How Renault will win again
After an acrimonious end to their partnership with Red Bull, French car giant Renault are buying back the team they sold six years ago and rejoining F1 as a full works entry. And they’re determined to learn from their past mistakes.
Six years after Renault decided team ownership in Formula 1 was not the way forward, the wheel has turned full circle. After a year of arguments and uncertainty, Renault took the plunge and committed to buying back what they had sold at the end of 2009.
The Enstone team, as many in F1 know the entity that has won four drivers’ titles over the past 22 years in two guises (two for Fernando Alonso; two for Michael Schumacher), is once again a Renault works outfit, with all the benefits and pressures that brings.Renault’s decision to return has involved committing themselves to Formula 1 for longer than any other current competitor.
The deal reached with F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone will keep them in the sport until 2024 – four years beyond the contracts of any other team. That speaks of a huge commitment by Renault, but are they ready for it… and can they do what is necessary to turn around a team that has been starved of resources in the recent past?
WHAT ARE THE FIRST STEPS?
Asked what was needed to make Renault winners again, one insider quipped: “Another 300m Euros a year.” It was a joke, but it contained a fundamental truth. There is nothing wrong that a bit of capital investment couldn’t solve.
Former owners Genii Capital allowed the team to wither as they spent two years trying to bring debts under control, putting in as little extra money as possible as soon as they knew the Renault deal was in the offing.
As trackside operations director Alan Permane puts it: “Things have been difficult, but I personally am incredibly grateful to Genii for keeping us going for the past six years. On the chassis side, of course we have lost some good people over the past three or four years and recruitment has been slim. But we still have a strong core of people here and with Renault coming on board we are already talking about the key areas we need to strengthen. I am hopeful we can quickly build that up.”
WHAT HAVE RENAULT ALREADY DONE?
A long road lies ahead, and it will be some time before Renault can look towards the championship success they enjoyed with Fernando Alonso a decade ago. Both the team and the engine department need an overhaul.
That engine department is the biggest problem area. The Red Bull works partnership fell apart largely due to Renault’s failure to improve their turbo hybrid engine, and the 2015 season was an example of how far they have to go. Not only did they start the year with a worse engine than that with which they had finished 2014, but, after waiting 18 races for an upgrade, the ‘improved’ version turned out to be even worse than the one Red Bull were already using.
Following that failure, Renault finally acceded to Red Bull’s demand that they use British company Ilmor to help develop the engine. And they certainly have their work cut out in trying to resolve the problems of a power unit reputed to be 80bhp down on the Mercedes, but this is already being tackled. Renault have had people working at Enstone for several months, even before the deal to buy Lotus was complete. And Bob Bell, the highly respected former technical director of Mercedes, and before that Renault, has been re-hired and has been having meetings with Enstone staff since October. Once Bell’s position is officially confirmed, he is expected to oversee the integration of chassis and engine departments, with the aim of making them work very much as one cohesive team again.
WHY DID RENAULT DECIDE TO COME BACK?
Six years on, the landscape has changed. Even while winning four consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ titles doubles with Red Bull, Renault had already become concerned about the lack of exposure their success was garnering.
But what to do? Convinced of the marketing value of involvement in F1, Renault decided they needed to make their presence more obvious, and take more control over both the programme itself and the message. The solution they came up with was to buy a team.