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Renault to announce F1 plans tomorrow
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Renault to announce F1 plans tomorrow
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Dec 2009   |  10:02 pm GMT  |  68 comments

Renault has called a press conference in Paris tomorrow to announce its decision on Formula 1.

Gerard Lopes (right) with Lotus F1's Tony Fernandes

Gerard Lopez (right) with Lotus F1's Tony Fernandes


It seems that they may announce that the company has decided to sell a 75% shareholding in its Enstone operation to Gerard Lopez, the 37 year old internet entrepreneur who was the first investor in Skype. The deal entails Lopez and his company Gravity, getting the factory for nothing and a guaranteed free supply of engines for two years.

The sponsorship of the French Total oil company is also included. In return the team remains under the Renault name for at least the 2010 season. It is understood that this last point is very important to Bernie Ecclestone, who has had a hand in brokering the deal.

The Renault engine operation in Viry Chatillon in Paris is not part of the deal, it remains 100% Renault owned.

French sources say that Renault is doing the deal with Lopez because it doesn’t want to spend the money required to close the operation down, nor does it have the budget to go racing as it was before.

It will be interesting to see which team management figures Lopez takes on from Renault. Sources suggest that interim team principal Bob Bell will stay in the role and James Allison will remain as technical director. It is not clear whether Jean Francois Caubet, a Renault man, will remain as managing director of the team. Lopez told me in Monaco last week that he has no intention of running the team himself, but wants to leave it to professional management. There were concerns among some members of the Renault board that Lopez might be a front for Flavio Briatore trying to buy the team, but these were discounted when I enquired with senior team management figures.

Lopez is doing this deal as an investor, along the lines of his previous activities. He believes that he can make money in F1 using the team as a platform, but people I have spoken to, who know Lopez, say that there is a much bigger picture for him in F1 and that his horizons do not end at team ownership.
“We see the whole environment as providing an opportunity,” Lopez said last Wednesday during his appearance at the Motorsport Business Forum in Monaco. “The situation is such right now that it provides an opportunity for new teams and new investors – it’s not a time of uncertainty but a time of change. Times of change usually provide an entry point. We believe there is a chance to enter the sport and build a platform that sort of has to reinvent itself. If we were to become part of F1 we could be part of that reinvention,”

These sentiments were echoed by Richard Branson and the Virgin team today at their launch. The Resource Restriction Agreement has changed everything in F1.

Lopez is in the same business as CVC, venture capital, and it will be interesting to see how they view him as time goes on and the fact that Ecclestone is so keen to get him involved in F1 makes it even more intriguing. Having twice invested in tech companies and sold out for over a billion, he has deep pockets and a good eye for an investment.

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  1. I’m not sure I like the idea of ‘investors’ taking over teams – I would have much prefered to see a racing organisation such as Prodrive buy the team… investors inevitably have little passion for the sport, and will disappear as fast as they appear when the time is right for them.

    As an aside, just like to say thank you James for taking the time to sign all the books bought though the site – personal touch is appreciated. With the picture of the ‘one hit wonder’ Brawn GP-branded car, it may well become a little collectable…!

    1. Dale says:

      I agree 8)

      1. Rudy Pyatt says:

        Add me to that! Much thanks James. About to read through it for the second time.

    2. Kenny says:

      My sentiments exactly, Martin. I guess the day of the “racing team” is coming to an end. Now a racing organization is just another “brand” of a corporate entity. Even the drivers are calling themselves “brands” now (see Danica Patrick)!

      1. Brace says:

        Lol, she is not brand, she is just bland.

      2. Kenny says:

        Brace, you’re right, she is bland, but in the USofA she is a highly visible brand. Go figure…

  2. Athos says:

    James, any word on what will happen to Kubica?

    1. Dale says:

      Staying put, where else can he go :?:

      1. Athos says:

        I’m thinking Mercedes potentially (if the Schuemy thing doesn’t pan out).

        His manager said he’s been fielding some calls. If I’m thinking it I’m sure they’ve been thinking it.

      2. matt says:

        gosh thats a good point where could he go if he became available…

      3. Robert says:

        Still a few teams not announce driver for a next season so everything is possible, maybe Mercedes GP and Kubica ?

      4. Kenny says:

        I think he could go pretty much wherever he wants to go…

      5. matt says:

        Ok he’s good, but he cant go where he wants… otherwise Mclaren would have taken him wouldnt they.

  3. Randal says:

    James,

    Why do you suppose Prodrive is having such a hard time getting a slot? It seems like every time a slot opens up, they are their in contention, but they always miss out on the opportunity.
    It is like they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

    Any insight?

    1. Dale says:

      Richards has upset somebody, couldn’t possibly be Mosley could it :?:
      Richards would be an excellent addition to F1 and dare |I say, a lot better than the teams and people Mosley’s FIA decided were worthy and fit for purpose :-)

      1. Athlander says:

        If I remember correctly, Mosley was a supporter of Prodrive’s entry to F1 (using a McLaren chassis) and, as Steve says below, Williams and others who blocked it.

    2. rpaco says:

      Maybe Dave is not friends with the right people.

      1. Steve says:

        When Prodrive brought the spot for 2008 the reason they ended up withdrawing it was because they wanted to buy a chassis from McLaren & basically run as a McLaren/Mercedes B-team. Other teams (Notibly Williams & Force India) protested customer cars & they were banned, thus Prodrive pulled there entry.

        When they tried earlier this year they were apparently rejected because they were unable to show a financial structure beyond the 1st year while the teams that were selected were able to show a long term plan.

        Lotus, USF1, Campos & Virgin were able to show they were already at the design stage via computer models, Prodrive were not yet at that stage.

      2. rpaco says:

        Thanks Steve, that clarifies matters.
        We heard about it being because the were not going to use Cozzie engines before, but if they just wanted to be a B team then it all makes sense. It doesn’t sound like Dave though not to want to make the whole shebang.

    3. Ted the Mechanic says:

      Dave Richards is basically the “Bernie” of the WRC isn’t he?

      Perhaps Richards’ increasing his involvement and influence in F1 circles may not sit too comfortably with one Bernard Ecclestone…

      Richards replaced Flavio as Director of the Benetton team when Flavio was fired in 1997. Although this was only for a year and when Benetton sold out to Renault in 2000 Flavio got his old job back. Presumably Bernie is still good mates with Flavio? Wasn’t Flavio considered a contender to be Bernie’s successor as F1 Ringmaster before ‘Crashgate’? Of course Flavio is currently out of the picture so may only be of historical significance and a bit of a red herring in the context of my argument…

      The real question is – If Bernie (and his other old friend Max) didn’t want someone like David Richards owning a team on the F1 grid then presumably he could make it very difficult for Richards to achieve that?

    4. Hezla says:

      Prodrive/Richards got his chance with a slot for 2008 , but failed to use it because of the legal challenge to their McLaren customer car concept.

  4. Tom Adams says:

    What are your thoughts on the second Renault seat James?
    I understand Gravity manage Villeneuve so one would have to assume that he has a good chance for the other seat alongside Kubica?
    Maybe with Tung and the other kid as test drivers?

    1. Imoldgreggg says:

      I know that Tung was at Enstone last week and spent the afternoon testing starts on the simulator there.

  5. Mich says:

    Looking forward to Renault being saved. Curious though about Kubica’s situation, with Bell saying one thing and Morelli another.

    Ah, and why did the Richards’ bid fail against Lopez’s?

  6. Cabby says:

    The title of your book (A revolutionary year) has been a bit premature, or you released it too early, the real revolution is happening right now….

  7. rpaco says:

    Bernie has recently said Renault will remain in F1 as Renault, several times. Maybe he has a bet on. It looks like there is an earner for Bernie somewhere in this.

    However I think teams on a budget of $40M will find they run out of cash before the season ends.
    Branson may even have to open his wallet.

    1. Dale says:

      Two lies that are often said. 1) size doesn’t matter and 2) money doesn’t matter, both are complete [b]rubbish[/b].

      I’d like to see Branson well and truly beaten as to listen to him is like say the likes of McLaren and Ferrari just throw away money for no good reason which is complete piffle.

      Ferrari and McLaren have shown the F1 world for many many years what’s needs to be the best and these two ARE the best.

      I don’t like this dumbing down of F1. F1 should be about pushing the boundaries from engines to fuel management systems to suspension design etc. The stupid engine rule we have at present takes away both the opportunity of engine manufactures to show what they can do and takes away the reliability unknown which was always anther element in the F1 game, [push too hard car may break down and don’t push hard enough get stuffed in the standings.
      Already Branson is talking rubbish, I hope he doesn’t get too much publicity as it’ll drive people away 8)

  8. John M. says:

    So, “investors” are replacing “manufacturers”. Greaaat.

    How long before Moseley, er, Todt, is decrying the loss of investors and what it means for F1?

  9. Dale says:

    Doesn’t this just make the non punishment Renault received for the crashgate even more laughable :?:
    It it had been McLaren can anyone here imagine what Mosley’s FIA would have done :?:

    For people to get involved in F1 simply to make a profit is very sad and it must be the first time in F1′s history this has been the case. Profit for an F1 team up till now has simply been a bonus and in many case an afterthought to the whole F1 show (:

    1. Stephen Kellett says:

      Tell you what Dale. Why don’t you run an F1 team and decide if you’d rather make a profit or a loss?

      If you think about things from the perspective of “if it was my money being spent” you might think a little more clearly about it.

      1. Martin P says:

        Bob on mate.

        We all want the racing spirit to be at the heart of F1, but the greats of days gone by (Sir Frank, Ken Tyrrell, Sir Jackie) all made a pretty penny out of their teams.

        The teams need to make profits so they can prosper, develop and provide job security to the dedicated staff who provide that spirit we look for.

        I understand what Dale is getting at, but no need to demonise them for needing to make money. F1 is big business on a grand scale and it’s all part of what makes it so fascinating. If you only want great racing and none of the superb politics or business stories we get in F1, go watch the mad old fools race their historic cars around Oulton (which I happen to love too as it happens!).

    2. alexx says:

      F1 and life has ALWAYS been about making a profit, because otherwise we would all be extinct!

      F1 is about Tabacco profit in the 80′s, manufacturer car sales profit, driver sponsoship markets to make income from us fans, resources for research and development into other technologies, TV / book sales / media revenue.

      F1 is a business, everyone involved in the medium to higher levels of that world, are extreme millionairs looking to get richer!

  10. Meeklo says:

    How do VentureCapitalists make money in F1? By using the brand name of Renault to bring in sponsor cash and putting none of it back into car development?

    1. Dale says:

      Are these the type of people that we the fans really want in F1 :?:

    2. Martin P says:

      They wouldn’t make much money if they didn’t invest in car development. Venture Capitalists aren’t some evil boardroom types who just want to pillage and asset strip. Their quite often some of the brightest and most forward thinking brains around. They know that by investing and nurturing they get success… which gives them not only a profitable going concern but also a prized asset that has real value.

      I expect we’ll see some new innovation in how F1 is marketed, sponsored and presented and most likely an increased push into new markets. You never know, the Venture Capitalists might even be the ones who finally break F1 into North America. So to answer Dale too… if they can do that, would that not be good for F1 and good for the fans? I think so.

  11. Peter says:

    I’m disappointed Dave Richards hasn’t taken over the team. He’d provide much better knowledge and expertise to the team than this guy.

    1. John F says:

      Maybe Richards doesn’t fit the “Investor” image they are looking for now?

  12. Bloke says:

    This sounds like a disaster to me. Investors now moving into F1? Great. Wheres the passion for the sport? Why cant the real racers like Prodrive get in?

    I have a feeling that this ‘solution’ will result in another team slot being vacant within 12 months. This is a worrying direction for the sport to turn in.

  13. Andy says:

    I too am worried about some of the owners coming into f1. Ultimately if they are vcaps, they will want a return in 3-5 years.

    Or alternatively they think there I’d untapped potential in f1.

    Ultimately if they are looking to divest in 5 years they need a successful to do so.

    But let’s wait and see…. What f1 needs is a more competitive field. Hopefully more teams will help prove some young f1 drivers and give a bit more if a fight.

  14. yos says:

    A french F1 pundit Moncet says that Kobayashi will finaly race for Sauber.

    1. Amritraj says:

      Panasonic is keen to sponsor Kobayashi, post Toyota’s withdrawl;Petronas is being wooed by Lotus; Sauber needs money.

      May actually be true.

  15. matt says:

    ok, any news of the wonderkid kobyashi??? i want him to get a drive next year. get got a points finish in his second drive… and vettel didnt do that.

    1. Curro says:

      hmmm actually he did it first time out!

      1. matt says:

        Still thats a good a point, but that doesn’t stop him being a douche though – haha

    2. Amritraj says:

      You are right. Vettel got a points finish in his FIRST outing in Indy 2007 for BMW Sauber!!

  16. Conor says:

    Speaking of Renault James , whatever happened to Alan Parmane? ( spelling may be incorrect), but when itv had the coverage, it was either you or Martin, almost on a monthly basis had an interview with him, from 99 – 04 maybe. I remember his interviews were great as he seemed like a nice chap, but I’ve missed him over the last few years so I always wondered …. Is he still around and why we haven’t seen as many interviews :( , I enjoyed seeing the interviews with either Symonds or Parmane.

  17. Jameson says:

    There is already one too many venture capital firms in Formula One. It’s despicable that CVC takes so much money for doing absolutely nothing beneficial to the championship. We don’t need more of these jokers.

    Ultimately venture capital, private capital, hedge funds, etc. exist solely to make money. The goal of this kind of investment is to quickly build value in the vehicle and hit the ejection seat to find another project. There is no place in Formula One, or any sport for that matter, for people with the ultimate goal of leaving. Formula One needs teams in the sport that are here for long haul.

    1. Richard Mee says:

      Wonderfully put.

  18. Mario says:

    I wonder if Kubica will now be released from his contract and I’m afraid he won’t. I so much want him to get that seat in Mercedes.

  19. Chris Crawford says:

    Well I’m glad I’m not the only one a bit sceptible over this.

    I admire people teams now like Force India where yes it’s a business but there seems a real passion for racing instead of money making.

    Of course they need to make money, who doesn’t , but my worry is when financially push comes to shove, what happens???

  20. Robert says:

    [quote]Staying put, where else can he go :?:[/quote]

    Still a few teams not announce driver for a next season so everything is possible, maybe Mercedes GP and Kubica ?

  21. Andrea says:

    There are reports that the team has been sold to Genii Capital and their second driver will be Ho Pin Tung… Huhh?! o_O
    I do hope, these reports are wrong…

  22. Pierre says:

    All these “investors” stories sound ridiculous to me… It reminds me the end of the 80s and the 90s.

    Who’s that guy? I’ve always been very suspiscious with guys coming up suddenly (or nearly) from nowhere… they usually disappear as fast as they appeared.

    What is the relation between making (I would rather say getting it from banks) money in the IT arena, and F1? Nothing! How can people believe him when he says he’s gonna make money in F1? This is ridiculous. If that was true, someone would have already done it from a long time!

    James, the comparison with Branson is not good. Richard Branson has a fabulous asset in his pocket: a brand, Virgin, and what a brand. Nearly as powerfull as Coca Cola, Google or Apple… He’s built it for 30 years, he’ll use F1 to promote it. That’s the figure. Where is Lopez brand?

    There is a big risk for Renault to keep the brand on the car and not beeing successfull…
    what is sure is that Renault must sell its team, too expensive considering the economic situation and the loss they’ve made untill now. They could not justify closing a factory (if it’d happened) and at the same time keeping on spending millions running a Formula 1 team. But I do not think Lopez is the right guy. So perhpas is he the only real solution (maybe Prodrive is not offering as much money)?

    1. Athlander says:

      The Virgin brand has nowhere near the global awareness of Coca-Cola, Google or Apple. Having lived in the UK, Czech Republic and Spain, I can say from personal experience that in the latter two countries the Virgin brand doesn’t exist and I’m sure it applies to most countries around the world.

  23. Mac says:

    Too many people coming in for their own glory and using F1 as a publicity bandwagon.

    We need racers, not leeches.

  24. I simply can’t understand why they haven’t done a deal with Dave Richards.

    His proven track record would give them a much better chance of success especially with Renault’s name staying on the car.

    If Lopez does get the team and the factory for nothing anyway, what is going on here ?

    1. Matt says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always wondered why Prodrive haven’t been able to get on the grid.

      I’d assume in this instance it’s directly releated to money, but there must be some other reason Prodrive cannot make it to the grid?

  25. Robert McKay says:

    I wonder how much of the decision comes down to “Dave Richards wants to call it Prodrive, Gerard Lopez will keep the name Renault”.

    Renault must have fallen over laughing at that one. Someone wants to take over the team but keep the name? Done deal. And Bernie’s not going to miss that chance either, he can pretend after the loss of Honda, BMW and Toyota that Mercedes have come in and “Renault” are still there – which looks a lot better than “another F1 manufacturer pulls out” in the headlines.

  26. Brace says:

    James, is this thing about keeping the name Renault only to prevent Kubica from leaving. I suppose he wanted reassurance when he signed the deal and technically if the name is the same it is the same team.
    Technically! :)

  27. Shane says:

    Formula one is fast becoming the new premier league. Investors come in to make bucks. Then when the timing is right they’ll sell to make profit. That’s all they do. How many billionaires invest in football clubs for the long haul, only to sell up 6 months later when they find it tougher than they first thought. Bransons using f1 as a 200mph ad board. Will he be bothered if they finish 12th or 20th? How is that good for f1? Race teams should be race teams. It’s a disaster that prodrive and richards have again been overlooked. A true racer being overlooked for one reason…. Bernie couldn’t risk loosing the renault brand, so he got his mates in. My concern is we’re fast going back to the 2 tiered f1 again. Racers v Investors.

  28. Howard Hughes says:

    Reading articles about purely finance-oriented entities and individuals entering F1, obviously seeking a ‘return’ for their investments, I’m curious as to why F1 teams have never been seen as potential investment vehicles the way REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), commercial property and firms like M&S are.

    One would think that an insurance firm could buy a team and issue shares in it the way they might in, say, Canary Wharf, and see those shares publicly traded so that investors, whether individual or institutional, could see the share price rise and fall according to results, profit figures, scandals, strong sponsorship deals etc, the way a supermarket chain’s share value will reflect annual profit figure, chairman initiatives etc.

    Surely it’s a matter of time; if I was a head honcho at some institutional investor firm I’d be looking into it. Cos if Brawn had been bought like that, any shareholder who’d bought on a punt post-Honda pullout would have made an absolute killing by season’s end.

    Not sure how it would improve the racing though…

    1. Stephen Kellett says:

      Not sure how it would improve the racing though…

      It ruin that teams racing. Why? Because being a Plc they’d have to be accountable to shareholders and that would mean being very risk averse with car design and race strategy. The very opposite of what you want from a front running team, especially one that is in trouble. An example is McLaren last year – they would not have been able to deal with it. McLaren are a private company.

      1. Stephen Kellett says:

        Sorry not being very clear. Private and public companies both have shareholders. But the private company only beholds to the shareholders and they can set the tone, whereas a public company may have its shares owned by an investment trust, a unit trust, your granny, all of whom only want good results and no risks.

        Whereas a private company can set its own agenda and is not publically accountable for its performance. Thus they can take greater risks.

      2. Graeme says:

        Why were McLaren in trouble last year? Fighting with Ferarri for the driver’s championship and they won it in the last corner.

      3. Stephen Kellett says:

        Last year, for me is 2009. I’m looking forward to the next years racing which is 2010. Once the 2009 racing is over for me, everything that happens next in F1 is about 2010. I appreciate that isn’t obvious, sorry.

        McLaren were nowhere at the start 2009 and had to do a lot of things a public company arguably would nto have been able to.

  29. James could you please fill us in on why Dave Richards/Prodrive/Aston Martin are having such trouble in getting onto the F1 Grid ?

    Why were they not the preferred option for the Renault deal ?

  30. Chris Crawford says:

    I agree. I’m scared now that a lot of big names have gone F1 turns into a clinical show with no personality. I’ve followed F1 since I was 12(22 years ago) and have enjoyed all the bug names throughout. What if this changes too much?

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