) Tarry Racing, Van Diemen RF89
1990 Thomas Erdos (BRA) Fortec Motorsport, Swift FR90
1991 Bobby Verdon-Roe (GBR) Fortec Motorsport, Van Diemen RF91
1992 Pedro de la Rosa (ESP) Minister, Alpa FR92
1993 Ivan Arias (ESP) Minister, Alpa FR93
1994 James Matthews (GBR) Manor Motorsport, Van Diemen RF94
1995 Guy Smith (GBR) Manor Motorsport, Van Diemen RF95
1996 David Cook (GBR) DC Cook Racing, Tatuus RC96
1997 Marc Hynes (GBR) Manor Motorsport, Tatuus RC97
1998 Aluizio Coelho (BRA) Manor Motorsport, Tatuus RC98
1999 Antonio Pizzonia (BRA) Manor Motorsport, Tatuus RC99
Top winners, Formula Renault UK 1998-99:
16 James Matthews
11 Ivan Arias
10 Antonio Pizzonia
9 Guy Smith
8 Neil Riddiford
7 Doug Bell & Aluizio Coelho
Thanks to Motorsportwinners.com for additional info.