#F1 Features: Renault’s Predicament – Works or ‘just’ Supplier

Renault ‘must buy a works team’, says Prost

Following the Jerez test, TJ13 published an article examining the reasons for Renault’s problems in producing their new F1 engine. The conclusion was that Ferrari and Mercedes had designed their engines and chassis in tandem with a sympathetic view to each other’s requirements.

Having sold their works team to Genii, Renault have chosen in recent years to operate in a more commercially beneficial manner by working closely with Red Bull without the expense of building a chassis and running a race team.

TJ13 repeatedly reported during October and November (DN&C) during the ‘Quantum’/Lotus debacle that serious talks were taking place between Renault and Lotus over the return of Enstone to full Renault F1 works team status.

The result was that the interference by Mansoor Ijaz eventually scuppered any possibility of a deal. The already cautious French car manufacturer backed off when Genii pressed them to consider a joint ownership solution with Ijaz in an effort to extract maximum value from the sale of the team.

Behind the scenes Alain Prost, now the brand ambassador for Renault and former driver for their original F1 works team, was pressing Renault hard to buy Lotus.

Renault had been bemoaning for years the lack of exposure they got for being ‘merely the supplier of engines’ to Red Bull, whereas Red Bull Racing’s title sponsor Infiniti claim to have been the first brand to gain $1bn of marketing worth from F1 exposure.

Buying back their works team would offer Renault the opportunity for better exposure, even if it merely emphasised the Renault brand and Red Bull were again winning. Then again, Enstone had delivered a highly competitive chassis in 2013 and with full works status who knows what could have been achieved.

The problem of course was cost. Firstly Renault would have to shell out between $100-150m to buy Lotus and secondly they would then not receive the 20m euro’s a year from the team for engine supply as they do now.

The final consideration would be the loss of the premium Red Bull pay for the privilege of being treated as the current ‘works team’ for priority and input into developments. The commercials were not appealing, so Renault retrenched back into its engine supply only status of recent times.

Simon Lazenby and Johnny Herbert of SKY cornered Alain Prost in the dying seconds of their post race programme for a chat, where the Frenchman revealed the following.

Asked if he could foresee Renault’s current problems before the start of this year, the Frenchman replied: “In a way, yes. You cannot judge exactly the level, but obviously Mercedes has done a very good job and they really push hard and make a lot of effort, a lot of investment and it’s not the same when you are a partner and talking about more commercial issues”.

The incisive duo missed the opportunity to press Prost to explain himself more clearly, despite the fact he had already compared Mercedes with Renault and drawn the distinct difference between the commercial complications of working with partners and having your own works team.

Prost volunteered, “I could have [some influence] a little bit. I said a lot of things last year already about what would happen or what could happen and this year I’m obviously not very happy, but I’m not in charge of any project or management,”

In other words, Alain predicted the difficulties Renault are suffering this year. When asked for a solution, Prost continued in a somewhat coded manner, “You need to analyse and change the situation in terms of organisation and the way you organise yourself. We have four teams but maybe [Renault need to] do something a little bit different. I know what to do, it would be the best, I don’t know if they are going to make it [the changes].”

So Renault should do something different other than have 4 customer teams…  Mmm. Buy a works team? Prost asserts this “would be the best [solution]”, but is unsure whether Renault will tread this path.

The problem is cash strapped Lotus have suffered a brain drain from failing to pay staff on time and James Allison has left for Ferrari.

On the flip side, the price Genii could extract for the current sad state of an outfit from Enstone has most likely collapsed.

Should Prost win the day and Renault buy back the Enstone team, Red Bull need to find another engine supplier for quite different reasons than they realise at present.

More Richter scale ructions would be on the F1 horizon if Renault buy Lotus.

Yet the most amusing aspect of this saga was the utter lack of understanding from Lazenby and Herbert as to the gold Prost was delivering, whilst he was desperately trying not to be obvious and so talking in riddles.

It was as though he was a bloody foreigner babbling incoherently in foreign speak… or something 😉


37 responses to “#F1 Features: Renault’s Predicament – Works or ‘just’ Supplier

  1. In the F1 world where the brands of the teams and sponsors are global – Renault re-entering F1 would seem to be out of step as their cars aren’t sold in North America. It might make more sense to brand the team as Renault – Nissan.

    • Just to be fully pedantic, Cav, Renault cars are sold in N America – they are sold in Mexico

  2. You failed to mention Carlos Ghosn, CEO of both Renault and Nissan.

    From since I’ve heard about him, he was always uneasy with Renault’s involvement in F1. I would bet a dollar and a half that he was the mastermind (or master instigator) of Renault’s withdrawal as a works team. And given the state of the current Renault (engine), I’m left but wondering whether Renault (as an engine supplier) would survive this PR catastrophe at all. In doubt, I see Mr Ghosn more likely to pull the plugs on Viry-Châtillon rather then embark on a whole new adventure trying to rebuild Enstone from ashes.

    And in the grand scheme of things, (1) Renault winning the world championships in 2005 and 2006 as a works team with Alonso, (2) crashgate in 2008, (3) divestment from the works team in 2009, (4) complete surrendering of the works team in 2010 and beginning to focus on engine supply only, (5) world championships in 2010-2013 as an engine supplier to Red Bull, (6) and a complete PR meltdown in 2014. Frankly, the logical step here (7) is for Renault to withdraw (sooner rather than later, and for heads to roll at Viry), especially given the restrictions in place on engine development (courtesy of Renault itself, I might add).

    • You forget Renault’s standing in the panacea of F1 engine manufacturers…

      166 wins
      Ford 176 wins
      Ferrari 222 wins

      It would be huge for them to leave F1 altogether….

      Plus Renault were well behind the curve at the start of the V8 era. which they ultimately dominated…

      Mercedes have by comparison a mere 105 wins and Honda just 72….

      • Indeed… the way I see it, the optimal 5 F1 engine manufacturers would be: Ferrari, Cosworth, Renault, Mercedes and Honda… maybe Red Bull can bring Cosworth back.. they have a blueprint, while RB has the money and the other Austrian component companies… Infiniti will want their name on it, but does Nissan’s Le Mans engine fit with the F1 engine? I guess we’ll see…

        PS. Porsche and BMW have also had successful engines in the 80s, so I wouldn’t mind seeing them in either when one of the above pull out (it’s inevitable, probably from Honda).

        • why should Nissan’s Le Mans engine have anything to do with F1 ?

          the WEC regs allow total freedom in design, capacity and fuel

          if you are going to win Le Mans next year ( as Nissan have claimed )

          – you’re going to design the engine best suited to that task and not give a flying f**k about F1.

          • +1
            I was waiting for someone to suggest Porsche, Audi and Toyota could enter F1 next year by cutting the guards and cockpits off their LMP1 buggies.
            The diesels? Drill and tap some holes in the head for sparkplugs.
            Fixed 🙂
            You’re welcome.

          • Indeed… if so, no Infiniti/Nissan link there, unless Infiniti just pay to badge the engine. If you can cover both with the same costs then it’s worth it to do it… Le Mans will equalise the engines against each other anyway.

      • Renault have three choices –
        1. Continue as an engine supplier and grumble about not getting enough exposure for winning (when the good times start to roll again).
        2. Buy back it’s works team and catch up once the development freeze is lifted. Then claim 100% of the Glory when the good times roll once more (tempt Alonso back).
        3. Leave F1 entirely with it’s tail tucked behind it’s legs, which would be a massive PR disaster given Mercedes and co can say “They gave up without a fight”.

        I think even though it’s a very remote possibility, should Red Bull decide to buy the commercial rights to F1, Renault could buy RBR off Red Bull. No need for a team rebuild then at Enstone. But I would put that under “Silly season musings”. Though I’m perhaps a little early on that front.

        Renault have gotten a lot of stick over the poor performance of it’s power trains (some of it deserved), but I think the situation would have been better had Red Bull paid more attention and worked harder with Renault in the build up to the regulation changes. Mercedes success is down to it’s race team and engine departments working seamlessly together (Ross Brawn’s organizational skills there for you) towards one goal.

      • “You forget Renault’s standing in the panacea of F1 engine manufacturers…

        166 wins
        Ford 176 wins
        Ferrari 222 wins”

        All well and true (and impressive!). But a reluctant CEO (or board) can quickly dispel such “historic” concerns and start pulling the plugs.

        The hard truth is that Renault is currently taking a PR drumming after the humiliation of being caught pants-down (and not least after Red Bull enthusiastically started tweeting away all the indecent pics, one by one). Add in a CEO who questions why Renault is in all this in the first place. And the ingredients are set for a withdrawal. (This doesn’t mean though that Renault wouldn’t consider coming back later on, in different circumstances.)

        “Plus Renault were well behind the curve at the start of the V8 era. which they ultimately dominated…”

        Again, true. But from what I see there is less scope for this under the current regulations, not least because everyone is pointing fingers at Renault for bringing performance to its V8 by stealth. And because Renault themselves requested progressive design freezes for the hybrid era. Not to mention that the gap to Merc must seem of astronomic proportions to the guys in Viry.

        Pulling the trick a second time may prove harder, especially since it must be done quickly so as to offset all the negative PR..

        • If Renault pull out that also leaves F1 in quite a sticky mess, engine wise. Merc, Ferrari and Honda with 4 teams can supply all teams, but Honda wants exclusivity until the end of 2016. That means an RB engine would have to supply RB and Toro Rosso at least in 2016, while Lotus, Caterham would be scrambling for an engine with Mercedes or Ferrari. Also, Forza Rossa are meant to be entering soon with a Renault engine, along with Haas for Ferrari.

    • Brundle said I think that the rumour was that Renault would quit after 2015. A big turnaround from the wise move from Prost to push for the bringing back of the Renault works team. Considering how they dumped it, I imagine the only way to get it back is also for the cheap, probably after Genii finish 7th with it this year and can’t afford to continue throwing money at it much longer. There would then have to be a rebuilding process, like that which happened in the early 2000’s.

      Renault – Grosjean, Vergne and Pic (Ocon still to come) would be a great driver line up; perhaps it would be at odds with an Infiniti Red Bull package, given the muddle of Renault/Nissan ownership. But that doesn’t stop Audi vs. Porsche at Le Mans.

      • Renault works team and French drivers would also go well with a revival of the French GP! But, can France afford all this spending given their economic woes.. they might be able to just about get a European GP in rotation with Hockenheim..

      • @ f1esty

        there’s a huge difference between –

        Audi v Porsche – and – Renault v Nissan / Infinti

        VW can afford it

  3. Renault may have dominated the V8 era, but only by being allowed to work on their engine, when the other manufacturers were unable to. Now, they’ve started the cycle again. Three of their cars fail to finish the Austrian GP, so they will be claiming they need to fix the reliability of their engines. No doubt, the Renaults will suddenly be more powerful as a byproduct of their work.

    The other teams will be hoping that Prost becomes involved in any works team. He’s no up to that kind of job and is guaranteed to make a hash of it.

    • and –

      it wasn’t Renault that dominated the V8 era

      it was Red Bull

      all the other Renault cars were no where ….

      • @manky Well, those cheapo Lotus cars did alright in the end. After all, they finished 4th ahead of McLaren last year…….Oh wait, nevermind 😉

      • To be fair, during the Red Bull dominance era, no engine really dominated. All the V8 engines were frozen and equalized. However, before the freeze, the naturally aspirated Renault engines did score a lot more wins and titles than say Ferrari. The driver and constructor champions in 92,93, 95,96,97, 2004, and 2005 were using the Renault engines, and the 94 WCC was also using Renault. From 1992 up to 1997 Renault was the engine to have because it head and shoulders above all competition. Ferrari and Mercedes started catching up only in the late 90s.

          • @ Judge

            what I was trying say – and I think Jacob too – was that it wasn’t dominant technologically as has been the case with them previously.

            In terms of pure stats – yes it dominated – but as you yourself pointed out – they were in a partnership with the best team RBR.

            Take RBR out of the equation – and as Jacob said – the Renault engine was on a par with Ferrari & Mercedes – no more – no less.

            That is not dominance.

            It’s not like we had at times with one engine being the class of the field – be it Ferrari, Porsche TAG, BMW, Honda, Cosworth or even Renault themselves previously ….

            If RBR had any engine ( except that Cosworth lump ) bolted in the back of it from 2009 – 13 it would still have been the best car.

            And Renault would only have had the odd win from Williams or Lotus / themselves.

      • Don’t forget that first win (As a matter of fact, first 3 wins), first WDC and first WCC of modern V8 (2,4 lit) era were all done by Renault.

        Also Merc and Ferrari gained huge HP advantage under “reliability fixes” while Renault and Honda played by the book, and didn’t pretty much touched anything on their engines…hence the development allowance for them few years latter.

        So, who do you think (of engine manufacturers) actually dominated the V8 modern era (also the V10 era), if you don’t think it was Renault?

  4. On a mostly unrelated note, I was really not keen on the bee/wasp paintjob of the ’10 Renault like in the picture above, but the more I have seen it since then, the more I like. In (some) ways, it is better than the current dark scheme.

  5. It always puzzled me why Renault competed in a global motorsport with a half-global brand. Despite the amazing legacy of championship winning Renault F1 engines, I think it would make more sense to badge the current Renault F1 engines as Nissan or Infiniti, and perhaps badge the WEC Nissan program as Renault.

    • “It always puzzled me why Renault competed in a global motorsport with a half-global brand.”

      Agreed. What does Renault have to sell: Clio’s and Megane’s, mainly in France and Europe, but certainly not in the US. And what does this have anything to do with winning in F1? People in France buy Renault’s for reasons unrelated to F1 exposure, in my view at least.

      If you look at other manufacturers, Ferrari clearly benefits from exposure to F1, I can see Mercedes and BMW benefiting, and VW can always spin the F1 exposure to one of its classier brands, although I’m not sure about Honda; but Renault?

      • Renault have tried umpteen times to market cars in North America and have failed every time. Their cars are crap. If they tried again the only people that would buy them are the same ones who buy Smart cars here.

      • ” People in France buy Renault’s for reasons unrelated to F1 exposure ….. ”

        People in France buy Renault ( and Peugeot / Citroen ) because they are French.

        And even that patriotism is declining – because as Cav pointed out their cars are crap.

        People in the rest of Europe generally don’t buy French cars for the same reason – they are crap.

        They do however buy a shed load of Nissans – because they are not crap.

        • I love old French cars. The DS, 2CV, C6, Renault 4 & 5, Peugeot 504, 205.

          Great cars.

          French cars today lack balls. They stood for something different in the past. Now they all want to be German, to a degree.

          The sad thing is they short term profit making decisions have given some total shitbox generic European identikit clones.

          The DS was the most advanced car ever launched. Ever! And now we get the C3. Its depressing.

          China may save them, PSA, especially but I’m afraid that Renault are snookered. Van Der Ackers designs are too conservative, the underpinnings are crap (unless Renaultsport get involved) and the cars have no USP now that pretty much everything is NCAP 5 star.

          They’ve been a French brand, with an incredible success rate in F1 since the 90s, that doesn’t sell proper sports cars, majored on MPVs and tried to out safe Volvo. Eh, what does the brand stand for again??

          For a country that can brand itself, its cities, its high end luxury goods, its food and pretty much everything else it does its pretty damning that it can’t brand one of its companies effectively.

          The Unions and the Government have a lot of reflecting to do….

    • Does it also puzzle you why Citroen have provided the car for the world rally champion 9 times in the last 10 years?

      • WRC is not a global motorsport. Just compare the TV viewership of F1 and WRC. Also note that WRC does not go into USA, Canada, or China.

        • But rallycross is huge in the states and they’re doing that too.

          Well, maybe not huge, but in the younger markets that radical dudes and energy drink makers like.

    • Well, no matter how hard I try, I don’t see US being the other half of the globe. Renault are present on all continents, and that make them global manufacturer, thus needing global exposure.
      Frankly not that many people in US are following in F1, so that market isn’t really reached by F1.
      But in all reality I don’t think many people buy cars because their manufacturer is involved with F1, either as a manufacturer, supplier, or sponsor (myself being one of them).
      Truth is that very little of F1 technology is available on road cars, pretty much nothing.
      Some of it will be on our roads some 10-20 years from now, as it is with today’s cars using something that was in F1 some 10-20 even more years ago.

  6. It may not be beyond reason to see Nissan / Infinity taking over the Renault engine program if Renault decide to leave F1. Nissan are in fact a larger company in terms of production and revenue than Honda are, so they could afford it, and unlike Renault are a global brand.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.