Renault is working out a plan to leave Formula 1 before the start of next season, according to L’Equipe newspaper in France. If it goes through, the sport will have lost four major manufacturers in the space of twelve months, including Honda, BMW and Toyota.
A team has been charged by Renault president Carlos Ghosn with making a study into the possibility of striking a deal with Prodrive’s David Richards to take the team on.
Ghosn made some uncomplimentary remarks about F1 recently, claiming that it was drifting out of relevance, with the challenge for car makers in the 21st century being all about ecology and sustainability. Renault recently launched four new electric models onto the market.
According to L’Equipe, Renault Sport president Bernard Rey is leading the work to find an exit strategy while Ghosn has been meeting F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone a lot recently.
Richards was in Abu Dhabi and indicated that he was interested in working with a team to restructure for the new-look F1 with slimmed down workforces, along the lines of the Brawn and Force India models. Some of the bigger teams are going to have to lose a significant number of the workforce to fit within the resource restriction agreement and slim the travelling race team down to 45 people, roughly the number Force India was taking last season. This takes considerable expertise.
Richards will be looking for a deal which involves the minimum spend on acquisition. According to L’Equipe, Richards has a second tier manufacturer behind him, looking to make an impression on a global scale through F1. Given the increasing globalisation of F1 teams, with a US team and a Malaysian team joining the circus next year, I wonder whether it might possibly be one of the Korean brands, something Ecclestone would be likely to encourage as he seeks to push the sport into new markets. There is a Korean Grand Prix on the calendar next season.
“We will announce something the day we have something to announce,” said a Prodrive spokesman yesterday. “Prodrive had its candidature turned down by the FIA for 2010, but would be ready to engage with F1 as long as it could be competitive and the business is viable.”
There is a suggestion that part of the incentive for Richards is to relocate his Prodrive business, sell the factory in Banbury and the Renault deal would allow him to move to much larger state of the art premises with built in wind tunnel, CFD department and far better facilities.
Also looking at the deal is a company called Gravity, which is backed by venture capital firm Mangrove Partners. The founder of Mangrove is Gerard Lopez, who will be speaking next week at the Monaco Business Forum on financing in F1.
Mercedes will be monitoring the situation closely as Robert Kubica’s contract is likely to be with Renault themselves and he may well become a free agent if the team is sold. He spoke to Brawn in the summer but did not want to wait on Button’s decision before confirming his drive, so signed with Renault.
As for Renault continuing to supply engines, as I wrote here last week, Renault will continue to supply engines for 2010 and it is not hard to imagine that this arrangement would continue until the end of 2012 when the engine formula is set to change – ironically to a more environmentally friendly formula, no longer based on engine capacity but on fuel efficiency – precisely the kind of thing Renault says is important for F1.
However Red Bull boss, Christian Horner, has said that Renault wants some assurances on engine parity before committing. It is not yet confirmed that his team will use the Renault engine next year, even though it appears on their entry in the FIA entry list. It depends on what steps are taken to equalise the engines, as the FIA has indicated that this year it should be rounded down rather than rounded up and it is up to the teams to decide among themselves how that should be done,
“I think it depends on what’s done with the engine regulations moving forward in terms of parity,” said Horner. “The teams have decided that the engine should not be a performance differentiator under the frozen rules. I think it’s vital, not just in the case of Renault, but in the case of all the engine manufacturers, that a solution is found.”