The future of Renault’s F1 team

Renault, champions in 2005 and 2006, are fifth in this year\'s title race

Renault, champions in 2005 and 2006, are fifth in this year's title race

A few developments in recent weeks have planted seeds of doubt in my mind about Renault?s future in Formula 1.

Fernando Alonso seems to want to leave the team and they?ve admitted their engine programme has fallen behind their rivals’.

The general economic outlook remains gloomy and it seems particularly poor for Renault?s car making business. Could this put Renault’s F1 future in jeopardy?

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso is not confident about the team?s prospects for 2009:

Honestly I think it’s difficult, because although there are going to be completely new rules… Next year there could be changes, but I’ve never seen a car that’s fighting at the back one year then sweep the field the next.

It’s always step by step. So it’s hard to close the gap, whether it’s the aerodynamics, the engine, or the tyres. Whatever our problems are, we’d have to work very hard to close that gap. But, to be honest, it’s going to be difficult to move ahead of [the top teams] and to make a car that will be superior to theirs.

There have been rumours for a long time that Alonso will move to Ferrari in 2010, potentially leaving Renault without a star driver. Recently there has even been the suggestion that he might go to Honda next year.

Engine development

Flavio Briatore admitted recently that part of the team?s problem is that they haven?t been developing their engines as rapidly as the opposition.

This partly seems to come down to costs which has been a major bugbear of Renault?s in the past. They were the team that proposed the engine development freeze and they may be dismayed at how limited its impact has been.

Briatore is also sceptical about the costs involved with implementing Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) next year. He gave an incdication of how much it will cost the team recently:

We have calculated that developing and running the system will cost ??700,000 per race. If Frank [Williams] tells me that his development costs only ??2m, then I can only laugh. Does he really think he can do the job with two million against manufacturers, who spend ten times as much?

Downturn

Many car manufacturers are suffering from the downturn in the global economy. Renault is not the only car maker to have cut its sales forecasts this year but it seems to be feeling the pinch more than some of its rivals.

At the end of last month it cut its sales targets for 2009 by 300,000 saying the economic situation “far exceeded the worst-case scenarios envisaged” two years ago when it launched a new plan to improve profits.

It is now looking at cutting costs potentially by shedding jobs – but could its F1 programme end up being dropped?

Renault boss Carlos Ghosn dismissed talk of a Renault withdrawal in May saying:

Abandon as losers? Never. In any case we’ll stay in F1 for many years.

But he also said:

The fruits of our work on the way to recovery will be seen in the second part of the season. It’s clear that I’m not happy with the results.

Marketing

During the title-winning years of 2005 and 2006 Renault based the marketing for its sportier cars around its F1 programme.

The fastest versions of its Clio and Megane models were named after its F1 cars and available with ??Renault F1 Team?? stickers.

But that has changed with its latest model. While the last most powerful Megane had the convoluted moniker of ??Renault Megane Renaultsport R26 Formula 1 Team? the latest version has trimmed that back to just ??R26.R? – still harking back to the car that won the championship two years ago.

Is this a sign that Renault are less keen to trade on their involvement in F1 now that the team is struggling?

Mission accomplished

As Ghosn admitted Renault have already accomplished what they set out to achieve when they returned to the sport in 2002: they?ve netted two drivers? and two constructors? championships plus a hatful of wins.

But from their current position it looks like being a while before they can expect to achieve that again – especially if they lose Alonso.

Goodbye again?

Renault has ??left? Formula 1 twice in the last 23 years. It pulled the plug on its first manufacturer team in 1985, two years after it stopped winning races.

It remained as an engine manufacturer, in which guise it enjoyed huge success with Williams and Benetton. By 1997, have won a string of titles and many races, it quit the sport, feeling it had little left to achieve.

Of course, it was back once again five years later. But facing a drop in form, little relief from the high expense of the sport, and serious pressure on its car sales, could Renault turn its back on F1 again?

Renault left F1 after winning the 1997 championship with Williams

Renault left F1 after winning the 1997 championship with Williams

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26 comments on The future of Renault’s F1 team

  1. donwatters said on 8th August 2008, 16:04

    Another question that plays into your thoughts is how long Flavio continues with the team.

  2. Briatore has always been proud of his team not spending like McLaren or Ferrari. And I’ve always believed the same would come to haunt them. That seems to be proving right, now.

  3. Alex said on 8th August 2008, 16:26

    One way to cut cost is quittting F1,and since they are not winning. They will do it, but if they do. Then they proposed 20 cars less rule will take effect and give Max another black eye. So who knows.

  4. Paige said on 8th August 2008, 17:07

    It was rumored back when Alonso’s switch to McLaren was announced that Renault’s long-term commitment to F1- or lackthereof- was a contributing factor. The fact that Alonso is now not-so-discreetly looking to leave the team again somewhat confirms to me the suspicion that Renault are not committed to F1, or at least they are not committing the resources necessary to compete for championships.

  5. Loki said on 8th August 2008, 18:03

    They should take heart to the fact that they are the only team to have won either or both the drivers and constructors championships in the Ferrari dominance years of this new millenium.

    They can’t expect success, or top level competitiveness, all the way through…however their dip in the constructors performance is rather steep, and wouldn’t sponsorship also come under this? I think it was reported that ING will only remain Renault sponsors under the condition that they are within the Top 4 teams?

  6. Alex said on 8th August 2008, 18:34

    Could be, maybe that’s why Alonso told Piquet that he needed help with the points. Cause even if he’s leaving, that’s the team of his manager and the one he won a title with. Emotional attachment.

  7. Lady Snowcat said on 8th August 2008, 19:51

    For a guy who wanted to do “a Michael” with a non winning team surely he realises that Macca have always been closeish to the top whereas Ferrari pre Michael were well off the pace…

    Getting Renault back up there would be a challenge… but Alonso doesn’t really want that type of challenge…

    Why doesn’t he just keep his mouth shut… I wouldn’t want that sort of negativity on my team…

    Great driver… shame about the mouth….

  8. Oliver said on 8th August 2008, 21:03

    The FIA made teams switch to V8 engines, in a bid to keep Ford in F1. Then they forced the teams to adopt the engine freeze in a bid to keep Renault in F1.
    Ford left F1 anyway. Their losses in manufacturing warranted that action. Renault also, may be forced to reconsider their F1 adventure, owning to the declining economic environment, and also for one other fact, Renault does not have the manufacturing volume, or profit of some of the other manufacturers they are competing with.

    Renault hesitated at a point when they had the potential to maintain their momentum, and have paid the price.

  9. Hello:
    “downturn”…interesting euphemism for crisis…Keith, our president should contract you for to avoid the terrible C****s word :-)( he has done it around 6 months…a record)
    Jokes apart, Fernando is clearly thinking in to leave Renault, 2009? 2010?, who knows…And Briatore (i have read it somewhere)thinking seriously in retirement ( I think personally when Alonso leaves renault).
    So, my opiniom. this day renault will dissapear form F1.
    Cheers :-)

  10. opiniom—>Opinion*; form—>From* :-(

  11. Carlos said on 8th August 2008, 22:02

    If i had to spend $300 million a year to be the fifth? banana i would consider calling it quits too. Let the japanese fight it off for the back middle

  12. Carlos said on 8th August 2008, 22:03

    ..and the colors are just awfull

  13. Greg Beckett said on 8th August 2008, 22:22

    ‘Next year there could be changes, but I’ve never seen a car that’s fighting at the back one year then sweep the field the next.’

    Off the topic of Renault, but is that an indication of how he might feel with Honda maybe? There’s been the rumours linking him…

    As for the economy, I was told by a car salesman that business hasn’t gone down for them too much, they tend to still have a lot of purchases because of people not buying as many houses etc. Just the type of car (smaller/cheaper/fuel efficent) being brought has changed, so that’d suit the Clio range.

    However if they think they’re down on targets, this is an easy way to balance the books…

  14. Wesley said on 8th August 2008, 23:07

    I agree with EGC,I think Briatore will leave with Alonso.Being behind on engine developement along with the loss of Briatore and Alonso,I would say that thier days are numbered.I have felt this way since Alonso left the first time.It has to be difficult to run a team where the star driver has left,come back and is not hiding his desire to fly the coop again.

  15. Alex said on 8th August 2008, 23:14

    Alonso just went back to Renault for 2 main reasons:
    1. He knew the team.
    2. To buy him time while being in F1 to get a better ride.

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