Renault (the manufacturer, not the team) have tipped their hand as to their possible direction in the future. The Renault Formula 1 team is 80% owned by the Luxembourg-based venture capital firm, Genii. It’s been suggested that the team only agreed to retain the Renault moniker after the Genii buy-in at the urging of F1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, who clearly didn’t want to sacrifice another marquee brand after the recent departures of BMW, Honda and Toyota.
As things stand, the Regie is a minority partner in their eponymous team. While Renault has pledged ongoing support to the team, many have conjectured that the sale to Genii was merely a first step towards a long term change in direction for the French manufacturer.
Many have suggested that in the future the Regie would likely find the cost-benefit ratio of customer engine supply more attractive than that of team ownership. As if to validate that speculation, Renault have announced that they would be willing to supply more teams with powerplants, going forward. Currently, they supply the Renault works team, such as it is, and the Red
Bull Squad. There are now rumors, however, that both Williams and Lotus might be interested in switching from Cosworth power to the Regie in 2011.
The head of Renault’s engine program, Remi Taffin, recently told Autosport, “We don’t know which teams we will be supplying next year. We certainly have got the capacity to supply more than the two teams we have been doing this year, it’s not a big problem for us. Obviously we have to produce a few more engines and get some more people to do the job. As far as getting an engine ready and supplying two teams, it’s then not a big problem to do so for three or four teams with an extra effort.”
In fact, if Renault is currently in transition from being a genuine works team owner to being an engine supplier, it would make perfect sense that they would prefer to supply more teams rather than fewer. For one thing, they would be able to achieve creater economies of scale, which would lower their average cost of production. For another, they would maximize the marketing potential for their brand. The more teams they supply with engines, the greater their chances of supplying a winning team.
Renault enjoyed a heyday during the 90’s as an engine supplier to both Williams and Benetton when those teams were winning titles, and were, each in turn, the class of the field. Returning to this position, after several up and down years in F1 as a team owner, would probably give Renault as much branding visibility as team ownership, and might even be more cost effective.