Renault F1 reversing the brain drain


The result of corporate gamblers Genii buying an F1 team was both a disaster for the investors – who lost most of their money – and the near demise of the world champion F1 constructor Enstone team.

The team in fact began its life back in 1981 as Toleman Motorsport and became Benetton in 1985 following its acquisition by the Benetton family.

In 1992/93 operations were moved to Enstone and the recruitment of Michael Schumacher saw him win the drivers F1 title in 1994 and 1995 with the team winning the constructors’ title in 1995 too.

Renault bought the team in 2000, and their driver Fernando Alonso won two world titles in the yellow Renault colours in 2005 and 2006.

For the 2010 season, Genii acquired a majority shareholding and following some legal wrangling, Enstone rebranded in 2012 to the revived name – Lotus F1 Team.

Initially Genii invested heavily in both personnel and the factory infrastructure, and results were impressive. Following a near win in Bahrain, Kimi Raikonen claied victory at the 2012 Abu Dhabi GP which was one of 6 podium results he and Romain Grosjean secured that year.

Expectations were high for 2013 and the ‘Ice man’ didn’t disappoint the army of Lotus fans. He opened up the year with a win in Melbourne, which became the first of 7 podiums the team would secure during the season.

But the writing was already on the wall.

Investors don’t ‘give’ – they expect a return on their money and their investment back. The Lotus F1 Team was failing to deliver this to the Genii backers. In fact they were repeatedly asked to invest more and eventually they said ‘enough is enough’.

Lotus F1’s star driver had not been paid in 2013 and a prolonged farcical sale of the team was negotiated in public with the disreputable figure of Mansoor Ijaz. The ‘cheque was in the post’ on a number of occasions – apparently, though somewhere between Ijaz’s accounts and Luxemborg it was repeatedly lost.

James Allison – the genius car designer had left the team, so had Kimi and a wave of redundancies followed as the brain drain in Enstone gathered pace.

Lotus F1 struggled throughout 2014 and eventually finished P8 in the constructors’ table, and rumours abounded they would not be racing in 2015.

Somehow, new chairman and minority investor Andrew Ruhan kept the doors open and Lotus F1 competed again in 2015.

Throughout the season the Enstone team’s financial woes were repeatedly on view for all to see. At the Hungarian GP, Lotus received their allocation of tyres less than an hour before the opening session – after Pirelli refused to release the tyres over unpaid bills.

Both cars were impounded in Austin Texas following the USGP due to a legal dispute with former test driver, Charles Pic.

Then on 21 December 2015, the worst kept secret was officially confirmed on the Lotus F1 Team website. Groupe Renault had re-purchased the Enstone-based team and planned on entering the 2016 season as the official Renault factory team.

Renault appointed Jérôme Stoll as chairman and Cyril Abiteboul as managing director of the operations both in VIry, France and Enstone England.

Results have been poor for the Enstone team this year, and they are 9th from 11 in the constructors table with just 6 points.

Yesterday, Renault chairman Stroll announced a change in its management team stating: “The redeployment of the management structure, based on the appraisal of the requirements of the two entities (Enstone and Viry), is underway.

“In our management structure, Cyril Abiteboul will retain his previous position of Managing Director of Renault Sport Racing but he will focus his time on the improvements that need to be made to Enstone as well as the alignment between the two sites of Viry and Enstone.

“The consequence is that he will move in the UK in the very near future.”

Given the punitive rate of tax in France, this move is likely to please Cyril immensely.

Stroll also announced a new team principal in Frederic Vasseur, who has been cutting his F1 baby teeth as ‘Racing Director’ since the Renault takeover.

“He will share his time between a long and demanding F1 season, at all races managing the track operations, and the day-to-day management of the activities in Viry-Chatillon where both Formula 1 engine and customer racing activities are based”.

Whilst having no Formula One experience prior to this year, Frederic Vasseur is thought of highly in motorsport circles. “Fred is the smartest guy I’ve ever known,” was the tribute Mercedes boss Toto Wolff paid him, when interviewed by L’Equipe last June.

Vasseur has run the ART team successfully for 10 years and here is the list of his graduate drivers

  • Nico Rosberg – 2005 GP2 champion
    Lewis Hamilton – 2006 GP2 Champion
    Sebastian Vettel – Runner up Euro F3 championship 2006
    Paul di Resta – 2006 Euro F3 Champion
    Nico Hulkenberg – 2007 Euro F3 champion & 2008 GP2 Champion
    Jules Bianchi – 2009 Euro F3 champion
    Esteban Gutierrez – 2010 GP3 champion
    Valtteri Bottas – 2011 GP3 champion
  • Pastor Maldonado
    Sebastien Buemi
    Kamui Kobayashi
    Giedo van der Garde

Apparently Frederic Vasseur is not one for style over substance and image ahead of results, according to Toto Wolff “He’s a smart guy and F1 doesn’t appeal to him because of what it might do for his image. He’s only interested in competition. Not the side benefits.

“But I’m certain that one day F1 will see that it can pull in this guy. It is not him who will come looking for F1, it’s F1 that will come for him.”

The new Renault team principal owns a simulator business which the ACO uses to vet potential Le Mans drivers and his Spark Technologies business build significant elements of the Formula E cars. Now, the future day in day out developments of the Renault F1 team are also in Frederic Vasseur’s hands.

Renault F1 are clearly understaffed for the task in hand, and Stroll concluded with what must be music to their ears of Enstone devotees. “We have the target of almost 100 extra personnel at Enstone this year,” revealed Stroll. “As well as over 30 extra personnel at Viry.

“This is not the work of a moment as we are targeting the very best people in their respective fields.”

The brain drain is being reversed – but in F1-land, these things take time.

Recently, whispers have been heard in the corridors of Enstone that a return to the team by James Allison could be on the cards. Having tragically lost his wife recently, Allison is thought to be considering returning to England for the sake of his children.

3 responses to “Renault F1 reversing the brain drain

  1. Didn’t Allison said that rumour was false?
    However it’s good to see Renault are all in again.

  2. Toto Wolff “He’s a smart guy and F1 doesn’t appeal to him because of what it might do for his image…”

    I wonder why Toto says this. Is he only referring to a certain fat and banned Italian whose name I won’t write, or the liquor tycoon who ran to Europe because of some issues regarding debt… Or is this toto’s own motivation?

  3. As a looooooooooong standing Renault fan (since ’77), I’m looking forward to see them do well again.
    Probably it will take them 2-3 more years, to recruit all the people they need, (some recruit back, some new faces).
    I’m sure they will be force to reckon with, just as they (almost) always were.

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