Former BMW pilot Robert Kubica has confirmed that he will race for the Renault Formula 1 team in 2010. There had been some doubt about Kubica’s future with the team in the wake of Renault’s sale of a 75% majority stake to the Luxembourg-based venture capital firm, Genii Capital. Kubica had an escape clause written into his Renault contract that allowed him to leave the team in the instance that the team was not wholly owned by Renault.
Kubica, and his manager Daniel Morelli, however, are apparently satisfied that the team, which will continue to race under the Renault marque, is headed down the right path. “We are going in the right direction,” Morelli told BBC Sport. “There were no doubts, really, but it was very important we understood who were in the key roles in the team and of course also the budget – it is fundamental you have that for the updates to the car.”
While it was announced several weeks ago that Kubica would be joining Renault, his official confirmation, subsequent to the announcement of Genii’s buy-in, had not been forthcoming, and many suspected that Kubica and Morelli were shopping around for alternatives. Prior to Michael Schumacher’s being announced for Mercedes GP, it was thought that Kubica might find a home at the Brackley-based squad. But Schumi’s deal, which is for a three-year term, put an end to those rumors.
Some paddock observers speculated that perhaps the Kubica camp was trying to use the escape clause in Kubica’s contract as a bargaining chip for a richer deal, but when that question was posed to Morelli, he denied it, saying, “It is totally untrue that we were asking for more money. It is not in our interests to take advantage. We want the money for the team. Robert wants a performing car. It’s useless if the driver gets more money if you have a weak car and lose (performance) bonuses. It’s better to score points and make podiums than to earn more money.”
While Morelli is putting a good face on things, one senses that his confidence is qualified, and that he and his client are taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the team’s future. While it would be typical for a driver of Kubica’s calibre to sign a multi-year deal, Morelli has only confirmed that Kubica will be driving for Renault in 2010.
This seems reasonable, as the team is clearly in flux. New team owner Gerard Lopez has revealed that Eric Boullier will be the new team principal. Boullier, the former manager of the DAMS GP2 team, has an existing connection with Lopez. The DAMS GP2 drivers were under contract with Gravity Sport Management, a driver management firm also owned by Lopez, under the Genii umbrella. After the 2008 GP2 season, Boullier left DAMS to work at Gravity. So, Lopez is essentially hiring in-house. Meanwhile, acting team principal Bob Bell will return to his previous role as technical director.
It’s too early to guess what Reanault’s long-term prospects might be. Paddock insiders have suggested that the Renault brand has been retained by the team at Bernie Ecclestone’s urging, but this could change, considering that Renault is now a minority stake-holder. It seems likely the the team might re-brand at some point, perhaps as Genii-Renault or Gravity-Renault. On the other hand, as Genii is currently in the process of trying to secure new sponsorship for the team, this might affect future re-branding as well.
Also, while Genii has acquired Renault’s Enstone factory, Renault continues to own and operate their F1 engine factory near Paris. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to suppose that the current team structure is transitional, and that Renault might sell their remaining 25% stake at some point, and remain in the sport strictly as an engine supplier.
Image by Red-Cyan, licensed through Creative Commons.