Renault’s acting team principal, Bob Bell, has stated that the team is setting their sights on 2011 for a return to their former winning ways. As recently reported in Autosport, Bell said, “The real target for us is to build for 2011 and a championship campaign. But we have realistic expectations for 2010. We are not going to produce a car that catapults us to the front because F1 is very competitive. But our 2010 expectations are to run towards the front and challenge for the top three.”
The 2009 season was one of the worst that the team has endured for several years. Their car was so under-performing that Renault pilot Fernando Alonso at one point proclaimed that it was the worst on the grid. And considering that Renault-powered Red Bulls took several victories, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel placing second in the championship battle, there was little blame to be placed with the powerplant.
Following the close of the season’s competition, Renault announced the sale of an 80% stake in the company to a Luxembourg-based venture capital firm, Genii Capital. The team will retain Renault branding, for the moment, apparently at the urging of Bernie Ecclestone, who doesn’t want to see the Formula 1 brand tainted by yet another manufacturer’s defection.
While the exact details of the acquisition haven’t been made public, it’s thought that Genii will receive a free supply of Renault engines for at least a year. Genii will also take over the Enstone (UK) factory, apparently at no cost. Why such a sweetheart deal? It seems that Renault would prefer to extricate themselves from active team management, but if they simply withdrew from the grid, as signatories of the new Concorde agreement, they’d face a stiff (as in tens of millions of euros) penalty from the FIA for being a no-show.
A more pragmatic approach to reducing their participation is to simply facilitate a privateer takeover. It’s unlikely that a private firm like Genii could afford to pay fair market value for the Enstone facility. It will be enough of a challenge to simply fund the ongoing operations of the team. By gifting Genii the factory, and a year’s worth of engines, on the other hand, Renault helps secure the viability of the new ownership, which, in turn, protects them from potential liabilities.
Clearly, however, as a minority partner in the team it’s unlikely that the Enstone squad will retain the Renault marque for the long term, especially if the team continues to under-perform. Renault has signaled an intention of remaining in the sport as primarily an engine supplier (Red Bull has confirmed their use of Renault powerplants for 2010), and, indeed, it’s in this guise that they’ve known their most consistent success.
Bob Bell’s target of a top three finish in 2010 seems ambitious, to say the least. Nick Fry has stated that he has the same goal for Mercedes GP, and Fry’s team just won both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles. Moreover, with Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren also likely to be jostling each other for a position at the front, it seems that the top of the pyramid will be awfully crowded. And all of the aforementioned teams, save Renault, were race-winners in 2009.
Add to this the fact that the team still has no permanent management in place (Bob Bell is still billed as “acting” team principal) and it’s fair to say that Renault and Genii have their work cut out for them.