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Recently Renault F1’s managing director Cyril Abiteboul has been making waves in the media by floating the idea that Renault were looking to become a full-fledged constructor: “We are here for marketing. So if from a marketing perspective we need to do things a little bit differently, we are open minded. There is no ego. The priority is to get the marketing messages that we want to deliver in the sport in the most cost-efficient manner.”
“If you look at 2014, it was very expensive for us. We moved from four customers including very good teams, including the relationship with Enstone [Lotus], to having two teams both being under the ownership and control of Red Bull.
“It means that in effect that we only have one customer, and our priority is to satisfy that customer. But it is a situation where we are fully dependent on Red Bull.
“Is it sustainable for Renault? That is a question mark. I am not saying yes and I am not saying no. Right now, we want to have a good relationship with them.”
So is Renault are seriously considering going down the road of the constructors? Their rhetoric certainly doesn’t sound like coming from someone who’s genuinely on the hunt to get in; it’s more like someone who wants to make others believe that they’re on the hunt to get in, and a tad inept at that it must be said.
There are some good reasons why it is hard to believe that Renault are seriously considering becoming a chassis manufacturer these days.
For one, they can’t even sort out their own engine properly: it took them 20 weeks last year to overcome— barely — teething reliability niggles and reach full potential. That full potential was barely good enough to be in front of the Ferrari.
And now they are throwing it out there that they would now be getting into the nitty-gritty of designing a chassis, too? Just for the fun of it, recall how well Honda managed that task, switching from engine supplier to full-blown manufacturer some 5 years back…
But then chatter around the F1 village is that they would entertain buying Toro Rosso… Oh, really? So a French-based manufacturer is considering a permanent base in Italy, while all the interesting action is always happening in the UK…
They may as well announce to the world that they’re intending to buy Caterham, as the team’s assets are for sale these days. All this with the obvious ambition of conquering the almighty Mercedes. Yeah, sounds just about right…
If Renault were seriously interested in F1, would they not want something with genuine championship-winning potential? The little Bulls haven’t done much of worth in recent history, or not so recent either, bar Vettel’s win of course.
It appears Toro Rosso’s sole purpose is to change diapers to test-tube prodigies harvested by the big Bulls.
A much more realistic target for a player with the pedigree of Renault, the 3rd most successful engine manufacturer in the history of the sport, would of course be Enstone (aka Lotus). But even Enstone is of uncertain value these days.
Last year Lotus produced a fridge of a chassis with the added benefit of using the overheating fondue provided by Renault themselves. Enstone had downsized considerably over the winter of 2013 as we witnessed the biggest exodus of F1 brains in recent history. This included the team principal – Eric the Believable, star driver Kimi and star designer James Allison.
Surely Enstone has by now lost much of its appeal to any serious investors with championship-winning ambitions.
However more worryingly, Renault has been making deafening noises on cost these past few years. They were reportedly the ones to have forced F1 into introducing engine development restrictions, or else they walked away. (How did that turn out for them?)
More recently, Renault couldn’t help themselves from airing dirty laundry and complaining in public of late payments from customers. Renault’s F1 president Jean-Michel Jalinier had this to say ahead of the 2014 Spanish Grand Prix:
“In order to develop the action plan we need to secure resources and our resources are coming from two sources. One is Renault, and we have been able to secure the right resources, even human resources or financial resources, and the other part of it is coming from the teams because we are selling the engines to the teams.”
“On this part I must say that we are not at an acceptable situation because some of the teams are just late in payments, and at the time you need to spend resources to catch up you cannot afford to have those [late] payments.
“It is a serious concern. We can live with it up to a certain point, because we are developing, putting money in the business, and we need to get our resources.”
Then, even as Ferrari managed to wrestle an end to a fixed homologation date beyond 2014, Renault was constantly concerned with costs. In October last year Remi Taffin, Renault’s Head of Track Operations, said without an ‘unfreeze’ on engine regualtions, the development would have continued regardless – but that operating a split strategy could cost more.
“In terms of development it [the engine] is being developed anyway, so the guys, computers and dynos will be running. It’s fair to say we will be spending the money we’ve got and running the means we’ve got.
“At some point if it’s a matter of introducing [an upgrade] mid-season then it’s just a matter of a few parts that will be overlaid at some point, but it’s not going to be a massive overspending I think. [But] if you choose a plan A for the start of the season and plan B from July onwards, then it could be costing a lot – because you have to double the sourcing of parts.”
And at the prospect of 1000bhp engines and a clean slate—which Renault is in dire need of given Mercedes’ stratospheric dominance, they still complain about costs. Renault F1’s managing director Cyril Abiteboul revealed he was up for it – then raised the issue of cost again.
“Personally I would love it, but I need someone to pay for it. I hear small teams, the independent teams, are not prepared to pay the price of the power unit. And at the same time I hear that we need to add 200bhp or something like that. So how do you connect both?”
“If you can find someone who is capable of paying for that, I would love to see that. I would love to see the current cars and the current drivers having to deal with 1000bhp.
“But there is no easy way and cheap way that you can do that with the current regulations. You need to make some drastic changes, particularly to the fuel allocation, and that is a different ballgame. You need to resize some of the internal components of the ICE but, if you need to change that, then you need to change the sizing of batteries, and the sizing of the MGU too.
“You need to redesign the whole power unit, so you need to be a bit careful.”
So does this philosophy really represent that of an F1 manufacturer that has the guts to enter the fray of a full-blown spending war with Mercedes and Ferrari while Red Bull is on the naughty step? Much more likely is that Renault are simply trying to somehow improve their negotiating position relative to Red Bull and by all accounts the marriage isn’t going very well.
Last year they got egg on their faces (the shells courtesy of Spice Boy) from their loyal partner with whom they won 8 straight titles before 2014. At one point there was persistent chatter of Red Bull ditching Renault and starting building their own power train.
“We have no desire to be an engine manufacturer,” said Christian Horner. “But we want to work with a strong partner. We want to be competitive, we want to run at the front and Renault need to make a step to close that gap down to Mercedes.
“First of all we need to see what the plans from Renault are. A team like Red Bull isn’t short of choices but we want to make sure we’re competitive for the long term. Obviously designing and manufacturing our own engine isn’t currently part of that plan.”
Now this year we’ve been hearing that Renault may deploy their development tokens “strategically”, implying to postpone serious developments until late 2015, to focus on improving the 2016 power unit. Cyril Abiteboul was unnecessarily frank when he spoke on this matter.
“We have been capable of not only thinking of the next few races or next season, but the next seasons. Even though we have two years of partnership to go before hopefully there is a renewal, we need to maximise the value of money from the token allocation that we have.
“I think that there is a bit of strategic thinking to employ for this decision and therefore for the in-season development strategy for 2015.”
“I think we need to stay calm. I believe, and I hope I am not wrong, that we have enough of a performance step in order to look and envisage carefully the options for in-season engine development and do the right thing, not only for 2015 but also for 2016.
“We have options. We have to see how we play with the resources we have to develop this year’s engine or bring forward a bit of next year’s engine regulations.”
More talk of limited resources, something Ferrari and Mercedes do little of – except when needing to appear politically correct.
This Renault speak is not the rhetoric of a manufacturer ready to throw the kitchen sink at resolving their own power until issues and quickly return to winning ways; neither does it have the ring of an organisation willing to sink the required cash into building a front running F1 works operation.
Renault sounds more like they are under pressure – and under the cost-cutting eye of CEO Carlos Ghosn. It has embarrassingly lost two customers over the course of one single year—amid persistent threats of infidelity from their main partners—and went from world-beating blowing machines (under the rear of one fingery boy) to overheating fondues in the time that it takes to say… Renault.